I read an article by an old acquaintance the other day. I don't want to identify the author because this is not about the "who", but the "what."
What a concept. Here's an excerpt:
“There was a code that said that the coach was always right and you NEVER questioned a coach’s decision in regards to you. Like it or not, you had to respect it. It was not an option! Sound familiar? It should!”
“I came up in the fire service at a time when we did what our instructors told us to do. We learned very quickly that questioning the instructor was not the same as asking questions. The smart ones knew it. Questioning the “whys” had its consequences. We didn’t have time to break into focus groups to discuss our feelings. You were told how to do it, shown how to do it and then, you DID it!”
Sit down youngsters, and let Grandpa John tell you a story.
It’s a story about growth, maturity, change, and ego. It’s about the people we trust as fire service leaders to give us the best damn knowledge available for new kids entering the service. It’s about accepting change. It’s about recognizing that times just ain't like they used to be in the 60’s and 70’s. It's about recognizing that the rookies of today ain't the rookies of your yesteryear, and they still need to be trained. It’s about not who you are.
It’s not all about you.
Once upon a time long, long ago in my basic firefighter education, our instructors were often looked up to and held in reverence as they expounded their thoughts and ideas to eager young ears. I had some kick-ass instructors for which much of that tribute was earned. Of course, there were the others who were teaching for other reasons. But we always took what we were told as good information without thinking for ourselves if something didn’t make sense. We did as we were told and we never asked any questions. We ate our meat or we couldn’t have any pudding.
Here's an example of something I always found hard to swallow: Always fight a fire from the unburned side. That way you push it back in on itself and extinguish it without creating further damage.
Sound familiar? That’s what we were told, so that’s what we did.
After awhile however, there were a few who began to question this edict handed down from above. These brave souls raised their hands and asked “why?” If the circumstances involving ventilation, fire behavior and building construction dictate that it may be better to fight it FROM THE BURNED SIDE, then why are we being told the opposite?
How dare these impetuous little rookies pose the question? How dare they pose ANY question? Don’t they know who I am? If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!
The fact is, these “impudent pukes” who had previously and erroneously defined as disrespectful have actually become the moving force within the new leadership of the fire service.
There’s good REASON for this: These are the new leaders who are no longer cultivated by their last name or years on the job, but rather by their inherent ability to lead and their ability to recognize and address EVOLVING KNOWLEDGE in the fire service.
Dinosaurs, God bless them all, may often forget that the fire service is dynamic (in constant motion), and by doing so, hold back on the advancement of all those encumbered by their circle of myopia. Tactics and strategies are constantly developing- many out of close calls and lessons learned after following old principles which may no longer apply.
One need only look as far as the gargantuan aircraft carrier-type shift in the fire department culture seen in Charleston, South Carolina. Following the tragedy at the Charleston Sofa Superstore Fire four years ago, they recognized and admitted that their own policies and procedures which had been unchanged and steeped in history no longer applied as they had for decades in the past. To say that they are a changed department today is a massive understatement.
If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten. These old beasts do their dear fire service a great injustice by sticking to their guns on old tried-and-true methods when challenged with facts, and science, and actual accounts which clearly suggest otherwise.
In fact, new students entering into the fire service deserve leadership willing to accept these brave questions without feeling their fragile egos are being attacked. In other words, don’t take it personally when you are asked “why?”
The true leaders in today’s fire service do not adorn themselves with a crown of closed-minded glory. They are open to new ideas and new concepts which they feel is their DUTY and RESPONSIBILITY to pass on to the new generation of firefighters, both for practical use and as an EXAMPLE of how you perpetuate a dynamic and growing fire service.
The true value of any “experienced” fire service leader can only be found in those unthwarted by the recalcitrance of a barricaded mind which can only find comfort wrapped in the chains of their unyielding personal history.
Ask questions, demand answers, adapt to change, and pass it on.
Or die off and become an oil field.