A photograph is a technological wonder, a moment in time captured, frozen and recorded so that it can be viewed again and again. A viewable memory.
To me this is one of society’s most amazing accomplishments. The advent of this capability has lead to countless advances in everything known to man.
For example, movies and video. The rapid capture of many photographs then played back in series to imply movement and action.
It’s incredible to think that there is a device that can take what you see and in one-way or another save it so that it can be seen again at a later time.
Photography and video have a long and storied relationship with the fire service, from they days of men such as Albert G. Dreyfous making photographs of the FDNY in the early 1900’s to more modern photographers like Bill Noonan of the Boston Fire Department.
Their images have told the story of the development and progression of America’s greatest public service.
Over time images have evolved from a once mainly historical documentation purpose to having become integral parts of our training, planning and marketing endeavors.
Little that we do is not in some way effected by or documented through photography.
We’re able to use images to market our departments to the public and potential recruits.
We’re able to tell the stories of the services we provide to our communities.
We’re able to document for investigative and historical purposes events and incidents that we’ve been a part of.
We’re able to go back and review the actions we’ve taken and evaluate their effectiveness so that we can continue to hone and develop our trade.
All of these things have a positive impact on what we do. But like anything in life, if utilized improperly they can be a detriment to everyone involved.
Conversely, if not viewed in the proper way a similar fate could be had.
One serious issue that seems to be slowly making its way through our society as a whole let alone just our service is the perceived ability of the viewer to extrapolate the facts of an entire event based on the evaluation of one image or short video clip.
The average photograph is made in about 1/250th of a second. That’s about the time it takes you to blink your eyes.
Yet we have a subculture within our great service that feels that the brief moment of time that is frozen and made into an image is enough time to effectively evaluate everything that has occurred at that incident.
That includes but is certainly not limited to all fire ground decisions, the strategies and tactics employed, the individual actions of firefighters on the fire ground, the make up of the department and the overall capabilities of a department or region.
I wonder how this could even be possible, yet we’ve all seen post after post on social media and fire service blogs where this is taking place.
What I find most comical in this otherwise sad situation is that many of the same persons who think nothing of denigrating an individual or department in this way will complain about the public and their often-uninformed commentary on cell phone videos shot by them at our various incidents.
Is it possible to know everything that has occurred before and after the capture of a 250th of a second of time?
I think we all know the answer to that question. Yet day after day we see our ‘brothers and sisters’ attacking departments across the land and around the world in just this way.
I say, those comments say volumes more about the writers than they do about the involved departments.
The proliferation of Internet trolls is an unfortunate development for the fire service. Especially when they come from within our own ranks.
As a firefighter and photographer for over 20 years I have seen the unfortunate transition of images from historical documentation to training aids to fodder for these Internet trolls.
For sure there is still significant value to images and video created on the fire ground and in our departments. And not everyone who comments on them can be labeled as a troll or mutt.
There are many fine examples of people who get it and create and provide imagery for the benefit of the fire service and the communities they serve.
What’s interesting to me though is that these trolls or mutts seem to represent a microcosm of what is happening to our society as a whole.
What’s troubling to me is that we’ve been successful in the past in keeping our head, as a fire service, above the murky waters of the less admirable parts of our society.
And now there seems to be an underbelly developing that doesn’t always live up to our core values or portray us in a way that is truly representative of whom we are and strive to be.
Many of these shady individuals prey on Internet postings, whether they are images, articles or videos. In days gone by some of these people existed but they didn’t have a viable voice outside of their firehouse.
Occasionally, however, you’d see one get a letter past an editor and have it published in a trade journal attacking a previous month’s cover image. They’d question and second-guess everything going on in the image, even though it was on average 1/250th of a seconds worth of time.
There was no possible way for them to know or extrapolate what was occurring in that image, yet they did.
Today similar characters use the Internet as their feeding grounds, constantly on the hunt for their next victim.
As one might expect many of these knuckleheads hide behind cute names that they feel represent their ‘right’ to go on the attack.
In reality though we don’t know who they are or what they have accomplished. But we can certainly deduce that it isn’t much to be proud of or they would have no problem taking on fire service issues in a more professional manner.
The fire service needs open and vigorous debate rooted in a desire for continual improvement. It doesn’t need debate for entertainment sake carried out by individuals who sole purpose is to feed an unsuspecting firefighter or department to the wolves.
We all know that some days we are the dog, and some days we’re the hydrant. But I don’t believe that any one department intends to go out and fail a their mission.
Occasionally, there are departments that might need a bit of a kick in the pants to get on track, but it certainly is not the job of a firefighter fresh out of training who knows nothing about the intricacies of a department a thousand miles away.
That type of public berating will do nothing to improve the operations of a department and usually just serves to drive a wedge between the individuals involved and in the fire service as a whole.
And we know it does nothing to foster the brotherhood that everyone loves to talk about.
It’s something to think about before you fire and forget your next Internet zinger.
Consider the benefit of what you’re about to post. Is it in context? Is it relevant? Does it make sense? Do you have credible proven intelligence to add to the conversation?
Or are you looking at the images or video simply for entertainment purposes? Is you’re comment designed to lob out a match and see what catches? Or are you simply adding fuel to a fire for the sake of keeping a bad thing going?
I’d venture to say if your doing any of the last three then you should really be spending some time looking in the mirror and evaluating why you’re really involved with the fire service at all. But that is a topic for another time.
Speaking of which, in my next post, we’ll talk about how some of the negatives that were discussed here combined with outside forces from society are impacting the fire service and some likely reasons why we’re seeing this crap make it’s way in to our lives.
Until then, use your head and be as safe as you can.