Once again while searching for a journal topic, this one fell in my lap. Rob Beattie is a long time friend and firefighter (North Plainfield, N.J.) and has taken a fresh perspective on who we are and what we do. I truly enjoyed reading this one. I think you will to. Nice job Cap!
By Guest Blogger Rob Beattie, June 2015
Everyone loves the underdog, right? It’s an epic tale that begins with an unremarkable character or group. We learn they were once a powerhouse; respect earned in previous battles that brought victories; a source of pride and strength. Then the game changed and they lost some ground. Friends, even family, betrayed them. Fans and admirers bailed out in favor of whom ever was on top. There seemed to be no loyalty. Ultimately though, they rose to the occasion to overcome great odds even in the face of great adversity.
I am a hockey fan and I love my team. (An original six club with steep history and a reputation.) Expectations are high every season. This year they were off their game, beset with injuries and frequent call-ups from their minor league club. Sometimes it worked out and more often it didn’t. In and out of the last remaining playoff spot as the end of the regular season approached, my team became the underdog. Every game was a “must win” and even as a faithful fan, they had my greater attention than when they dominated.
I believe firefighting is founded in the spirit of the underdog. Brave soles answering a call for help where no one else will. We start off at a disadvantage, often out-paced by a formidable opponent (mother nature). Yet we always go, no matter what. A scenario we’ve confronted a hundred times or never before, we head out to give it our best shot. When we are needed we are loved, respected and revered; the media, the community adore us, until we fade into the background in favor of whatever else is going on.
In Hollywood the storytellers take us the long way around; developing a character, a sub-plot and back-stories. We become sympathetic and ready to accept the predictable scenario of coming away empty, only the script inevitably has the leading character coming away with the glory. How? As the story goes, they stay true to themselves despite all odds and outside influences trying to get them to stray.
We have made great strides in our pursuits against fire and other threats to the safety and well being of our communities. As a profession we have influenced building codes with the safety of the occupants and firefighters in mind and the fire prevention codes to ensure those safeguards installed in those buildings are maintained. Not an easy task and we have had to remain vigilant as those standards are written and re-written with cost savings in mind. The fire service remains to champion for safety. Often unpopular and against well-funded opponents we argue in favor of the value of those safeguards for the public first and for ourselves second. It is what we do, others before self, a cornerstone of our values.
Sometimes it is one or two members in the station who become the underdog. Let’s face the fact that the firehouse is still a tough environment to step out of the status quo. Think about the member in your crew who was the first to bring an exercise routine or healthy diet to work, or the first chauffer to stand-up to the senior guy and NOT move the rig until everyone was wearing a seatbelt. It takes courage to do what they’ve done and I trust it wasn’t immediately embraced. Others took notice because maybe they too wanted to do the same but now they were empowered to follow the example. All over the country a few did the same, and in the process changed our culture. Not unlike the first who embraced the idea of wearing SCBA, fully encapsulated PPE or using a thermal imaging camera. They were influencing those around them by standing by what they believed in being a response to an observation that change was necessary to achieve progress.
Today we are confronting cancer, PTSD, ever-changing building construction materials and techniques to name just a few. Fortunately our culture is accustomed to not accepting fate unchallenged. We are searching for answers, not for justification but rather to develop a strategy to win. Those who have stepped up and confronted our challenges of the past have made it easier for us to confront these in our time. We have our history to stand on, and our predecessor’s legacy to defend. We have the reputation of being an underdog.
As the role of the local fire department changes the role of the firefighter, paramedic and emergency medical technician really doesn’t. We will always be the “characters” to overcome the next challenge, forever the underdog. Just take a look around the station. The tools-of-the-trade are a direct link to our history of being problem solvers and having to try new things and innovate in response to emergencies never before seen or just finding a way to do it safer for ourselves. Maybe “not accepting the status quo” should be part of the oath.
Remaining grounded and connected with our core values will lead us to success. There will be set-backs, there will be losses and we will face even more scenarios that we could have never imagined. Our opponent may be an unexpected foe, an adversary that arrives long after we thought the fight was through, like cancer or PTSD. In the face of such threats, we know our exposure is either the next call, or maybe even the previous one. Our morals will not allow us to step back and say “we won’t go” and we cannot and will not stoop so low and stay true to ourselves. I’ve heard my good friend Chief Kanterman say more than once “a set back is a set up for a come back.”
Back to my sports team. As I prepared to concede that this just wasn’t our season, my guys came out and performed well, upsetting a rival formidable opponent and just like that, the underdog was back in the fight. The post game interview after a great win is what we can relate to as firefighters. When asked from where the success came the coach would said, “we got back to our game,” “stuck to our system,” and my all-time favorite “everyone out there did their job.”
We will have to stick to our system, adapt to new challenges, and accept new information that will change the way we do our work. It is an exciting time in our history where science and unprecedented access to data is giving us an amazing perspective and answering questions long ago asked. It’s providing us with answers that when factored into our strategies, will keep us safe and available for the next emergency.
If we try to live solely on our past accomplishments we will fall even further behind. Instead we must continue in the spirit of those giants who innovated and tried new things and advanced our profession. They have a reputation to fall back on because they created it. We stand on the shoulders of giants.
Being the underdog is an opportunity to build character and demonstrate the fiber that binds us together. Own it and make it count, because at the end of the day, everyone loves the underdog. Deep down they can relate, and more often than not they wish they too could persevere as the underdog does.