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Divisions and Distractions - Exploring hot-button topics

I stirred up more than a little controversy recently when I questioned the feasibility of increasing our effectiveness by decreasing our caution (See "Worth Dying For?!" at http://community.fireengineering.com/profiles/blog/show?xg_source=a...).  Many who contacted me were supportive and encouraging, with some describing their own experiences confronting organizational culture.  The criticisms, on the other hand, ranged from merely dismissive (“unfounded drivel” being the most succinct put-down) to accusations that my ideas might lead to the demise of the fire service.  Truth be told, I knew the issue would spark discussion when I chose to write about it, so the amount of feedback was welcome.  Still, the passion contained in some of the responses indicated a facet of this ongoing fire tactics debate that was as yet under-appreciated and under-addressed, at least by me; that being the emotional investment many have made in particular ideas that render them almost sacred, and thereby relatively resistant to persuasion by scientific method.  

Not that the concepts I promote are necessarily the be-all, end-all of firefighting tactics.  In fact, I have stated before that the "Modern" in MFA is itself a misnomer, in that many of the methods are merely re-discoveries of prior practices, and even those few "new" concepts are destined to remain cutting-edge for increasingly briefer periods as we continue to perform experiments and produce new information.  Healthy skepticism is also a necessary trait when engaged in a profession as important and difficult to master as firefighting.  With any inefficiency having potentially deadly consequences, and significant change often requiring significant re-training, we need to be sure that altering our methods is worth the effort.  (Yet another example of the value of performing risk/benefit analyses.) 

My point, therefore, is not that there is anything wrong with even vigorously arguing the merits of current vs. proposed methods, but that many of the positions being defended regarding fire dynamics research-inspired suggestions are not themselves science-based, but emotion-based.  When information is provided or perceived in such a way that it evokes a response that is more visceral than logical, the intended message is lost.  For the sender, this results in wasted effort.  For the recipient, instead of a helpful suggestion, it is a challenge to beliefs that is heard.  Therein lies much of the difficulty in successfully communicating with many dedicated and experienced firefighters about the techniques they have long been practicing.  

It is with the intent of sparking rational consideration of our more venerated beliefs that I am here beginning a series of blogs that will attempt to examine some of the fire service doctrines that frame our habits.  My hope is that the resulting dialogue will facilitate our collective ability to consider new concepts and practices.  If we can talk about ideas, instead of just launching them as weapons or shields, maybe we can improve the understanding of each others' positions.  This process of comparing and defending our differing opinions should be considered a debate, requiring reason and logic to accomplish persuasion, rather than a battle that will result in a clear winner.  Participation in the exercise benefits everyone involved, instead of merely those whose ideas might prevail.  

Of course, any conversation requires more than one person, and this forum, after all, is hosted on a social media platform, so your involvement is encouraged; even necessary.  (While you need to be a registered member of the Fire Engineering Training Community to add comments directly to this posting, I always list my e-mail at its end, and promise not to divulge anyone’s name unless permission is first granted [though credible threats will be forwarded to the appropriate law enforcement agency]).  So, stand by for more of my thoughts on our most basic fears and aspirations, and I hope to read yours soon.  

MJC

The author can be reached at markjcotter@comcast.net

Next up: Cowards and Morons - Looking past labels 

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