I remember once, as an enterprising young FF/EMT, many years ago, we went on a call for a diabetic patient. Once inside we found him surrounded by his family. As one of the other guys attempted to get his blood sugar reading, I tried to take his vitals. Now, this is the part where I tell you that he was really fighting, yelling, thrashing, cursing his Mother, and making a general pain of himself. Needless to say, vitals were somewhat impossible to obtain. I was still trying when the Medic with the ambulance service walked in and asked for his vitals. Being a well brought up truthful lad, I told them that I couldn’t get them. Now we all know that most people hear things the way that they want, or more importantly, the way that we don’t want them to hear. Of course this was the case with Momma, who was standing by the bed. She heard, “I can’t find any.” Well, of course, this started the wailing that precedes the funeral. You’ve never heard the like. It was quite some time before she could be convinced that her grown son was alive, just in need of a little care. Once outside, the Medic pulled me to the side and said, “Hey, next time do us all a favor and make something up. Give me the ol’ 140/80 routine. I’m gonna check it in the ambulance again anyway. You just have to pretend like you know what you’re doing sometimes.” I took this advice to heart. It was sage advice, even coming from our medical brethren. It stuck in my head.
Flash forward ten years or so. I’m a seasoned vet of the fire service teaching a class for a group of rookie firefighters. We’d had a long day drilling and some of the boys just weren’t getting it. They had made some minor screw ups, and were feeling a little down. During a break some of them were gathered around and one asked sheepishly, “What if we screw up like this on scene? What if we do it in front of civilians?” Well, I reached back into my noggin’ and pulled out that little ditty that had been passed on to me all those years ago. I told him, “Well bub, sometimes you just gotta’ act like you know what you’re doing. We’ll know the difference, and will correct it on the spot if it’s going to hurt someone, but if it’s something that can be left till later, just act like you know what the hell your doing and no one will be the wiser.” Well, that seemed to help some and we attacked the day’s remaining evolutions with a new found spirit. At the end of the day, we talked again, and I tried to impress on them that none of us, Old Heads included, really know everything. I learn some new trick or method every week. It is an ongoing process, for all of us. Never take anything for granted. Just because that’s the way we do it, doesn’t mean that's the best way. If you have an idea, try it. Bring it to the dinner table and hammer out the details with the boys. None of us wants to work harder; we just want to do it smarter. No one is going to give you grief for that.
It’s like the time, in my formative years, I was watching an Engineer do his pump test. He tested the relief valve at the proper pressure, and then ran the crank all the way back to the top until it slammed home. I winced at the violence taking place before me and asked why he did that; won’t it damage the valve? Why don’t you leave it set where you need it? He replied, “Because that’s the way I do it.” I said, “Why?” Well, after a good solid reaming, he explained to me that was the way we have always done it. “How long have you been an Engineer?” I asked. “Fifteen years”, he growled, and proceeded to stomp off and not speak to me for the rest of the day. After a bit of kissing butt, I got back on his good side and managed to get him to look at the situation from a different angle. After a little gnashing of the teeth and some mumbling, he finally agreed that he could in fact leave it set, after testing it, and that it might save him some time and trouble on scene.
I guess that’s the long way around of saying this: ASK QUESTIONS. IT’S OK. How else are you going to learn? Your new idea maybe the one that ends up on the cover of Fire Engineering one day; hell, you may turn out to be the next Brunacini or Brennan one day (probably not, but who knows!) How will you ever know if you don’t try? Even the grumpy old guys will eventually change ways if it saves them work or could help someone. So….I say once again….ASK QUESTIONS and go give ‘em hell.
Ben Marler, Captain
Franklin Fire Dept,TN