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RIDING BACKWORDS...A Rookies Perspective on Issues Affecting the Fire Service

When make do shouldn't do
Firefighters and emergency medical workers must be largely optimistic - if they weren't then how or why would they want to do the job. Is a pessimist going to routinely put themselves in a position to respond to what may be the worst day of someone's life and expect to make it better - or at least make a difference? If they believe that they can’t/won't be able to make a difference then why even respond? An optimistic attitude is essential for success for sure, however when it is inappropriately applied it can cause problems. Our profession asks us to face an infinite variety of problems that vary in complexity. Often times because of this we have to “make do” with the resources we have. An inappropriately applied "I’ll / we'll make do" attitude, however, can guide us to poor decisions that can create a huge potential for trouble. Let's look at a few of these decisions and how certain "make do" attitudes shouldn’t do.

Apparatus and equipment readiness: When we check out our engines / trucks / ambulances (every morning for us paid guys) we have to make a decision - do I take the time to thoroughly and completely check out my equipment / apparatus? For probies this decision may not be as tough as for those with more time on the job. Probies should desire to become contributing members of their crew and can use the morning check as a time to familiarize themselves with their ride and equipment. Employees who fear the negative consequences of missing or broken equipment will usually ensure what is suppose to be there is, that it is in a ready state and they know how to use it. Unfortunately there are those who may downplay the importance of equipment and/or apparatus either from a perceived lack of use (“we don’t need that cause we have/will never use it”), or they fail to comprehend the reason for its use (“what the hell do we need that for”) or they don’t want to admit they don’t know something (“I’ll look like an idiot if I ask how to use this”). How many times have you left your air bottle at 3800 psi (1800 for low pressure users) because you’ll make do? Regardless of the reason, the “I’ll make do” attitude in the examples above is a dangerous internal statement (attitude) that these individuals use to rationalize their apathetic behavior.

Personal Health and Fitness: Typically (and hopefully) when we begin our careers we are in top notch shape. On our first day we are for sure the youngest we will be during our careers…and youth typically makes it easier to achieve and maintain higher levels of fitness. Unfortunately for some, attitudes and fitness levels decline as our time on the job grows. All of us from one time or another will fall back on the “I’ll make do” attitude to justify not properly maintaining ourselves...this includes efforts to improve our diets and fitness routines. Many of the same rationales we discussed above can apply here: “my last fire I wasn’t in any better shape and was fine,” “at least I’m not in the worst shape of my crew” or “I don’t want to look out of shape in the gym.” Problem is, we don’t know what our next call will be and what level of conditioning will be required in order to be successful (and safe). What have you done today or this week to ensure you are ready for challenges of your next call?

Individual and Company Training: It’s not news to you when I mention that the number of fires across the country continues to decline from decades past and at the same time fire loads and building construction has increased risk to offensive (interior) operations. Add the increasing demands required of fire/rescue departments and it’s easy to see why training is so critical to our continued success and safety. Training is a shared responsibility. At an individual level you should be constantly asking yourself what is and may be required of you? Are you ready for that? What you need to be ready for is your responsibility to find. At a company level supervisors should apply the same philosophy. Is your crew ready for what is and especially what could be required? It is your responsibility as the supervisor to ensure they are prepared. Who wants to do that though…especially when it takes at a commitment of mental and physical effort…and up until this point ”you’ve made do.”

We'll make do needs to be replaced with we can do. We'll make do is a risky guessing game where we hope the next call is status quo or that we won't need the equipment, physical strength or stamina or training necessary to successfully (and safely) accomplish the mission (job). We can do is confidence inspired by the knowledge that we have done everything we were suppose or knew to do before hand to successfully (and safely) accomplish our mission.
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Take care and be safe.

John Barrett began as a student of the fire service eighteen years ago as a fire explorer. He is an eight year veteran of the fire service and currently serves with the Plano (TX) Fire Department. John is the founder and current President of HONOR THEIR SACRIFICES, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to finding and disseminating the lessons learned from firefighter line-of-duty deaths.

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Comment by Oscar Wiltse on July 4, 2010 at 10:37am
I dropped the phrase "riding backwards" around the crew at a fire station recently and most of them did not understand the terminology - the fire service has progressed to much safer apparatus and now firefighters ride in an enclosed cab, facing forward.
Lord knows how these firefighters would have reacted if I droppedthe phrase "riding the tailboard"!

Oscar Wiltse, Retired firefighter/paramedic
Comment by John K. Murphy on June 30, 2010 at 12:55pm

I like it - we were all rookies once and the pressures in today’s fire service are greater than years ago. There is a lot of "personal investment" in what your responsibilities are and you said it the best - "Our "can do" is confidence inspired by the knowledge that we have done everything we were suppose to do or knew to do before hand to successfully (and safely) accomplish our mission. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail." It's all about personal accountability, responsibility and commitment.

Thanks for your words - be safe
Comment by Jeff Schwering on May 27, 2010 at 3:20pm
John, great blog Brother! Your last sentence somes it up best to me. Failing to prepare, is all to common and it's up to Brothers all over to not fail, to succeed. We owe this to ourselves, our families, our Brothers, and above all to the citizens we are sworn to protect!
Comment by Mike France on May 26, 2010 at 6:06am
Great blog

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