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Consider your words carefully when demeaning those who speak of "safer firefighters"!

Perception is reality...and a large part of one's perception is based upon their environment... past, present and their expected future.

For example, if you are around positive people the majority of your life then you more than likely will have a bright outlook on things and most who cross your path will consider you to be a smiling optimist. Conversely, if you spend most of your time around people and situations that steep in negativity then you will probably share a life view full of gloom and despair.

If a firefighter has spent most of his or her career in an environment (and with leaders) that foster traditional fire service values such as taking care of each other, doing the right thing, and pride in the job, then this firefighter will more than likely believe that almost all firefighters are safe and that leaders and organizations are more than capable of taking care of their workforce. In these firefighters opinion, anyone who speaks differently must have a mistaken perception or simply aren't doing their job. These firefighters balk at phrases like "we need to be safer firefighters" and "safety culture."

Some of us in the fire service enjoy working for an organization that is run by true leaders, leaders that lead by example and work to instill and cultivate the appropriate fire service values in their subordinates. Some of us do not.
Some of us received quality initial and regular, realistic and beneficial on-going training.
Some of us did/do not.
Some of us work with peers who are dedicated to doing everything they can to make sure we all go home. Some of us do not.
Some of us are conscientious firefighters.
Some of us are not.
Some of us understand the difference between being a true firefighter and a fire department employee.
Some of us do not.

Successful operations and LODD case studies offer proof.

Don't confuse what the fire service should be, or what we want it to be, with what it currently is.
Consider your words carefully when demeaning those who speak of safer firefighters...
Like the old saying suggests "walk a mile in their shoes."

Take care and be safe.

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Comment by John Barrett on November 3, 2010 at 9:29pm
What great responses to my seemingly quiet rant!

First of all I need to apologize for the generalization I inadvertently made. I should have said “In some of these firefighters opinion...” I agree that the majority of firefighters fortunate enough to be in an idealistic fire service environment do not balk at “safety talk.”
My first comments (about the optimist) were only to serve as an analogy to help illustrate that one’s environment has a profound impact on their perception.

Secondly, the point I was trying to make was:
The perspective of some firefighters in choice companies and/or departments appears to be one seen through rose-colored glasses…which is manifested when their opinions are voiced. These firefighters perspective is skewed because it is one in which all firefighters work in an idealistic setting where quintessential fire service leadership, culture and values exist and therefore they perceive “safety talk,” especially by those on the “safety bandwagon,” as nonsense, a waste of time, or most regrettably the talk of someone who doesn’t want to do the job.

Without argument, the American fire service was founded upon and stands for honorable values such as commitment to community, concern for others, personal and professional integrity, dedicated service, courageous sacrifice and continuous improvement. Although a firefighter, fire service “leader” or fire service organizational culture should and most often times do possess these values, sometimes they do not. Sadly, a lack of these values at any level in the fire service usually results in an unnecessary tragedy.

I believe that “safety talk” many times is a byproduct of situations or conditions devoid of the aforementioned fire service values…or when we were not successful at keeping everyone safe.
Continuing the use of my optimist analogy: If everyone is healthy and happy then is there anything bad to talk about? Conversely, if everyone isn’t healthy and happy, and the group is concerned about its’ members health and happiness, then it will discuss means of improvement in an effort to affect positive change.
Speaking from my own experiences, this “safety talk” typically speaks of the individual’s desire to bring everyone home safely from the fight…by means of knowing and being proficient at the job.
It does not speak of a desire not to fight.
All firefighters want to play in the game, and more importantly, want to be on a winning team.

And so I end this with the same thought that I began with:
Consider your words carefully when demeaning those who speak of “safer firefighters”!

Take care and be safe.
Comment by Erich Roden on November 3, 2010 at 8:24pm
John,

I have to agree with Bobby that I didn't follow the referred logic of your post's thesis. I think you were trying to differentiate between mindsets rather than (culture). Re: "if you spend most of your time around people and situations that steep in negativity then you will probably share a life view full of gloom and despair."

While the vitriol surrounding a now-iconic speech regarding a firefighter's opinion unintentionally sparked a fire service philosophical Civil War, I hope (we) have moved on collectively. Polarization, ideology and safety-punditry notwithstanding, I think there's more to the argument than running it through the resultant fire service partisanship slants: everyone wants a safe fireground; it's how we believe that we can get there more often that is miring the outcome.

A safe fireground is the outcome; how we get there becomes the process. It's this very process that has many of us (fire service) scratching our heads in ambiguity. We seem to be having a hard time looking for the starting line. It's not in front of opportunists' feet or even us instructors', editors et al; it's in front of those taking the entrance exams or coming through the door of the local volly department. The mission is the same for both: serving humanity in a historically noble and dangerous profession. You don't have to be paid a dime to see the rewards of this profession, those come after making a grab or leaving the scene with the same fellas you came there with.

It becomes the attitudes and demeanor of these individuals during fires, training and emergencies that determine safety culture. Furthermore, it's how these attitudes intentionally fail to comply with mission, tradition, values, SOPs, etc. that become the variable for an incident's (individual's) downturn. I work in a fire department, like the ones I think you may be referring to in your post, that "takes care of our own; has pride in the job; and fosters fire service traditional values." You (John) do too, I hope. That does not mean that we inherently balk at close calls or someone speaking up when an incident goes south.

I went to a basement fire yesterday with a proby working his first tour. It was what we call a "squib fire:" a fire with not much going on but a single line laid and working and a few trucks opening up. Everyone in the company I'm currently covering in wanted a piece of this proby to tell him: why the first line protects the interior stairs; why the trucks have to open up so nothing happens to those working above the fire floor, etc. In other words, words chosen carefully to create and foster a safety culture...Later that evening, the truck in the firehouse went to another fire where the rear section of roof collapsed on Engine 32. After shaking out their shorts and ensuring everyone was okay, discussion surely ensued about why it happened, if the mayday was heard (it was, bringing a second alarm), and that the job is very dangerous. One firefighter was sent to the hospital (he's one of the best on our job) and lessons were learned from the incident. This was confirmed by conversations with the truck when they returned to quarters. We ended up missing the fire, but caught a firehouse relocation. On the way back to our own quarters later that evening, we heard Engine 32 go back in service: they are a phenomenal engine company who wanted back in the action, even after a potentially deadly event. That's the mission-oriented philosophy that we signed up for; the values of being a dedicated firefighter; and knowing what the outcome is. The process of creating a safer fireground is but a component of that philosophy. The process itself shouldn't be the principle of why we are on the fireground in the costume in the first place. It should ensure we continue to do what we came there to do the right way. As an aside, very few pundits even talk about the right way of doing things. Recommendations are great as long as they become objective and measurable.

It's been a while since I've contributed to this topic and further discussion is always a virtue in the fire service; however, I will never infer that someone wants an unsafe fireground, and I hope everyone reading this doesn't either. Perhaps that is the starting line...

Great comments by all,

Erich Roden
Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on November 3, 2010 at 2:33pm
John:
I noticed that Bobby had replied to your blog and I didn’t want to read his reply so as not to influence my reply.
I have always been somewhat intrigued by the use of the adjectives “real” or “true” to describe firefighters. I don’t know that I have ever been able to capture the essence of their meaning.
“Real” as opposed to “fake” or “true” as opposed to “false”? Do we have “FINOs” (Firefighters In Name Only) in our ranks or dedicated public servants who understand that being hurt and unable to help is counter-intuitive to our purpose?
Whose measuring stick or definition are we using? Are they someone greatly admired and respected among peers?
I know what has been in my heart for 30-plus years and I believe that it is not only true but is real.
I have to believe that when the statement is made that we are talking about a firefighter as the total package. He has training, education and experience that has kept him safe and productive throughout his years on the job. He comes from a time when you did not have a separate safety buffet, but it was integrated into learning all of the components of his skill sets and the equipment that he would use.
His brain is wired so that all of the dynamics of what he feels or does runs on the same circuit. He does not have to have safety wired separately.
Safety, because it is his first priority has become second nature to him. It is ingrained and intrinsic. He has widened its scope beyond attitude into one that is a philosophy.
If we wait until we have an incident to touch on the safety bullet points, then conditions will change and so will the concerns for victims and firefighters.
Post incident is a good time to gauge the safety issues and if there were breaches, then correct them and communicate them.
Our focus, whether it is training or mitigating an incident, should be devoted 100 percent to safely and efficiently completing it. Good leaders will effectively deliver the necessary core elements and do so with transparency between manual/mechanical skills and their safety elements.
We have a culture. It is not one that is pre-dominant or pre-disposed to safety. It is the opposite; it is downright dangerous sometimes. Risks will be present and must be calculated and managed.
If we have done our job with training, then safety will be our “silent partner”. It will be worn under the uniform.
It will get us through the shift and home each day.
We don’t HAVE to tell each other to be safe, because we are.
But, it lets our brothers and sisters know that we care about them.
In my mind, “Be Safe” sends a positive message.
TCSS.
Art
Comment by Bobby Halton on November 3, 2010 at 11:05am
John,

I think I agree with you in principle but I would like to get you to clarify some of what you have said in this statement: "If a firefighter has spent most of his or her career in an environment (and with leaders) that foster traditional fire service values such as taking care of each other, doing the right thing, and pride in the job, then this firefighter will more than likely believe that almost all firefighters are safe and that leaders and organizations are more than capable of taking care of their workforce. In these firefighters opinion, anyone who speaks differently must have a mistaken perception or simply aren't doing their job. These firefighters balk at phrases like "we need to be safer firefighters" and "safety culture.""

It seems to follow logically from your opening comment that we are very much affected by our environment in our perceptions and that's absolutely true. People do not make decisions based upon reality they make decisions based upon their perception of reality. And while I believe the firefighters who are in departments with strong traditional values and principles that they are more likely to believe that we invest heavily in our operational safety I do not think that it goes automatically that those firefighters would have an opinion which is demeaning or vindictive towards those who are of a different opinion then they are.

Most firefighters and especially those that have been raised in departments strong principled values and strong traditional cultural mores enforced understand that not all departments are as fortunate to have such outstanding leadership and commitment to safety and survivability. I think most firefighters in these heavily traditional fire departments where training and education are highly valued understand that that is not the case in many departments. I think these traditional firefighters have tremendous empathy and sympathy for the firefighters who are working in conditions that are less than desirable. Or working in organizations that do not understand our cultural values or our traditional principles of honor and integrity hard work and a commitment to continuous improvement. I think they feel a great deal of concern for these firefighters.

By your statement there it appears that you feel that it is a universal stand for firefighters who are in jobs where people are encouraged to do the right thing have pride in their jobs and do their work safely that they are by default then prejudicial towards those who hold different opinions than they.

It has been my experience that in general firefighters are very accommodating to the opinions of others. Unfortunately it's always the loudmouths and the bullies who make the most noise they are generally not the real leaders of those organizations but leader wannabes. If you know firefighters who are balking at the phrase we need to be safer firefighters, and the term safety culture perhaps it is how they perceive the definition and not the actual reality of what those words mean to you.

Also I'm not sure what you mean by what the fire service currently is. I feel the fire service currently is and has been since 08 A.D. the greatest example of the selfless nature of man. Since our earliest beginnings firefighters have been willing to take extraordinary risks and work exceptionally hard often for little or no compensation or recognition in order to protect their fellow citizens lives and property.

I think we still exhibit those same values and principles I think that the American fire service has always been a very traditional culture of safety. This is exampled by our continuous efforts at improving our service delivery and improving the safety and survivability of our members when providing service to the community. This is truly the definition of a safety culture, safety is not words or slogans it's not the absence of incidents but rather it is what an organization does when an incident does occur. Safety is a mindset which says I must be proficient in my job, I must be aware of my surroundings, I must do everything I can to perform my mission in the most effective efficient and safest manner. Anything short of this is just not firefighting, and I am by definition a traditional firefighter.

I love your post and I think you are an outstanding firefighter with a tremendous commitment to fire ground safety and survivability maybe I just don't understand exactly what you're trying to say let's continue the conversation. I hold you in the utmost respect and admiration for the work you have done with your cause.

Your friend Bobby

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