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Over the years, fire service websites have marketed their sites with the idea that they are bringing the fire station to the firefighters; that they are creating a virtual place where firefighters from all over the world can bring their firehouse
kitchen to your firehouse kitchen; a fantastic concept.

Why do I mention the kitchen? Well; isn’t that where many congregate, drink coffee, eat their meals and discuss a venerable buffet of topics?

Have your discussions in the firehouse kitchen ever led to a street fight between you and your brother/sister firefighter? I strongly doubt it.

No; I believe that if the discussion gets heated, a veteran may step in or efforts will be made to change the topic, but I am convinced that cooler heads will prevail because a difference of opinion is not cause to come to fisticuffs.

Politics, religion, relationship issues and LODDs can evoke very strong emotions. History has proven time and again that passions flow like a tsunami when these topics come up in any venue. I omit sports because, unless you import your firefighters from other states; it is a given that the local teams get the support. It might even be law in some places. Regardless; the firehouse seems to be the logical place for these types of discussions because you spend much of your time there.

The older, more experienced firefighters seem to have very strong convictions, but they choose to keep them to themselves; that is, unless they are prodded to reveal them. The younger firefighters, with a desire to establish their place in the pecking order, might be inclined to be more vocal. Whatever the motivation, discussions have every possibility of escalating. However; those matters will be left at the fire house, resolved in some manner and the fire house family unit remains intact.

With that in mind, then why is the “virtual firehouse” any different?

I realize that many of us do not work side-by-side and may not know each other at all, were it not for the fact that someone posted a discussion or a blog that caught your attention. The only commonality between us may be that we are firefighters, but shouldn’t this be enough to keep a discussion from escalating to a “street fight”?

I am very familiar with the “respect is earned; not given” mantra that exists among men and women of the fire service and we all know that people working in the same profession does not automatically command respect. Where life and death hang in the balance, I can readily understand the importance of respecting the people that you work with. I don’t believe that it will come from discussion forums, but from the skills witnessed by your fellow firefighters.

I start a discussion or respond to a discussion, because I believe that I can add something to the discussion. In the early days, I was more direct with my comments, but I tried to be respectful of the other firefighters’ point of view. I might even point out to the poster that their use of poor grammar and spelling made their message confusing and would ask them to clarify it. However; I would refrain from challenging their intelligence. We all get in a hurry and make mistakes. I have improved my writing in that regard, but my intelligence is still in play.

When I blog, I want it to have a beginning, middle and end. When I am expressing an opinion, I state that it is my opinion. When I write a fact-based blog, I acknowledge my resource material. I never pass off someone else’s hard work as my own. A blog is somewhat different from a discussion thread, in that you don’t expect much comment. This used to confuse me at the beginning of my blogging career, because I like to know if my material is getting read and without the proper analytic widget; comments from readers is your only yardstick.

I fashion my blogs with adult audiences in mind and sometimes the “kid” in all of us. I want it to be at least interesting so as not to waste anyone’s time. The message is ultimately done to give the reader something to think about. Consider it a short, literary journey that leads you to the intersection. Once there; you decide which direction to take. And that is the beauty of it; you may see something different in what I write. The same can be said of opinions.

What we say or write can be powerful. It will have an effect on the reader; good or bad. How we structure what we write can eliminate any confusion with what the writer is trying to say. When they don’t, it allows for a completely different
reaction than he/she was expecting and an entirely different discussion explodes. I sympathize with them in this regard, because I have not always hit my target, either. Unfortunately, some will take the opportunity to question the writer’s pedigree, intelligence or their mother’s virtue. It’s easy to jump on the obvious, but that doesn’t establish some sort of supremacy; it only allows for exploiting a weakness.

There are no laws or rules for when to start a discussion; especially with the circumstances surrounding the injury or death of a firefighter. When you look at all of the news articles, pictures and videos that get posted on several
websites; some within minutes of the incident, it is clear that even the rule of common sense and common decency may not apply. It is the high tech world that we live in and we must take the good along with the bad. Velocity of news
today is at warp speed.

The last time I checked, I was not the self-anointed, moral voice of what is or isn’t appropriate, but then, who is? We have our user agreements and terms of service that we must agree to when we join a website. Some websites have a formal LODD condolence page. Only condolences should be left there without commentary. However; when an LODD appears in a discussion thread with a title such as “What went wrong”; it is clear that it is not a condolence thread. Calling it “arm-chair quarterbacking”, “Monday morning quarterbacking” or “second guessing” will not make them go away. If you are bothered by its timing, simply choose to not click the mouse on that topic. But, if you choose to click on a discussion that you feel should not be a discussion yet; then congratulations; you just joined the discussion. You know; the one that you think shouldn’t be discussed yet. Hey; it's OK. I've done it, too! But, because you can’t cite precedence, you are simply voicing your opinion and you can do that without all of the hyperbole and indignation.

It is my opinion that an appropriate period should pass before any discussion on the circumstances surrounding the death of a firefighter takes place. I don’t have a gauge for “appropriate period” however. Others might have a smaller or wider window. There is no right or wrong, if we simply choose not to participate in the discussion, until we feel comfortable to do so. Telling others that it’s too early or wrong is just an opinion without substantive precedent.

Please keep in mind that I am merely offering my perspective. I am in no way saying what is right or wrong. I try to provide enough dialogue to the reader, so that they can form their own thoughts. That formula has worked for me 90 percent of the time. I have never posted anything simply to pander to any desire to create controversy or sensationalism.

Something has to push the “little guy in my head” to write a comment or blog. It creates a “checks and balance” that forces me to go back and read what I have written…always. I am amazed at what I find on second pass and I have deleted and started all over again on occasion. Whatever works, right?

I hope to see a more diplomatic, conciliatory and respectful tone in 2011.


The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire
Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper.

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Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on January 6, 2011 at 9:35am

Power of the pen, Chief.

We can never forget that the sharing of ideas can come at a price.

It could be loss of credibility or integrity or even friends.

We have to measure very accurately the impact to us AND the reader

We cannot take it lightly.

I know; preaching to the choir!

Thanks for your comments, John.

Comment by John K. Murphy on January 4, 2011 at 8:20pm

Chief - well stated. Sometimes "virtual" words are like a bullet from a gun - impossible to recall.  Thanks for the reminder and improved virual conversations.


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