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A Culture of Acceptable Mediocracy

Since the attacks at the World Trade Centers on 9/11 the fire service has evolved at a rapid rate.  Hazardous materials and technical rescue has become a huge area of our profession.  After those tragic events, we have been summoned to be the front line of defense within our home turf.  Combine this with the loss of so many brave men and women, we were forced to revaluate the way we function.  A new, safety orientated, mentality has emerged with an emphasis on revisiting the “basics” of our trade.

Over the last few years, many programs and philosophies were developed with the goal of making us safer.  Years later we are till losing an average of 100 firefighters a year.  Our injury rate continues to climb as our fire load decreases.  Simply put, our job is more dangerous than it has ever been.
In 2009, I attended my eighth Fire Department Instructors Conference.  Giving keynote speech was a Lieutenant from FDNY named Ray McCormack.  He had two very simple, but distinct points in his pivotal speech. We need to go back to the basics of our time honored profession and needed a “culture of extinguishment” as opposed to a “culture of safety”.  He pointed out how we have placed a higher value on our lives then those citizens we swear to protect.  Unfortunately, unless you were there in person, his words were quickly silenced.  As controversial as his speech may have been, it was much needed.  I truly felt I was going to witness the positive change in our fire service.  The “back to the basics” mantra was heard everywhere.

Two years later, I made it back to FDIC, still pumped from the 2009 keynote and eager to see how my beloved fire service was doing.  I listened to many of the firefighting leaders pass on their knowledge to thousands of eager minds.  I rubbed shoulders with like-minded individuals that I knew would become close acquaintances for life.  Mike Dugan gave the keynote with the message of being a 1%er quoting Heraclitus.
"Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back." — Heraclitus 
After returning home and decompressing from the whirlwind of the previous week, I realized a huge shortcoming in the fire service.  We have failed to show students how to apply their knowledge.

The philosophy behind “going back to the basics” was sound.  We needed to create a strong, base level of skills in order to establish a solid foundation to build upon.  However, this trend is crippling us.  It has inadvertently created culture of acceptable mediocracy.   I agree a solid foundation is the basis for any successful endeavor, but if you cannot apply the knowledge to your skills, then that foundation is destined to crumble.  The same basic lessons and tricks are being taught year after year with little to no evolution.  This academy style of instruction is not functional for seasoned, advanced firefighters.  We need to start showing how fire behavior relates to building construction and how cutting a h*** in the roof will affect the attack company on the inside.  We are not a basic fire service, we are an advanced fire service.  We must start showing students how their actions affect the fire ground.  

The fire service more dangerous than ever.  Fires burn hotter and faster in disposable buildings that fall without warning.  The economic climate is causing department to drastically cut their staffing, buying into the “do more with less” mentality.  Lastly, those salty veterans with all the experience are disappearing.  It is time we start the mentality of an Advanced Fire Service and begin to embrace our warrior cores with a Fourth Dimension of Firefighting.  Strive to be that 1% and be an intellectually aggressive, advanced firefighter.  

Throughout the year I will be exploring what it takes to be a quality fire service instructor and what methods work for the varied level of firefighters we all work with.  I will also touch on how to be a good student and the proper ways to fully learn and comprehend the subject matter.  

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Comment by Stephen Charlton on April 23, 2011 at 11:03pm

Great posting. You really open some eyes and the fact you not only really listen but try to implement the action stated in the keynote speaches are awesome. I have read one of your entries and I am hooked already. Good job and stay safe brother.





Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on April 6, 2011 at 8:57am


I like your title. On that, we agree.

In fact; I said something very similar in my Fire Chief magazine rebuttal blog A New Worry is the Same Old Story.

If the new, young leaders don't step forward very soon, mediocracy may very well send the fire service down a path to no return.

There is an opportunity to take the lessons from the last twenty years and shape new firefighters that will be stronger and smarter.

Honestly; I don't know what we're waiting for.

I agree that FDIC is a great place to learn, but it is for one week and unless departments can send an entire department, you are still going to have that ONE guy trying to change the way his department does things

and we know how tough that can be.

It's doable, but it takes longer.

Fire service is a local issue. We can have all of the national fire summits that we want, but if communities don't embrace the spirit of volunteerism and support their departments with adequate funding and if those firefighters aren't willing to educate the public on what is needed, then again, we will go down an unsustainable path.

But, I remain optimistic. I saw fewer whackers this year than in years' past at FDIC.

Yeah; I'm an optimistic cynic!

Excellent talking points.

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