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Most of us spend too much time on the last twenty-four hours and too little on the last six thousand years. - Will Durant


I couldn’t have said it better myself!


I am a student of history and have been since my early years. If it was a milestone marking a significant event that changed the course of the world’s civilization, then I had it in my hands reading about it. Pyramids, Cradle of Civilization, American Revolution, Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korean War, Vietnam, Civil Rights Movement, Kennedy Assassination, Space Program, 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago, the shootings at Kent State College, the Manson murders, Desert Storm and on and on. My favorite was American History, including the struggles of our Native Americans. Gathering from what I have read, if you were to ask students about Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud (Lakotas) or Geronimo (Apache), perhaps a very small percentage could tell you anything about them. But if you ask them who Tonto was, they most likely would answer “Johnny Depp”.

In one study that I read, it was disturbing for me to find out that fourth graders in this country are smarter in American history than high school seniors. The survey stated:

The National Assessment of Education Progress, a project of the Department of Education, found in its semi-regular survey “The Nation’s Report Card” that most American public school students are next to clueless when it comes to American history, according to the New York Times. The survey found that 20 percent of fourth grade students were proficient in U.S. history, but only 17 percent of eighth grade students were rated proficient in U.S. history. Students in 12th grade, high school seniors, were the least competent. Only 12 percent of 12th grade students were proficient in American history. Students’ competence in a subject is measured as “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” or “advanced,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Proficiency, as far as the survey is concerned, essentially means a student has mastered the basics of a subject and understands how it applies to the everyday world.

In another study:

Brandon Dutcher is with the conservative think tank and said the organization wanted to find out how much civic knowledge Oklahoma high school students know.

They're questions taken from the actual exam that you have to take to become a U.S. citizen," Dutcher said.

A thousand students were surveyed by telephone and given 10 questions drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services item bank. Candidates for U.S. citizenship must answer six questions correctly in order to become citizens.

About 92 percent of the people who take the citizenship test pass on their first try, according to immigration service data. However, Oklahoma students did not fare as well. Only about 3 percent of the students surveyed would have passed the citizenship test.

Dutcher said this is not just a problem in Oklahoma. He said Arizona had similar results, which left him concerned for the entire country.

So; is history being taught, but not learned or is it not being taught? Has our education system diminished the importance of our history in favor of classes in Recognizing Smartphone Function Keys or Optimizing Your Google Searches?

My point with all of this is that, the same students that are coming out of our learning institutions with a weak understanding for the significance of historical events, are joining the fire service where history MUST be a part of their fire service education.

Many of the skills that are gained from the lessons learned come from the history and traditions that are a huge part of our fire service.

Obviously, recruits that have been raised in households where a parent or relative have a fire service background tend to clearly understand the relationship between the history and the training that is needed to build their foundation as a firefighter. It would be unfair to say that ALL new recruits are unappreciative of the part that history plays in their professional growth.

It will always be the work of our fire service leaders to continue to teach our history to every new firefighter who enters our occupation. It is important that they learn to understand significant fires that killed firefighters and civilians, such as the Great Chicago Fire, Peshtigo, WI Wildland Fire, Great Fire of Boston, Iroquois Theater Fire in Chicago, San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, Cocoanut Grove Nightclub Fire, Texas City, TX Explosion and Fire, Our Lady of the Angels School Fire, Beverly Hills Supper Club Fire, Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse Fire, Charleston Sofa Superstore Fire, The Station Nightclub Fire, West, TX Fertilizer Plant Explosion and Fire, Mann Gulch Wildland Fire, South Canyon Fire on Storm King Mountain,  Yarnell Hill Wildland Fire in 2013 and of course, 9/11.

I also believe that ANY training exercise that resulted in firefighter deaths should be required reading.

We have to train with our eye on history so that it isn’t repeated.


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. All articles by the author are protected by copyright under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

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Comment by Art "Chief Reason" Goodrich on March 25, 2014 at 5:20pm

Thanks for the comments.

Lane; nice to meet you.

There were so many thoughts going through my head on this issue, that I had to back off for a couple of days to collect my thoughts.

We all know that Fire burns differently than it did 30 years ago. Construction is lightweight, full of glue and plastic, walk-in closets, large commons area, cathedral ceilings, attached garages and brimming with all kinds of electronic devices.

We "know our enemy" because history has told us to.

And it's real simple to spot a newbie who didn't do so well in high school history.

They will ask, Why do we have to do it THAT way?

Looking forward to Indy, Bobby.

I didn't get a hug last year!



Comment by Lane Sekavec on March 25, 2014 at 3:10pm

Great commentary!!  I teach hazardous materials response, specifically tank cars/railroad operations, to responders and I tell them to go home and research Kingman, AZ; Waverly, TN and Crescent City, IL, to find out how we got to where we are as haz-mat responders.  Very rarely do I have someone who's been around long enough to know about Kingman and almost never do I have anyone who's familiar with the other two incidents.  We're at least two generations beyond those incidents. 


I tell them that even though tank car construction has gotten much better over the last 20-30 years, they still tend to function the same way in an incident; it just typically takes them longer to get to that same failure point than in the past. 


It's vital that we remember where we've been as a group so that we can prevent a repeat those incidents.

Comment by Bobby Halton on March 25, 2014 at 2:48pm


It is absolutely critical that we understand and have an appreciation of our history. Our world history, American history, our fire service history and our personal history. Understanding our history helps us to have greater self-awareness, that combined with innovation, humility and courage make for great firefighters. Thoroughly enjoyed your post. See you at FDIC.

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