Years ago the fire service shared its opinions, lessons learned, and post fire academy knowledge primarily in magazine articles. There was no Facebook, Twitter, or blogging. Articles were submitted and reviewed by an editorial panel. The members of these panels were seasoned fire experts who had “done their time” not only in the firehouse, but in the world of fire service literature. Many readers often judged the quality of magazines based on their editorial panels. An article would be reviewed by technical editors whose job was to make sure that the points in the article had value and were accurate. If you didn’t pass - you got rejected. Often if you did pass, you still had discussions with the technical editor to clean things up. It also took months, if not years, to get your article actually published once it was approved. That delay caused a mental pause, reflection, and often revision of the content. It also tended to filter out the fake content and fake authors. This is roughly still the process to get an article published today.
Some may say this is a form of censorship, or that it’s close minded. I think it was and still is a form of quality control. What the internet has done to the fire service scares me. The fire service pulpit is now wide open for anyone who wants to preach. Anyone with a keyboard, an opinion, and a free afternoon can broadcast their views. There is no experienced technical editorial panel for the internet. If you are charismatic, write well, or can make your blog/page look pretty, you tend to get attention - people look at what you say and may listen to you. What is not really a prerequisite here is to have any actual firefighting experience or any clue what you are talking about.
Some of the best firemen I know are computer illiterate. They type with one finger, one letter at a time. They don’t know how to make a pretty blog or Instagram photo - but they know how to fight fire. Sadly, their voices are often lost in the shuffle to someone who has more technical skills than firefighting skills.
Today, access to the firefighting world is instant. Through the smartphone that almost all of us have in our pocket,we can shoot HD video and photos, snazzy them up, edit some text, and post it all to a variety of social networks within minutes. If it’s catchy and goes “viral” - thousands and thousands will see it by this afternoon. It’s a sad fact that more young firefighters read the internet than read the magazines. Ironically - the shorter your message, the more will read it (think Twitter)!
When reading and considering things, my friend Joe Brown used to always say “check the resume”. An illustration of this point - even in magazine days, the first thing I would do before reading an article was flip to the end and read about the author. That would highly influence if I would read the article or not, or how much weight I would give to the content.
- Who is the author?
- What department are they from?
- What is that department’s reputation?
- What kind of / how much work do they do?
- What is their position in the Department?
- How does that position relate to what they’re talking about?
- How much time on do they have?
Those are some of the things I would evaluate in a “resume check”. You may notice that “time on” is pretty low on the list. That’s intentional. For some, their “number of years” is their biggest claim - but what kind of years were those? A wise old saying goes, “it’s not the years in your life, but the life in your years”. I’m more interested in where you’ve been and what you’ve done than how long you’ve been there.
With all of the uncensored opinions out there across all the platforms, I hope you are all “checking the resume” before you embrace the content. There are a lot of people out there who believe that the number of years they have, or their title, or their degrees, give them “experience” from which to preach. This is a dangerous thing. Even scarier, some firefighters and departments are actually revising how they do business based on this content! If you look into it, you may find that the author has more time on the keyboard than they do on the fireground. You may find their department has not provided them with the volume of incidents to back them up. You may find that have little to no real world experience with what they are talking about. You may find they are simply self-proclaimed.
You may find their resume is hidden; that it is very difficult to find specifics. Where did they work? When did they come on? Where was that guy an officer? Which firehouse were they in? To me, these vague, hidden resumes are indicative of a questionable background, or perhaps an attempt to conceal a career that the author wishes was more than it really was. I couldn’t be prouder of the places I’ve been associated with and the path of my career - what does it say about yours if you hide it?
You know what they say opinions are like, and everyone does have a right to theirs. They have a right to share it too, I suppose. I am sharing my opinion right now and I participate in all of the platforms that I talked about above. I do believe that I have integrity - that I write honestly about only the things I know about, the things that I have done, and that I have the background to back up my thoughts. I try to be responsible, knowing that what I say may actually cause a change in how someone else responds to a life-threatining incident. That doesn’t make my opinions right, or gospel - but if you consider my background and experiences, you’ll see they match up and make sense compared to my opinions.
The internet is a scary, instant place with no barrier to entry. It is causing good and bad changes to our job. Before signing up for a viral movement, I’d highly advise that you check the resume of the author.
I certainly invite you to look at mine.