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Perception has a few different meanings.  For the basis of this blog, I am referring to it as “a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.”

Reality on the other hand is something very different.  It is defined as “The world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.”

So what do these words mean in relation to freighting?  They mean quite a lot actually.

The average citizen sees a fire station.  Its pillar of the community it serves.  They see the apparatus inside of it; clean and apparently maintained.  They see three firefighters; wearing button down uniforms.  The perception is that they feel safe because there is so much apparatus and the firefighters look nice.

But what’s the REALITY?

The reality is that of the six apparatus inside; one is out of service for mechanical reasons, the others only have just enough hose to layout from a hydrant (provided that the hydrant spacing is just right), the shiny aerial ladder failed its last annual testing and the equipment is “thrown” into compartments to make things work.

The reality is that those three firefighters are the ONLY firefighters assigned to that station.  It seems though most fire departments have more apparatus then personnel on duty.

The reality is that those firefighters work for an organization that has no formal annual training program.  There is no standard whatsoever to govern mandatory training.

The reality is that the department has failed to keep up with the changing times.  SOG’s are either out of date or non-existent.  Recordkeeping is done on outdated software or paper,

The reality is that the department has failed to “stay ahead of the curve” in any type of community risk reduction efforts.  They are only in the schools for one month out of the year.  Teaching fire prevention and failing to grasp the opportunity to be a full service life safety provider.

In short, the administration has lost their way and isn’t doing its best to serve the community.  They are perfectly happy with the perception of the department and not the reality. 

Now let us flip things around.  A citizen sees a fire station that is one building inspection away from being condemned.  The apparatus looks old, tired and worn.  There’s a garden hose running into the booster tank of an engine, set on a trickle to keep the tank full.   The three firefighters have shirts untucked, station boots unlaced and one is even wearing sandals.

The reality is that the apparatus IS old, tired and worn.

The reality is that those three firefighters are the ONLY firefighters assigned to that station. 

The reality is that those firefighters work for an organization that has no formal annual training program.  There is no standard whatsoever to govern mandatory training.

The reality is that the department has failed to keep up with the changing times.  SOG’s are either out of date or non-existent.  Recordkeeping is done on outdated software or paper,

The reality is that the department has failed to “stay ahead of the curve” in any type of community risk reduction efforts.  They are only in the schools for one month out of the year.  Teaching fire prevention and failing to grasp the opportunity to be a full service life safety provider.

Are you scratching your head yet?  Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

So what’s the difference?  In my opinion, there is a BIG difference.  The first fire department wants its perception in the community to be that of rainbows and unicorns.  The second fire department is not hiding anything.

In both cases, the line personnel, the ones that matter the most to the organization are victims or circumstance.  They are caught in the middle.  After all, they know the difference between perception and reality.

The end goal for any organization is for perception and reality to be equal.  If the first fire department administration worried more about solving real issues rather than putting a band aid on the bullet h***; the reality would rise up to the level of its intended perception. 

There are more than a few fire departments that look good on paper.  They are accredited by any organization that will accredit them.  But when it counts, when reality comes calling at 3 AM, are they really as good as the paper says they are?

If perception and reality are aligned, they will be. 

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