The title of this blog post is borrowed from Chief Van Dorpe’s 2012 FDIC keynote speech. Within that address, he made one of the most profound statements regarding our duty as fire instructors:
“Those of us who call ourselves instructors, those of us who are teachers, must be agents of change – we must be the early adopters. We must be the people, the advocates of the new and the different: new techniques, strategies, new tactics. But at the same time, we must never forget, we must never ever forget, those who came before us. Those that built the fire service we are so privileged to be a part of.”
These words serve as a powerful reminder, one which could not be any more appropriate given the current climate of our industry. It is an exciting time in the fire service, as breakthroughs in technology continue to produce a wealth of resources and information. Chief Halton (among others) have gone as far as describing this period as a “renaissance.” Yet, this age of advancement and enlightenment has been muddled by egoism, myopia and a general lack of civility. While watching an episode of Blue Bloods (season six, episode eight), a scene about tolerance resonated with me, as it paralleled to this very issue. Tom Selick’s character stated, “Isn’t college supposed to be a place where diverging opinions can clash without fear of reprisal with impunity?” The fire service should be no different.
Unfortunately, there exists a divergence which has been driving a wedge through our industry. On one end, there are those who are overly focused on the present (and future), that they have forgotten about how they got there and where they came from. With so much attention being given to the revolutionary fire dynamics research being conducted, we seem to be losing touch with our roots and the sage wisdom passed on by the “giants” who preceded us. In many cases, their message often coincides (at least fundamentally) with the findings and recommendations of those studies. To quote Aaron Fields, “The minute you think you’re new or original you haven’t looked at the history enough.” On the other side, there are those who are so deeply entrenched in a particular mindset and/or methodology that they refute anything new, regardless of merit, and resist any form of change that they deem contradictory. The fact of the matter is, there is equal value in both progressive and traditional thought – we should not have to pick sides.
As Chief Van Dorpe says, we need to be “marrying research with experience” to become “intelligent firefighters.” Only when we learn to fuse the science of fire dynamics with the art of firefighting can we truly “master our craft and become students of the game.” In his recent article, Mounting an Intelligent Interior Attack, Chief Van Dorpe states "What this is about is becoming what it is we profess to be, professional firefighters. Professionals question, professionals challenge, professionals change and adapt, professionals strive to be masters of their profession, which, by definition, means that they must understand the practical science (i.e. engineering) that underpins their craft. How is it that we can lay claim to being firefighters and yet turn our backs on the science of fire dynamics? Mastering that body of knowledge should be foremost in each and every firefighter’s career, from the first day to the last."
It is then our “solemn obligation to pass it along to the next generation of firefighters." We, as instructors, owe it to the “giants” who came before us - to uphold their legacy; for they are “the men who built the fire service as we know it today” (Van Dorpe, 2012). In turn, the future of our industry will be dictated by our actions and what we are able to contribute to it during our time. We must selflessly conduct ourselves with honor and collaboratively put forth our best efforts towards the evolution of our craft and the betterment of our service. Because we also owe it to those who will come after us and, more importantly, the public we all swore to protect – above all else.
Chief Van Dorpe's 2012 FDIC Keynote Speech:
"Mounting an Intelligent Interior Attack"