Perception is Realty Part One
If perception is reality for your fire department then you have a problem. This term has been bandied about the fire service for several years when talking about how politicians and the
public view us. Unfortunately, it has also come up in firefighter disciplinary hearings. It is one of those handy catch phrases that sounds good however, it may be true, false, or contain only a grain of truth.
Perception is the way that others see us. It is influenced by tv shows, movies, media, and rumors. Most lay people believe if you put a lighter to a sprinkler the entire system goes off
because they saw it in a movie. Perception is often based on prejudices, " they have beds in the firehouses", and incomplete information.
Reality is based on fact and how things really are. Our above mentioned audience are distracted by the myriad details of every day life. They are a participative audience who voice their opinions and control our budgets. It is up to us as the fire "experts" to make sure
they see the reality and not the perception.
A general perception is that every fire truck the public sees is fully staffed and has the highest trained individuals on it. Reality could be just a driver, all rookies, or the 30 year member who doesn't attend drills and only has time for the " big" calls. When people call they expect the best
which is our responsibility to provide. They deserve professionals whether they are career or volunteer.
A popular perception, especially on social media, is when a fire crew is seen shopping for food-
they are using taxpayers money on taxpayer time as well as being unavailable for calls. Nothing could be farther from reality. The passive way is for fire chiefs to ban this activity while
realistic chiefs will support their members by changing this perception through dissemination of information to the public.
*As an aside I believe companies should get out of the station and interact with the public at the
same time supporting the local economy.
The public thinks we play cards and checkers in the firehouse all day. They do not often see the training, equipment maintenance, and station cleaning and maintenance that goes on. If this is not the reality in your department then shame on you. Do your truck checks and washing on the ramp whenever possible. You would be surprised how many opportunities this provides for quality, positive public contact. Wash your personal vehicle behind the station, in a bay or at home.
If you are wearing bunker gear or anything that identifies you as being a part of your fire department be on your best behavior. This is a hard one for volunteers, and some career people, be as well trained as you can be. Reality is that firefighting is not a hobby and not a place to be if you only want to just be seen in uniform.
...to be continued.