It is said that the fire service is “XYZ years of tradition unimpeded by progress.” It’s time we change that mentality. A simple look at where we’ve been and where we are now in terms of tactics, building construction, apparatus, or staffing levels shows the falsity of that phrase.
I think we are simply hiding behind this statement as a defense mechanism. It allows us to avoid the unknown by remaining content with our present way of operating. We are in essence saying “Sure, I’d love to change, but the fire service won’t let me.”
Stop it! Why don’t we call it what it is?
I see 3 primary reasons why we avoid change in the fire service. (Coincidentally, they are the same 3 reasons that I avoid change in my personal life as well, and I’m certain I’m not alone there!)
1. We avoid change because we have an identity crisis. I am a firefighter, it’s who I am, it’s what I do. Period. We have always done it this way. It works for us. We are the only ones in our area that can do (insert macho tactic here.)
But when we discuss change, it makes us wonder if we will continue to be the same person or not. If we change, people may think our department isn’t as great as we portray it. We are afraid that our image of ourselves may somehow be altered to something less grand or glorious.
It’s not that we fear global change, it’s that we fear a change in personal identity.
Even if that new identity is actually a better, more complete one.
2. We avoid change because we are emotionally attached to things. We invest time and money into our careers. We give to our community by making personal sacrifices. We give our blood, sweat, and even tears to something that we love so much. (Unless you’re one of those that is just in it for the hometown glory or the bi-weekly paycheck. But that’s a different blog post!) We are emotionally involved. In short, we have skin in the game.
So when change is on the horizon, we have an emotional reaction to it. We experience anxiety, anger, frustration, confusion. None of these are pleasant emotions so we balk at the change we perceive to be causing them. We feel the weight of uncertainty around us and it doesn’t feel good.
We don’t resist the change itself, we resist the way it makes us feel.
Even if the emotional attachment to our current situation really isn’t that healthy.
3. We avoid change because we are comfortable. Change involves work. It usually means learning new behaviors, information, and skills. Change alters our normal schedule and puts us into situations that we are unfamiliar with. Situations that might create failure. And since we generally don’t want to look bad in front of others, we stick to what we know.
In reality, we change all the time, especially in our personal lives. Yet when it comes to the fire service, we avoid it. We have become complacent with our routine. We know it. We feel comfortable in it.
We actually aren’t opposed to change, we just aren’t willing to go through that uncomfortable phase it requires.
Even if we know that a period of discomfort now will lead to a more comfortable future.
Which of these reasons for avoiding change do you fall under? Perhaps you have other reasons beyond what is listed here. I’m asking you to take a hard look at yourself at the beginning of this new year and determine why you have been resisting change. Be honest.
Say out loud what is causing your resistance. Write it down on paper. Tell a friend or confidant. Stop hiding behind the defense mechanisms that are preventing you from being real with yourself.
Find an area in your knowledge, skills, and abilities that you admit may need some change. List specific steps that can be taken to improve yourself even if it means being uncomfortable for a period of time.
Look around your department and identify the true reasons things are done in a particular manner. Start the conversations that determine if you are simply taking the safe, comfortable way out by hiding behind tradition and then do something about it.
Don’t let these terrible reasons cause you to avoid change in 2020. Make this next year one of tradition enhanced by progress.