By Tim Beebe
Tim Beebe, the fire chief in Upsala, Ont., writes the Spontaneous
Combustion column for Canadian Firefighter magazine, but that’s just four times a
year and he has much more to say, so we’re posting his
always-entertaining blog here. You can go back into the blog archives to
find out why he chose the name Beebewitz’s Blog – (something about high
school!) – or just read it and enjoy.
Nov. 9, 2011 – A person in pursuit of money or power or fame doesn't select fire fighting as a career path. At least not for very long. Plenty of other professions serve those ends without causing one to be awakened at 2:00 a.m. to muck around in turnout gear. Firefighters may want money, power, and fame, but our chief motivator (at least in the beginning) is a desire to help others.
By Tim Beebe
Nov. 9, 2011 – A person in pursuit of money or power or
fame doesn't select fire fighting as a career path. At least not for
very long. Plenty of other professions serve those ends without causing
one to be awakened at 2:00 a.m. to muck around in turnout gear. Firefighters may want money, power, and fame, but our chief motivator (at least in the beginning) is a desire to help others.
It's this altruistic side of the
firefighter that views red tape and liability as nuisances that impede
the pursuit of our calling. We are solution driven people. Our goal is
to get to the scene, fix the problem, and get home. When someone tells
us we can't do this or that because of policy, or because it's
litigiously risky, it drives us nuts. That is, at least until we become
fire chiefs. Then the world starts to take on a different colour.
As a small department chief that pulls
his fair share of hose, my firefighter perspective is alive and well,
but I also see the legal hazards that hang like a guillotine blade over
our heads. In May of this year I wrote a post about these
sometimes conflicting viewpoints of pragmatism and prudence. Here is an
I've been a fire chief for just over
fifteen years now, and I believe I am finally beginning to think like
one . . . or at least I'm developing a dual personality of sorts. The
practical, caring, Firefighter Jekyll in me is sometimes challenged by
the cautious, liability-minded Chief Hyde. We arrived at the scene of a
grass fire last week to find a young man walking his dog within a few
feet of a very obviously live hydro line. The firefighter side of me
said, "He's an idiot, but I'm glad he didn't get fricasseed." The chief
side of me said, "Get that idiot out of there before he gets fricasseed
and someone says it's my fault."
You can read the rest of the
It turns out that Chief Hyde wasn't too far off the mark. A New Jersey fire department was found to be 60 per cent responsible
injuries suffered when a man stepped on a downed hydro line in his home
driveway . . . which means they are responsible for 60 per cent of 20 million
You can read the story here.
Even without knowing all the details,
the New Jersey story is different from my story, but we did both leave
downed hydro lines unattended. In my case, I faced liability issues
whether I stayed or left. The incident was about 10 kilometres outside of
Upsala, which was close enough to be considered our back yard if it
caught the bush on fire, but far enough that I would be in serious
trouble if something burned at home while I was away with our only
pumper. But such are the issues we face out here in the boonies.
On a similar topic, and in keeping with
my love of analogies, I compared the volunteer service to a panda bear
in a post last month that was reposted on the Fire Within blog. If you
haven't read it yet click here.
The bottom line: right and wrong choices
are not always as clear as day and night. Sometimes they are a foggy,
dusky gray colour that only turn black or white after we've made an
Firefighters might not be in hot pursuit
of money, power, and fame, but there are plenty of folks out there that
are . . . and you can be sure they've got their microscopes and
scalpels ready to dissect our motives and actions when the opportunity
Tim Beebe is the fire chief in Upsala, Ont. Contact him at email@example.com