Comment: The irony of old adages
The fire service has long bandied around the phrase “100 years of tradition, unimpeded by progress.” Or “150 years of tradition…” Or “200 years of tradition…” The old adage has a few incarnations when it comes to the exact number of years, but the premise is the same no matter the years. Who came up with this widespread saying? I searched the web. The phrase has no Wikipedia page I could find. There seems to be no click-trail to follow. Perhaps, when first uttered, no one thought it would really catch on.
While I have heard it invoked with lightness to capture the real challenges of change, it’s also a pretty ironic statement. Fire departments are progress machines steeped in tradition, akin to so many other facets of life I marvel at. For example, I love to golf, and golf is a sport of manners with its own culture. You have to play to intuit that you don’t step on someone’s putt line on the green. These ways of doing things might date back to golf’s origins in 15th century Scotland, but the equipment being put out sure as heck doesn’t. And it’s not just the equipment, it’s the whole science behind tackling the course, the different processes today’s pros come up with to score so sublimely sub-par. The fire service works on the same trajectory of advancement.
It’s almost as if progress has a mind of its own, and just shows itself through the will of its human hosts. Can humans even stop progressing? Stop innovating? Observational evidence seems to dictate many of us are compelled, particularly at leadership levels, to improve.
I could write all day about electric fire trucks, AI applications, virtual reality and mind-blowingly high-tech fabrics, filters and all the rest intended to keep crews safer. Or, consider the casting aside of the proud soot covered firefighter image in favour of the one who does proper decon and tries to avoid getting cancer. The progress is innumerable, but less visible are the day-to-day innovations in operations. I received a call from a firefighter wanting to share a story of a very challenging call. During a structure fire, the crew needed to rescue a 385-pound person from a basement. The difficult bariatric rescue led to the development of a new approach for next time (look for the full story in the April edition of Canadian Firefighter magazine).
I bet these stories are happening all the time in the fire service. Progress is everywhere, from the crew level to the companies that equip them. The only thing that hasn’t changed in the fire service is the mission and the generous, brave hearts carrying it out.