Today’s world of firefighting resembles the lifestyles that we have taken on that greatly differ from the seventies and eighties. Life is more complex, filled with technology and lack of time for ourselves and our families. The fire service also reflects these trends that seem to have slipped into our lives like a thief in the night.
December 11, 2007
By Capt. Carlin Riley
Today’s world of firefighting resembles the lifestyles that we have taken on that greatly differ from the seventies and eighties. Life is more complex, filled with technology and lack of time for ourselves and our families. The fire service also reflects these trends that seem to have slipped into our lives like a thief in the night. I use the analogy of a thief because this way of life is slowly stealing away many very important aspects of the fire service that have been stored in some vault away from our grasp. The fire service has taken on this fast-paced life in all facets from fire suppression to specialty rescues. If we choose to continue on this path many departments seem to find themselves in a full-circle situation. We continually bring new and better, or so we think, ideas into our operations but soon find that the old ways yield a better and safer end result. Now, please don’t get me wrong, the radium hitch in high angle rescue, the new heads up display in our SCBA and the newest in mapping technology have made some differences but when the cards are on the table or when it hits the fan we seem to revert to the old, tried and true methods. Why do we seem to default back to the old ways? Because we know them, they are saved into our hard drives (brains) and we drilled them until they were second nature. Can we do this with the new ways? Not with our current training requirements for the year, including inspections, recertifications, hose testing, truck waxing, public education… well, you get the picture.
We rely so much on the newest piece of equipment and the newest version of computer-aided dispatch that we soon forget the way we used to do things. What happens when our computers go down? What happens when we forget how to rig the radium release hitch? What happens when our computer tells us to go right and we know the address is left? We had better hope
that someone around remembers how we used to do it before the computer was introduced!
I am a new technology guy myself and rely on computers, email and cell phones for communications, I like the new technology but again when it hits the fan and one of my crew is hanging 200 feet up I want to know how to safely get him down. I want to know that my driver is going to the right call. So how do we embrace the new technology and keep the old tried and true methods? We continue to train using the KISS model. Why shouldn’t we have all the best and many different tools in our tool boxes? We can implement the new ways, just don’t forget the old. It always comes down to training.
I have seen it time after time where we automatically accept the new way of doing things and discount the old. We are throwing away years if experience and a wealth of knowledge if we do this. Training is always good, regardless if it is new or not, and we should take the time and evaluate, compare the old and the new, try both ways and at the end, make an educated decision whether to use the new, combine it with the old or continue to search for a different method altogether. I would certainly not tell you to not seek out new or better training, not to buy the newest and best equipment out there but I will tell you again not to forget the old ways. I look at it like this: for the fire service or the world for that matter to evolve into what we are today, we had to make mistakes and we have had to learn from unpleasant events such as deaths. This is evolution. We must use this experience to benefit us and implement the best training programs for our personnel. Now, along the way through history mankind has done some things that have negative and lasting effects, we want to avoid those things and again in that case use the old. If you see the merit in the new idea and you have verified that it is better than what you currently use, well you know the rest! The old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” still applies. Our crews will resent us if we try to train them in a new method with new protocols and new equipment while all the while the old way is still better. It is our responsibility as officers to ensure that our training is pertinent and makes sense. When introducing the new technology or equipment, try to compare it to the old. Give examples of what the old and the new can do. Perhaps you will be pleasantly surprised and be able to marry the two sides and come up with an even better and stronger approach to the issue at hand.
I turn for a second to one of my heroes, Chief Alan Brunacini. Have you ever read the mission statement that the Phoenix Fire Department instituted under the command of Chief Brunacini? It reads” Our Mission is to Prevent Harm, Survive and Be Nice.” This very simple statement embodies what we think and do but felt it was too simple to write down. Look at the success the Phoenix Fire Department has enjoyed! They are leaders in every aspect of the fire service and what guides their models, programs, policies and operations is that simple yet very prophetic statement. It does not have to be complicated or new to be better; it just has to make sense. I have never met a firefighter who wants to perform poorly or wants to fail; they just want the right tools for the job and the training to do it. Keep it simple, it makes sense!
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