By Tim Beebe
Fixers and fakers
As the federal election approaches, Tim Beebe takes a shot at Ottawa in his online Spontaneous Combustion column, recommending that aspiring politicians serve a year as volunteer firefighters.
By Tim Beebe
Fixers and fakers
Tim Beebe is the fire chief in Upsala, Ont. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oct. 1, 2008
“Are you okay down there?” I
squinted through falling snowflakes into the snarl of metal, wheels and engine
parts. I could just see the corner of the trucker’s face about five feet away,
deep in the bowels of the wreck. He may as well have been on the other side of
"I’m OK,” he replied. “I’m just stuck.”
“Don’t move,” I said, “we’ll get you out in no
time.” I don’t usually lie, especially to trapped truck drivers, but this
seemed like a good time to make an exception. I didn’t
really want him to know that I felt like a janitor doing brain surgery. Our rescue kit consisted of a couple of
hacksaws, a come-along, and a bag of hand tools. This was my first extrication,
and I was supposed to be in charge. Sound crazy? Believe me it was.
I was in the middle of
pretending I knew what to do when Ignace Fire Department arrived with its heavy
hydraulics and experienced crew. The captain asked what I needed. I said
something like, “Get him out, and we’ll cheer you on.” He assigned his crew,
and had the trucker on a backboard in short order. I went away humbled, but
better prepared to face the next mess.
Fixing messes. That’s what
firefighters do. We train long and hard, but it takes more than training. It
takes a particular mindset, something not everyone has.
Some folks see a mess and say, “Holy cow! What a
mess!” They’re the rubbernecks that brag about the huge crash they saw today.
Anyone can be a member of this crowd.
Politicians at election time are at the head of the
pack. They usually take it a step further by promising to fix the mess if you
vote them in. “Just elect us, pretty please, and we’ll fix the economy, stop
climate change and give every Canadian a free trip to the moon.”
The next group says, “Who
can I blame for this mess?” These are the guys with the tape measures and
cameras at the crash scene. Their kids are the tattletale siblings that say,
“Mommy! Johnny spilled milk all over the floor!” Politicians excel in this
group too with their attack ads. “Don’t elect those imbeciles! They made
this mess.” The faultfinders are annoyingly observant, but they have their
place. You definitely want them on your inspection and investigation teams.
The third group sizes up the
mess and says, “I can fix that!” Frontline firefighters are among those that
have this mindset. They respond to spilled milk with a mop. They don’t care who
did it. They get their satisfaction from fixing chaos.
Now, close your eyes and let
me paint a picture for you. (OK, open them again so you can finish reading.)
Image me using the wrecked tractor-trailer as a platform to give a speech to
the arriving crews and rubbernecking public.
“I promise, if I am elected incident
commander, I will get this trucker out in no time. Furthermore, I will fix this
mess, figure out who is at fault and hold them personally responsible for their
actions.” I can almost hear the trucker below me saying, “Can you just let
those Ignace guys get on with the show, and we can discuss this later?”
Maybe some of our leaders
could take a lesson from the firefighter. The best fix on that snowy April
morning was for me to get out of the way so someone more qualified could do the
Now here’s an idea. Let’s
make every aspiring politician serve a year as a volunteer firefighter. Even
better, an unemployed volunteer firefighter in northwestern Ontario. If they survive this introduction into the real
world, they can run for office. If they don’t, at least we had an extra set of
hands for a while. As a side benefit, we’ll eliminate some of the riffraff in
I don’t want to be unfair to
our venerable leaders. I suspect that there are
some who have the heart to fix things, but choosing the right name on the
ballot makes Russian roulette look like a game of marbles. It seems the further
up the ladder they climb, the more useless they become. Everyone knows the
firefighter is there to help. But how often do you hear people talk about the “selfless bureaucrat” or the “virtuous politician?”
By the time you get to the prime
minister, well, the poor chap doesn’t have a chance. My advice? Vote for the
guy with the mop.
As for our trucker friend,
he was released from the hospital later that day, battered but in good shape,
all things considered. Not long after, I heard he was on
the Ignace Fire Department. I’ve got to hand it to those guys, they’ve got
a unique recruitment strategy.
Some people dream of worthy accomplishments. Others
stay awake and do them.