Disclaimer: My knowledge of comic book canon is extremely limited and skewed greatly by feature film adaptations. Please excuse any incorrect or non-canonical information in my opening analogy and focus on the greater message.
Batman and Superman. Both comic book superheros, but for different reasons. Batman is an average man, except that he has limitless financial resources and some martial arts training. His advantage over crooks and robbers is found in a state of the art suit, belt full of gadgets, and some exotic vehicles.
Superman is an alien. Due to some kind of gravitational difference between his native planet and Earth, he has a number of superpowers including super strength and being able to jump high/fly. He is also somehow able to deflect bullets. He wears a “uniform” when saving people, but his superpowers are still available when in civilian dress.
How do the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight relate to the fire service? If Batman loses his gadgets and suit, he’s just a rich guy with kung fu moves. If Superman loses his cape and tights, he still has his powers. He can still fly, leap tall buildings, and shoot heat rays from his eyes. Superman doesn’t rely on a technological advantage, but instead has a basic skill set creating a physical advantage.
The fire service is constantly evolving its “tools of the trade”. Every expo debuts a new “game-changer” which promises to revolutionize our trade, and these breakthroughs often involve new technology. This is not a new trend, nor is it isolated to the fire service. Every industry has been undergoing the same pattern of technical advancement for decades, even centuries. Pieces of equipment that were common place when I joined this profession were rare or non-existent when today’s senior members came on the job. Thankfully, the “salty vets” are still around to remind us that the job can be done without the fancy toys. And so, this is my message to my fellow “youths” of the fire service.
The tools we have at our fingertips today are incredible. Read a training manual from just 20-40 years ago and that becomes evident. I can only imagine what will exist when we retire. However, this job was around before today’s technology and was completed without it. Today, we have the advantage of being able to learn from the “seniors” who worked before the time of high-pressure SCBA’s and TIC’s. They can teach us how to search when the TIC dies, attract attention when our PASS doesn’t work, and how to stay calm and have a chance of survival if our SCBA fails. They know that we need a sound foundation in the basics, or we will be lost when the technology inevitably fails. However, they won’t be around forever.
We will one day be the seniors. We must make certain that we retain and pass on the same values. Don’t let the next generation become reliant on circuit boards and sensors. They fail even under ordinary conditions, and we are firemen, we can find a way to break almost anything. Learn from the senior members. Learn how to function “unplugged”, if necessary. If the knowledge isn’t readily available within your agency, then search it out. There is still valuable information to be found in old training manuals. Just keep in mind that changes in building construction, building contents, and accepted practices have left some old tactics invalid. Continue to gather and store this knowledge in your mental toolbox and dispense it as new faces join the ranks.
Accept, embrace, and utilize new equipment as it is introduced, but don’t rely on it for absolute survival. Remain grounded with a solid base of basic skills that don’t depend on a battery. Be like Superman, and teach future generations to do the same.