Bob Dylan wrote a song, and an album, under the name of the title that I have named this blog. I always interpreted the song as a parallel to how the world, and the politics of nations, change at the drop of a dime. How the words of a single man, the bullet of a single gun, or the floods of a single storm can make the world view its own self in a different light. A few months ago I listened to the song, and began to instead parallel the words to the fire service. When I did so, I was pretty amazed at how well it really fit. Policies, funding, politics, and tactics… oh how they have all changed over the last 10 years! Equally, change in the mindset of the old vollies compared to newer, younger ones who get boat loads of information and ideas from the internet and magazines as opposed to getting it all from fire ground experience. As the song played through my mind, and imagining how things have changed, I began to recall the days not so long ago of my childhood. I thought about the era that my father lived in the fire service. My dad used to take me to meetings, training, and even the occasional fire call. What the old timers did back in those times, with the equipment they had, always fills me with a pride. Where does that pride come from? Am I proud of the deeds I bore witness to, knowing that I am now part of that tradition? Is it a pride that simply comes from donning the helmet, knowing that its my crew and I that people will call upon when they need help the most? Pride can be a funny thing when you think about it. Where it comes from, and what it takes to instill it in different people. You can see it on a new firefighters face when they pull their first helmet out of the box and try it on. Where does that look go after a few years? Where is that look when they are out in the middle of a freshly paved road in the middle of the summer and its 98 degrees out, directing traffic around a tree that’s fallen? Where is that look at 3 AM, and their tending to a ninety year old woman who’s concerned she hasn’t had a bowl movement in two days? I’ve noticed how that pride comes back when the color of their helmet changes. A whole new world of possibilities have come open. But where does that look go when their doing reports? When they lose their senior firefighter to another shift, and get a probie who is so damn smug looking when he pulls that brand new black helmet out of its box? Where exactly is all this going Captain Chaos? What is your point? I mentioned my father, and the old times for a reason. My dad was in a very unique position back in the 80’s, and you can see the pride in his face when he recalls those times. He was the only firefighter that worked in the town that he volunteered. More appropriately, he was the only one that was allowed off work when the pager went off. For many years, during certain times of the day he was the towns only line of defence in times of emergency. But this isn’t where his pride lies, when he thinks back on those times. His real pride shows when he tells stories about how well other departments worked with him in those times. They often trained together, and fought a great deal of fire together. Those other departments knew also, that when their neighboring department had a call, there was only one man going. If there was someone out there listening, and knew the time of day, and heard the call, they never hesitated to assist. They didn’t need to hear a call for help, or for assistance, they went to their own station, and responded along with him just because. They knew that they had a brother out there responding alone, and they knew that where ever he was going, there was a good possibility they knew who was having the emergency. Whether it be a friend, a neighbor, family, or the neighbor of a family friend. My dad recalls those days fondly, because they got the job done together. The times have changed since then, around home, and all over the country.
Now days, you can’t just go help, at least not without a good bitchin’ from someone. And I’m not talking about jumping up and responding all over the county that you live in. I’m talking about hearing a call dispatched a few streets over from your location, and you know that you’re the closest help by a long shot. It’s not your territory, but you want to go help. Believe me, I’ve done it, and got that good bitchin’. But I ask you this, if you’re the one needing help, are you going to refuse it based on what department is coming to help you? Where is the sense in the way we act toward each other now? Some would say its the fear that has become instilled in us as we read about firefighters and chiefs being sued, many times for simply doing their duty and the outcome is not what was intended. Granted that may be a part of it, but I think some of it has to do with departmental pride. Its a problem happening all over. Fire Departments are losing sight of what were here for. Here is where pride becomes a funny thing. Departmental pride can be a double-edged sword. This kind of pride does reside in all ranks, but as the bugle count gets bigger, so does the pride. On a Chief level, It is a pride one takes on when they know that they are whom everyone looks to, to set the standard and be the example. It can become a force all on its own, causing decisions to be made based on pride and emotions, rather than whats best for the people whom they are sworn to protect. Dont get me wrong, there are many a good leaders out there who never let service to their community take a back seat to things such as pride. On a Company officer level, it can produce a very healthy competition between companies and stations. It can also be a breeding ground for resentment, anger, and jealousy. I blame Departmental pride on many problems in todays fire service.
Without getting too many people jumping up and down on their keyboards, remember that im saying that department pride is to blame for SOME of the problems today. I’m not talking about the pride you have in saying, “I ride the busiest Engine in the county”. I’m talking about the pride that causes you to cancel the first in engine, or send them to a water point, because they are about to beat you in your own territory. I’m talking about, not calling for mutual aid from the closest station because you don’t like Billy Joe Bob who is the chief there. Believe it or not, this type of thing happens every day, all over. Companies sit idle with a fire a quarter-mile from the station, because it’s not their territory. Departmental pride can be trouble when you start holding the word “Fire Department” on the side of the rig less important than the name or number that comes before it. I’ve never come to understand it, I can’t even BS a good justification for it. All I know, is someone is in need of assistance, and the wheels aren’t turning. What is wrong with this picture? Has anyone else noticed this trend in our beloved service? Some would try to argue that the people in need are THEIR tax payers/public and they expect to see the big red trucks that they are paying for. But we all know that they don’t read the side of the truck as its pulling up, maybe afterwards, but certainly not as the emergency is happening. And THATS when they are in need! What has happened since the era that my father is so proud of? Bob Dylan knows: “The times, and they are a changin”.
Do you remember what the first question, aside from maybe “whats your name?”, you were asked when you first walked into the fire house? Most of the time, in most departments everywhere, the first question of any potential firefighter is ” Why do you want to be here?” The answer should be just about the same from all. Anyone who answers the question without saying at some point in the next sentence ” I want to help people” , typically isn’t the kind of person we want. Some people just want to try something different, get away from the house one night a week, or join the “good ol’ boy’s” club. This is NOT the correct mindset. Chaos does not endorse it, and its most certainly not a mantra endorsed by ELAFF. If you’re not signing up to provide emergency service to your fellow-man, and put your neck on the line for your friends, neighbors, and perfectly good strangers, then you need to join something else. Go on down to the Masons lodge, or Shriners, or Four H Fair, I don’t care. There are other means to be a pillar of your community, and most are very good things to be associated with. But don’t sign up for the Fire Department. We are here for the public, whom put their complete faith and trust in us, on the worst day of their lives. Firefighters, Drivers, Captains and Chiefs need to remember this, and keep it close to their hearts. It is your absolute DUTY to make sure the citizens of your district, AND of those surrounding it, get the best and most timely help possible. It don’t matter what the name of your department is, all that matters are the words “Fire Department” on the side of every truck, and back of every coat. Train like you mean it, as if its your last chance to do it before the real thing. Protect and defend the people and their property with EVERYTHING you have available to you, not just what you like or want to have available to you. We can take a lot of notes, and learn a lot of good things from those that have come before us. Especially back when it didn’t matter who it was, just that someone was there to help. The fire service will always be evolving. Tactics and strategies will inevitably change. The politics, the people, the equipment will change. Our mission stays the same: Protect lives, Property, and stabilize the emergency. Those priorities have not changed in centuries. If you’re not doing everything in your power that your rank affords you to do so, its time to do something else! Take up underwater basket weaving! Whatever you do, NEVER mis-place the publics trust, or safety, with something so petty as pride. As always boys and girls, stay safe, and make sure everyone goes HOME!
Dont be scared to comment! Agree or disagree, you ARE after all entitled to your opinion!
If you aren’t a fan of ELAFF over on Facebook, here are a few posted items you missed this week:
1. Cee Lo Green sang “Thank You” to firefighters(including his mom)
2. Our new contributor, Captain Chaos, has a Facebook page.
3. Brian Brush gave a moving speech to a group of new fire recruits.
(Hat Tip to the Fire Critic)
4. There was a fantastic post on The Tailboard discussing the need for officers to have knowledge AND experience before being promoted. Click the link to check it out! (I will have a post on this topic up soon.)
5. Finally, the folks making the Burn documentary of Detroit firefighters posted newly captured footage from this past winter.
Myself and Captain Chaos will have some new posts up this week. Until then, spread the word and stay safe! (If you haven’t read our previous posts, you should do that now…thanks!)
Before ELAFF HQ begins full swing on the world-wide web with articles, videos, pictures and overall general pandemonium, I was asked to first give a short introduction of myself. A while back, I was approached by a cat that goes by the name Lemon. Lieutenant Lemon that is, and offered me a really well paid position of being a contributor to his up and coming web site. At first I said, “if it aint burning, I aint there.” But then, about two and a half seconds later, I realized that this was an opportunity to be a part of the hottest trend in the fire service. So after this revelation, and a righteous pummeling with fists full of cash, I accepted. So the big question on everyone’s mind will be “Who IS this outlandish man, and self-proclaimed Dragon King?” I am Captain Chaos. I am that guy that’s on every fire department. I’ve been there, done it, twice, and have an awesome t-shirt and coffee cup to prove it! Actual time on the truck does not matter. I have an answer to everything, am never wrong, and will always have a story better than yours. Surely by now, you realize who I am. Through these shenanigans, I do hope that we will have fun together, and LEARN something. Whether you get a good laugh, our just plain out right offended, the point is to take something away from it all, and make you a better firefighter. I wont, because I’m already perfect in every way. It does not get better than this, but I digress. As time goes on, you will come to understand the ELAFF mindset. Keep your tray in its upright position, your hands and arms inside the rig at all times, and hold on! Excessive Leather Accessories for Firefighters is just getting started! Enjoy!
That is indeed a caustic title. However, it isn’t my opinion, rather it seems to be a common sentiment throughout the fire service. Granted, the fact that you are reading this on your own volition shows that you are probably not the target of this post. When discussing an article in a trade publication or other fire service literature, how often have you heard comments like, “I’m a firefighter; I don’t read”? The idea that firefighting is simple, physical labor involving only brute strength and requiring little education is outdated. How can we continue to develop our skills if we refuse to push our limits? Most firehouses are equipped with weight rooms; which allow us to continually improve our physical fitness because we rely on strong bodies to perform our jobs. Making split-second decisions during intense situations requires an extremely sharp mind. So, why are we not equally concerned with our mental fitness? We must be willing to exercise and build our minds, just as we do our muscles.
Why do we promote our purported stupidity? I believe it’s all due to our deep-rooted history and traditions. We cling to the old school, the past. This is a wonderful ideal for building esprit de corps, but there are some traditions for which it is long time to abandon. Organized firefighting in America grew out of the poor, slum-dwelling populations in large cities like Boston and New York City. The ranks were filled with Irish and Italian immigrants who were unable to acquire more conventional employment, and they performed amazingly well considering their circumstances. Those were the days of bucket brigades and horse-drawn steam engines; when PPE consisted of wool clothing, large mustaches, and an iron constitution. Times changed, technology improved, and the fire service developed strategies and tactics beyond the half-improvised attempt to simply limit destruction to a few buildings. The science of modern chemistry grew from the archaic meddlings of metallurgy and alchemy, yet chemists have earned a distinction as reputable scientists by yielding the backroom wizardry of their past to newer, constantly advancing techniques. It is time for the American fire service, as a whole, to remove the “dumb guy” attitude from our collective mindset and allow our profession to grow.
Many would ask, “Why does it matter as long as we do the job?” We fight the beast, we slay the dragon, we save the day. Sure, but what about the other 85% of the time, when we’re watching t.v. and drinking coffee? What about when we aren’t being heroes? The perception of the public, and city officials, acts on the premise of “out of sight, out of mind”. Smothering infernos and rescuing babies gets us in the headlines, but the next day we are back to being lazy, pension-padding, tax-dollar wasting jerks. We continue to promote ourselves as blue-collar, single-skilled laborers, yet we are amazed when the city council wants to close stations and layoff firefighters. They see us as single-use tools, only needed in case of emergency; a reactive force to be called upon only after things go awry. In order to change their perception of us, we must change our perception of ourselves.
We must truly accept, encourage, and even require higher education within the ranks. The members of today’s fire service must evolve, and market ourselves as educated, intelligent, and highly skilled specialists. We must move beyond the idea of being mindless brutes who break things and spray water on fire. Yes, there is still a need for effective, aggressive firefighting and we must continue to do our job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read a book every once and awhile. Our’s is a profession which requires brains, as well as brawn, for long-term success.
– Lt. Lemon
This marks the beginning of a new endeavor at ELAFF HQ. Lt. Lemon, along with a growing staff of contributors, plan on using this blog to spread the ELAFF mindset to a larger audience than Facebook will allow. If you are new to ELAFF, welcome. If you are a regular fan, thanks for sticking with us. Either way, buckle up because the road we travel is rough. (editor’s note: you should ALWAYS buckle up…rough road or not)