Our Culture Is Sick

  We are a dynamic culture. We are men and woman who put the well-being of others above our own. For us, it’s not for money, medals or even prestige, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Daily, we represent the best of human nature...


  We are a dynamic culture. We are men and woman who put the well-being of others above our own. For us, it’s not for money, medals or even prestige, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Daily, we represent the best of human nature and, in many cases, the last of the “knights...


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We are a dynamic culture. We are men and woman who put the well-being of others above our own. For us, it’s not for money, medals or even prestige, but simply because it is the right thing to do. Daily, we represent the best of human nature and, in many cases, the last of the “knights in shining armor” for our communities.

Yes, we are a dynamic culture indeed, but ours is also a sick culture and that sickness, if left unacknowledged, may consume our profession.

There was a time when our culture was vibrant and fostered the type of family atmosphere, albeit occasionally and delightfully dysfunctional, that compelled brother to follow brother, and now sister, into unimaginable hells in the pursuit of saving others. Those firefighters of our past were warriors – but they died by the hundreds and left behind countless loved ones and unrealized lives. Those firefighters of our past developed a culture born out of necessity due to their limited knowledge of fire and the science behind it, such as flashpoint, fire point, flashover, BTUs and toxic gases. They were further handicapped by their limited technology and the resulting rudimentary tools. Because of these era-controlled limits, they were forced to expend great risk in the pursuit of saving others. Having to help one another survive under those circumstances gave birth to the term “brotherhood,” as they took risks and died for one another as well as for perfect strangers. That is the foundation our culture is based on – the concept of doing anything and everything, whether on or off duty, within our means to keep one another and those we have sworn to protect safe. The “brothers” of that earlier time did so because their options were limited, but today that is just not the case.

With the knowledge and technology we have today, other options are available that significantly reduce our risk. But we have warped the once-noble culture of “brotherhood” into something it was not intended to be by constantly exposing ourselves to unnecessary risks to fulfill it. I feel certain that if our fallen brethren of those earlier times who lost their lives due to the limits of that era saw how we still approach our profession today, they would be disappointed in what we are doing in their name. They would, without a doubt, give everything to have another chance at the life they lost by taking advantage of every opportunity we have today to keep one another safe.

At a fire service gathering, I asked an engine company officer from another state, whom I had met just minutes earlier, that if his company crossed the several states that separated us and responded to my community for mutual aid and on his arrival to the scene he witnessed a horrific explosion and collapse with rapidly deteriorating conditions, and he heard my Mayday, would he risk his life and the lives of his company members to rescue me? He stood taller and with tremendous pride stated he would do so without hesitation. When asked why, even though did not even know me, he would risk his life and the lives of his crew to come in after me, his face changed to an emotional, yet quizzical expression as he replied, “Because you’re my brother!”

Then I asked him whether he conducts fire prevention activities with his company or leads prevention programs for his department. A bit more hesitant, but nevertheless quizzical, he replied, “No.” So a company officer who so loves his “brothers” and “sisters” that he would risk, and possibly surrender, his life and the lives of his crew to rescue a firefighter in trouble makes no effort whatsoever to prevent that firefighter from being put in danger in the first place by preventing the fire or installing a simple $10 smoke detector.

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