I Have the Right to Change My Mind: Don't I?

Dr. Harry Carter discusses why firefighters and fire officers can re-evaluate their decisions based on what they are presented with.


How many times have you found yourself in a situation where the facts tell you that something you have decided to do is wrong? You used the proper decision-making skills, you gathered the necessary facts, and did what you were taught to do. And, despite all of the time and effort were expended...


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In our case, we are asking you to change your view of mind-changing as a concept. To many of us who were born at the height of the Baby Boom (1946-1964) the fire service has been all about the dignity of facing death and danger to protect our fellow citizens. Some fire people died, but the majority did not. Why change the school of thought which has been in place since time immemorial? Why rock the boat? Why get the traditionalists mad at us?

Before we go any further, let us make one point clear. When it comes to mind-changing, I am personally a work-in-progress. There are areas where I have been flowing nicely with the latest changes in the fire service word. While I am not an EMT, I have come recognize that EMS belongs in the fire service. The same holds true for a number of programmatic areas:

  1. Hazmat
  2. Customer service
  3. Public education
  4. Disaster response
  5. Counter-terrorism
  6. Specialized rescue

To many my words have been seen as heresy. We are in the fire department to fight fires and that is that. In many cities the need for these modern services is not as obvious as it is in other smaller communities. The problem is usually resource-based in nature. Many places are financially stressed-out just getting the fire trucks on the road. The focus in such places is reactive. They arrive at work and begin reacting to the problems de jour. The cure to their disease is a tough dose of medicine to take.

Heck, the fact that we have failed to keep pace with the times had led to cases like the one in California where non-fire people are telling us what to do and how to do it. My friends, I have never thought about telling a judge or a lawyer how to perform their duties as stewards of the law. But that does not stop people like the grand jury in California from telling us how to provide our services.

We need to change our mindset if we are to survive the current turbulent times in our nation. Your new mind set change must be directed toward adopting a pro-active approach to our service delivery system. The things which you must do to make this happen will have to be well-thought-out. However, you will also need to be forceful in the creation of this new way of doing business.

It is my fear that my call for a change in how we treat death in our fire service will be misread and scorned. I am not calling for an end to line-of-duty death ceremonies. That is not the case at all. No, what I am calling for is an understanding of the fact that most of these deaths did not have to happen. We need to honor the dead, but not go out and continue to work hard to kill the living.

You must get people's attention in a way which they cannot ignore. These people will need to respond in the same way and manner as Saul did when he was struck with the blinding light of Biblical times on his journey to Jerusalem. His was a life altering experience. So too must it be for the people you are seeking to bring into the 21st Century way of thinking.

Of course they may never change. That is their right. In these cases, you have to wait them out. They will eventually retire on their own, or do something so incredibly stupid that their retirement is requested. Their job is to recognize that it is time to get out of the way. Your job is to assist them in making this call.

Your assignment, as I see it, is to be ready to make all of the necessary changes to the job when the time is right. I cannot tell you when this will happen, but you need to be vigilant, ready, and willing to do the right things. Learn how to be proactive, to anticipate what is happening around you. And be flexible and ready to change your mind and direction as facts and circumstances dictate.

You can also perform an important function which requires no small amount of courage on your part. To help your department begin the process of changing its organizational mind, you must begin standing up to the boss. Your department is not well-served by you being a "Yes-Man." You have to put forward the most modern view, in a positive, supportive manner.

Do not think for a moment that it is my intention to encourage abuse, insubordination, or insolence. No my friends, your approach must be conducted within the rules and regulations of your department, not to mention the bounds of propriety and civil discourse. Be aware that in stepping forward to propose change, you will be subjecting yourself to the scrutiny of the boss, as well as all of your buddies who live for and love the status quo.