Our society's culture and values have changed, and so must we if we are to not only survive, but thrive. That said, I recently heard a fire captain say, "We are becoming too safety conscious," and contended that such an attitude is destroying what the fire service is supposed to be all about. The...
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Our society's culture and values have changed, and so must we if we are to not only survive, but thrive. That said, I recently heard a fire captain say, "We are becoming too safety conscious," and contended that such an attitude is destroying what the fire service is supposed to be all about. The topic is being discussed and debated across firehouse kitchen tables from coast to coast: Is this new-generational interest in prevention destroying the fire service? Whether it is about the prevention of firefighter deaths and injuries, or the prevention of fire and civilian deaths, it is a question that must be addressed if our profession is to grow.
The debate is akin to the generational age-old argument that has spanned the centuries. Whether it is the "Greatest Generation," the "Counter Culture Generation," "Generation X" or the upcoming "Generation Y," each generation shakes its head at the newcomers and swears that, "This is the generation that will destroy this country," yet obviously this has not been the case.
While arguments can be made for the perceived changes in family values, respect and even work ethic, there is no disputing the fact that since the "Greatest Generation," these supposed upcoming "doomsday" generations have put a man on the Moon, explore Mars, cure disease and even invent technology so advanced that we can communicate in seconds with people across the globe. So while each generation may bring some uncomfortable differences, we still live in the greatest country on Earth, and we are still changing and advancing by addressing issues that will make our lives and our world better; i.e. the revival of interest in taking on global warming.
So now back to this question as it relates to the fire service. Our profession has also come a long way. With the advent of flash hoods, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and full turnout gear; and as more and more firefighters donned this new gear, the heads of the previous generation started shaking, "This isn't the real fire service anymore." Now, as fire service leaders push for sprinkler-system mandates and direct their fire companies into the street for inspections and other prevention activities, again come the shaking heads and comments such as, "I didn't join the fire service for this" and, of course just as with the arguments against providing EMS services, "I'm just here to fight fires."
But just as with this nation's accomplishments since the "Greatest Generation," the positives ushered in throughout the generational changes in our fire service cannot be denied. According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports, firefighter deaths are down 60% and firefighter injuries are down about 78% since 1978. While overall residential fires have risen since 1999, there is no denying that we are still better off today with a 46% reduction in civilian fire deaths and 48% decrease in structure fires since the 1970s.
This means that today, more firefighters are alive and with their families, and they are living longer and healthier lives because they are being exposed to less risk and fewer carcinogens due to the new gear, new equipment and reductions in fire responses since three decades ago. These reductions in fire response obviously correlate to the increased fire safety and well-being of our public — their safety equals our safety.
We are a brother/sisterhood who looks out for one another, and we are a profession committed and dedicated to preserving life and property, so how exactly are these changes, changes that supposedly would bring an end to the fire service (from "leather lungs" to SCBA), a bad thing? Change is not always bad, but it is always inevitable. For change to take place smoothly and effectively, it must be accepted and embraced, because every day in our profession that it isn't, lives are put at risk unnecessarily.