It's Not Your Father's Fire Service

Here is a short list of those areas where changes have occurred: Everywhere!

  1. Building construction has changed to the point of being dangerous for those of us who would engage in combat firefighting operations.
  2. 'Tough-guy' attitudes have polluted the gene pool and have stymied our ability to operate in a positive, thoughtful manner.
  3. Techniques and tactics have not changed since the 1970's.


  1. People are building things which are designed to fall down.
  2. Building materials have been created which will burn more quickly and fail sooner than once was the norm.
  3. Larger homes are being built that provide a challenge to even the most highly-staffed fire departments.

These are just a few of the changes which have occurred in the world. How have you and your fire department responded to these changes, or have you chosen to ignore reality in live in a fantasy world population by images and traditions from the past?

In far too many cases it would be my guess that you are still doing business at the same old location, and in the same old way. If I were to ask you why you are avoiding the future and the changes which have occurred, I believe that the answer would be one of the following:

  1. Oh, I hadn't noticed.
  2. We are doing things in the same way and manner as my father (and his father before him).
  3. If it was good enough for my Dad, it is good enough for me.
  4. We must be doing things right: We haven't killed anyone.

The cure for this disease is not hard to prescribe. "Get your head out of your ass." This seems simple enough however, like many effective remedies the taste of the cure deters people from taking their dose of the medicine. That does not stop me from writing another prescription for your and your sidekicks.

I have read time and again about how we all need to work hard together to insure that everyone goes home safe and well. It is a laudable goal, one which I have been a part of since this effort got started in Tampa back in 2004. We know how and why people are dying. However, we just cannot seem to make a dent in the problem, or so the mounting statistics would indicate.

We have been at it for five years now and I want to tell you that it seems like we have gained a tremendous expertise in the art of treading water. In spite of the best efforts of a corps of dedicated people, we still have people out there who think we can cure the disease by simply wishing the problems of our fire service away. That is the way it seems to me.

There seems to be a whole cadre of people who are operating as though all of the lessons and research applied to other people, but not to them. Frankly, I am at a loss as to how to explain to these folks that the world has changed and that they have not. I keep writing and I keep lecturing. Many fine and dedicated people like Ron Siarnicki, and Billy Goldfeder, among others, have been working overtime on this issue. Yet we are where we are in the year 2009, and not where we had hoped to be.

Let me suggest that each of us can play a part in this. Earlier in this commentary I spoke of the impact of experience and education on each of us. All things being equal, as we grow and mature within the service, we learn things. I would suggest that much of what was good in our father's fire service has been lost because we who were there have failed to share it with the newcomers to our service. However, there can be a problem which you will run headlong into.

There are also those younger folks out there who seem to be suffering through the newer is better syndrome. These folks are the ones who come out of the fire academy with six to eight weeks of knowledge, which they immediately translate into six to eight years of experience. They will confront their more senior members and challenge their ideas and their abilities. They will challenge authority and demand attention.

This is a real change from your father's fire service. Trust me. I am old enough to be your father. I was there back in 1966 when times were a lot tougher. Rookies did what they were told and obeyed all of the rules. Things are different now. However, if you approach these changes in the proper way, you can have a positive impact.