Riding the Right Front Seat: Clues from a Man Who Has Been There

During a long-ago conference, my buddies and I spent time discussing the state of affairs in the fire service. Central to the discussion was the fact that younger firefighters and officers do not seem to know and be aware of what we aging veterans take as...


During a long-ago conference, my buddies and I spent time discussing the state of affairs in the fire service. Central to the discussion was the fact that younger firefighters and officers do not seem to know and be aware of what we aging veterans take as gospel. Those of us who initially engaged in...


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During a long-ago conference, my buddies and I spent time discussing the state of affairs in the fire service. Central to the discussion was the fact that younger firefighters and officers do not seem to know and be aware of what we aging veterans take as gospel. Those of us who initially engaged in the conversation were on the far side of age 50. Each of us had been in the fire service at least since Lyndon Johnson was President. There were those, however, who harked back to the Kennedy and Eisenhower years. I mention this to give a perspective on the discussion.

We were comparing notes on the problems inherent in the delivery of fire protection and EMS. As with all long-serving fire officers, opinions were available on any topic that came up for discussion. At some point during the evening's festivities, an interesting counterpoint was noted. All of the folks on the south side of the table were 30 years of age or younger.

We began to notice quizzical looks on the faces of the younger firefighters when the topic of conversation turned to the late Lloyd Layman, the late John T. O'Hagan, and the late Abbott and Costello. While each of us on the north side of age 50 nodded knowingly about the wisdom imparted by Layman and O'Hagan, our younger associates puzzled over which Stone Age characters we were discussing. (Hint: Search for them on the Internet.)

The part that shocked me was that none of these younger troops knew who Abbott and Costello were. As a Jersey Boy, these men from the Garden State were comedy heroes in my youth. For you younger types, they were a burlesque comedy team who achieved a certain amount of Hollywood and television fame in the 1940s and 1950s for their zany antics, such as the "Who's on first?" routine.

It then occurred to us that we had just identified one of the primary problems at work throughout the fire service. We older troops simply take for granted that the younger people will automatically know what we are talking about. The corollary to this is that on the fireground, we expect our newer troops to automatically act and perform like we veterans do.

Some of our greatest problems in the fire service come from the fact that we take too much for granted. After nearly 45 years in the business, a great deal of what I do is ingrained. I act or react based upon a body of knowledge accumulated over a long period. I know these things and unless I share them, no one else will.

For many years, my buddies and I have been discussing the problems with the ways in which knowledge is shared with our younger fire people. This has all occurred in the intervening years since that fateful get-together. You may be wondering why it has taken so long for it to emerge here. Truth be told, my buddies and I were wondering whether it was just our observation or whether this view is more widely held in the fire service. Many times, you and I learn things as we do them. Of course, we read textbooks and attend classes, but more often than not, it is the way in which we apply this knowledge that helps us to make it a part of our operational psyche. We agreed that the problem is widespread and prevailed upon me to begin addressing this gap in fire service knowledge.

Perhaps one of the best examples I can offer comes from fire apparatus pump operations. Like many of you, I attended the schools and the drills. In addition, I read the right books. However, it takes a human instructor, combined with hard experience, to home in on the topic. In my case, two people stand out for their efforts in shaping my skill as a pump operator. The first was a gentleman named Mr. Martin. He was one of my instructors at the U.S. Air Force Firefighting School, which in those days was at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, IL.

Mr. Martin was a patient man who knew the job of a pump operator inside out. You did not pass his course without demonstrating that you could pump the two models of U.S.A.F. pumper apparatus at the school: the 750A and the 530B. Thanks to his efforts, I arrived at my first duty station in Alaska with a good rudimentary set of skills. These skills were honed over time by continuing practice under the watchful eyes of veteran driver/operators.

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