Lessons from the Circus: Volume III

It was really great fun for me to once again be allowed the privilege of enjoying the music of a bygone era. Our group plays music not often seen in the libraries of community bands in the United States and Canada.

There is the next lesson my friends. Once you have your plan in place and possess the necessary resources for the task at hand, practice the plan so that it becomes internalized within each member of the team. How many times have you heard the old saying that practice makes perfect? Let me tell you that this saying is not really correct.

My music teacher taught me a long time ago that it was only perfect practice which leads to perfection in a performance. I know there are some people in New England who wish that they had spent a bit more time practicing how to raise an extension ladder. Their performance in a recent video which is making its way around the Internet showed me that they are a long way from perfection.

Only the Lord himself knows how many people have seen the video of that pathetic attempt at raising a ladder. It should become a drill school staple in years to come. Let me offer those troops some extremely simple, but sage advice. The end of the ladder with the pointy devices is called the butt of the ladder. That end goes down when trying to trying to raise up the other end, known to many among us as the "tip" of the ladder. Oh, and by the way, remember to have someone foot (or steady) the bottom of the ladder. Those silly little aluminum things have a habit of slipping from time to time.

My last lesson this time around actually comes from the performance of the young people in the Sailor Circus. The first act of the day was a young lady working on the Roman Rings device. The very first thing that person did was hook up to the safety device which insured that even if she slipped off the rings she would not fall and strike the floor underneath them.

How is it that the circus can train a young person to wear there safety devices, but we as a fire service cannot get people to strap on their seatbelts? Heck we even have places in our nation where the fire service is granted an exemption by law from wearing their seatbelts. Now there is a dumb-ass ruling if ever I saw one.

Not long after the Roman Rings performance a group of daredevils took to the flying trapeze. Here were four high school students climbing more than thirty feet up into the rigging to show us their stuff. While many in the audience saw a great circus performance, I saw more than that. I was witness to a precision demonstration of teamwork and trust among the young performers. I can only imagine how many hours of practice it took to hone their skills.

The part that really amazed me was the point at which the young ladies swaying back and forth so gracefully let go of their trapeze bar and reached out for the hands of the young man who served as their high-flying catcher. Talk about trust. How much trust does it take to let go of a sure thing and reach out through thin air trusting that your fellow team member will be there for you?

Again I must emphasize the constant drilling in which these young performers willingly participate. However, let me not fail to mention the safety aspect of this performance. These young people had a safety net under them. More than that, there were five spotters positioned around the net for the four flyers. Their eyes were riveted to the troops who were aloft. The safety measures paid off when one of the flyers missed the catcher and dropped safely into the net. The young lady bounced off the net, grabbed the rope ladder and climbed back up to the performance platform above. Safety and practice paid off for these fine young folks in Florida.

How many of your fire departments operate without a safety net? I would bet that there are more departments out there doing unsafe things than any of us would like to believe. I would be willing to bet a few bucks on that one. During the week in Florida, I happened to receive and review a NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Report about an individual who died under a collapsed garage canopy. The report stressed that there were insufficient people available, as per the appropriate National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard.

Far too many fire departments are operating without a safety net because their communities refuse to provide the financial resources for a properly-staffed fire department. Billy G and I have been whacking people over the head about this one for a long time now. I took my first turn at bat on this issue back at the NFPA meeting in New Orleans back in 1992.