More Lesson's I Learned at the Circus

January is an important month to me. It is more than just the first month of the New Year, but it is the month when I travel south to play my tuba at the circus in Florida. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy getting together with my circus music buddies...


Like many of you, I have tried to keep my eye on the prize of safety. How often have you seen my words on the topic of seatbelts? More than once I would hope. Yet we have people within the fire service who actively campaign against seatbelts. I have even met people who told me that they wouldn't be caught dead wearing those silly sissy straps.

My normal comeback for these clowns is one of agreement. This usually stops them in their tracks. Yes my friends, I tell them, if you wear those belts you will probably not be caught dead in them, because your life will be saved by the seatbelt straps.

The track record of success with these safety devices is strong. Seat belts save lives. The opposite is not so positive to ponder, but the evidence is there for all to see. Sadly as I move from place to place in the fire service I am reminded of the old circus saying: It's a different circus, but they have the same clowns.

During one part of the show I sat perched on the edge of my seat with excitement as I watched a young lady traverse the high-wire on her bicycle. However, not to worry my friends; she was operating within the tight grasp of a wired safety harness operated by an attentive, well-built, and capable young man located on the floor below her. There was also a heavy rope safety net strung under her with spotters at all four corners. Every possible precaution was taken to insure her safety.

The same was true for the human pyramid act which followed hers. Two young ladies carried a third balancing on a bar slung between their shoulders. The young lady on the bar was fitted out with the safety harness. The attention of the safety spotters was riveted on the performers, ready to do what they had to in the event of a problem. Fortunately there were no problems.

If these folks can get the message about safety, how come so many within the fire service fail to see the value in working safely? We bemoan the deaths and injuries, but fail to take the simple steps that will place us within a safe working environment. Far too many people in the fire service talk a great game about safety, but in those cases when push really comes to shove, these folks turn out to be nothing more than "We've Always Done it That Way Warriors" who think that safety is for sissies.

Another important player on the Sailor Circus team is their artistic director Susan Loeffler. It is her job to drill her young charges time and again on the tricky tasks which they are being trained to perform. It is her job to see that these budding young performers are able to deliver a solid show. She works to hone their skills to a sharp edge however safety is never sacrificed for expediency. First and foremost it is important to her for all of her charges to go home safely after delivering a solid show.

I don't know about you, but I have a ton of stories about how some of the young, capably-trained firefighters which my buddies in the training division and I turned out who were instantly and permanently corrupted upon arriving at their first firehouse. How many of you have heard someone utter those magic words, "...yeah, that might be how they do it in training, but we do it different here kid." This is typical of the flawed logic which starts the downward spiral that in far too many cases leads to death or injuries to the troops.

The people making these stupid statements are not students of our fire service. These are the folks who after 30 years on their fire department have one year of experience repeated 29 more times. These are the people you can count on for an annual quota of screw ups. Trust me when I tell you that this is not a career versus volunteer issue. I have seen screw ups on both sides of the coin.

Folks like this only show up only when they must, and offer no assistance to those who serve with them. I can only wonder why they bother to continue serving with their departments. These folks could learn a great deal from the fine folks who run the PAL Sailor Circus in Sarasota, Florida.

The young people I saw performing in that circus were really enthusiastic, as were their coaches and supporters. Once again I saw a great deal of interaction between the coaches and performers. Whenever one of the young people seemed to need some support, a coach appeared and took care of business. These mentors seemed always ready to set the example for their people.