A recent message from one of you kind folks out there in Reader-Land got me thinking the other day. It was a short but cogent comment that begged me to take it to the next level. It involved a short observation on the difference between the perception of what people think our fire departments can do for them and the reality of what can really be accomplished. Here is the comment from the kindly soul out there in Pennsylvania.
"I just finished reading your article, Flexibility: The Key to Living a Life in 2005. I agree with you concerning our society. I know many business and fire service leaders who think they can use their education to manage problems away, by giving the public and elected officials the perception that they are providing the best service. The fact is these leaders do not have the staffing, equipment or most importantly the financial support to back up their claims."
Let me make a critical initial comment. That lack of the ability to get the job done does not stop some people. They are trust BS-Artists. They can create a beautiful picture for their communities based upon the age-old combination of a good quality of smoke and some really great mirrors. This man was right on target. Sadly, far too many of our folks in positions of leadership use their education and training to weave an intricate web of falsehoods and deceit.
These folks are unwilling to face reality and provide a true assessment of their agency's capabilities to their citizens and their local governments. They create elaborate ruses to drive the wolf of reality away from the doorstep of their lives. These people create elaborate plans which have absolutely no basis in reality. It is their belief that by building these elaborate glass-houses made of transparent lies they are in fact providing their communities with a modicum of security.
My friends, the only security these prevaricators are interested in is their own job security. Their efforts will not withstand the onslaught of actual emergency circumstances. One needs to look no further than the failed response of the local, state, and federal governments to Hurricane Katrina in order to see the consequences of major plans which are crafted in the absence of reality.
Bear in mind that when I say failed in this instance, I mean failed at all levels. No one at any level within the response scheme can escape being tarred with the brush of blame in the Katrina instance. One need only compare the giant emergency plan prepared by New Orleans with the specter of the hundreds of hundreds of school busses swamped in their parking places to see the disconnect between perception and reality.
This becomes an even more apt comparison when you compare the swamped busses with the newspaper pictures of school bus loads of people being evacuated in Texas to make this point. It is no one's fault outside of New Orleans that their plan was a sham. It was the proverbial house of cards that quickly crumbled when the first winds struck the Big Easy.
My point here is simple. The massive pointing of fingers at the federal government must be tempered by the fact that the perception of preparedness put forward by New Orleans and the State of Louisiana paled in comparison to the reality of what happened when the disaster actually occurred.
This is but one example among many. What happened in the Gulf region is a disaster on the macro scale. It is a horrendous event which would challenge the skill and mettle of any well-prepared emergency service agency. So it should not be the standard which we should use to justify our every day operations.
We need to create future-oriented plans that can escalate during times of major emergency, but we also need to keep our eye on the prize of taking care of our routine, day-to-day business. With that in mind, let me now turn my attention to a critical everyday-issue in our nation. I am referring to the untold thousands of fire departments which are masquerading as real, all-service, community-oriented protective agencies.