I can recall a discussion that a number of us had at a Fire Department Instructor's Conference in Indianapolis a number of few years ago. A group of my fire buddies and I spent quite a bit of quality time discussing the state of affairs in the fire service.
A central topic in our debate involved the fact that younger firefighters and officers did not seem to know and be aware of what we aging veterans took as gospel. We should note that this was a debate stimulated by a variety of libations at an Indianapolis hotel watering hole.
Those of us who became engaged in the discussion, all appeared to be on the long 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. We 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.
Each of us on the north side of the table was over the age of 50 years. 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, Emanuel Fried, 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 Fried, Layman, and O'Hagan, our younger associates puzzled over which stone-age characters we were discussing. The part that shocked me was that none of these younger troops knew who Abbott and Costello were.
For you younger types, they were a burlesque comedy team who achieved a certain amount of Hollywood and television fame in the 1940's and 1950's for their zany antics: such as the "Who is on First" routine, seen on late-night and early AM television.
As that long-ago evening wore on, we older lads took great pains to share our collective wisdom with the younger troops at the table. 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.
A few years after this fateful FDIC discussion, this fact was reaffirmed during the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore. My daughter attended the event with us and ended up going out to dinner with a number of us wily, old veterans. As we were spinning tales and telling war stories, this topic of shared knowledge came up. Again it was a discussion among grey-haired veterans. However, at one point my pal Jack Peltier pointed at Katie and said, "...let's ask her what the problem is."
This we did. I still have the notes from that fortuitous dinner engagement. She told us point blank that she thought that we expected our young people to know things just because we did. Since she had just completed the Firefighter I program at our county fire academy, her experiences were quite fresh.
She suggested that each of us explore the level of knowledge amongst our students and work from there. Now you may be saying to yourselves, Harry is telling us nothing especially brilliant here. But that is just the point. Some of our greatest problems in the fire service come from the fact that we take too much for granted.
After nearly 40 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 of time. How can I possibly expect someone who was born in 1987 to know things that I learned in 1966 or 1976, or 1986?