Let me start this week's visit with you by making an admission of guilt. Many times during my life I have been, or acted like, a "dumb-ass". I can think of a number of times when I acted like a boob or a lout. Then there were the times when I missed opportunities that were seemingly dropped on my doorstep.
Heck, if there were a "dumb-ass anonymous" I might be forced to sign up and take the cure. At least this was among the thoughts which crossed my mind as I passed the Philadelphia campus of the University of Pennsylvania the other day. I was on my way to a meeting in Washington, DC, and availed myself of the hospitality of the fine folks on the Amtrak Acela service between Metropark in New Jersey and Union Station in Washington.
As our train was passing Franklin Field, the home of Penn Football, my mind drifted back to those days forty years ago when I practiced and played in the area near the stadium (Heck, I even played one game at Franklin Field). I was an Ivy Leaguer playing in a league which was well over my head. It caught up with me though when I assumed the role of fraternity boy (read that "real dumb-ass").
After achieving a stellar 0.8 grade average, I was asked to take a year off to assess my role in the Ivy League. Needless to say, I never returned to the hallowed halls of ivy in Philadelphia (unless you count going to the homecoming football games with my wife who is a Penn graduate). Dumb ass is about the only printable language from the words and thoughts shared with me by my parents at that time which I can share with you now.
Is being a "dumb-ass" an irreversible condition? No, I do no think so. My life has played out well in the decades since I left Penn. However, I recognized the error of my ways and put my mind to work overcoming my problems. I did not drift aimlessly though the hallowed halls of "dumb-ass land". Further, if you lose focus, it is easy to fall into the trap of being a "dumb-ass".
There are those in the fire service who seemingly suffer from what a dear friend of mine calls rectal-cranial inversion. These people seem to mimic the ostrich in that they have their heads deeply buried in a place away from the general world. Only their hiding place has no sand. Let me leave it at that.
There is a medical procedure that may offer some help for these poor, misguided souls. In this procedure, their stomachs are opened, their intestines are moved aside, and a Lexan glass window is surgically installed. In this way they are once again afforded the opportunity to see what is going on in the world around them.
Let us now move on to this week's topic. It involves a recent series of instances wherein fire chiefs have shown themselves to be world class maroons. In each case, their ability to think, if it in fact exists, is flawed indeed. Since there are in fact three instances of this sort of loony behavior, I have awarded these people the win, place, and show positions in my newly-created weekly “dumb-ass” horse’s patoot race.
In the world of horse racing, the tri-fecta is a difficult bet which many players would like to win. In this wager, the person placing the bet must pick the horses (or dogs) which run in the first, second, and third positions in a given race. This is not an easy bet to make nor is it easy to win. The odds against success run very high indeed. That is why the payoff is better.
Guess what my friends? During the past week I believe that I hit the "Dumb-Ass Trifecta." I managed to see, hear, or read about three instances where members of our dear, sweet fire service managed to make themselves look like really bad people.
If they were not actually bad people, then at the very least each of them ended up looking really bad. Heck, I would not write about them were this not so. Since these folks have already done the job of embarrassing themselves in public, I shall leave it to you to track down their names.
I saw one of these folks on local television, and read about the other two on the Internet. It is possible that you may wish to agree with me after taking the time to think about the words which follow. As a reforming "dumb-ass" I know I would not want to do nor say what these folks did.
The first instance comes from a mid-Atlantic state. I actually saw a fire chief on a local television news program tell a reporter that having only one firefighter per piece of equipment was OK, since he sent lots of fire trucks to calls. I think that this man was a master of disguise. He looked like a fire chief while speaking and acting like a clown.
He was actually able to utter this inane absurdity with a straight face. When asked about NFPA 1710 and its impact upon his career fire department and shrugged that his city could not afford to have that many people on duty. Anyway, he said that NFPA 1710 was not a law that he was obliged to obey.
As a person who has written a great deal about the importance of proper staffing, I feel eminently qualified to render a decision on this person. What a "dumb-ass". Talk about not caring for his personnel. Having worked for people like this, I can only offer arm-around-the-shoulder sympathy to the people who labor in this person's firefighting vineyard. Where do people like this come from? I would like to find the factory and throw a monkey wrench into the machinery.
My next shot across the bow of a "dumb-ass" ship of fools is also hurled against a candidate from the mid-Atlantic section of our nation. This fire department saw fit in the last several days to do away with the position of shift safety officer. For quite some time now, each working shift had a fire captain assigned to serve as their dedicated safety officer.
This is a position for which I have a great affinity. During the long-ago days when I served as a battalion chief in the Newark, New Jersey Fire Department, one of our additional duties was to respond as a safety officer on all working fires, or other specialized response situations. In this way, it was thought, someone would be watching out for the troops as they went about their dangerous business.
In the years since my retirement, this position has been formalized. In addition to the four battalion chiefs assigned to each tour, a fifth is now assigned as the actual shift safety chief. This has allowed for a greater emphasis on the issue of safety at emergency situations.
To see a program that has the potential to save lives suddenly dismantled strikes me as an outstanding case of the "dumb-ass". Let me assure you that the department to which I make reference is not Newark. The times are changing for the better in the fire department of New Jersey's largest city.
Since the change in administration after the new mayor was installed in July, many positive changes are on the way. People are going to be hired and new apparatus will be ordered. The budget is still tight, but the new team is in there pitching for the players on the team, not the owners.
No, for a change the "dumb-asses" are not in Newark. It is in a city which does not care about the safety of its fire department. I shall leave it at that.
My last story in this week's "dumb-ass" tri-fecta comes from the Deep South. By way of enlightenment, it comes from one of our dear "right-to-work" states. You know about right-to-work states don't you. Those are the places where slavery is still approved and encouraged by the people who write the labor laws.
I never knew how good we had it in New Jersey until I started traveling the country. God bless my old union, the Newark Professional Fire Officers, Local 1860 of the IAFF. Were it not for their efforts, I am fairly certain that my pension would not be as good as it truly is. Anyway, back to the Deep South.
There is a fire chief out there who has apparently never read the United States Constitution and our Bill of Rights. He recently suspended a number of his organizational members for speaking to the media. The best part of this is that one of the people who was suspended by that Simon Legree of a fire chief is their local union President.
What a hump! I was always under the impression that one part of a union president's job was to generate good press for their members. I guess that the 26 years which I spent in the active and reserve armed forces of our nation, protecting our freedoms, was wasted on this fascist farce of a fire chief who clamped down on his troops. However, I can provide arm-around-the-shoulder sympathy to these suspended people.
Many years ago I was threatened with disciplinary action if I failed to acquiesce to the fire chief's ruling that all of my work, written and spoken, be submitted to his office for approval. Apparently the folks in headquarters felt that my words were in some way inflammatory, and counter to good order.
I was really steamed over that one. However, thank the Lord for my lawyer. Mr. Joseph D. Youssouf, Esquire is my attorney. He is also my friend. Joe and I have been buddies since he and I were tackles on the freshman football team at dear old Freehold Regional High School in 1961. He has been my lawyer since he has been a lawyer. I continue to be amazed at his knowledge of the law and his facility with the English language. More than that, Joe is also the lawyer for our fire district in Howell Township.
Back when I was being attacked by the officials at fire headquarters, it was Joe who took care of my legal problems. It was Joe who applied the soothing balm to my savaged soul. It was also Joe who broke the horns of the City of Newark. At the height of my malaise, Joe crafted a really beautiful letter to the city attorney.
In this missive, Joe pointed out the protections afforded to me under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. His verbiage was magnificent. He placed the city on notice that if they failed to leave me alone to exercise my free speech, he would have no alternative to filing a Civil Rights court case on my behalf in federal court.
Mentioning civil rights in Newark was common in those days, but not for people like me. We prevailed. I was never bothered again. I would urge the union in that southern community to take a similar action. This is a battle which must be fought to protect our rights as a free people.
Far too many people in positions of power have abdicated their role as protectors and defenders of the fire people assigned to them. They continually grovel at the feet of the politicians and bean-counters controlling their destinies. These people need to step back and take a look at just what they are doing and the impact it is having on their fire departments.
I leave it to the handicappers among you to decide which of these winners in the "dumb-ass tri-fecta" is in which position. In this case win, place, and show are interchangeable, in that none brings honor to the individuals I have mentioned. If you are in a position of leadership I would ask you to stop and think about what you might do in any of the situations listed above.
Would you want any of these stories with your name in the headline? I sure as heck hope not. Let your conscience be your guide. Maybe that is why the chiefs in this commentary are in trouble. Hmm, I wonder. Take care and stay safe.