Does the fire service do anything that requires a 200% proficiency level? By that I mean 100% correct 100% of the time. As a firefighter should I hold myself to that standard, should others hold me to that standard, should the fire department be held to that standard? The answer is yes but it is not easy - it takes courage.
If you read my last column you know that the use of seatbelts is at the top of my list for a 200% proficiency standard. My goal is to hold myself and others to that standard. Recently, my professed standards were put to the test four times. I only passed two tests but I am getting better.
Test number 1: After my article "To be or not to be a tattletale" was published I mustered up the courage to send it to Chief Allen Woo of the Washington Township Fire Department in Dublin, Ohio. This was our email exchange.
From: Clark, Burt
Sent: Thursday, October 02, 2003 3:35 PM
To: Woo, Chief Al
Chief Woo: I do not know if you have seen this article yet or if you can figure out who I had the experience with but it may explain my quiet demeanor on the ride to the airport. I share this with you for all the right reason and I am still reluctant. I hope it does not negatively affect our professional association. Sincerely, Burt Clark
I knew that there had to be something wrong that day. Though we know each other in only a professional way, I've been around you enough to know that something was wrong (don't play poker). I understand your reluctance, but you should never feel bad about doing the "right thing". You may lose meals or friends by carrying through on what you proposed, but would definitely lose them as a result of an accident. In a way, I'm relieved that this was the case as I was worried that I'd done something to offend you personally.
Your comments are what Larry Ritcey described as a "cold slap in the face", a return to reality. I am still proud of the department's accomplishments, the vehicles and even that crew; however, there is still work to be done and ultimately it is my responsibility to get us there. Here is my promise to you. We will address the issues raised in the article and will do so in a professional, lasting way. We are even including this article as a testing exercise in an upcoming Battalion Chief's exam and will include it as part of continued safety training. The article and experience will serve as a catalyst to get us to where we need to be.
Thanks, professionally and personally, and you are free to eat with us anytime. Thanks again, Al Woo
Chief Woo's positive feedback encouraged me that I was on the right track so I gave myself a passing grade.
Test Number 2:
Carolyn Smith-Clark (my wife) and I were going over to my daughter's house on Thursday evening for a Bible study class. Carolyn has been in the fire serve for 30 years and is an instructor for the National Fire Academy and the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute. She has taught fire service leadership in all 50 states several times to thousands of students. Her BS is in Management Science and her MA is in Human Services. Finally, she knows my strengths and weakness better then anyone. The reason for explaining her background is to illustrate her qualifications, expertise, and professional judgment. Now back to the story. We pulled out of the driveway when I noticed Carolyn did not have her seatbelt on. Burt: "Honey put your seatbelt on." Carolyn: "My hands are killing me and I can't get it." (She has bad arthritis) Burt: "I will put it on for you." Carolyn: "Don't you dare stop this car just go, GO I SAID!" I continue driving.
My mind begins to race my pulse increase. I should pull over and put the seatbelt on her. If I do I will never hear the end of it. What price will I pay? She never forgets. The five-minute ride seems to take forever I drive very defensively. We arrive; I unbuckle my seatbelt.