The older I get, the more I realize that the lessons of history that I've learned have frequently been written by people with a reason for slanting things a certain way. The old adage that "history is written by the victors" ought to indicate clearly that the "losers" might not have their side of the story adequately or objectively recalled. A few examples: I have always thought that Mary Magdalene, the woman who first discovered that Jesus' body was missing from the tomb in three of the four New Testament gospels, was a reformed prostitute who became a dedicated follower of Jesus right up to the crucifixion. I've just recently learned that may not be the case at all, and that early church leaders, for a number of reasons, may have downplayed her role with the disciples and deliberately smeared her reputation. (See "Mary Magdalene" article in Time Magazine, August 11, 2003)
I also grew up believing that Senator Joseph McCarthy, in his zeal to fuel the "red menace" scare in the early 50's, callously and cavalierly ruined countless lives, particularly in politics and the motion picture industry, by accusing people of being Communist agents or sympathizers. Reading Ann Coulter's latest book, "Treason," however, has put that whole series of events in a new light for me.
And finally: I live about a half hour away from Tombstone, Arizona, and always thought that the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday were the proverbial "good guys" at the famous OK Corral gunfight. Being something of a history buff, I've delved into that story enough to know that a lot of people think the Earps bullied the so-called "Clanton gang" into that fight, and that Hollywood has fostered and perpetuated a myth upon us all along.
I don't mean to imply that the lessons we've all learned are wrong. I simply want to point out that there are always two sides to the story, but we don't always learn both of them from a historical perspective. Now, what does all that have to do with fire service leadership? Good question!
How many times have we all sat around a firehouse kitchen table and blasted the actions of those who did our jobs years, decades, or perhaps even centuries before us? I know I have, poking fun at 19th century firefighters who brawled in the streets while buildings burned behind them (go see "Gangs of New York"). Or maybe chuckling over early 20th century firefighters who did circus acts on aerial ladders while demonstrating their bravery for the public. How many of you have seen the famous video scene of a fire chief who approaches an overturned tractor-trailer, sticks his fingers into the leaking (unknown) substance and then draws those same fingers up to his nose or mouth? We could go on for hours recalling so-called "safety" videos where firefighters have done things that seem crazy to us now.
So my question is: how will the people doing our jobs in the future judge us? What things are we doing that will cause them to recoil in horror or hoot with derision at our unbelievable stupidity? I can hear it now:
Hey, old-timer, why did those guys have to carry sections of 5" hose on their backs up to the 21st floor of a high rise instead of cities requiring automatic detection and suppression systems in every building?
Hey, old-timer, why didn't you bozos thin the forests or push for adopting updated wildland interface codes before you let those catastrophic wildfires burn a half-million acres of prime forestland at a time?
Hey, old-timer, why would you let a rock band use live-fire pyrotechnics in a nightclub with no sprinklers and limited egress?
Hey, old-timer, why didn't you dinosaurs work with the legislators to outlaw fireworks so that thousands of people weren't killed or injured by them every year?
Hey, old-timer, didn't you guys ever hear of seatbelts? Traffic signal pre-emption systems? Global positioning?
Hey, old-timer, did you chowderheads miss the connection between cardiovascular fitness and smoking? Diet? Exercise?