Close Calls: Speaking THEIR Language While Operating in OUR World

Each year, I take one opportunity to use this column for opinion, as opposed to a “close call” case study. As always, we have plenty to share in 2012 and will return to our usual format in March. Your department’s close call is welcome as a...


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We simply can’t get everything done when they have cut what we need to do everything. Of course, we need to be able to clearly and factually define what “everything” is when asked. For example, a first-alarm fire with 10 firefighters will not and cannot have the same results as that same fire getting 25 firefighters. Simple math; no emotion. But “they” need to understand that well before they start slicing the budget. Fire chiefs and commissioners must show courage and risk upsetting elected officials by telling them the truth – respectfully, factually and honestly. There have been too many headlines recently about fire chiefs stating that shutting stations or “brown-outs” will not impact service levels. How can they not?

Service will be impacted, and “they” must understand that – without emotion, using numbers. Response times, distance and tasks required. “They” must understand that there may be a measurable difference in people being rescued – and not being rescued – in your community, based on proposed cuts. Figure it out and educate them.

Don’t let the cuts stop you

Despite cuts, we can still get some jobs done. If training budgets are cut, that doesn’t mean we stop training. Everyone has the Internet, and a lot of information can be gathered there at no cost to create classroom and hands-on training. We all have apparatus and tools, so we can go out and train on all the equipment we already have. We can train to the point of becoming “experts” on every procedure, tactic, hand tool or other piece of equipment we may have to use at our next run. Basic training can get done when we want to get it done. More than basic training costs more than basic money, so elected officials must decide what they want us to be able to do when their taxpayers have a really bad day. Show the elected officials and anyone else who participates in these decisions the facts without emotion. When they digest the reality, they very well may create their own emotion.

Of course, when we’re shutting companies, we can’t solve that kind of problem on the Internet. I know people get very emotional about this because our oath is to save lives and save property. Thirty-nine years ago, I took that oath. But let’s not be stupid. Our lives and property responsibilities aren’t equal. It’s far more important to attempt to save a life and far less so to save property and things. Anybody who doesn’t understand that is a danger to themselves and others. No boss should be putting a crew inside to save someone’s dress when it’s obvious the lightweight-truss house is ready to collapse, especially when resources may have been cut or have not yet arrived. I understand some may claim to be ready to put their lives on the line for a dress, but that’s why most fire departments encourage psychological testing prior to hire.

On the other hand, if the wearer of the dress is still inside and conditions indicate we may have a shot, we will absolutely take extreme risks. Odds are we are going in and will do whatever it takes. The point is that we may no longer be able to afford to do all the things we did before, with the measurable loss of resources some fire departments are faced with now. It can get emotional.

 

Making the right calls

Those who are quick to shout, “We should go in no matter what!” are those who have never had the responsibility for those who are going inside. When you’re a company officer and especially a command-level boss, your responsibility is much greater – to those on the fireground and in the building. They have to weigh stupid risk versus necessary risk. Sometimes, firefighters die in that process, doing a job that must be done with the risks that had to be taken. To think “no firefighter should die in the line of duty” is to clearly not understand the aspects of this risky job. There are times when everything is done to minimize risks and firefighters still die attempting to save a viable life. However, to think we should do our best so that no firefighter dies unnecessarily in the line of duty is probably more like it. Sometimes, firefighters die, but in the great majority of times, it was preventable. Sad and emotional, but it’s a fact.