Firefighters who do prevention consistently ask how they can get support from those firefighters who are on the rigs. Fire stations abound with hallway echoes of “those prevention people” and “those suppression people!” (I am being nice, G-rated and politically correct here.) Any attempt to branch over or “cross train” have only resulted in hurt feelings and little forward momentum in the harmonious cooperation needed for a prevention-based departmental culture.
There is one successful approach that can be taken here. It is the same approach that the fire service has been using to accept any type of progress, change and innovation... It has been used to usher in new ideas and inventions (from the acceptance of the combustion engine to the use of thermal imaging) in a culture that is resistant to change anything that got them safely out of the last fire. It is the problem solver of all times and, if it were ever used in the Oval Office or during a presidential cabinet meeting, we would no doubt have world peace, economic stability and bi-partisan cooperation.
The solution to this prevention versus suppression debate is simple: firehouse humor.
I am an engineer/paramedic riding the rigs, yet I believe in prevention with all my professional, moral and ethical being. I teach it, preach it and believe it. This is no big secret. When you add in firehouse humor, my shifts can get very entertaining and downright hilarious. One department instructor would not start a suppression training class that I was in until he sounded the smoke detector and explained the evacuation plan. Hey he was talking about it – so whatever it takes.
This humor is comical and always entertaining, but the resulting back and forth can get pretty deep and thought provoking for all. Because it is prevention-based humor, no blood has been spilled – that would be counterproductive to my arguments; however through firehouse humor my brethren (sisters included) have successfully challenged some of my thoughts and beliefs, and I think on occasion I have done the same for (some of )them. But again, we’re discussing an important topic, becoming more knowledgeable and appreciative of views, and solving serious world problems the only way we in the fire service know how to do it – bust chops.
Then one day the humor accidently flipped around and I was shocked at the result – I think we all were. I have always said and believed (though I didn’t create this quote) “Suppression is the failure of education,” and have always told our firefighters to stop spending their career failing – then of course the humor starts. But I honestly believe to my core, that if we want to truly save lives and protect property, and protect our communities, and provide a valued service to the daily quality of life of our citizens, then prevention is where we need to be.
Pre-planning Humor Hammers Home Prevention Lessons
On this particular day the revelation by humor went something like this:
Two engine companies met at a local daycare in one of our rural areas to do a pre-incident survey and discuss some suppression topics like strategy and tactics. This daycare served a rural, largely poor area of our district and the building showed it. The crews walked the exterior, marked off fire hydrants and did a quick walk through of the inside.
They looked at this building the way only firefighters can and absorbed every detail and examined every risk. They were taking their experience, training and professional education and applying it to the building. These were suppression-orientated firefighters, some of them having been around awhile and have been in the “big ones” we have had over the years. They have been there, done that, and have more t-shirts than they care to collect; they have saved lives and some have been decorated; and yet they could clearly see prevention issues.