While standing at the command post on a working fire, it troubles me to see the efforts that members of the fire service go through to make a stand for something, but cannot help themselves. I have stood there watching crews cut the roof while the safety officer had to stop the operation to get personnel to put on their gloves and safety glasses, an obvious sign that the time we spend training is being spent not covering the right topics.
I cannot say that I have not done the same thing, but times have changed. Think about how long it takes to put them on and protect yourself compared to what would happen to you if something goes wrong.
But the real explosion that puzzles my mind is that folks have gone out of their way to get these nice blue shirts to take a stand against dangers such as prostate cancer, but cannot take 30 seconds to protect themselves by donning their facepiece. On every fireground someone takes their mask off before the air quality has been checked or cuts a hole in the roof, breaks a window or performs overhaul, all while the mask is hanging off their gear.
It would be so easy to pull everyone together and stop the selfless acts they are performing and ban them from wearing the shirts that they put on their back to make a stand against something they want others to buy into, for example, that prostate cancer kills firefighters. Imagine the looks on their face when you told them wearing that shirt now makes them a hypocrite and their careless acts mean nothing by wearing a shirt they actually can’t stand by.
As a chief officer for the past nine years, I have seen safety concerns that, yes, should have been addressed, but were not. Yes, I’m at fault, but to stop for every safety concern and address it while engaged in firefighting operations would not be conducive to any environment. The job as a firefighter is inherently dangerous and at times and physically exhausting. But the task of the safety officer or incident commander who has to decide how to make sure everyone operates safely and performs the assigned tasks while getting the job done is mentally exhausting.
The moral of the story is that if you plan to stand up to fight for a cause that you believe kills firefighters, you better have the guts to say “I wear my airpack all the time” or “I go out of my way to make sure safety is a priority.” No one wants to play the role of your mother and tell you to stop doing something you know is dead wrong.
Orchard Beach Volunteer Fire Department
Glen Burnie, MD
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