How many of you have ever ridden in the right front seat on one of your fire department engines, trucks, or rescue units? I am going to guess that a great many of you have. Let me suggest to you that there is a lot more responsibility in taking that position that merely being responsible for sounding the siren or blowing the air horn.
When you take that position you assume the role of officer for that unit. Whether you are a senior member or not, that is the role you will be called upon to play. Whether you are an officer or not is of no consequence. You must step up to the plate and take a swing at doing the right thing.
I am worried my friends that far too many people are doing things for which they are either marginally qualified, or worse yet, totally unprepared. Let me share a story with you. I believe that it will tell you where I am headed in this visit with you.
Many years ago at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference in Indianapolis, a bunch of the boys and I were holding court in a local watering hole. We got into a rather intense discussion of the state of affairs in our fire service.
A central topic in our debate involved what my buddies and I thought about the manner in which many younger firefighters and officers were conducting themselves. We felt that many of them simply did not seem to know and be aware of what we aging veterans took as gospel.
All of us who initially became engaged in this discussion were all on the far side of age 50. Each of us had been in the fire service at least since Lyndon Johnson was President. Further, there were those in the group who harked back to both the Kennedy and Eisenhower years. I mention this to you in order to provide a perspective on background for the discussion.
We were comparing notes on the problems inherent in the delivery of fire protection and EMS. As with all long-serving fire officers, opinions were available on any topic that came up for discussion. At some point during the evening’s festivities, an interesting counterpoint was noted. All of the folks on the south side of the table were 30 years of age or younger.
Each of us began to notice quizzical looks on the faces of the younger firefighters when the topic of conversation turned to the late Lloyd Layman, the late John T. O’Hagan, and the late Abbott and Costello. While each of us on the north side of age 50 nodded knowingly about the wisdom imparted by Layman and O’Hagan, our younger associates puzzled over which stone-age characters we were discussing.
The part that shocked me was that none of these younger troops knew who Abbott and Costello were. (For you younger types, they were a burlesque comedy team who achieved a certain amount of Hollywood and television fame in the 1940’s and 1950’s for their zany antics: such as the “Who is on First” routine, seen on late-night and early AM television.)
As the evening wore on, we older lads took great pains to share our collective wisdom with the younger troops at the table. It then occurred to us that we had just identified one of the primary problems at work throughout the fire service. We older troops simply take for granted that the younger people will automatically know what we are talking about. The corollary to this is that on the fireground, we expect our newer troops to automatically act and perform like we veterans do.
Now you may be saying to yourselves, Harry is telling us nothing especially brilliant here. But that is just the point. Some of our greatest problems in the fire service come from the fact that we take too much for granted. After more than 47 years in the fire and emergency services world, a great deal of what I do is ingrained in my psyche and my soul. I act or react based upon a body of knowledge accumulated over a long period of time.