Fire Trucks and Sand Boxes: Caution Children Playing Fireman

March 13, 2006
Like many of you, I spend countless hours on the Internet trying to stay abreast of fire service-related events as they unfold across our nation.

Like many of you, I spend countless hours on the Internet trying to stay abreast of fire service-related events as they unfold across our nation. There seem to be new revelations every day about the ways in which people in our area of professional interest are going about the delivery of fire protection services. Each of us has seen stories which cause us to pause and ponder the direction our fire service is taking.

Human behavior lies at the root of much of what we see. It seems to me that it is sometimes difficult to explain the behavior of far too many people in our business. Many of the things we see are examples of unnecessary human conflict. I don't know, maybe it all stems from the problems that some folks had back in kindergarten when they were learning to play in the sandbox.

Perhaps you remember the two kids who were always fighting over the little toy fire truck. The interaction usually went something like this. "That's my fire truck! No that's my fire truck! Gimme my fire truck! Mine! No Mine!" That little exchange was usually followed by some pushing, a bit of hair pulling and possibly some name calling. This exchange was usually followed by a bout of punching, kicking, screaming, and crying. At least that is the way I seem to remember it.

Let me suggest that being five years old does not carry with it a requirement for a great deal of logic, understanding, or compassion. People at that age are kids and as such they do not know any better. It was, is, and should remain the responsibility of parents and educators to teach these little children the right way to act. Of course I am now 58 years-old, and kindergarten for me was a long time ago. Ergo I could be wrong.

However, that is how it worked when my wife and I were raising our three kids. We tried to model the proper behaviors for our children. I guess we were successful, because neither of us ever had to shape up at the principal's office, or bail our kids out of jail. For all of these things, my wife Jackie and I are eternally grateful. Then again we were just passing along the lessons which our parents shared with us.

Apparently such proper behavior was not taught in a certain area within the great state of Maryland. Like many of you I have been following the Golden Gloves boxing competition being hosted by the Prince George County Fire Department. What is up with those guys (children) in the Prince George area? Their behavior is truly a dark and growing stain on the whole cloth of our American Fire Service. Something needs to happen and it needs to happen soon. Can you imagine how the citizens of that area must feel about their protective services?

Like many of you I have read and seen a great deal about the concept of road rage. I guess we will now be forced to add a new type of rage to our society's vernacular of sad and stupid human behaviors. How about the title firefighter rage? It breaks my heart to even allude to this.

Far too many folks in our society have degenerated to the point where they are living lives of lustful, inwardly-focused, self-indulgence. Far too many folks are living life as though they were the sun and the rest of us were the planets relegated to revolving around them. If you think about it, this may well be the explanation for much of the rage we see at work in our world today.

One perfect example of this selfish animus is the situation in Iraq where people of different branches of the same faith are killing each other. Another example comes from our world where in certain places elements of the career fire service are battling hammer and tong to put volunteers out of existence.

However, there is another example which is often overlooked. It involves the jealousies that keep neighboring fire departments from coming together in a seamless regional delivery system. All of these forces are a negative drag exerting a force that works against fire service success.

My friends none of these examples is not a good thing for society in general. It seems to me that human behavior within a societal context has taken on certain ominous tones over the past several decades. Perhaps it was the nearly three decades of my life which were spent as a commuter that exposed me to this rage in its purest form. As a matter of fact, I may have been an active, if sometimes unwilling participant.

I was exposed to erratic, angry drivers on a daily basis. People who acted as though they begrudged the rest of us a lane on their highway have come to be a dangerous negative drag on our society. Look at the number of places where people have been killed in road-rage-related motor vehicle accidents, incidents, and shootings.

If this is happening in one part of our world, it makes sense to expect that it would bleed over to other areas such as our world of firefighting. That may well be why we are seeing the Prince George County Golden Glove follies.

Why is it happening? Were the truth to be told, it might be that all of these negative actions can be explained through the mechanism of the needs -satisfaction cycle. If you are like me you have probably read countless articles on this topic during your educational and civil service promotional-studying lives.

It is really quite simple. We all have needs. Think hard and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs will come back to you. In 1954, Abraham Maslow conducted an important study within the field of human needs while he was a faculty member at the Air University in Alabama. As a result of this study he determined that each of us is subjected to the same series of needs. His research further suggested that each of us may well be operating at different levels of the various needs at the same time. These differences might well be the basis for conflict within an organization.

These needs range from those aspects which are involved in basic survival and move right on up to the highest planes of human thought endeavors. Maslow categorized some of the needs as being really strong. So it is that when our strong, personal needs are frustrated, we act out our frustrations. Sometimes these actions are strongly negative.

Let me ask you a simple question? Have we forgotten why we are here in the fire service? Have we forgotten the true purpose of what we are supposed to be doing when we mount up to ride out and do battle with the demons which are facing our society?

During many of my consulting studies I have queried people as to the reasons for their joining the fire and emergency service world. As you might well imagine, many of the people being interviewed spoke of any number of altruistic justifications as the basic reason for their becoming a member. Maybe there are those among us who have forgotten this.

Can you recall why you became a member of the fire service? I can. I joined for the excitement and then, only over time, did I grow to realize the magnificence of the services provide by people within our world. The fire and emergency service world is my life. I have been doing these great things for nearly 42 years now. Occasionally I forget why I am riding out on the red chariots.

It is at these junctures that I encounter the need to focus on the whys and wherefores of what it is I do. I need to recommit myself to protecting and serving my fellow citizens. Perhaps that is why I am toying with the suggestion for the need for a national day of recommitment to the fire service.

Many times through the years I have had to force myself to get a handle on this problem. Many times my dedication has been challenged by someone who felt they had did not like the normal way of doing things. Writing for you each week my friends requires me to focus on the problematic issues we all face with an eye to offering solutions that may make things a tad better. Many of you have helped me to do just this.

Perhaps it is because of all of this that I now have a better handle on this issue. I think that we all may have drifted just a bit too far from our original reasons for stepping forward to serve others. Our service has grown apart as various interest groups stepped forward and began to demand attention for their segment of the fire service. We need to recapture the passion of our youth.

It seems as though we have drifted apart on many levels. It runs the gamut from inter-local problems which prevent us from providing a unified, regional approach to fire protection all the way up to the plethora of organizations at the county, region, state, and national level. Everyone is pushing, pulling, or prodding us to do this thing or that thing because it is what their organization recommends.

Maybe we have just been fragmented to the point where each of us has forgotten that we are all on the same team. We are all on the fire service team, and the purpose of that team should be to protect the people of our nation. We need to present a united front to those who would challenge who we are and what we do.

We need to recommit to one single entity: the fire service. We need to come together around a single mission: the protection of our nation and our communities. We need to understand that community is a concept which can occur on a variety of levels. It is my opinion that we have to move away from the concept of self. It is my opinion that we all need to move in the direction of a team effort. Like many people before me, let me encourage you to note that there is no "I" in the spelling of the word team.

Let me offer you a thought. Where are you at this very moment in terms of your own career in the fire service? Are you near the fringe, or have you thrown yourself, heart and soul, into the center of the battle to deliver our critical protective services. Far too many people fail to get involved because they never bothered to learn more than was taught to them in their first year of fire department membership. They provide a lukewarm, pabulum-like version of our services.

Folks like this see more educated people around them and recoil into themselves, fearful of being unable to compete. The journey towards the future and a recommitment to the fire service must begin with a desire by each and every one of us to learn new things. Set your sights on learning one new thing every day of your life.

As one who has spent a great deal of my life in pursuit of knowledge I want to assure you of one important fact. The more you learn the more aware you become of how little you know. When you see someone who claims to know all there is about anything, avoid that person like the plague. They are fools and fools have been known to kill people.

I want to be the spark which ignites the fuel of your talents. I want to become the wind that fans this incipient flame to a fiery state of action. However, let me suggest that this requires us to operate according to a common framework. The battling boobs in Prince George County need to be brought in hand.

Those who operate according to their own flawed view of the world need to be brought on board. It would appear from the nature of the emerging press releases on the Internet that the Fire Chief in that county recognizes the magnitude of his problem. However, I must question the existence of an environment which has allowed these open acts of insurgence to occur.

It is my task to shine the bright light of public attention into the dark places where ignorance and hatred fuels the fires of rebellion against good order. How can we recommit to a central fire service focus when competing schools of thought, often diametrically opposed one to the other, are allowed to exist?

We must focus on the reasons for our existence as a fire service. We must refocus ourselves on the real reasons for serving. We must commit to creating a plan for a better fire serve and encourage everyone who wears any form of a Maltese cross on their shoulder to join with us on our common journey. There is strength in numbers. Conversely there is weakness in division. Let us all say no to the naysayers who would break us into anemic, warring factions.

It is one thing to feel special and be a solid, selfless team player. It is another thing to feel so special that you shape a life of self-serving, inwardly focused nonsense. That is not special, that is stupid. I suggest to you that there is no real satisfaction to be had from dwelling on your own self.

In the delivery of my words this week I am going to be seen as a person who is either preaching to the choir or stumbling about in the wilderness in search of an audience. This meaning will come from your mind and not mine. I know what I think and what I believe about the fire service. Only you can know what you are thinking about.

I am suggesting that you have to come to an understanding of who you are and why you do what it is that you are supposed to do. No matter how much you think you know I want to assure you that you are only one step away from stepping off into the deep abyss of ignorance which lies just outside the parameters of your mind.

This change in our focus will not occur overnight. The situation which brought some of our own into shoving matches on the fire ground did not occur overnight. Until we are able to accept our individual responsibility for the success of the fire service, we will be unable to change the direction of our massive ship of state. Think of how hard it is to halt a speeding train, or stop an ocean liner. Those two tasks are far easier to accomplish than affecting a change in the direction of our fire service.

This will not be an easy journey for yet one more reason. There are those who will feel so threatened by the changes I am proposing that they will actually begin to actively work against those changes. We need to be on the lookout for these "organizational Jake brakes." Their efforts will become a drag on the engine of our efforts. We need to find them and counter their efforts.

Did I say that this recommitment to the true values of a united fire service would be easy? I think not. It will be people like the Fire Chief in Prince George County that are going to be thrust into the forefront of this recommitment effort. I am suggesting that each of us will need to devote all of our God-given talents to making our fire service a model for the world.

Do not let the people who throw punches be our representatives to the world at large. Recommitment is, as I see it, a bottom-up process. It begins with the individual and grows in magnitude as recommitted people come together in productive groups. Societal forces are at work against us. We will all need to be strong and resilient if we are to succeed in recommitting to a better fire service.

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