Merry Christmas to the Dumb Asses

Dec. 20, 2005
It is a time for each of us to pause and ponder our coming Christmas celebration. There is so much to do and so little time in which to do it. This past week found me on the phone as usual trying to accomplish a wide range of dissimilar tasks done as the joyous season of Christmas fast approaches.

It is a time for each of us to pause and ponder our coming Christmas celebration. There is so much to do and so little time in which to do it. This past week found me on the phone as usual trying to accomplish a wide range of dissimilar tasks done as the joyous season of Christmas fast approaches.

One of these calls was to my buddy John Kubilewicz, Director of the Mercer County Fire Training Center. In the midst of our discussions I mentioned the frustration I was facing in pushing the use of seat belts. He agreed that the use of seat belts was a critical problem for all of us. He said then went on to say something that really got me to thinking. John mentioned that one of his favorite phrases was that we in the fire service have always been our own worst enemy. I guess I sort of chuckled as I agreed with him. I then said to him that from what I have been reading and hearing, not only are we our own worst enemy, but we are getting better at it. My friends, during the past several days my buddies and I in the fire service have been pondering the peculiar problem of persistently imperiled people. Time and again we see that people are dying and being injured by doing unsafe things. Sadly we see the same mistakes being made time and time again. Why is it that a great many people just do not seem to get it? Billy Goldfeder and I have been battling this problem for quite some time now. I cannot speak for Billy, but as we approach this joyous, holiday season, my heart is heavy with concern for those who just do not seem to be getting the message. Believe me that it is not for the lack of trying. What is the matter? Let me offer the simple answer. People are the problem. They come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of mental capacities. But they are still the problem. If we could just do away with the people all of the problems would disappear. This is a view widely held by many people the whole world over. Not a very bright view, but widely held none-the-less. As we approach the coming Christmas holiday my friends, we in the fire service seem to be living the textbook example of modern-day insanity. Our folks keep doing the same old things, in the same old ways with the expectation of a new and improved result. I would suggest that you try that approach on your computer and see how far you get. Then they wonder why people are suffering death and serious injuries as a consequence of their actions. My suggestion is quite simple. To quote the character Red Foreman on the quirky Fox Network "That 70's Show," these people are a bunch of "dumb-asses." A dear friend chided me the other day for my use of the phrase 'dumb ass' a couple of weeks ago. She suggested that there had to be a better phrase to describe my feelings of frustration with the sub-par actions of a number of my fellow travelers in the world of fire and emergency services. I took her suggestion to heart. Maybe there is a better way to express myself. After all, I am an erudite, allegedly educated individual. Let us see what other words might work. Here are a few bullet points that might be substituted for the explanatory phrase "dumb-ass":
  • The actions of a great many of these folks in positions of leadership jeopardize the safety of people who probably know better but aren't in charge.
  • These thought-challenged folks must have sent their brains to the dry cleaners while the rest of their bodies went to school.
  • The length and breadth of their intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom are not sufficient to span the width of a narrow mind.
  • Their technical deck of cards is made up of 54 jokers.
  • When the Good Lord was passing out brains, these people said, "trains, I don't like trains."
  • These people have elevated myopia to an almost sacred status

I could go on for quite a few more lines, but I think you get the point. My friends, I can think of no better phrase than "dumb ass" to describe the ways in which far too many of us seem to be pushing the same buttons of stupidity hoping against hope to get a different outcome.

Let me now move beyond the fact that we have a fire service riddled with people for whom death and injury is not an issue. They just choose to ignore these critical issues. Let me move beyond the people whose motto seems to be "safety is for sissies." Let me move beyond people who see personal protective equipment and proper breathing apparatus use as a roadblock to their tough-guy goals. I keep trying to influence all of these people, but today I just have to move on. Let me then pause to concentrate on a couple of specific examples from places in the United States where the leaders, both civilian and uniformed, just do not seem to be getting it. I could go on for a few more lines, but I think you get the point. My friends, I can think of no better phrase than "dumb ass" to describe the ways in which we seem to be pushing the same buttons hoping to get a different outcome. There are a couple of examples that I would like to use to make the point of my "Merry Christmas to the Dumb-asses" message. Please fasten your seatbelts and let me share them with you in my holiday message. There is a fire department in the Deep South which was accused of placing its community in jeopardy by operating without sufficient departmental staff to provide an effective protective service to their community. Like many such disputes, it was a labor/management interaction over the issue of staffing which led to the allegations. It was with a certain amount of incredulity that I read a newspaper article which described the fire chief's response to the allegations of improper fire protective services. Bear in mind that the allegations involved insufficient staffing. In the newspaper article, the fire chief listed a series of improvements which countered the claim of substandard fire protection. Not surprisingly, the entire list of bulleted points failed to address the issue of personnel and staffing, which was the issue that started the whole brouhaha. Not once was staffing mentioned. The chief in question told a really neat story which spoke about all the things that had been provided by the department to improve the fire services in his community. The list included all type and manner of apparatus, equipment, and buildings. My friends, fire protection is not provided by things. It is provided by trained groups of people who are properly equipped with the correct array of tools, supplemented by training to improve the talent level of the troops. About the only positive point I saw in this article spoke to public education. That is a good thing. However, if you do not have a sufficient staff, every aspect of your operation will suffer, even Pub Ed. This chief danced circles around the issue of staffing. My friends, this is the same sort of nonsensical, pro-technology argument used by our federal government to justify a military that is top-heavy with technology, but seriously short of the necessary staffing to fight the wars we are now facing. It is a truism in the military world that people seize and occupy territory. You can bomb the snot out of a country, but someone has to go over the top and take the territory under control. The same approach holds true in the world of municipal fire protection. People + Tools + Talent + Labor = Effective Service People plus tools, plus talent and effort equals an effective fire department. The tired refrain that we do not need as many people riding our equipment because fires are down is simply not appropriate. This argument holds no water since there are so many more tasks to perform now that are not of a firefighting nature. Our mission for the future must involve more intensive planning for what might happen, not just cutting people and stations because we can. I have been waiting since 1973 for the fire service to get off the dime and begin doing this. It is a lucky thing for me that I am a patient person. I am sure that there will be those among you who take me to task for picking on a poor fire chief who is just trying to do the best that they can with the limited resources they have been allocated by that passel of parsimonious phonies down at town hall. Bull ---! I am tired of that weak sister cop-out. We need to overcome the Wizard of Oz disease that is spreading through the leadership of our fire service. Perhaps you have seen someone who is suffering from this sometimes fatal illness. Here are the symptoms to help you develop an ability to diagnose this malady:
  • No brains
  • No heart
  • No guts (or whatever missing anatomical part works best for you)

Another interesting instance of this idiotic illness comes to us by way of a community in Wisconsin. I really have to feel for the fire chief in this instance, because he was working hard to use the government grant system to augment his department's limited staffing. Sadly he happened to be laboring on behalf of a governing body of limited vision.

I am referring to the town fathers in Franklin, Wisconsin. The fire department in Franklin won a $600,000 Department of Homeland Security grant to fund additional firefighters in their community. Thanks to the myopic mopes in their municipal monarchy, the fire department will have to find another solution to its staffing problems after the city fathers voted to reject the funds. In an article by Ben Weinstein of, the town fathers states that, "the main factor cited for rejecting the grant is the matching funds requirement.* Under the SAFER program, the department would have been required to phase in the salaries and benefits costs for its new firefighters over five years." Well duh!! What in the hell is in the water they are drinking out there? Did they think that there would be a federal free lunch festival to cure their staffing woes? The man to whom my sympathies go out is Fire Chief James Martins. He saw the benefit of the SAFER program and applied for a grant. Imagine how he must have felt when, after winning a $600,000 grant, he was forced by his town government to send it back. Perhaps their belief in Santa Claus reigns supreme. Perhaps a tiny sleigh with eight overworked reindeer and a chunky red-suited rascal will fly over Franklin, Wisconsin on Christmas night and let loose with a shower of free money. Not bloody likely mates. I guess these folks feel that it is better to remain unsafe than to figure out an orderly plan for growth. These people have apparently accomplished a way of putting a price on human life. That is the price that they say will break the backs of their taxpayers. I guess these folks were waiting for a magic fire fairy to drop millions of dollars out of the sky to make all of their municipal monetary dilemmas go away. Merry Christmas to the Grinches on the Franklin, Wisconsin Common Council. At this point you might be thinking that I am wallowing in the midst of a sad pre-Christmas funk. Wrong my friends. I am reveling in the joy occasioned by the use of the $6.4 million dollar SAFER grant awarded to the Paterson, New Jersey Fire Department. Just remember one important point about life in New Jersey. We are not in the habit of looking a gift horse in the mouth. We say thank you and spend the money to do the right thing. The fire department in Paterson is gearing up to add 64 new firefighters to their existing staff of 266 firefighters. According to an a Herald News article written by Christian Salazar, Fire Chief Michael Postorino said Thursday December 15, that the additional 64 firefighters would help improve the city's response to fires and medical emergencies, as well as expand its ability to deal with special operations, such as hazardous materials spills and homeland security. The chief went on to state that "at our current (staffing) level, if we get any large-scale fire, we have to get outside municipalities to help," Postorino said. He the said the extra manpower would help put more companies on the streets. This seems like an effective use of a scarce resource: federal money. I would imagine that there are a lot of other places carefully weighing the value of a SAFER grant from the federal government. These folks did not say no to the largess from our friends in the federal government. I would like you to remember that a great deal of my time in the early part of this century was devoted to supporting the work of the National Fire Service Organizations to gain these grant programs. It was not an easy battle. However, we won the day. Now just a few years down the road we see people who are tossing the money back into the face of government. What a travesty. Fortunately there will be someone out there who will get the $600,000 that Franklin, Wisconsin so blithely refused. I sure as heck hope is somewhere in New Jersey. Until then let me offer you all my best wishes for a Merry Christmas. This wish is for all of you my friends; even the "dumb-asses." We are all children of God, and as such share equally in the blessings afforded by His Grace. Who knows, maybe the dumb-asses need it more than the rest of us.

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