“It’s What We All Do”

LIFESAVERS: From left, firefighters Brian Martinage, Lt. Michael Sameski, Mike Sweeney and Michael Ahern helped to rescue a 14-year-old girl from an Evans Street, Dorchester, blaze yesterday. (Photo by Matt Stone)

LIFESAVERS: From left, firefighters Brian Martinage, Lt. Michael Sameski, Mike Sweeney and Michael Ahern helped to rescue a 14-year-old girl from an Evans Street, Dorchester, blaze yesterday. (Photo by Matt Stone)

Mick Mayers ran a very good article about what it is we (firefighters) call ourselves. His points were that our identity is often formed by our actions and in the case of firefighters our actions say that we are more than ‘firefighters’.It is well worth reading, especially for the contrast of ideas that he presents such as, identity by performance; identity by worth (self and others’); and identity by values (tradition). It made me think how the ideas impact our self-image and how it is hard to tell John Q. Public what is is we really do.

I’m sure we’ve all at one point or another seen the PIO or chief give an interview where one of two things happened. Either the PIO or chief came across as being very ill-prepared, or was nearly robotic in his delivery.

“So chief, can you tell us how bad this fire is and how long it took firefighters to get it under control?”

“As you can see behind me, the structure is a five-story class three multiple dwelling, occupied. Upon arrival, which was under the required response time standard, our first arriving quint-type apparatus took a position on the alpha side of the structure whereupon the officer-in-charge, a Fire Officer II certified Medic Firefighter deployed his crew, of equally trained firefighter/paramedics, to begin Stage I offensive suppression operations as a first-due engine company. As the officer began his rapid cycle environment and structure diagnosis, the second quint, from a nearby emergency services station, arrived and began to deploy its personnel in a manner to affect the initial occupant reconnaissance based upon the risk safety survey coupled with the similar survey by the first officer, who had take the position of Initial Incident Commander, Offensive Stage Sector. As we…”

Good grief.

But the above isn’t an exaggeration. Through my own fire department experience and through work I’ve seen and heard the whole spectrum. There is a handicap that goes with telling people what it is that we do and it silently shouts out in our minds “Wait, you need to know I’m a fireman! Not just someone who let you back into your apartment, or someone who took you to the hospital at 0200! I’m a fireman damn it!, Do you hear me!”

Two significant events took place this week that tie into Mick’s article and this identity or ‘marketing’ problem. The first is the seemingly increase (as reported) ban of helmet cameras by various fire departments. Despite what you may think about them you have to acknowledge that given the advances in social media and networking, outright banning of helmet cameras is kin to a department shooting itself in the foot. With the proper direction and discretion, this is one tool that will do better then any embedded news reporter. The second was from the PIO of the Orlando Police Department during the office shooting incident. When asked by a reporter how many officers and agencies were on the scene, the PIO stated,

“We have on the scene all the resources that the public gives us.”

Did you catch that? ” – all the resources that the public gives us.” That is something that should be filed away for use by every fire service PIO and chief officer, especially those who have been under the budget cleaver. What the public gives us, what they expect, often collide with our identity. For us, we are firefighters who do more than fight fires. If that comes as a surprise to you then maybe you should look for another job or volunteer service, because your going to have along hard road ahead of you. What you do doesn’t have to define you or your own self-worth. It also doesn’t have to be discussed with the public, media and politicians, in a way that requires a college degree. In Boston yesterday, the fire department, reeling from being unable to oust Mayor Menino, and on the heels of the NIOSH report of the fire that killed two members, performed two reported rescues, all in the matter of a day’s work. One was a technical rescue of a worker at a scaffolding collapse at Faneuil Hall. The second was the rescue of a child at a Dorchester fire.

Not being encumbered by identity and self-worth Fire Lieutenant Mike Sameski, Engine Company 16 (Note: The Boston Globe incorrectly reports “Ladder 16” in its story) gave a great five word mission statement about this fire, his company and the department,

“It’s what we all do.”

As Mick wrote, our job is simply to respond and stabilize. We might not fix the problem, but we can certainly keep it from becoming worse. Does it make us any less of a person if the ‘title’ isn’t ‘traditional’? I suppose not, although in my department, ‘Emergency Response Technician’ wasn’t a real gem. What matters more is whether or not we can explain, in simple terms to the common man, what it is we do. Once we can do this with each other, then we can do a better job of selling it to the public.
(Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

As I wrote in the comment to Mick’s article, we are what we are. Somedays we’re heroes, and somedays were villians, but the last I heard, no citizen ever had to flip through the yellow pages and pick out a fire department when their house was on fire.

“The Fixers” Firehouse Zen
Hero jakes rescue teen from Dorchester fire Boston Herald
“Firefighters pull girl from blaze” Boston Globe
Girl, 14, pulled from Dorchester blaze WHDH
Teenager critically injured in Dorchester blaze Boston.com

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