Ron Ayotte on why we should be continually replacing the welcome mat and our image.
If you ask any firefighter what got them interested in the fire service… the answer would more than likely be the doors of their local firehouse.
As children, they probably walked by the firehouse on the way to school or lived near one. The gleaming fire trucks, the turnout gear on the rigs at the ready and the faint aroma of fires past instilled the spark that many of us still carry on today. In my case, I lived across the street from the old Headquarters Station in Dracut, MA. I used to spend my Saturday mornings there, asking questions, helping wash trucks and probably being a pain in the backside, yet the firemen always let me stay.
The doors of the firehouse offer those we serve a peek inside of our world… but in many places, we are closing those doors and hiding behind them. Some of it is by executive order, as the fear of terrorism has made security heightened to the nth degree. For the political firestorms that rage around the FD, some of us have resorted to using the “circle the wagons” defense,, thinking that what John and Jane Q. Public don’t see, they can’t use it against us when they call the Mayor, Town Manager, or their councilors and alderman. In my own personal opinion is the worst thing that we can be doing right now, especially in this political climate where city officials have no problem cutting operating and capital budgets, laying off firefighters, look for concessions, browning out fire companies and even closing fire stations. Some of us have gotten to the point that we believe that the public doesn’t care about the FD anymore (once again, circling the wagons…)
This is the very reason why we should be throwing the doors open and letting John and Jane Q. Public know what we do and what is going on with their fire protection. There are times that we are our own worst enemy. When a young damsel in distress wearing a short dress walks into the firehouse and asks for help with a flat tire on her car, people are tripping all over one another to assist her. When a woman comes in with her three kids and asks to look at the fire trucks, or when someone asks to have a truck pulled out onto the apron to take a picture, how many people scatter?
When a fire truck is out on the road, it is another example of the “firehouse door” and is another excellent opportunity us to “spread the word”. The truck is a rolling billboard for us. Show a little pride and keep it clean. If someone sees a rig and it is filthier than the floors of the local movie theatre complex, do you really think they will support replacing an older rig? Whether we are responding to calls, doing inspections or just stopping at the market after a run to pick up a few things for lunch or dinner, we are in the public eye. You will have those who will ask why it is necessary to send a big truck to an inspection, or why it takes three or more people to pick up rolls and cold cuts for lunch. This is another excellent opportunity to inform our (and I am going to borrow a word from the politicians here) “constituents” of the need for crew integrity for both our safety and theirs. Carry some public fire education handouts in the rigs, including the plastic “Sparky” helmets and coloring books for their kids. Seize the opportunity and use it to our advantage!
Another version of the “firehouse door” exists in the media and in cyberspace, through the comments section that are part of the internet pages of the newspaper and television stations. There are those who I like to call the “Double I’s”; short for the “internet idiots”. These characters (for want of a better word) tend to hate any form of government employee, whether they are municipal, county, state or federal and bash anything that their community, State or the Federal government does. They use the internet forum page of the media as their bully pulpit, criticizing anything and everything the FD does from budgeting to fire operations while hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.
We as firefighters can refute their statements, but in doing so we must use fact and logic; not base our answers to our critics on emotions. If you are going to answer the “Double I’s” take the high road. In summary, keeping our “doors open” will keep the firehouse doors open in more ways than one.
Photos courtesy Lloyd Mitchel Photography, with permission.
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