Identity Crisis Grows”Ambulance Drivers”, “First Responders” and now “Special Forces”

A little November editorial.

A few weeks ago the Inklings and I were electronically discussing the issue of "first responder", "emergency worker" and other dreaded identification problems that the public and the press have placed on firefighters. No offense to firefighter/paramedics, paramedic/firefighters, firefighter/medics, fire-police and 'Emergency Response Technicians', I know you've studied hard to get where you are, I just don't feel like typing all the titles in an effort not to hear from someone who wears their job on their sleeve. We know what you do and how it accounts for anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of your actual work. While I personally believe "firefighter" suffices, I have nothing against "Emergency Mitigation Response Specialist" either. Chances are if your department changes your title it won't come with a change in pay, that is unless you take the test and are promoted to "Emergency Mitigation Response Field Supervisor." If so, congratulations.

This began when the author of "The Speech" posted on his Facebook page his thoughts on use of the term "First Responder".

Since it came from him, it became gospel and others took it and ran with it. It lasted quite well until the "What do you make?" post, Occupy Wall Street debates and anything related to Penn State or "Castleville". Dave Statter picked up on it both on Facebook and then in his post that showed a Virginia reporter couldn't even get close to the truer word and went with that all encompassing "Safety Personnel" to tell who responded to a house fire.

Apparently the reporter had a violent past of dealing with EMTs, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, fire women, fire police, interior firefighters, exterior firefighters, live-in firefighters, volunteer firefighters (on call 24/7 doncha' know), paid on call firefighters, fire brigade members, off-duty firefighters, firefighters who have joined but are waiting for their EMT reciprocity to clear and retired career firefighters formerly against vollies but secretly driving the tanker for the ticks on the weekdays, that she figured a safe term would not offend anyone. Once Dave Statter (former dispatcher, former volunteer firefighter, former cardiac rescue technician and former reporter…read his bio) raised the issue to light, a slight change was done on the headline. Slight.

This week, another group of individuals who place themselves in harms way took the nation to task for proper identification. The Green Berets, or rather the U.S. Army's Special Forces made a point during the anniversary of their famous designation by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 that they and they alone are the "Special Forces". As the economy continues to tank and the role of clandestine and counter-insurgency operations are combed over to get the biggest bang at the smallest cost, the Associated Press has claimed that Green Berets want to make sure that they are the actual "Special Forces" and that many even in the Pentagon are misuing the term. I bet members of the 75th Ranger Regiment are saying "told you so." (Google "Rangers Black Beret")

Washington Post:
"Green Berets will tell you: Special Forces means Green Berets, and only Green Berets"

Does a term have more value than simply being an identity? It does if you have to compete with other similar providers for a budget. It also has value when you have to merchandise yourself to the public in order to stay in their minds. Unfortunately the fire service does a poor job of this. Usually we are reactive instead of proactive and bitch, moan, belly-ache, wish ill on the reporters and go out and buy more 'I Do This For Free' t-shirts and 'No Fear' stickers. The International Association of Fire Fighters 'Fire Ops 101' is a great resource that all fire departments, yes even volunteer departments, should become familiar with and begin using in order to keep the "fire department" in the minds of the public, public officials, customers and that family of five visiting from Fargo. 

In my work experience I've come to understand both sides of the fence, the firefighter and the reporter, although I do not claim to be a reporter and will not. I admit I get a guilty pleasure each time I feature "Ambulance Driver" on JEMS's Facebook page and Kelly gets more comments about not being an 'ambulance driver' (come on, it's EMT class and P-school, it's not like you found the cure for Polio) than what he wrote about. It amazes me how wrapped up so many people get over identity, even when they are not directly involved. But I know who the audience is; Many times I've contacted a local source or a department to get the right definition of the ambulance "driver", or if the fire "truck" that crashed was an engine or a ladder. Quints? eh… And the staff at JEMS and FirefighterNation/FireRescue Magazine do the same. We know that "EMT Injured in Ambulance Crash" comes across much better than "Ambulance Driver Hurt in Crash". But what about the regular local reporter?

Take some time and get to know your local reporters and see how much they know or don't know about you. Build the relationship now. If you wait until they run a story calling you "first responder" and all you do is write bitchy comments, what do you think they'll do with the next fire story?

Build the good relationships and you build good support.

We encourage and support constructive dialogue and debate. View our comment policy.

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