Routines can be dangerous.

The evening of January 5th was a typical night tour of duty for me. I arrived at the station, got the information of the night’s staffing and ride list together, changed into uniform, placed my gear in Car 2, checked my emails and went into the kitchen to warm up the dinner my lovely wife Trish put together for me.

After dinner, I went back to my office on the administrative side and started scanning quarterly inspection forms and other documents to be filed electronically. I set up my computer so I could listen to Fire Engineering’s Blogtalk radio Command Post episode 181, hosted by Chiefs John Salka and Rick Lasky and their guest, Chief Alan Brunacini. The topic of the podcast was command issues, staffing and MAYDAY operations.

Early in the podcast, Chief Lasky made a statement that really got my attention… “Complacency is just a fancy word for laziness".

Boy, does that ring true. We as firefighters tend to fall into a routine. For some of us, the routine is one that we do to make sure that our PPE, SCBA, meters and thermal imagers are ready for use. Sometimes the routine turns into a rut… we take the offgoing shift’s word that “everything is all set”.

Being ready for work is not simply checking the assignment board and putting your gear on the rig. It means facing every single alarm as if everything can and will go wrong. (Bill Carey photo)

While that may be true for that particular day, are they merely parroting what was said by the group they relieved the previous day, who were merely parroting what was said by the group they relieved the previous day?

We tend to become complacent. If one goes to the same alarm activation every tour at the same time of day because of a system malfunction, we tend to think that “it’s only another @#$%^&! false alarm… when will Fire Prevention drop the hammer on the building owner?”

When we become complacent, we may not don all of our gear or get off the rig without scba and tools. The day that we have heavy fire and smoke showing from that address, we will look like a bunch of monkeys attempting to fornicate with a football trying to get geared up and looking for tools. While John and Jane Q. Public may not see it that way, any fire buff or brother and sister firefighters will know what is going on… and with cell phones capable of uploading pictures and video to the internet, our screw ups can go viral on YouTube and other websites within minutes. Hundreds of them are uploaded to YouTube and social networking sites daily!

Here is something that every firefighter, whether they are career, paid call or volunteer should keep in mind….

Complacency can KILL YOU.

Treat every alarm as the real deal… your life as well as the lives of your Brothers and Sisters may very well depend on it.


Ron Ayotte is a Deputy Chief of the Marlborough (MA) Fire Department and employee to the Support Services division of the Massachusetts Department of Fire Service/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy.

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1 Comment

  • Davis M says:

    Great post, though in my (limited) experience as a firefighter, I have identified this complacency as more of a "normalization of deviance," not an out right effort to avoid having to work.  An example of this phenomena can be found here in regards to failed NASA missions and other scenarios. 
    A quote from the article: "If you have heard of slow boiling frog - that is normalization of deviance. The danger of negative and slow incremental changes is not only that they are subtle, but they are normalizing! The degradation of standards, habits, and performance continuously reach new (lower) norms. But you’re ability to perceive new norms remains low because incremental shifts generate no direct or strong negative feedback."

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