No one at all can say they operate in complete, perfect safety
A video of a fireground shown through social media offers many items that a firefighter, officer and company could use for a drill or at the very least a discussion on what they would do. However, someone in the internet crowd picks up the small flaw, runs with it and ruins any interest in learning what is seen in the video. Are we growing, fostering, unknowingly encouraging a new generation of firefighters and fire officers who are so bent on picking out the minor flaws that they miss the larger picture, the whole of the operation and what they can take away and use for themselves?
Sweat the small stuff or don’t sweat the small stuff, we have to ask ourselves if the electronic social environment is blind to the real world. Some can probably dismiss the hypercritical reviews because they know the distant opinion has minor influence in the local operation, but should it be dismissed entirely? Is spotting the trees and missing the forest becoming a learned behavior for those with little local experience?
The title of this comes from a coworker in response to reader comments about what was perceived as a faulty practice in EMS in a story at work. It doesn’t take away from the technically correct solution but it does remind us that this is not a pristine world we work in. You may not wear your gloves one time and I may not have my facepiece on one time, but that doesn’t mean we need to view each other as unrepentant vocational sinners.
We can learn from all examples without being the pompous online ass that has to point it out. Questioning something politely is a respectable act. Simply calling out the minor wrong is not. What that does is immediately cause division among readers and creates a sense of hypocrisy. No one, no one at all, can say they operate in complete and perfect safety at a fire. The variables for error in yourself and others are too great before you can consider the variables on the fireground. That doesn’t mean you become passive about being safe but that you let the small things miles away go. Some would say that there needs to be a continual effort to point out wrong practices in an effort to increase the level of awareness among those with limited experience. That is wrong for two reasons.
First, if you have to be told online what you should be told in person at your academy, drill yard, training center and firehouse, then there is a logically assumed breakdown in your local education. Only you can question and confirm that. Second, it creates a false sense of uniformity of firefighting online. We all operate differently and the levels of difference vary. One department may not ventilate peaked roofs. Another may do that, but their firefighters may not wear SCBA when doing so in order to keep their balance on the peak. One engine company may rely on preconnects while another uses a static bed. One firefighter may be seen inside with his facepiece on while another somewhere else is on air while standing outside on the front lawn. We all operate differently from department organization down to individual choice.
When our biased views of right and wrong are heavily applied to minor problems we come across as highly judgmental. We also come across as hypocritical. I may appreciate your constant reminders to mask up, clean my gear and wash my hood every Sunday but when I also see you with a cigar at a social event, I’m going to see you in a different light from now on. That doesn’t mean your message isn’t as valuable as when it was first presented but it does mean you are human, just like the rest of us, and that is what we need to remember better than any firefighter without his gloves or facepiece.
By constantly grandstanding on the minutia of safety all you do is promote a false identity of yourself and your firefighting operations that can never be proven to be constantly correct, for as all of us know, at some point in our lives mistakes happen. Even by you.
A member of Tower Ladder 120 overhauls the rear of a two story brick private dwelling at 916 Thomas Boylan Street in Brownsville, Brooklyn. (Lloyd Mitchell photo, used with permission)
Bill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Fire Group, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com and FireEMSBlogs.com. Bill started in the fire service as a third generation firefighter in 1986 on the eastern shore of Maryland and then continued after moving to Prince George’s County. He served as a volunteer sergeant and lieutenant at Hyattsville. Bill’s writing has been on Firehouse.com, Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation.com, and other sites. His recent writing on firefighter behavioral health was nominated for a 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.