When we decided to be firemen what did you believe your job description was going to entail? I knew that when I signed up my job was to service and protect the people within the community I work for. It was actually a terrifying thought. I couldn’t tell you how many nights I sat wondering to myself if I could hack it. I was 20 and had no family in the fire service. I had a brother who was a cop and a girlfriend (who is now my wife) whose father was a firefighter. But I was ultimately a selfish kid, not any different than any other 20 year old. I did things for reward. I remember sitting there and thinking that it was a lot of responsibility. I needed to know my job. If I didn’t someone could die and it would be my fault. I started thinking maybe I should pound nails, it’s a lot less responsibility. Well, as you can see, I didn’t pound nails. I do on my days off but I would not say my profession is a carpenter. I sometimes think that would have been a better route but I am a fireman and I am proud of it. What I am not proud of is the culture that I see forming.
What inspired me to write this was a discussion that I had a few weeks ago with one of my Co-workers. The discussion started out shooting the shit. Then, as usual, turned into talking shop. But this conversation struck a nerve. Maybe because it’s been brewing inside for a while. I was hearing a variety of the same comments from classes and past discussions with other firemen. It was about Risk vs Benefit. We have a building in town that is a death trap. Its addition, after addition and is laid out like a maze. This building recently went into foreclosure and is supposedly vacant. The building itself is not the issue. The issue was his comment, “We are not going in no matter what. The building is abandoned.” After I bit my lip for a few seconds, I responded by saying “HOW DO YOU KNOW?” The rest of the conversation is irrelevant. Here is what is relevant. We don’t know if it’s vacant until we declare it vacant. I have heard so much about risk vs. benefit lately. In my opinion what is risky is subjective to the department, individual, and company. If I had ten cents every time I heard “that’s not safe” I would be a millionaire. Where I am going with this is that too many undertrained, undedicated people are using this as a crutch. Let’s look at this from a different perspective. If you walk up to a skateboard half pipe and someone asks you to drop in on it, you’re going to think, “That’s Risky!” Then the 16 year old kid who does it every day for 12 hours a day comes and drops in and grinds the entire coping. To him dropping in is just the basics of his foundation. Now if we apply that to the fire ground a company that doesn’t train has not created that foundation, making a basic task a risk. Why don’t they train? That’s an article for a different day.
They say that it takes doing something 10,000 times before becoming an expert, so we need to master our craft. The skills that we will never use needs to be trained on more than the skills that we use. Why? Because we will not become proficient without doing them. We also won’t feel confident or even think of them unless they are put into our tool box. With our tasks at the fire house revolving around cleaning and hoping we get that TV show we have been waiting for in we need to take a step back. We need to remember, why we are there in the first place? We are there to respond, help, and assist the members of our stills to the best of our ability. If we don’t train and build our tool box to at least become proficient in skills we won’t be able to say we did our best. We can never become masters but we should all try. Why? We have a lot of responsibility and when we don’t fulfill our responsibility we need to know we trained. We need to know we had the tools but there were other forces at work. NOT US.