Why do we find others so wrapped up in being offended?
When my best friend and I started in the fire service, the most well-known safety device for firefighters across the nation at that time were the man-saver bars being placed on the rear of fire engines and in the open jumpseat spaces. That was pretty much it. We had only one portable radio for each rig, our SCBA were the old steel bottles on the sheet metal frame with the waist strap regulator and the rabbit tool was just being invented. Move forward with us to the present day and our discussions go on about how much has changed for both the good and the bad and for both the principle and the profit.
We’ve enjoyed what we experienced. We appreciate what we had and didn’t have back then as well as what the current and future generations have now. Yes, our fire service education was limited back then, compared to now, but we were not ignorant. We trained, drilled, rode with busier departments, gleaned all we could from the magazines, and always sought to improve our skills. Why? Because we liked being firefighters.
Your Identity Remains
Part of our identity, part of who we are, is firefighters. Just firefighters, nothing more and nothing less. Fortunately for us there was no internet and social media when we started and that is the rub for many of you. We never wrangled over what was posted on a social media page by an anonymous figure of a person we didn’t know and would probably never meet. Our fires weren’t being critiqued as we were returning to quarters and we didn’t know anything about any fire we were not on the scene of. We didn’t get riled up over a shared article about the extinction of this trade or about guesstimating if someone inside a burning building was alive or not. Through that and more we also were never compelled to bang on about our aggressive interior attacks or how many fires we had been to. We didn’t have to assert our identity beyond simply being a firefighter. It was a glorious time.
Is it not the same for those that came after us? No, sadly it is not, but it can be.
We have seen great advances and some changes in our education. Our training for the most part has evolved to incorporate this. In some ways this has led to challenging a wider status quo. In others it has led to reaffirming basic skills from the past. Our minds have been opened to dangers we did not fully understand and remedies that need to be tested more. Our personal networks have grown far beyond what the generations of firefighters before us could have imaged and yet we have also been encouraged to make greater investments in the lives of those we work with. One thing has not changed and that is our title.
Looking back at the last two years, on social media and the fire service, so much of what is out there is not really discussion at all. Some posts may have the best of intentions to foster smart discussion, but many have simply deteriorated into nearly everyone postulating about their view and their title. Something new, something different, maybe even something odd, it is perceived by many as an attack on their identity, their title. A new tactic to some lessens another’s self-value, diminishes their self-worth. Questioning another’s new strategy is seen by others as choosing to remain ignorant and again diminishing value and worth. Lord forbid that someone brings up the subject of a new style of fire helmet, for it seemingly comes with the ability to reduce your manliness, heritage, productivity and will make children laugh at you as you go down the street. Why do we find others so wrapped up in being offended?
Pride, Prowess, and Power
Those three cheats us of the ability to educate, be educated, and for the most part simply discuss matters with one another. Look at some of the discussions that are out there. A situation or scenario is presented and instead of respectful debate the three P’s appear. Your view, your opinion, how your department would act, is wrong. Not following the other way is why your department is making vacant lots. It’s stupid but what is more stupid is that we fall for it every time. It goes as follows,
Pride: “Look at this, not because its beneficial, but because it comes from me! My training! My presentation! My class! My video! My book!
Prowess: “I don’t accept it because it shows you as being weak, timid, cowardly. You’ll kill civilians. Doing that will kill firefighters. Tradition will kill you. Change will kill occupants.”
Power: “Follow me and your department will be on the right path. Take our class and you’ll save firefighters lives. If your department did what we do you would be in the 21st Century. If you ignore our material you’re staying in the Stone Age.”
Around and around it goes. You’re wrong and you won’t be right until you embrace my ideas and follow me. Some do try and have a frank discussion but most of the time there is a lot of postulating on our identity and even some backpedaling to try and reclaim it. So, how do you avoid what seems to be the impossible, being caught up in these social media wrestling matches?
You Do You
Recognize first that what is online isn’t happening to you and your department, unless it’s obviously from your department. You will still be fighting fire they way your department says. If that changes, so be it. But you’re not adopting some tactic just because John Doe on Facebook says so. The real world doesn’t work that way. Bailout as soon as the conversation is all about the other person or group. Walk away from it when you know the material is unsound. Call it out respectfully if it is blatantly false and walk away.
Do those things and remember that you’re still a firefighter. Your title hasn’t been removed because you questioned a transitional attack and your position isn’t diminished because you don’t ride in a clean cab. You are neither a cowboy or a coward. You are a firefighter. That’s all those who you work with and your citizens expect of you. Focus on you and what you do and there will be little chance that you get caught up in the debates.
Bill Carey is the online news/blog manager for the Clarion Fire and Rescue Group, which publishes FirefighterNation.com, JEMS.com, Fire Engineering.com, Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.com, as well as FDIC and EMS Today. He is a former volunteer lieutenant with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George's County, Md.