I was watching a program last night. The topic at hand was change in the federal policies and how we has Americans tend to accept some of these changes when presented to us in the form of “safety” concerns and adopt these new safety rules. They used football, and to be more precise helmets.

When football started they didn’t use any type of head protection. It was very similar to rugby has far as PPE went, basically the clothes on your back. Men were respectful of this and respectful of the opposing team when it came to contact. Now don’t get me wrong, it was a good old fashion beating on the field, but players were completely aware of what was good for their and other player’s health and well being.

Then the old “leather head” helmet was brought in. The purpose of this was to minimize skull fractures. These old leathers were awkward and cumbersome. Has time went along a new product was created, what we recognize as the helmet that is basically worn today. Once again, it was presented to the players and owners has a new “safety” need. The leathers just weren’t reducing the skull fracture that was hoped for. The sport was introduced to these new solid helmets. They were deemed a necessity to deal with this problem of skull fractures.

When football introduced the leather helmets there was about a 18% of players had some type of skull fracture. After the implementation of the leathers it went down to about 12%. Then the introduction of the helmets that we are familiar with today came into the sport. The skull fractures went down to the single digits. No one could foresee the future though and the new problems that would occur.

For years after the introduction of this new protective device, players found it cumbersome and really of no significant use. It was a new rule though and they wanted to play so they used it. The style of play remained the same for the most part though. Players were still self-aware of the damage that they could do to themselves and other players. They played sensibly and respectfully. But times were changing.

This new found safety device was developed and lightened. It became a standard piece of the football uniform. Sadly though, the mentality that went inside of that helmet changed. It gave the generations of athletes a “false sense” of safety. Players were beginning to play with a little more lack of “due regard” for their safety and others. Has time went along the practical ness of due regard for their and others safety was diminished. In its place was a new found aggression and attack. The players had a sense of invulnerability with this new safety equipment. They began using their bodies has weapons. Some good news though…skull fractures went down. The bad news…now over 80% of players has had concussions and other TBIs. Over 60% have had multiple TBIs. All in the name of safety?

Now allow me to take a look at a similar topic for our service. My grandfather comes from the good old “smoke eaters clan” He remembers quite well the days of rubber boots and coats. He had a mustache that old Magnum PI would have been jealous of. They didn’t have things like Nomex hoods. They understood the damage that fire and heat would do to the human body and respected it. They used things like their ears to gauge the heat and how much farther they could go into a burning structure.

Now many an old school firefighters have the scarred mangled ears from this tactic. They understood the limitations of the body to the heat and flames. They realized that if their ears were burning then the likely hood that there were any survivors was about nill. They would fight the fire and cool things off has they progressed in to the structure. Then along came hoods and other “better designed” PPE. This is that danger zone for todays fire fighters. They had a firm understanding of “risk analysis” because they used their sense of feeling/touch to decide what the practicality of progression for a logical rescue.

We are reaching that point of perhaps a false sense of safety. We are beginning to “throw” ourselves at these beasts thinking we are safe because of what we wear. When they began implementing the use of hoods my grandfather thought it was a great idea. He like a few others welcomed the change has long as the awareness was still there. Slowly this is changing also though. Are the old school fire fighters teaching this awareness that needs to go with this safety PPE?

The football players of today have changed. The mentality that goes with the sport is different in a sense of safety. They identified a concern at that time and implemented a change that addressed this concern of skull fractures. In exchange they have created more physical injury concerns to deal with and these are on a broader scope and increased number of injuries.

This little bit goes out to all the old school smoke eaters out there. Are you sharing the lessons learned with the next generations of fire fighters? I am by no means diminishing the PPE of today and its safety abilities. It is good stuff that allows us the opportunity to go home after a call. It offers a minimal amount of protection to us though. Are you showing the other techniques that you used to identify potential risks inside of structure while progressing on a working fire. Are they doing it safely or just charging forward with all the guns out blasting away in to the belly of the beast. Are you sharing that experience earned knowledge of respect for both them and their team when it comes to fire. Or, are we building up a sense of false securities that is teaching them to “use their body as a weapon”?

Stay safe and learn something new today.

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