Can I Still Get Salty?

It is said that an old firefighters job is to teach the young firefighter how to become an old firefighter. Then just maybe it is the young firefighters job to remind old firefighters what it meant to be a young firefighter.

We have come to a crossroads within the Fire Service where the “hot button” issues facing us are the ones that have been sooo taboo in the past they were recklessly abandoned. They aren’t anymore. Physical Health, Behavioral Health, Stress, Wearing Seat Belts, Fire Prevention,  and Science Based Firefighting for some examples. In the past, all of these things have been brought up by few and swept under the rug by many.

This was my crew after a fire in one of our coal facilities. From left to right: FF Rob Engelhardt, Lt. Joe Sheets, FF George Wright, and myself FF Erik Jacobson. United States Steel. Gary, Indiana. Sent in by Erik Jacobson

“This was my crew after a fire in one of our coal facilities. From left to right: FF Rob Engelhardt, Lt. Joe Sheets, FF George Wright, and myself FF Erik Jacobson.” United States Steel. Gary, Indiana. Sent in by Erik Jacobson (as shared on back in 01/13)

Trust me, I’m no dummy. I read it, I hear it, I try to understand all of it. It isn’t easy for firefighters to wrap their head around things that are new and different…err…maybe the opposite of what they have learned all of their life. As the editor of a popular online watering hole for firefighters, I must do my part in sharing information that will enable firefighters in their profession and maybe…just maybe ensure they become “old” firefighters. But I need help.

I have polled firefighters via Facebook several times over the past several years. I ask “What is the single biggest issue facing the fire service?”. The answers I get vary widely. There isn’t really any wrong answers…each firefighter has different experiences, and it is easy for ones biggest issue to not be as big to others.

I have a different answer…

The biggest issue facing the fire service today is that Firefighters are the ones being held accountable, not the Fire Chiefs.

You are preaching to the wrong choir. In most departments, Firefighters are not primary agents of change, Fire Chiefs are.

Don’t get me wrong, I preach about change coming from the bottom up and from the top down…but with the topics we are discussing, the real change HAS to begin at the top. Please don’t take this as Chief “Bashing”. While these are blanket statements, some of these thoughts simply cannot be true across the board on an individual basis. I applaud all firefighters and Fire Chiefs who have enabled change in their department. Please share your techniques and help it spread. 

Don’t get me wrong, you need to teach firefighters…but you need to preach to Fire Chiefs. What the hell do they do all day anyways? (calm down, I’m kidding…kinda)

Trust me, Firefighters are doing their best to make change. Not all of them, but enough of them are investing their time to make change. Many are hampered by higher ups who simply don’t care. They say they care, but they don’t.

Here are some examples:

UL/NIST Science Based Firefighting

Dan Madrzykowski (NIST Fire Protection Engineer & Steve Kerber (UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute Director) and their teams are pumping out great Science based firefighting tactics….but what good is it doing? Don’t get me wrong, I have read/watched videos on much of their stuff, but when do I get to try it out? When will it rollout in your department? I SHOULD do a better job of sharing their stuff. I know I have failed at that. However, some of this stuff I know nothing about. Offensive exterior attack is not something I have ever done. When was that last time your department offered live fire training. Maybe I am the only one who doesn’t get enough of it.

Physical Health

How many departments have mandatory fitness standards? Height/Weight standards? Mandatory exercise during shift? How many who do have them have Chiefs that uphold them?

Behavior Health

How many departments have programs in place for a firefighter who is exhibiting signs of depression and/or suicide? I have heard from firefighters in departments who have experienced suicide(s). Their Chiefs say they will make change…but they don’t.

Fire Prevention

Yeah, fire prevention is the non-glamorous side of our jobs. However, the payoff can be huge. Firefighters who care? What is that? Being seen in the public doing something positive and making a difference? Whaaa? Yeah, it is a necessity….but how many Fire Chiefs do something other than a puppet show or hazard house? How many get buy-in and ownership from their firefighters?

Seat Belts

We have all heard of seat belt pledges…but they won’t buckle the belt for you. You have to do it. How many of us really do it? I still think we need a roller coaster style belt. Think of a padded metal hinged apparatus that comes down in front of you from above. Yeah, that is my million dollar idea for someone to do. I can’t wait to wear it. I digress…

These aren’t all of the issues, but they are some of the bigger ones facing us today and possibly keeping us from going home in the morning.

We need change. The age old “resistance to change” may be true…but I think now-a-days it is less to do with tradition and more to do with  the fact that we don’t know what to change and when to change it. All of us. Upwards, downwards, and sideways. The resistance to change is undeniably our faults…Yes, you and me, him and her. We must own it.

We have fire service leaders, researchers, and scholars saying one thing…which is sometimes difficult to understand. And we have Fire Chiefs saying other things…like “We can’t afford it” or being completely oblivious to all of it.

Much of the reason for our resistance to change is due to the way in which information is disseminated.

For all of you topical leaders…I have a few questions. Can I still get Salty on fires? Can we still have pride in making a good push on a fire? Can we still risk A Lot to Save A LOT? Can we still be firefighters?Make sure the delivery of your message offers the chance for firefighters to buy in and not to simply be put off by your “All or Nothing” attitude.

I say these things because I am not seeing the paradigm shift that supporters of these “taboo” topics intend to create. I feel this is because their “All or Nothing”, “You Can’t Do it That Way Anymore”, and “You’re an Idiot Firefighter For Not Changing” mantra doesn’t work.

How in the hell are we supposed to train on UL/NIST science based firefighter tactics if we only burn in a propane burn building simulator? Isn’t that just pathetic?

We are so safety based that we can’t even simulate a fire anymore…now we simulate a simulator. Talk about Debbie Downer.

You trust me to put my life in jeopardy to save others lives, but  NFPA standards, budgets, and staffing have put a chokehold on training in a simulated fire.

Rant over…

Rhett Fleitz
The Fire Critic