Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Climate Change

(Photo: Zimmerman Media LLC)
I have never understood why we develop requirements which are sold as “industry standards”, yet we choose to lead, run, and plan our departments based on often outdated traditions and customs which are quite commonly direct contradictions of such “standards”.  The fact that the fire service as a whole is governed by a set of “recommendations” which are KNOWN to be unachievable and impractical for many fire departments across the country should be the first sign that we are promoting ideology rather than reality.  Instead of working on realistic plans and options for meeting these standards, we defensively spout off sayings and half-truths about how our way is better, the curriculum doesn’t work for a department like ours, the people who made them don’t know how things really are, or we must teach it to satisfy some type of funding or legal “requirement” even though we have no intention of applying said knowledge.  We teach and educate one way, then penalize our people for performing, citing, and using this information in the street.  Telling recruits to learn things one way for the test but they will learn the “real” way when they go to their company is baffling to say the least.  We are so afraid of change that we literally waste months of both instructor and student time and create habits that will now need to be overcome by teaching things we KNOW will not be done the way we have taught them!  This disconnect is the very foundation of the constant quarrels and disputes which divide our departments and eat up valuable time in our day. 

(Photo: Nationalmemo.com)
Leadership is certainly a topic which this phenomenon has a firm grasp on.  There is no shortage of advice out there regarding change, leadership, and their opposition.  Most is filled with fancy catch phrases, acronyms, strategies, goals, and wisdoms that are designed to motivate the reader or student but tend to have little actual follow through in the real world.  Most departments require classes and certifications which specifically address these topics as preparatory steps to becoming an officer.  While such advice is generally well intentioned and educational, the fact of the matter is much of it is a theory rather than a reality.  This idealistic approach to leading and running a fire department forms quite the conundrum for the average firefighter who is trying to improve their department from the ground up as the strategies they were taught for leading and affecting change frequently come up short.  I believe it is this flaw in officer development that leads many to the darkness of failure, exhaustion, fear, and depression which generally accompany the slap in the face of being let down by your training.

I try to keep up with these strategies which come to us in many forms these days including formal education, in-service training, conferences, trade magazines, books, and social media.  I do this because as much as I have been taught about leadership in my life, I am still searching for the answer of how to make the way it “should be” and reality the same thing.  The goal of my crusade is not to necessarily form a brand, but rather form strategies that can be used realistically in your firehouse rather than idealistically on a test or essay.  Unfortunately, as leadership has become a higher priority topic, the space has become overcrowded with those who are just regurgitating information they came across in the various outlets and trying to brand it as their own.  Although many of the existing strategies are sound and practical, their implementation remains troublesome because they do not account for the favorites, buddies, and exceptions which infest the status quo that “leadership” has become.  I attribute this specific lack of accountability to be the main reason firefighters become discouraged and eventually abandon their department, or the fire service altogether! 

(Photo: Low Country Firefighter Support Team)
I get so upset when I read articles by very influential people in the fire service that suggest giving up on a person or department is a “selfish” action.  Jumping ship at the first sign of difficulty and continuously banging your head against the wall to the point you have become lost are vastly different situations.  Even though we are in an occupation that is centered around solving problems at all costs and never quitting, I think it is inappropriate to make people believe that treating the internal politics of a fire department and the emergencies we mitigate as one in the same.  We are lying when we pretend there never comes a time to throw in the towel.  Whether you are dealing with other employees, a particular station, or the department as a whole there is a tipping point that occurs when you have exhausted all of your options, strategies, and tactics to change, compromise, or rectify something that you do not agree with.  This tipping point is the difference between your ability to cope and being in a situation which is not conducive to a positive outcome.  For some people, this limit comes early on and for some it can take years, even decades to show its ugly face.  Many never even experience such conditions and enjoy long, wonderful careers in the same station or department.   Regardless of if or when it happens, identifying you have hit the point of no return is crucial to maintaining your productiveness, passion, and mental health!

Culture is defined as "the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group."  In other words, the traditions and events that shaped your station or department into what it is today are its culture.  We are constantly bombarded with the fact that the “culture” of our fire department affects the way we do things.  We are being led to believe that the solution to every flaw, failure, and defeat lies in changing this culture.  Well I am here to tell you, trying to sell cultural change as an individual or extremely limited minority is not an easy path.  Even the strongest, most motivated individuals will find themselves questioning their abilities when they fire the first shot in a cultural war that the majority does not want, whether it is needed or not.  There is a huge difference between the rank and file collectively taking on an oppressive administration and an individual taking on the culture of the entire department.  In some cases, the culture may not even the problem, but rather that culture is not right for a particular person!  Right, wrong, or indifferent the REALITY is you probably will not succeed, and if you do it will be at such a high cost to your personal reputation and passion that it probably won’t be worth it in the end anyways.  I understand that is not what you have been taught or led to believe, but it is the truth.

However, there is another option for those who are faced with situations where cultural change seems to be nothing short of impossible and that is a climate change.  I am not talking about the climate change being hammered on by politicians and scientists, but rather seeking a departmental climate that is more in line with your values, desires, and principles.  Climate is defined as "the prevailing attitudes, standards, or environmental conditions of a group, period, or place.  Firefighting is no different than weather in that certain parts of the country have different fire service climates.  Fire departments are similar but different in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Deep South, Midwest, and West partially because their of their cultures, but mainly because their landscapes, resources, threats, and attitudes are different.  There are even different climates within the same regions.  You may find departments in the same state or even stations in a larger department that have different climates!  Not every place drinks the same Kool Aid, ignores standards and requirements, or tries to beat to their own drum.  Contrary to what you are led to believe, there may be a better fit for you somewhere else.  There isn't necessarily anything wrong with you if you don't fit in with your current assignment or department, you may just need to find somewhere that is more in tune with your specific beliefs, aptitudes and passions!

(Photo: themighty.com)
Being a member of a fire department, volunteer or career, is the same as any other relationship or investment in life.  You were attracted to or viewed it as something that would produce a positive return in your life and got involved with it.  However just like people, houses, vehicles, or finances, life changes and the conditions of those changes are not always conducive to maintaining the initial plan.  Whether we outgrow something, our values or interests change, the original choice no longer makes us happy, or we are simply interested in exploring other options, we must constantly analyze the pros and cons of maintaining or deviating from our current situation.  Sometimes we must have faith in the value of our long-term investments,  sometimes we need to change the terms stipulations of them, sometimes it is our personal expectations which need adjustment, and under the most drastic of circumstances we may be forced to withdrawal what we can, cut our losses, and commit ourselves to a new venture. 

I am by no means advocating that anyone who is unhappy with their current station, department, or the fire service in general should immediately resort to finding a new place to call home but rather challenging the idea that removing yourself from a situation that you view as hopeless after endless attempts to remedy it is somehow selfish or cowardly.  There are far too many brothers and sisters pouring their passion into stations and departments who are getting ZERO return on their investment and end up so beat down and defeated they simply quit without actually resigning.  Sadly, they turn into the placeholders they have resented their whole career because they are simply out of fight as they try to wait things out until retirement.  Rather than sacrifice their passion and drive, why not simply try to find a new home that can nurture and restore it?

(Photo: Newswire)
Sometimes we all need a new beginning  whether it be a transfer, new assignment, different department, or a completely new career.  Even though such changes will all come with a risk, we must consider any option that protects our sanity.  Simply hanging around because we are too scared or proud to find something that is better for us hurts our department more than helps it!  You are NEVER too invested in something to back out.  Certain places and situations are good fit for some and not for others.  Just because most thrive in a particular setting does not mean everyone will.  If a single situation was right for everyone, there wouldn’t be options in life.  Make sure you are choosing the option that best fits you as your value to the agency is lost when you are operating based on fear, resentment, and anger.  There is something to be learned from every situation, good or bad.  While a different climate may not end up being a good fit either, entering a point of no return offers such a low probability of transformation it is more than worth the risk.  Your aim should always be to improve yourself, your crew, and your department, but if all else fails and you are unable to find peace in your current environment there is no shame in seeking a better climate for you!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mental Exhaustion

(Photo: FireChief.com)
Exhaustion is defined as “a state of extreme physical or mental fatigue” and “the action or state of using something up or being used up completely.”  While many perceive exhaustion as negative, there are many cases in our profession where being exhausted is directly tied to the effort, accomplishments, and situations you experienced during a tour.  There is something to be said for how you feel after putting in a good day’s work, regardless of how taxing it was on you.  However, that is a far cry from the ugly side of exhaustion which passionate individuals seem to be prone too, especially on a cumulative basis.  Mental exhaustion is the silent killer of passion and drive.  When we become so overwhelmed and frustrated that our minds drain us of our energy, we are victims of this often ignored, non-macho Achilles heel of the fire service. 

There are certain issues, events, and situations we face that have
(Photo: EastPDXNews)
no solution, otherwise we wouldn’t be experiencing them in the first place.
  Even worse, there frequently is a viable “solution”, yet for often trivial reasons it does not seem to work for us or our agencies.  It is these times where we simply need to vent our feelings and frustrations, as bottling them up magnifies the issues and takes its toll on us.  However, that venting process can be much easier said than done. 

Normally I pride myself in presenting a solution for every problem I write about or discuss; this will not be one of those ventures.  This commentary is going to be more personal than general as writing seems to be how I ventilate the infernos which rage in my mind.  I try to avoid such undertakings because they make me feel weak and selfish.  I would much rather talk about “we” or “them” any day of the week.  And while I focus on talking about “we” more than “me”, this is going to be one of those rare times where the writing focuses on me in attempt to free you from the demons which haunt and attack your passion. 

You could definitely say I have things pretty good in life.  I am
(Photo: Fire Engineering)
certainly rich in many ways including family, friends, career, and possessions.
  I have people that care for me, a job I am infatuated with, and much more than I need or deserve.  I even seem to have a little bit of a voice these days thanks to my social media endeavors.  However, like many “successful” people, I am tormented by my desire to keep pushing the envelope, chasing perfection I know I will never achieve.  Even though I am extremely appreciative for what I have been given and accomplished, I often find myself wondering who I am, what I am doing, and if my passion for the fire service is really worth it.  I struggle to maintain an identity as my theories and beliefs are attacked on a daily basis.  I also wonder how much longer my mind can shoulder the burden of the plentiful opposition which seeks to destroy me.  In an occupation that has identified the stresses induced by what we see and do on calls, we certainly continue to ignore the unnecessary stress we put on each other!

While I agree that we should always be thankful for the things we have, especially when we have it better than most, I do not believe that is an excuse to accept less than you are capable of or stop trying to improve.  Some may call that greed, I however call it motivation.  I specifically apply this concept to the fire service as our quests to acquire and achieve more are frequently shot down with justifications that involve comparisons to what other departments do or do not have.  I refuse to buy into this line of thinking as we are responsible to our citizens, our families, and our brothers at all costs.  That means we should always strive to give the best possible service which is completely unrelated to whether or not we have it better than most.  Such ideology threatens the very core of our craft which is the ability to protect life and property.  However, with the ever-growing pool of lazy, content, complacent, and mediocre bodies confined to the walls of our firehouses, too many have forgotten that we are tasked with serving the public, not ourselves! 

(Photo: FireChief.com)
My main flaw, and that of most passionate people for that matter, is I lack the ability to give in to things I disagree with, ESPECIALLY when it comes to our craft.  I am not talking about being stuck in my ways, unwilling to compromise, or unable to adapt.  I am talking about being dismissed, ignored, and flat out put down for pushing things that I KNOW are right.  I don’t know they are right because I came up with them, rather I know they are right because they are the consensus of the instructors, leaders, peers, and departments I admire, follow, and interact with.  However, when you are trying to affect change on people or in organizations which don’t see any shortfalls or deficiencies because they are content, you will often find out what being an “army of one” is all about!  The more you push, the harder they will push back.  The more you are attacked, the more emotion you tie to your fight.  Before you know it, you are backed into a dark corner of your mind where you feel trapped and helpless.  You are unable to shake the feelings of failure, inferiority, and disappointment.  The fallout of such interactions is stress, doubt, tension, disgust, hatred, confusion, hesitation, and exhaustion which invade everything you do creating a quick sand effect which will rapidly sink your efforts.      

(Photo: Shuttershock)
Although we can sit here and pretend and discuss that importance of pressing on, we regularly experience “bumps” in the road, which would be better described as glaciers or mountains in most cases.  These unwelcome formations make you feel like they are easy to chip away at while doing so will get you nowhere, further draining you of your drive and resolve.  We will push, push, and push some more until one day we wake up and for the moment we are DEFEATED!  We can lose sleep, become restless, stop eating, avoid others, or even have trouble focusing on things.  I have noticed that I begin to feel worn out all the time.  Even after a slow tour or a couple days off my body just doesn’t want to go.  Exercise, interaction, chores, projects, or any other diversion seem to compound the issue.  I find myself sitting around staring, spacing out, and watching the world pass by.  It is hard to get motivated at work, let alone accomplish anything that resembles passion or progress.  Sure, there are little bursts of hope mixed in, but they are short lived to say the least.  These are what I attribute to the downfalls of not being able to shut your mind off to reboot! 

I strive to keep my page, my writing, and my opinions realistic.  That means I aim to talk about what is real, rather than what is idealistic.  There are just far too many people and places pushing out a rhetoric that is not achievable or possible for the environments most of us work in.  Some might argue the same about The Fire Inside, yet I think I do a pretty good job of keeping things down to earth.  I am very open and honest about the fact that much of what I discuss is not possible at every department, or my own for that matter.  However, the values and strategies I talk about are most certainly realistic if people would get away from putting themselves before the organization.  In an era of dumbed down, over-simplified garbage I like to think that even if you cannot enact the types of things I discuss, you are at least able to work them into your strategic plans should you be given the opportunity to be put into a position that you can make change from!    

(Photo: About Firefighter Jobs)
You will meet lots of people who say I am negative.  There may be some truth to that, however I believe if your people are being perceived as negative, perhaps you should consider whether or not you are providing them with an environment to be positive about.  Most in the fire service don’t need shiny new rigs, the latest and greatest gadgets, or a wall full of citations to feel good about what they do.  What they need, and WANT, is supportive leadership that is open and accountable across the board.  Most of us just have a desire to feel like we matter, just a little bit, in this calling that is far bigger than any one of us individually.  We want to be needed, appreciated, and listened to now and then.  The fire service does a wonderful job of painting a fictional world of fire service leadership where there are the coveted “open door policies”, pots full of change which “boil from the bottom”, and “servant leaders” who put their crews first, yet where exactly is all this happening on a larger scale?!  I know they are out there but I think for the most part people feel good about repeating these strategies rather than implementing them!  Call me negative, but I interact with quite a few people on a daily basis that are asking the same question, so if you ask me that makes such ideas more fantasy than reality.  I read, hear, and see the complete OPPOSITE of such fantasies playing out across the country every day.  For everyone department that actually tries to apply these leadership approaches, there are 100 more who are demanding compliance through fear and intimidation!  So, if you don’t want our opinions or trust us enough to identify what we need to accomplish the mission, stop requiring us to take classes which teach us that our input is wanted and needed by those above us!  So much of what I perceive to be the problems of the fire service right now are teaching one thing and then expecting another, or worse something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!  The issue here is not with the troops, it is with those who are setting or conveying unrealistic expectations as a poor control mechanism to lead by confusion, humiliation, and shaming.

I receive a ton of feedback on the page which is positive in a
(Photo: Pintrest)
negative way… by that I mean most people love the page because it speaks to them about the same struggles I see and deal with in their own department.
  They talk about how I must be reading their mind, bugging their firehouse, or spying on their department because what I speak about is so accurate.  The page has become of refuge of sorts for people who are just pounding their heads against the wall day after day yet have so much passion and vigor for doing right by their brothers and communities that they will not quit!  I get everything from offers to write articles for the page, memes, quotes, articles from other places on similar topics, requests for help to start their own ventures, thanks, and everything in between.  I try to honor every single one of them in any way I can because I know the personal price of choosing the life of passion for our craft.  I know the mental breakdown people will impose on you when you challenge their tranquil garden of mediocrity.  I all too well know the emotions, stresses, anxieties, and doubts associated with being the only voice in the room who calls out the bullshit.  I KNOW!  And for that reason, I will do ANYTHING I can to help vent your roof so you don’t have to live with the conditions I do all too often.

This blog is not a call for help by any means.  While I am sure you could read this and assume I have some serious screws loose (which isn’t necessarily out of the question), I know where I stand.  I have zero doubts about my values and ideas for the fire service but more so in my abilities to convey them in a way which makes them part of my reality.  Perhaps I am depressed, need to see a shrink, or simply need a change of scenery.  Perhaps I am just like everyone else only they are unwilling, or unable, to let it out like I am.  If there is one thing I have learned thus far in my venture to cultivate passion, it is that seeds of passion are everywhere.  However, just like growing a crop, some soils are conducive to production, some will need some fertilizer and care, and others are just barren and will not support growth no matter how many seeds you try to plant. 

Regardless of your situation, FIND A WAY TO EMPTY YOUR BOX!!!
(Photo: UPI.com)
  Write, talk, find a hobby, start a project, get a part time job, or even in the most drastic of situations seek a new place to spread your gifts.  The goal of this blog was to let each and every one of you who follow The Fire Inside know that I write, share, and interact with you as a means to help you (and myself) vent.  If you are like me, there will come a time when those around you will get sick of your frustrations, complaints, and opinions.  It isn’t personal they just don’t care to go as far down the road of passion as you.  Unfortunately, this is often where many friendships and alliances are broken, as well as how many of us end up being labeled as whiners and assholes.  Believe me, there is some serious comfort and refuge in the ears and minds of strangers.

I know it is hard.  I know it sucks.  I know it takes a toll on even the strongest people to get beat down by adversity on daily basis and still have the drive to get up and try again.  I wrote this blog about me to prove YOU ARE NOT ALONE!  While many of you are like me and know that even if 100 people tell you it is going to be okay you will probably still feel down about things, at least take some minor sliver of peace in knowing that all the great ones who have been successful at shaping our craft were there more than you know.  While that certainly won’t take away the mental exhaustion, it may very well be that small scrap of motivation the prevents you from throwing in the towel!  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Are We Really Doing More With Less?

(Photo: The Daily Courier)
“Doing more with less” seems to be at the center of almost every business, trade, and service around these days.  What likely started as some type of catch phrase in a board room to justify the actions of people who know nothing about what the fire service does on a daily basis, or how we do it for that matter, has more or less become the industry standard for all budgetary, strategic, and tactical considerations.  “Doing more with less” is more of a misconception and idiom than it is a successful managerial model.  Although it is a reality for most departments, the very premise of such a concept never has, and will never, have any business being expressed in as a fire department procedural guideline or long-term planning method.  The fact that the disillusion of this mentality has not been enough to revisit the implications it has caused is nothing short of disturbing.

The very essence of the fire service is to figure out how to fix or mitigate anything.  Unfortunately, that makes us extremely susceptible to rolling with more punches than we really deserve.  Our desire to serve our communities in any capacity, against all obstacles, is a mixed blessing of sorts.  While we refuse to let adversity cause us to deviate from our mission to protect life and property, we also tend to accept conditions and circumstances which greatly impair our ability to do so.  The more with less mentality is probably the ultimate example of how our commitment to our citizens prevents us from really demonstrating how severely many of these decisions handicap our ability to provide service.

(Photo: KLCC)
The sad part of this mentality is that so many of our brothers and sisters are actually buying into such a fallacy.  None of us are doing more with less, if we are lucky we are doing the same with less.  In most cases we are just flat out doing less with less!  This is not a knock on the dedicated men and women who are trying to deliver the best possible service with what they are given, but rather a wake up call for the fire service as a whole which for some reason has decided to champion this misnomer and essentially brag about how resilient we are for it.  While I understand the well intentioned pride in our ability to carry on despite such cuts, constantly putting on our happy face about them only leads to more.  The result is we have passed the breaking point of negatively effecting service in many jurisdictions.

So how did we get to the state we have entered today?  Well it is quite simple; we are an easy target for the chopping block due to our humbleness and inherent ability to shoulder burden and solve problems.  Although our profession had reached epic heights of public support after the tragic events of 9/11 and the brave actions of the FDNY, the Great Recession experienced across the country from 2007 to 2009 found many municipalities struggling to make payroll.  I cannot remember any other period in my lifetime where working for the government became a risk or when local governments were filing for bankruptcy!  The fallout for the fire service was having to figure out a way to keep our doors open when the citizens needed it most, while supporting recovery of the governments which fund us.  This resulted in staffing reductions and cuts to funding which were based solely on political clout and empty bank accounts with little, if any, regard for operational implications.  This affected both career and volunteer departments alike as the recession took members out of volunteer houses because many had to seek additional employment just to make ends meet!  And while the public has always appreciated the service we provide, sadly many felt we had become overstaffed, overfunded, and our benefits were just far too expensive for what they were getting from us.

The result of these funding and staffing loses were departments being forced to try to turn out the way they had for decades, only with significantly fewer resources.  We saw once staffed apparatus being cross staffed or shut down completely.  We saw firehouses being browned out or shut down altogether.  We saw once thriving volunteer departments having trouble getting one rig off the floor.  We also saw all the small cracks in our systems like aging fleets, lack of mutual aid, declining recruitment, and poor contingency planning break under the pressure the recession put on us.  This is how the “do more with less” mentality grabbed hold of our profession because at the time it was a positive way of saying the community expects the service you provided yesterday with the cuts and newfound realities of today.  The only difference between those two statements is one sounds like something to be proud of and one sounds pretty damn gloomy.  While I would agree that in times of turmoil we must find ways to frame the positives in order to keep our people going, the time has come to get back to what we need to do the job.

(Photo:Trumbell Times)
So how exactly are we doing more with less anyways?  I can’t say I have ever read or heard an account of a department demonstrating how reduced staffing and budgets actually helped them to provide better or additional services.  I have rarely even interacted with anyone who has found ways to maintain the level of service they had before the cuts.  Whether you are knocking a large city's apparatus from 5 personnel to 4, reducing a smaller jurisdictions engine from 3 personnel to 2, losing your ladder or rescue completely, or having to turn over calls to mutual aid agencies because your volunteer turnout has fallen so low, the impact of staffing and funding reductions is absolutely crippling!  Even if some departments have survived cuts or figured out ways to make up for them, I just don’t see anywhere that has actually done more, with less.

What I do see and read about every day are places that are doing less because they have less.  Fire prevention, home safety inspections, smoke detector programs, open houses, fire extinguisher classes, car seat installations, etc. have been hurt the worst.  The few proactive things we have in a business that is primarily reactive in nature are almost always the first to go.  Sadly, many of these things were the reasons we saw a reduction in fire death and loss over the last 2 or 3 decades.  Now aside from the “non-essential” service cuts, we have also seen operational cuts.  Some areas have lost personnel, some have lost apparatus, and some are being forced to abandon tactics as a result of losing them.  But wait, we keep hearing how we are all doing more with less…  How many places don’t do vertical ventilation because “we don’t have enough people to put guys on the roof”?  How many are choosing to not establish a RIT for the same reasoning?  How many times do we see people pissing in the wind with a 1.75” line because they have been led to believe they or really don’t have enough people to mount an attack with the 2.5”?  How often do we see places that are not even going interior because they “don’t have the manpower to do so”?  Frankly, almost every time we see one of these pictures or videos where something is getting away from a department the first issue named is manpower.  Yet you want me to believe we are doing more with less?  Sorry, I am not buying it!

(Photo: HeroPrep)
What we are doing more of with less is saying yes to additional responsibilities.  The artificial belief that fires are down to a point where the fire service will essentially no longer be needed has led us to keep adding to our list of responsibilities while we continue to subtract from our rosters.  Now while I absolutely agree that HAZMAT, rescue, and EMS are a good fit for the fire department because of their striking similarities to fire suppression, they cannot be absorbed without an increase in funding, apparatus, equipment, training, and manpower.  In a time where many areas are struggling to put together a suitable response to a structure fire, how on earth are we supposed to conduct resource intensive disciplines such as HAZMAT and technical rescue or sacrifice the few fire personnel we have left to ride in the ambulance all day and all night, yet be available and rested enough to fight a fire?  Just as a pound is a pound, a person is a person.  They do not become more by the way you divide them up.  Regardless of how many services you add to your mission statement, without the addition of personnel to carry them out you are doing nothing more than writing letters on a piece of paper and possibly creating a false sense of security for the citizens whom rely on your ability to mitigate the hazards they face.

(Photo: Motor City Muckraker)
Even though I disagree with what I feel was an unjust target being placed on the fire service’s back during tough financial times, I understand why it happened.  Much like the military, our value is measured in readiness, preparedness, and response which are all the necessary qualities to react when things go wrong, yet they do not translate well on spreadsheets or in budget meetings.  Government speaks in dollars and cents rather than perceptions and actions.  Selling our value is difficult at best because we are asking those who write the checks to take our word on what we need.  However, while it happened quietly, the economy has since recovered.  So where are our people?  Where is our funding?  Where are our closed stations and shut down apparatus?  Where is our replacement equipment?  How do we get it back?  The hard truth is it far easier to give something up when asked than get it back when needed.  We complied too readily when times were tough and are not receiving the same courtesy now that the atmosphere has improved.

It is now more than ever that fire service leaders need to be going to battle to restore and rectify what was taken from us, which starts with ending the lie that we have been able to do more with less.  I understand the difficult climate of being a Fire Chief.  I understand that talking to politicians is different than talking to firefighters.  I also understand that as the head of the department, you accepted the responsibility to LEAD us and that means you are going to have to have the hard conversations.  It means you are going to have to take some fire now and then by pushing unpopular requests and ultimatums on the people who fund us.  It means that you are probably going to have to do some homework, know your statistics, show need, and justify our requests.  It means you are going to have to stop being a politician and start being the Fire Chief.  I am sure these meetings and conversations are hard, frustrating, and heated at times but so is trying to carry out our mission with inadequate resources and personnel.  Even as the Fire Chief you are a firefighter first, you are just crawling different halls now. 

(Photo: SF Appeal)
We are essentially living a lie these days.  It is time we took an honest look at our operations and determined not only what we really need to do the job, but a path to get back to that level.  Perhaps you need better automatic or mutual aid agreements, better volunteer incentives, more staffing, the ability to fill vacancies, a larger overtime budget, staffing of additional apparatus, more stations, new equipment, new apparatus, better benefits, more attractive wages, and everything in between.  Regardless of your operational needs, you need a plan to get there sooner rather than later.  Like anything in life, it is going to cost money and that is a hard sale for anyone, let alone a taxpayer funded service.  However, there are studies out there to aid your fight for personnel.  Your statistics show your call volume and your need.  The number of units it will take to meet the established industry standards for personnel may be difficult or completely unattainable with the resources you currently have.  If it is attainable, how does it affect your ability to respond to additional incidents that are resource intensive?  There are plenty of ways to justify your needs, you just have to be willing, and sometimes creative, to communicate the hard truths and realities of them to the people who write the checks.

This job is hard enough without self-induced handicaps.  We need to stop hiding behind past successes and admit the realities of where we stand today.  While we take great pride in saving victims, that doesn’t mean we haven’t become one in many ways.  As embarrassing as it may be, sometimes we need rescuing as well.  The first step of that rescue is admitting things are not as they seem.  If we refuse to call a MAYDAY in front of the mayor, how can we expect our firefighters to do so during a fire?  Our willingness to accept our share of the cuts while minimizing the impact of service is commendable but should not be confused with an acceptable long-term solution.  As long as we continue to spit out catch phrases like “doing more with less” and championing tactics and equipment which seem to justify this concept but refuse to acknowledge or account for the effect on victim viability or our ability to effect rescue than we are hurting our profession just as much, if not more than, those who impose the cuts which put us in this position.  The Fire Department is, and always will be, an ESSENTIAL service.  It is time we got back to treating it as such!