Recently, I have seen a trend within social media posts of newer, younger firefighters within our trade that concern me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these individuals in general. They are highly motivated, driven, and intense people who truly love the fire service for all it stands for.
However, within their driven determination, I see within their posts comments such as “Why do I need the NFPA to save me from myself” or “we are here to save the citizens we serve no matter the cost”.
While I don’t disagree with the statement that we are here to serve the way these posts sound to me is these same individuals feel like our trade is being “over safe” and are unwilling to take risks or do what it takes to perform our jobs.
So my question is, when did being safe become a crime? Apparently I didn’t get the memo….
As a firefighter with 30+ years of experience serving as a volunteer, career, military, and combination department firefighter I have seen and personally experienced a number of injuries and have attended too many firefighters funerals. When you look at statistics of how firefighters are injured and killed, I can put faces to those statistics and see how they have affected the individual, their family, their organization, and in many cases the community they serve when someone is hurt or killed in the line of duty.
Injuries and fatalities take many forms from not wearing seatbelts in the apparatus, to years of not wearing an SCBA and contracting cancer. The worst part is it is still happening. The LODD’s, the career ending injuries, the time loss injury, and the financial impact of the medical bills on the the individual and their family, their organization and the community, and on and on it goes.
What all of us need to remember is that the reason for the NFPA, NIOSH, OSHA and other regulations and recommendations are in direct response of what has happened to others in the fire service already. Are they perfect and will prevent anything bad happening to us ever again? No. Should they always be adhered to without question? Absolutely not! But, what these rules and regulations should be is a guide and the principle means of how we do business everyday.
The real point of all of this is safety in the fire service is all about balance. There is a right way and there is a best way, and there is also a well, we haven’t done this before but here goes nothing way. The fire service is a dynamic business and we face challenges each day that were not planned for, we don’t have a policy for, and we have to do the best we can. This is where leadership from the experienced members of your organization are invaluable and irreplaceable and if allowed should serve as the common sense approach to that situation. This isn’t reckless abandon but it is managed risk through training and experience.
For those of you who are new to the fire service remember that this is a very dangerous job. Many of what can end your career is invisible, or will sneak up and hit you over the head when you least expect it. A passing car at a MVA, not washing your gear regularly, not wearing your seatbelt in the apparatus, not working out and staying physically fit. They all can end your career and take you out of the job you love.
But, do not become a hater of policy and procedure. If you are new to this business you do not have the years of experience that will help you understand why these rules and regulations are important yet. I know I didn’t until I was almost 10 years into being a firefighter. Then as I lay in a operating room about to be put under for knee surgery I realized why it’s not a good idea to climb a ladder with a charged 2 1/2. As you gain years of experience this will come more into focus for you. Until then, remember, these rules and regulations were authored in response to events that were bad enough that no one wanted to see them repeated. This caused people to develop a way to which they truly hope will prevent a future similar event.
To turn your back on these rules and recommendations is dangerous territory. For you, other members of your crew, your family, your organization, and the community you serve. Safety is not a job, it’s a right for everyone in this business.
If you are a steel worker working on the high steel of Manhattan today, you are required to be tied off for fall protection. Why? it’s not just because you as an individual could be killed by the impact at the bottom, but because you could take several others with you on the way down.
Remember you are a member of a team. What you do and the decisions you make are not all about you. It will also affect your entire crew. You might give that some though and remember that the next time you are sitting around the firehouse kitchen table with your crew and you or someone on your crew starts talking about how “the NFPA is going to save me from myself”.