“Positive anything is betterthan negative nothing.”
— Elbert Hubbard 1856-1915
Firefighters pretty much speak the same language — good and bad. Look around you, how many outspoken comrades do you work with? I’m sure that several faces quickly come to mind. Are they mostly negative or positive in their daily speech and overall attitude? By their words and actions, do they build up the department, or contribute to its detriment? No individual or entire fire department is perfect. Firefighters are human, and individual attitudes are often shaped by and subject to their specific environment. Individual thinking is always a good thing and should always be encouraged at all departmental levels. Any positive realized must begin with some type of change. All change, good or bad, begins as an idea, which is usually verbalized in the form of a phrase. It is very seldom that a negative comment serves the greater good. There are several phrases that we should strive to eliminate from the United States fire service. I will briefly expound on some less than motivating phrases that you may have heard in your career.
It will never work here. Remember when NFPA 1500 first surfaced? Did you, like me, say “we’ll never be able to comply”? In reality, the majority of fire departments are either fully compliant or well on the way, and we are much safer for it. I was stating my response based on the small amount of information that I had and was influenced by those in my inner circle. I was wrong, and have been many times since. The attitude should always be “we can make it work here.”
We can’t afford it. Can you personally afford to purchase a new vehicle every year? Probably not. You may not be able to afford it now, but with a little proactive planning and creative budgeting, it may become a reality later down the road. It is no different in the fire service. These are extremely tough times for any administrator. Fire chiefs simply do not have the funding to cover everyone’s wish list.
Strategic planning is an invaluable tool to pre-estimate actual needs and the subsequent planning necessary to acquire and maintain new apparatus and equipment. In the end, critical items, necessary to sustain service, are usually funded. By eliminating unnecessary requests and taking care of the equipment that we already have, we most likely can afford it if justified.
We’ve never done it that way before. My first thought when I first heard about the then new-fangled concept of positive ventilation. An impromptu dealer demonstration in a high-rise building quickly changed my mind. Modern firefighting procedures now integrate positive pressure ventilation as it is usually the most efficient way to ventilate a structure. Most every aspect of fire department related equipment has shown a drastic improvement in the last 20 years. Innovative technology is often the driving force that fosters change. We will never know if there is a better way to do it if we never try. Try it — you just might like it.
We’re not ready for it here. The truth is — we seldom are. As humans, we rarely embrace change. We are usually very comfortable where we are. If you have been around long enough, what did the old heads initially think about the new-fangled Incident Command System? ICS/NIMS alone has probably done more to make the fire service safer, efficient and more professional than any other single innovation before or since it first evolved. Change is seldom easy, but it can be very rewarding. The fire service has seen many changes, and will see many more to come. By effectively planning and preparing — you will be ready for it.
It’s not our responsibility. This is never a cool thing to say when you represent any aspect associated with public emergency services. If it is definitely not your responsibility, you had better find another creative way to redirect a potential inquiry. Above all, one should make a valid attempt to help locate someone that may help even if you do not have the resources or the authority to honor the request. Make it your responsibility to help when your help is requested. Always remember, every citizen, young or old, knows that the fire department will always respond when called — we should never do anything to betray that blanket public trust earned by those that come before you.
We’re doing fine without it. How much better would you do with it? Will the addition of new personnel, new equipment or an improved technique improve your efficiency and/or make the task safer? You cannot truly answer if you have not experienced it. Your job may actually be easier, more efficient and safer with a little innovation. Actively seek areas for improvement by soliciting positive ideas from all departmental members and the public as well.
Do you routinely hear these phrases at your place of employment? Would your fire department be better without ever hearing the aforementioned phrases? Only you can answer that. While it may not be in your power to single-handedly change your fire department — you can change yourself. Think before you speak, and then say something that is positive! Don’t be guilty of using these negative phrases, better yet, turn them around and rephrase each statement in a manner that will not only promote your department, but will enhance your personal image as well. Become the positive individual in your fire department! At the very least, don’t be the one that kills the idea — that very idea just might save your life.
Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) Fire Department. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Fire and Safety Engineering Technology program located at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. An NFPA Certified Fire Protection Specialist, he is also a technical committee member on NFPA 610 which deals with safety at motor sports venues.