Make research-based decisions for your fire department needs

Sasquatch is real!

CarolinaFireJournal - Joe Palmer
Joe Palmer
04/23/2012 -

Let me tell you. I have drunk the kool aid. I have the t-shirt. Believe it or not, there exists a large, as of yet undiscovered, bi-pedal primate walking around the continent of North America. Call it entertainment desperation but part of my down time lately has been consumed with watching an Animal Planet network television show that is fascinating. Ok, it’s crazy and frustrating, but still fascinating. My Christian upbringing says I am all about faith, therefore, brother sign me up. Sasquatch is out there lurking. And you North Carolina folks don’t laugh; an episode of this show was filmed in your state! The experts have said it and thus it must be real. As simple as that and you don’t have to prove a thing for me. These folks are experts, they offered it to me in a recognized mass media fashion, and therefore it is the truth.


Unfortunately I see firefighters doing the same thing with our service delivery. We don’t prove it at a local level. We simply accept when Marketing Expert Smith proclaims or Chief Doe alludes to an issue. They offered it; therefore it must be the gospel.

Station 24 got a new widget, so we have to have one also. News flash, those days are gone. Keeping up with the department down the road for that sake alone — gone. Purchasing an aerial device just because we “deserve” to have one — gone. Buying a type PPE (personal protective equipment) only because we can get a grant — about gone.

What are you or your organization doing to provide justification, and I mean real justification, behind your policy, operation and purchase decisions?

All I am saying about Sasquatch is put FLIR (forward looking infrared cameras) on the helicopter. Maintain the camera focus. You can see a person inside a house from 500 feet with these things for goodness sake. Just prove to me the thing is real. Every man, woman, and child above the age of five has a camera phone. The technology exists. I don’t need footprint castings and eyewitness stories.

I also don’t need conjecture or statements of why you conduct your tactics or purchase your resources simply because we’ve always done it that way. When was the last time that you took your crew and went down to your nearest water point and tried to flow the assumed maximum capacity of the water source? Did it work? Try it. (Sorry water department people.) When was the last time you put on full gear and actually climbed the stairs over at the mill with tools in hand? Try it. When you bought the engine, did you think about the area it was to cover and that area’s limitations or special needs? Or was that purchase a Christmas parade centerpiece just because?

As an example, and giving credit where credit is due, many of you may know Greg Whitmore — who was in time passed — a nozzle/brass distributor. I openly give him credit, he offered to test it. He would get in the process with us and try and test something. His maxim was “do not buy it because of what I say — let me show you it works and how it can work for you.” And, to the point, if it didn’t fit he offered options or didn’t sell it. That’s what I am talking about and I am sure you have examples.

Whether nozzle flow and design, truck specifications, tactics or methods of operation, have you asked yourself why and how we do things? Does it make sense? It can be shown from history, and will be true in the future, that departments that question and test their service delivery and its methodology will become the movers and shakers. The departments that conduct research will become the safety leaders in our changing firefighting world. Those that seek for new ways to train or deliver training will make the new system and the rest of us will all be catching up to them.

What technology or test method or scientific research are you basing your policy upon? Are policy makers basing decisions on sound principle or popular opinion? Even the method of derivation of these policies may be antiquated in that it is top down with little or no workforce involvement. Can we ask ourselves if risk managed concepts were in play when we made the latest choice? Asking questions is what we need to do.

Getting answers is comprehension. Comprehension is understanding. Understanding is mastery. Mastery is safety and productivity. I had a college chemistry professor who offered as his mantra to struggling students such as me, “Memorize, don’t learn. Memorize once, know forever.” He meant well but it drove me insane and to a poor grade. It is not about ignoring or minimizing tradition; it is about knowledge and reason. Instill tradition but base it on found and demonstrable exercise.

If you think that fighting fire 20 years ago in our typical mill homes was the same as fighting fire in the new disposable technology homes being constructed today, hang on because I have a feeling that you and bigfoot are going to be spending a lot of time together by yourselves out in the woods. If your policies are based on reactive response instead of proactive thought, my crystal ball says your future is fuzzy.

Bigfoot is knocking at your door, go see if he will come in and prove himself.

Joe Palmer currently serves as the Executive Director of the SC State Firefighters’ Association in Columbia SC. Previously he served for 14 years as the Fire Chief for the City of Newberry, SC, where he still lives with his family. Joe is a Past President of the Firefighters’ Association.
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