The ‘Cycle of Mediocrity’
Its destructive effect on emergency services
By Lee Sudia
“We Have Met the Enemy and it is Us.” No truer statement is applicable to emergency services in the United States and particularly in North Carolina than this. We in emergency services are losing our edge of excellence due to an insidious attack of a cancer-like disease which has infected our profession. It is destroying the very foundation that our lifestyles are based upon. This disease is known in classes that I teach as the “Cycle of Mediocrity.” The Cycle of Mediocrity involves the “dummying” down of our whole system through improper training and lack of operational standards. These attitudes by politicians and certain emergency services administrators have sold the integrity and level of excellence of our lifestyle along with their souls to the highest bidders in an attempt to maintain or increase their own position in their specific areas.
From the training standpoint, the increasing trend to utilize media and online based training programs in place of hands-on training to increase the number of “certified” personnel in the field — while effective in numbers — has not necessarily increased the number of “qualified” people in the field. So called “hybrid” courses designed to incorporate hands-on training with classroom training, fail to provide the amount of time for practical training sufficient to adequately cover all aspects of the classroom study covered between practical sessions. And there is very little repetition time or repetitive, skills building time.
Secondly, this type of class puts the burden of bringing the student up to speed on basic function back on the department the student functions with. This is not cost-effective for career departments and is too time consuming for volunteer departments, most of which spend the majority of their planning time trying to secure the necessary funding to continue service.
This places an unnecessary burden on departments who expect students returning from one of these classes to be ready to function at a qualified level. If the student is not, then the time invested in the certification program was basically “wasted.” However the failure of these programs is not entirely the fault of the business that functions as an institution of higher learning. Much of the failure is due in part to the quality of the student that departments are sending to the classes. Not everyone is cut out to be in emergency services. Those who can’t think in an analytical fashion, can’t read or write, or who function at a substandard educational level, should not be dumped into emergency services and then the level of excellence in the service reduced.
Notice I didn’t say thrive, because these people must work constantly just to maintain baseline qualifications. There is no room for their career development, because they have achieved to the top level they are capable of. This problem is compounded if this person somehow achieves to the point or for sympathetic or political reasons is allowed to enter mid-level or upper level management of a facet of that organization. We deal with people’s lives and there is nothing more critical as a service than that mandate. There are other areas that these people could be directed to so they could serve and thrive and be a useful part of the medical profession and make an excellent living. This type of promotional process plagues small towns across the state and nation, just as school systems were in the 60s, 70s and 80s when people were promoted just to get them through the system. Some of these people now, unfortunately, are in positions of administrative and political power, lacking the necessary skills to make truly informed decisions.
Here again, we are “dummying” down the system and doing it systemically, as the cancer grows and becomes increasingly malignant. Many of my more vocal critics say that I take an “elitist” attitude toward emergency services personnel. To those critics I pose this question to ponder — Who do you want coming to take care of your fire, medical or rescue emergency? Do you want someone who is trained to the highest level of the service, able to change with the fluid nature of events commonly seen in emergency situations, analyze those changes correctly and respond with the proper corrective actions, or someone who fails to have the skills necessary to analyze the changes and fails to apply the proper corrective action resulting in death, injury, or more property damage in the situation than should have taken place? Mediocrity or doing “just enough” has no place in emergency services or the funding and training of emergency services today, when we have to wage war on a domestic level when the rules and the enemies are constantly changing. In order for us to change the views towards emergency services by the politicians and the general public as a whole, we must first address our own views — which through time have weakened our services to what they have evolved to presently. We must clean our own house and reaffirm the standards of excellence that have been destroyed by this malignancy. We must give our own a dose of educational, operational and integral chemotherapy to stop the spread of this malignancy before it destroys the foundation of our service.
Lee Sudia is in his 38th year in the fire service, both career and volunteer. He holds a B.S. in Sociology from Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C. and attended Florida International University and the University of Cincinnati, receiving an additional 60 hours of undergraduate study in Fire Administration and Fire Prevention. He is attending Oklahoma State University to receive his Master’s in Fire and Emergency Management. Sudia can be reached at [email protected]
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