“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” That is a quote from Henry Ford, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
It is our first responders, health care providers and the men and women serving in our military. These are today’s generation of D-Day soldiers who are confronting powerful enemies with little regard for their personal safety. Why? Because they understand it is their mission and if they do not do it, who will?
Sure, we all make mistakes. It is never easy to admit when we erred, and sometimes we chose to avoid doing something a second time for fear of failure.
But like Henry Ford said, the biggest mistake we make is when we choose not to learn from poor decisions, misguided actions or complacency. In 1942, the allied forces — mostly Canadian soldiers — attempted an assault on the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France. It was a precursor to the D-Day invasion in 1944. The main assault lasted less than six hours. Over 6,050 infantrymen took part in the operation of which 3,600 were either killed, wounded or captured. The operation was a disaster for the allied army. While a terrible price was paid, Eisenhower and his deputies learned valuable lessons that they applied two years later to the successful D-Day operation.
The coronavirus pandemic is a challenge that our nation hasn’t experienced certainly during my lifetime, and I would argue since World War II. We can only hope and pray for an end to this pandemic in the near future. And when that happens, we must all spend time at the local, state and federal levels to assess how we can better prepare our nation for the next pandemic. The biggest need for the fire service during the current crisis is N95 masks. How is it that Apple is able to acquire 10 million masks while the fire service cannot find enough of them to equip their own personnel? It will be a huge mistake if we do not address the mask shortage and other equipment shortages in our post-analysis of mistakes made and lessons learned.
On a broader level, I think the real mistake is if we do not realize how our role has transformed over the years, and with it, the focus we must place on the type of training and equipment needed to perform an all-hazards mission. We are not only the fire service; we are the fire, rescue, and emergency medical services. We need to identify ourselves as such, especially when we lobby our political leaders for support. We need our political leaders to understand that we are on the front lines of every disaster that threatens our communities and nation. While we need fire engines, hose lines and ladders, we also need a proper cache of other equipment and training so we are prepared to respond to 36.7 million calls, of which 23.5 million are EMS-related.
Approximately 10 years ago, the United States Fire Administration developed a tagline, “Fire is everyone’s fight.” It is indeed. But emergency medical services, hazmat response, high angle and water rescues are primarily the roles of the fire service. It hinders our progress if we continue to allow our mission to be defined by America Burning — a great report that was developed 47 years ago — but not with the all-hazards realities of our profession as it has evolved.
And finally, our nation will make a huge mistake if we do not finally recognize the people most worthy of our praise and admiration. It is our first responders, health care providers and the men and women serving in our military. These are today’s generation of D-Day soldiers who are confronting powerful enemies with little regard for their personal safety. Why? Because they understand it is their mission and if they do not do it, who will?
Bill Webb has served as Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute since 1995. CFSI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy institute designed to enhance congressional awareness about the concerns and needs of the fire and emergency services. As Executive Director, he works closely with members of Congress and fire service leaders to sustain support on Capitol Hill for programs and legislation that benefit our nation’s fire and emergency services. Before joining CFSI, Webb worked for the Firefighter Combat Challenge as the project manager for the competition. He currently serves as Vice Chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and is an honorary member of the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters’ Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 36.