The truly valuable critic is one who provides a view that has not previously been considered, often the most difficult aspect of which is recognizing the difference between uninformed and unbiased opinions. Sometimes, such a perspective comes from an analysis of our craft or its practitioners by people with a nonfire interest. In that vein, a reader from Switzerland (really) forwarded to me a study from a scientific journal because it cited a “fact” about fire behavior that I had debunked as a myth in one of my articles (see Emergency Service Myths #2: A Myth and a Half). Although I appreciated the thought and had my belief in the tenacity of longstanding fire service falsehoods reinforced, what truly intrigued me were the overall findings of the research project that contained the quote and its implications for the fire service.
The article, “Organizational Discourse and the Appraisal of Occupational Hazards: Interpretive Repertoires, Heedful Interrelating, and Identity at Work,”* published in the August 2008 Journal of Applied Communication Research, described an attempt to analyze how “every day organizational discourse” (i.e., conversation among members) “enables amplified appraisals of risk” (i.e., make things seem more dangerous) or “enable attenuated appraisals of risk” (i.e., make things seem less dangerous). The questions were deemed worthy of consideration because prior workplace risk management research and theory attributed greatest importance to corporate culture, training, and policy issues rather than the everyday language and relationships of employees. Although this article would seem to be merely an esoteric, academic discussion with little application to you readers, it caught my attention because of the study subjects: firefighters.
Several quotes from firefighters, in response to the interviewer’s question about why an offensive attack was still attempted at a fire where it was confirmed that no victims were threatened and the building was already a total loss, were particularly enlightening:
“Yeah, it’s really what we all have signed up for, you know? We all signed up to make a difference, you know. We didn’t sign up to try to make a difference. We signed up to make an impact on something.”
This article is based on the following:
Scott, Clifton Wilson and Trethewey, Angela (2008) ‘Organizational Discourse and the Appraisal of Occupational Hazards: Interpretive Repertoires, Heedful Interrelating, and Identity at Work’, Journal of Applied Communication Research, 36:3, 298-317. All subsequent quotes are from cited article.
Mark J. Cotter has more than 30 years experience in emergency services and is a volunteer Firefighter/EMT-B with the Salisbury (MD) Fire Department. He can be reached at [email protected].