Optimism or Pessimism?

BY BOBBY HALTON

People love pessimism. No matter how good things get, no matter how well things are going, people are always going to enjoy listening to those who preach gloom and doom more than they will those who preach optimism and opportunity. We all like to believe that we are optimistic, that we are focused on improving, that we are convinced that better days are ahead. But that is inconsistent with human nature—human nature as evidenced by tons and tons of newspapers, magazines, and now online stories filled with the disasters to come. We all can remember the great Y2K scare: Every computer in the world would stop functioning, planes would fall from the sky, power plants would explode—it was going to be Armageddon. I think somewhere a Pac-Man machine broke, but other than that everything seemed to go along pretty well.

Today, in the fire service in the United States, we are looking at shrinking budgets and dwindling revenue streams because of our current deep recession and the ramifications of how we fund our career and volunteer organizations. As property values decline and as sales receipts and the taxes from those decline, it follows that our revenue stream from those funding sources for our organizations is directly impacted. It is hard to find an organization that is not struggling to make budget. Does that mean that the fire service is doomed or that we will not be able to continue to advance our profession and to improve our service delivery? Absolutely not. What it does mean is that our service delivery may look different in some instances, that we may need to find new ways to finance those services, and that we are going to have to communicate more effectively and listen more efficiently to the needs and desires of our communities.

Those who would preach gloom and doom fail to understand the very nature of humanity. Man has, since the dawn of time, exchanged ideas, shared knowledge, and traded objects and services with one another; this is how we advanced. This one activity, the exchange of ideas, has provided us with the lifestyles we have today. It is the one singular habit that has allowed us to evolve where other species have remained stagnant.

This exchange of ideas allows us to learn from the experience of others. It allows us to pass on knowledge rather than having that knowledge die with the individual who discovered it. We must begin with focusing on the local problems, the local issues, and the local resources. When we go to FDIC or a regional show, we need to connect and engage as many of our like-minded fire professionals as possible.

We must begin by exchanging successes occurring at the most basic and fundamental levels. A functional solution begins with the basic element and works its way up—not the other way around. It is dysfunctional to take big to manage small; it is irresponsible to try to shrink a system to fit a problem.

It is responsible to try to grow a system to meet a situation. It is also highly responsible to evaluate that system continuously. Nothing can be sacrosanct—that means there can be no sacred cows. Whether it be smooth bore vs. fog, unburned vs. burned, stationary command vs. mobile, or defensive vs. proactive interior, all tactics—all elements of our response systems—must be adaptable and must be pliable and flexible. They must meet what is going on locally. All good systems first evaluated the local issues, the local resources, and the local training and came up with—you guessed it—local solutions.

Since primitive man first engaged in his attempts to manage threats, whether it be from hostile weather conditions, dangerous animals, or other men, we have used systems, systems that help to make the resources we have more effective. The modern vernacular would be a force multiplier, something that makes the resources we have available to us more efficient, more effective, and more reliable.

When we look at the evolution of systems, we can see how the technology of the day affected the tactics and eventually the strategic portions and functions of warfare and firefighting. We can see the evolution from rocks and sticks to slings and bows, from knives and guns to airplanes, submarines, missiles, and atomic weapons.

As the technology changed, so did the tactics; and as the tactics changed, so did the deployment structure. Each time there are advances in technology, these advances affect the systems and deployment models of the fire service. As we developed pumping capabilities, we left behind the buckets; as we developed motorized apparatus, we left behind the horses; as we developed better communications, we put aside our speaking trumpets.

Today, the fire service must investigate and exchange ideas as to where we can use today’s technology and resources in terms of managing and mitigating the risks we have chosen to accept and the level of support our communities are willing to provide. We can begin by maximizing the talents and resourcefulness of our members and adopting more responsibilities so we lose no firefighter positions.

Our force multiplier is our people. We have within our ranks the most creative and dynamic workforce in history: medics, suppression experts, inspectors, safety experts, human behavior experts, and construction experts. We are our communities’ added value. All we need to do is listen to our own voices. There is no community project that the fire department can’t help improve and participate in. The answer is to start exchanging ideas internally and externally. We are to our communities’ recovery as George Washington was to the revolution: We are the “indispensable man.”

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