“Professional” firefighters?

“Professional” firefighters?

Bruce J. Cavallari

Lieutenant, Station #51 “A”

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue

West Palm Beach, Florida

Are we abdicating our moral responsibilities? Several years ago, I noticed a subtle change in the fire service–just a word, a phrase, a modification in the description of paid firefighters. When I started, I recall specifically being referred to as a “professional” firefighter. Soon, I was using the term “career” firefighter. It made sense. Professionalism is a state of mind, a moral conviction. And being paid or volunteer does not disqualify someone from being professional. A sensible modification in fire service terminology. Or was it?

Quite often, a change in an organization is perceived one way, but with even greater subtlety, the change becomes an avenue of abdication. By dropping the term “professional,” did we abdicate our moral responsibilities? I wonder.

If the fire service represents the Fire Safety Authority, one logical assumption would be that the service builds the most fire-safe buildings. It might even imply that the fire service would go the extra mile to provide better-than-required fire safety features in its new construction and upgraded features in its existing facilities.

“Like what?” you might ask. “Like a fire alarm system,” I might say. Have you ever seen a working fire alarm system in a fire station? Whether you answer yes or no, I`ll bet you can recall considerably more stations without alarms than with. Ever wonder why this is? It is simply because not all fire departments are required to comply with every fire safety code when they construct their own buildings.

For you EMS dawgs who are getting a little chuckle right now, consider another example–oxygen transfilling. Many departments routinely transfill oxygen. Do you transfill? Do you follow any established, industry-accepted safety guidelines? Do you vacuum your empty cylinders, analyze the product you receive, even record the lot numbers? Be honest now. We were all trained on how to use the oxygen, but did any of you ever attend a training class on how to transfill? Probably not. Why? Because we don`t have to.

Yes, we are the safety people, but we simply aren`t “professional” enough to live up to the standard if we don`t have to. Still asking, “Why?” Well, maybe it`s politics. Or maybe it`s money. Or maybe it wasn`t the chief`s idea first, so it just can`t be done. Whatever the reason, think about that subtle name change now. First, we were professional; now, we`re career. I wonder what we were called before professional–something like “community-oriented” or “dedicated public servants,” I`ll bet. What will we be called 20 years from now–professionals or employees?

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