By Ray McCormack
Although not every part of the country follows daylight saving time, all fire departments follow “cultural saving time” (CST). Some departments wish to “spring” ahead with CST, and some wish to “fall” back. Although elements of culture allow for both springing ahead and falling back, we need to come to these cultural changes at our own pace.
With 200 years of history, tradition, and progress, the fire service steers a course over and through obstacles constantly. The fire service is not some stagnant pool that lacks reflection. Some like to portray the fire service as stuck in a rut, and although that gets attention, it is far from accurate. Many changes are externally pushed on firefighters and they often push back, hence the stagnation rap, but it is not about complete refusal. It’s more about timing and self-ownership. Even the greatest improvement in service delivery takes time to implement and not everyone will agree; there is no such thing as universal appeal when it comes to change.
The other caution flag that should be waved as the fire service races around the culture track is the question of who is pushing for all this cultural change and in what direction is the push leading. Some pushes start out as gentle nudges and, the next thing you know, you have reached the edge–even though it happened so slowly you barely noticed. Surprise! Other changes are mandated, often born out of frustration with little buy in. Outsiders are one segment of cultural change agents; others are former fire service members. Like any industry, if you get a former insider on the payroll, you get an insider’s view and linkage to the current players. The theory is that the stakeholders will buy in better that way, often fooled by one of their own.
The culture of the fire service is for current firefighters to change and not outsiders. Hear all messages and find their source and then decide if your tactical safety is best improved by moving your “cultural” clock ahead or back, or just pressing mute until you’re ready.
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RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine.