Damned If You Say It, Damned If You Don’t
In June, I thanked those in the fire service who have made us better leaders, trainers, and firefighters by asking the question Why? That, in and of itself, generates answers, and answers beget reason. Reason— not rote or memory—equals knowledge.
The letters of comment (some of which will appear in this and future issues) challenged me to apologize to the old (as these writers described them) dinosaurs, adding that we in the fire service are changing for change’s sake. Well, now I take exception.
A dinosaur, as I see it, is a large obstacle that refuses to contribute to, support, or get out of the way of the change we desperately need. Age and length of service have nothing to do with it. It’s attitude.
In ascending the ranks in the paid and unpaid fire service, I learned both from the innovative, dynamic, and knowledgeable leader and from the dinosaur. One 1 emulated, the other 1 imitated on the “flip side.”
The buildings within which we fight today’s fires are different. The older ones are just that—older. Repeated occupancy shifts and alterations have stressed and restressed structural components. Newer buildings that meet performance codes by using lightweight, flimsy materials often can’t withstand the rape of fire. Both old and new buildings are more prone to early collapse.
The fire load within these structures has redesigned the classic, gently sloping heat curve into a hellish spike. We’re fighting fires containing more toxic by-products with smaller hose and longer, more complicated aerial equipment. We’re rolling around in higher heat concentrations that build to flashover conditions faster in fully sealed, air-fed, fire-resistive bubbles of space-age material, and we’re unable, at times, to determine the rapidly deteriorating conditions around us.
High-rise construction forces the fireground commander to become an engineer of many disciplines if he is to protect his firefighters, account for the staggering life load, and still extinguish the fire. Hazardous materials (which must be accounted for in every occupancy) are being shipped, transferred, and stored in failing systems.
Add to this the concerns of management for manpower depletion, litigation, drug abuse, torpedoed leadership, escalating injurv rates, and budgetary considerations, and you have change—brother.
Change for change’s sake? Gimme a break!