Fire Service Speaks With Too Many Tongues
The Editor’s Opinion Page
Joseph Moreland created a stir at the spring conference of the IAFC Metropolitan Committee when he deplored the failure of the many segments of the fire service to speak with one voice on vital issues.
The acting administrator of the United States Fire Administration—who was reassigned shortly after his remarks—saw the present fluid situation in Washington as a “critical opportunity for the fire service to get its act together.” At the same time, Moreland commented that the Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations “has done a rather terrible job” of presenting an appearance of fire service unanimity on important issues.
This is one of those situations in which the specifics are unimportant and the generalities are. Much of the discussion from the conference floor centered on the actions of the Joint Council— which few fire fighters have ever heard of—and the effect of the unanimous vote required for any action to be approved by the council.
We see the same problem of fire service fragmentation on the state level as well as the national level. Beyond that, there is much to be done to unify the fire service on county and regional levels. On the state level, legislators survive on fire service disunity. They take comfort in saying that they would support whatever the fire service wants if they could ever find out what the various segments of the fire service have agreed to seek.
The statewide master plan drive in the early days of the National Fire Academy was aimed at fostering the development of a united fire service voice in each state. As a result, commissions composed of representatives of the various fire service organizations were formed in a number of states. However, the suspicions learned years ago are not easily forgotten and the common good of the fire service is sometimes shortchanged by a desire to score a slight gain for your group to block a favorable position for a rival group.
From the fireground, we learned that if the chief in charge does not make a needed decision, someone will make it for him and he will lose control of the attack. In the same way, if the fire service organizations fail to agree on an important issue, that leaves the page blank for someone else to write the conclusion their way—not the fire service way.
Unanimity is nice to have, but it frequently is too costly—costly to steady, effective progress. We in the fire service need to recognize the necessity for open discussions that can build compromises that are acceptable to everyone involved in the problem.
Remember, all problems eventually are resolved. If those affected do not work together to solve the problem, then either a higher authority will impose a solution that no one will like, or the problem may be allowed to continue until changing conditions effect a solution.
What the various segments of the fire service have to realize that by the age-old process of bargaining, they can reach a compromise that provides a solution they all can live with because it is voluntary and not imposed.