What fire service values do you emphasize? A job well done or the pseudo-culture within? The trends come and go; the bandwagons make their stops and move along with those who played for their 15 minutes. However, this leaves our emergency scenes with a large gap open for public criticism. So I ask again, where do you place your emphasis?
The public takes notice when you cannot lift, carry, and throw a ladder. They pay attention when the first due unit does not make the correct address the first time. When you leave staging after receiving an assignment then need to go back to the truck to get a tool, do you think that they may question why you did not have one to start with. They see when you struggle to pull, stretch, and hold onto a hose line. Water supply ran out, they see that too. Struggling with donning your SCBA on the front step? Yep, they took notice. Do you run laps around the rig, stopping at every compartment looking for a tool because you do not know your apparatus? Bet they can tell you do not know where it is.
What they do not see or even care about is what type of helmet you wear with that ever so perfect ‘bend’. Those nifty gadgets from the trade show that will help you “do your job” better, as they slowly sink to the bottom of your pocket – the family in the front yard doesn’t care. Nor do they recognize if you are fighting the fire with a smoothbore or combination nozzle. Last, but not least what color your turn out gear is, the color of your truck, or what department name is solving their problem; AS LONG AS THE PROBLEM IS GOING AWAY!
Perception, noun – the act of perceiving or the ability to perceive; mental grasp of objects, qualities, etc., by means of awareness; comprehension.
We can either concentrate our energy on ensuring the public perceives us, as we want to be seen – professional public servants that have duty, honor, pride, and compassion. Alternatively, we can waste time concerned with how other firefighters see us. The choice is yours.
Our fire service overflows with traditions, many of which are internal only. Stress the importance of skills over swag. Once you can do the job, then you have earned the privilege of the internal cultural embellishments.