I recently had the great opportunity to be having dinner with some chiefs who are considered — and rightfully so — giants in our industry. Yet they clearly remain humble and seemed to still question why they were lucky enough to be "living the dream."
Whatever level we are at in the fire service, it is easy for any of us to forget what role we play, what impact we may have on those around us. Often we see that impact. I think, just as often, we don't.
We often believe that we know of everyone who our influence extends to. But, once again, in reality we don't. I suggest we need to develop a greater awareness of the impact our actions and influence have on all of those around us.
Saint Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying; "Preach the Gospel at all times and; when necessary, use words." The word in today's fire service is safety and that is indeed good.
But words are not, nor have they ever been, enough. Our "preaching" of safety must be constant and when necessary we should talk of it, write of it and discuss it. But we must always recognize it is in action that we truly show what we value and what we expect of those around us (up and down the chain of command.)
Seat belt laws In New York State, we are working on changing the law to remove the seat belt law exemption while riding in fire apparatus. I won't go into details of the law, but will touch on the concept. The reality is each municipality has the ability to require the usage, but why don't they? Because talk is ALWAYS easier than action.
We know that by changing the law, we can give those last few holdouts the ability to effect a change in their organization. For whatever reason, they didn't make the change, but they'll be able to do it in the future and say "because it's the law." We don't care why they get those seat belts on, just that they get them on.
When we look at those around us, if everyone else is wearing their chin strap, then likely you will get your strap in the right spot as well. After all, it's not called a behind-the-head strap!
But conversely if no one else is, then you will feel pressure to look like the crowd. Many of you are responding to that last sentence with annoyance, stating that you have the intestinal courage to go your own way, and you'll wear your equipment properly even if no one else does. Well, congratulations, you're not normal! The "normal" person conforms to the group or the leader
Our actions allow those around us to change. Not instantly, but with the passage of time, others mimic your what you do (both good and bad.) At first, the change will be minimal but it tends to grow exponentially.
Our actions also give us credibility over time, or take it away almost instantly. In fact, of all the detectors we carry on the modern day fire apparatus, the average firefighters' "BS" detector is likely the most accurate and fastest to activate!
He/she knows if what you're preaching and what you're doing aren't in sync. And it will take little time for your actions to override your preaching.
Keep in mind what safety "looks" like and try to look like that. Make sure you act out your safety message far more frequently than you speak it!
About the author
Tom LaBelle serves as an assistant chief with the Wynantskill (N.Y.) Fire Department where he is responsible for training. He has been employed by the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs since 1995. Prior to joining NYSAFC, Asst. Chief LaBelle served as the legislative director for the New York State Assembly's Sub Committee on Fire Protection Services. He provides support for career and volunteer departments from the nations largest to smallest. He currently sits as a voting member on the NFPA 1720 committee. He is a certified fire instructor and fire officer. Chief LaBelle can be reached via email at Tom.Labelle@FireRescue1.com.
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of FireRescue1.com or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser.