Although this should come as a shock to no one, I like to check out Firerescue1 every day — and usually more than once — just to quickly check up on the news and see what others are writing and talking about. I also like to check out what items are getting the most comments.
A recent video, which is contained within this column, and news article on the motorcycle crash response drew quite a bit of commentary, some of which really was quite negative and useless. Merriam Webster defines two words that seem appropriate: Critique — to examine critically, and criticize – to find fault with.
Two words close to each other in the dictionary, but miles apart in attitude and quite frankly in value.
Too often, in too many firehouses across this country, firefighters have confused these two words, using them and performing them interchangeably.
Truth be told, I've very little room in my life for criticizing and would always opt toward giving a good critique. As is often with so much in life, attitude is everything.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying, "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way." And I often say that I learn from bruises, both yours and mine — but I'd rather learn from yours!
The ability to see so many strategies, tactics and tasks that are videoed and posted (with and without consent) has created a unique opportunity to watch others "carry the cat by the tail" from the comfort of our own homes.
The casual, and often caustic, attitude displayed by many in our community is, to me at least, dumbfounding at best and at worst damning to our long-term learning.
I never want to see people (first responders or civilians) getting harmed, but I do want to learn from it when it happens. I also ALWAYS recognize that there but for the grace of God go I. Everyone, and I mean everyone makes mistakes, has bad days and can have a SNAFU at a moment's notice.
It is what we do with that situation that allows us to move to the next level of our (shared) experience. Solid critique is well worthy of all of the time put in to the critique and the time of those reading the critique.
But so many are simply filled with vitriol rather than well-intentioned review that it drives others away. Worse yet, I truly believe that the diatribes we too often find in these so-called critiques are creating an unrealistic anxiety amongst chief officers.
They begin to confuse criticism and critique and therefore are less willing to approach a post-incident review with a positive attitude. And individuals who want to ask why we performed the way we did are afraid to ask in case their questions be seen as criticism.
As far as I'm concerned if you've never made a mistake (yes, even dangerous mistakes) on the fireground, then stay away from me. Here's why. Your lack of mistakes is either because you have NO experience other than watching reruns of "Emergency" or you're really overdue for a bad experience, and I don't want to be on the same block when it catches up with you!
The vast majority of the fire service (career and volunteer) in this country don't see enough fires in the course of a year to learn through their own experience.
We are dependent on learning through the actions and experience of others. By many people learning through research, trial and error and peer review of ideas, we move forward.
Those not involved then get to ask why certain strategies, tactics and tasks went the way they did. We can learn from other's "bruises;" we should never use our lack of bruises to indicate anything other than it just wasn't our day yet for them to happen...
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.
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