Community connections: Do you still care?

The people care, but not about what you think they care about

Every so often it is important to reset, to go back and remind myself of why I write about the fire department in the first place. For me, the compulsion is to deconstruct what I have been taught about fighting fires and managing fire departments.

I want to take the pieces apart, flip them over, consider them, and understand them. I know that understanding the "thing" deconstructed as a set of naked facts on the table is not understanding the "thing" as constituted and functioning in the real world. But it's still worthy of study.

Every so often it is important to reset because the modern fire service is fighting for nothing less than continued relevance and it cannot do that using the same weak thinking and worn slogans that have become the tired refrains of countless budget hearings across the nation.

Shared suffering
It is important to reset. It is important to remember that being a firefighter is about selfless devotion to community, about helping a neighbor because that was the right thing to do. It was and still is, in many ways, about shared suffering.

Because the firefighter is a part of the same community as the victim, there is a visceral connection; a shared suffering. The same guys who left home in the middle of dinner to put the fire out are often back the next day to assist in the re-building.

But consider what happens when there is no time for volunteering and we are forced to hire people to fight the fires or lure volunteers from far off places. How are these outsiders taught to honor the connections to the community? How can they be taught to truly respect the people and the property that they claim to protect when their roots are so shallow?

Showing restraint
A civilian recently asked me, "Can you do the job you've been called here to do, without doing everything you've been taught to do?" Which really is to say can you put the fire out in my house while respecting my stuff, showing restraint and empathizing with me?

I talked to a gentleman recently who was the victim of a house fire. He spoke at length to me about the fire damage and compared it to "fire department damage."

He pointed out how all the windows — even those remote from the fire — were broken. He pointed out how all his stuff was thrown out in a pile in the rain, even the stuff that was not burned.

Why three holes in the roof? He could not understand, I could not explain it away. "Can I do the job I've been called here to do, without doing everything I've been taught to do?"

Why I write
Every so often I have to stop and remind myself of why I am writing. Remind myself that despite the fact the column is called Bread and Butter Basics, my focus is really is not on the daily tasks of wielding an axe or cutting vent holes.

There are plenty of others writing about saws and smooth bore nozzles, but I have never been to a budget hearing where the city council considered the pros and cons of nozzle patterns and I have never been to a civic association meeting where there was discussion of the disappearance of the "aggressive interior attack."

The people care, but not about what you think they care about. And since they control our budgets, we should take the time to reconnect with both our motivations and with our communities.

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