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When is it time to challenge our norms?

We know what seems “normal” to us, but ask yourself if these beliefs are rooted in blind acceptance or if it’s time to question the source



There was a time for many of us when the source of credible information (at least what I considered credible) was limited to four groups: parents, preachers, teachers and face-to-face friends. As I grew up watching “Emergency!” and started to think that I wanted to be a firefighter, my parents cautioned me that “Emergency!” was “the movies” and it “wasn’t really like that.” I don’t think they were trying to diminish my enthusiasm but rather temper it with their reality, which was therefore my reality. In the 1970s, I really had no compass to challenge their reality beyond the Encyclopedia Britannica on my dad’s office shelf. This was the cycle of knowledge at the time. This was what I knew. This was my normal.

Once I entered the fire academy, my instructors were my teachers, opening a whole new world of information and opportunity and setting in motion what would become my new normal. They drilled the basics of firefighting and emergency medical care into our career recruit school (CRS). We were taught how to fight fire based on how they knew how to fight fire – their normal.

The other members of CRS18 became my new friend group, and when I assigned to Fire Station 25 (then 45, 29, 27 and others), those firefighters and paramedics became additions to my family group – after all, I was spending about one-third of my life with them. Their work-related teachings and beliefs were their normal, and in large part became my newest normal.

As the NFPA and other industry partners conducted research and issued standards-based directives, our friends, families and teachers would evaluate the research, read the periodicals and news releases, and determine what of value and substance was to be passed down to the masses – an imperfect approach for sure, but it was the way we communicated at the time and the way we formed our collective normal.

When everything changed – and challenged us

This is how it went until the internet changed everything, giving people the opportunity to immediately challenge what they were taught, to challenge what they knew to be true – their normal. Our normal is now influenced by so much more than our parents, preachers, teachers and friends. Is this a good thing? Maybe in some respects, but there is now so much more room for outside influences to shape our beliefs, both positively and negatively.

Let’s consider a good opportunity to challenge our beliefs. When I was in the fire academy, the teaching focused on an “in-the-front-door-and-down-the-basement-steps, hell-or-high-water” approach. Flow-path management for us wouldn’t become the way of doing business until 2012 after a residential basement fire resulted in seven firefighters being transported to the burn center.

Even though military firefighters had studied and validated flow-path management as early as the 1950s, we didn’t know that. As students, we had no reason to challenge such notions, and who the heck were we to challenge the instructors anyways? THAT was our blind-faith normal. As recruits we had no reason and no avenue to challenge our instructors. I’ll submit there is still generally no reason (or expectation) that recruits should challenge instructors, but the internet provides the avenue for just that to happen.

Navigating the onslaught

With the onslaught of information available to all of us, let me offer the following suggestions for deciphering what should help form our current normal.

1. Look within. The first step in process improvement is almost always self-reflection, identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Specifically, I challenge you to acknowledge and adjust your “dark side” – those traits that can consciously or unconsciously derail your or your organization’s ability to develop and maintain an effective playbook. I encourage you to read this article from the Harvard Business Review, “Could Your Personality Derail Your Career?” to help identify those “dark sides” of your personality that could inhibit your progress.

2. Establish your organizational and personal “North Stars.” How can you know your “normal” without knowing your true mission and vision? Frankly, without a focused mission, determining your normal will be an erratic exercise in futility for both you and your organization. In the article “What is your personal North Star?” I offer some tips to identify and establish your mission, vision and values.

3. Determine your spheres of influence. For our purposes, we’re talking about professional organizations like FEMA/NFA, NFPA, NIST, UL, ISFSI, IAFC, NVFC and IAFF. There are certainly other groups not mentioned that will have influence on specific areas within your organizations (arson investigations, technical rescues, news sources and others).

4. Establish a process of evaluation for your training and operational protocols. Nothing should be considered sacred with respect to “the way we do things.” Changes in technology and research capabilities mean we must plan to operate in dynamic, sometimes volatile, environments.

5. Establish a routine of investigation and evaluation for significant incidents. This could be incidents involving member injuries, apparatus wrecks, large-loss fires and similar events. This should be a formal process of investigation, with the purpose of forward progress through the identification of lessons learned and the implementation of recommendations for change. It is CRITICAL that this not be a disciplinary process but rather an improvement process. There should be other, separate processes for discipline. If you don’t yet have a formal discipline process, it’s high time you make that part of your organization’s new normal.

NOT “the way we’ve always done it”

Similar to how the internet and social media have taken our “normal” by storm, the next horizon of artificial intelligence (AI) has the very real potential to flip our normal on its side. Regardless of where AI takes us, we already know that community engagement and community risk reduction (CRR) are critical to our success and that there are better ways of doing business – residential sprinklers, robotic assistance, battery-powered tools, to name a few. Evolving CRR should be a constant normal.

Why is it then, that “we” fight these changes? Maybe we’re not “fighting” them, but by ignoring the benefits or minimizing their effectiveness we empower the status quo to become our normal. Whether it’s flow-path-management, carcinogen-reduction, mutual-aid, residential sprinklers, or a host of other topics, “just because that’s the way we’ve always done it” should have been stricken from your vocabulary long ago – so let’s use this opportunity to eradicate this verbiage once and for all. So, what’s your normal?

Chief Marc S. Bashoor joined the Lexipol team in 2018, serving as the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief executive editor and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board. With 40 years in emergency services, Chief Bashoor previously served as public safety director in Highlands County, Florida; as chief of the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Department; and as emergency manager in Mineral County, West Virginia. Chief Bashoor assisted the NFPA with fire service missions in Brazil and China, and has presented at many industry conferences and trade shows. He has contributed to several industry publications. He is a National Pro-board certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III and Fire Instructor. Connect with Chief Bashoor at on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Do you have a leadership tip or incident you’d like to discuss? Send the chief an email.