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FDIC 2024: ‘We must be OK letting firefighters be firefighters’

Fire Chief Scott Thompson warned against leaning so far toward firefighter safety that fire victim safety is compromised, leading to tragedy and heightened scrutiny

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Fire Chief Scott Thompson speaks at FDIC 2024.

INDIANAPOLIS — Showing a photo of a “Defund the police” sign, The Colony (Texas) Fire Chief Scott Thompson explained that his forthcoming warning to firefighters wasn’t rooted in politics, but rather, reality. During his Wednesday keynote presentation at FDIC International, Thompson cautioned that the backlash against police we’ve witnessed over the past several years could someday befall the fire service as well, particularly as it is typically the next largest slice of the local government budget pie.

What would cause such a seismic shift? What would cause the public to demand that firefighters act differently? Using the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting as an example, Thompson argued that all it takes is one fire incident in which the public perceives firefighters as protecting themselves over fire victims to unleash this type of scrutiny within a community, if not across the country. This is possible, he argued, “if we don’t shift our mindset” around the culture of safety.

Thompson underscored that outcomes are determined in seconds, not minutes, and that a firefighter-safety mindset is warranted “right up to the point that it takes seconds away from saving people.”

Echoing Chief David Rhodes’ earlier presentation in the General Session, Thompson noted that problems arise when we employ the word “aggressive” in a negative way: “We need to allow firefighters to be aggressive problem-solvers. We must be OK letting firefighters be firefighters.” He urged firefighters to rethink their mission statements so the public understands, “We will come for you,” as it reads on the back of his department’s apparatus.

One way Thompson said he’s witnessed such anti-aggressive rhetoric is when the fire service “weaponized the word ‘cowboy’” to mean anything leaders don’t agree with. Thompson made the case, rather, that firefighters should embrace a cowboy mindset, as this prioritizes the fire department’s core mission and responsibility to the public. Otherwise, he cautioned, “we too may be told how to do our job – it’s foolish to think it couldn’t happen to us.”

Thompson noted that firefighter safety is incredibly important to him. He simply wants to challenge every firefighter to make risk avoidance and risk acceptance personal to them, maximizing their ability to prioritize the mission while keeping their own loved ones in mind. Lastly, he urged every firefighter to understand the assignment: Prepare, protect and save.

FDIC 2024
Every year, FireRescue1 reviews the latest research, emerging techniques and newly debuted products exhibited at FDIC. Read expert analysis from educational sessions here, and check back to FireRescue1 for news about future shows.

Janelle Foskett is the editor-in-chief of FireRescue1.com, responsible for defining original editorial content, tracking industry trends, managing expert contributors and leading execution of special coverage efforts. She also serves as the co-host of FireRescue1’s Better Every Shift podcast. Foskett joined the Lexipol team in 2019 and has nearly 20 years of experience in fire service media and publishing. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and a certificate in technical communications from the University of California, San Diego. Ask questions or submit ideas via email.
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