Police vs. fire: The curse of the TIMIS

'The I'm More Important Syndrome' can manifest itself in many ways when it comes to working with different agencies

It's not uncommon to read reports of confrontations between police and fire departments. Remember the fire captain arrested for apparatus placement? Or the firefighter arrested for poking a cop?

I have myself been involved in some epic confrontations with law enforcement — and the usual scenario, as with the articles above, involves traffic being blocked at the scene of an emergency. I once was witness to the local law enforcement towing off a burning car to get it off the freeway. Mind you, it was still smoking.

Another occasion found me telling a deputy that an alien space craft had landed and started a small fire with their rocket. He had asked me why fire trucks were blocking a street. A single wide manufactured home was burning 30 feet from his car. We were standing in smoke during this conversation. By the way, he was not amused.

The cops in real-life police shows such as "The First 48 Hours" get to wear pretty spiffy outfits; when we do what we do, we look like sweaty chimney sweeps.

The cops in real-life police shows such as "The First 48 Hours" get to wear pretty spiffy outfits; when we do what we do, we look like sweaty chimney sweeps.

Before we go any further with this, let me assure you I am the first to admit that the police have a very important and dangerous job. They stand between us and the criminal element, and unfortunately many officers have lost their lives doing their job. And yes, the time bullets were flying or the time I was surrounded by a late night hostile crowd, I was the first to get on the radio and scream for them.

That being said, I attended a class one day on freeway safety. We went over the "Chevron Striping" of the equipment; parking behind the incident on the freeway and blocking the next lane over; angling the wheels away from the incident so it would be pushed away; the safety vests with some fluorescent measurement as to how much they are supposed to glow. I couldn't help but wonder how the police would react to this.

Well, it didn't take long. Driving a pumper one afternoon shortly afterward we were sent on a commercial vehicle fire on a local freeway. We arrived and found a garbage truck billowing smoke. The truck was pulled onto the right hand shoulder.

I pulled in behind the garbage truck, then pulled across the next lane over and stopped. Putting on my reflective vest, I opened the door and was met by three deputy sheriffs. None of whom were wearing reflective vests.

In my part of the world, the police do not wear the reflective vests. I don't know if they don't consider them fashionable, too casual for after 5 attire, or what. I heard they feel they make them more of a target. As firefighters, medics and even tow truck drivers wear them, I would think they would blend in more …

Anyway, back at the trash truck, the deputies asked me what was wrong. What was I doing? Had I run out of gas? I calmly explained the incident plus one lane blocking theory and the safety zone it created.

In the end I might as well have shared with them my theory on what happened to Amelia Earhardt because at the conclusion they immediately told me to pull the truck into the shoulder lane. I refused. Soon a police supervisor arrived and ordered me to move the truck. I laughed and refused. Fortunately, only the brakes on the trash truck were smoking and the truck was moved, remedying the situation.

Traffic flow issues
What is the problem the police have with traffic flow? I understand the need to keep traffic flowing. Back-ups cause more wrecks, people are inconvenienced, people miss appointments, people don't get to see Katie Couric, and a host of other reasons. However, is any one of these reasons worth my life or the life of a co-worker? Do the police have their pay docked if there is a traffic tie-up?

I suspect this reveals a deeper problem. The traffic issue is how the problem manifests itself because this is where the two agencies come together the most. I think the underlying cause is a medical issue called "TIMIS;" pronounced Timmy's.

TIMIS is an acronym for "The I'm More Important Syndrome." TIMIS was first studied in Stockholm. The Swedes had noticed animosity and open hostility between milkmen and water delivery drivers.

The institute that did the study concluded both groups were vitally important. Milk helps bones and teeth grow strong. Water is a necessity for life. Their recommendation was that both groups should work together and help each other for the public good. A novel idea.

I think the police are more readily susceptible to TIMIS than firefighters. I think a lot of that is because the police have really put a glamorous spin on what they do. Surf through your TV channels and you can see no less than two real-life crime shows at any given time. "Cops," "The First 48 Hours," "Cold Cases," "American Justice" and on and on.

They wear spiffy outfits with a big stripe down the pants, a Smokey the Bear hat, a Batman utility belt with all kinds of gizmos on it. The investigators are smartly dressed in suits with sport coats and dress shirts.

When we do what we do, we look like sweaty chimney sweeps. That's the nature of the business; it's hard and dirty work. More importantly we can't show what we do on TV. Impossible. All you would see would be a brown, grayish screen and all you would hear would be muffled voices yelling for more hose, coupled with an occasional clanging of air bottles. People would switch to "The Simpsons" in 3 minutes.

There is a lot of work to be done on TIMIS. Maybe we could get a bracelet and a color assigned. Retain a spokesman with real star power like Erik Estrada or Bob Barker. Perhaps FireRescue1 would sponsor a telethon. Let me know how we can combat this debilitating condition. Let's find a cure for TIMIS in our lifetime …

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