FDIC keynote: Fire service culture not to blame for problems

Lt. Frank Ricci also spoke about the 'New Haven 20' Supreme Court race case, of which he was the lead plaintiff

By Jamie Thompson
FireRescue1 Senior Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — A large percentage of firefighter injuries and deaths are not due to inherent risks, but to an "unwillingness to take personal responsibility for safety," FDIC was told Thursday.

Lt. Frank Ricci, of the New Haven, Conn., Fire Department, said during his keynote speech to the conference that the culture of the fire service is wrongly blamed for many of its problems.

Photo Jamie ThompsonLt. Ricci delivers the keynote speech.

Photo Jamie Thompson
Lt. Ricci delivers the keynote speech.

Issues such as failing to wear seat belts, poor fitness levels and driving too fast should not be tied to culture, he said.

"The culture myth is just a crutch for failed leadership and lack of accountability," Lt. Ricci told the audience.

Citing the example of failing to utilize SCBA during overhaul, Lt. Ricci said all firefighters should by now be aware of the chemical cocktail that can be found in smoke.

"Complacency can be a dangerous thing," he said. "Ridicule for utilizing your SCBA may last for an alarm but the risk of cancer or a stroke will always be present. Have the courage to take care of each other."

The audience was told that "the culture excuse is just a smokescreen for poor leadership and the status quo."

It's the equivalent, Lt. Ricci said, of putting water on the smoke without finding the seat of the fire.

Accountability starts from the top, and chief officers need to lead from the front, according to Lt. Ricci.

"Too many chiefs focus on the incidental, forgetting the practical," he said. "They spend so much time trying to keep their job, they forget to do it."

During the speech, Lt. Ricci also discussed the case of the "New Haven 20," of which he was the lead plaintiff; the Supreme Court ruled last year that the group of white firefighters in the city were unfairly denied promotions because of their race.

"I grew up in a nation of possibilities, where I was taught you must rise and fall based on your own merit," he said. "That individual initiative would be rewarded and we would be judged fairly based on the rule of law and our commitment to our communities."

Your heritage, or sex, or the color of your skin does not make you a better firefighter, Lt. Ricci said.

"Achievement is neither limited nor determined by one's race or politics, but is determined by one's skills, dedication, commitment and character," he said.

Firefighting is not a job that can be handed out without regard for merit or qualifications, according to Lt. Ricci.

"While equal opportunity must be guaranteed for all, it does not guarantee equal outcome," he said.

"The point is, merit matters. We cannot use statistics to choose our leaders."

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