Station Pride Articles

We’ve Always Done it That Way

Image result for Old FirefighterNot long ago I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with an “old” firefighter. Being able to visit with a man who worked as a career firefighter before I was even born was a real treat. During our talk, I started to realize something that I had known all along, but had never really thought about. The fire service has changed. The fire service will keep changing, and I had better learn to keep up.   In the 1960s and 1970s there were more fires to fight due to weaker building codes as well as a lack of fire education and prevention programs. Structure fires were a very common occurrence and these guys did the job without the aid of thermal imaging technology or an air pack on their back. In the 1980s, some of the SCBA technology we have today was beginning to become readily available in its “generation one” form. It was expensive, and wearing an air pack was not looked upon favorably by the culture at the time. And yet we still have all heard the old saying, “we’ve always done it that way.”

Chiseling-Caveman-e1295104424454 copy We’ve always done it that way. That statement seems so archaic to me. It sounds so closed to new thinking. It doesn’t allow for technology or science to make good changes in how we operate. It is almost a good way to say, “I learned it this way and I refuse to change. And by the way, kid, I’m taking you with me.”   Well guess what folks, we haven’t ALWAYS done anything that way. As a matter of fact, we are doing it much different from how it was done just 20 years ago.

Listening to stories of riding on the tailboard of a fire truck as it responds code 3 to a call is awesome. Knowing people who fought fire wearing rubber coats, and day boots, is at the very least educational for me. Holding your breath as you crawl through a smoke-filled house, waiting for your ears to heat up and tell you that you were close to the fire really sounds like a rush. I am privileged to know some of these men, and I have the utmost respect for those who fought fire and lived through this era. But there is no place for these things in today’s fire service.

  In 2005, I lost a friend in a LODD because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. I think about that event, and how it could’ve been different every day. Shortly after his death, the culture in the fire service took notice and the National Seatbelt Pledge came into being. Yet, even in 2014 a firefighter was killed when he was ejected while responding to an incident, NOT WEARING A SEATBELT. How is this possible? “We’ve always done it that way.”

I am privileged to be an instructor at our local fire academy. One of the subjects that I teach is Firefighter Safety. During this class, I try to explain this concept: Our perception of what is safe is bred by our experience. That means if you are a 35 year veteran of the fire service and have ridden the tailboard to every call without incident, then you probably hold the belief that riding the tailboard is safe. The same thing is true of many parts of this job. Freelancing, improper use of PPE, seatbelts – the list goes on and on!

Two examples of the “we have always done it that way” attitude scream out at me: Detroit MI, and Hartford CT. I am using these two examples only because of the very high amount of media coverage given to each.

  First, let’s look at Detroit. The highly popular movie filmed in this city called “Burn” was brought to my attention about a year ago. A very young member of our department was speaking highly of the movie, had a copy of it with him, and offered to let the crew watch it. As the movie unfolded I saw a department unwilling to change how they operated no matter what. Injury of personnel, loss of equipment, and even direct orders from the Chief were not enough to override “we have always done it that way.”

Hartford, CT was in the news not too long ago. It has been credibly reported that the use of a Nomex hood in HFD was optional. OPTIONAL! WHAT? How does an essential piece of firefighting PPE, widely in use since the 1970s, and mandated by NFPA standards become optional? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to so many of the failures that we continue to embrace in the name of tradition. “We have always done it that way.”

I truly love fire service traditions. I am an active member of our department’s Pipes and Drums Corps; its purpose is to honor the memories of the fallen, and to uphold the traditional values that make the fire service the best job in the world. I enjoy washing a brand new apparatus for the first time, and pushing it back into the station. I support having logos that set fire stations apart and give the crews working there a feeling of pride and honor. Class A dress uniforms being available for members to purchase is another traditional fire service “thing” that I love. I love lighthearted pranks or jokes that make 24 hours pass more quickly, or a bowl of ice cream eaten because the rookie made his first interior attack. Those are the types of “traditions” I hold dear. However, I want no part of the irresponsible acts that some of us call tradition. We all need to step back, and take a hard look at our department’s specific culture. The things that we do in the name of “tradition” must be able to pass the test of “reasonable and responsible.”

The next time you are asked, “Why do we_____?”, think about your answer.

I challenge you to remove “We have always done it that way” from your answer bank, and find the real answer to the question. I also challenge you to be wary of this answer, and the people giving it.

 

Stay Sharp, Stay Safe,

Vinny

 

John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than he who will give up his life for a friend.

Firefighters, all too often, may lose their lives protecting the lives of total strangers.

 

 

 

About Lance Vinson (5 Articles)
Lance entered the Fire Service in 2001. At that time he was working at a large uniform delivery service company, and decided to enroll in the local fire academy. During that year he became a member of a rural volunteer fire department. Following graduation from the fire academy Lance began his first career assignment working as a firefighter at a DOE facility. He worked there until 2005. In April 2005 Lance lost one of his friends in a LODD from falling out of a moving apparatus while responding to a structure fire. Following that event, Lance left the DOE facility, and began working for the municipal fire department which his friend had been empolyed. He is currently a Lieutenant, with close to 10 years experience in his current city. Lance's views on safety, tactics, culture and education continue to evolve, and he hopes to be able to make positive impact on todays fire service.

3 Comments on We’ve Always Done it That Way

  1. One thing “we have always done”… Is go to s LOT of fires, and gain a LOT of experience. So when someone with a fraction of the experience, talks down about a department, its members, its tactics… He looses ALL credibility. Oh well, preach on.. Its so easy to quote NFPA… Its the lowest hanging fruit. Its a safe article to write. Bravo.

    Shane Klug
    Firefighter
    Ladder 26
    Detroit

    Like

    • Shane,
      First of all THANK YOU for the comment and the read. Second THANK YOU for doing what you do in a place that has seen such economic and social difficulty. And finally, the article was not meant to “talk down” or belittle, it was simply a comment based on a two hour film that happened to be about Detroit. I am sure there is much more to the DFD than what the movie portrayed, and I absolutely cannot match the fire experience of most of your members. My comments in the article were simply about the movie and what it portrayed. Specifically when it showed the Chief order guys not to offensively fight fires in places that were going to be torn down, and the crews in the film do it anyway. If the impressions given to me by the film were inaccurate of your culture, I do apologize.
      Vinny

      Like

  2. Vinny, well said and you did your homework. Been retired quite a few years, started in 76, riding tailboard. Fun, no Stupid. We lost fireman due to back injury from tailboard. Air Packs, Pass, Nomex hoods, the list goes on. started in my time. Being from a PAID Progressive West coast dept. we are leaders in command, new technology, tactics. Chief Brunicini, Phoenix, CDF/Cal-Fire, Huge, do it all. Riverside county fire. Hemet, my ex. engine co. is #16 in runs in nation, and paramedic. retired to new England, Tradition rules, and so much I have witnessed, we have always done it this way. Fun, no Stupid. ck out Firescope in 1970. thousands of losses, acres, homes, fireman. We changed. But the knuckle heads. Fun, no stupid. Detroit, FDNY, Chicago. When I think of there Depts. I respect there tradition, butt. I am in no way talking down to shanes dept or others, but the truth hurts. And its not fair, to watch videos and criticize operations. We all make mistakes, but some kill us. seat belts, lack of buckled (allegedly) killed a fireman and resulted in manslaughter charges being filed against engineer. (later dropped). google it, cal-fire, engine hydroplanes on interstate 10, goes over and crashed. Jake brake on in storm. saw results. Sad, great brothers, well respected, top station crews. And in Ct I see fire depts. both paid, locally using engine brakes in rain and snow. Wished there to, s would google this. Makes me crazy, do they like the sound, oh we are saving brakes using retarders/engine brakes. we have always done it this way? But being a old salty one from so cal, they do not give a shit about what I have to say. The new fire service, PC, Fun, no Stupid

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