you tell, the message has been communicated and
the hope is that something will be done about it.
Usually at this point, we find ourselves at a crossroad. From this point forward, the situation can go
one of two ways: The concerns are addressed and
corrected, or they are disregarded and the red flags
If the situation has presented itself, communications have been made about concerns, and nothing
has been done about it, there is still a chance you
can prevent the perfect storm. Sometimes there are
opportunities for red flags to emerge from beneath
the carpet and give us the opportunity to correct
the problem. This could be the hose load we spoke
about earlier getting hung up while deploying on a
small fire. A second line was pulled and the fire was
extinguished, but afterward members talk about
the delay and how it could have caused a bigger
THE PERFECT STORM
By this point, something should have been done
to rectify the situation. In most cases, this is where
we see a catastrophic event that has left us worse
for wear and wondering, “How could this have
happened?” Sadly, the answer is almost always a
laundry list of concerns, statements, and pleas for
change that were neither heeded nor corrected.
Often these situations could have been prevented
had the problems been dealt with appropriately.
Knowing the parts of the perfect storm and how
they combine is only one part of the equation. To
truly be able to stop the events leading up to it, we
must take a deeper look into ourselves, our department, and the fire service as a whole.
BUT WE’VE ALWAYS DONE IT THIS WAY
We spoke earlier about historical aspects of the
fire service, and how we operate is a large part of
that. Statements like “But we’ve always done it this
way” or “We’ll never do that” are not only inhibiting our ability to make positive change, they create
toxic environments that prevent firefighters from
being able to perform in an efficient and effective
manner. While these statements get thrown out
a lot, I’m not speaking of the next trendy tool or
the latest YouTube tactic. I am talking about well
thought out plans to make our operations better.
I have seen time and time again personnel spend
IF WE DON’T ACT, THE PROBLEM
countless hours researching, perfecting, and cor-
recting issues, whether they be administrative or
operational, only to present their findings and be
shot down because it was not within the “operating
norm” for the department. For us to make effective
change when we find problems, there must be a
culture of acceptance that starts with us. Change
and progression in the fire service are inevitable;
otherwise, we’d still be fighting fires with buckets.
WILL GO AWAY
Frequently, the fire service deals with problems by
avoiding or ignoring them. A great example of this
is the firefighters who cannot, or will not, perform
to the level expected of them. “Well, they’ll get
washed out during probation” and “They only have
a few years left, so we’ll move them to the slowest
station” are common phrases we hear during these
conversations. By taking the stance that we are
going to avoid or ignore a known problem, we are
setting ourselves up for bad situations.
Retraining, corrective discipline, and even
termination are all options when dealing with a
firefighter who just isn’t making the grade; pretending there isn’t a problem, however, is not an option.
Whether it is a firefighter not performing to the
standards, a piece of equipment that doesn’t operate
properly, or an outdated policy in place that prohibits us from doing our job effectively, any action
is better than no action at all.
IT’S NOT MY PROBLEM
News flash: It is your problem. As firefighters, we
are the ones people look to for help. We are ambassadors of safety and protection. When we show up,
people expect us to be professional, efficient, and
skilled in every aspect of what we do. The people
we serve don’t care what style uniform we have,
what color our trucks are, or what brand our equipment is. What they care about is that when they
call 911 at 3:00 a.m., we can help them. When we
are presented with a red flag that warrants addressing, there cannot be a reason to pawn it off on the
next firefighter, shift, or agency. Our responsibility
to perform at the level expected of us lies solely on
our shoulders and no one else’s.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
While no situation is absolute, we must stop and
take a hard look at how we as a fire service are operating. There are departments that excel at providing
effective and professional emergency services to the
communities they serve. They function with high
levels of honesty, collaboration, and open mindedness
while allowing their members to work toward betterment within their organization. It is our responsibility
as firefighters to take ownership of our duties and
ensure that we are not holding ourselves back.
The perfect storm can happen anywhere, to
any one of us. It shows no preference to career or
volunteer personnel. The situations that combine
to be the perfect storm are ever present in all our
agencies, but it is what we do about them that can
take a tragedy and turn it into triumph. It is our