In this world of mass media, we can get caught up in our own importance, to the detriment of our fellow firefighters.
We are all firefighters dedicated to protecting our communities so why is there a growing class system amongst firefighters around the world? Let me list the divides: first is the divide based on the dollars; career (paid), retained (partly paid) and volunteer (not paid). Then comes the divide based on the risk protected, wildfire: rural, urban, city, airport and marine firefighters to list a few. Then comes the socio-economic divide where the wealthy fire services look down on those less fortunate, this could be within a country or across countries. Finally, within a fire service is the diversity issue; male vs female, different races and cultures.
If we espouse the firefighter code that we are all there to protect the communities we serve, then all the classes/categories are irrelevant when the chips are down. So here are some thoughts about how we should think about our firefighting family.
In my view there are only two classes of firefighter, those capable of doing the job and those that aren’t (those that aren’t cannot call themselves firefighters). There are some basic truths that we need to agree upon. They are; no matter what your specialty or status is you need to be trained and physically capable of doing your job. You should listen to those with specialist skills and acknowledge the limitations of your own skills in coming from different areas of expertise and there is no order of merit where one set of skills is superior to another, each has a job to do.
Once these basic truths are set in concrete we can get on with solving the side issues and assisting our firefighter colleagues to protect their community. There are some good examples of this happening across the region. Australian fire services adopt Pacific Island nations to assist in building their capabilities in equipment and training. China and Japan have been also assisting their neighbours with training and equipment. Hong Kong, with its new training academy is assisting Macao with its officer training. In other areas wildfire specialists in incident command, for large fires, are training urban firefighters to use such systems for CBNR events.
In this social and mass media world we now see ourselves on all kinds of media, thousands of ‘likes’ on Facebook when we do a good job, being classified as heroes by the media when all we are doing is what we were trained for. Then watching the latest movie or TV series about how we saved the world or worse still, seeing us in a reality series where a year of fires is condensed into six half hour emotional programs. We pump our chests out and say that’s me, the super hero. The facts are we are ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things, with all the frailties of being human.
In this world of mass media, we can get caught up in “Drinking the Kool-Aid” (this is an idiom commonly used in the United States that refers to any person or group who goes along with a doomed or dangerous idea because of peer pressure). We as professionals need to stand up for what is right and call out those that would try and divide us into competitive groups and not recognise the contribution of all of us.
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Image courtesy of Andrew Magill