Surviving Fire Forums

For some, this means not posting at all

By Bill Carey

Originally published 18 July 2010

Social media pretty much killed forums but much of this can still be applied. -BC

Note: the following comments and opinions are mine and do not represent the views of my employers. Or maybe they do. Unless you’re offended, then they don’t. Either way, I’m thinking I’m not alone on some of these thoughts.

Eh, scratch that. I’m flying solo here.

After many years of viewing and working as part of fire service websites it has become apparent to me that a need exists for someone to write a Cliffs Notes version on how to use the sites; or rather a manual on how to stop posting stupid stuff and save the rest of us from getting tricked into reading your stuff. What’s unique is that there are many features and manners that some readers aren’t familiar with. Let’s dissect a website first to in order to get you on the right path.

Forums and Blogs
Nearly every fire website has a forum section. This is supposed to be an area for open discussion, hence the word forum. Unfortunately too many folks use forums as a new version of high school. Here in the internet age you can relive all your adolescent efforts to be the popular person, getting in the right cliques and picking on the nerdy guys. Oh, by the way, you may want to open a new tab and look up satire, sarcasm and humor, just so it doesn’t get ugly. Some of you might not be able to tell that I’m writing in a new font style that makes you read my words as if Jerry Seinfeld was saying them. If I’m coming across like R. Lee Emery, you need to reboot your computer. That’s not true, but check your inner tone of voice while reading this. I’m pretty sure someone will get ticked.

“Did you read what he wrote?”
“No, what was it?”
“He said I was behaving like I was in high school.”
“He said it, or he wrote it?”
“He wrote it, but it was the way he wrote it, sneering. Little twit.”


Forums are for open, public dialogue, hence the definition of the word forum: discussion within public interest. It’s not a spot to let us know about your chicken barbecue fundraiser. That’s what events are for. Neither is it a place for you to let us know about your dog’s latest litter of pups or that you have a term paper due for English class. Sure there are the off-duty sections, but what’s the point? You came to a fire website to discuss fire stuff right? You can go to to talk about dogs. Besides, the other feature of forums is dialogue – get people talking. Rather, get them talking about important stuff. Okay, more important than helmet color or brand of gloves. If you want to create dialogue then you need to entice your readers with sensible subjects, subjects that make them want to say, ‘hey, I got something to say about that.’ But there’s a difference between sensible and stupid; more on stupid later. Blogs are a different creature. With blogs, think of them as an electronic journal. You can post your writing and not have to bother about dialogue. You can view it as sharing news, ideas or commentary. Of course, a fine line exists between sharing and being stupid.

“See? He did it again; he called me ‘stupid’.”
“No, he wrote ‘stupid’.”
‘Yeah, but it was the way he wrote it. I know what he’s saying.”

Blogs on fire websites should be expected to be about, wait for it…wait….wait.

Firefighting. Or at least have some relation to firefighting. Sure, there’s that whole journal, diary aspect to a blog, but most people want to read about firefighting and the like. They don’t want to wade through blogs about your personal life, or our next subject…

Stupid Questions
You see, blogs are for writing, as in paragraphs, and they’re meant to be read, digested, and thought over. Blogs are not for asking where you can find green bulbs for your roto ray. Roto Rays in Virginia, 703-437-3353 by the way. I bet some of you have it in your phone contacts. That’s not a blog subject, that’s a stupid question. They used to say that there was no such thing as stupid questions. Then came search engines. Stupid questions were born because the folks who created search engines didn’t plan on having to account for lazy folks using the internet to find remedies to their conundrums. Yeah, that’s right, conundrum. Look it up. Don’t post it in the forums and ask what it means, but get your lazy butt up and find the dictionary.

“Diction-wha? Is that the game where you draw pictures?”

People complain that the biggest problems with forums are stupid questions. These are questions where the answers come from one or more of the following sources:
1. Your chief
2. Your officer
3. Your senior man
4. Your rookie handbook
5. Your parents
6. Google
7. The guy behind the counter at the local 7-11

Stupid questions are about stupid things – er, scratch that, most aren’t about stupid things. They are stupid because you asked them among a world of folks who could find the answer quicker than it could take you to recite the manufacturer’s number for that roto ray bulb you need. Come on, every department has that one guy who took the title of Chief Engineer a little too far. The question is stupid because in the time it took you to fire up the Mac, log on, post and get a reply, you could have found the answer through traditional means. They are also questions that are obviously posted so you can see yourself online.

“Dude, he called you a poser!”

Some of the best ones I’ve seen involve the inability of the poster to think for themselves. Check this one out; ‘I just got a pair of [insert brand name] gloves. Can anyone give me their thoughts on them?’ Are you freaking serious? You have a pair of gloves right in front of you and you need Timmy from Johnson Siding Fire Department to tell you what to wear? Dang, be sure to have me give you my number, because I want to give you advice on your next fire attack. Or movie selection. Another stupid question is the ‘what are you wearing/using?’ kind. You know, the kind that wonders what helmet colors you have, what color your turnout gear is, what SCBA you use. Again, these are stupid because the poster lacks the ability to ask the source – or use the search field to see if said stupid question was posted earlier. If you want to know what color PPE the Bismarck Rural FD wears (tan, yellow trim; yellow, red and white helmets) then your first act should be Google. If not, and you post “hey does anyone now what color gear they were in Bismarck Rural?” Yeah, spelled just like that too – is it too hard to use spell check? I mean you’re responsible for mitigating small disasters and other emergencies, can you not take a second and proof read your stupid question? Anyway, if you do this, then you face the wrath of….

Forum Seniors
No, not elderly readers who get the feature spot closest to the top. I’m talking seniors as in class bullies (see, brought you back to that high school reference). Where in the name of everything sensible and just did an insignificant thing as post counts equate expert witness testimony?

“Today, the CDC has announced it has offered ‘fireslayer301’ the position of Chief Investigator in NIOSH’s Firefighter Fatality Prevention Program. Mr. Slayer brings to the position his five years experience on and 2,764 post counts.”

Say what? Are you serious? As serious as a myocardial infarction (word up to any EMS peeps following along). I nearly lost my mind on one fire website when I read folks equating post counts with experience, knowledge and respect. Seriously, on one site I read where a new forum member questioned a ‘senior’ member and said senior member’s friends (his ‘e-posse’ yo) piled in on the new guy. Evidently Mr. New Guy came from a world where that crazy thing called ‘reality’ was where experience came from. He quickly got an internet smack down that made McChrystal’s departure look like a fart in a windstorm. These forum bosses are quick to put you in your place with their sarcastic wit and their bipolar comments. No offense to bipolar readers unless you were on a low and this made you happy; in that case, carry on. Good forum discussions start well and have a good following, but a problem arises when dissenting opinion come in. Once that happens, if the forum seniors are any part of it, it will end up falling away into name calling, endless quoting of opponent posts and a lot of expostulations.

“Oh, you mean extrapolation.”
“No, expostulation.”
“Look, don’t tell me I’m wrong. I have 3,486 posts and am friends with nearly 200 members.”
“But I meant expostulation – “
“Listen up; you must be some junior member. You should respect your elders like fire service tradition says to.”

That’s right, cross the line of internet social cliques and you’ll be eating your lunch in your cubicle with the other kids who take band or are on the Physics Club. Mess with the Bull and you get the horns (great movie – probably older than some of you reading this). Every post you make from that point on will be met with never-ending ridicule. So before you click ‘submit’ for your stupid question about where to find size 30 bunker pants or what kind of gloves the FDNY uses, think “do I really want to leave a legacy of social network ineptitude for my kids?

Tactical Dictatorship
This type of posting is popular on every site. It involves a sometimes innocent post about a firefighting tactic captured in photo or video and is followed by a stupid question – again. We all know that fire departments everywhere fight fire differently. Likewise, each department has little nuances as well. Instead of simply learning this and moving along, some forum seniors and others like to dictate what a department should do. It’s true that some of the things we see being done at fires are, well, stupid. But what I find amusing are the ones where readers go overboard with their reactions. These kind of posts generally ask – well, no they don’t, they don’t ‘ask’ they simply state that said department is doing things wrong and is the reason why 100 firefighters die each year. Puhleeaasseee. Spare us the dramatics. 100 don’t die because they do VES off the front fire escape but because, like your 3rd Assistant Chief Tanker Driver they’ve been eating biscuits and gravy topped with pork rinds for 20 years. That and they haven’t refilled their Plavix prescription in two years. These posts pile on with statements of wonder about why things were done the way they are depicted and then followed with what they believe is the right thing to do. The kicker about these posts is that none of these cyber chiefs go direct with the department. But I suppose you can make a greater change in the fire service by putting your comments out there for everyone to see instead of emailing the chief. After all, you’ve been a forum user since 1993 and have obviously run more jobs than Ray McCormack (no, I don’t have his FDIC video and no I don’t know where you can find it – stop posting those questions).

“So you’re saying we shouldn’t openly question things we see done wrong?’

No, what I am saying is that you should do so with a healthy dose of contextual reality. For some of you, you should do so with the computer unplugged. Of course you should question things, but learn to draw the line at agreeing to disagree. For example, a few years ago I saw in some photos of FDNY engine company members doing something I thought odd. Instead of posting it on a forum I emailed some of my FDNY contacts. Case closed. Another example; Dave LeBlanc asked me about a P.G. County fire video and members running. See? He emailed someone he knew instead of logging in at and posting “Why do these guys run? They are going to kill someone by not taking the time to do a proper sizeup,” under the title “Maryland Track Stars”.

“But asking questions in the open gives everyone a chance to learn and understand.”

No, it does not. Asking those kinds of questions only sets us up to read how you would have done it better and how you would make this department better if only they would see the light and recognize your tactical prowess. It also robs us of the few minutes of precious life spent reading your tirade. It amazes me how vehement some posters are about proving their point. They apparently have this false sense of reality that their word will bring about change.

Rubin: “Larry, did you see this post about high rise firefighting and hoselines?”
Larry: “No, what about it?”
Rubin: “We’ve been using the wrong size hose.”
Larry: “Really? Says who?”
Rubin: “WagonMaster82. He’s posted a lot of comments about the video we have.”
Larry: “Should we change?”
Rubin: “I think so, I mean he’s got 1,829 posts, he must know what he’s talking about. Call Fenty and tell him we need to order new hose.”

News flash, it doesn’t work like that in the real world. Maybe when you’re online playing SimCity Firehouse it does, but in reality? Nada. So go ahead, make your case and let it be. But if you keep hawking your keyboard philosophies I’m going to report you for internet stalking. Seriously; you scare me. I’m thinking that some morning when we pull the wagon out for the daily check we’ll find you on the front apron with a bomb strapped to your chest and a list of demands.

“I want two and a half inch standpipe hose, a color-coded risk analysis flip chart and Lindsay Lohan out of jail and on a bus to an airport with a plane standing by.”

A few more tips to ensure your forum participation success before I close this out:

Photos and Videos
Everyone loves good firefighting photos and videos, ones that show a working fire or complex extrication, or detailed training. What is disappointing are the ones that make you wonder ‘why bother?’ Seriously, do we need to see five videos of your quint responding, with each video being 15 seconds long?

“Dude, I just uploaded a vid of 33’s new engine responding!”

Lemme guess, they made a right on 202, or a left?

And what is up with the 23 photos of a dumpster fire? I suppose we should discuss image quality as well. Most cameras have an auto focus feature, except yours. Yours appears as if you shot the pics from within a steamy humid jungle. While running. Is it too much to ask that you screen your photos before submitting? Sure, we would all like to see the 17 images of Station 92’s hoseline packing drill, but was there an earthquake going on at the same time? If so, be sure to make note of it. Oh and no take-backs on photos and videos either. If you post something that shows you being stupid, you can’t take it down. Actually, you shouldn’t post it at all (if you have any questions about what is stupid feel free to ask) but if you do and the forum seniors call you out on it, take your lumps. Don’t hide the evidence. All that does is create more stupid posts about people posting stupid photos and videos and then taking them down because other people said they were stupid.

So there you have it, a basic guide to having a successful fire forum life. For some of you, this means not posting at all.


Photo courtesy Reddit/Annie Leibovitz

Abandoned Aviation Bill Carey Bill Schnaekel Collapse Commentary Communication Data Dave LeBlanc Education Engine Company Expect Fire Fatalities Firefighting Gabe Angemi Gabriel Angemi Health & Wellness Homelessness Interior International Association of Fire Chiefs International Association of Fire Firefighters Leadership Line of Duty Deaths National Fallen Firefighters Foundation NFPA NIOSH NVFC Physical Fitness POV Question from a Reader Ray McCormack Reports Rescue Ric Jorge Risk Roadway Safety Scott Corrigan Social Media Suicide Training United States Fire Administration Vehicle Operations Violence Wildland

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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