Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

If everyone on the team were like me, what kind of team would it be?

By Dave LeBlanc

Originally published 19 June 2015.

The above quote is attributed to the Navy SEALs. The question it asks is an important one. Would the Team succeed if everyone was like you? Are you putting your best effort in?

Imagine if there was a sign above the door to your dayroom that said, “If everyone on the Fire Department was like me, what kind of Fire Department would it be?” So often many of us get caught up in who we think are, the image we think we are portraying.

The fire service has a mission of – wait for it – Service. That’s right folks; we are here to serve others. That service happens in a variety of ways, and not all of them involve responding to incidents. Our service incorporates our being prepared to do the job both mentally and physically. It involves our training. It involves our learning new material, reviewing old material, studying and finding ways to be more effective.

But if you are that guy, a little older, thinning hair, maybe a paunch; that looks in the mirror and sees a six-foot tall, well quaffed, perfectly fit firefighter, well maybe it’s time you were honest with yourself, because everyone else knows what you look like. If you are that guy that preaches safety and proper PPE, then gets off the rig with your coat open, one glove missing, and your hood in your pocket, well maybe it time you see the hypocrisy in your actions.

This job is one of deeds. We can talk all day long about how committed and dedicated we are, about how much pride we have in our tools, our truck, and our department; but if we are not maintaining our tools, cleaning our trucks, and leaving the place just a bit better than we found it, then all that we are doing is talking.

So often we are two-faced; we are the first to criticize someone for not addressing an issue but then do that very same thing ourselves. Many times we are not comfortable with conflict and we allow that discomfort to control the situation. This especially applies to the officers in the crowd; it is not just your standard you uphold, but that of the department. If you are unwilling, or unable to call people on their mistakes or bad behavior; you are failing your company, your shift, your department and most importantly yourself. Sometimes it is not easy; senior people, difficult attitudes, and institutional norms often forge a way of doing things that may not be the way you want, or things should, be done. Remember, you took the test and took the oath; it is your job to set it right.

Institutional Norms: a pattern or trait taken to be typical in the behavior of a social group. Often are not set by policy, but how things are done by the group. If they are not corrected, they become accepted practice.

It can be very easy to go through the motions on this job; you can wear the shirt, show up and “be there” without positively contributing. You can meet the minimum standard, do the required work, and go home. Chances are you will get by and nothing will come of it. But what will happen when that is not the case? Everything is okay, until it is not okay. One day you don’t check your SCBA because you get an early run. Mentally you decide it was no big deal, nothing happened, so you don’t do it again. Pretty soon that becomes a habit, a bad one, but a habit no less. And everything is fine, every day for 364 days until the firefighter you relieve leaves you with half a bottle. At 2:00 a.m. you are searching a house for a baby reported to be inside. You run low on air and have to abandon your search, the baby doesn’t make it. You have failed your most basic obligation. That scenario gets worse if you have problems inside, your partner has to try and help you, and something happens to him, because in almost every LODD, there is never one thing that causes the death. It is often a lot of little things that lead to the death.

The behavior described above is an example of the Normalization of Deviance. The video below is a great description of the catastrophic effect of this behavior. It is worth the watch if you haven’t seen it.

“The natural human tendency in pressure circumstances to take a safety shortcut.”

Mike Mullane

Just like the old quote “there are no atheists in foxholes,” there are no secrets in the firehouse. Do you “walk the walk”? Or are you one of those guys that sits in the recliner telling the rest of the shift how they should be doing something? When you look in the mirror do you see the firefighter you really are, or the one that you think you should be? Remember, it is important, because it affects the lives of the citizens you protect and the firefighters you work with. Its has never been, and will never be, just about you.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.

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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