By Richard Marinucci
I realize that in this big world that we live in that we will not always agree on everything, and it is good to have varying viewpoints. Debate is good and healthy, and we should respect the opinions of others. But some things I just don’t get.
Recently I saw a news report about a fire department that did not respond to a call because the homeowner was not part of the subscription service—essentially he did not pay for it. Some people criticized the fire department and fire chief for making the decision, stating that fire departments should respond in the spirit of the fire service regardless of whether or not the person paid. I cannot figure out why some would take this position. I wish those folks were my insurance agent or tax collector. I wouldn’t pay my bills until I had a need for the service. Then I would only pay for the one year I owe to retroactively receive the service. Some of you might think that is ridiculous and not agree with my correlation to other industries. But, I happen to believe that those living in society need to support that society. If, as in this case they choose not to, hoping nothing will happen to them, then good luck and don’t call me.
Staffing and training are essential to quality service and firefighter safety. I certainly realize that some communities will not or are not able to adequately fund their fire departments, and the result is that there will not be enough firefighters to complete certain tasks. If this is the case, then fire departments and firefighters should only do what they are staffed to do. They should stop trying to perform functions when the resources don’t match the task to be done. It is sort of like the old saying about bringing a knife to a gun fight. There is too much risk to the firefighters, and organizations should be realistic about their capabilities based on the resources provided by the community they are protecting. I know the political realities and firefighters’ nature to continue to do whatever they can. I just ask that you stop and evaluate from time to time.
The second essential component to quality service is training. The time to learn is not during the emergency. Preparation must happen ahead of time. The training must also match an organization’s resources, including people, apparatus, and equipment. If there is no time to train, then accept that and only operate within you capabilities. I think this is common sense and also part of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards (don’t assign a task that the employee has not been trained to do), but there are times when operations occur that shouldn’t.
Tact and Dipolomacy
My last topic for this column is tact and diplomacy. Tact is dealing with people without offending them. Diplomacy is handling affairs without raising antagonism or hostility. This is becoming a quandary for me. Every year, I learn more and more about how important both of these are. Yet as I get older, I become less tolerant and am concerned that my filter is not going to work one of these days. There are many people in the fire service who are extremely passionate about their profession. Some of us refer to telling it like it is. That may be true. But we must remember that tact and diplomacy are critical to success in the political arena.
Regarding this, I was recently speaking to another fire service professional about this issue. We got into a very good discussion from which we both benefited. One thing we mentioned is that we both knew people who could get their point across without acrimony. We agreed that it is a good trait to have, and some people are more talented in this area than others. And, we also agreed that many in the fire service could use a refresher and improve in this area. It would lead to more support for fire service programs, avoid misunderstandings, and generally improve the overall operations.
Occasionally we need a reminder and other times we need something more direct. Perhaps we could use a little more tact and diplomacy for the overall good of the fire service. It will probably help in and out of the fire station.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.
By Richard Marinucci