Out of My Mind—Data, Gallows Humor, Funding Sources

By Richard Marinucci

One would think intuitively that organizations that demonstrate concern for the wellbeing of their employees—and the employees know this to be the case—would have fewer injuries and health issues. That is proving to be the case in a scientific study conducted by the folks (led by Dr. Jenn Taylor) at Drexel University, who received an AFG Grant in partnership with the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). The study is showing that fire departments with a higher score on their assessment will see a reduction in injuries. It is about the safety climate that is established in the organization, which is assessed by both firefighters and management. The work uses science to prove that fire departments who truly promote safety through their culture (which is measured with the safety climate survey) will benefit with healthier firefighters and, in return, less cost from injuries.

The point of this is that now there is scientific confirmation based on the data provided. Across the fire service there are more studies that provide great information that can support the mission of the fire department. Having evidence that can convince both policymakers and firefighters is a good tool to have in the tool box. While anecdotal evidence and professional expertise are good things to have, adding another perspective provided by science can only help in the argument. It is challenging to keep up on all the information being released today but it is becoming more important to do so. The benefits are worth the effort.

A long time ago when I was doing clinical time in the emergency room (ER) as part of my medical training I noticed a great deal of what was known as “gallows humor” being used by almost everyone in the ER. Looking back, I don’t know how much would be considered acceptable conversation in today’s world. There was no concern for being politically correct or worrying about offending any others on the staff. Of course only rarely did anything slip out to the general public as everyone was very conscious of their surroundings as to not offend anyone not on the “inner circle’’ who would not “get it.” Unfortunately, today there is the risk of offending someone or worse yet, someone recording the conversation and posting it on social media. In some ways, I think it is too bad as I think those who engaged in the “gallows humor” were able to release the tragedies that they saw regularly and did not let them build up. I am no psychologist, but maybe this is just one coping mechanism that works for some people.

Ask almost any child how the garbage gets picked up, roads get built and repaired, grass gets cut, and all the other services that they take for granted, and they will probably tell you it just happens. They don’t get that tax dollars are needed, and people are hired to take care of this work. Of course, this also applies to fire and police along with any other service they use, which is provided where you live. Thinking along the same lines I would bet that the vast majority of firefighters don’t know how things get done in your department unless they work in the administration. They don’t understand how an overhead door gets fixed after someone crashes into it while leaving the station. They just submit a repair request, and eventually it gets done. They don’t know the procurement process nor where the funding comes from. Most certainly they don’t know the cost.

The point here is that maybe more effort should be made to share this information so that there is more appreciation for the expenses and efforts that are made. Maybe if members knew the utility costs, they might be more inclined to close the doors, shut the lights, etc. This would be especially true if they understood the budget ramifications that prevent money from being spent on other items. It might be a good idea to try to educate department members so they can appreciate not only the cost of items and services but the effort it can take to get jobs done. I remember many times when members would ask why something that seemed so simple took so long. We didn’t always have time to explain the number of phone calls required, compliance with local purchasing policies, and working within an approved municipal budget. The firefighters, in turn, would just complain about how nothing ever seemed to get accomplished while they were diligently doing their job!!! A suggestion is to have every new employee shadow the administration for a period of time, so they appreciate more the behind the scenes work required to keep an organization functional.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). 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 and Fire Engineering 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.

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