Out of My Mind—Taking Risks

By Richard Marinucci

As summer winds down in Michigan, and fall begins, there are fewer opportunities to enjoy the warmer weather. One thing I enjoy is taking the ragtop out and driving around. I find myself, at times, exceeding the speed limit (please don’t tell law enforcement). I don’t do it as much as I did in my younger days but I still like the excitement of going fast. I am not sure it is a great risk, but certainly there is a chance for a ticket or even worse an accident. Yet, I am willing to do it for the “cheap” thrill. While out doing this recently, I noticed that many motorcycle riders were also taking advantage of the nice weather. Many were not wearing a helmet, as is legal in Michigan. But, statistically the use of a helmet will reduce the risk of serious injury should a crash occur. I am guessing that many firefighters who ride do so without a helmet even though they know the risks. The point of this is that there is something in the make-up of firefighters that promotes risk taking. This is one of the challenges of improving the health and safety in this occupation.

Those who sign up for the job are more apt to take a chance. This is a good thing in many cases but can create unnecessary actions. Sometimes maybe firefighters do things not because they want to flout the rules but because they are natural risk takers and don’t always consider the consequences. This creates a challenge for fire service leadership who are trying to prevent preventable accidents. Due diligence is needed every day on every call and must be done in a way that doesn’t hamper operations and firefighters’ natural instincts that contribute to their success.

There is another way to look at this. While I may have had some lapses in judgement regarding safety during my career, I was way more conscious of safety on the job than I am doing work and chores around the house. Whether working on a ladder, operating a power tool, or using a grinder, I am fairly certain that I am not following standard operating guidelines as closely as I should when at home. Again, not to be critical, but how many firefighters would agree with this? In the overall scope of things, do we regularly and routinely operate within safe principles when all alone and no one is watching? I admit I don’t, though I am getting better as I age and think more about what I am doing. The carryover to work must not occur, and the officers and people in charge must work toward improving safety constantly to reduce unnecessary injuries. It is not easy because the workforce has established its own habits, and there is no intentional effort to get harmed. Understanding that some actions are just part of the human makeup can assist in developing steps to correct behaviors that need to be corrected. Supervision helps as do reminders. I don’t always get that at home but should always have a superior or peer to keep me on track.

As the hurricane in the Carolinas causes unprecedented damage, I am in awe of the commitment that members of the fire service continue to show in offering assistance. Teams have traveled from many states to work in less than ideal conditions to make a difference for those who need help. This is when the fire service shines and shows everyone what its core values are. My hat is off to those who volunteer for the extra work. It is more than just going to the disaster zone. They train for years to be prepared, not knowing if they will ever be activated. That is tremendous dedication, and the chiefs who support the programs should also be commended.

On the flip side are chiefs who don’t think participation is necessary because they probably won’t have an event. This is so shortsighted. I have heard of chiefs, mostly newly appointed, who have taken members from regional response teams to save money. Their logic is that they don’t get a return on investment. In these communities, it doesn’t appear to be a financial decision, though this is the reason. The fire service has a long tradition of helping others, and those who have the resources are in the best position to help. In addition, participation on regional teams is good for the individuals on the team for training and motivation to perform at a higher level. They also bring back those learned skills to their departments. Fortunately, there are not too many of these myopic leaders, so there are people to send when help is requested.

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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