Editor’s Opinion: Keep an Open Mind and Don’t End the Discussion

 Chris Mc

I recently attended a training session where a nontraditional style helmet was available to participants to try.
Chris McLoone

Two tried it on, but these two weren’t actively involved in the live burn session as firefighters. One was standing by in case the sprinkler system had to be activated, and the other was assisting the pump operator in training. A third firefighter, one of the officers and the acting “stoker” for the evening, wore it during the first burn evolution. When he came outside, he said it wasn’t bad. He had the same concern others have voiced with this style helmet and that is that he did feel there was a difference in what he could hear. But, he didn’t indicate wanting to switch. In fact, he wore his own helmet during the following burn. No one else wanted to give it a go. I found this a little odd since this was a one-company training evolution. It wasn’t like anyone who wore it would be teased for it by other fire companies or anything like that. There was just a genuine lack of desire to try it.

I’m not going to make this about the viability of different style helmets. The type of helmet you choose is a personal one or one that the department chooses for you. But looking ahead to 2020, it seemed appropriate to share the story.

Bill Adams and Ricky Riley share what they’d like to see in fire apparatus rolling off the lines in 2020 in this month’s “FA Viewpoints,” and we spoke with industry consultants about what they’d like to see fire departments do when spec’ing their rigs in 2020 as well as what they think will happen in 2020 regarding fire apparatus in our annual outlook article. So, I’m not going to go into those two topics. However, with the above story in mind, what I’d like to see us all in the fire service do in 2020 is keep an open mind.

There are lightning rods in the fire service—the nontraditional style helmet being one of them. Another recent one is the notion of a “clean cab.” I’ve written about it a number of times here, and I’m not going to rehash previous points. But, what I’d like to see less of in 2020 is the knee jerk reactions we often see. “Nontraditional style? It doesn’t look the same. I won’t wear it.” “Clean cab? There is no way I’m taking the SCBA out of the cab.” It’s as if I’m hearing my dad when he used to say, “Period. End of discussion,” when he was finished debating with me over whatever it was I was concerned about at the time—probably something to do with taking the car somewhere after piling friends inside.

If we look at technology in the fire service, early adopters of any type of technology will tell you that first iterations are a far cry from where we are today. Electronic valves are a good example. Their reliability today is far better than it was when first introduced. In many cases, early concerns with a technology are eradicated as it becomes more mature. I think we are seeing that with multiplexed systems. As the fire service gains a better understanding of the technology, and as the technology improves, complaints are less frequent as reliability increases. But, if we end the discussion, things aren’t going to go anywhere.

I don’t think there is a manufacturer in business that doesn’t take the concerns of its customers seriously and works to fix whatever it is that’s wrong with what it is building. Using the helmet example, do you really think providers of these helmets aren’t working to improve how well wearers can hear with them on?

For 2020, keep an open mind and don’t end the discussion. Things can only move forward and improve if we keep talking about them—the good and the bad. It’s how it has always worked in the fire service. We don’t improve without some trial and error and healthy discussion along the way.

I wonder what 2020’s lighting rod will be. No doubt, we’ll keep hearing about how one innovation won’t work in one section of the country while this other one doesn’t work somewhere else. I’m looking forward to the discussions. Are you?

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