I have just completed a week at the FDSOA Apparatus Symposium and Safety Forum. I currently serve as the executive director of the FDSOA, and my responsibilities kept me busy. But, I was able to make some observations while wandering around and talking to the attendees, presenters, and vendors. Probably the most impressive thing to me is the fact that there are some tremendously dedicated folks in this profession that go far beyond the basic job responsibilities to make this industry better. The willingness of many to give back and work tirelessly year in and year out is amazing. There are some newcomers, but there are many veterans who return year in and year out because of the passion they have for the fire service. Fortunately for the rest of us they continue to share their knowledge. I wish I could mention them all but I am sure I would miss someone so I don’t want to offend anyone. Suffice to say though, that you can identify those who long ago could have rode off into the sunset and enjoyed their retirement knowing they left a good legacy. If you’re fortunate to run into one of these folks, please thank them for their contributions. They are easy to identify. They are active participants and usually beginning to show their age (no disrespect intended here.)
Looking at the conference as a whole, I wonder why more people are not in attendance. This is not to say that there wasn’t a good crowd. There were more people than the previous year, and both events are growing. The question is more from a philosophical viewpoint. There is no doubt that those attending the Apparatus Symposium could find something that will help save money, extend apparatus life expectancy, and improve reliability. It would not be hard to get an idea that would easily save more money than the trip would cost. So, it can’t be about the money. There are issues politically that prevent participation. In my recent organization, there was a policy that banned out of state travel to conferences. In my view, it was arbitrary, and the boss was unwilling to make the case regarding the benefits. That was unfortunate. On the plus side, I was able to participate in many events without their support. But, others in my organization were not able to see the benefits of continued professional development. They miss out on the motivational stories of so many professional fire service people. It is short-sighted. For one to truly excel, he needs to work on continual learning and improvement. Exposure to nationally (and even internationally) recognized experts is something that everyone should have the opportunity to experience.
Another aspect of the past week to consider is the increased complexity of the fire service. Clearly the apparatus and the components are getting more sophisticated and technical. A backyard mechanic is not likely to be able to pull out his tool box and get right to work figuring out a problem. Those who are good at working on apparatus are truly talented and must continually study. Whatever one’s responsibility regarding apparatus, whether spec writing, fleet management, repair, preventive maintenance, or anything else, the industry is continually advancing and improving. Those who fail to remain as current as possible are not doing their communities or departments any favors. It sometimes appears that if you even blink, you can miss something. Watching those who are so deeply engaged reinforces the need to stay engaged.
This also applies to the Safety Forum. So much is being learned every day. Science and research is now providing information previously not available or understood. There are new things to think about every day. We all know that the job is dangerous. But, science and research is helping us understand additional dangers such as the risk of cancer. There are also considerations for mental health. As I get older, I have more of a chance to reflect on the past. There are things I would have done differently had I known about some to the risks. This is not to say that risks are not needed, but some are foolish and unnecessary. But at a younger age, you don’t always think about it. As people advance in the service, they need to demonstrate leadership and work with the next generation to continue to improve and not make the same mistakes.
Whether it is the FDSOA events or other conferences, workshops, seminars, or programs, fire service professionals must participate. Review your job responsibilities and make efforts to attend something to enhance your professional development and improve your performance. The citizens who you protect deserve the very best. They don’t get a choice as to who will respond. If it happens to be you, make sure you have done all you can to be as prepared as possible.
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.