The Ultimate Insult!
Okay, it was a funny moment in the movie Backdraft. The scene when Brian McCaffrey, aka Baby McCaffrey, and his probie buddy from the fire academy, Tim, are in the firehouse kitchen serving lunch and you see the sign up on the wall with the statement, â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded by Progress.â€ Yes, it got a good laugh, and still does. And there is no argument that a lot of firefighters deep down inside really do like the movie. They may not say it out loud or admit it, but they do. Heck, my wife was even in Backdraft. For real! Come on, how can you be a firefighter and not like a good firefighter movie. By the way, not to make some of you feel old, but â€œBaby McCaffreyâ€ in real life would have like 23, 24 years on the job right now. Just saying.
I remember going to see the movie with my wife Jami and walking out of the theater with her crying and seeing my Fire Chief Bob Rubel sitting in the theater with tears in his eyes. The ending was dramatic and sad, the loss of a firefighter, and I know you stood up and cheered when they served the papers to that corrupt Alderman Marty Swayzak. The movie was special for me not just because my wife was an extra in it, but because one of the â€œrealâ€ Backdraft brothers, Ray Hoff, was my good friend and the best man at our wedding. Ray retired from Chicago as a Battalion Chief and continued to make a difference by teaching and training firefighters until his untimely passing. And he’s still making a difference today!
Reality vs. Hollywood
The movie was great and all and had some great lines, but the more I progressed through my career and the more I understood what we really do and why we do it, I came to not like that line anymore–â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress.â€ I actually became offended by it. Maybe more of us should.
I realized a long time ago just how special firefighters were and, just as important, how smart they were. Yes, I’ve had to guard against being too impartial, but I’m not apologizing to anyone. The fact of the matter is they ARE smart, they DO care, and they ARE progressive! â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress.â€ Really??
The Chicago Fire Department is loaded with great firefighters and have a very good reputation. They’re not perfect and will be the first to tell you they’re not. But they’re great at what they do and have some pretty smart and progressive people working there. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to teach with, hang with, and ride out with some of the best in the CFD. As funny as that line in Backdraft was, it couldn’t be further from the truth. All those years I never heard any of them say â€œDig in ____ damnit!â€ or â€œYou go, we go!â€ or â€œI was up there doing it!â€ What I do remember was having the opportunity to learn from some of the best, and I know I’m a better firefighter because of them.
Let’s just talk about that line for a minute and take a look at what we do. Now, let me preface all of this by saying yes, we have some that are resistant to change and no, we are not perfect. No one person and no one occupation is. But don’t confuse being a wee bit resistive to change to â€œyou’re going to have to prove it to meâ€ because we’ve had people sell us a bunch of crap before because it was hot and sexy at the time, shiny, or had a blinking light on it. Firefighters are some of the most progressive people I know. So as for â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress,â€ just take a look at the list below, keeping in mind it is a short list.
Look at the typical fire engine or ladder truck of today. The technology and the design and specifications that went into them are incredible compared to the â€œold days.â€ Weâ€™ve come a long way from horses, buckets of water, and open cab rigs. â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress.â€ Really??
Our protective clothing and SCBAs are nothing like they were way back then. No more rubber coats and gloves; we have better helmets; and weâ€™re not pumping air into a smoke hood from a set of bellows outside or strapping a canister mask to our face. â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress.â€ Try again!
Emergency Medical Services is nothing like it was in the â€œold daysâ€ and the ambulances and equipment we use today are a medical technology phenomenon. Just look at what a paramedic in today’s world has to go through in school and with their continuing education. â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress.â€ Come on!
Look at vehicle extrication–better yet look at all of our specialized rescue areas. How can you not acknowledge the level of professionalism, expertise and intelligence of the firefighter of today?
And how about everything we do with public education and in fire prevention? Look at what weâ€™re doing with our community risk reduction and outreach programs. Are we perfect? No!! No one is! But we’ve come a long, long, way.
Communications, including portable and mobile radios, fire station alerting systems and our dispatch centers and the people who work in them. â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress.â€ Really??
Thermal imagers, our tools, our training facilities, preplanning and training software, self-rescue devices, P.A.S.S. devices, fitness and wellness programs, and the list goes on and on and on.
Firefighters have more opportunities for outside training, certifications, and new methods from universities now that help them earn that college degree that they never thought they’d be able to obtain.
â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progress.â€ I don’t think so.
Tradition vs Tradition
Often today we here people within the fire service–or from those hanging onto to it from the outside–that firefighters are NOT progressive and that pride and tradition are bad things. But you see, I like the traditions within the fire service. Not those of doing dumb things and getting firefighters hurt and killed, but those that celebrate our heritage and those that recognize the special people that do what we do.
I love the ceremonies that celebrate just how special the fire service is. Those pipes, drums and honor guards, and the way we acknowledge those who have committed to a life of honor and service. I love that tradition.
And when we talk about pride, I’m not talking about the pride associated with arrogance. I’m talking about the pride associated with ownership. That whole this is my engine, my ambulance, my firehouse, that’s my captain, this is my department, my crew thing. To be honest, I think that’s kind of cool! Pride and Ownership!
The Ultimate Insult
So here we are today and I have come to the point where I think â€œ150 Years of Tradition Unimpeded By Progressâ€ is the ultimate insult to not just a firefighter but to the entire fire service. Firefighters are proactive. We wouldn’t be where we are today if we weren’t. But to call a firefighter names, say weâ€™re going backwards, refer to some as â€œthinking firefightersâ€–when what youâ€™re really saying is that if you don’t agree with us (on whatever it is) you’re not a thinking firefighter. Well, not only do I think that’s wrong, but it lacks professionalism and is a wee bit childish. Those that call themselves a brother or sister in the fire service and remember where they came from would never allow that to happen. Hey, we argue and have our spats and our food fights, and, yes, at times we want you to prove something to us before we change again. As we said before, we are not perfect, but we are a family!
In closing, keep your eyes (and your mind) open. Stay fresh. Pay attention to anything new coming out. Train every chance you can and read something about this job every day. Volunteer or career, being a firefighter is one of the most incredible things you can do in life. That whole â€œService Above Selfâ€ thing is pretty special.
â€œThe funny thing about firemen isâ€¦ Night and day they are always firemen .â€ I like that line from Backdraft.
Be safe and let me know what you think.
If you’d like to have Chief Lasky out for a presentation please contact him at www.PrideAndOwnership.com