Sunday, September 25, 2011

Common Sense

I read a great article recently by Jerry Knapp in Size Up (Issue 2, 2011) He is emphatic in his interest in firefighter safety, but argues quite persuasively--at least to me--that perhaps we have moved away from common sense, personal responsibility, and managing our people instead of expecting technology to do it.

He begins with a discussion of a New York state law requiring fire departments to purchase bail out bags for their firefighters if they handle buildings over one story (and who doesn't) high. This gets to the root of a politically incorrect opinion I have held for years; namely that many of the firefighter survivial classes are incorrectly focused primarily on techniques instead of something more important--situational awareness and size-up. Let's teach how to avoid getting into trouble in the first place rather than simply how to get out of it. As one who has done the head first ladder slide for real, I can tell you that if you have to do it to stay alive, it comes real natural.

Knapp's seat belt discussion is a good one as well. I full agree that seat belts make things safer. However, instead of coming up with workable user friendly designs, the apparatus instead now has bells, buzzers, and interlocks to make us use them. This raises a few issues. Not forcing the manufacturers to come up with something practical, they add costs (and profit) to pieces by the addition of bells and whistles. It also challenges some of our bright young firefighters to come up with ways to by-pass said safeguards; a lose-lose situation. Lastly it shows our difficulties in managing our own people and culture. As Jerry points out, if the Lieutenant in the seat turned around and made sure everyone was buckled in before the wheels turned, would we need a computer to tell us the rig shouldn't move? Will this change? Definitely, but it will take some time. An analogy would be the path taken to mandatory SCBA usage and the equipment we have today versus thirty years ago. I suspect some of our more "seasoned folks will nod their head at their memories of this.

While there is nothing more important than safety, common sense needs to come along for the ride.

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