Uber is a transportation network company that promotes ride sharing in the taxi industry that enables individuals to “hail” a vehicle utilizing their Smartphone. This technology, in the form of the app, came about in June of 2010. Since this time, competition in this industry has led to falling prices and costs for traditional cab rides and fares as well as decreasing the overall demand from these traditional cabs. This type of changing technology impacts the service, market, and customers to provide a similar outcome that may be obtained faster, cheaper, and maybe more convenient.
The fire service faces these same types of technologies and innovations that will impact our profession, but are we willing to embrace these and give them a try? We have all heard this saying throughout our careers, “100 years of tradition unimpeded by progress”. Does this stymie some of our thinking? Is this embraced as to limit our innovation and creativity in our profession?
I have had incredible opportunities over my career to be coached and mentored by some extremely talented and intelligent professionals across the country helping to provide that understanding and guidance on the importance of past history. More importantly, understanding the challenges and sacrifices the men and women made before us in order to provide the resources and options we have today. As Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it”.
That being said, be different. Try different innovations, be creative, and don’t be afraid to fail. There are so many talented firefighters across the country with great ideas. As leaders in the fire service, we need to provide them the platform and forums to experiment. Our profession is going to be continually challenged by external stakeholders and organizations to continually justify and rationalize our actions. Don’t let them dictate the course of action, let that be driven internally by our personnel.
A recruit training program I am involved with recently had the opportunity to try a different technique when recruit firefighters are taught the aerial climb. During this training program, each student must complete the aerial climb twice. The first climb is seventy-five feet at a 65-70 degree angle wearing full PPE and the second climb is one-hundred feet at 65-70 degree angle wearing full PPE.
When evaluating the safety of this evolution and the actual techniques to complete the requirement, it was decided that all students would complete this skill while wearing a class II harness tied off on a belay system. It was different. It was against the norm. But given the increase in safety during this controlled environment, the limited exposure many of the recruits had on climbing ground ladders and aerial ladders, and given it did not change the way the technique of climbing the aerial was completed, it was implemented into the program.
It received mixed reviews from both students and staff and we continued to educate and talk with individuals about the rationale for this procedure. Today, it has become a more accepted practice for our program and other programs around the region. As I have told many people, “learn from my mistakes because there have been many”. This was one area the program was willing to take the risk and be different in an effort to minimize the potential from any mistakes being made during this training evolution and not have a tragic outcome as outlined in the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Report-F2012-01 that was released on June 20, 2012.
This is just one example, but as a profession, we need to be more accepting and open to some different thoughts and ideas as to how we conduct all operational and administrative procedures. Whether it’s new methods on transitional fire attack, the way we develop vehicle specifications, deploy personnel and apparatus, or conduct training, don’t be afraid to try and experiment with new methods. They may or may not work. If they don’t work, re-evaluate and move forward. We certainly have the talent in our profession to excel at all of this and not become captive to a reactionary measure from another source.
What is the next “Uber” for the fire service? Don’t let change be thrust upon us by outside factors, let it be driven by us and our personnel. Be respectful of what we’ve learned in the past, but don’t be afraid to be different………. and keep the fire service strong for the future generations.
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Christopher W. Norris has been a member of the Westhampton Fire Department since April 1994. He has served in numerous capacities in the organization up until his appointment to Fire Chief in January 2007. Chief Norris has a Master’s Degree in Fire Science and Administration from Anna Maria College, a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Westfield State University and is currently completing his Doctorate Degree in Public Policy and Administration. Chief Norris has completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program through the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program and is a member of the EFO Section representing the New England Division on the Board of Directors.
Chief Norris can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org