After 14 years in public safety I have come to realize one thing: I still have a lot to learn. When I was approached about being a contributor to FIREGROUND360° I couldn't help being excited about the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences. It is a chance for me to lead a discussion on topics of the day as seen from the back of my ambulance and engine.
Change is in the air for public safety; and I, for one, am excited about it. Educational and training standards are on the rise, creating a more highly skilled first responder workforce than ever before. Technology is becoming an integral part of the job; it is driving changes in patient care, firefighter safety, and how we approach even the simplest of runs. Social media and the internet spread both information and misinformation faster and farther than ever before. First responders are under more scrutiny due to that very same technology. Increasingly complicated personal lives make it harder for both volunteers and professionals alike to satisfy the demands of the job.
When you boil it down, this is a job centered around customer service. Today’s public demands more from the products and services they consume. They expect constant improvement, competence, and professionalism. Those same demands are placed on public safety. Most consumers don't understand one of the undeniable truths of the business: sometimes we're just winging it.
I recognize many of my colleagues may not like to hear that, and the public probably doesn't want to either, but it’s true. As public safety professionals, we constantly train for as many different scenarios as we can think of, hoping we will be able to apply what we learn in training to real-life situations in the field. We are regularly thrown into scenarios which don't quite match the ones we trained for. When this happens, we are forced to fall back on training, education, experience, and our wits to come up with the right answers. Unfortunately, we are under constant pressure from a hundred different directions, and I've come to realize we will never satisfy them all.
Sometimes our patients will not be pleased with a decision we might have to make on their behalf. Homeowners might be angry when we cut a lock or poke holes in their walls. Other times management would rather we pretend an ongoing problem doesn't exist. The public may feel the fire service imposes too many safety regulations for problems which “will never happen here.” Yet, no matter who’s turn it is for us to please (or displease), we must always strive to do the right thing.
So, what is the right thing? Even within our own ranks there can be differing opinions of what the right answer is. I once had an economics professor, whose very first statement to the class was that the answer to every question from here on out is, “It depends.” He wasn't kidding. The answer to every question for the entire semester was “it depends”! It was one of the best classes I ever took, however, many in the class struggled with the notion. I like to think most people in public safety do understand and accept the concept.
This forum is an opportunity to talk about the current issues and events having an impact on public safety. I chose the title “Delayed Response” because I intend to let topics cool down a little before diving in. Hopefully, it will be a place where facts, opinions, and a little humor can come together to create useful and productive conversations. I’m looking for input in making this happen, so feel free to comment. Send me an email with suggestions for topics or arguments contradicting the point of view I'm trying to sell. Just don’t let me sit here talking to myself.
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Tom Valle earned his EMT certification in 2000. After graduating from UMass, Amherst in 2001, Tom worked private ambulance in both Springfield and Greenfield, MA while earning his paramedic certification from Greenfield Community College. He continues to work as a professional firefighter/paramedic in western Massachusetts and serves as the secretary for union’s Local. Tom is continuing his education by working towards a Bachelor’s in Fire Science through Columbia Southern University.
Tom can be reached directly at