It seems as though the fire service suffered its greatest "near miss" this week when a few felt they were intentionally attacked; not by terrorists or politicians, but by one of our own. Yup, I'm referring to perhaps the most prolific, energizing, and misunderstood keynote speeches in FDIC history. Furthermore, many are already referring to it as "the speech." Since many thought Ray was plotting to overthrow the Government, I even hear Obama the U.N. are drafting condemning resolutions...
Ray McCormack's speech seemed to have missed the mark with a few, yet hit it out of the park with most. More importantly, Ray's speech seemed to have unearthed a polarized, cultural dichotomy in the fire service I did not know was so prevalent. Perhaps I can blame it on naivety; I thought I had my finger on the pulse. Moreover, I am equally amazed at the sheer number of those who harbor contempt for Ray's speech as I am for its supporters. Shamefully however, I am among those who took a passive-aggressive cheap shot at Ray's naysayers. Shame on me...and shame on the rest of us 5%ers too who took cheap shots at either "side."
What's a 5%'er? Well, let me try and put it into a definitive perspective. I was discussing "the speech," the fallout and subsequent 're-booting' of the fire service with a few at my firehouse the other day. There was only one other person in the kitchen among the 7 or 8 people wandering around who even knew what I was talking about. Most in the room didn't so much as bat an eye as they went along participating in other conversations, chop-busting, and reading the paper. I was initially so shocked that no one even cared about such a polarizing speech that I subsequently had an epiphany....I am simply just one among the 5 %'ers: a firefighter in the fifth-percentile of the fire service that actually reads the magazines, blogs, websites, newsletters, etc.; and goes to the conferences.
To my surprise, no one in the room even gave a crap about who got ticked off by the speech; or that many took a respective stance on the issue; some even walked out to do their own thing out of apathy towards either side getting offended by a speech at a fire conference. "That's why I don't read or go to that buff s#*t," said one at the table (a detail from another company for the day, I guess I should really fill the vacancies in the company...).
I always knew that very few on my job read the magazines; thankfully we get enough work and experience to learn and pass on the trade; but I was nonetheless amazed that very few read the myriad blogs, fire news, etc. at everyone's fingertips (literally). In fact, I would venture to guess that only 1% even know who the real movers and shakers are in our biz. How naive of them I thought to myself; particularly when everyone has a computer and at least some interest in the job.
Rather...I guess I should sometimes envy rather than admonish those (the 95%ers) that decide to focus on more productive things than toxic arguments in chat-rooms, blogs, etc. They are just as good and important Firefighters as the rest of us reading this post. In reality, how much "damage" did Ray and Fire Engineering perceivably do the collective fire service? Conversely, how much damage are their naysayers going to do in kind? My guess is emphatically NONE! Honorably, I tried to make thehousewatch.com a critical thinking blog with a side of gratuitous controversy once in a while. I don't particularly like the rant sites, however, I guess sometimes I add to the toxicity and become part of the problem as well. I have those that buy my act and those that can't stand it. Regardless, my act has no significant impact on the fire service in terms of mission or policy. That's fine by me; blogs, websites and such are simply places of opinion and rhetoric; Nothing more. However, as an aside, I do like the comments on Ray's speech here though. They are blog posts in and of themselves and many have very rational points. Thanks to you all.
Now that the fire service dichotomy is out of the closet, where do we go from here? Do we continue to flog-blog and prosecute a person who exercised his first amendment rights and ideology while giving a keynote speech? Do we continue to turn this speech into a silly exploited tabloid smear campaign? Keynote speeches are SUPPOSED to be polarizing, entertaining and thought-provoking. People are acting like either side just shot the other's dog in front of their children for Pete's sake!
Look...I will be the first to admit I did and continue to take a biased stance on Ray's speech. Believe it or not, what I got out of Ray's speech was his frustration about an unwavering perspective on safety; that's it! Not that safety has no place in the fire service or is in fact a "consequence." Most importantly, I don't see how people could ever infer from the speech that Ray wants an unsafe fireground. I sure don't, and I would never accuse anyone of wanting one either. Safety comes from learning from those who influenced and mentored Ray, us and even the "95%'ers" who surely won't be reading this post or its comments.
It also comes from staying mission oriented and putting resources into what really saves lives on the fireground: staffing, training, water, and fortitude. Our job is dangerous and we can do a lot to make it safer. However, we should still go into hot and IDLH atmospheres on purpose to save lives. Nonetheless, some people are inferring that Ray "set back the fire service" and that's the rub with me ladies and gents. Ray was preaching a more pragmatic and historically competent way to achieve safety, put the fire out. To think that Ray, who has been a celebrated author and firefighter for over a quarter century is some kind of Komkisi is as crazy as it is unfair. If you have been following Ray's writing over the years, you would see his passionate commitment to safer operations and sound fireground tactics; all a result of experience and empirical application. To say otherwise is protectionism at its worst.
Digressing, that's what I got out of "the speech," and I guess I really don't give a crap about what others got out of it; and neither should any of you. I know first hand how self-destructive it can be to concern myself with who is siding with whom; and or to worry about what others are going to be doing about it. Thanks for the wake-up call naysayers. Let's go our own ways and get back to being firefighters rather than ideological hitmen. I hope to never become part of the problem again. In fact, I hope to be part of the solution very soon...a refreshing change is definitely coming...
I was glad to be there in the front row; to watch a good man get a standing ovation and even swarmed afterwards by those who were positively impacted and actually got the message. Of course there were those who refused to clap and made sure people saw their melodramatic disgust. Regardless, Ray is a mentor to us all and has graced the trade magazine and conference circuit for many years. Why crap on a guy for saying what many are thinking. In fact, why even crap on someone who says something you'd rather not think about? What if it were you at the podium?