Friday, January 14, 2011

More Reportable Shortcomings, and other unrelated topics

Reports are like the moon: they reflect energy that is expended elsewhere. Reports don't paint a complete picture of reality, but they at least provide a measure of enlightenment to the poor souls in government who are stuck in the lunar dimness of bureaucracy.

What the heck was that all about? What I meant to say, was that reports have their place. The watchdogs that monitor us are so busy reading and writing their own reports that they have little idea what actually happens out here in the far-flung peripheral edge of the universe. So they settle for a paper mirror that reflects reality. Fair enough.

[Side note: It might be simpler just to hang surveillance cameras around our necks so we can be monitored in true Big Brotherly style. Not a perfect solution, but it would save a few million trees each year.]

Reports also provide a record for those that will follow in our footsteps. When I was hired nearly 15 years ago, accurate historical training data was as scarce as common sense on Parliament Hill. Individual personnel files didn't exist. The outgoing chief laughed when I asked if I could see a roster. Not a good omen. One bureaucratic glance at our malnourished file cabinet implied that little had been done in the past eight or nine years. While I knew that wasn't true, I also knew the four laws of reporting (see previous post). My first job was to lasso the information dragon, wrestle him to the ground, and hog tie him with an accurate reporting system.

Fifteen years later, I wonder who has hog tied who.

It's no coincidence that volunteer departments in this area can rarely hang onto a chief longer than five years. I would have been gone long ago if the only pay was an occasional pat on the back.

It's also no coincidence that reporting deficiencies make the bureaucratic watchdogs howl like wolves. A few months ago they mailed me a snarly letter stating that my SCBA fit testing stats were unacceptable. I had 18 firefighters, the letter said, and only 9 of them were fit tested. Hmmm. Not good. Except that 5 of those firefighters were no longer on the department. Of the 13 that were left, one was a non-SCBA wearing scribe who didn't need a fit test because she only operated a pen. One was a new recruit that didn't have a pager. I still had a meager 9 fit tested firefighters . . . but only 2 non-fit tested renegades.

The strange thing about this story is that the above explanation made everything okay. It didn't make my firefighting reality any better, but it satisfied the moon-watching report readers. All I had to do was rearrange the dismal facts in a different format.

On a different topic, you can read my January column here. If you have a good high speed connection and want to see the fancy online magazine version, click here and scroll to page 54.

On yet another unrelated tangent, I received a request from Matthew Phillips to write a guest post on my blog. I'm skittish about spammers, and while he didn't sound like one, I'm naive and might not know a spammer from a spelunker.

(Come to think of it, what do spammers sound like, anyway? Do they announce themselves as they barge into your personal blogger space? "Hello. I'm a spammer, and I'm here to choke the life out of your miserable excuse for cyber literature.")

Uneducated though I am, he didn't sound like the type, so I sent an email asking if I could see some of his work. He didn't reply. I did a Google search. There are millions of people named Matthew Phillips. Maybe he was a spammer, hiding under an innocent sounding pseudonym. Maybe I had blown his cover. Should I be on the lookout for a cyber terrorist attack?

A couple days ago, an informative piece on the dangers of asbestos appeared on Hydrantgirl's blog. It was a guest post from . . . . Matthew Phillips. You can read the post here.

I think it's time to hang up my Sherlock Holmes Internet Detective hat.

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