Tuesday, November 8, 2011


A person in pursuit of money or power or fame doesn't select firefighting as a career path. At least not for very long. Plenty of other professions serve those ends without causing one to be awakened at 2:00 AM to muck around in turnout gear. Firefighters may want money, power, and fame, but our chief motivator (at least in the beginning) is a desire to help others.

It's this altruistic side of the firefighter that views red tape and liability as nuisances that impede the pursuit of our calling. We are solution driven people. Our goal is to get to the scene, fix the problem, and get home. When someone tells us we can't do this or that because of policy, or because it's litigiously risky, it drives us nuts. That is, at least until we become fire chiefs. Then the world starts to take on a different colour.

As a small department chief that pulls his fair share of hose, my firefighter perspective is alive and well, but I also see the legal hazards that hang like a guillotine blade over our heads. In May of this year I wrote a post about these sometimes conflicting viewpoints of pragmatism and prudence. Here is an excerpt:

I've been a fire chief for just over fifteen years now, and I believe I am finally beginning to think like one . . . or at least I'm developing a dual personality of sorts. The practical, caring, Firefighter Jekyll in me is sometimes challenged by the cautious, liability-minded Chief Hyde. We arrived at the scene of a grass fire last week to find a young man walking his dog within a few feet of a very obviously live hydro line. The firefighter side of me said, "He's an idiot, but I'm glad he didn't get fricasseed." The chief side of me said, "Get that idiot out of there before he gets fricasseed and someone says it's my fault." 

You can read the rest of the post here.

It turns out that Chief Hyde wasn't too far off the mark. A New Jersey fire department was found to be 60% responsible for injuries suffered when a man stepped on a downed hydro line in his home driveway . . . which means they are responsible for 60% of 20 million dollars. You can read the story here.

Even without knowing all the details, the New Jersey story is different from my story, but we did both leave downed hydro lines unattended. In my case, I faced liability issues whether I stayed or left. The incident was about 10 km outside of Upsala, which was close enough to be considered our back yard if it caught the bush on fire, but far enough that I would be in serious trouble if something burned at home while I was away with our only pumper. But such are the issues we face out here in the boonies.

On a similar topic, and in keeping with my love of analogies, I compared the volunteer service to a panda bear in a post last month that was reposted on the Fire Within blog. If you haven't read it yet click here.

The bottom line: right and wrong choices are not always as clear as day and night. Sometimes they are a foggy, dusky gray colour that only turn black or white after we've made an irreversible decision.

Firefighters might not be in hot pursuit of money, power, and fame, but there are plenty of folks out there that are . . . and you can be sure they've got their microscopes and scalpels ready to dissect our motives and actions when the opportunity arises.

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