Sunday, March 10, 2013

Traditionalists Take Note

There are a lot of good things one can say about being considered a traditionalist.  Stability, solid values, and steadiness are among them.  Not all the traits ascribed to this term, however, are considered positive.   Skeptics, intellectuals, and those who think outside the box, are commonly at odds with traditionalists.  The challenge is to combine the best of these worlds. 

In the current environment when many of our communities have decided that they can and will pay only X amount for fire protection; we can do one of two things.  We can take the traditional route and rationalize that our citizens don’t care or understand our needs (it’s all about us, right?) and complain that we can’t provide adequate service and will be endangering firefighter and civilian lives.  Or, we can understand the fiscal realities and explore alternatives in delivery of service, methodologies, staffing, multi-community alliances, on down to tactical changes.  Thinking outside the conventional system to allow us to provide the best and safest services possible within the inherent financial limits imposed by our citizens may result in some positive surprises. 
We need to be open to some “unpleasant” and mind challenging alternatives.  One area is the research and testing completed and still to be conducted on the many hard fast rules of strategic and tactical operations (attack modes, ventilation priorities and methods, etc.) may upset many traditionalists.  We learned these methods through historic experience and development and “know” the correctness of them.  Examining the validity of these “known” truths using scientific and engineering principles won’t change anything; after all, we’ve been successful for years this way.  Some folks may not like these results. 
Care in evaluating the validity of the test protocols and methodology used is vitally important.  After all, a test can be designed to prove almost anything.  But when care is taken to design testing to be as free of bias as possible, we need to give attention to the results, even if they were not what we expected (or hoped) to see. 
Reading a great book about the culture of U.S. Army leadership since World War II (The Generals by Thomas Ricks) got me thinking about much of this, especially after coming across a great quote.  Colonel Paul Yingling, who unfortunately retired after battles with Army traditionalists, noted that “Intellectuals are most valued when the dominant paradigm begins to break down.  In this moment of crisis, the heretics become heroes, as they have already constructed alternative paradigms that others haven’t considered.”  He closed with “…the challenge is to keep the skeptics from becoming extinct.” 
I don’t believe the fire service has reached that point, and hopefully never will.  Abandoning our past and traditions simply for the sake of change is a bad idea, but we all could take a lesson from this and try to remain open and intellectually curious.   Our fellow firefighters and the citizens we protect deserve nothing less. 

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