The Calm Before the Storm
As Hurricane Florence took aim at the East Coast, I was reminded of the interesting energy natural disasters bring to our profession. As we prepare for the aftermath of severe weather, many of the issues that plague us are solved on a short-term basis as the greater good is thrust onto our plate. The once bold lines designating state and local boundaries on a map become erased, even the slowest of jurisdictions are spun up into Emergency Operations Centers that would rival NASA’s mission control, supplies show up by the pallet load often before they are officially requested, and pleas for overtime or additional staffing are not only answered but readily volunteered for by the membership. There is something about a natural disaster that makes us see the product of our full potential as the tragedy of destruction is equalized by our unity in helping rescue and rebuild those affected. Although many parts of the country are still very much bleeding from the wrath of mother nature, I think we need to ask ourselves why we can pull off such amazing feats for these thankfully rare events but cannot seem to be equally prepared for the events that make up the typical responses of our day.
So often we hear about those battling complacency within their organizations. Many are drowning in cultures that not only seem to discourage training, preparing, or maintaining healthy habits, but downright make those who are trying to remain in peak operational readiness the enemy! We mock and embarrass those who push for additional training, riding assignments, battle ready apparatus, high standards, and better equipment, yet here we are watching how AMAZING we can be when all those things come together. The same ones who call us foolish for going attending conferences or networking on our own time and dime are suddenly volunteering to be sent into harm’s way. And ultimately, those who just can’t understand why we want to take pictures of our last job or post about our awesome training evolution last day can’t seem to share enough about their deployment or the things they did on it.
So, why do so many seem to get motivated when it comes to responding to these catastrophes? Why is helping neighbors hundreds or thousands of miles away so much more glamorous than the ones right down the road we swore to protect daily? Why is it that it takes a natural disaster to perk us up to the potential risks of our craft but the daily risks we face don’t seem to be worthy of our radar? Well, part of the reason is just that; risk.
We often become numb to the risks we face every day. We are blinded by the daily grind that becomes normal, tedious, and repetitive. False alarms, cancellations, lack of realistic training, and downright ignorance can create a false sense of security for many. We fail to prepare for what does not take us outside of our comfort zone, whereas something out of the ordinary like extreme weather that still makes the little hairs on our neck stand up. We don’t have as much experience dealing with it as we do the typical runs that make up the average fire department day, making it exotic and desirable. But, what if we treated each tour as if we were preparing for a natural disaster? What if the same rules applied?
The truth of the matter is we should all find it appalling that the threat of the average structure fire is not good enough for most of us to break those jurisdictional boundaries, unite to fill out mutual aid agreements, make detailed response and tactical plans, ensure the readiness of equipment, or purchase much needed supplies! Never mind that the majority of us have a much greater chance of turning out on a fire, extrication, or mass casualty incident on any given tour than we do responding to the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado. Yet, many who will volunteer in droves to be part of the big news story and specialty response teams will snub their nose at training on fundamental firefighting skills, preplanning activities, or weekly apparatus maintenance.
We could learn so much from the way we prepare to fight mother nature if we would only apply it to how we prepare to fight each and every time we get on the rig. We have the potential to go into equally hazardous situations on any given shift whether the media will be covering the story or not. The resolve we see during disasters needs to show up on every career staffed apparatus, volunteer duty crew, and training evolution we participate in. We need to be able to check our egos at the door and do what is best for Mr. and Mrs. Smith whether they are retreating to their roof from flooding or clutching their chest from a medical emergency on Wednesday afternoon! If we are willing to throw resources in play due to the “potential” for adverse weather, we need to do the same for CONFIRMED emergencies happening right now.
Please don’t get me wrong, mother nature is an EXTREMELY serious foe that taxes us to our limit whenever she decides to make us feel her wrath and remind us who is really in charge. However, there is no reason that cooperation, calculated preparedness, philanthropy, accountability, commitment, and diligence should be exclusive to major events. Every run we take should be treated as the potential disaster it is to the caller. In all reality, every time we enter the station we are in the calm before the storm. All I ask is that we take daily operations just as seriously as we all seem to take disaster operations. If you can be all in for the storm of the century, that you can be all for the run of the day!
To all those who respond to these events and minimize their impact, THANK YOU! The countless number of lives positively affected during disaster response speaks volumes to the dedication, accountability, and passion of the entire emergency services family.