I occasionally get requests for advice on problems others are having in their respective departments. The topics range from how to get away from officer elections, officers who don't train, senior firefighters who are not buying in to new ideas and how to get their departments to train more. Every situation is different and it is tough to offer much without being directly involved. So, inevitably, I offer a diplomatic thought, which I hate to do. But, we know there is always two sides to every story.
Let me shift gears real quick to help drive home the point I want to make. A few months ago I ran an EMS call with the ambulance. A mother called us for her adult son who had overdosed on heroin. She was irate because she thought he had cleaned up and she was sure her son had gotten the drug from his father. Well, the son was brought around with some Narcan and he ended up leaving with his dad, who just happened to be nearby. The mother's speculation was accurate. The addiction to heroin of the father has been passed on to his son and is facilitating the drug abuse. They are both sick from addiction.
A similar problem is permeating in the fire service. I witness this sickness, have had discussions with firefighters from all over the country about this sickness and it is the "I know it all and we don't need to train" sickness. This illness causes an addiction to doing nothing.
When asked how to combat this and to make these people change I used to say to lead by example, be inclusive and ask for input from these individuals. And you should still do these things, but the fact is that some of these people have years of experience and do have something to offer if they would just do it in a constructive, consistent manner.
What I have learned is that we can't save them all. There are some that just don't want help. They don't want the intervention that has been attempted and they need their addiction. I have also come to the conclusion that after teaching classes, conducting training drills and sessions that the addiction is not to doing nothing, it is an addiction to staying in their comfort zone mentally. They do not want to be challenged for fear of not knowing how to do something.
Just the like the father mentioned above, some of these senior people are passing this same addiction to some of our newer firefighters. Some of these younger, impressionable firefighters are being enticed by the addiction and sickness that is contagious. It is easy to not be challenged and to just float along. It's easy to not have the confrontation with the infected guy pushing his addiction. It's easy to take the path of least resistance.
So, how do we fix this? I don't know that we can fix them all. We can talk about leadership, culture and the officer's role, but the bottom line is that we must instill the difference of right and wrong in our young candidates from the onset. Just like we tell our kids to "just say no to drugs", we must teach our young firefighters to say "I will train and improve" for their entire career no matter who is pushing a vile addiction upon them.
For the guys that have been perpetuating their addiction for years? We can't help people who don't admit that they have a problem. These firefighters are set and in many cases will not change their mind set. They will do what they are told and they will train when made to do so, but they don't believe in what they are doing. At that point, we need to focus our efforts, resources and energy into the group that can make a difference.
Some will say that we can't write people off. I say we have to cultivate our younger firefighters and work hard to instill the core values and character to insure that they don't become addicts. Make them strong to have the ability to resist the garbage trying to be handed down by those that are infected. In the end, if we do our collective jobs right, the addiction will be to train and to improve.