One of the most widely used methods for determining the reality of an issue is the use of research. There are multiple types of research in play, but the three most common include intercept, quantitative, and qualitative. As their names imply, the first involves intercepting someone, perhaps at a mall or in the street and asking questions. The second is often a large audience invited to an online survey, and the latter involves spending time with individuals, learning in depth about them and how their lives intersect with the research topic.
The first service has been exploring the use of research more actively in the past few years, but the question keeps arising – “Is this research accurate?” The tradition of the fire service often is at odds with the process by which research is assembled and distributed. And there is factual evidence that the fire service tends to believe only what it wants to. Our own research efforts are often blunted by completely false data, often delivered via an organized group of individuals.
In today’s rapidly changing environment wherein statistics and data evaluation are becoming center stage to funding and policy, the fire service would do well to start the process of evolving to the 21st century. The move is already underway relative to the use of safety equipment and some types of technology. At the same time, we still see firefighters entering structure fires with their SCBA’s on their back, and their masks in their turnouts. Being a smoke eater is a fire service tradition. And with that tradition, people die.
The fire service would serve its members and the public well by working to define the need for change, both from a safety perspective, and from the point of view of leadership, management, supervision, and accountability. That responsibility extends to the fireground, and to get there, technology (such as the iPad) must be a partner.
This also means that senior leadership within the fire service need to discard the age old values of, “I did that when I was on the tailboard, so you will, too.” Now is the time to embrace new ways of doing things, and exploring new best practices, including with technology.
The fire service can evolve. The question is: when will it do so, and what sacrifice will be required to make change possible? The bottom line is that change is inevitable, and if embraced, can be nearly painless.