Fire Service Russian Roulette

Chicago Fire Chief John Eversole said, “Our department takes 1,120 calls every day. Do you know how many of the calls the public expects perfection on? 1,120. Nobody calls the fire department and says, ‘Send me two dumb-ass firemen in a pickup truck.’ In three minutes they want five brain-surgeon decathlon champions to come and solve all their problems.” The expectation of the fire service is no different anywhere else in the world. We are a service industry focused on solving other people’s problems as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Bill Gates says: “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because he will find an easy way to do it.” As human beings, we categorize our experiences. We remember them: what worked, what didn’t, and what we may want to try next time. We are always striving to be more efficient. To be faster. In this quest, we cut corners or “trim the fat” so to speak. As humans, we also recognize this and rationalize this as the new normal. We cut a corner and it worked so we’ll do it again. The more we do it (even though we know its wrong) and get away with it, the more we rationalize it as right. This phenomenon is known as normalization of deviance and it KILLS.

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Astronaut Mike Mullane spoke at the IAFF Redmond Symposium recounting how a normalization of deviance led to not only one but two space shuttle disasters, Columbia and Challenger. Both explosions were not a surprise, they were anticipated but allowed to happen due to a normalization of deviance. Some of the greatest minds in the world said, it’s not a matter of if but when.

We are not rocket scientists but we do operate in a high-risk environment, making high-risk decisions with limited to no information. Are we guilty of normalization of deviance? Absolutely! A few areas we may be guilty of…

Checking our equipment and PPE
Wearing our PPE
Hauling our equipment to the 20th floor for the 7th time that day to see a bag of burnt popcorn.
Not properly assessing our frequent flyer patients

The list goes on and on. I am certainly not advocating we abandon thinking about how to be more efficient. How to make the process easier. I am merely advocating the use of critical thinking and recognizing what is right and wrong and acting accordingly.

About Jon Misewicz 13 Articles
A 17-year student of the fire service, Jon most recently served 8 years with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department as a Firefighter / Paramedic and Instructor. He is completing a Master's Degree in Education. His passion is training that translates knowledge to real world applications.