Ideologues and Their Bad Behavior

There are some in the fire service today who speak about and write about how we should change. About what we should change. About how necessary change is and how reluctant we are to accept change. Recently, someone commented that he was writing a book on how to change the fire service to accept safety. This gentleman described that in his book he will outline how our “traditional tactics” are getting firefighters injured.

He plans to outline how the “deniers” are perpetuating behavior and attitudes that ignore the current understandings of fire science. On the other side are those who will tell you that “they,” the “Kool-Aid® drinkers,” are trying to make all fire attacks exterior attacks. They assert inexperience and cowardice are driving an agenda. It’s important to note here, though, that the truth is not the same to all people.

A half-dozen or more videos of an ideological elitist political hack who, in his words, “worked on the Affordable Care Act,” recently surfaced. The videos repeatedly insult the intelligence of American voters. In the videos, he gloats how he and his cohorts, according to him, intentionally wrote the Affordable Healthcare Act in a deceptive, deceitful, and intentionally difficult and ambiguous way.

For firefighters, the politics are irrelevant. The lesson is in what his conduct represents: the absolute pinnacle of what is called elitism, the belief that there is a group of people who knows better than anyone else and that will do anything, despite the unethical and sometimes immoral means they take, to achieve their ideological ends.

This type of conduct has a long history in American political history on both sides of the aisle. The political life of Woodrow Wilson is a great example because it had many such instances of what can be considered ideological elitism. Wilson campaigned that he would keep the United States out of war, but we went to war. Wilson said he was a Progressive and campaigned that he was a champion of the middle class, but he was not. Wilson campaigned that he was pro-diversity when, in fact, he was a racist-he resegregated our military. He didn’t support suffrage; he didn’t think women should vote or hold office. He didn’t believe in regulating industry, and he was anti-labor. Wilson was a professor, an academic, who professed to be open to all opinions but who managed to get Congress to pass the Sedition Act of 1918, making it illegal even to say anything against Wilson or our entry into World War I. Little of his campaign rhetoric reflected his real views; his actions did. Much of what he said he or his legislation would do was exactly the opposite.

Unfortunately, many great institutions mirror political behavior. The fire service has not been immune to injury from albeit well-intentioned ideologues. One could argue that some believe in their heart of hearts that they are smarter than everyone else and that it is up to them to tell us where to go and what to do. That is the heart of the ideologues, of elitists who would subjugate everyone else to their opinion for what they believe to be the greater good. From an historical perspective, they rarely are. The ideologues tend to be debunked and discarded over time.

Today, there are those out there who are saying that the fire service refuses to accept the information being presented to us from the recent studies by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Underwriters Laboratories. Balderdash! Today, there are others saying researchers are promoting a hidden agenda to end interior attacks. Hogwash! Ideologues are only saying that to advance their own agendas; they are only saying that to bolster their own self-images. They are acting like political hacks who would like to paint a picture of us regular firefighters as backward, uneducated, and ignorant. We must refuse to allow anyone to continue to paint that picture. It is absolutely clear to anyone who is even remotely involved in the fire service that the science is being embraced by large departments and small, by career and volunteer, by the young and the old, and that those truly involved in the research have no other agenda than to educate and equip us with better understanding.

By using language like Kool-Aid drinkers and deniers, these would-be saviors are painting themselves as the only ones who “get it.” They are painting a picture that they know what is best for us and that the rest of us had just better get in line. That is absolutely ridiculous. The entire fire service is enthralled by the work that’s being done by researchers around the world. Do good firefighters question it? Sometimes, because their experience sometimes leads them to opposite conclusions. Should they question it? Absolutely. As Thomas Jefferson said, “We must question boldly even the existence of a God ….”

The fire service is absolutely blessed to have this research going on right now. We are blessed to have the International Society of Fire Service Instructors putting together a wonderful course on how to interpret some of this science correctly. The course is designed to help us see how we can improve our tactics with some of the information and use new tactics in some instances. The course is not designed to tell anyone what to do, nor is it being promoted by self-important ideologues who believe that they know better than anyone else. Rather, it’s being delivered by humble and contrite firefighters who care deeply about their fellow firefighters and want to do everything they can to keep them safer and help them to save others. That’s credibility.

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Re-posted with permission from Fire Engineering Website. 

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