Fire Service Writing and Blogging: We were on a roll…

We were on a roll…

Remember when the new buzz going around the Internet was all about better ways to do the job?  Better tactics, little nuggets, the tips and tricks.  That wasn’t all that long ago.  I remember one of the websites that I really took a liking to was “Fire Nuggets” http://www.firenuggets.com  Whether it was reading some Truckie tips from Chief Mittendorf or some of the late Andy Frederick’s excellent articles, there has always been something good to glean from the site.  Another page I really have enjoyed has been the PugetSoundFools Forum http://www.swwafools.com/phpBB/index.php.  Those guys would gather there and share all kinds of gems about cutsaws, axe work, ladders, nozzles, streams, tradition and history.  Truly outstanding stuff.  And never a negative word.  Truly professional.

Ah, ...nothing better than hot Joe in the middle of the night..

Another site I have enjoyed is FireEngineering’s Community, http://community.fireengineering.com.  That was going really well until Facebook took over and literally destroyed much of the traffic there.  Some of the diehards are still posting there and I need to follow their example and do my part to keep it moving.  It had the excellent quality of “accountability”.   The guy runnin’ his mouth was fully visible to everyone.  That’s good.  Keeps most folks humble and under control.  It would give great satisfaction to see a “member” that was obviously not a fire instructor or firefighter at all confronted by Bobby Halton or the webmaster and reminded that it was a site restricted to those who had some credentials.  Produce or get off.. I like that.

But lately, it seems like much of the good will, the good advice and quality essays are being lost in the flurry of blogs and websites devoted to the “Our Cause is Just!” bunch.  Everyone seems to have a flag to wave, myself no exception.  The flag waving these days is gettin’ a little annoying if you ask me.  There are several hot button topics; VSP, VES, Physical Fitness, Safety Initiatives, take your pic and it won’t take you long to find someone on the attack.  And it comes from both sides.  Kinda makes a fella feel a little weary.  I have my opinions on all these subjects, but it is not my forte to write about them, I don’t feel as though I can add a whole lot and I don’t feel like slingin’ spitballs.  I don’t think it helps us in our endeavor to portray a professional fire service.

There’s a brother I have come to know whom I really respect.  Haven’t yet had the privileged to meet up with him, but one day I’m sure we’ll pull it off.  This guy can write some good stuff and I like his take on things.  He’s in the aggressive camp, but not so far off the board that I can’t relate to him.  That’s why I like him, I can see where he’s coming from.  Lately he’s been feeling like writing is useless.  I can’t blame him, I sometimes feel the same way.  You get that eerie feeling that you’re just pissin’ in the wind, and they’ ain’t nobody listnin’..That what you’re trying to say is falling on deaf, hell bent ears.  Stubborn brothers exist on both sides of the fence with these issues.  And the thing that tilts my cup is that even when the “Cause Is Just” and the argument makes sense, it is said in such a way that it offends, affronts and turns away those who the writer is trying to reach.  Just because you can use your blog to inflict unprofessional attacks on the opposing side, doesn’t mean it is right or productive to do so.  What do you hope to achieve?

Well, I really respect this Brother and I don’t want to see him stop writing.  I reminded him that there has to be voices of reason amidst the mud slinging and that is what he clearly excels at.  His voice is needed at this time.

He was having a bad day.  I’m sure he’ll keep writing.   But the frustration was palpable.  Now, I know you could just click your mouse and leave it all behind.  After all, there are hundreds and thousands of firefighters who care not a bit for what is said on all these websites and blogs.  But if you’re on here, then I assume you have a message, a standard, a flag to wave.  The people we want to reach are usually not the people reading, but those who do not read, do not pick up a journal, do not listen.  Not to mention ( I don’t want to digress, but…) the videos we feed on.  Chewing on each other.  Don’t get me wrong, excellent teaching material and great learning to be had.  But some of these videos attract the lowest of the internet creepers.  Yes, someone screwed up, but hang around most departments and someone will do that, why is it such a shock?

We’ve got how many thousands of fire departments and firefighters in this nation?  Do you really think that attacking your fellow brothers for whatever infraction, is  going to solve all the problems generated by thousands of firefighters?  We can’t even get everyone to put on all their gear, let alone read an article.  Some of these writers seem to think that everyone has adequate manpower and everyone is allowed to be as aggressive or as safe as that particular writer thinks everyone should be.  We are an arrogant bunch, aren’t we..

Recently it really saddened me to see an article that stepped out there a bit to try and bring some common sense to the safety crowd, miss-used by a very young, inexperienced firefighter to take a slap at Chief Goldfeder.   The hue and cry?  “Take your safety talk and shove it, Chief!”  That set me back.  I like Billy.  He has really opened my eyes to some of the careless things we do.  Do I like everything he says?  No.  Do I admire him for what he does?  Hell, yeah!  But just like everything else in this job, you have to size up what is being said and see if it applies and where it applies.  The comments of one young wildcat may not mean very much, but there are thousands like him.  Be careful what you write, brother.  You have a responsibility to the greater good.  The thing I really admired about the brother I mentioned earlier is that he understood professional restraint in writing and in the public eye.  He could have confronted his detractors on the web.  But he didn’t.  He did it in private and the result was a retraction of the comments that led to his frustration.   We want to be considered a profession.  We who write are sometimes the most visible.  We had better be the professionals we claim to be.

Give it a break.  Write something that will help, not hinder, not offend. Build your brother up, not tear down.  Like true family, we are all prone to squabble amongst ourselves, but as a writer you are taking on a great responsibility, influencing younger firefighters that don’t have the life experience or common sense to keep them from abusing what you’ve written.

Look.  I’m a small town fire captain.  My name is Ben.  Not very heroic or galvanizing.  I’m not an expert at anything.  But I like to write and I believe in my brothers and their ability to do the job. So I write to guide them, with my point of view.  My spot on the Internet doesn’t make me some sage fire guru.  Far from it, I’m still learning.   Some of the most aggressive firefighters in the area (and the most reckless) are watching over my children and my wife when I’m on duty, twenty miles away.  I worry about those guys, I don’t like everything they do, but I know they can fight some fire and I know they will do whatever it takes to get to my family should the need arise.  I rely on them.  My department?  We’re nowhere near as reckless.  Our officers are older, many years of experience, aggressive when necessary and entirely dedicated to keeping our members alive, healthy and free of unnecessary, life robbing cancer and injury.  We will do whatever we have to do to get to the people that need our help. We’re just firemen, and some of us give it everything we’ve got and then some.

I’m a little tubby these days, although I do work out and I have a very healthy, doctor tested and approved heart.

Sometimes I breathe smoke at a job, although I never do it intentionally…

I try to lead by example..

I never stop trying to learn..

I would lay my life down for my men.

This is my “Cause”.

And I do shamelessly call them “Brothers”, because by doing so, I am less likely to attack them and more likely to lead them.  For to do otherwise would be to deny myself.  Many abuse the word “Brotherhood”, I hope that in my writing I have not given that impression.  I started writing about Brotherhood because folks liked my take on it.  The day I betray that, I will stop writing.  I will let you the reader judge and I promise, …I will not be offended.  I need some coffee.

 

30 Comments

  • AMEN, Brother! Thanks, again for a great POV and post to explain it…

  • Rhett Fleitz says:

    Great post…I don’t follow the Fire Engineering Community much, but I do wonder who you write of.

    Either way, anyone writing on their take of the “Brotherhood” will get my attention. I appreciate your words. I understand your thoughts and frustrations.

    I get what you are saying.

    Keep your head up like the rest of us…a brighter day is on the horizon.

  • DW says:

    Been thinking the same thoughts for awhile. Great writing. Keep it up!

  • Brother Ben…I don’t want to turn this into a long rambling reply to your well timed and aptly stated post, but I don’t think I can hold my response to a few measly yet witty words, so I’ll set the mood.

    It’s almost 0100hrs on the East Coast. We just returned from yet another late night run and after I sat down to fill out the run report I glanced through my e-mail, more out of habit than anything else. What did I find? Another post from Old Leatherhead himself. I gave it a good read, and then before long I found myself brewing a pot and getting a pinch of snuff (hey, we all have vices…) You’ve got me thinking.

    I remember, as you do, the golden days of fire sites on the internet, many of which have fallen by the wayside or simply been forgotten. I also remember that there were tons of valuable information being put out there in a constructive and supportive way. Who does not remember the first time they saw vententersearch.com, it changed my world! It’s kind of shamful how it has changed in the last few years. Absolutely it is great that anyone can create a site, for free mind you, and wax poetic about anything they deem pertinant in regards to this great profession. Even a hick from down in Dixieland can get a following, yes me.

    I started my site about 18 months ago, more as a way to expel the junk from the corners of my mind. A short time into it and I found that I was somewhat of spokesman for the dissention in my department, although everything I worded was extremely generic and not specific and I kept my gripes universal enough so that anyone could identify. Then I ran into friction at work and posted a scathing rant and made my profile photo that of a frustrated fireman giving the “up yours” gesture to anyone that disagreed with me. More on that in a moment.

    I’ve written quite a bit on some hot topics, but lately I’ve been trying to reel that in a bit, speaking from a more sensible postion and trimming down the negative. When I first started, hardly anyone read it and I could say what I wanted without worry, however now I’ve got a bit of a following. Not a huge following but more than I ever thought I would see. Here is what I see now. Yes, to vent feels good. Yes, to raise Cain about pressing issues makes me feel better. Yes, there is satisfaction in the random rant. But… How is that making the fire service, me, or anyone that reads what I write any better? The answer, I think, is nobody. Hold on a sec, I need a refill.

    “Be careful what you write, brother. You have a responsibility to the greater good.” Your words. While I don’t know who they were intended for, they kind of shook me. I have a platform from which to say what I please. It is my duty to make this job better. Sure, there are times I’ll get wound tight about something and want to shoot from the hip in anger, but I could use this platform for much more. There are so many great things that still remain in this profession: Honor, Sacrifice, Compassion, Camaraderie, and yes BROTHERHOOD is still alive. We can still get good information about training drills, tool tips, and little nuggets of wisdom, and we (the bloggers, site managers, and firemen with overactive imaginations and uberly overactive keyboards)are responsible for what we write. Something said is sometimes forgotten, something written is forever, wise words from my Mom. We should be held accountable. What good does it do to rip someone a new one online anyway. Besides, if those we wish to slap with a scathing post will never read it anyway, why the heck post it?

    So here I am: Back to the photo. I changed it, just a few moments ago. I don’t want everything I write to be summed up in a little thumbnail of me flipping off the world, what jackass would think that was clever anyway? I’ll try to focus more on the good of what we do instead of stirring the pot. From time to time I’m sure I’ll go off half-cocked but I promise there will be positive to offset the negative. Ultimately I only want this. If I can write one thing that will help one guy one time, it’s much more rewarding than a post viewed by scores of people that does nothing more than state the obvious and create division.

    I don’t know who you were calling out, it ain’t my business. Just know that your words resonated with this lowly blogger, and I appreciate them. Hell, I didn’t want to write all this, but I felt it appropriate. I’ve gotta get to bed.

    Thanks bro…

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Brother Jason,

      You should know first that I have great respect for what you write and the way you do it. I hope you will continue to write from your passion for the job, I would not want to change that. Having stated my case, I applaud you for taking a second look, I admire you for that. Sometimes that second look causes you to change things, sometimes you find you don’t wish to change anything. But we should always look.

      Have no fear, I was not directing my comments at any one person or blog (although several come to mind), but more at the general growl. I sited a particular incident which really turned my stomach and caused me to write the post, but that was simply the final push to form the words I was already feeling. I fault no one for needing to vent! Specially you, you’ve got class. I like your writing just fine. But there comes a point where some folks go from recommending a change or highlighting a poor choice to getting ugly over the theology involved. Chief’s are bound by their duty to reduce loss for a multitude of reasons. Company officers and their members are bound by a heartfelt oath to do everything we humanly can to help those in need. This causes conflict. There is a delicate balance. And I know there are those out there in Internet land that jump on the bandwagon and yap about what they don’t understand and they fuel the fire. But I choose not to react to people like that. I react and look for discussion based on knowledge, experience and respect.

      Company officers like you and I, writers like you and I, walk that delicate line and can if we choose, to have a positive message. We can say the same things without the vehemence that has begun to be prevalent. If there is too much of this, discerning readers will tune us out and the only folks that will take such writing seriously are the guys that don’t get it. We’ll just be that “resounding gong” the Good Book mentions. I personally don’t want to sell my words cheap. If we want to be taken seriously we need to spend our words wisely. I choose to build, not tear down. There is a time for leaders to rip and tear. But those moments should be few. The leader’s measure is taken by the willingness of the crowd to be so led. I think our form of writing is the same. If we are truly leaders in our field and troubadours of our culture we should be known for motivating people to choose our viewpoint, not be scared into it for fear of being labelled by a “Safety Nazi” moniker or “Cowboy” brand. I look forward to your next post brother, I always enjoy what you have to say! See you on the big one!….I really need to teach the probie how to make better coffee.

      • Ben, I don’t wanna mislead ya, but I’m no officer. On my company, the firefighters wade through NIFRS on any run after 2200hrs. It gives our officer a break and gives us a bit of that administrative responsibility many are lacking. Thanks for the vote of confidence though!

  • Mick Mayers says:

    Good post. I could definitely relate to the blogger who feels like everything he is trying to reinforce is just, well:

    “Lately he’s been feeling like writing is useless. I can’t blame him, I sometimes feel the same way. You get that eerie feeling that you’re just pissin’ in the wind, and they’ ain’t nobody listnin’..That what you’re trying to say is falling on deaf, hell bent ears. Stubborn brothers exist on both sides of the fence with these issues.”

    You said it best. We have to strive to understand and be less inclined to insist our way is the best or only way. Keep up the faith. We’ll be reading.

  • Ben, I like where you’re coming from. I have fallen into the trap of writing from emotion instead of the brain. Much like Jason said, I’ve tried to temper that of late. While our blogs are certainly a place I see some controversy brewing the place I’ve seen the attacks and ugliness the worst is in the comments on videos. And it disgusts me.

    I have recently decided that the only way I will comment on some video or other that is posted of our operations is if I am commenting on the good that can be found in the clip. It is all too easy to sit in the comfort of our home or firehouse, watch a video and tear down the department involved for every little mistake or perceived mistake. I’m sick of it and won’t do it anymore.

    There are those of us that are passionate about this job and want to improve it and protect it to the best of our abilities. I can forgive an occasional transgression of heart over mind (guilty!) in writing or commenting. But I think you’re assessment is spot-on in this trend to attack some position or other without much in the way of truly constructive or informative dialogue.

    Keep up the great work.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Brother,

      You’re dead on. And too, so often there are local conditions that have an affect on what is taking place in the videos as well. We can choose to be more understanding. I resolve on to build up as I stated in the post. Not easy to do, but I am making it my target.

      Thanks for commenting,

      Ben

  • Bill Carey says:

    A very good post Ben, nicely written. One thing that helps is to remember that the majority of any blog is viewed as preaching to the choir. Like-minded readers are attracted to like-minded authors. If the purpose is to educate, then the writings have to be grounded in facts and less in personal beliefs. Anything else is commentary, editorial reflections.

    Bill Carey

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Thanks Bill, I know that what you say about “like-minded” readers is accurate, but my intent is to push back a bit, in a way that perhaps attracts their attention, but doesn’t copy their behavior. I also write from the heart much of the time and have to work hard not to behave in the same way, so I can relate to those I am talking to, and truly, I hesitated to post this because I feared looking like the Pot calling the Kettle. Thanks for the props, that means a lot coming from you.

  • Sid Newby says:

    Great post Ben. I agree that whatever “camp” your in we should respect each other and agree to disagree if that is the case. I too need to get back to the FE community board. It provides a narrower band of individuals that are on the job. I like facebook for staying in touch with the firefighting community nationwide, but it crazy and time consuming. It detracts me from reading and learning from the fire sites like I used to. Thank you for saying what a lot of us have been thinking.

  • Chiefreason says:

    Ben:
    What I found out long ago as a “voice of reason” is that, even though we may have an opinion on every hot button issue/controversy, those opinions when shared become a magnet for those simply looking to smack you down for an opinion that is not their opinion. You would get into long, protracted verbal wars and in the end, lose sight of what could have been a teachable moment.
    Teaching has become a revenue stream for anyone with a domain name. That is both good and bad.
    But, along with teaching firefighters to be better firefighters; can’t we also teach them to be better persons? My point is that sometimes, we have to go completely off of the reservation and just have some fun with what we write. I have thought about giving it up a couple of times, but I still enjoy doing it, so I press on.
    When we are willing to put our thoughts out into the public domain, we are potentially hanging ourselves up as a punching bag. Let them take their swings. They will feel better; maybe the unintended consequence of what we wrote. Either way; the blogger AND the reader gets something off of their chest.
    And you know what?
    I have made more friends in the fire service blogging community than I have made enemies. Check that; I have no data to back that up. That was my opinion. I hope I don’t get some nasty emails.
    I still read ALOT of blogs. I just don’t respond like I use to.
    As I said in one of my previous blogs; I have been called every name in the book for espousing some of my opinions. No one got hurt and nobody died. Everyone went home.
    And that’s the whole point.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Hey Chief,

      So right. That is why I often hesitate and mull these posts over before I put them up. Sometimes, like this one, I send it over the hill for a proof read, just to get someone else’s take on it. I often suspect my motives and question my own opinion. I want to say what needs saying and get it off my mind, but not at the cost of tipping everyone’s cart over. Yet sometimes, that is a writer’s job. I was prepared to be the “Windshield” on this one, but it has so far been the opposite. Glad you stopped in here.

      Ben

  • Larry says:

    Capt.,

    Another great topic for discussion. I find myself overwhelmed with all the blogs out there. I also read Firenuggets.com and have since I got into the fire service. I even paid for the membership way back then. The Fire Engineering Community started off strong and is the place where I picked up alot from Brother’s across the country. It also helped me realize, it isn’t what is written on your patch but how you do the job. This is where I got to know guys like: You (Capt. Fleagle), Chad Berg, Rob Fisher, Josh Materi, Jeff Schwering, Eric Hankins, Chad Snyder and many more. Even though I have never met any of these Brother’s I have the upmost respect for them and enjoyed reading how they do the job. We must get back to “Our Community” and get it going like it was. Chief Halton and many other’s have given us an avenue to share our knowledge and experience’s in a controlled (non-spam allowed) environment. Sorry for ranting Capt. The wife and I haven’t had much sleep since the addition of our baby boy (I am a proud papa and not afraid to say it). Enjoy the cup of joe and one day I will make my way to the frozen state to to pour you a cup.

    Glover.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Larry, Brother..I hope to meet you sometime soon. I too was a paid member of fire nuggets. A small price to pay. Congratulations on your addition to the family by the way. And as always, I look for you here and am always overjoyed to see you!

      Ben
      RFB-PTB

  • Dean says:

    Capt.,

    I was guided to your blog from a friend on Facebook. What a great read. Writing has never been one of my strong suits, but I love reading and learning from people with the ability to write. I think your article hit the nail on the head. I have trained and most of the folks that the previous poster spoke of and they are all top notch.

    I think it is all of our responsibility to try and bring each other up and not to beat our brothers and sisters down.

    Thanks to you and the others that are passing on our craft through your written words.

    Dean

  • Mike Ward says:

    Ben:

    I feel your frustration about blogs. Had a similar feeling when I thought that message boards (during the dial-up era) would make a lasting difference on our dialog. Then the mutts and the no-nothings piled on.

    It takes a lot of work to maintain a blog and keep a steady stream of ideas flowing. Fire service pros that write have two or three buckets of knowledge, experience and enthusiasm … and a large crowd of keyboard commanders and screen-name experts that are quick to criticize either the message or the messenger.

    We are passionate and obsessive in learning and sharing our craft of suppression. It is tough NOT to write from the heart.

    Of course, as soon as you master the technology, the “cool kids” are using some other medium to share. We can only guess what the Next Great Thing is.

    Like you, I miss the excellent details and sharing found on many sites. I have found a lot of them at Urban Firefighter magazine http://www.urbanfirefighter.com/index.html

    Stay warm!

    Mike

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Mike,

      Honored to have you stop by. I agree with you and yes, I have no doubt the next medium will be more than I can manage. Facebook is daunting and sometimes I just can’t keep up. So I don’t. I disappear off it for a week or so, only to come back on and find my long lost 2nd cousin once removed and twice divorced is waiting to be “Friends”. Anyway, I will keep writing, in whatever form. I like what you said and feel that if the gift is given, it should be used for the benefit of the greater good of the service.

      Keeping the Faith,

      Ben

  • Ryan Royal says:

    Well said, you have a way with words that shows wisdom and guidance. I appreciate the way you write and how you don’t try to be anyone that you are not. You have put together some great stuff over the years and I always look forward to the next post. This article in particular was shared at a perfect time in the online world and looks to be traveling around the internet quickly. Thats encouraging to see, everyone needs a reset button every once in a while, it keeps us grounded and in check. Well done.
    Ryan Royal
    IRONS and LADDERS

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Ryan, glad you dropped by, I really enjoy your blog as well. Your encouragement is greatly appreciated and I will continue to strive to show the “street view” of the fire house vs, the all seeing, all knowing. “Reset” I like that. Didn’t think of it that way, but I like it because that is an exact fit. Instead of feeling like everything is falling apart, it is better to view as a reset, lets get back to where we know we need to be…and move forward. Thanks, Brother.

  • Larry says:

    Ben keep writing Brother! Your words are being heard and received! There are many of us that feel the same way. Keep fighting the good fight! As always I look forward to working on a JOB with you and your crew and maybe one day sitting down for a cup of Joe or a cold one.
    Love ya Brother!
    Hodges

  • Mark Akins says:

    Brother,
    This is much needed it was kind of like the old kick in the butt from the salty old Lt. when you needed it. You are being heard, there are a few of the blogs I read always, some I disregard, but the ones that care not, probably will never. But keep doing what you do.
    Mark

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Mark. Much obliged! A little pressure here, a little there, we’ll bring things along. Reminds me of Donald Sutherland in the classic Kelly’s Heroes, “All these negative vibes!”…

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