Interestingly, the body of knowledge of the technology of the fire service has similar generational distinctions. It is a miracle that one generation can effectively operate with a member of another generation considering these differences. Depending on when you entered the fire service, you may have heard of different traditions being adhered to.
What I am referring to is the difference in building content and construction techniques that are constantly changing regardless of which generation is responding on the apparatus. While it might be an argument about whether a person is a baby boomer or a millennial from a standpoint of human resources, the reality is America’s fire problem is also changing constantly. This is going to require a change in attitude about generations. Between the year that you were born and the year that you entered the fire service, a lot of things can change. After you have completed your probationary period as a firefighter, there is a time during which you will have some degree of confidence that you understand the fire problem, and this will usually take you to retirement.
And at some point, in time, both content and construction are going to change, whether we in the fire service like it or not. If you are up to date, you may have to change the way you think about things. If you are not up to date, you may be a danger to yourself and others.
The way that we combat fire is highly dependent on what we are taught during our formative years. It is equally important that we continue to observe the consequences of changes that are going on as they reach maturity in the field. This is the basis for the argument that we have a continuing education requirement for the fire service.
Here are just a few examples of this phenomenon. The single-family dwelling has been evolving for years, and one could take the point of a view that a house is a house is a house. However, is it not true that a house built in 1880 creates the same fire problem as a home built in 2008. What comes to mind are such things as insulation, synthetic products, lightweight construction, and built-in fire protection.
We tend to lump fires into occupancy type as opposed to construction characteristics, and a fire in an 1880 building is not going to burn like a fire from a 2008 structure. This phenomenon is being tested today in response to another change in a firefighting-a quest to have scientific solutions to our problems. Much of the conversation about fire station deployment and initial attack is centering on the concept of science. One outstanding example of this is the work being done by Dan Madrzykowski and Steve Kerber at Underwriters Laboratories (UL). This material is being explored in workshops and in training materials. This scientific approach is challenging many of the “traditional” solutions of the past. Therein lies the challenge. Which generation is going to pick up this methodology and which generation is going to ignore it? Both possibilities exist.
The challenge today for all generations is to teach and apply the most relevant information. While it might be that on any given fire crew the generational differences may be present, there is no excuse for not fighting the fire with the most modern technique possible. Perhaps it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks.
If you were going into a doctor’s office to have major surgery, you would want the doctor using the most current methodology. In the field of engineering, the same thing applies. Currency and relevancy are important.
The fire service is often accused of being a traditional organization. We cannot afford to live by the limitations of the past in overcoming the problems of the present. Our textbooks, our curriculum, our course content, and all the other education and training materials we apply need to be based on the latest scientific information. It makes no difference which generation you come from on the fireground. The big difference is whether you are knowledgeable of the construction type and the makeup of the contents in the building that is on fire right now.