The researchers go on to make the following comment about the core culture of firefighting: "Operating with too few resources, compromising certain roles and functions, skipping or short-changing operational steps and safeguards and relying on extreme individual efforts and heroics may reflect the cultural paradigm of firefighting. This should not be construed to be a culture of negligence or incompetence, but rather a culture of longstanding acceptance and tradition. Within many fire service organizations, these operational tenets may be accepted as 'the way we do things.' Moreover, this tolerance of risk may be reinforced both externally and internally through the positive public image of firefighters and firefighting and internally through the fire service's own traditions and member socialization."
What are the paradigms of firefighting that makeup our culture of longstanding acceptance and tradition? What are the operational tenants that are accepted as the way we do thing? What is it that the pubic and fire service reinforce through socialization and positive public image? In other words, to understand culture we must identify the underlying assumptions that drive our behavior (Schein, 2004). What is it in firefighter DNA that drives our behavior and the public reinforces?
From Ben Franklin to today, all firefighters have the same DNA made up of six genes: fast, close, wet, risk, injury and death (FCWRID). These genes have been passed down for generations from firefighters and the public. Our gene sequence has driven our behavior and rule development throughout our history (Clark, 2011).
Fast - In the beginning, firemen ran to the fire as fast as they could, pulling the hose cart and carrying the buckets. Today we drive the apparatus as fast as we can, with permission to ignore public traffic laws because we must be fast. If we crash into a citizen on the way to the fire and kill them, we are shielded, in some states, from gross negligence because we must be fast and we rarely get a ticket. If a firefighter in the crash gets killed, it is an LODD and their family will receive a $320,000 federal death benefit. The benefit is paid even if the firefighter was not wearing his or her seatbelt. In some states, firefighters are not required to use seatbelts when responding because they must be fast. Finally, the worst thing that can happen is to get beat into your first-due area by another company or have another fire company steal your fire. Even NFPA standards require us to be fast, we must be out of the station in 60 seconds.
Close - When you only have a bucket of water to throw on the fire, you have to get very close. Today we are trying to develop a higher temperature facemask lens so we can get close to the fire because the present plastic lens melts at 536 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wet - In my 42-year career, we have gone from 2 1/2-inch and 1 1/2-inch to 1 3/4-inch, 2-inch 3-inch and 5-inch hoselines; we've used slippery water, Class A foam, High-X foam and compressed air foam; and gone from 350 gpm to 2,000 gpm pumps. Yet, when you read the NIOSH reports of these deaths in building fires, in many cases water was missing either from an attack line or fire sprinkler. When the public and firefighters think wet, we see big red fire trucks not little fire sprinkler heads.
Risk - It’s what makes us special in our own eyes and the minds of the public. We, and the public, believe firefighters will save their life, property and community. “Risk a lot to save a lot - risk nothing to save nothing” is our slogan today. But it is up to each firefighter and each fire department to define "a lot, nothing and risk." The slogan did not help in February 1973 when my community lost seven people in three house fires. They were dead before we left the station. This was before residential smoke alarms. Our risk slogan did not help in March 2012 when people died in a house fire that you could see from the fire station, but there were no working smoke alarms. The fire service and public give our highest awards to the firefighters who take the greatest risk. Nobody gets awards for installing smoke alarms. Some states even outlaw residential fire sprinkler codes. Courage and valor awards are given to firefighters who do not follow the rules because fire warriors take risks.
Injury - It’s the firefighter's red badge of courage and the public recognizes it. Your third-degree burns may be referenced when you are appointed as fire chief or you may get a congressional or manufacturer's award when you get out of the burn unit. Firefighters who are injured are rarely disciplined or denied workmen’s comp, even if they were not following the rules. After all, risk and injury go hand-in-hand, so firefighter injury is part of the job.