A fading ART
A fading ART
BY BILL MANNING
Technology can be a good thing, but it`s not the only thing. I write on a computer, but it doesn`t make me Hemingway.
The artist needs his tools–good tools, and enough of them–but Homer Simpson with a finely crafted precision brush will never approximate Picasso.
And so it is with the fire service and the rapidly becoming lost art of firefighting.
I have long thought about the art side of the business. It`s the really exciting part. A recent conversation reminded me that the same nozzle placed in the hands of two different people can yield very different results on the same fire. There are good nozzlemen and not-so-good nozzlemen. There are artists, and there are Picasso wannabes with nice tools.
Firefighting is in fact an art, a brutal art though it is. The nozzleman artist cannot predict how exactly he will achieve rapid knockdown of a particular fire in a given structure. The firefighting art is an instantaneously evolving, second-by-second process. What makes it even more appealing is that you never play the music the same way twice and it takes an orchestra to do it right.
I`m not surprised that the art seems to have been given a back-row seat in this fire service. In our culture, it`s easy to trace a growing acceptance of technology passed off as the art itself. We`ve grown so enamored of the computer chip we`ve almost forgotten how to think. We must, of course, be a better fire service because our tools are so much more sophisticated and refined than they were 30 years ago.
Identifying why fireground injury and death rates have increased in the past two decades will spark spirited discussion, but I submit simply that the root of this disturbing trend is our diminishing number of artists and our reluctance to cultivate them.
Firefighting is seen by most as strictly a technical endeavor. That`s far from true. Though fireground success is realized in part through muscle and technical use of powerful hardware, the creative, mental aspects of the job are most often the real difference between life and death or between a single- and multiple-alarm fire. Often those who make the real difference somehow “just feel it”: The “softer side of firefighting” is no oxymoron, and it is not exclusive to customer service initiatives and so on.
But the fire service as a whole operates in ceaseless pursuit of a quick technological fix that never comes. What is the newest technology that will answer all our firefighting problems?
We comfort ourselves with this approach because it`s easier and places less responsibility where it belongs. Art is hard. The total commitment it demands runs counter to a distracted fire service that really doesn`t want to fight fires anymore.
And it shows. The records are littered with fireground failures proving that the artistry is in short supply. When we say “get back to basics,” we don`t just mean “let`s practice handline stretches” but also “let`s rediscover the thinking, creative, art side of firefighting.” The Tom Brennans of this world–the rare treasures–are what they are because they know the well-played handline stretch exists as an integral harmony within the orchestral score–a beautiful piece of music.
Today everyone is a “technician” of some sort. We`re missing a vital point.
Technology and technical expertise are very important. We must continue to seek new innovations and improve technical proficiency. Be certain, however, that the best nozzle or pump or fan or extinguishing agent or thermal imager–and just being certified to use them–cannot and never will substitute for the experienced, well-trained firefighter artist.