By Ray McCormack
We use benchmarks on the fireground for determining levels of accomplishment through determining levels of deterioration. Benchmarking progress during fires - and timely accountability of your people - is part of fire extinguishment, and should be easier with today’s technology. There are other benchmarks that tell us a different story: a story of time, and firefighters who went before. Some of the sagest advice you will ever receive will be passed on to you from a senior firefighter and or officer. What time elapsed benchmarks have you collected for your future use?
We had a bench at my firehouse, made from hardwood and cultured over decades of use. It was not particularly comfortable, but it was set near the corner of the kitchen and provided a great vantage point as to what was taking place within the hub of the firehouse. I can remember that one of our senior firefighters loved sitting there, legs crossed, smoking a pipe, and commenting with total clarity on the multiple conversations and things happening in that busy space. Not only was he a very astute observer, he often orchestrated the events of that room through gentle pokes and prodding, and always with an escape clause, “I’m just a blue shirt what do I know”?
We had a hierarchy of seating in that room; that may have seemed crude to some outsiders, but it worked for us, much like the differences in the fire service that unite us - or separate us, now. What works for one place does not always translate into broad acceptance: Bench time was not for the junior members, and it never seemed a problem as some goals in the fire service must be earned - and waited for. Different ideas for different times wear a beach well. We do not want carbon copies of generations as much as some want you to believe. There is no way that all the benchmarks from decades ago will stand the test of time, and that’s fine; what needs to remain will, and these benchmarks are at our core.
Some benchmarks are deeply grooved straight lines while others tend to bend a bit in one direction or another; still others go full circle, proving that everything old is new again, even in the fire service. The arms of that bench seemed to have the deepest wear from where the elbow rested to the forward end, where a hand was placed into the ‘starting blocks’ of a new response. This fixture of the firehouse tells its story in a silent narrative that all can understand and hopefully appreciate. For it is the not only the stories that are important, it is the story tellers’ comfort that bring about the best tales.
Sometimes a cushion would be added to the bench for comfort and sometimes it was taken away to restore its originality. We often hear versions of stories that contain their own cushion for the storyteller; and some that believe that ‘story cushions’ are unnecessary, and only deflect from the true experience. It is up to each of us to find our place on the bench and our comfort level for storytelling. Sit for a bit and share a story that was told to you and has kept you tactically safe.
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