There is an expression out there that irks El Cabrero. It is often said by well intentioned people who mean that we should be more proactive rather than reactive, which in itself is fine most of the time.
The offending expression is "We're always fighting fires" as if that's a bad thing.
I beg to differ for two reasons. First, if you really do have a fire in a place where there isn't supposed to be one, that should be pretty important. Maybe even top priority.
Second, I can say on the basis of my short and inglorious career in my hometown volunteer fire department that fighting fires is cool. As every little kid knows. And that will be the guiding thread of this week's Goat Rope.
The idea of trying to join the local fire department came from the Spousal Unit, otherwise known as La Cabra. In retrospect, I wish I'd have done it a long time ago. Actually, my old man had been a member years before and I might have done it sooner had I realized they’d actually let me in. It wasn’t a totally strange experience. I grew up beside the station and was so used to the fire alarm I barely noticed when it went off. All that changed when I was actually in it.
Since I know that stereotypes abound about volunteer fire fighters, I want to set the record straight, or a little less crooked anyway.
One of these is that we are basically boys with toys who like to ride fire trucks and play with our gear. OK, so that one may be right, with the understanding that we aren’t all boys anymore and that some of our toys come in pretty handy in emergencies.
Women, who have traditionally been the backbone of support for volunteer departments, are now very active as fire fighters, first responders, and emergency medical service providers. One encouraging sign of this change is the presence of many women and girls attending various training sessions throughout the rural areas of El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.
Another stereotype pictures volunteers as a bunch of untrained clods. Some of us may in fact be clods, but nobody is untrained. There are pretty strict state standards of training that must be met before a volunteer is able to run calls. In my area, required courses include first aid/CPR, hazardous materials basic concepts, automobile extrication, and level one fire fighting. Most classes include hands on as well as textbook elements. And this is only the beginning—an endless array of more advanced trainings are continually offered in addition to regular local drills.
About which more next time.
WHAT HE SAID. Speaking of putting out fires, here's to Pope Benedict XVI. As an Episcopalian of the laid back variety, I'm not always on the same theological page, but I appreciate his "Urbi et Orbi" sermon on Easter Sunday, where he spoke of how political and religious conflicts are adding to the suffering caused by natural causes:
"Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking.” the Pope said.
“(But) I am thinking of ... terrorism and kidnapping of people, of the thousand faces of violence which some people attempt to justify in the name of religion, of contempt for life, of the violation of human rights and the exploitation of persons.”
“Afghanistan is marked by growing unrest and instability,” Benedict said. “In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, unfortunately, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.”
SPEAKING OF IRAQ AND OTHER DISASTERS, an item that appeared last week in Gannett papers spoke of the effect of the war on the National Guard:
The nation's Army Guard units have roughly half or less of the equipment they need to deal with disasters, terrorist attacks and other domestic threats such as the rapidly approaching hurricane season, senior Guard officials said.
The war in Iraq as well as Guard deployments in Afghanistan have drained state units of people as well as equipment.
Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum was quoted as saying "Nobody has more than 65 percent of the equipment they need. I think that condition is unacceptable...If we don't have the equipment we need, the reaction time is slow, and time equals lives lost. Those lives are American lives."
The Guard can come in pretty handy when disasters are too big for firefighters and other emergency responders to handle, such as the floods that devastated southern West Virginia in 2001.
THE BUDDHA WAS A FIREFIGHTER. In keeping with the firefighting motif, let's not forget that one of the Buddha's early discourses was the Fire Sermon, where he said that "all is aflame" with the fires of ignorance, greed, and hatred. The word Nirvana, the state of liberation from suffering (not the rock group) war literally meant something like coolness, as in a fire that has gone out. Buddhist teachings are intended to help people stop feeding the flames that cause suffering to self and others.
TO CONCLUDE, the problem is not that "we're always putting out fires." The problem is that we're not doing enough of it.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED