Friday, July 29, 2011

Why they Serve

An early boss of Mine Host's has recently resigned a role he had held for most of his adult life.

That of Captain of his Fire Brigade.

For almost 50 years he'd been a member of the Fire Brigade. He'd fought (and beaten) fires inside his brigade area ranging from billy boilers to some of the largest scale & most newsworthy fires the nation has seen.

He knew how any particular fire would behave in a given set of conditions.

The men in the Fire Brigade deferred to him because of his experience, reliability & the soundness of his decisions.

For they served in the Fire Brigade for the same reason as he:
To protect their livlihood, their loved ones, & their community, from being burned.

Fire Brigade HQ in Sydney issued a written directive.
His written response was posted to Sydney: "No"
Fire Brigade HQ in Sydney contacted him for clarification. (The word "No" requires clarification?)
He clarified: "Your directive does not make sense, if I carried it out our brigade's fire-fighting capability would be reduced. So the answer is No."

"Your opinion is irrelevant sir. This is a directive of the NSW Bush Fire Brigade HQ in Sydney (or whatever they are called) & you must carry out this directive, as it is from your superiors."
Response: "I am the Captain of the Dry Gully Fire Brigade. In all matters to do with fire fighting my opinion is very relevant. I am elected by my peers, my experience is extensive. I have fought (names several notable fires) and I have never lost a house, farm, or a person to a fire. By the way, I'm a free Australian citizen & a wheat farmer, I don't have superiors."

"I am the Grand Poobah of issuing directives to you hicks in Bush Fire Brigades, and I have lotsa scrambled eggs on my uniform epaulettes to prove it. You don't even have a degree." (He actually said that last phrase word-for-word, "you don't even have a degree")
Response: "Listen youngster, I have fought (again names several notable fires), how many have you fought?"

*....brief silence....*

"...(cough)...What is important sir is the application of new laws pertaining to Bush Fire Brigades. These laws say you must not attend a fire, nor carry out any fire-fighting activity, without my orders to do so. Once you are ordered to attend a fire, before any escalation in activity, or any change of plans, you must obtain further orders from me."
Response: "No, I won't be taking your orders, I prefer my fires extinguished."

"This is the law sir. You have no choice."
Response: "If I dance to your BS houses will burn down and there's no point being in the Fire Brigade."

Then the Public Servant (who didn't understand that for some people "Public Service" is a verb) played what he believed was a cunning trump card:

"Sir, you are a few months short of 50 years of service in the Fire Brigade, once you reach the 50 year milestone you will be awarded the 50-year service medal. This medal is a recognised decoration, to be worn in public or with evening dress."

This is the point at which an honourable man resigned the post he'd held for most of his adult life.

The medal would only have languished in a drawer in the bedroom. He'd no more have worn it in public (sheep sales, tractor field days, etc) than he'd have worn a pink tutu.


Anonymous said...

Mine Host,

This is unfortunately a trend where by those in authorities feel we are no longer capable of looking after ourselves. Particularly in the case of bush fires.

I am originally from a farming area of WA. As soon as there was smoke on the horizon people arrived from everywhere with utes and trucks carrying water and the area firetruck driven by a local farmer would turn up. Then it would come under control of the local fire control officer.

When I first moved to Victoria in the late 90's I came across a peculiar thing (to me anyway), people playing fireman. While not wishing to denigrate their service because it is important but while I played cricket and footy they played fireman. With this comes the bureaucracy and this for me is where we are let down, as evidenced by your old bosses experience.

This phenonemon is not unique to parts of Victoria but I also witnessed it in South Australia while living there. While certain aspects of fire safety obviously need to be undertaken the overbearing beauracracy is too much for those people who we want or need involved, over and above those who devote their time to their sport.

While not an easy one to solve, sometimes it is best to let locals look after local issues. Most fires are local issues.

kae said...

Someone's got to carry out the hazard assessment before anyone does anything.

Boy on a bike said...

As a teenager, I worked on a few farms over the school holidays. Every ute on the farms had a fire pump on the back, and at least one ute or small truck had a water tank on the back. There were fire fighting sprayer back packs a-plenty. Every vehicle also had a radio, and if I remember correctly, there was a district fire channel set aside. I was bumbling around a few times with the boys when we were all scooped up and driven to a nearby fire. No one cared if a 16 year old boy drove the truck with the water tank on the back, and a couple of 14 year old kids were on the front line with a hose and a back pack. Safety equipment consisted of a pair of stout boots that wouldn't melt too quickly in the heat. Afterwards, we might get a stubbie or two for our efforts.

The locals were more than capable of organising their own affairs, and they would have laughed if anyone above the local level had to get involved in any way possible.

Mine Host said...

BoaB, I've been in country like that, where the farms are small enough for everyone to see what is going on, one puff of smoke & people just start turning up with fire-fighting gear!

Anon, in a later post I'll have something to say about a centrally controlled incident of fire fighting, & just how badly it went wrong.