Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Pitfalls of Doing Research

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that my mantra for those who write about any subject is “do your research.” I now offer a cautionary tale to go along with that.

Recently I did some Google searches regarding shift schedules for a particular large city fire department. Yes, I found what I was seeking. Unfortunately, along the way I also uncovered vitriol spewed by people who think they know all about fire departments and how they should be run. (I discussed an aspect of this in my June 29, 2014 post “Sideline Quarterbacks”.) 

(Photo by "pippalou" courtesy of Morguefile.com)

Having grown up around the fire service and worked with three different departments – one career (paid), one volunteer, and one combination (both paid and volunteer) – I’ve pretty much heard it all.

“Why do we pay firefighters to sleep?”

“All you guys do is sit around and polish your trucks.”

“Why do you want another tax increase? We just gave you one ten years ago.”

Those are just a few tame examples of jabs that firefighters endure on a regular basis. Not everyone loves firefighters, as I discussed in my January 21, 2014 post “Firefighters as Heroes…or Not”. And when some sort of controversy erupts within a department and goes public, the diatribes on all sides of the issue only tend to descend into ugliness. A naïve person with no knowledge of the fire service who reads or hears these kinds of negative comments might well jump onboard the “dirty truth” propaganda train. I have seen firsthand how difficult those kinds of perceptions can be for fire departments to overcome.

Regardless of your reasons for researching anything related to the fire service, I offer this simple advice:

1. If you want to know about fire department operations, go straight to the experts: the firefighters and fire departments. Most FDs have websites full of useful information, and many now have Public Information Officers (PIOs) who can help explain how things work. Trade journals such as Fire Engineering (www.fireengineering.com), Firehouse (www.firehouse.com), and FireRescue (www.firefighternation.com), as well as websites like FireRescue1 (www.firerescue1.com) are a treasure trove of news and insights about various issues in the fire service.

2. Outside of what I listed above, always use credible sources. Don’t be afraid to balance your research with the good and the not-so-good. Firefighters and their agencies aren’t always perfect, but they’re usually better than some people make them out to be.

3. Be aware that politics exist inside and outside of fire departments. You need to know whom you’re dealing with and whether or not they are pushing an agenda. Especially on comment boards…