As Firehouse Sees It: Are You Prepared to Take Ownership?

Tim Sendelbach explains how technological advancements can help firefighters prioritize their health and safety.

Tim Sendelbach

The words pride and ownership have been tossed around the fire service for more than 20 years now. In 2006, after taking his message on the road to share with firefighters across the country, then-Lewisville, TX, Fire Chief Rick Lasky penned the popular book “Pride & Ownership: A Firefighter’s Love of the Job.”

Lasky’s message created a renewed focus on some of our most precious and time-honored traditions. It inspired firefighters of all ranks to go out and train, take pride in their profession, and cherish the work we do, the equipment we use and the service we provide our customers. “It’s a privilege,” he wrote. “Don’t allow anyone to tarnish our image.” While it may not have been his intent, these words are as much marching orders as they are rallying cries for each of us as current and aspiring leaders of the American fire service.

In March, I had the privilege of participating in the Firefighter Physiological Monitoring Technology Summit hosted by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The summit highlighted some of the outstanding research and technology geared toward improving the operational effectiveness and health and safety of our nation’s firefighters.

Casey Grant—executive director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of the NFPA—discussed the future of wearable technology, highlighting some of the progress being made in firefighter physiological monitoring and personnel tracking using nanotechnologies, electronic textiles and biomedical systems, to name a few. Each of these advancements is incredibly impressive and promising for our future.

As I look back, the crux of Grant’s message was not about the ever-enticing gadgetry; it was all about the data. Grant quoted Clive Humby, a UK mathematician and data scientist: “Data is the new oil. It’s valuable, but if unrefined, it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals, etc., to create a valuable entity that drives profitable activity; so must data be broken down, analyzed for it to have value.”

So how does this apply to your pride and ownership of the fire service? Physiological monitoring is about your personal health and wellbeing. When used correctly, it could potentially lead to proactive and/or preventative life-saving actions; it could affect critical decision-making, operational procedures, tactics, equipment development and deployment methodologies, and a multitude of other life-saving advancements.

Surprisingly, the biggest hurdle we face with these advancements is not the technology itself, but rather human behavior and our personal ownership and responsibility to our health and wellbeing. The future of these advancements rests with each us and our willingness to selflessly serve and provide access to the required data. To that end, ask yourself, what value do you place on your health and wellbeing and the safety of those with whom you serve?

In Chief Lasky’s words: “Sounds kind of selfish, doesn’t it? Firefighters thinking of themselves first. It doesn’t seem to fit—or does it? In order to commit to a life of selflessness and be good at it, you have to care for yourself first.”

Are you willing to prioritize your safety and the safety of your crew by providing the necessary data to proactively thwart potential health risks? After all, when we fail to do the responsible thing when known conditions exist, we not only put ourselves at risk, we put others at risk as well. Is this truly the ownership we seek?

Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, PTSD and many other occupational illnesses continue to claim far too many within our ranks. It’s with this thought in mind that I challenge each of you to truly take pride and ownership in this great profession. Prioritize your health and wellness first, not simply for the love of the job, but rather for the longevity of your life, your career and the many cherished memories ahead.

June is the annual Firefighter Safety Stand Down. This year’s theme is “Be Aware – Get Checked,” underscoring the importance of early detection through annual medical evaluations and physicals. I challenge you to get involved in this event and show your commitment to your health.

A truly selfless servant will never allow the tasks that bring about personal gratification to overshadow his or her responsibility to serve and protect. Let us never forget that to serve in this great profession is a privilege, a privilege we ALL must cherish and protect.

Tim Sendelbach
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