There is regularly more to emergency services than meets the eye.

It’s not always what we think. Sometimes it isn’t even close to what it sounds like. What someone told you might be wrong. Surprise - you may have been misinformed!

This is good advice for all of life, not just the fire service. We had a call years ago that was dispatched as “MVA car into trailer.” Looking for an accident on the highway was our first mistake! A car sped downhill (in their own driveway) and crashed into a modular home, knocking it off the foundation. Dispatch was entirely accurate, but we thought it meant something else. We were looking for a tractor trailer and car in the roadway. This certainly reinforces the benefit of keeping our eyes open, reevaluating what we hear, and especially of giving a clear and accurate size up, that is for sure.

How often do we check the accuracy of details for ourselves? I know we need to trust one another, but trust is earned and proven over time. We are responsible to verify what our own eyes see, with what we are told for our own safety. I love what is says in Proverbs 18:17 “The first person to speak in court always seems right until his opponent begins to question him” (Good News translation). How quickly the comments rage on Facebook when a photo is posted, both good and bad, without knowing the details.

As a former fire commissioner, I recognize how important it is to seek out sources and experts, to verify and confirm the latest rumor regarding the most recent changes. We can keep ourselves up to date and out of a lot of trouble - if we simply take the time to confirm the source and review (examine) the accuracy of our own understanding, before we react and repeat an inaccuracy. I know, it is so much easier to form an opinion before doing any research. Look into it, see what you can find. You may be surprised.

Once I was told NFPA could fine and shut a fire department down! Those of us who know the system, know that in New York State, PESH does inspections and has the authority to give warnings and/or fine for violations, not NFPA (they have the extensive written volumes of safety standards). We need to get our facts straight. Good leaders recognize there are always two or three opinions, sometimes even four perspectives!

Here is a more tangible example of how confusion can spread. Not everyone has read the Best Practices document for themselves - some just rely on what another person told them … that someone said … whose friend from a neighboring department (you get the idea) was at a seminar over a year ago when it first came out.

Knowing the purpose and intent can change everything. If we don’t, it is so easy to misinterpret another’s words, actions or reactions. Take this situation: You just get back from a good save. You are tired, dirty and ready to rest. The truck has to be put back together and ready for the next run. You ask one of the firefighters where the TIC is and they jump down your throat about how they didn’t even use it and storm out of the bay. You weren’t upset, but you accidently discovered someone who was. Most of us have either seen or been part of a similar exchange.

So what is really going on here? Are they just cranky because they are “hangry” and someone needs to hand them a Snickers bar? Did the Chief come down hard on them yesterday for not putting tools back where they belong after use – for the third time – and you accidently stepped into it? Maybe their best pal just got diagnosed with cancer and doesn’t want many folks to know yet, so that information is still all bottled up inside.

It probably isn’t you. Occasionally we run into folks having a bad day. Maybe their glucose levels are plummeting or their new blood pressure medicine isn’t helping at all. It could be one of more than a dozen personal or health issues that have nothing to do with you. Walk away from assuming the ‘worst case scenario conclusion’ and wait till you have more details. There is always more to the story. Save the habit of being prepared for the worst for what you do, not for jumping to conclusions in relationships.

Don’t take things so personally. Adrenaline tends to make all of us a little crazy – at least once in our careers. Isn’t that part of what we love about this job?

Another version of Proverbs 18:17 puts it this way “The person who tells one side of a story seems right, until someone else comes and asks questions” (New Century Version). Be the person who asks questions. Ask other firefighters how they are doing. Make sure you accurately understand the intent and purpose of changes that come down the pike.

We have been handling changes for years, and it seems to come quicker all the time with new technology and the ability to communicate simultaneously on multiple medias. Find out for yourselves and don’t just take someone else’s word for it.

The Book of Proverbs has lots of good tidbits of information. It is a source of the timeless Wisdom of Solomon and still applies to humanity today. Take a look and see what else is in there! Trust me, you really will be glad you did - but do your own research - don’t just take my word for it. Go straight to the source, confirm it, discuss it with others and come to your own conclusion.

Barrie-Lyn Foster served as Chief Chaplain of the New York State Association of Fire Chaplains ( from 2009-2012. She is member of FASNY, CCAES, NCVFA, CNYFA, and Aurelius Volunteer Fire Department. She has served as Secretary, Lieutenant, Captain, Fire District Commissioner, Fire Chaplain, EMT, and is a Certified Fire Instructor.