FDNY Captain Paul Washington is being criticized after giving a recruitment presentation where he provided an honest and realistic view of what being a firefighter is like. He is under fire by co-workers and the NY Post who published an article titled FDNY captain claims firefighters ‘do not run into burning buildings’. This is a video of the talk he gave, and his comments they are citing start around the 4:19 mark.
Honestly on one hand I can absolutely understand why he’s getting that kind of criticism. His explanation is in direct contradiction to the propaganda and popularly held beliefs that have helped the case for firefighter compensation. In comparison, it would be akin to someone in EMS who says that EMS doesn’t save lives.
OMGWTF the AUDACITY!!! How could you EVER say such a thing?!?!?! (HINT: I wrote a book about it)
Of course, with that type of blasphemous statement you’d have to explain what EMS actually does then, just as Captain Washington went on to further explain what firefighters do. For that matter, after watching his presentation… I honestly wanted to see if I could still apply to be a firefighter (HINT: I can’t).
On the other hand I think that the public safety propaganda that we often perpetuate, and that the media and Hollywood type creatives emulate, does very little to help our actual cause when it comes to recruitment and retention. By not providing realistic examples we are setting people up for disappointment after they walk through our doors, dissatisfaction down the line, and eventually they will either leave for something that aligns more with what they want or turn your agency into a toxic environment for everyone else.
I honestly don’t think Captain Washington did anything wrong. I think his quote was taken out of context and no one bothered to listen to the entirety of his message. I also think we need to get past the propaganda and grandiose cinematic portrayals to recognize not only the reality of the job but the real people we have the power to potentially affect with real positive change.