I Can’t Save You, But I’ll Die Trying: The American Fire Culture is a collection of essays representing years of fire-service experience including operations, prevention, education, safety, leadership, culture, and philosophy giving readers, both civilian and firefighters, a new understanding of our fire culture. The book reveals important changes society must make to provide a more fire-safe environment for firefighters and the public.
Burt Clark is a troublemaker and a maverick. Furthermore, he is a bane to those enamored with the stereotypical hard-drinking and smoking firefighter portrayed in the past by such movies as Backdraft and Ladder 49 and to a profession where the highest form of honor is a line-of-duty (LODD) death with full military honors. No, Dr. Clark is not one of this ilk. Rather, he, as exemplified throughout his long tenured career in the fire service and as faculty at the National Fire Academy, is one who has and continues to reexamine the long established culture of the fire service, with a passion for making it safer, more efficient, and more professional. Dr. Clark's monograph is a collection of essays and articles, published over the course of almost 40 years in the fire service. During this time, he questioned such relevant issues as LODDs, advocated for seatbelt use in fire apparatus, and became a champion for the calling of Mayday (call for help) among firefighters. His writing is an in-your-face approach to critical issues in the fire service with respect to safety, performance, and even to the very roots of the fire-fighting culture. His writings challenge the heart of the fire-fighting profession, both volunteer and career; and his words should not be taken lightly or brushed off for the fear of injuring one s feelings. Such is the aim of someone who has the foresight to propose, nay demand, a reevaluation of a noble profession. Clark asks why firefighters die and even challenges the classification that their deaths are considered LODDs (or its equivalent, KIA killed in action). Rather, he proposes using the Wikipedia term occupational fatality 1 as an indication that something went wrong (p. 55). If not a scholarly choice for a source, nevertheless, the phrase poses a query that penetrates to the core of the fire service. Terminology notwithstanding, Clark challenges the idea that dying is part of the profession. This approach runs counter to what past (and present) fire-service personnel are ingrained to believe when entering the profession firefighters go to work, and some do not always come home. Moreover, he contends that we, in the profession, know the answer, but may lack the collective courage (p. 62) to make this a reality. Such opinion is seldom heard, one would guess, at the firehouse coffee table. Beyond the LODD argument, the author examines two critical but often overlooked issues relative to firefighter safety: wearing seatbelts and calling Mayday. Clark has long been the leading advocate for fire personnel wearing seatbelts, and his creed is founded upon no new research, rather the obvious seatbelts save lives. His advice comes with a simple order: Put on your seatbelt (p. 88). The irony, as Clark sees it, is the fact that we in the fire service, who are dedicated to saving lives, do not always, let us say, practice what we preach. The greater question here is what can be said about the fire service when we must be told to practice safety? The author takes a somewhat different approach when calling Mayday. Although not as commonplace as seatbelt use with regards to existing fire department standard operating procedures, Clark noted back in 2001 that NFPA® 1001, Standards for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications (1997), did not even mention the term. Over a decade later, NFPA® 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, has come to address the issue. In fact, the standard s nomenclature included Mayday directly because of Clark s efforts. As a side note, there were those from the NFPA® who actually expressed concern over the use of the term, arguing that it might have jeopardized the safety of military pilots should other agencies overhear the term in the case of a firefighter emergency. --Dr. JM Moschella, Anna Maria College
Firefighters Bookstore Item # 6324