The Man in the Arena: All Our Small Actions Add Up

As fire-code officials, we hear the same questions asked by our own peers every day: "Why doesn't the code require XYZ? Why did the legislature take that type of action? Why has a solution not been implemented to address this serious fire-prevention problem?"

The questions of "why" go seemingly on and on in our profession while obvious answers lay out there beyond our grasp, just waiting to be implemented.

While there is always an answer to each of these questions, there is also a more expansive answer that we frequently choose to ignore for our own personal convenience. That answer has evolved as our greatest enemy to progress in the field of fire prevention.

That enemy is our own professional apathy.

In many cases, the bottom line is that someone has just not taken the initiative to correct the problem or not enough effort has been put forth to implement a solution.

It's not an epiphany to state that solutions to problems will rarely evolve out of doing nothing. Yet, somehow, we seem to expect that type of response when we confront problems that develop outside our local operating environment. We expect solutions to state and national problems because it's easy to assume that someone will write the code change, volunteer for the committee or call a legislator. Someone else will confront the problem and fix the issue for us.

After all, we also pay dues to associations expecting them to take care of those state and national issues for us so we can ignore them.

The problem is that there isn't always someone else out there to tackle a specific problem. Our state and national associations have their own financial and resource limitations. They're forced to prioritize their limited resources in order to receive the greatest return for their investment on behalf of their membership. If we wait for someone else to fix a problem, we are most likely going to be waiting a very, very long time.

Yes, we all feel overwhelmed in our own jobs and even more so with the cutbacks we've experienced over the last five years. Fewer people have the time or resources to participate in code-development meetings, attend a national conference or serve on a technical committee. However, everyone can find the time to at least draft a code change proposal, write or call a legislator or submit a comment to the state building commission.

These small actions add up. When 10 people draft a code change addressing the same problem or 50 people call a legislator, the odds move much more towards our favor.

As Teddy Roosevelt so eloquently stated in his famous "The Man in the Arena" speech,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds.

It's time for each of us to make a conscious decision to get our faces "marred by dust and sweat" in the state and national fire-prevention arenas.

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