By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. Certainly, just one of many polarizing topics in the U.S. today as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take the lives of Americans (143,000 as I write this piece) and we’ve reach more than 3 million confirmed cases.
But this post isn’t about whether you should wear a mask (I do and certainly recommend it!) or not. That’s entirely up to you.
No, this piece is about the message you’re sending to the public you serve as a firefighter.
Firefighters are consistently ranked in the Top 5 for professions that the public trust the most. So, whether you like it or not, wearing a mask or not wearing a mask is sending an extraordinarily strong non-verbal message to everyone who knows that you’re a firefighter.
The following was posted by my fire service colleague “across the pond”, Antonia Nicol, a firefighter with the London Fire Brigade:
When I decided to become a firefighter at 40 years old, I had many people tell me that I am a hero or that they couldn’t do what I do.
I have always been driven to help others my entire life. Whether it be donating water to children in need in Africa or working for various charities. So it felt like a natural and good progression for me to become a firefighter.
But I was scared.
Especially of the breathing apparatus. So claustrophobic and uncomfortable. I hated it.
But I persevered and my desire to help others overrode my fear and I eventually got used to it. It became second nature. It became part of the preparation ritual to help others.
Don the mask. Like Spiderman and Batman and all the other masked superheroes! So, when it came to wearing a face mask against the coronavirus, it means the same to me. I put the mask on because it protects other people.
A face mask in public is showing everyone that you care about them. That you are prepared to be in slight discomfort for a short period of time to help others. And that is what being a superhero is all about. An ordinary person willing to protect other people.
Wear a face mask!
And this from my fire service colleague and fire chief, Cheryl Horvath:
I just saw video of a Blue Lives Matter rally on Facebook and it was great to see the support for law enforcement. Yet here is my issue: very few masks worn by anyone and I am sure there were a few law enforcement participants in the rally.
Over the last few months, I have seen general apathy by a large segment of public safety personnel (fire included) who are not wearing masks on a regular basis at work. They wear the masks on calls but not in the fire stations, police HQ, or administrative office areas.
Now, many public safety organizations are screaming for Worker’s Compensation benefits for first responders who test positive for COVID-19 and want a WC benefit to cover the cost.
Yet, how many can always say they have been protecting themselves (e.g., wearing masks and practicing social distancing)? Our pension systems are drowning in debt. Walk the walk people. So, frustrated with double talk.