22 February 2009

The Tao of 911

The Heirs of Irrascible Fire Chiefs and Other Rough-Cut Characters

I’ve talked now and then about the rise of the emergency services system in West Virginia generally and Marion County particularly. Tough and hardy souls ran individual departments throughout the first two-thirds of the twentieth century and protected their neighbors. Around 1970, there was an outburst of innovation in communication technology, government funding, interdepartment cooperation and in the development of EMS as a healthy third service. That was not without some birth pangs. I well remember hours upon hours of meetings over operational policies of the most mundane variety that were head-banging, hang-yourself, fingernails-on-a-blackboard miseries.

The first thing that made these meetings so unenjoyable was the nature of the people involved (me included.) The emergency services do not attract normal people. If you have a group of those folks, it is not a group of quiet people with just a few leaders talking. It’s a group of aggressive people with considerable egos and questionable tempers. So, when those folks are meeting to make progress on something, the first half hour or forty five minutes is spent with bitching, invective, personal slurs, irrelevant war stories and general bad disposition. That makes it unpleasant, but it’s the nature of the beast and that’s the way those meetings have to go. Then, you get down to business, and slog through uninteresting-but-important stuff.

How, for example, will structures be identified or addressed? Marion County has a rural numbering system, and whenever I’m driving out in the county and see the fire locator signs, I remember the guys who came up with it. (The county is switching to city-type street addressing. In 1977 or so, a group of us went to the postmaster to suggest that the new locator system do just that, and the postmaster swore that the government would never abandon the rural route & box system.) When you call 911, the call is answered a certain way, and the call dispatched to the department(s) another certain way, and so forth. The result is that all of these thousands of irrascible people-hours by 100+ dedicated people have produced a system that now looks like off-the-cuff simplicity to the citizen-user.

This morning, LaG needed taken to the hospital. (This evening, she’s been admitted and is doing much better.) I called 911. “911, do you have an emergency?” Same question that was decided on in 1978. And so forth. Engine company comes from one direction, rescue squad from another, calm, smooth, no problem, everyone does their job, and it looks easy. But oh, so much against-the-table-head-banging went into making it that way.

I imagine that there are lots of systems that are similar, a great deal of work to yield a smooth and simple effect to the “consumer.” This is just the one that I know from both sides.

Care of Equipment

At the grocery store on the way to No. 3 after leaving the hospital, I parked the Audi in front. A kid at the register complimented the car. I told him, it’s 10 years old, and has 140,000 miles on it. How, he asked? And I passed on a bit of what my Dad taught us about care of equipment, that slight fanaticism in maintenance and care leads to a much longer service life.

Addendum to Society Stand-Down Proposal

Yesterday’s stand-down proposal was not well documented. Not that every idea that comes undocumented from my mind is automatically a lame one, but it is nice to have a little authority from time to time. While I was passing the time in the ED this morning, I was flipping around on the Kindle without focusing on anything intensely. I ran across a passage in the Tao Te Ching (haven’t read it in many years). It says that a muddy pond will clear up if you just leave it alone for a while.

I'm trying to think of a Biblical equivalent, but I am coming up blank. The idea that sometimes you need to stand back and let your options clarify themselves or that you need to quit messing with things makes sense, so I wonder if there is a Biblical passage or two that addresses it. Scholarly readers, any idea?

Hmmm - a thought. "Scholarly readers." I hope that doesn't sound snooty. When I was in college at Fairmont State, a janitor in the building where the English Department was housed would overhear lectures in the "Bible as Literature" class and then discuss them with any of us interested. Red was his name, and Red was as much a scholar as anyone there.

Pippa passes.


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