A Guest Post By Dr. Burton Clark – A Present For Santa

This is a guest post and content is that of the author, Dr. Clark

A present for Santa – Burton A. Clark

What can the fire service give as a Christmas present to for the man that has everything and gives everything to all of use.  If you are the Oak Ridge Fire Department in Tennessee you give him a SEATBELT.

Such a humble present does not seem like a valuable present at first glance, but it is a symbol of love, caring, and hope that are the foundation of Christmas; like Santa himself.

Thanks to the firefighters at the Oak Ridge Fire Department the firefighting elves at the North Pole are retro fitting Slay 1 right now so the Chief will be in compliance with NFPA red slay safety standard for the  December 24 annual worldwide response.

In the mean time Ops Chief Mrs. Claus requires all fire departments to insure Santa is seated and belted if he is riding out with your FD.

On a personal note, even though I am retired; I leaned an important lesson all over again: If you see something say something! It may just keep someone important to you safe.

I am grateful to the Oak Ridge FD for letting this old firefighter stick his nose in their business.  That is what more of us needed to do if we what Everyone to Go Home.

The Oak Ridge FD Santa Story

By Josh Waldo, Deputy Chief Oak Ridge FD TN

The Oak Ridge Fire Department has been participating in the city’s Christmas parade for over 60 years, so as the 2014 parade drew near the ORFD made preparations for this year’s parade.  With 60 years of parade practice to draw from, the ORFD has a handle on how to prepare for a parade.  Shine the trucks, have Christmas music for the PA system, and have a spot for Santa to sit on top of the fire truck.  This can all be handled the day of the parade with little effort and is something that we don’t really have to put a lot of time, thought, or effort into……..that was until this year. 

The morning of the parade, I was standing in line at the local shopping mall waiting for my son to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas, when I got a voicemail from Dr. Burt Clark.  I have had the privilege to meet Dr. Clark on several occasions and he and his wife Carolyn have even done some training for my department in the past.  Before listening to the voicemail I thought to myself, “Wow Dr. Clark is calling me on a Saturday unsolicited, this is awesome”.  So as I start listening to the voicemail and Dr. Clark starts off by offering Christmas greetings and pleasantries but then moves on to talk  about a picture on social media from our 2013 Christmas parade.  The picture was of Santa and some elves on top of the fire truck and none of them are wearing seatbelts.  Having worked with our department in the past Dr. Clark felt that he had to call and point out the fact that we weren’t practicing what we preached. 

The ORFD has a seatbelt policy that requires members to wear a seatbelt anytime they are in a fire department or any city vehicle, so why was Santa and his elves excluded from this policy.  Simply put, we never had thought about the risk we were taking by putting Santa and the elves on the truck because after all it is just a parade right………. wrong.  There are no excuses when it comes to safety tolerance and if we were going to require firefighters to wear seatbelts on the truck, then we should also require Santa and the elves to do the same.  After listening to Dr. Clark’s voicemail I forwarded it on to our Fire Chief Darryl Kerley and simply ask “now what are we going to do”?  Do we simply act like we didn’t get the voicemail in time and carry on as usual, that would be the easy thing to do.  Do we take Santa off the fire truck and just let him walk behind the engine in the parade, anyone who understands the politics of being fire chief knows this wasn’t an option.  Could we make up excuses about why it was just too difficult and say we did the best we could and move on.  All of these were viable options and honestly easy options but Chief Kerley instead decided to take action. 

Chief Kerley called the on duty crews and instructed them to secure the platform that Santa’s chair sat on to the hose bed with nuts and bolts and to secure his chair to the platform in the same manner.  He told them once that was done to add a seat belt to Santa’s chair so that he would be belted into the seat anytime he was on the apparatus.  Most people would expect the firefighters to roll their eyes at this added safety request and look at it as overkill but that was not the case.  The firefighters in the ORFD are accustomed to wearing their seatbelts when they ride the apparatus so requiring Santa to do the same only made sense.  The ORFD has a safety culture that is accustomed to doing things the right way which made the fact that he had overlooked this huge safety risk with Santa even more frustrating. The logical question was why hadn’t we addressed this before?  Simply put we were blind to the danger and it took a phone call from someone nearly 9 hours away to point it out to us. 

The 2014 Christmas parade went off without a hitch.  Santa’s elves rode in the cab of the apparatus and were all belted in place and Santa sat belted in his chair while he waved to everyone who lined the streets to see him.  Most people in the crowd that night probably never noticed the difference between this year and years past.  Had an elf or Santa fallen off the top of the fire truck during the parade not only would our citizens noticed, we would be national news for all the wrong reasons.  We had been repeatedly making the same mistake over and over for many years and had accepted our practice as acceptable due to a normalization of deviance.  Had Dr. Clark not decided to pick up the phone and reach out and say what you are doing is wrong we may have never corrected that deviation.  We as the fire service routinely see things that we know are wrong but yet we fail to act.  We will never know if that failure to act every resulted in a negative outcome or if people and organizations continue to get lucky and get by without an accident happening.  However when we do decide to act and speak up when something is wrong we normally get to see immediate results.  I would much rather know that I prevented something from happening as opposed to never knowing how things turned out.  So with that, thank you Dr. Clark for having the courage to make that call as it would have been much easier to have just ignored it and moved on, hoping to not see us on the national news.  A simple phone call with a tough message not only reinforced the safety culture within our organization but it probably prevented a future accident.    Safety is a 365, 24/7 commitment regardless if we are running code 3 to a fire or simply driving Santa through the Christmas parade.  If we are going to hold our firefighters accountability and set a good example for our community we have to practice that belief all the time, even in a parade. 

Merry Christmas to All

and to

All A Good Night

HO- HO-HO

S.C.

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