The Fire Chief Project: Are we saying clean-water operators should change their personalities?

A reader says operators and firefighters are different types of people

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This comment comes from Rachel Reese, a writer in Niceville, Fla.:

I’d like to begin by saying that I love TPO magazine. You captured my attention and affection from the start when you featured Joni Emrick, the water resource manager from Kalispell, Mont., on the cover in April 2009. I had the good fortune to meet her at the WEFTEC convention in New Orleans, where she was quite the celebrity. I feel, in good part, it was because of that story.

I love your enthusiasm for the clean water industry and enjoy reading your editorials; and I believe I understand the good intention behind your recent proposal to seek status parity for us along with firefighters. But, after having been in this industry for 30 years, my observations have led me to the conclusion that water utility folks are different animals than firefighters.

It is their taciturn nature and patience that makes them effective stewards of day in and day out operations – and prompt and effective responders to unplanned or emergency situations that interrupt routines.

My father-in-law and two brothers-in-law were firefighters; my husband is water utility manager. If you were to sit around a family gathering at the holidays and watch the interaction among the eight siblings, you would see an immediate difference in the personalities of the firefighters and the water man.

The firefighters are boisterous and animated and are at the front of every conversation. On the other hand, my husband watches and waits, timing his contributions in a manner that goes with the flow.

The Fire Chief Project title sends a message that reinforces the imagery and influence that you have noted little boys and girls grow up with. That’s good for firefighters. They’ve earned it. But can we not sustain our own contributions to our communities with titles that reflect what we do and who we are?

Points well taken, Rachel. The basic nature of clean-water operators – I do my job, I do it well, that’s enough – is to be respected and appreciated. The intent of The Fire Chief Project isn’t to have clean-water operators become someone or something they are not. It is to have them do things in the community that elevate the stature and respect of the profession, and they can readily do that working within their own personalities.

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