Fire Ninja: have you ever given much thought to the origins of the Spork?
on 15 November, 2013

At first glance, it seems like a neat idea, combining more than one tool into something universally useful, right? The history of the Spork dates back to 1874, when Samuel Francis came up with the idea and was issued the first patent on the original prototype. Since then there have been multiple attempts at improving the design and upgrading the composition, but the Spork still has several fundamental flaws. The spoon really doesn’t work that well as a spoon and the fork doesn’t work that well as a fork. Rather than uniting the functional attributes of two tools, it has basically diminished the functionality of both.

‘Ahh, wise Fire Ninja, is there a lesson to be learned here from the Spork?’

Of course my loyal ninjas in training!

As firefighters, as emergency responders, we are frequently confronted with the challenge of: ‘Doing More with Less.’

 A classic Spork scenario if I’ve ever seen one.

 As most people will agree, as a whole, we are Type A personalities.

From the website:  Simply Psychology.org

Type A personalities experience a constant sense of urgency: Type A people seem to be in a constant struggle against the clock. Often, they quickly become impatient with delays and unproductive time, schedule commitments too tightly, and try to do more than one thing at a time, such as reading while eating or watching television

Sound familiar to anyone? But this definition was really created in the context of defining a Type A personality in the ‘civilian’ world. When lives are on the line, are we granted the luxury of a Type B response? Of course not, so it is a self-perpetuating definition really when it comes to our industry. Even if by nature you are a Type B personality, when the bell rings, you better be putting on your Type A helmet or you’ll find yourself challenged to be an effective operator.

But I say that there is nothing wrong with that. Why not embrace your A side? Stretch out into it and allow it to mold your strategies and tactics. Awareness is the key here. Being aware of your strengths, being aware of your weaknesses and having the critical, internal perspective to identify when a well-intentioned plan may be leading you down the path to failure.

Ah ha! The Spork analogy!

Firefighters are Type A personalities, we are do-er’s. We are fixers! When faced with a task we find a way to complete it. When challenged by obstacles, we invent ways around them. This can be our strongest professional trait or it can lead us into dangerous environments. It should remain a key priority of ours to be aware of this reality and use that awareness to format our goal development.

This really speaks to the broad perspective of emergency services evolution. In the old days, a firefighter was a firefighter and a medic was a medic. How many places are there left in the world where that simplified distinction can be made? You might still find it in some big cities, but more and more, the customers want more for their money. The taxpayers or even those clients in the private industry sectors want to turn us into SPORKS! Don’t see the connection?

Google Public Safety Officer and see what you find. The concept of rolling the skills of a police officer, a firefighter and a medical responder into one neat package has been around a long time. In the United States, the small town of Grosse Pointe Woods has been doing it successfully since 1944. There are multiple examples out there. Some that have worked for decades, some that have failed and split into police & fire and some that are pursuing it as an option for the future. For me, the interesting thing is the concept and the functionality of the end result. While it seems like a good idea from a distance, are we really just creating sporks?

It’s an interesting debate and as with most interesting concepts, there are multiple ways of looking at the issue. Some may take the perspective of the old saying: ‘A Jack of all trades and a master of none’ There is an argument that the dilution of training that might occur to encapsulate the training of all three specialties would wind up producing a weakened end result. But I would offer, aren’t we tasked with being a little bit of all three on most calls?

Shelf the discussion on the training side of things and think about the types of calls that we are responding to today. The reason we don’t see a lot of singularly specialized emergency responders these days is because the calls that we go to may include a prismatic assortment of challenges, skill sets and demands. We simply can’t allow ourselves to only be good at one, and hope that we’ve got back up coming for all the rest. That’s not how we work and that’s not the reality of our industry.

I don’t care where you’re working, what country you are in or what your training background is, ask yourself this simple question. Year after year, what type of emergency response category tops the statistics as far as shear types of calls?

Medicals. You know that, I know that, the whole world knows that, right? So as a new firefighter, if I’m entering into an industry where I know that the statistical average has clearly proven that I’ll need to develop strong medical skills, who am I letting down when I say ‘I just want to ride on the fire truck, they can have that ambulance stuff!’  I hear that all the time and I shake my head in frustration. Even if you don’t have a passion for medicine, even if you don’t have the stomach for it, if you know the statistics of this industry and then knowingly resign yourself to doing the absolute minimum in that realm, you are doing a disservice to yourself and to the people that are counting on you. If you want to be a great firefighter, you can be a great firefighter, but the reality of our situation these days, is that whether you like it or not, you better start trying to be a great EMT, Haz Mat Tech, Rescue Tech, etc, etc.

So I return to the humble Spork. The concept of the spork is valid.

 Do more with less; complete more than one function with minimal resources.

But the simple spork does not have the ability to evolve. It is a half spoon, half fork mutant, destined to work only half as good as it’s ‘parents’. We must resolve to become the Anti-Spork. We must resolve to be the Swiss Army knives or Leathermans of our trade.

Poised to handle anything that arises, each tool oiled, sharpened and its peak performance level.

Always ready, always prepared, always capable.

Remember, friends don’t let friends become Sporks.

Standing by in the shadows….

                                               ~ The Fire Ninja

  • Operation Florian

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