Close the Book October 11 2012, 10 Comments
This week, my department released a very short, simple memo. It stated that on Monday October 8, 2012 Miami-Dade Fire Rescue would no longer maintain a hand written logbook. Perfunctory and to the point, the e-mail was sent to every firefighter in our department.
There wasn't a pause, a moment of silence, a last alarm, or even a mention of the tradition we killed in the name of efficiency. No one said a eulogy and no one rang a bell for the thousands of officers that had carefully documented everything that had happened on their watch at their station on any given day in Dade County. To think about the millions of calls our department has run in almost a hundred years is one thing. To see the volumes of logbooks that document every one of them is another.
Why was I so bothered by this change? Every other officer I talked to seemed thankful that this extra bit of work was being lifted from our shoulders. Don't get me wrong, at three o'clock in the morning there is no higher form of drudgery than sitting down and documenting some call that was anything but an emergency. Why, after five day, does this change still bother me? This was something that I had a hard time putting my head around. I'm certainly not a technology hater or a doomsday prepper. I have my iphone in my pocket. I'm on Facebook. I love having the TIC at my side going into a fire. And I'm sure the department has all of our documents secured on servers in fireproof rooms and virtual iclouds. Then it hit me.
Those logbooks--those documents written in so many different handwriting styles, are the only substantive evidence of the daily work we do. Those books are the only thing that you can pick up, feel, read, and see what that day--any day cost us. You can see it in the chicken scratch of tired officers or the careful letters of men who are not used to writing much more than their name. But most of all, you could walk in before your tour, run your finger down the column of calls and see if your brothers had a fire, a rough night, or if the gods were kind and let them sleep.
So this blog is not so much about blasting technology. It is more a warning to consider the things you leave behind in the name of efficiency.
What was lost today? Today I lost that moment in the morning when I sit with my coffee and write the names of each member of my company--that moment where I sit and consider their strengths and weaknesses and how I will use them in different situations. Sure I will still do this. I'll just have to find another way. And for me, writing these names was a reminder to myself, a contract that I am beholden to that states that I'm responsible for the safety of each firefighter at my station. If you don't believe me you can look for yourself and see it written in black and white on the page.
There isn't a blinking screen in the world that can provide that same feeling.