Watch FDIC keynote speech: 'It's time to take back the fire service' – Lt. Frank Ricci, New Haven Fire Department.

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Make sure you take a few moments to listen Thursday’s passionate speech at FDIC in Indianapolis by New Haven Fire Department Lt. Frank Ricci. While Lt. Ricci talks about his experience in the “New Haven 20” case, that is far from his only topic.

Ricci urged the audience to stop blaming issues, particularly safety, on the culture of the fire service and instead begin taking personal responsibility. He challenges firefighters, chiefs and politicians to do the right thing.

You may agree with all of what Lt. Ricci has to say, some of what he has to say or none of it. But please keep my favorite words from his speech in mind, “We must be careful never to demonize those who disagree with us. We should only debate the issues.”

I have often wished I could get that point across to some of the people who write comments into this blog and other websites. But Dave is just dreaming.

For much more on the speech, check out FireRescue Magazine’s Shannon Pieper’s article. Here’s an excerpt:

In a forceful address that touched on topics as diverse as fire service culture, the need for stronger leadership, equal opportunity, merit and the debate over education vs. experience, Frank Ricci urged FDIC attendees to have “political courage” in his keynote address at today’s General Session.

Ricci, a lieutenant with the New Haven (Conn.) Fire Department who became a fire service household name when he led a successful lawsuit alleging that New Haven discriminated against firefighters with regard to promotion, quoted fire service legend Tom Brennan, who once stated that firefighters were “losing the fire service to the politicians.” Ricci argued that the same thing is happening now. “Tom knew that safety goes well beyond strategy and tactics,” he said. “Critical elements of our survival are dictated by politics.”

Arguing that politicians “view us as sheep, content to be slaughtered” and “shake our hands while they slash our budgets,” Ricci implored firefighters to get involved in politics, to take a stand: “How many of you are willing to go shoulder to shoulder against city hall? We must all get involved.”

If the fire service is going to successfully fight that battle, however, Ricci said that it first must get its “own house in order” and take personal responsibility for safety. That involves eliminating what Ricci identifies as they “four horsemen of the fire service”—lack of accountability, loss of faith, indifference and politics over merit.