Thursday, March 18, 2010

Have You Been Watching the Olympics?

Originally, the Olympics were about the athletes. The ethos of sport- higher, faster, stronger was easily understood by all. However, the Olympics have lost some of their allure, as member nations are not unlike major sports franchises: athletes giving up citizenship for a berth on a foreign county’s team. The Olympics were supposed to be about the individual athletes, but that’s not going to pay the huge production cost, so countries like Greece go bankrupt to put on a show that they can ill-afford. Long ago, the hometown team was comprised of local guys who had roots in the community. Now, it’s about the highest bidder.

In a nation where sports figures assume near god-like stature, one has to reflect on what is really important. Millions of people badly in need of exercise watch athletes badly in need of rest. Salaries bear sad testimony to our inverted value system. In a perfect world, first grade teachers should be at the top of the pyramid. Or as Lee Iacocca said, “Only the best would be teachers and the rest would have to settle for something else.”

But whether it’s a visit to the Dallas Cowboys palace with Mark Gist or Disney World last week, there are lessons that can be learned and transferred to make the Firefighter Combat Challenge better and better. Many Olympians have trained intensely for four years to get their 12 seconds in the limelight. Listening to the NBC commentary, I was making the comparisons between these world-class athletes and our own FCC Competitors.

Some of this stuff is heart-wrenching. A single slip and it’s all down the tubes. Things that are outside your control. Skiing down the side of the mountain at 60+ mph and catching an edge; inconsistency in the ice; white-out conditions; blizzards, melting snow, broken Zamboni’s and so on and so forth. And it’s not just at the Olympics. How about NASCAR’s premier race the Daytona 500? Having to stop the race for more than two hours to round up all the Bondo® in the universe to fix a pothole on the course. That cost NASCAR 17 million Fox viewers and a lot of prestige.

Just about all of the sports that happen outdoors have weather-related issues. Track and field will negate any wind-aided records. In golf, if you play in the morning, the greens are wet. Rodeo is animal-dependent. We all know about the NFL and their “go in any condition” policy. Plus, the kicking game becomes very much a crap-shoot with winds aloft having a huge part in the outcome. And speaking of outcomes, what about a blown call changing the winning team- a factor that occurs with annoying regularity.

Baseball calls it quits as soon as it starts to rain, but again wind and temperature have a lot to do with what happens with the long fly balls. So, outside of bowling, curling, billiards and a few other hermetically-controlled indoor sports, weather, time of day, etc. are a part of sport. Even in drag racing, a pretty much, straight-ahead, reaction-time activity has their preferred lanes.

So what’s the take-away? We carry close to 200,000 pounds of stuff over 35,000 miles each year and set-up more than 20 times the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge with a consistency that sees a guy like Joe Horton come within seconds of his PR at each race. We strive mightily to tweak the rules to be unlike basketball; i.e., “keep the officials out of it.”

Weather, especially rain can impact traction. As a parking-lot based sport, we are held hostage to the surface that the host can provide. Sometimes, we’re square in the middle of downtown, between the curbs on Main Street. Or, under the $100M VivaVision on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. We walk a balancing act between providing the viewing public with a great show or sequestering ourselves to obscure locations with great traction. Difficult choices sometimes. We are well aware that the coefficient of friction of the thermoplastic gliders on the Keiser Forcible Entry Simulator, i.e., “the Slammer” changes with temperature. We are driven by our relentless pursuit for perfection in an imperfect world. In the grand scheme of sport, we run a pretty consistent and professional contest.

“Everyone’s a critic” is an epitaph that is frequently heard in all walks of life and certainly has applicability in sport as proven by the sports pages. There are a lot of gainfully employed reporters who make a pretty good living criticizing. But, we’re looking for solutions. Our search for perfection is not driven to make things easier; it’s to make them the same. The “level playing field“ is a reference that is based on sport and it’s a part of our mission.

Your dedication does not go unnoticed. Similarly, in fulfillment of our obligation, we invest thousands of dollars and man-hours to continually improve the platform. We just want to provide you with the stage that you deserve to showcase your talents to our stakeholders: the taxpayers who foot the bill for the best fire protection that we can provide. As the Olympics came to a conclusion, I couldn’t help but reflect on how so many of you train with the intensity of the world-class athletes that you are. I’m sorry that there are not million-dollar endorsements awaiting your successes. But I believe that there are great rewards that transcend the receipt of a medal. There are actual people walking around today that would not have been able to do so without your intervention. That’s something that you can live with.