Almost a year ago, there was a bit of a brouhaha in the fire community—especially the local fire community—about some “championships” sponsored by the National Fire Performance League. I wrote about what little I knew at the time.
I learned shortly after the NFPL event that it was organized by a guy I kinda knew: one of my fire friends, Baru, went to the event and had a chance to chat with the organizer about it, and she learned that it was his very explicit intent to avoid associating his (or anyone’s) name with the event/organization.
A few months ago, he got wind of the blog entry linked above, and called me on the phone asking me to take it down, since it was showing up in Google searches before any of his own pages. I refused, but said that if he wanted to post a rebuttal somewhere, I would happily link to it. He wound up posting the last comment you see on that blog entry now.
A couple of weeks ago, I encountered the organizer, which was momentarily awkward, but we wound up talking about what he’s doing for about 90 minutes.
He told me he’s been involved in fire performance for only 3 years. I get the impression that is part of why he’s reluctant to have his name associated with the NFPL: because he doesn’t have a well-established name in the community. He’s been doing shows, and has gotten schooled by more established performers on two issues: safety and rates. He’s apparently taken these lessons to heart, and wants to promote better safety standards and more awareness of what a fire performer can/should earn for a gig. He also wants to create a mechanism for pairing up newcomers with established performers as a mentoring thing.
And in general, he feels that the fire community is too fragmented, and he wants to make the NFPL the central talking-shop to tie us all together and to use it to reach these goals, which are reasonable, even laudable.
One problem with this is the wheel-reinvention. There are other websites and organizations that that already exist but have not become centralized talking shops (I am reminded of the Unification Church, which seeks to unify all religions by creating yet another religion). And there are organizations with overlapping goals: I mentioned NAFAA to him. He had never heard of it. I did not get around to mentioning Wildfire or Fire Drums or the Crucible, and I wonder if he’s heard of them.
There’s also considerable irony in the fact that someone trying to organize a talking-shop is so opposed to communicating himself. I tried to emphasize to him, in a friendly way, that I thought his insistence on anonymity had backfired. He explained he got a lot of hate mail, and even one physical threat (which would be hard to carry out against an unknown person, but whatever). He felt that this justified his insistence on anonymity. Of course, I think it was mostly created by his insistence on anonymity.
Indeed, anonymity is the crux of his problem. People in the fire community often keep outsiders at arm’s length, because they know that exposure to people who don’t understand it can be dangerous, because they feel protective of the community, and because they are concerned about fire performance being exploited on someone else’s terms. My perception is that people in the community gain a reputation based on their accomplishments, their helpfulness, and their humility. And for any major undertaking that involves the community, reputation is the key to community buy-in, which in turn is the key to the success of the undertaking. While an anonymous person obviously has humility in spades, the humility hides one’s reputation (or lack thereof), but more importantly, masks whether the person is even a part of the community. Many people were concerned that (or assumed that) the NFPL was organized by outsiders to exploit us.
In short, I think his goals have merit, but he’s shown poor judgment. Although he’s done a fair amount of homework, he seems to have the enthusiasm of a newcomer who looks around and says “I want to do this! And this! And this!” without finding out what others had already attempted.
Since he wants to be anonymous, I’ve avoided naming him in this post.