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Bobby Reynolds worked for 20 years as a line firefighter in Portland. Since leaving that job in 2008, he has worked for Republican, Democratic, and Independent politicians.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I was a professional fireman. Yes, I say fireman because when I served — back in the prehistoric days — it was dudes-only. There were no doors on the jump seats and many of us rode standing up.

The self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) were stored on the trucks but rarely came into use. Fact is, the more smoke one ate the tougher — and more admired — one became. We eventually started using the SCBA but only when you were about to be overcome by the fumes. This was seen as being a “real fireman.” And, if you were real tough, you’d join the ranks of the “heavers” — guys who, after taking too much smoke, grouped together out in the alley to throw up the recent firehouse meal.

Eventually, by the time my career was winding down, SCBA use was not only common but reinforced by peer pressure. Doors went on the jump seats (along with actual seats) and safety straps securing the riders became the norm. And yes, firemen became firefighters as women joined the ranks.

Each of these changes improved the service fire departments provide to the citizens and increased the safety of the men and women riding the rigs. Chief among the changes is the widespread use of the breathing apparatus. We resisted it at first because, hey, what did those virtue signaling, headquarter desk-jockeys who never come close to entering a burning building know about being “real firemen”? But now, years later, as I read the all-too-frequent obituary of another former colleague succumbing to cancer, I wonder what timebomb may be ticking away inside of my body. And, although I was proud to be a puker, it turns out rejecting sensible recommendations about safety wasn’t that smart.

What is it that makes so many of us humans so hardheaded that suggestions from others — even when it could literally save one’s life — are rejected? It leads me to wonder about all of the claims of “confusion” over the latest recommendation about mask-wearing and vaccine-getting relative to the recent surge of COVID-19.

Somehow politics has infiltrated the discussions around this issue (and every other issue it would seem). Many on the left seem to want to appear oh-so-caring and morally superior. I’ve seen more than one vehicle occupied by a single mask-wearing warrior (usually with a sticker proclaiming “Live Simply So That Others May Live” slapped on the rear bumper) winding its way down Western Avenue.

Then again, there are  those on the right who just can’t bring themselves to trust anything “big government” has to say (think: bureaucrats at HQ). Some want to make the recommendations being made by medical professionals mandatory; others yearn for mandates so they can defy them and show how patriotic they are. Talking heads on radio and some politicians plead with their constituents to “not comply” as if they are resisting the redcoats at Lexington and Concord.

What makes human beings so stubborn? Why did it take the sickness and deaths of those who, like me, refused (at least for a while) to heed the advice to protect ourselves? These, and other burning questions, remain unanswered.

Most things are not complicated or confusing.

If a firefighter is going into a smoke-filled building, common sense dictates that they wear the SCBA. Likewise, if one is going into close quarters with other human beings where the delta variant is surging, it’s a good idea to mask up. As for the vaccine, Brett Giroir, the guy who oversaw coronavirus testing for the Trump administration recently said “If you have not been vaccinated and you have not had COVID before, you will get the delta variant.” These things are not confusing and in need of little explanation.

When I started my career, we rode standing up and recommendations that we use breathing apparatus were shunned. By the end of my time as a firefighter, we rode sitting down, seatbelted safely inside a crew cab and the SCBA was an essential part of our protective gear. The peer-pressure to protect one’s self is made crystal clear by a huge poster hung on the bulletin board at the busy fire house where I once worked. Emblazoned across a drawing of a skeletal human head are the words “Use Your Skull – Wear Your Mask!”

Seems pretty straightforward to me.