Friday, June 30, 2006

Wanted: Crew boss (Must speak 14 different languages.)

This has become ridiculous. I'm almost sick of hearing about it, but this subject just won't go away. Hispanics who move to or otherwise work in this country rather than assimilating by learning to speak English, are demanding and apparently forcing others to learn to speak Spanish in order to communicate with them. Here, in the age of Politically Correct non-offenders, apparently it is WRONG to require a new hire to be able to speak English, but it is NOT WRONG to require a veteran employee to be able to speak Spanish in order to communicate with that new hire. (I originally saw this report on Niel Cavuto on Fox news, but this is the only link I can find.)

It's really a matter of economics. The Private Contractors who employ these fire crews are able to pay a much lower wage to the Spanish speaking firefighters, thereby underbidding other higher paying contractors for the assignment. It is much cheaper for them to demote the veteran and promote a new bi-lingual guy than to hire English speaking firefighters, for which they would have to pay a higher wage.

They say it is for safety's sake. They say that the boss should be able to communicate with everyone on his crew. While true, it is also equally (if not more) important for those crew members to be able to communicate amongst themselves. The article cited an example of a rock falling. Well...falling rock, falling tree, whatever the hazard...what if the "boss" didn't see it? What if a Spanish speaking crew member saw it, and it was about to endanger the life of an English speaking crew member. What then? Should the Spanish speaking crew member be required to "filter" his emergency communication to the English speaking crew member via his bilingual boss? As absurd as that sounds, that is how it stands today.

Having worked within a large multi-jurisdictional, Incident Command System before, I can tell you that things change....and they often change rapidly. Crew assignments can be cut short or abandoned all together to be consolidated with other crews battling a rapidly advancing fire line due to changing wind conditions, for example. The boss could be hurt or otherwise incapacitated, requiring a Spanish speaking crew member to make the call for help from an English speaking Sector Chief or Incident Commander. The possibilities are endless. The senarios, no matter how absurd they sound, can and do happen on the fireline.

Has this "Politically Correct" atmosphere we've created for ourselves proved, in fact, to be dangerous? Are we so scared of offending one another that common sense goes by the wayside? Are we willing to continue this "bending over backwards" to accomodate non-English speaking workers at the expense of safety? What if the worker is Czech? What if they are Icelandic? What if they are Swahili? Where do we draw the line? Wouldn't it be safer to require workers to speak English, rather than than to adopt the absurd assumption that we will always be able to provide translation for them, no matter what language they speak? How deep will this rabbit hole take us?

Those of you who read this site know my opinions on this matter. What do you think?