Throughout the year it’s important to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are headed. It’s good not just to reflect on the fire service but the world as a whole. After all, we serve the needs of humanity who are affected by disruptions caused by current world events and daily life.
Over the last few years we’ve had some exciting advances in space exploration. As humans, we’ve landed mobile science labs on Mars, launched probes out to Pluto and landed on a comet. Most notably is our incredible adventure of searching for life on other planets. It’s important to see the pale blue dot and realize
that life here on earth is massively insignificant to the rest of the universe. But it’s our piece of the pie and WE are ultimately responsible for it.
We’ve had and still have wars and conflict this past year in the Middle East and the outlook on that is still bleak. Asia is starting to stir up a little. Considering, the United States’ main export and the majority of our gross domestic product is our military-might we should all be paying attention.
At last years end we’re still losing, on average, one hundred firefighters per year and that statistic does not seem to be moving in the face of the numerous initiatives created to stop it. Our technology is getting better and science is assisting in adjusting our tactics to the changes in technologically advanced construction materials.
Last year at the Miami City Fire Academy, Lt. Almeida gave a half introduction speech/ half motivational speech to Miami City’s new recruits. It was an incredible display of fire service and military genius. It’s a must see if you haven’t. (Click here to watch) He raised a valid point about responding to aliens riding unicorns down main street. As an emergency response service, it’s important for us to be prepared to respond to everything, literally everything. One key point highlighted in the 9/11-commission report was that our leaders had a failure of imagination. As a people and our government we were taken by surprise that planes could be used as missiles and we were not prepared to respond to it because we failed to imagine that it could happen.
Keeping an open mind, shouldn’t we prepare for the unimaginable? Are aliens landing or even a ground war on U.S. soil unimaginable? Perhaps. But clearly, we are the folks charged with responding to the unimaginable. We would be the first to arrive in any situation. The military would not be able to respond as quickly as we could. Granted we wouldn’t be launching an offensive resistance but we would be trying to clean up the mess without becoming a casualty ourselves.
Back in 1992, William M. Kramer, Ph.D and Charles W. Bahme. J.D. published the 2nd edition of the Fire Officers Guide to Disaster Control published by Fire Engineering. The book is a great example of our pre-9/11 and pre-Presidential Directive #5 thought process. The manual stirred up a lot of controversy because of Chapter 13 entitled “Enemy Attack and UFO Potential.” How could these two highly educated men possibly pitch an idea such as preparing for alien invasion? Were they crazy? Or was Chapter 13 pure Fire Service genius?
The main idea we should take away from Chapter 13 of the Fire Officers Guide to Disaster Control, is to be prepared not only for an alien invasion but likewise, the unimaginable. It’s a call to broaden the scope of our thought process and to imagine the potential of our future failures.
There is nothing wrong with preparation, even if it’s weird. Writing a standard operating procedure that provides direction for incidents from bizarre plane crashes, military engagements, nuclear fallout, civil unrest, pandemic, unusual flash flooding and even alien invasion, answers the problem of failing to imagine potential emergencies. Again, we’re the people that have to show up to these things so why not piece together a procedure addressing it. Global “Weirding” is only going to cause more unusual incidents as time passes and as we ignore the environment.
It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for there to be Los Angelos style civil unrest in Ferguson Missouri, but it happened and judging by the fire dept. radio traffic, the St. Louis area fire service responded amazingly. That’s a credit to pre-planning.
The farther we reach into space the greater the chance we have of running into microscopic life and even intelligent life. Far fetched? Sure, but not entirely improbable. Just like every other incident that “could” potentially happen. You have to plan for the unimaginable
Start every month or year by taking pride in your pre-planning. Write an SOP for the unimaginable and review it annually. It’s ok to sit around with your shift and brainstorm. Your wildest imagination may not be so wild once the call drops. We’ve all had those moments post dispatch where we trot to the truck and think, “What did she just dispatch me too?” or “This ought to be interesting.” Well, If you had a better imagination those thoughts may never surface and you’d find yourself thinking, “Oh yeah, we anticipated this could happen, I’m glad we trained for it.”
Wreaths are on the front of the trucks, fire line tape garlands the tree,and snow chains are stowed nearby. The holidays are here. But which family will you be celebrating with? For those who have the tour off,they will be able to enjoy their “home” family. They will be able to seethe excitement in their kids’ eyes as they open presents, and will eat some amazing food in the company of their loved ones. Others will be on duty, providing safety and security for their respective communities and spending the Christmas holiday in turn-outs. However you are spending the holiday this year, remember the opposite family that you are not with.
Remember that the guys/gals at the firehouse are out and about, away from their family. One tradition I have instilled in my life is that I always stop by my local firehouse and bring them a pie for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Just a way to show that I appreciate them working hard to keep me and my family safe. But do we ever worry about ourselves?
However your holidays are spent this year, we all need time to take a break, and be with our families. This is our life, but there needs to be a way to recharge the batteries. Take some time to reflect and remember the sacrifices our spouses and children endure all year long while we are away at work. Remember how many events are missed, and how many times we wish we could “turn it off”. Not only for us, but mostly for them.
So for this year, think of the families that you will be spending them with. Make memories, get some much needed time to recharge the relationships that you have, both with your “at home” and “at work” families, and enjoy life. We only get one. This holiday season, lets also think of the families that will not be spending time with their firefighter. Let us all honor and respect those families whose firefighters did not return home after their Christmas tour of duty.
Over the last 20 years, these firefighters were lost in the line of duty
on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
James McMahon – Chicago, Il. (2015)
Jeffrey Fields – Youngsville, NC (2013)
Michael Chiapperini – West Webster, NY (2012)
Tomasz Kaczowka – West Webster, NY (2012)
Craig Starr – Plymouth, UT (2009)
John Stoudt – Summit Hill, PA (2004)
Shane Brown – Mansfield, LA (2003)
David Butler – Spring Branch, TX (2001)
Charles Lauber – Smithtown, NY (2000)
Lionel Hoffer – Milwaukee, WI (1994)
Stay safe everyone.
From Jon, Jason, James, and myself.
For many volunteer fire departments, low manpower is a major issue. Therefore, mutual aid is a necessary piece of equipment in the proverbial “tool box” in order to do the job effectively. However, to maximize the effectiveness of this tool, just like any other one, we must train with it on a regular basis. The benefits of cooperative training with neighboring departments are endless.
Fostering a personal relationship in a non-emergency environment with the members of your neighboring departments builds a level of trust, respect and understanding that is tantamount to effective team operation on a fire scene. Getting to know the strengths, weaknesses and personalities of each member ensures that the scene can be mitigated in themost effective manner possible. Having a pre-existing relationship with them puts cohesiveness in place before you even get on scene.
Knowing the availability and readiness of their resources is another important part of this tool. Being familiar with the equipment your mutual aid departments has available can save time and ensure that the right resources are being requested for the job. Knowing their equipment and procedures ensures the job is done with enough people, without having to figure out who can and who cannot operate the equipment. Even knowing the small things can make a huge difference in scene mitigation effectiveness. Knowing the coupling or thread type for their hydrants can save precious minutes in establishing a water supply.
An emergency scene is not the place to “work out the bugs”. The best place to do this is in regular training sessions with each other. However, just like any other tool, be it metaphorical or physical, it must be practiced regularly. Remember, we don’t train until we get it right; we train until we can’t get it wrong.
Anybody take pride in their bunk rooms? Some places have live-in firefighters with their own rooms while other places have large bunk rooms. Either way, take some time to add some personal flair to the place you lay your head at night. Pictures of your department’s history, action shots, posters, a disco ball – whatever you want to add some character. I particularly enjoy buying funny sheet sets for my house bag. Every six months or so, we’ll go to the store as a crew and buy ridiculous things to add to the bunk room. Most of us have children’s sheet sets and we never buy the same ones as each other. Again, silly things like this add to the character which adds up to having a station full of pride.
What are some goofy things you do? Share below. -1512
Great question, right? The proud and long tradition of the fire service and its perpetual state of public trust is a good place to start. In recorded history firefighters have always been at the beck and call of the public since the ancient Romans.
Our profession is one of service and sacrifice. We are at the burning end of a very long drag of firefighters who came before us. Firefighters who, like us, raced through their own streets, flung buckets of water, rode horses, pumped steam engines and rescued the citizens in their community from peril. They wore the same uniforms, spoke the same language, took care of their equipment and grew sweet mustaches.
The firefighters before us had horrible safety equipment and the odds were insanely stacked against them. With no respiratory protection and heavy leather helmets, they paved a road filled with tears, sweat, blood and spirits. They earned the public’s trust with black noses, singed hair, dirty hands and gravestones. I am humbled when I think of just how badass those guys must’ve been and yet because of their sense of selflessness, WE, today’s fire service, continue to bask in their glory. With the pull of a hook, the tap of a wire or the ring of a phone we have always been there. That’s where public trust came from and that’s where pride begins.
Pride is that internal feeling that guides our actions. It’s a force that pushes us to polish the bumper, spray, shine our tires and ensure the readiness of our equipment. It’s why we train together, live together and eat together. Those who share the collective pride will forge a common trust with one another. That trust pushes men and women to continue the proud tradition of the fire service; it’s the pride that drives us. Firefighting has always taken a level of commitment, loyalty, honor and a sense of family that isn’t common these days. But for those that have made the commitment, they hold a legacy of those who paved the road ahead, just enough, for us to take the reins and replace it with Allison transmissions, Jake brakes and seatbelts. We may be safer, more educated and better equipped but the job remains the same. Pride is the only mechanism that has held us up for hundreds of years; it’s our fuel and our guide.
As I stand on the highway surrounded by twisted steal; I’m clean-shaven, wearing my Kevlar/PBI blend turnouts, plastic helmet, bright florescent green safety vest and eye protection, I feel completely removed from the dirty and difficult glory days. As far apart as these two worlds appear, we are still at the public’s call and just like the firefighters that came before us, we will be there, fueled by a common pride to serve the public in need and to honor the sacrifices of those firefighters before us.
In 1959, Kurt Vonnegut coined the eloquent, “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity toward man than a fire engine.” And I can’t think of anything more correct.
The West Lake Fire Department was founded in 1937 and was the first volunteer fire company in Millcreek Township. The department is comprised of two firehouses, Station 48 and Station 49. West Lake is one of four volunteer fire departments that operate in Millcreek Township. West Lake is the second busiest company in the township and third busiest in Erie County averaging around 1,500 calls for service annually, following the Erie Fire Department and West Ridge Fire Department. West Lake is 100% volunteer with approximately 50 active members.
WLFD is known best in the township as having the most pride within the fire service. Myself and Jordan Turner of West Med #2 Fire Company can attest too that. We went and looked at every aspect of pride we could find and this department has it! “It’s one thing that is drilled into us from day one” said Lieutenant Joe Bracalento – 8 year member of WLFD. We can tell that from just walking into the bay, from the station logo pressed into the bay floor to the clean rigs and well racked lines on the engine. You can tell this company has pride just from the road! The outside of the firehouse is another thing that showed itself to us. Fresh green grass mowed perfectly to fresh mulch. As well as the flags flying high. The community of Millcreek should be proud to call West lake for their emergencies.
Why? We had the chance to look over all of the well maintained rigs that WLFD has at station 48. Even after finishing their 5th call for service that day all the trucks were cleaned, well maintained, stocked and ready for the next call for service. Something that is hard to find in the volunteer fire service these days with the demands that are placed on volunteers. That is another thing that stood out to us. The fact that this company runs up to 100 plus calls a month and still has a nice clean station with very clean and well maintained trucks!
After meeting the Fire Chief and a few members from this station we were honored to take home with us a company tee shirt and the offer of returning and spending the day with the crew and sharing some fellowship. The brotherhood is strong in West Lake and so is the pride. If you are ever in the area check out the brothers at station 48! It’s well worth the stop!