There was a point in time where every young firefighter would read books about legendary men who forged the modern fire service and its traditions. These men were larger than life; living superheroes who braved the nastiest conditions sans air pack or bunker gear to get the job done. As the fire service changed and safety equipment became more common, there was a rift between “old money” and the new generation. Everyone became uber safety conscious and in a typical fire service knee-jerk response, started writing policies that made zero sense…all in the name of safety. This spawned a generation of firefighters who I like to call Billy Badass. They’re like Ricky Rescue’s slightly older cousin, they own a Trans-Am and chain smoke Reds. They act cool, think they’re awesome, and poor little Ricky wants to be just like them.
My issue with most of these people is their complete lack of respect. They act like they are untouchable and know everything. They are worse than a 2/20 – they are a 5/50. They also have no idea how to show respect to others whether it be a line officer or a firefighter. They spend so much time trying to give off a sense of ‘badassery’ that they end up causing two problems. The first is they alienate their coworkers and impressionable rookies who think Mr. Billy BA is a jerk. The second is that they influence impressionable rookies who want to be just like them and think it’s so cool. I have met numerous, outstanding firemen, from Denver, New York, Oakland, Chicago, Tampa, DC, PG, and more who are polite and professional and usually very friendly. Unfortunately, there are still those out there – both career and volunteer – that are so convinced they are superman that everyone else cannot come close to their level. They walk around with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude that they know it all. They also tend to act bored with the job or that they are above the fire service basics. Or perhaps its the person who’s really healthy and into fitness, acting as if they are better than you because they work out 9 days a week and drink protein shakes on the regular. Ever met a volunteer so insecure about being a volunteer that he is a gigantic Billy? Maybe it’s that anti-volunteer career man, “super hooah” IAFF guy who thinks all vollies are worthless and he’s a gift to the fire service. All of these are cancerous to pride.
By this point, everyone should know that when you encounter a problem, you should approach your superior with both the problem and a potential solution. So what are some potential solutions for Billy?
First and foremost, as a leader, you should know your people. Perhaps Billy feels like he is under-appreciated or under-utilized. Sometimes this causes a callous attitude and can be corrected with a sit down with Billy to go over his career goals. Most of the time, these people could use more responsibility and enjoy being challenged. Secondly, as a subordinate, strive to learn from Billy by constantly asking for his help with training. Stroke their ego a bit and cause them to open up. Lastly, do NOT allow Billy to negatively influence your level of professionalism. You must strive to do better, train harder, and improve every day. Your community expects it and deserves it. The easiest thing to remember is that we are ALL on the same team. Our goals are the same – life safety and property preservation. So instead of hating Billy Badass (or becoming him) think about the rest of your team and what you can do to help. When all else fails, stay positive and remember the words of Chief McGrail from Denver FD: “Change happens one retirement at a time.”
Is that a certificate of excellence or is it extra toilet paper?
Many or most firefighters, volunteer and career alike, hold multiple certificates. It’s a sign of the times, we have too many titles now and cross train in order to serve our public. There are no more specialist or elite teams. For example, I hold a Texas Commission on Fire Protection (TCFP) Firefighter Advanced, EMT – INTERMEDIATE, Rope Rescue 1 & 2, Confined Space Rescue 1 & 2, TCFP Driver Operator, TCFP Instructor 3 and Texas EMS Instructor. Many guys on the dept I work for have some, if not all, of those certifications including Hazardous Materials Technician. We are no longer specialist, we have to be proficient in all fields at the drop of a hat. It’s not possible to be expertly proficient in each area.
Education and training breeds confidence in yourself and your team while also maintaining proficiency. Does having so many titles harm the fire service or does it make the fire service as a whole the “Elite”? 911 tends to be the people’s scapegoat, it may be defined as abuse sometimes. 911 is the way out of many situations people find themselves in daily around America. The fire dept, most of the time, is a catchall of the “emergencies” that are hard to define under a specific response group and we are expected to answer the call with bells on so to speak. Therefore we train. We train for everything and throughout a career in the fire service a fireman will obtain little pieces of paper that declare he’s awesome at any given subject or at least, was at one time.
In my opinion the “specialist” firemen are the people who continue to train on the subjects they have learned. The jobs that we have range far and wide from just squirting water and again we are expected to perform at the sound of the bell.
Ok, so there is the WHY we train, but what about the quality of that training? The type of training can range anywhere in-between the boring slide-show to the hands-on killer class. The QUALITY of the class or training session itself is the responsibility of the instructor and the students. It’s the attitudes of the men and women in training class that will subsequently prove to be the basis of the quality of the training session. If piss-poor attitudes are prevalent in class than even the most dramatic and top knowledge PowerPoint will be disappointing. The same goes for hands on training. The best classes out there will be terrible if the attendees don’t want to be there and don’t respect the instructor.
Instructors, it’s your job to make the class informative. Secondly, the class and the knowledge from the class has to be easily accessible to the men and women that are going to be attending. Lastly, the information has be put into practice, hands on skills training is the type of instruction most firefighters strive on.
So all those certificates that say, you as a firefighter are good at what you do, the ones you hang on the wall or shove in a drawer, the classes you attended 1 hour ago or 10 years ago, do you live up to those expectations or should you use them as toilet paper?
LACK OF PREPARATION
LACK OF EXPERIENCE
Whether volunteer or career, every firefighter goes through a series of phases. The beginning is when they are getting the very basic info (fire academy). Probation provides the means to get on-the-job experience, while still learning the job and how it works. The middle of the career is a slack period where the fireman betters him/herself and gets further education (either advanced fire/EMS classes or degrees). The hardest to cope with is the end of a career. The phase that occurs when the firefighter realizes they aren’t as young as they once were, and how they need to start passing it along to the new, young members. Before every Jake hangs up his helmet and coat for the last time, they need to reflect on their career. It provides excellent training to the membership, and finishes closing the doors to an invigorating line of work.
INABILITY TO FORECAST WORSENING CONDITIONS
INATTENTION TO DETAIL
All in all, every department is different and run by different people of the same title. Our main goal is to provide the best quality of care, in the worst imaginable of times. We all have the same end goal in mind. Stay safe, protect property, stabilize the incident, and make sure everyone goes home. Every single one of us can find something that needs to be fixed along our career path. For the tenth deadly sin, I ask that each of you look at yourself. Find at least one sin that you need to fix, that could potentially ruin a fireground’s production rate. Let’s all take the time, and better ourselves, before something happens that can have disastrous consequences. It’s awfully easy to arm-chair quarterback a fire on YouTube, but it’s all irrelevant if you can’t do the same for yourself. In the end, it makes you a better firefighter, and it gets you to take the time to provide some self-realization in what can be fixed. We can change a lot in the big picture, just by making small adjustments in our own lives. Stay salty.
Privatized Fire Service. A term that strikes fear into the hearts of the true and traditional Fire Service members. The concept and practice has been getting a lot of bad press lately, and rightly so. However, I’m not here to fear monger and spread panic on the practice. I feel that if operated correctly, private fire departments can be beneficial. I also feel that there is a very fine and difficult line to walk.
First and foremost: I believe the majority of firefighters in private services are much like us. Private firefighters are on duty providing a service to their community and not just for the paycheck. But I do believe a profit driven Fire Service doesn’t hold true with the heart and mindset of the Fire Service.
Here’s a brief history of the privatized Fire Service. Privatized fire service started in the 18th and 19th century with the use of Fire Marks. These signs were placed on the buildings who’s owners purchased a company’s fire insurance.
When responding to a fire, these fire insurance companies would see their fire mark on the building and extinguish the blaze. This is a similar type of concept that private fire companies in our age are using, albeit, an outdated concept because it disregards the interests of humanity in favor of a bottom-line.
I see the financial benefits of a privatized company. It can save a municipality thousands of dollars and yes, maybe even operated more efficiently by an experienced business man. However, these things should not be the primary focus of the Fire Service. I strongly believe that when our priority shifts from community service to profit margins, that’s when we lose our identity as a Fire Service. Our priorities have always been life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation. That should never change and most definitely, money should never show up on that list.
The dangers of a privatized fire service are many and deadly. Subscription based and competitive based private fire companies are often put in a position to refuse services. As we’ve seen time and time again in recent news stories, for-profit fire companies show up on the scene of a home ablaze, and stand at the end of the driveway watching the show because the homeowner didn’t pay their annual fee or subscription. Half the time the homeowner wasn’t aware the service existed and assumed they were covered through the taxes they paid yearly. As firefighters, we should never be in a position to refuse service to anyone. I feel that if you are able to look someone in the eye with their home burning in the background and say, “sorry ma’am/sir, you didn’t pay your annual fee.” , then you don’t belong in this line of work. This job, my brotherhood, isn’t about the money, it’s about the service, and anything that sullies this principal is a affront to the brotherhood itself and what we stand for. This scenario is a deplorable breach of public trust and reflects poorly on all of us.
Response times are another issue. While a municipal Fire Department may be within minutes of your home, the subscription based service may be several minutes away. With current building construction and possibly even lives on the line, those minutes could be the difference between a life or home lost or saved.
Competitive fire fighting shouldn’t even be a term in our vocabulary! Profit based firefighting breeds competition with municipal and private companies alike. Mutual aid is a mindset every department should have in the modern culture of the fire service. We should never be afraid to ask for help from our neighboring brothers and sisters! Being in competition with these other departments as a private service breeds resentment along with that competition and puts the firefighters at unnecessary risk.
Who regulates the costs and fees and keeps them from becoming astronomical? In a recent news article, i read how a family was charged a nearly $20,000 bill for firefighting services on a home that was burned completely to the ground. Read the full news article here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/08/justin-purcell-fire_n_4242734.html. For a period until legislation and regulation can be put into effect by local, state, or federal governments, what is to stop these companies from charging an arm and a leg to provide the same service your taxes usually cover? Even more so, some of these companies don’t even have to follow the same standards and levels of professionalism and licensing that the municipal departments have to hold to.
Another problem comes from when management is profit/business driven and employees are service driven. When the upper and lower employment levels have two different missions, it’s difficult to run an efficient department. A car drives best when all the wheels are spinning in the same direction. How can we all accomplish the same goal when our goals are different?
Privatization, when done wrong, is deadly. Without proper goals, regulation, and mindset, two results will occur: you will have a failed business on your hands or you will kill someone.
Now it’s time to hear your voice. I want to hear your opinions, experiences and takes on the privatization of the fire service. I ask that you comment on the Facebook post or the story itself and tell me what you think!
Firehouse kitchens are famous for hosting solutions to the world’s problems. A steaming Bunn coffee maker and with coffee cups in hand, Firefighters around the country discuss the difficult news of the day along with ways to resolve the issues. Sometimes the issues are department related, while other times, it’s U.S. and worldwide issues. One thing is common though, we always have a solution. Most of these topics never have a clear and obvious solution, but firefighters know how to make decisions. We are calculated and decisive. We are masters of organizing chaos and we are proficient at resolving dire situations.
It’s in the coffee. We stumble into the fire station, grab a cup joe and find a place to sit or stand. Activity picks up as the off-going shift is rolling out and the incoming-shift is getting their mind together. We sip on a cup and off we go, deep into conversation of the do’s, the don’t’s, the why’s, and the what-if’s of the happenings during our time apart between last shift and today. Who’s kids didn’t sleep the night before? Who’s truck broke down the first day off? Who’s wife burnt supper earlier in the week. Maybe make a verbal jab at the rookie for not introducing the girl he was with at the bar the other night?
It literally happens around the world, firemen come together under a roof and as trained problem solvers we offer tips, opinions and jokes. Around the kitchen table, topic after topic is brought up throughout the shift and handled or solved one way or another. There is always a solution. Its part of being family and gaining trust with your brothers. That table talk is the closest we get with our brothers. Jokes roll, jabs are made, officers cringe at things they immediately try to forget, and a bond is built. After tough calls the coffee is there, the table is willing to catch the tears and the exhaustion from grown men who have been beaten by the last run. If the kitchen walls could talk, they could write more than a book of stories. Shift after shift, month after month, year after year, firehouse kitchens around the globe are the center point of solving the problems of the world and all amongst a bunch of firefighters.
After a lot of thought and tribulations, I have compiled a list of 10 Deadly Sins that are reasons why there are failures on the scene of an emergency. Whether it be EMS, Fire, rescue, or TRT, if any of these items occur, there could be an absolute break down in progress.
How many times have we been on a fireground Tac-channel, and “Joe” is on scan? Better yet, what about when he hadn’t changed over to fireground operations at all? We all want to smack that guy, just to get his head in the game, but it happens. Now, what if Joe was the OVM, and interior attack is screaming for vent? What if he needs to bump up the pressure on the line? Joe better get his act together! How about the good ole’ fashioned battery chirp. The one that comes at the absolute, most inconvenient time while operating at a scene? Yep, that breaks down communication because not only can you hear the annoying chirp, but so can everyone else on the fireground. Trust me, we are all looking to see who “that guy” is.
TOO. MANY. CHIEFS. (We all know what C.H.A.O.S. stands for…)
FREELANCING & TUNNEL VISION
On September 11, 2001, I was a student in the Fire Academy of my local junior college. Having gone through EMT school and passed the state test, I was very excited about learning to be a firefighter. I was excited about the brotherhood. I was excited about the adrenaline rushes. And I was excited to start this new career that I had heard was so much fun.
I was a delivery driver for a local uniform company on that Tuesday morning. Working my normal route, I was trying to find ways to shorten my day so that I could read ahead in my “Essentials of Firefighting” text before class. At 0846, America was changed. The fire service was changed. I was changed. By 1028 that morning, 343 men and women doing their jobs, doing what I wanted to do, were dead.
Three hundred and forty three, three hundred and forty three, three hundred and forty three. That number, that remorseless number. I remember sitting in class that very night wondering if I had chosen the right line of work. I remember specifically thinking, “I knew there would be hard spots with this job, but everyone says it is so fun.” Three hundred forty three dead in less than two hours didn’t sound like my idea of fun.
I am now a lieutenant in a medium-sized department in Texas. A 14 year rookie of the fire service, working on ten years in my current city. Firefighters are still the same. Firefighters are pranksters; firefighters love the brotherhood they are a part of, and if you ask, most will still tell you “being a firefighter is really fun.” I would like to add more substance to that idea.
I have four goals when I go to work every shift. First, make good tactical and procedural decisions. Second, do a good job. Third, learn something. And fourth, make today as good of a day as possible.
We as professionals should spend a majority of our time developing ourselves, our crews, and our departments. If we look at our job’s complex nature, our first goal should be to know as much as we can about it. Knowledge of tools and equipment, knowledge of our department’s apparatus, and an in- depth knowledge of the events that are killing or hurting firefighters is essential. Sometimes we see training as a hurdle that we are made to clear, or a hoop to jump through. If you are a member of a department that has a training program that is “less than engaging”, it is your job, no matter your rank, to find ways to engage your crew.
There are several ways to improve skill and knowledge in your fire crew without seeming like a “drill instructor”. Firefighters are hands-on creatures; use this trait to improve yourself and your crew. A way to do this may be to pick a skill, perform this skill as a crew, and honestly review the performance. You will inevitably find, as you work together, places where certain people are very strong, and places where others are weak. If we find weak places in our crew we can work to fix those weaknesses before they show up at an emergency scene. As an officer, or crew member, you would much rather find out that “Jake”, doesn’t know what “right-hand search “ means in training, rather than in the middle of a RIT activation. Be a good steward of the crew’s time. Nobody wants to train four hours per shift, every shift. You must find a way to balance these “extra” learning periods with everything else that happens around the firehouse.
Another way to stay sharp may be to walk into the kitchen, or club room every now and then with a stack of “trade magazines”. Have everyone pick out and read an article of their choice. When everyone has finished their article, have them explain or teach the rest of the crew about what they read. I have found that doing this type of training accomplishes several things. First, it shows those who may not realize it, that there are some great experiences and learning tools found hidden in the pages of the magazines and web sites. Second, having every member share what they learned makes even the lowest ranking, or newest member, feel empowered. Third, the highest ranking, or oldest members of the crew, will almost always learn something new. Learning new things about our trade can and will make every member want to learn more.
Another learning tool that can be used is internet video. A simple search on YouTube will yield hundreds of results. Try searching things such as “RIT activation” or “firefighter mayday”. Some of the results will be good examples of one way to handle a situation. Other results may scream out to you as an example of what not to do. This method is one of my personal favorites. Watching these videos seems to work well as a teaching or learning aid, no matter your position on the crew. If you are the officer you may simply ask the crew to watch with you. If you happen to be the junior firefighter on the truck, pick a time you know the rest of the crew may “catch you”. Start watching some of these videos, and more likely than not the rest of your crew will end up watching with you. Use these video watching sessions to work out the “what if’s” or the “how do we”.
The knowledge we gain through self study will pay dividends throughout our careers. The trust and confidence in each other gained, by learning as a crew, makes us better off to handle these high risk, low frequency events we respond to. If I were to have to come up with a definition for “firefighter” it would be:
Firefighter- A person, who may be paid or unpaid, that when called upon, will risk LIFE or LIMB to fix your problem.
Being a firefighter is in a person’s soul, it is who we are; it is a calling. When people ask me about it, my response is usually “I don’t want to do anything else for a living” or “it’s the best job in the world”. Is being a firefighter fun? My answer is “Being a well- trained, ever-learning firefighter is fun.” Being a firefighter is also being in an ever changing career. Firefighters must continue to be students of their trade, or risk succumbing to it.
Stay Sharp, Stay Safe
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than he who will give up his life for a friend.
Firefighters, all too often, may lose their lives protecting the lives of total strangers.
Having been in the fire service for 18-plus years, I have always considered myself to be part of the brotherhood. But it wasn’t until a few short weeks ago that I honestly, and truly, realized how great the brotherhood really is. A few short weeks ago we were informed of a mandatory department meeting. In the meeting we learned that the Fire Department that I work for would be disbanded in February and all of us would be laid off.
Of course, this came as a shock to all of us. We had no warning of this and we were given no reason for the decision. Once we learned of this we were all distraught. Most of us have families we support. We are left to wonder why and how this could happen?
I have to say that social media can be a great tool in the fire service. The show of support from fellow brothers/sisters from across the county was amazing. I had brothers from across the county sending me messages and calling me asking if there was anything they could do to help. A brother from the east coast offered to collect donations for us if we needed help. This really opened my eyes to the true brotherhood and family of the fire service. The support continued just this week as my wife and I attended Firehouse World in San Diego. I had fellow brothers approach me all week and offer support and help in any way they could.
Now back to the topic, there is no gray-area in the brotherhood. You are either in or out. There are no fence riders in the brotherhood. If you get it and live it, then you’re in and if you don’t, then you’re out. The brotherhood is all about helping your fellow brother/sister out, both in the good times and bad.
I hear the term brotherhood thrown around a lot, and it makes me wonder do people really understand what it means? When I use the term the brotherhood it encompasses both brothers and sisters. Some things that come to mind when I think about this topic is; when you need helping moving, 10-15 fellow brothers show up outside your house with coffee and donuts ready to help. When a loved one is sick or injured, a handful of brother’s show up to help mow the lawn or paint your house. Even the simple things like showing up early to shift so the out going crew can get home to their families a little sooner or just the simple phone call or text to check in and say hi.
If you are truly committed to the brotherhood then you will do things that aren’t always easy nor fit into your schedule. It could be taking a trade for someone so they could attend their child’s soccer game or it could be the fellow brother/sister who doesn’t have kids that steps up to work for you on Christmas so you can spend it with your family and kids. If you are not willing to do things for the better good of your fellow brother/sister then there is no room for you in the brotherhood. The fire service is unlike any other profession in the world and it doesn’t matter it you’re a career firefighter or a volunteer. We all have the same passion and desire.
I will apologize now if this article was a grenade thrown into the room but I hope people will talk about this and take a good hard look at themselves and ask, am I in or am I out. If you are in then welcome to the family. If you are out, then maybe someday you will join us, but please do not be a fence rider.
A good definition of the brotherhood states “an association, society, or community of people linked by a common interest, religion, or trade”. I have heard the saying “If I have to explain it then you wouldn’t understand”, I think that is so fitting and true of the brotherhood and the fire service. We can’t let the brotherhood die. We must keep the passion burning bright and pass the torch to the new generation. Brotherhood is the unspoken – WE GOT YOUR BACK.
B – Bonds created that will last a lifetime
R – Rejuvenate each other
O – Offer to help
T – True to each other
H – Humble yourself
E – Eager to help
R – Respect each other
H – Honesty toward each other
O – Openness towards each other
O – Overcome things together
D – Dedicated to fellow brothers/sister and the fire service
How many times do you find yourself losing your self-motivation? It could be caused by low department morale, losing faith in humanity, or just getting bored. It happens to all of us. The real question is, how do we get that lost motivation back?
If you feel that your motivation is being lost due to low department morale and while I agree this can be a
contributor, I believe that overcoming it, as it pertains to your personal motivation, starts with you. It’s a lot easier to change your own attitude than it is to change the attitude of your entire department.
When you lose that motivation, one of the best ways to get it back is to start at the beginning. Remembering and revisiting what or who made you passionate about the job in the first place can help re-light that fire inside you. Everyone always has that one mentor that sticks out in their memory. That mentor is that person who emulates what a firefighter should be in your mind. Reconnecting and visiting with that person can be the kick-in-the-pants that you need to get back on track.
If you find yourself getting bored, maybe it’s time to branch out into other areas of the fire service. There are so many all-hazards areas you could explore, a person could fill their entire career with just learning all of them. Hazardous materials, dive teams, search and rescue and technical rescue teams are just a few specialized areas that you can you delve into. Sometimes branching out into other areas can give you a new perspective on the same job and reignite that passion.
Sometimes after a particularly bad call, we can find it hard to see the good in humanity. We start to question why we even do the job. What’s the point? When you start getting to this point, it’s time to take some time off and
talk to someone. This is a career ending attitude for firefighters and it’s paramount to get outside help in this instance. With the customer service aspect of our job, compassion is important to have. However, it’s difficult to have compassion when your outlook on humanity is a pessimistic one at best.
Everyone hits a low point in their career when they start to question the job. It doesn’t even have to be something big. The smallest detail of a call can be enough to shake your foundation. The important thing to do is to counteract these times as soon as you can. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to pick yourself back up and relight your passion for the job. Most of all, never be afraid to talk to someone about it. Remember, in the fire family, no one fights alone.