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Boss, leader, brother…

imageAccording to Albert Schweitzer, “example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing”. Leaders must lead by example. It is very simple, but it is easier for some leaders to say it than do it. A leader is defined as “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country”. So does that mean that a leader wears a different color gear or helmet; wears gold instead of a silver badge; or have multiple bugles on their badge, collar, and helmet?

Leaders are individuals who will lead their troop from the front line. They know what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. They adhere to the ethical reason and do what is right, even if it is not the favorable decision at the particular time. They can push the un-driven, train the unmotivated, and persuade the most stubborn of firefighters. They are not afraid to train other people, even though it may show their weakness. Leaders have passion for the job. It shows in everything they do. They wear their uniform with pride when they come to work in the morning, and stand resilient after grueling hours of work. They are dedicated and are proud when they clean their helmets after battling a fire. They do not need other people’s approval because they do not have to prove anything. They do their job because that is what they were destined to do.

imageSo, who are these leaders and where are they? They are all around us. He is working quietly while guiding younger firefighters. He may be filling up somebody’s cup of coffee so that he can make a fresh pot, because he knows that other firefighters were up first that shift on the ambulance. He is the first person out of bed the morning so that he can start the morning chores early. He is the guy pulling out a hose load in the bay to fix what looks like spaghetti in the tray. My point is they are all around us. They are doing things that needed to be done. He does not point fingers. Instead, he works hard. He knows that the best motivated firefighters will follow him because good character and moral integrity are inherent in the best firefighters.

What makes them such good leaders? They work hard, lead the men by example to guide, mentor, and promote integrity, honesty, and commitment. They keep the pride alive in the rest of us. They ease the pain after bad calls. They provide calmness and good working relations in difficult situations. A leader could be the rookie who grabs a broom and a mop a little earlier than normal to get the job done, motivating an elder to assist them in completing the tasks that have to be done.
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These are just examples. Leaders are not bosses; they work with their followers. You should also know that you lead others, whether you know it or not. You have an obligation to uphold the integrity, the character, and the pride to be a well- trained and motivated firefighter. Remember, training breeds the confidence that is required to successfully accomplish the objective promptly and efficiently. Second guessing yourself makes you slow down, and deprives you of the confidence that makes you motivated. As a leader, you must have the ability to lead a team and drive them to success.

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The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fire Service Fitness

Like it or not when you entered the fire service you lost your right to be out of shape. Nobody is going to stop you from munching down an entire bag of ShirtplateCheetos while sitting in your sweatpants and watching Law and Order reruns but if that is normal for you, you suck. Firefighters are occupational athletes and our job is far too important to not be prepared. Watching YouTube videos and critiquing every online article from a beanbag chair accomplishes no actual good in this world and you still suck.
Let me swim upstream just a little ways. I realize things get in the way. Life happens. Kids happen. Second jobs and second mortgages. Time seems to be shorter than ever and as much as you might want to be fit enough to make it to the CrossFit games that’s just not a realistic goal for 99% of firefighters. So what is realistic? Use the time you do have. Don’t lie to yourself, your crew, your family, and your city by saying “I don’t have any time” because you do. Readiness has to become a priority. That may include time on shift when you labor alone in the engine bay with an ancient rusty barbell. It may include “Death by Burpees” at home in your garage when you really just want to catch up on The Walking Dead. Yes, you might even have to get up an hour earlier on a rainy Saturday to meet up with the other mental patients at the gym. If that’s too hard then tough tallywhackers. Either start taking some baby steps to improve today or write a letter to your family telling them you knew how to prevent a heart attack on duty but were too lazy to do anything about it. Nobody else should have to explain that to them but you.
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If you are a chief officer or decision maker and are reading this, WAKE UP! You create the culture your crews live in. It makes me mad enough to eat beeswhen I hear of some pencil pushing desk jockey going out of their way to keep good men and women from improving themselves. Fit responders deliver a better service to their jurisdiction and incur fewer injuries doing so. Those facts aren’t debatable. You need to be creating a wellness plan. If that is too foreign of a concept then at least be a facilitator and get out of people’s way.

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All this seem a little harsh to you? Good. The “Participation Trophy” mentality is not welcome in the firehouse and titty babies can hit the bricks. You will not be missed by those brave few who fight on. I don’t care about your feelings, I care about your life, my brothers who ride the truck with you, and the citizens you are sworn to protect. If you can’t do your job you are useless to me. I’m not telling you that at 60 you have to have a sub 2:00 Firefighter Combat Challenge time. That’s stupid. I am telling you that despite your achy shoulders and old football injuries you have a physical potential that you are obligated to maintain. It’s a sliding scale that declines over time but if you still jump on the truck and other lives depend on you then you better learn to suck it up and do the right thing.

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Now that I’ve pissed half of you off here are my 5 guidelines for Fire Service Fitness:
1.) More is NOT always better.
In 2009 the Surgeon General recommended getting 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise per week. In 2011 it was modified adding at least two days of strength training per week. Salty Sam says “since the Surgeon General is a big puss and I’m a superhero firefighter I need to at least triple all that right?” Salty Sam is stupid.
ldawg   Do I think the US government always knows best? Not even close. What’s my point then? Somehow most people have come to believe that within their body lies an infinite well of physical potential and it can only be obtained by wrecking themselves repeatedly. If a 10 minute conditioning workout twice per week  is good then a 60 minute workout once a day will get me fit at least ten times faster right? No, just no. You aren’t Rocky and fitness doesn’t work that way.
Let’s stay with the “well” analogy. Within your body is a well and its depth represents your level of fitness. The more fit we are the more we can draw from it when we need it but the well doesn’t refill instantly. Continuing to demand more and more without time for recovery and replenishment will result in crumbling walls and muddy water (loss of energy, chronic fatigue, injuries). Wellness is a long term goal and it must be approached correctly which leads right into point number deuce.
2.) Don’t be stupid.
Stupid seems so much more prevalent in men and I speak from a vast experience of stupid. We just do a lot of dumb things and somehow think the consequences will miss us. They won’t. It always catches up.p1050635
“I don’t need much sleep”. Yes you do. Oh, and you’re an idiot. Hundreds of thousands of hours of research has been performed and tens of thousands of pages have been written about the importance of sleep. If you don’t approach that 8 hour per night goal you are set for failure before getting off the launchpad.
“It’s been hurting for a few weeks but I figured I could just push through the pain”. You can’t. With a little experience you will know the difference between your muscles telling you they are sore and your body telling you it needs attention. Ignore the warning signs and you’ll be down for the count and your idiot record will still be intact.
I believe there is a small part of our consciousness that tends to make good decisions. In just about every idiotic choice I’ve made I can recall that voice of reason. I have usually chosen to ignore it but it was clear and more times than not “I knew better” was the conclusion. In his book Unbeatable Mind, Mark Divine calls it our “witness”. Stop being dumb, listen to your witness, slow down and use some common sense.
3.) Follow good programming.
This means following programming that is good for you at your current strength and conditioning level, not something fit for an elite Ironman. Unless you are an elite Ironman competitor then by all means carry on. “Scaling” is not a bad word (see #2 above). If you don’t want to live in the hurt locker and long term success is your goal then learn to swallow your pride. I plan to contribute for another 20 years and that isn’t going to happen without well thought out goals and a plan to achieve them.
While some factors on the fireground are indeed unknown and unknowable, there are many things we continue to encounter. Our gear will always be hot, heavy, and cumbersome. Axes have a predetermined weight. Victims will continue to be difficult to lift and move. SCBA bottles contain a finite amount of air. Limiting your training to long slow distance running isn’t going to prepare you very well for forcing doors and rescuing fat Uncle Randy.
“The Law of Specificity of Training” is something you probably have never heard of and thaEFLF-6-Weeks-To-Rippedt doesn’t matter. What does matter is specifically preparing for the known aspects of the job. Functional movements performed in realistic time domains transfer well to the fireground. A good trainer or coach will provide a well balanced, whole body approach to helping you improve your overall fitness. A great trainer will help you add in elements unique to the needs of a firefighter and make certain allowances from time to time.
To  “follow good programming”  includes not jumping ship in a month because you haven’t transformed into Thor via divine intervention. You didn’t get 50lbs overweight overnight and there is no 6 week program, even if accompanied by a miracle bowel cleanse and super powered Ovaltine energy boost, that is going to undo the damage that 10 years of crap eating and recliner riding has done.
4.) Do what you love.
When I first became a personal trainer, the manager at our gym was speechless when she heard me tell a client to avoid the treadmill. That client loathed the monotony of it and dreaded every trip to our facility so I sought out other ways to help them achieve their goal of losing weight.
If you would rather close your thumb in a car door than run, don’t make yourself do it five times a week. At the very least dramatically trim down the distance  you include in your workouts. When you actually enjoy training it will be the start of an awakening. I almost never run a distance over 400 meters but my 5k time is within two minutes of a few years ago when I was logging around 25 miles per week.
I began toying with CrossFit in 2011. I’d heard a lot of buzz about it especially relating to combat readiness so I wanted to see what it was all about. It was 2012 before a “box” opened in my city but I’ve been a member ever since and consider many of our athletes family. I have not dreaded a workout since diving in at CrossFit Protocol. That’s not to say I don’t have a good deal of 945401_t607apprehension about some of the crap our head coach programs. (If you are reading this Scott I still think it’s good programming but it does make me think you are a sadist and a sicko on occasion). It’s different to face something tough with a team that cares about who you are and how you do. Isn’t that what the fire service is supposed to be like?
There is nothing wrong with following Outlaw programming on your own if that makes you happy. Love riding your bike? Ride on. Love shooting hoops? Wear the leather out. If it is helping you become a better firefighter I salute you. For the love of all that is holy and in the name of Brunacini just find some stinking passion!
One other small piece of advice. Find a way to be accountable. Invite some of your crew over a few nights a week. Ask the wife to buy in with you. Heck, your annoying neighbor might even be the push you need. People tend to stay true for far more longer when someone else is expecting them to.
5.) Eat real food.
I’m not a nutritionist but you don’t need a PhD to know that eating a gazillion calories worth of honey buns every day probably isn’t the greatest of ideas. The most simple way I’ve heard it expressed is this: “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” If it grows in the ground in the form you find it in or if it had a face when alive its probably somewhat nutritious.
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I would encourage you to check out whole30.com or wholelifechallenge.com and nerd out. I am not a fan of short term diets but both of these websites are full of great information. My wife and I completed the strictest form of the Whole30 and it was life changing.
If you aren’t ready to jump on board just yet, start by making one better decision at a time. Start drinking water, then start drinking more. Trim down your soda habit then cut it out. Stop eating sweets after supper for a few weeks, then stop after lunch.
CONCLUSION
You have been blessed with an opportunity at having the best career in the world. Thousands have gone before you creating a rich heritage that has made the fire service an object of pride, respect, and dedication. Millions now depend on the American firefighter during their most vulnerable moments and when you show up they expect nothing less than Superman. Don’t be a moron and piss it all away because you love the taste of ice cream. Everybody loves ice cream. I just love being a firefighter more.
Health and Wellness

FirefightersWeightLoss.com

You have in your hand or on your computer screen a booklet, “Chappy’s Weight Loss
Solution”: written for the benefit of firefighters with weight issues. This booklet was
written for three purposes: 1) to bring hope to firefighters that a solution is possible for
weight and obesity issues. 2) to encourage this vital group of workers to investigate our
website (FirefightersWeightLoss.com) and 3) to introduce Chaplain Richard S. Phelps
as a “fellow traveler” on the path toward weight and fitness health.
Chaplain Dick Phelps, the Chaplain at Indialantic Fire Rescue in Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 8.53.34 PMIndialantic Florida since 2005, founded a non profit corporation (Supporting Fire Fighters Inc.) in 2013 to support the work that would bring relief to firefighters with weight and obesity issues. The initial idea to begin this work came to Chaplain Phelps on January 19, 2012 while driving 2 1/2 hours from home for an extended weekend in St Augustine, Florida. The vision Chappy, as he is called, received was so detailed and so dramatic that he was compelled to write it down immediately on his arrival in St. Augustine.
The initial idea on that January night was limited: to start a website that would give resource information and inspire firefighters with weight and obesity issues to make a
consistent effort to find a healthy alternative to the problem. In those early days Chappy shared his vision with several leaders in the fire service and was advised to investigate
further before proceeding. In the time since January 2012 Chappy has met with many
fire chiefs and commanding officers and union leaders in six states and the District of Columbia inquiring about the extent of the problem and seeking advice for how to proceed.
The advice that Chaplain Phelps received with every interview was that the problems of
weight and obesity in the fire service are epidemic just as they are in the rest of the
United States population. He was encouraged to consider a wider effort than a web site
and the result of all this investigation led to the formation of a non-profit corporation,
Supporting Fire Fighters Inc., the creation of firefightersweightloss.com, a Facebook
page (firefightersweightloss), this booklet “Chappy’s Weight Loss Solution”, and an “In
Station” training also titled “Chappy’s Weight Loss Solution”.
Chaplain Phelps had no idea of starting anything new at 72 years old. He had been
forced for medical reasons to retire from a full time schedule of ministry and was
enjoying his volunteer service as Chaplain to the small combination department that hePicture-for-Meet-Chappy
had been serving for 7 years.
However, Chappy has himself been struggling with weight and obesity issues for 50 years and the vision for bringing resources and inspiration to firefighters with weight and obesity issues has become the focus of his life. He had been told that “the problem” was like “the elephant in the living room” and a problem that was very resistant to many efforts made over the history of the Fire Service.
The initial vision to establish the web site was simple. Firefighters love to surf the internet. The web site would provide for them information on the multitude of solutions that are available, regular access to an informational newsletter, opportunity to share their thoughts and to ask Chappy confidential questions. Also, other social media dedicated to these issues would be linked to the web site and offer additional support.
The idea to publish this booklet came after planning for the website was in the early stages. “Chappy’s Weight Loss Solution” would be available free online as a concise resource for firefighters dealing with weight issues and would guide them to the website for more detailed support. The booklet will also be published in an attractive paper bound format to be available for purchase through bookstores, online, at Fire Service trade shows, conferences and at training meetings in Fire Departments.
The bottom line for publishing “Chappy’s Weight Loss Solution” and establishing FireFightersWeightLoss.com is the belief that it is possible for firefighters to make progress together toward the goal of healthy weight and fitness. Chaplain Phelps personally knows how impossible it seems to reach and maintain these goals but strongly believes that these valuable workers can be encouraged to do whatever it takes to “save their own lives”
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The Road to Retirement

Michael Siefker was first introduced to me about 10 years ago as one of the instructors in my fire & ARFF academy. In April, 2015 he will become a retiree of the Amarillo Fire Department in the panhandle of Texas.

imageHow many years have been a career Firefighter?

24 years

What made you want to become a Firefighter?

Since being a little kid, I have always aspired to do something that would help or assist others.  I thought about being a Pediatrician, but 8 years of college didn’t sound too appealing to me.  In High School my thoughts changed towards being Fire Fighter.  I even subscribed to FireHouse Magazine.  The entrance examinations in El Paso and Amarillo, Texas were very competitive, so I ventured towards some other career paths.  I was going to college and working on a degree in Accounting.  In 1991, my dream came true and I became a firefighter with Amarillo Fire Department.

 

How many years did you spend as a Firefighter before attempting to promote and when did you promote?

I didn’t promote as fast, or as soon as others in the Fire Department.   I was a hoseman for 12 years before I promoted to Driver/Operator.  I truly enjoyed being a hoseman and had a blast working that position.  I find that position is where most of your experience will come from.  Hoseman are the ones doing most of the grunt work and are exposed to almost every situation imaginable.  In my observations on the other personnel, I had seen quite a few “2 Year Wonders”, and I swore I’d never be one of them.  A “2 Year Wonder’ is a firefighter that is usually very book smart and will take a promotional test the first chance they can.  On Amarillo Fire Department, you are eligible for a promotion after 2 years in a given position.  In my opinion, these firefighters do not always make the best Officers.  A small number do, but most do not.  I contribute that to the lack of experience.  I also think that most of those that are “book smart” tend to rely less on commoimagen sense and want everything written down in SOGs, SOPs or in the Rules and Regulations.  They are usually a “Black and White” person.  Most of these people place too much importance on book knowledge.  (Don’t get me wrong, I think book knowledge is important)  In times of emergencies they may fail to recall what they read for a particular situation.  I think common sense and rational thinking are 2 of the best attributes to being an effective Fire Leader/Officer.  Another thing about these”2 Year Wonders” is they spent most of their time at the station off away from the crew studying for the next test.  That leads to very little interaction with the other firefighters.  They were a type of social isolationist.  I felt interacting with other firefighters was important.  I would rather learn by listening to others’ stories or by others’ mistakes.  The social interactions among firefighters, makes the bonds stronger too.

Is there anything you would like to pass on to the younger generation?

Be prepared for the work of a firefighter.  Mentally, fitness-wise, training, knowledge, and be prepared physically for each shift, but most importantly have fun with the people you work with, enjoy what you do and you won’t have to work a day in your life.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a firefighter and hope you will too.

What is/are a couple of things you learned from your most valued mentor?

Honesty and integrity.  I find these traits to be rarer than in the past, and that’s a shame.  My firefighters need to know they can trust me, by my actions and words.  I need to know that I can trust my rookie or hosemen or chiefs.  If I assign someone to search and rescue or ventilation, it’s imperative that they are honest when I ask them about the completion of the tasks.  If you’re dishonest at the fire station you’ll probably be dishonest at the fireground.  Honesty and integrity are extremely valued by me.  I need to trust the guys/gals I work with, and they need to know they can trust me too.

What is your best/favorite firefighting memory.

This really isn’t a “good” memory, but it was pivotal in my thoughts of firefighting and my beliefs.  I was on Engine 61 and we were working a grass fire in a rural/urban interface area.  It was extremely windy and hot. image We had been assigned to keep the grass from jumping across a road.  This was the first time I had ever seen a grassfire jump and move over 150’ in a matter of seconds.  The heat was intense.  I had the hoseline and was fixing to move to the backside of the Engine.  I thought a fire truck between me and the fire was good protection.  Lt. Neely (at the time) thought it was more important to protect the truck so we made a stand in front of the truck and kept it from burning.  I figured that if Lt. Neely was willing to risk his life for a truck, I would too.  I also learned to trust in other firefighter’s experience.  I was still new at the time, but I trusted Lt. Neely’s decision and the outcome was good.  The fire crossed the road, but our truck was okay and we survived.  Trust who you work with and trust their experience.  Sometimes in life the risks are worth it.  Be willing to take the risks (but always have an exit strategy just in case).

Any advice to guys looking to make it to retirement?

One of the things I think was the hardest for me working on the fire department was the bureaucracy.  In my opinion, it seems like lately it just keeps growing and growing.  Keep the bureaucracy as separated from the station life as much as you can.  When I started our fire department’s Rules and Regulations, SOPs, and Training Manual was 75 pages and most of that was how to tie knots and ladder raises.  Now we have a bunch of manuals for Rules and Regulations, SOPs, SOGs and Training Manual and it grows on a daily basis.  You have to deal with the bureaucracy, but limit your exposures and try to keep it separated from the station life.

What is one of your most memorable station life stories?

We used to have a driver that loved playing Rollercoaster Tycoon on the computer until the early morning hours.  When he came to bed he would walk so quietly through the bedroom and use his wristwatch as a light to find his way.  Bedrooms back then had to be dark and cold.  One day I thought it would be funny to put a can/air horn under his bed.  I even stacked magazines under it until it hit the wood cross member on mattress’ foundation.  Any weight applied to the top mattress traveled down and hit the button on the air horn.  It worked perfectly.  That night I couldn’t sleep, and finally got to see him make his way in the bedroom.  He sat on his mattress and it went off.  I couldn’t keep quiet, I had to laugh.  The best part is he sat on the bed again and it sounded for the second time.  It was then he realized it was under the bed and he grabbed the can and threw it at my corner.

Any final comments or questions?

If you have chosen firefighting as a career and you plan to retire from it someday, have a plan.  My goal was to be debt free or close to it when that day came.  I worked hard to accomplish that.  I had originally wanted to work until I was 55, but an opportunity came up that was a dream for my family and I took it.  Luckily, I was in a good situation and able to do that.  Be prepared and ready even before that day gets here.   If you retire debt free, you’ll be surprised at what you can afford.

 

Product Review

911 Leather

image      What can I say, Erik Falkenstrom with 911 leather has been an over achiever since I inquired about reviewing a product from 911leather.com. Mr. Falkenstrom says several times that, “this should last a man’s career”, meaning of course the products he offers that do not see firefighting conditions.

The first product sent was a axe belt. Custom made, black leather with white stitching, my last name stamped on the rear and “Station Pride” etched into the axe loop. The leather straight from the box appeared tough, thick but still flexible. The loop for the axe handle is big enough for any axe handle but not so big that it sits “sloppy”. The belt was built with my size in mind but given extra holes to accommodate for gear and years of weight gain or loss. While I’ve only used it a few times (due to call volume) it has held up very well and will continue to do so for years.image

 

The next product I received was a custom made shave/toiletries bag completely made of leather. The handle was a cutout of a fire axe and heavily stitched to the bag. The zipper is strong and stiff but I’m sure will loosen over time after use. The front is adorned with a leather Maltese cross with my name and dept etched into it. The rear has another pocket that I keep my razors in, again strong but somewhat stiff zipper. As said before Erik says, “this should last a career”. The

http://911leather.com offers many products including but not limited to, axe belts, leather suspenders, shave bags and they are all custom to your order.

http://911leather.com
To contact 911 leather email them at:  911leather@gmail.com

 

 

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The Volunteer Solution Part 2

In The Volunteer Solution Part 1 we covered a fair amount of ground. If you were able to get through the article you would have found some extremely valuable information in solving the volunteer problem. The remaining Station-Pride user submitted issues of concern in this series include:

  • Spare time to volunteer
  • Gasoline expenses
  • Lack of fire department funding for necessities
  • Lack of manpower/members
  • Training overload or willing to volunteer but no time for the required FF1 or 2 and other classes such as Hazmat, CPR, and extrication.

Time

Time is an incredible issue facing volunteer firefighters. In life, time is the most precious gift we have to give, solely because we can never get it back. Once you give it up, it’s gone forever. Every volunteer Fire Chief and volunteer Fire Officer should be keen to the fact that their firefighters are giving the most valuable gift they possess.

Time can be a frustrating burden and it can be broken down two ways. There is the time you wish you could give and the time you can actually give. The time you wish you could give is at constant battle with the time you can actually give.

il_570xN.502845662_bukkIt’s imperative for you to think rationally with your time. Remove the entire wish and want you have for giving more time at the firehouse. You probably need to work in order to support you and/or your family. Work has to be the priority in your pecking order, second only to your family. That means the highest realistic priority for volunteering should be third in line. Family first,  job second, volunteering third.

I know this sounds like one of those ridiculous cheesy back-flip lines but, you can only give what you can give. Your pride and dedication are going to push you to the breaking point on time. Fires have been burning for thousands of years and nearly all of them were extinguished somehow without you there. Try to maintain a bigger picture and not get caught up in making the fire dept. your number 1 priority.b46892c24d16babc2810a8f3ab05_Content

Gasoline expenses

A motivated and creative fire chief who read The Volunteer Solution Part 1 should be able to come up with a plan to help ease the financial burden of gas. Gas is expensive and it’ll never be under $2 a gallon ever again.

Some departments have set up gas incentive programs where each member is given a stipend based on the number of calls they ran that month. Likewise, I’m aware of another department that had a positive working relationship with the local gas station who would give 15% off gas bills for volunteers who showed their badge. It may not seem like much but 15% on a $40 gas bill is about 2 free gallons of gas.

11160402_10152863669412075_689309218_nIn the end it’s really a community effort. Most of these funds will come from fundraising or should become a line item in the annual budget. Again, the first rule of running a successful volunteer fire department is to take care of your people first. You can have all the trucks and awesome tools in the world but you can’t have a fire department without people.

Lack of Funding for Necessities

As described in Part 1, Funding is an area that will require the most creativity and attention. As stated previously, fundraising should be left up to another entity such as an auxiliary. A motivated fire chief should be able to harness the power of the community to raise funds for the fire department. These aren’t just words on paper, this is very possible no matter where you live.

One creative way to get the things you need is to just ASK for them! Instead of asking for monetary donations; set up a system where citizens can purchase equipment directly. Publish a list of  items you need. This outcome is sometimes better because the donor can actually take part in what their money is used for. It’s almost like creating a wedding registry. Team Rubicon USA and other non-profits have had great success with direct equipment donations. http://www.teamrubiconusa.org/join-the-team/the-giver/tr-wishlist/

Marketing your problem and gaining sympathy is paramount. Here again, Team Rubicon has perfected this with short videos that address the problem in a way that makes you want to throw your cash at them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvYLUjf2v6M I’m not intending to plug Team Rubicon here but they do have an impressive marketing strategy for garnering donations and support.

My point here is that your department has a story. It’s probably one of struggle, hardship, and triumph. You need to tell that story. Show people working hard for their community, 11121579_10152863648692075_266927737_ngiving their time, show effort, find a way to show what it would be like if there were no volunteers or no fire department at all. Someone in your department is likely good with video editing and if not, try the local high school AV club. I bet you’d be able to find a willing participant to help you out for some extra credit. Tugging heartstrings and telling a story that astonishes people is one of the best ways to get people to care. It’s likely that most people don’t fully understand your struggle. Show them.

Lack of Manpower/Members

Here again, the atmosphere in the firehouse has to conducive to something people WANT to be around. The more open and inviting your fire department is, the more people will be showing up to volunteer.

I knew a chief once who locked everyone out of the fire station and gave a key to 10 people out 0f 60.  During emergencies, groups of people would stand around outside the fire station waiting for someone with a key. One time, I recall someone making entry through a window to get a truck out the door. The Chief didn’t trust his volunteers and the volunteers didn’t trust their chief. If you don’t give trust, you won’t receive it.

Also, there are people in the community that don’t realize they CAN be a volunteer firefighter at all. I’ve witnessed numerous retirees join a volunteer fire department wishing they had known previously that it was possible for them. There has always been an unspoken barrier between the public and the guys on the fire truck. Break that barrier.

Volunteer fire departments are a community effort.

5256bf3379155.imageThe dire reality is that almost every volunteer fire agency is reaching out more often, and a farther distance for mutual aid just to fulfill routine calls, than they probably did a decade or two ago. The need for manpower is a serious issue facing volunteers and the only way to resolve it is it to quell the in-house politics and enforce a code of conduct within the firehouse.

The Station Pride submitted concern of “Lack of manpower,” I assume relates to responding to incidents. It’s a common reality among all volunteer fire departments. “Who is going to show up at 10am on a Tuesday.” It’s probably a Fire Chief’s worst nightmare.

I’ve been “that guy” that’s shown up at 10am on a Tuesday. Called for the closest 5 departments, wrapped the hydrant and laid my own line in, crossing my fingers someone would connect it; geared up, pulled the line, set the pump, forced the door and started making an attack all before anyone else arrived. Its reality, but again… you can only do what you can do.become a volunteer firefighter recruitment call of duty flyer 7 lg

The only way to overcome the manpower issue is to increase the number of volunteers you  have on your roster. This can be accomplished with aforementioned recruiting campaigns and literally accepting everyone that’s willing to walk through the door. Not everyone needs to be a line firefighter. The more people you have on your roster the greater the chances that someone will show up. Work with the local government to pass legislation that protects volunteer firefighters from losing their jobs in the event of a community emergency, structure fire and/or an incident of significance.

recruitmentLong gone are the days when shop owners close their doors and rush off to a fire. But that doesn’t mean a level of understanding can’t occur and if the situation warrants it, a hand shake from the fire chief can make all the difference on whether that employee is able to bail out for an emergency.

I say it all the time, I’ve always believed it’s better to have old apparatus, old equipment and a full roster than a new truck and no people.

Training Overload!

Training is necessary in order for every firefighter to be competent, effective and safe. There is no way of getting around it. The NIOSH reports, although they don’t necessarily place blame, they do highlight “contributing factors” to LODD’s and every bit of that firefighter’s life is under a microscope.

While the solution to this problem isn’t an easy one, getting the conversation started now for change to happen in the future can be. There is a company that currently exists called TrainingDivision.com they provide web-based certification classes. The classes are completed 75-90% online followed by a one-two week crash practical skills academy.

I bring this up not as an option (although it is), but as an idea. Create a relationship with your State’s fire academy and lobby for a web-based firefighter certification system. The Air Force uses Career Development Courses where Service members can accomplish academic work for their fire certification classes online. The system the military uses isn’t perfect, as it can allow pencil whipping during practical evaluations, but its useful and effective at providing the training necessary at the students pace.

My vision for the future of volunteer firefighter training is that we create a web-based fire onlinelearningkeyboardcertification solution. A web-based certification program brings the fire service classroom into the volunteer’s home. It also provides a solid platform for the state or local government to disseminated consistent information to all firefighters in training within their borders. Following completion of the academic portion of the class, firefighters could then attend practical training sessions and evaluations that accompany the academic training. I firmly believe this is the best hope for the volunteer fire service with regard to training.

As far as the National Incident Management System (NIMS) classes and FEMA classes are concerned; unfortunately, as they are typically attached to grant opportunities, the classes are a necessary evil. These classes also push a national agenda, which usually waves a flag of interoperability, common communication and emergency preparedness. They aren’t a bad thing,but in order for it to work, everyone has to be on board.

There is noRN-FEMALE-CHIEF-01_t598 one easy answer that fixes the volunteer problem. However, there are many creative and open-minded steps that can be taken in order to improve your fire department’s situation. The Volunteer Fire Chief absolutely has to be a positive force and a politician of sorts in order to garner the support of the entire community. I hate to say it rests on the Fire Chief shoulders but he/she sets the pace for everyone to follow. If the Fire Chief is bitter and vindictive everyone below him will follow suit.

Good Luck, show mutual respect for each other, and be safe.

The Volunteer Solution Part 3 will cover Expectations.

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Accepting Mediocrity

Mediocrity is a dangerous blight on the fire service.  In volunteer and full-time departments alike, we accept mediocrity in our equipment, personnel and even in ourselves.  Unfortunately, as a result, our brothers and sisters, families and community all suffer.

Low manpower is a large problem in a lot of rural volunteer departments.  In some cases, they take what they can get, but is this always homer_fireman_1what’s best?  In my opinion, a lack of firefighters is far better than a bad or dangerous one.  Firefighters who don’t hold themselves to a standard, don’t train, or don’t think they should are far deadlier than the fires we are fighting.

The majority of our line of duty deaths in the fire service are result of this mediocrity at times.  Our health not being a priority results in heart attack LODD’s.  Not wearing our PPE as it was designed results in failures and deaths or injuries.  Not wearing our seat belts on every call at all times can take a life on that one time it isn’t worn.  Even a cultural attitude in your department can be detrimental.  Having a “just deal with it/get over it” attitude can breed depression and other mental issues that can ultimately take over and even end a person’s life.

Holding ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the fire service accountable to the standards we should be at is key to ending the mediocrity.

Mediocrity Green Road Sign with Dramatic Clouds, Sun Rays and Sky.

Even at a low level in the department, you can create change by leading by example.  It will take time, and it won’t be easy but it can be done.  I myself am, by far, not the perfect firefighter, but as of today, I vow to better myself mentally and physically and hold myself to a standard that I should be at.  I have a long ways to go, but it needs to be done.  I will no longer accept myself in my current state as I am not in the best shape to help my community and support my brothers and sisters.  Will you do the same?

Health and Wellness

FireStrong.org

Firestrong is an independently operated online resource for members of the Fire Service and their families. The mission of Firestrong is to offer mental, emotional, and physical support to each member of the fire department and their families by providing educational tools, resources, crisis intervention assistance (crisis line) and peer support services.

Resources and tools for all firefighters include:stress

  • 24/7/365 Independent Fire Crisis Network Line: 602.845.FIRE (3473)
  • Mental health information and assessments
  • Peer support and testimonials with confidentiality
  • Live online chat with professionals
  • Counseling & what to expect FAQs
  • Free counseling services contact our Experts tab on the Landing page
  • Online self help tool through a partnership with MindabilityScreen Shot 2015-04-11 at 8.53.37 PM
  • Education regarding current medical insurance mental health benefits
  • Resources for financial fitness
  • Legal backup options
  • Crisis Intervention steps
  • Member and family services
  • Free mental wellness assessments

Firestrong overall goals:

Firestrong.org is designed to be a point of reference for fire service members and their families.  Most of this site is available to anybody and is not restricted in anyway. However, departments can use this site as a starting point for their members and have their departments personalized resources placed on this site for additional support.  Interested departments should contact us for more information.Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 8.53.37 PM

Firestrong can also offer a tailor log-in for your department:

  • Secured log-in for your members to gain access to a variety of your tools including testimonials
  • Placement of your departments logo within the site
  • Marketing tools
  • Ongoing informational updates and upkeep of websites resources and social network
  • Access to Mindability, an online self-help, self-paced program designed to build resilience in your membersoverview

Future goals include:

  • Ongoing Research for Retiree education
  • Ongoing resiliency  training
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Dogma in the Fire Service

Dogma:

– A noun

– Defined as a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.


“That’s the way we’ve always done it”

These are words we have all heard before. Whether it be true or not, right or wrong, old-school or new-school, is this the way the fire service deserves to be taught? Does anybody question the ideas or ways many tasks are derived? How do we know what is right, if it’s all we have ever known to live by? The answer is to think outside the box.

DogmaWhat are some topics or training exercises your organization has never touched on? Do we really know what is out there, if we don’t train on bettering ourselves for the worst possible outcomes? These are questions that will remain unanswered until the dogma is over. By reaching outside the box, we can better ourselves in more ways than one. One example of a dogma that I can think of is the way we sometimes unrealistically train. Whether it be financially unsound, or non-practical because “in all my years, we have never run that type of call before.” We are jacks of all trades, and hopefully masters in some. I have used that as fuel for my own passion for the fire service, as it has grown over the last 12 years of my life into what it is today.

Training deserves the right to be conducted in a professional, realistic manner that everybody can learn from. We deserve to be trained to the highest possible standards. Most importantly, our patients and victims deserve that we are trained in that same fashion. Is extrication training realistic if it is on a 5 year old car, which has been destroyed by water damage and has maybe one or two dents or dings? Is that really helping our foundations of vehicle extrication? Are our rookies getting the absolute most out of their scenario that day? In my eyes, they are not. They need to be popping doors off a car that have rolled several times, landed on its roof, and that have manikins that are entangled in metal, thrashed throughout the vehicle. Although gruesome to the lay person, this is what we need to prepare for. Good instructors/training officers remove the dogma, and broaden the horiideas-not-opinions-travel-quotezons on what a training evolution should be comprised of, making the drill educational, yet keeping it within the boundaries so everyone can stay focused.

 

For those of us who provide patient care, we should strive to be the best. We need to make the best possible decisions in the worst possible times. We need to be able to count on our training as a back-up to what we’re thinking and doing. We should want to be “that guy” who is upside-down in a vehicle, intubating our “Trauma Alert” patient, and being able to stabilize their airway so extrication could ensue, all while staying within the “Golden Hour”. After all, we are here for the patient, right? We need to know that by training as realistic as possible, we can achieve goals that we would have never come close to if the dogma was left in place. We need to question those that make rules/SOPs/SOGs. By no means am I telling you to go to the firehouse tomorrow and run to the Chief’s office and demand he give you answers. What I am saying is that no decisions are made because “we HAVE to do it that way”, or “that’s the way we have always done it”. Knowing “why” that decision is made, is just as important as actually making the decision itself. Knowing what thoughts and tactics are running in his mind when the Dogma 2senior firefighter knows to get off the roof. Or why the company officer is deciding not to use stairway A for ventilation, because there are screaming victims running out the first floor door. Why do these people know what they’re doing? Because they trained for it. They trained for this day to come, and now they know why they are making these decisions. This type of training not only covers the “How’s”, but also the “Why’s”. Would your probie know they need to look under the smoke after rolling into a window from an aerial? If you don’t train in a smoke-filled atmosphere, we could only guess what the answer would be. (No, really. Guess…) I have heard some very off-the-wall answers when they don’t know what they’re talking about. I would bet the next time they are in that same situation they will know exactly what to do and, most importantly, “Why”?

All in all, this is not at all an advocation to bust down your administrator’s doors, and bash them. It’s just a way to open the eyes of the Jake in all of us, and help to think about removing ourselves from the dogma that we have always heard. Once it is no longer existent, we can train in a way that our profession is fundamentally comprised. We need to be trained for the unknown. What CAN be thrown at us, WILL be thrown at us in some point in our careers. It’s our job to be ready for it.

– The “Irons”

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Where Does Pride Grow?

What is pride? Where does it come from? Where is it found? Every so often, I have a self-realization moment when I ask myself, “What can I do to better myself, and my department?” It’s hard to find answers sometimes, but I usually find that pride is where it all starts. But where do you find it? Where is it hiding? Figuratively speaking, where does it “grow”?Where Does Pride Grow2

It starts with the basics. From the bottom, to the top. Pride can be found in the nooks and crannies of our firehouses. It can be found in many forms and states of matter. One of the best places to find it, is in the kitchen. Just by listening to the words flying across the kitchen table, you could find a sense of pride, or a lack there of. Whether good words or bad, they can either motivate you, or light the fire under you, causing to you grab the bull by the horns and find it for yourself.

Some things in the firehouse are necessary for everyday functionality. Station chores are also a great way to start your search. Early in my career, I learned very quickly that you could only polish a turd so many times. It’s still a turd. But if you put a little elbow grease in and go the extra mile, you will find self-satisfaction, integrity, and maybe even a ‘‘dat a boy’ from a veteran Jake.

Have you ever seen the ring of green algae underneath the toilet brim? Although gross, that is the type of place you will find pride. Removing that ring not only cleans the joint up, but also instills values, diligence, integrity, and PRIDE. It shows that you care. It shows that you are there, and want to be a part of the team. It also shows that you want to change things and make Where Does Pride Growthem better, even if it’s not just for yourself. Most importantly, you are there to learn. In exchange, the small stuff needs to be tended to. Cleaning toilets, sprinting to answer phones, and cooking the platoon’s dinner are all a part of the firehouse life. It shouldn’t be hard to find things around the house to do, as there are many little tidbits like this that exist.

Now that the station chores are tended to, let’s make our way out to the engine room. Ever hear a story about the chief that once had given a “White Glove Test”? Everyone has one. Try it one time. One swipe is all it took to find a trail of dirt. The idea behind it wasn’t to just give the rookie a BS job for 12 hours. It was to see what kind of integrity he has, and to see how long he will voluntarily do it for. No one would come out and stop him. Nobody would tell him when enough is enough. Anybody could wipe dirt out of the wheel wells. It takes dedication to wipe off the accumulation of road grime, grease, and funk that is found all over God’s creation as we drive miles and miles a day. Although tirelessly working for Where Does Pride Grow3months, little by little, the dirt always seems to find itself on the truck. We all know the “White Glove Test” is for parade trucks. Anybody on a working fire truck knows there will never be an end in sight. But do you know what doesn’t find itself in the usual places? Accumulation. Pride took care of that.

– The “Irons”