Health and Wellness

Firefighters and Alcohol Abuse


Thoughtful Leadership- Disciplinary Action

Disciplinary action in the fire service is sometimes shrouded with hesitation. As discussed earlier in FFPM-Wellbeing, it is possible that psychological and firefighter-california1behavioral factors related to firefighter stress can, at times, rear its head in the disciplinary arena. It’s imperative that a fire service personnel manager (Fire Officer) be tuned-in with the firefighter in question to rule out stress as a contributing factor for the undesired behavior.

While a decreased level of performance may be unacceptable and worthy of disciplinary documentation, possible recent contributing factors such as, witnessing a suicide or rescuing a deceased child may provide some clarity as to the behavior of the firefighter. This scenario would provide for a different course of action such as the behavioral wellness program, instead of disciplinary action.

The desire to maintain positive working relationships, motivation, and company cohesion balances along a delicate line of which all fire officers wish to neutrally navigate. The introduction of a disciplinary action willfully disrupts this delicate balance and creates misguided mistrust.

Write-up cultures are typically toxic cultures. The last thing any fire officer should want is their entire shift walking around in fear of being written up for not covering their mouth when they sneeze. That isn’t a comfortable environment to work in.

There is also a social aspect which plays out in Firefighter disciplinary action. It’s imperative that the disciplinary action be justifiable and apparent. Catching someone off guard with a write-up is no way to manage. With Firefighting, it has to be slightly more personal than handing some a cold piece of paper.

St. Paul firefighter Billeigh Riser Jr. of St. Paul, center, is schooled in the art of floor mopping by his partner, Ron Nistler of Star Prairie Township, Wis., right, at Fire Station 23 in St. Paul on Monday, March 23, 2009. At left is Kelly McDougal. Recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, Riser credits his "extended family" of fellow firefighters with helping in his ongoing recovery from post traumatic stress disorder. (Pioneer Press: Richard Marshall)

Typically, all practical efforts should be exhausted before the formally documented disciplinary action is generated. These efforts include mentoring, peer assistance, peer pressure, focused training efforts, verbal warnings, and the like. Violation of policies such as theft, physical altercations, willful damage, and actions similar in criminal nature may certainly be solid grounds for a tiered disciplinary response.

Disciplinary action in the fire service must take a comprehensive effort to resolve the true spirit of the disciplines intent. To correct the issue. It’s important to find the potential root of a problematic action rather than escalate the firefighter’s problems with a write-up.

Sometimes the contributing factors could be located at home or be outside the fire department altogether. But you wouldn’t know that until you had a one-on-one walk and talk preferably outside your intimidating office.

Be a thoughtful leader. Investigate beyond a specific action and see if there are any underlying problems. You’ll gain more respect by trying to understand, than by leading with a heavy fist.



We Are Hope


There seems to be a big push lately on social media regarding fire and EMS personnel being seen as “hope” for the public we serve. We offer a glimmer of hope to the people, no matter how bad the situation is.

“We are in the ‘bad day’ business”, I don’t remember where I saw that, but I wish I did so could give credit where credit is due. It is the simplest descriptor of our service. During those “bad day” situations, a big red screaming truck or an ambulance is seen as a ray of hope. When firefighters and EMTs exit those big, shiny trucks, we are seen with our clean and pressed uniforms, clean shaven faces and polished boots. FB_IMG_1433175477303Strong, professional men and women of the fire service put off a sense of control, and that sense of control is what is seen as hope. Confidence is control. Control is hope. Confidence grows from training.

That image, the way we look, our performance, and the way our house and apparatus look is what gives us the power to be trusted to handle anything we are called to. Have you figured out what I’m getting at yet?

PRIDE!!! Our image; be it the trucks, the uniform, the fire house or even our hair cut, is what shows the public how proud we are to do what we do. Physical fitness, confidence from training, and an overall sense of “calm before the storm” brings hope. Stemming from pride is confidence. Confidence is an instant relief to chaos. Besides physical appearance, the ability to complete tasks quickly and efficiently builds on the confidence the public has in us.IMG_20150812_150116_3_2

So let your pride be so evident as to establish that ray of hope within your community.

~LT Cookie~

Health and Wellness

Suicide Risk Factors

There are several indicators that can help you determine someone who may be at risk. The indicators are listed under the acronym IS PATH WARM. These signs and symptoms may not all be present for someone to commit suicide but should raise you index of suspicion  . If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, don’t hesitate to act! Intervention – Know, Ask, Listen, Connect
  • I Ideation– Having suicidal thoughts or ideations
  • S Substance abuse– excessive or increased amount of substance use/li>
  • P Purposelessness– feeling no reason for living
  • A Anxiety – anxiety or agitated with insomnia or excessive sleep
  • T Trapped– feeling no way out of the situation they are in
  • H Hopelessness
  • W Withdrawal – Withdrawal from friends, family, or society
  • A Anger– Uncontrolled anger or rage
  • R Recklessness – Acting or engaging in risky or reckless behaviors
  • M Mood – Dramatic mood changes

HEalthWellnessIntervention starts by knowing the signs and symptoms of suicide. Once you suspect someone may be contemplating suicide, it is important to know what questions to Ask and what actions to take.FiremanMS0411_468x661


You can also call FireStrong.Org

Fire Crisis Support Line:
844-525-FIRE (3473)
602-845-FIRE (3473)

Don’t Neglect The Culture


Few things are more important than the sustained culture of an organization. You see, the culture determines if an organization is thriving or just surviving. The culture indicates if the members are committed or just content. A team cannot reach its full potential with an ailing culture. And equally as true, money does not fix the problems that result from a poorly managed culture.

Recently, we conducted interviews to fill seven newly approved Firefighter/Paramedic positions. In a department our size, this is a big deal because The Colony F.D. is located in one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Just about every fire department in the area was hiring. Bigger departments with nicer rigs, better pay, and more non-fire related calls were each hiring big numbers. Since we leaherare surrounded by ISO Class 1 fire departments that have an array of attractions to lure new candidates, what were the odds that we could find seven candidates that met our standards?

As the process opened, the leadership team strategized on the best way to attract the ideal candidate and then stood by anxiously awaiting to see how T.C.F.D would fare amongst the competition. While all of the traditional employment tools were utilized, the membership took to social media with page invites to join the team. While basic, these posts portrayed the culture of T.C.F.D. As part of the hiring process, each candidate had to successfully complete two interviews to continue. In two days of interviewing the top eighteen applicants, the interview team began to notice a pattern in responses. When asked why do you want to work for The Colony Fire Department, the following answers were repeated:

  • Daily training.
  • The utilization of a truck/engine deployment model with pre-arrival assignments.
  • Growth and the potential for advancement.
  • Honoring the good traditions of the fire service.
  • “ I like the way you do things”

Of the five most common responses to this question, all but one, are supported by the T.C.F.D. culture. The Colony Fire Department way. I am pleased to report that T.C.F.D. has offered in NFL draft fashion, conditional offers to seven outstanding Firefighter/Paramedics that represent the core values of The Colony Fire Department. In his book, ‘Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code’, Samuel Chand explains the importance of culture. “Culture – not vision or strategy – is the most powerful factor in any organization”, he writes, yet with all of the chief officer training programs out there, few offer training on effective culture management. T.C.F.D. recognizes the value of a IMG_1914healthy culture and the importance of managing it daily. With zero turnover, other than retirements in the last six years, 63 applicants for Firefighter/Paramedic, and 68 applicants for Battalion Chief, culture management seems to be paying off. Additionally, members are increasingly involved in special projects, mentoring, and new hire indoctrination. Each is the direct result of a chosen culture. The intention of this article is not to tell others what to do.

Because I am passionate about the fire service and surrounded by an amazing team, I feel an obligation to share successes as well as lessons learned. As part of this team, I am obligated to pass along anything that which may have value, if only for one person. So I offer up the following questions and observations for consideration.

  • Are standards developed internally or externally? While meeting, external standards have value when it comes to liability and defending actions or the lack of. They equate to nothing more than another decal on the side of the apparatus to the rank and file. Firemen like results and they like to clearly see that their efforts have value. Internally developed standards incorporate, support, and can even help sell the chosen culture.
  • Do you want to be good or look good? The guys on the rigs know the difference, trust me on this one.
  • Does leadership place an emphasis on being safe or on being smart? An extremely safety culture causes conflict. While we should do everything in our power to manage the risks to firefighters, the act of fighting fire, vehicle extrication, and even some medical calls, are anything but safe. During interviews, we had several applicants state with conviction that they were not willing to take risks to save the lives of a stranger. Bringing these people into the organization negatively impacts the chosen culture. “The Colony Way “supports solving problems by being smart and managing risks. This approach can be packaged and communicated to the organization in a way that makes sense. Fire Rescue is an “all-in” proposition.
  • What does your culture support regarding saving lives and taking risks? Are you a fire department that provides EMS, or an EMS department that goes to fires? I have concluded that if you have a great fire department, you will provide high-quality EMS. This has to do with the whole pride and ownership thing. I am not convinced we are setting our people up for success and survival if firefighting takes second chair to EMS. I understand the whole 80% of what we do thing but remember, medicine is a greatly studied science, and our protocols are established by MD’s. Factor in Gordon Graham’s ‘Risk/Frequency Model’ and the argument goes right out the window. We don’t have that luxury on the fire side. God help us if we have to rescue the person who called us to rescue them. The culture can only support one or the other.
  • Which will attract the people you want to attract and retain, and set the organization up for success and survival? Is leadership more worried about how the rigs look, versus how they are equipped and set-up? Do they know the difference? I can tell the culture of a department within five minutes of looking at their rigs. Are the tools clean and free from rust? Do they project the image that the next call will be chasing an ambulance, or going to a career fire? Are they set up to go directly to work, or go to the store?
  • Does the culture support daily training and constant learning? It’s simple…are members encouraged to be firemen, or are they allowed to be employees working at a job? Firemen want to train. Not because they have to, but because they realize that their success and survival depend on it.
  • Are events turned into experiences? T.C. Fire is governed by a philosophy of doing the right thing, not by rules and regulations. Our philosophy supports letting firemen be firemen. Sensible, not reckless aggression. New members are welcomed and not harassed. Being the senior guy means something, and it’s earned and not granted. We respond to fires with the mind-set that it’s on fire until we say it’s not on fire, occupied until we say it’s not occupied, and the fire is not out until we say it’s out. And we wear our PPE…always.

As one of our Battalion Chiefs puts it, “give me a set of irons and a water can and let me go to work.” While not literal, this symbolizes the simple, committed and traditional spirit of being a firemen…a problem solver. As a fire service leader, you have two choices. You can choose a sustainable culture and thrive, or you can take the culture that develops by chance and make the best of it. It’s the difference between being good and being lucky. But most importantly, be honest. The next time a member resigns or the candidate pool is low, don’t be so quick to write it off as they are seeking higher pay or a bigger department, the usual rationalizations. Ask yourself, are you managing a culture that supports and retains the people that you want to belong to your family? Don’t neglect the culture, not even for one day.

I will be rolling out a leadership program on culture management called Coaching The Culture for those leaders interested in taking their organization to the next level. My hope is to fill a gap in the chief officer development process.

– J.S. Thompson


What happens off duty, stays off duty…right? Don’t bet on it.

Doing what’s right. We’ve all heard it. Many of us believe that we do it consistently.

And perhaps, when we’re on the job or in uniform, most of us do exactly that. But what about when we are off the clock and think we are out of the public’s eye? Those of you who have read some of my previous articles know that I love to use officially accepted definitions of words. The definition of Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles or moral uprightness. The one that I like better is the C.S. Lewis quote: “Integrity is always doing what is right even when you think that no one is watching.”12202137_10207469951722588_302885975_n

So who is watching?

Everyone. Everywhere. 24/7/365.

The best question that I have ever been asked during an interview was if I felt my personal conduct off duty should have any impact on my status with that agency. In a world of scripted (and often stale) interview questions, this not only took me by surprise but even made me giggle a little inside because the interviewing panel had clearly put some effort and thought into this and many other questions. Now, I pride myself on being pretty well spoken and can articulate my thoughts pretty well. For once, I was temporarily speechless as I formulated my response. After a noticeable pause, I responded with stating that was the best interview question that I had ever been asked, and that I was glad that someone finally asked it! My opinion on the matter is this; what happens in your own home, on your own time SHOULD be a private matter.

Unfortunately, the ugly reality is that the second that the general public and media discover an affiliation in the midst of a scandal, then it is no longer a private matter. Follow me here…

Scenario # 1.) A woman who works in the private sector drives home drunk and gets involved in a motor vehicle accident where there are no injuries. 99 out of a 100 times, the media will report on this with very little embellishment. It will pretty much consist of the pertinent facts of what, where and when, unless it involves a person of interest or celebrity. And that will satisfy the public’s need to know what caused them to be stuck in traffic on their evening commute home that night.

Scenario #2.) An off-duty police officer driving his truck, with LEO specialty license plates, is traveling at nearly 95 miles per hour on the interstate as he enters a clearly marked construction zone. Witnesses report this and identify the vehicle involved, and it is later discovered that the driver was, in fact, an off-duty officer. You can imagine the media feeding frenzy and headlines. And as a result, the agency that the officer works for will likely be forced to dole out some disciplinary action that could even result in being a career ending situation.

Scenario #3.) A brother is lost in a LODD, and thousands of firefighters show up to honor his sacrifice and support his family. In the local area that night, after the memorial service, some of them head out to the local bars for camaraderie and to tell the usual war stories and other lies. Nothing negative happens, and everyone goes home that night without incident. Aside from the out of touch John Q. Public Citizen, who is unaware that a firefighter was killed in the line of duty and sees a bunch of clearly identified firefighters in various states of questionable sobriety. This prompts an official complaint to the Chief’s office the next day, and perhaps certain city council members.

Is it fair that the three different situations get reported differently? Probably not. Everyone is human. We all make mistakes and have lapses in judgment. I can even speak from personal experience on this very topic. But the reality is that the public and media do, and will, hold public safety personnel to a higher standard. Once it is identified that the person in the news story is a (fill in the blank i.e. firefighter, law enforcement officer, medic, fire chief, teacher, doctor, etc…), then it will be reported as Fire Chief Jane Doe or Officer John Schmoe. The headlines will lead with the words: “Firefighter Arrested”, or “Teacher Suspended”, or “Paramedic Investigated”. The public and many politicians love to read about these kinds of things, and they can be used as political tools against our agencies when it comes time for public approval ratings and support for funding.

The fact is that we are in a position of public trust, and will be held to a higher standard even if it seems like it’s no one else’s business. Keep that in mind when driving your vehicle with fire stickers or light bars. Never forget that wearing a t-shirt or hat can identify your affiliation to an agency. Remember that the media will dig for juicy scandals because it’s in their interest to, “report the facts”. Be cognizant of the fact that when there is a public scandal that involves a member of public safety, the general public tends to see the rest of the members the same way as the headlines read.

Do what’s right even when you think that no one is watching.

They are.