For a long time, I have argued against the money that professional sports players make. Although I haven’t changed my mind that they are overpaid, I had to ask myself some questions before I joined the many around my department about crying because I’m underpaid. And maybe that not what this is about…It’s about a professional being a damn professional.
I first started thinking about training. How often are my guys training? Are we cutting corners that could affect us on game day? What are we training?
So first off is frequency. Every day, every call is preparing us for the Super Bowl. There will be that call in your life that you will think back to things that worked and were done right on the training ground. So if we are at work, we should be training from the bottom to the top. If you are on the fire ground with me, I expect that you have a working knowledge on your pack. I expect you to remember where the nearest exit is. I expect you are in good enough physical condition to get my ass out if shit hits the fan. I realize one day, one of these guys may have my life in their hands. Now if that’s not enough, one day I may have to be the one that makes decisions that will affect if one of them goes home or not!…OH shit! Time to train!
Cutting corners in training? You’ve never done it right? When we had a new chief that came in and made us accountable a set number of hours of training each month, I saw a guy do anything possible to get these hours (as long as they didn’t have to train). If you drive to the store for dinner, don’t mark down 2 hours of DO training. Don’t watch Backdraft and mark down training. I am guilty too, I have done many drills sitting at the dinner table. The dinner table is a great place to learn, but who doesn’t agree that we can get more out of getting our ass out of the chair and onto the training grounds? Do you think John Elway just chalk boarded everything?
Speaking of the Broncos, do you ever see the other team on the sidelines sucking down oxygen? I’ve been told they come down early and acclimate to the elevation. If they went there a month early, I bet they wouldn’t be huffing those “O’s”. Does it make sense to do that?…no.
What are you training on? I am from a small department, which means I could be on the engine, bus, tower, rescue, or brush truck. Just like any firefighter, I have to be versatile. I may cause some pain saying this but train on the important things. Train on the things you KNOW that you will see. We have an agriculture air spraying service. I have been in this department for 13 years and have not run one crash. In the last two months, we have made an initial attack on three structure fires. What do you think we should train? The answer is, of course, both. I believe that it’s completely asinine to train over and over on shit you may never see and overlook the stuff you see every day. Do you think Barry Bonds skipped a batting practice, even though it was the SAME thing every time? Practice what you know you will see!
Remember that the goal of training is a self-improvement, not for just yourself, but your shift, your department, and your community. Our goal should follow that of any pro player; we should know that Sunday is coming, if we are ready or not. The only difference between them and us is that someone’s life may be on the line.
Every Fire Department has that supervisor that is incapable of leading, whether it is the Chief that hides in his/her office, the Station Captain that made an egregious error on a call, or Lieutenant that is assigned to the first due engine. We have all worked with them and it drives all of us crazy. We talk about their deficiencies at the next call, during meals, and even gripe to our families.
The single biggest decision that the command staff can make to affect the entire department—bigger than all the rest— is who they promote. When you promote the wrong person to manage others, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits, not time off—nothing.
The Peter principle is a concept in management theory formulated by Laurence J. Peter and published nearly half a century ago. The theory is that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”
- When you do good you get promoted into to something you are terrible at. A typical example in the fire service is promoting a Master Technician/Driver to the Lieutenant position. Knowing the intricacies of your apparatus, your response area, and your complex equipment does not always prepare you to manage people. All your experience and technical know-how is going to be stuck behind a desk, making schedules, writing reports, and concocting performance evaluations. These competencies are vastly different and a proficiency in engineer/operator type of job does not correlate to managing people, personalities, and conflicts. If you are not prepared for your new position in a leadership role as a Lieutenant, you will do yourself and your crew a disservice
- You won’t get fired or replaced you will just remain stagnant in your new position. Possibly because the manager above you has reached their threshold of incompetence as well. They are unable to realize how unproductive you are in your position. The subordinates will adapt and will now just work around you seeking advice from other more effective managers or subordinate leaders.
- When you are competent you have recordable and obvious output. You are being held accountable for that production, once it stops and there is little or no output, you are now judged by the input. This input is your demeanor, attitude, punctuality, friendliness, loyalty, and helpfulness. However, if you are too competent you make the immobile managers look bad. Thus jeopardizing your position in the hierarchy or worse being promoted to a higher position that you aren’t adequately equipped for, succumbing to the axiom, “Certified, not qualified”
- The principle suggests that this incompetence is inevitable. So as you progress in your fire service career, you need to decide whether you are going to jump on the train headed toward the void called “Final Placement”. This last station is an ominous place, where you will wear down with a fruitless future, or take your time and forestall this as long as possible. You can slow this locomotive by mentoring the person that took your old position while providing a performance plan to meet your own standards. Another avenue is to seek out your own mentor, to provide you guidance, advice, and discuss your performance objectives for your new career path. Lastly, there is training, these are courses on leadership, management, and organizational tactics to address this pervasive incompetence.
- If your intent is to race to the finish line, then just latch on to the superiors, doing all you can to gain a premature promotion, stepping on as many backs and shoulders as you can, climbing to the top. Once they are your subordinates you will be able to change things for the better, set new rules, and lead your former coworkers. This is a delusion that comes with a price. Don’t be surprised if your shift, crew, or company start seeking transfers, new assignments, or increase their leave usage. Victor Lipman a former Fortune 500 Manager, published an article, postulating, people don’t leave jobs, they leave bad managers.
- If you are astute enough to realize that you don’t want to be hurled into career limbo, you need to seek out places you are productive, useful, and happy. Once there, you should forego seeking promotion, better yet focus on mastering your craft, self-betterment, and even mentoring subordinates. You are a wealth of knowledge, now go and make others’ lives richer. I am not advising you to refuse promotions, just be prepared to accept the new position and its responsibilities since they may vary drastically from your former position.
- We can’t just fire all of our incompetent managers, it will create a vortex. They are useful in the sense of, they will inflict the least amount of damage on the productive people in your department. The competent employees will maintain a non-threatening illusion that these managers are useful, are producing, and cling to a bright future. All of this to avoid repeating this vicious cycle of new incompetent managers.
The Harvard Business Review has 4 decades of business articles providing solutions to curb the endemic management dilemma. It is not just the Fire Service, this problem arises in every institution, career, and organization, you will never be able to escape its reach. From a subordinate’s point of view, every department I have worked for has a repetitious cycle of the deficient leadership. Generations of fire service managers have been fraught with incompetent leaders. It is the duty of our managers to address bad bosses by improving their own leadership skills, becoming a good boss, and stop promoting the incapable. Our jobs as subordinates is to manage ourselves well, be engaged, be committed to the organization with purpose, principle, and pride.
You know, this started out as a Facebook status, but I…I had to keep writing and adding to it.
You see, today (Monday 9/12/16 – the day after the 15 year anniversary of the twin tower attacks) I’m in the weight room. I’m cracked out on pre-workout, doing chest day. Slamming weight in silence; no headphones, no TV. Nothing. Just the weight.
Today, I have a lot on my mind. And I mean a lot.
This weekend I met firefighters from around the globe, I met rookies and chiefs. I met FDNY firemen. I met pipers and drummers.
Let me back up, Saturday the 10th was my 31st birthday. I also did the 911 Memorial Stair Climb in Dallas that day. That’s when my mind started this post.
On Sunday, I met Jeff Cool, FDNY “Black Sunday” survivor. I met John Walters, FDNY 9/11/01 survivor. I scaled another 110 floor stair climb in Ft Worth that was open to firefighters and anybody wanting to climb for a fallen military member or first responder.
Today, before I came to the gym, I learned of a fireman from my department that was a career fireman, and currently a volunteer, is in grave condition due to cancer.
This is where my mind is at; if you’re still here reading this, then thank you. I’m getting to the point soon, I promise.
There are millions of motivational fitness and fire service training quotes, articles, and pictures out there, but for firemen, there are two that I can think of.
One: Get fit and train for the people you serve.
Two: Get fit and train for the people that would do ANYTHING to be able to walk in your shoes again.
We owe it to the men and women in and out of the fire service to be as selfless as possible.
The fire service has never been about self, nor should it be, in my opinion. People asked, “Why are you doing two climbs? You’re crazy!”
I didn’t do it for me. I did it for those who can’t. I took names to the top of those towers that are deceased FDNY firefighters. I took names and memories of friends and family that are deceased or not physically able to climb.
A good friend’s father passed away awhile back, I wore his name on my helmet. I brought up memories of his pride in his son and his friendliness towards me in my heart. There’s many others that where in my heart as well. My grandfathers, grandmothers and so on…
The team from my dept took OUR (ownership…different article for another day) department name to the top in Dallas, while our department, short staffed, took a beating from 911 calls at home.
Sometimes we have to beat the hell out of our own bodies while we have the ability to do-so. We should do it for the people that’d love to be healthy enough to do it too.
Let’s talk about EMS for a minute…
There are industry-level publications, internet sites independent from the magazines and countless bloggers out there that have an opinion. I am no different. I pluck away at the keyboard and think that I can provide some insight, using the experience, which at this point, has spanned more than 20 years. Sixteen of that being in a busy(ish) urban department as well as the private sector, volunteer and any combination of the above. I have been in and out of administrations and held several command positions. I try to give my take on issues that I think warrant attention. I just finished my 24-hour shift which consisted of 8 calls. Not a bad shift. A little lighter than normal. I’m used to the double digits. We didn’t get beat up too bad. So anyway, I know you didn’t ask for my opinion, but you are still reading this so you might as well hear what I’m on my soapbox about this time. Have you a few minutes to kill? Or, at the very least, are you wondering if I will say something witty or lay on the sarcasm that is familiar to just about everyone in EMS? Read on to see if your dreams come true.
So today’s rant; pre-hospital emergency care! Shocker, I know!
Ahhh yes, what we all are doing whether we like it or not. What even the busiest departments in the country can no longer ignore. The fire service’s under-appreciated step-child (in most places) and the thing that pays the salaries of a lot of “dragon slaying”, “grievance filing”, “door slamming, when they get a run”, “treating their patients like shit because they have to be on the medic unit” fire service employees. The thing that has kept some departments afloat during hard financial times. That’s what we will be talking about this time, so let’s explore what is rattling around in my head.
What do you think we are doing out here? It’s a weird question to some, simply because I don’t think it is asked too often. When you ask the new guy or gal, he or she will say we are out here to save lives by implementing all of the groovy things they taught us at the learning annex in our emergency medical technological implementation class. If you ask the “salty dog” they will say that we are the ones crazy enough to stay up for 24 hours straight to cart the crazies to the ED so they can jump on the bus and be back home before you are done with your report. My opinion of us is somewhere in the middle, I think. You may not perceive it that way by the end of this post, but who knows.
I can hear you saying, “get to the point” so here we go (you’re not the boss of me by the way). When I was a young, green, two-pager-wearing, CPR mask on my belt, car lit up like a Christmas tree EMT; I was ready to save the world with the 120 hours of training that I received. I was ready to be a “code buster” as noted on the t-shirts of my local squad and ready to snatch people from the jaws of death like I had read about in all of the periodicals stacked up at the squad house. I was “doin it” on the 68 runs I took my first year as an EMT. I was a hero to my family and friends, and my mom couldn’t stop bragging to her coworkers and pointing out the picture of me in my gear that was on her desk. What has two thumbs and drives the ambulance while the medics work in the back? This guy right here! I wouldn’t say I was Johnny and Roy, but I could make a mean cot and restocked the ambulance with 4000 4×4’s because I knew that bus crash would happen sooner or later! Oh, they let me do CPR a few times…….not bragging……….just saying.
Now, when I get to work with a new EMT and their wet-ink Registry card, I find myself wishing I had the same boundless energy to help my fellow man as I did back then. I get a boost from those guys or gals for a minute but find myself spending the day dispelling myths about some of the crap that they were taught in school. At the end of those days, after snatching people from the jaws of mild discomfort, I wonder what kind of Kool-Aid they are feeding them in their training and what they think they will be doing out here on the street. I think back on conversations I had with the senior members of my squad about what we are doing. That’s after the adrenaline wore off from me driving them through traffic with the noise and the cherries activated!
What do you think you SHOULD be doing out here? Do you honestly feel that you are having the greatest impact on your patient’s clinical course, more so than what the hospital will have? Do you believe that YOUR treatments will “make or break” the outcome of the patient’s recovery? Some of that holds true, but there may come a day when you question that, and that’s okay. Some days you will feel like you are just giving people rides or “hauling freight” as someone mentioned to me once, and that’s okay. Just don’t get stuck there!
Or do you feel like I do? Do you feel like you have an impact on the entrance of the patient into the healthcare system at that time in history? Do you realize a greater portion of your patients need to be at the ED more than they need to be with you? Do you try to get as many of your “skills” done before you get to the ED? Do you feel like most of your “skills,” if done well and for the right reasons, will shave some time off of the patients ED evaluation? Do you know, just by looking at someone, that they need services provided by the definitive care facility and not by EMS? Do you feel like what you say in your hand-off report to the ED staff can get the patient what they need more rapidly? I certainly do. I know by looking at the septic, unresponsive nursing home patient with a 518 blood glucose and a 104.5 temperature that I can get them started. They need to be in the ED and ultimately the ICU and not sitting outside the nursing home in my medic unit while I try to get the $35,000 blood pressure machine hooked up, ECG leads on that won’t stay because the patient is diaphoretic and an IV started after two attempts. The patient needs to see the ED
doc, not me. If I get all of those things done on the way to the ED then “YAY” for the patient and me. Don’t get me wrong; we have made leaps and bounds in pre-hospital care with trauma, STEMI recognition and treatment, stroke recognition and pediatrics. We have a direct impact on the outcomes for those patients and need to be excellent at doing those skills in rapid fashion to give those patients a chance at a full recovery. Keep in mind that we are supposed to be RAPID transport. Not everyone needs you to do you. Some of these patients need the ED, plain and simple.
We need to know what we do for our patient affects them throughout their clinical course to their discharge from the hospital. Don’t be afraid to learn as much as you can from the hospital about how your patients progressed through the hospital system and their outcome.
I have had discussions with colleagues about this subject and have been accused of discounting the effect of EMS in the healthcare system. I always argue that point because I don’t feel like I am. (Clearly, otherwise, I would not be arguing!) I am just trying to keep a clear understanding of what I think my role as a paramedic is. I am the initial contact with the healthcare system at any given point, so I feel I should do everything I can to get them to the right hospital for their needs. My department transports to six different hospitals including level one and two trauma centers, a children’s hospital/trauma center and a Veterans Affairs hospital. I am the advocate for most of my patients and have gotten good at tailoring my hand-off reports to get the ED staff to focus on what the patient needs right now, and what they can take care of in a few minutes. I also try to steer my patients to the facility that will best suit their needs. I try to teach that to the new folks, but it is a hard concept to grasp for some.
I tell the new folks to look at it like this. You can be in the ED, or at least half way there, in the time it takes you to sit out in front of the patient’s house fumble f**king around. I understand you’re trying to get IV’s, scrutinizing their vital signs, getting the $98,000,000 monitor to take a blood pressure seven times or putting the patient through the “inquisition” about their past medical history, but you should get going. Put it in drive and get going. Nothing is more awkward than the family sitting in the car in the driveway with the shifter in reverse, waiting for the ambulance to move in the direction of the hospital. I’ve seen thirty-minute on-scene times AFTER the patient is loaded into the unit. That is infuriating to me. What are you doing??? It’s neat to meet new people but Christ on a bicycle, you could have been at the ED by now! Do you think that IV is worth holding up the show? Do you not have the skill level to take a manual BP after your forty-eight attempts with the monitor? I mean really? What do you think we are supposed to be doing out here? Granted, you may need to hold still for a minute to get a clean 12-lead or to do something special before you start bumping down the road. Applying CPAP comes to mind. We have all had that partner that thinks that they are driving a Lamborghini to the hospital and throws you around the patient compartment. Sometimes you need to do a couple of things so you can sit down and not die, but outside of that, you need to get rolling. You need to be good at doing your skills on the move. Surfers don’t win surfing competitions by standing on the surf board on the beach, they ride the waves and do that hand signal thing with their thumb and pinky finger. I have a RonJon shirt somewhere with that on it. Dude. Learn to do your skills on the move bruh!
We need to realize that we are not the wizards of pre-hospital sorcery that they convinced us we were in school. They tried to teach me to be an amateur cardiologist in paramedic school. They tried. I do the best I can. I have dumbed it down to whether the patient is symptomatic or not. It’s cool that I can spot that PAC, but this asymptomatic patient needs to follow up with his cardiologist. I am good at STEMI recognition, but we have dumbed that down to by saying if it sounds and looks and feels like a heart attack, even though you don’t have STEMI signs, you need to treat it as a heart attack. You really never know right? At least until you get a Troponin level……..at the ED. No sir, your properly working pace maker is not going to kill you. Your underlying cardiac disease probably will, but we are all just counting out the birthdays anyway, am I right?? (frowny face emoji)
There have been several studies about the effect of rapid transport by the first arriving unit on the scene. One study I read compared the outcomes of patients brought to the ED by the first arriving police unit as compared to the first arriving EMS unit. The outcomes were almost identical, with some outcomes being better when the patient arrived by the police officer. Those results are sobering and will make you wonder if what we do is even worth it. I think that as we evolve, we will continue to examine what aspects of our work do the best and focus our attention on those things. There will be new information, and we will be reactive to it and proactive with it. Hopefully, we will move more quickly to embrace the information; I’m looking at you, departments that are still backboarding! Are you dumb or just plain stupid?? Stop using “standard practice” as a reason to do it. Driving stakes into the brains of “crazy” people used to be standard practice but we quit doing that.
What we do is worth it. I had to put that in there so the new generation of “everyone gets a trophy for showing up” will not throw themselves off a building or be sad. (another frowny face emoji)……(and the one that looks like it is crying)
So ultimately, we are responsible for our actions and what we can provide to our patients. We need to stay current and proactive. We need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves and try hard to provide rapid, quality pre-hospital care. It is what we do and is what we are supposed to be doing out on the streets.
We are often labeled as “Jacks-of-all-trades” when it comes to what we do. If you don’t feel like you have a broad enough understanding of what you are supposed to be doing, go out and find the knowledge. Work in different aspects of this business. I spent some time in a hospital-based air and mobile intensive care system. The short time I was there was invaluable in my eyes because I learned what happens from the time the patient was brought in by EMS until they were discharged. It gave me a different perspective on how I treat my patients, who gets advanced airways and who does not and what skills I can do in the field to impact the patient throughout their clinical course.
Be skilled and be quick. Get your patient to the definitive care that they need. Get your ego in check and do what is best for your patient. Listen to them. When they sweat, you sweat. Listen to the answers when you ask a question. Do your job and do it well. We are out there to be the first person they see on the day that their world may be crumbling. You should be honored that they trust a stranger to help them!
Volunteer firefighters are expected to train for hundreds of hours and perform the same tasks as their career counterparts in their spare time after working a full 40-hour week elsewhere. Across the nation volunteer fire departments are struggling to keep their doors
open for one reason or another. For those of us that have been in the fire service for the last ten years, you have heard time and time again that volunteer firefighters are a ‘dying breed.’
According to a 2014 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) profile, there were 1,134,400 career and volunteer firefighters across this great nation. Of those firefighters, 788,250 or 69% were volunteers. It is clear that emergency calls are up everywhere, but the number of volunteers has declined more than 10 percent over the last several decades.
This nation-wide obstacle is not an issue in a small southwest corner of Augusta County, Virginia where one fire company is beating the odds and winning. Swoope Volunteer Fire Company (SVFC), under the direction of Fire Chief Kevin L. Wilkes and President Linda Brooks, both of who will argue that volunteerism in their department is blooming like never before. SVFC is one of only four fire companies left in Augusta County that remain 100 percent volunteer, even though many volunteer stations have been assigned career personnel from the Augusta County Fire & Rescue Department to supplement staffing.
SVFC is a rural fire company just outside of the city limits of Staunton, Virginia located in the Shenandoah Valley at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Surprisingly SVFC does not have the problem most other volunteer companies have. Vice President Jessica Botkin stated, “We can barely keep up with new applications for membership.” Since
Wilkes moved to the area and joined SVFC, he has been directly responsible, along with few other key personnel, for the rise in membership from only 14 members in 2005 to over 56 active members today, 21 of whom are female. Wilkes has personally recruited over 25 members in the course of the last two years. Wilkes attributes a great deal of his success to his mentors in the fire service, a few of which are former Fire Chief Brian Butler who is currently assigned as a Fire Captain for the City of Staunton and Rick Lasky who is an emergency services consultant, motivational speaker, author of Pride and Ownership: A Firefighter’s Love of the Job and co-author of Five Alarm Leadership: From the Firehouse to the Fireground.
Many people want to know how Wilkes does it when so many other volunteer fire companies are losing members to second and third jobs, lack of good leadership, family commitments, divorce and other stressful situations.
Wilkes stated that it is simple and he has a secret weapon… “Treat ALL of your members like they are family, your family!” Wilkes goes on to say, “Never demand, always ask while leading by example.” Each new member is assigned two mentors during their probationary period to help guide them through the initial process of the fire service and to make good decisions. President Brooks stated, “We have a great opportunity here with our new members, not only to watch them transform into fire service professionals, but to mold them the way we desire, turning them into highly-motivated individuals with critical-thinking skills who save life, property and the environment.”
This kind of teamwork and coordination is paying off big for the company who is very proud of their annual ‘out-of-chute’ average time of 2 minutes and 42 seconds, only missing one call in the last two years, all while averaging nine volunteer members per call.
Wilkes admitted he has worked for a few ‘not-so-good’ leaders in past and knows what not to do, reminding his members to ensure they have fun when they come to the firehouse. “Our Company Core Values are P-R-I-D-E; Professional at all times, Respect Team Members and the Community, Innovation – Always Raise the Bar, Determination – Never Give Up and Everyone Goes Home – We’ve Got Your Six!” Wilkes stated proudly. “Little things make a BIG difference, my officers and I will be the first ones to take out the trash, mop the floors and wash dishes,” Wilkes explained. “All of our members have Pride and Ownership in their company, and it shows.” Wilkes mentioned that with a very modest budget for a rural department, leadership can’t afford NOT to consider rewarding and recognizing members.
SVFC has many programs to help their members relax and enjoy the ‘family’ environment, but also become successful and grow personally and professionally. With exciting programs like; regular family movie night, karaoke night, fitness sessions, family meals, study groups for fire service and high school classes, sessions that provide guidance for members looking to go college, cookouts, and mentorship programs, what is not to love? Members are encouraged to bring their family, neighbors and friends to events to watch a movie on the big screen or to help Santa Claus during the holiday season, who visits the community on a fire truck passing out candy canes to children or all ages. “People come to visit the firehouse and see our comradery and family spirit, and they want to be a part of this team,” stated Deputy Chief Chris Botkin.
According to Wilkes he has a second secret weapon, “We strive to make every member not only feel like this is their ‘home,’ but also to accomplish their goals, and never except failure.” Wilkes proudly boasts about his volunteers, “thirty percent of this rural fire company has earned or in the process of earning a college degree,” and “we currently have twenty-two certified firefighters and twenty certified EMTs.”
On August 16, 2016, Wilkes was presented with the Community Builders Award by the Grand Lodge of Ancient and Accepted Masons of Virginia, for Recognition of Outstanding Service to the Community.
In today’s fire service that is ruled by the almighty dollar, staffing reductions and lack of membership response have created a unique set of challenges. Regardless if your department is career, volunteer, or combination, we have been tasked with doing more with less. Less funding, less equipment, and less staffing. The mission statement of my department states in part, “…meeting the needs of our community in Fire Prevention, Fire Suppression, Rescue Operations, and Emergency Medical Services.” Nowhere in that mission statement did it say we could merely approach the needs of the community because that is all we could do with the staffing and equipment we have. We, as the fire department, are still expected to solve every problem that is thrown our way. In order to do that, we must adapt and overcome. We change our tactics and operations to incorporate the increase in responsibility and decrease in staffing. The most common “change” that has been made is to operate with a crew of 3 personnel on engine companies. While this is no doubt less than optimal, it is very attainable when you become extremely effective through training and practice. My department has taken to this change by creating riding positions that are followed on each alarm. A three-person engine crew has a driver/operator, an officer, and a nozzleman. Let’s look at some specifics of each position and how they interconnect to accomplish our mission.
The driver/operator of the engine is one of the most important and complex positions to fill on the fireground. There is an abundance of activities that need to be done in rapid succession and without them, the efforts of the crew will fail. The driver’s responsibility starts before even leaving the station. The driver/operator should drive the apparatus wearing bunker pants. This affords the driver greater flexibility once on scene; something we will cover in depth later. The driver should know the location of the alarm, the route to take to get there, and the hydrant location before he/she leaves the station. Trying to understand directions yelled over a blaring siren while trying to anticipate the reactions of the other drivers on the road will lead to confusion, missed information, and inattentive driving.
Once in the area of the alarm, the driver should approach the scene in a way that provides the officer with a view of three sides of the structure before the truck comes to a stop, if at all possible. This will help in the speed of the 360 size up since three sides have already been visualized from the front seat. The driver/operator needs to position his engine either past or short of the address building, leaving adequate room for the ladder/truck. Always take into consideration the orientation of attack lines and lengths. Know how to judge distances, and don’t park so far away that you make your attack lines ineffective. Positioning the engine is something that you only get one chance to do correctly. Once the engine is in pump gear and lines have been stretched, you can’t move to give the truck more access. Take your time and make smart decisions. Do it correctly the first time.
The driver/operator needs to be able to quickly disconnect the supply line and attach it to the pump panel. While this is being done, the officer will be completing his size-up and the nozzleman will be stretching the line. The driver/operator should then help the nozzleman stretch the line past obstacles and chase kinks. Remember, there is no backup man with a short crew. Once the officer and nozzleman have readied themselves, the driver should charge the line when called for.
At this point, the driver/operator will be the only member on the exterior of the structure. This makes him the only level of safety for the members operating inside. By driving in bunker pants, the driver/operator is already half dressed. The driver should stage the remainder of his PPE to include an SCBA together in a location close to the engine but out of the immediate work zone.
Until the arrival of next-in companies, the driver/operator is the initial RIT. This may necessitate quickly donning full PPE should something go wrong. Having it all together and staged makes this a quicker event in a time where every second counts.
Every engine in the fire service carries at least two ladders. Those ladders do no one any good when they are left on the apparatus. The driver/operator should throw ladders to the upper floors on each side of the building and the roof in the position of greatest benefit. If your crew has found the seat of the fire and the truck is still not on scene yet, you should perform coordinated horizontal ventilation to make the conditions inside more tenable. Remember, if the engines are short staffed, most likely the truck is short staffed as well. Use your time and energy wisely to create the best possible advantage at every opportunity.
Re-check the Charlie side. Make sure conditions haven’t changed or something wasn’t missed in the initial size up. The operator must be the outside eyes and ears for the officer on the inside. Be able to judge progress or lack thereof by the conditions that are presenting themselves outside. Understand building construction and be able to read smoke to ensure interior reports match exterior conditions.
Above all else, it is the job of the driver/operator to get the nozzleman water and to ensure a continuous water supply. You, as the driver/operator, need to know your apparatus inside and out. You need to know which valves open which lines without looking. You should be able to operate your pump blindfolded. Know the sounds that your pump makes when the line is flowing fully open, when your tank is nearing empty, and when the crew is having difficulty regulating nozzle pressure. By being able to judge these actions by sound, you can perform other critical functions away from the pump panel and still be able to correct problems quickly.
The officer of the first-in engine sets the tone for the entire incident and is looked to for guidance and leadership throughout the incident. As soon as an alarm is received, the work of the officer begins. The officer needs to know the address, be able to tell the driver/operator what route to take to get there, and locate the closest hydrant. This needs to be done before leaving the station.
Once on scene, the officer needs to give a detailed and appropriate size up. This size up paints the picture of the scene and allows later arriving units the ability to envision the conditions encountered by the first arriving units. This mental picture will allow them to perform a quick assessment of the progress the first engine is making on the fire. No size up is complete without a 360-degree survey of the scene. By instructing and training your driver to pull past the address, when appropriate, you already have seen three sides of the building before you even get off the truck. Your size up can be easily completed by running down the Bravo or Delta side and looking across the Charlie side. As long as you can see the opposite corner of the building, you do not physically need to walk completely around the building. If the rear of the building has an addition or a wing projecting from the Charlie side, then you need to continue to a point where you have seen every side of the building.
With a short crew, traditional Incident Command is not possible. You cannot stand outside and send your nozzleman inside by himself. Pass command, or at least give instructions to the next-in companies over the radio at the conclusion of your report before heading in with the nozzleman. The next-due officer can assume command or can relieve you when they arrive. You will do more good for the incident operating inside then you will standing outside giving assignments.
You, as the officer of the short-staffed crew, become the “utility player” of the team. Not only do you have to perform the normal functions of the officer, but you also need to pick up the responsibilities of the forcible entry firefighter. For this to be effective, you need to be proficient at forcible entry. Your nozzleman is relying on you to create access for him to stretch his line to the fire.
The single most important responsibility of any fire officer is to ensure the safety of his people. This is paramount. Safety of firefighters is reliant on many factors, some of which are a solid risk vs. reward benefit and a thorough understanding of building construction. Both of these components are interdependent. The type of construction will determine how long you have to work inside the building before it becomes unstable. Modern construction is made of lightweight wood and pressure plate connections. This type of construction has a very short resistance to fire. It will fail quickly and possibly all at once when exposed to direct flame impingement. With today’s furnishings inside of the houses made up of polycarbonates that burn hot and fast, the amount of time it takes for direct flame impingement to reach the structural components is relatively short. Couple that with the increased time of notification, response of membership and turnout time. Most fire departments are arriving within minutes of flashover and collapse.
As the officer, you need to perform a solid and thought-out risk vs. reward assessment before putting your people inside these buildings. This assessment needs to take into account the time of day, occupant status and advancement of the fire. If there is nothing to gain by placing your people in an immediately dangerous situation, don’t put them there. It is your decision as the first-in officer to allow your members to enter a structure on fire or hold them outside and go defensive. Don’t let your pride in being a super aggressive company get someone killed, alternatively, don’t let a scary fire stop you from saving savable lives or property.
The third and final position on the short-staffed engine crew is the nozzleman. The nozzleman is the one who will be doing the main work inside the fire building. For this reason, the nozzleman needs to be highly trained and competent. As the nozzleman operating without a dedicated backup person, you need to know your job and do it well. It takes tremendous discipline to complete the tasks assigned to you regardless of the surrounding circumstances. ALL problems on the fireground go away once the fire is out. Therefore it is imperative that a line gets stretched to the seat of the fire quickly and efficiently. For this to happen, the nozzleman must be proficient in pulling lines by himself. There won’t be anyone available to help stretch the line, so the nozzleman must be able to manage the entire pre-connected length by himself without assistance. This is not something that comes easily or naturally; it takes a lot of practice. Take the time to learn how to and practice stretching lines by yourself.
Just like the other members of your crew, you as the nozzleman need to be able to judge distances and know the capabilities of your lines. Know your district, know your equipment and practice constantly. Always err on the side of caution, and pull a line that is longer than you need. Remember, each floor of the building between the entrance door and the fire will take up 50 feet of hose, and you should have 50 feet available to you to make the room of origin. Add that up, and you are at 150 feet for a two-floor house not counting any setback you might have, such as a front yard. Make sure you pull a line that is long enough to cover the distance and still leave room to overcome any unforeseen obstacles in that process. Nothing will have a more detrimental effect on the operation as will stretching a line that is too short. Overshooting the lay is better than stretching too short.
Along with stretching the line by yourself, you will have to operate it by yourself too. Understand the nozzle reaction that will come from the line. Be able to overcome that nozzle reaction and force it to work for you not against you. One of the most common hose/nozzle configurations, a 1 ¾” hoseline with an automatic fog nozzle designed for 150GPM at 100 PSI creates approximately 75 pounds of back pressure. Anything over 50 pounds of back pressure will be difficult to overcome while still being effective. There are ways to overcome this reaction, though. Be comfortable using the walls, doors and furniture as your backup. By placing the line between your leg and the wall, a portion of the nozzle reaction will be passed on to the wall and therefore will lessen the amount that you will have to withstand. If possible with the layout of the building, create an “S” configuration of hose in the hallway. The more surface area of hose you have contacting the ground (friction), the less reaction you will feel.
While stretching the line through the building to the seat of the fire, you should also be searching the areas around you. Remember that all members of the crew need to constantly be multi-tasking and making the best use of their effort. It takes no extra energy to search the area immediately around you while you are stretching the line down the hallway and through the rooms. Obviously, this doesn’t apply if you are fighting your way down a hallway engulfed in fire, and don’t put the line down to search. If at all possible, take a moment before opening the line to use the light of the fire to look around the room. You may notice things you wouldn’t otherwise. Above all, remember that all problems go away when the fire goes out.
As members operating on a short-staffed engine crew, you need to be proficient in all aspects of the job, collectively and individually. As the fire department, we are looked at as being “Jacks-of-all-trades” and we are expected to handle any and every emergency thrown our way. We have been entrusted to protect the lives and property of the citizens we serve. The conditions that we work under will not be getting better any time soon, nor will the amount of staffing increase. We need to take it upon ourselves to overcome the challenges that are thrown at us. By utilizing the positions and operating as a cohesive group, a short-staffed engine can still be very successful and effective.
– Tim O’Connor is a Deputy Chief and Training Officer in a combination company in New Castle County, Delaware. He has been in the fire service for 14 years and has held various positions during that time. He is employed as a Firefighter/EMT in a combination department.
Plan for you, so we can plan for them.
Compartmentalization. It’s a big word, with huge meaning, bigger consequences and a humongous impact on our community. Now do me a favor and pump the brakes for a minute. First and foremost, emotional trauma and our day-to- day stressors pile up. They get us individually and can impact the department’s we serve. There’s a whole lot of cultural change happening right now in the fire service.
Who am I kidding? It’s built on change – but one thing undoubtedly remains the same. The calls keep coming in, and we keep going out. We drop our tools, meals, and jokes in the house and leave them behind to go out the door to help someone else. It’s what we do, and we do it pretty well as a service. Gordon Graham once said, “Whatever you’re doing, do it well and get it done.” I find this to be quite true regardless of the emotional weights we carry every day with us.
The big question on my mind, and hopefully yours, is who is watching your back? I have concluded that I have learned a lot from several people that influence me in my career; some of which are my dad, my peers, and the probies that have come after me.
Just from my experience, the calls stack up and will get you at some point. Your reason might be different than mine, but stay with me for a second and make your own analogy. For me, it was one call that did it and like many of you, I didn’t know it at the time.
To paint the picture for you, the call summed up was as such; two-vehicle accident, multiple entrapped, three kids ejected, and there were three of us on the first due – and we were it…for 10 minutes.
We all have this call. It got me six months down the road one day when I saw one of the kids at the grocery store. I talked to my old man about it. He’s been in the service for 35+ years now, and he leveled his call with me. The canvas for his looked like this; single-wide trailer, fire blowing out hard upon arrival. He was on the first due engine which arrived directly after the Battalion Chief dispatched. They stretched a line, forced the door, and then found a family of five stacked up directly behind that door. The crew let the BC know over the radio, who said something along the lines of, “We ain’t fighting no fires today, everyone come forward to do CPR.”
There were three kids in the family…one of them looked exactly like me.
We all have this call. It got my dad the next morning when he saw me coming off shift. All of us have a duty to ensure that everyone on our shift goes home. Making a point about that to the next generation is absolutely necessary, and talking about the stressors, trauma, or your “call” to the current generation is just as important. What I want you to do now is ask yourself if you have someone to talk to. Then ask yourself who your buddy has to talk to. Then ask yourself who the probie has to talk to. It is important to have someone you can call at midnight because something’s bothering you. It’s important to be open about it with yourself as well. Find yourself that battle buddy and make sure that everyone on your crew, young and old, has one.
Now back in my day, we still had dogs in the house for the horses, and so, the firehouse dog was born and brought into the fire service. What I’m about to say, I understand, that there are departments that have policies against dogs in the station, however, I’m just giving you another tool in the toolbox. Studies have overwhelmingly shown that what we do is stressful, and takes the cake as the most stressful job out there. Studies have also shown that spending time with dogs reduces stress levels on a physical and mental scale. I want you to think about introducing a furry friend to the family, maybe not a station dog, but one that you and your crew can all see together on a fairly regular basis. I find that it helps me get through the day-to-day things that pile up on me.
It is my hope that in reading this, it might help you too. So next time you sit down after calls with your crew, and a cup of coffee in hand, bring a furry friend to hangout with and let them watch your back for a change.
Many of us are social people; we are a family, as you very well know. Day-to-day we tend to compartmentalize, though. The little things build up and can knock us off our game. My hope is that by being open and having a plan in place for ourselves, we will be prepared for when the little things have piled too high or “that call” hits you. In my mind, it’s just one logical thing to do to keep us a little bit sane. Think about it, talk to your crew, and make a difference for them and you.
After all, I am here for we, and we are here for them. Bump up and plan.
– Lt. Will “Grandpa” Parry
– State of Alaska
In this 3-part-series we will be discussing, or more realistically, I will be ranting about the above topics. You will read this and at the end, you may or may not feel mentally violated.
I used the term entitlement in the heading because I feel it encompasses several things. It seems that nowadays, the constant influx of the “everyone got a ribbon generation” has revealed some new(er) issues. Let’s discuss.
This crop of men and women arrive at the firehouse bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with an eye on a great career; at least most of them anyway. Some are just in it for the paycheck or to say they are a “dragon slayer.” Some just want to give it a try, eventually leaving the business because it’s not for them. We will talk about them later.
Back to our young guns. These folks get into the firehouse and are put on the training track that every other recruit has been placed on. Just like car wax and hair plugs, results may vary. Some of these folks pick up the training quickly, and some are turtle slow. But eventually, the “look what I did with the ladder” and “I washed the rig (poorly) by myself” situations come up, and they expect some sort of reward. They don’t seem to have the mental capacity to understand that they are not special in the fire service. You don’t get a ribbon or a pat on the head every time you do something that you think is worthy of said accolades. It becomes a hard sell to these new boots that this is the regular work that has to be done. I have seen these situations go as far as disciplinary action because the new guy/gal can’t seem to “get with the program.” Often, the new guy or gal claims that they are being picked on or treated unfairly. When the rest of the crew hears the new person claim they are being treated unfairly, they don’t understand why the new guy or gal can’t get it together. Everyone involved feels socially awkward, and it causes tension amongst the crews.
I suppose I should back up and give some background. I am speaking about small and mid-sized departments who don’t do big recruit classes. Rather, they get one to four new people at any given time and have to mentor them through the training process. The large recruit class model has its own dynamics and by its nature, weeds out the lazy (in most cases that are not involved in some sort of political shit-show) and incapable through the course of the recruit “class”. I have never been in that type situation because of where I am in the state and in the country. I have friends that have gone through the recruit class type scenario but again, I don’t have first-hand knowledge so I will leave that subject for other bloggers.
So back to Johnny or Jane new boots again, these kids want and need feedback for everything. They need to know what is expected of them. Unfortunately, they also are searching or waiting the entire time for the “quick fix” or “easy out” solutions because they were spoon-fed everything in their life system. They have a hard time believing that there isn’t a quick solution to some problems or a solution that doesn’t involve someone doing it for them. They want credit for their regular job duties, and when they don’t get the credit, they whine that the crews don’t like them or that they are being treated unfairly.
I am not sure what the solution is to that type of thinking but each situation is different, and they all need to be handled differently to have a positive result. Maybe gold stars are the answer…..or ribbons, perhaps cookies. You have invested a few man hours to get the individual through the application process, so put a little effort into keeping them and training them right. If they do it wrong, then show them a few times exactly how you want it done. If they have been told or shown multiple time and still don’t get it, then move on to the next step of corrective action.
Those recruits who joined up for the steady paycheck become average employees in my experience. They come in, do their job and go home. As much as we would like them to fall head over heels in love with this job and the culture that surrounds it, they just want to make a solid paycheck. Their dad’s told them they had to do something after high school, so they picked this course off the list at the community college. It is not likely that they will ever spend a week at FDIC, wear “I fight what you fear” t-shirts on their off days or work tons of overtime. They are just “making the donuts”. It beats working at the factory.
Watch out for the “dragon slayers”. They have the potential to get people hurt because they think they know more than they do. They cover their ignorance with arrogance and tend to be loose cannons. You can spot them on a fire scene because they are often working alone on an unimportant task or hanging back doing nothing. They have the potential to be good employees if you can harness the energy they use to run their mouths and channel it into doing the work.
We can spend the next year trying to keep those recruits that find out that this job isn’t for them. Retention is the large elephant in the room that needs the most attention. There are some great strategies out there to deal with it but I will leave that discussion for another day. Just remember, a retention plan should start the very second the recruit walks in the door!
Next article, we will talk about “Running People Off.” It is the opposite of retention and seems to be a type of game in some departments.
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