As firefighters, we are asked to provide many types of services. Firefighting, EMS, hazardous materials, rescue, and other tasks that are usually menial. We respond when someone needs help standing after a fall, getting cats out of trees, and removing storm debris for hours on end. We teach CPR to local organizations, fire safety to children, and assist elderly residents with installing smoke detectors and vitals checks. We commonly refer to this as “service” when in reality these are “services.”
Service is not the duties we perform on a daily basis. Service is the art of putting others before yourself. Service is not a cheap buzzword to be used in mission statements or administrative meetings. Service is at the heart of our obligations. It refers to our heritage and tradition. It encompasses the meaning behind our craft as a whole. We are the “fire service.” Service is defined as, “an act of help or assistance.” This is what we do. This is how we make our mark in the future.
We serve three distinct groups of people. First, the obvious, our community. To serve the community we protect, we must continually strive to improve. If we fail here, we provide a disservice to our department and the name of all those who gave their lives in service. If we take our position for granted, we fail to help those in need. Our lack of preparation leads to a failure to provide assistance to those in distress.
The second group of people we serve are our fellow firefighters. My biggest fear is allowing one of my men/women to perish, knowing I could have done more to prepare them. When we fail to ensure the safety of our crews, our citizens, and ourselves, we perform a disservice. This disservice has a butterfly effect on the daily life of everyone we come in contact with.
The next group we serve are our families. We serve our families by making sure we are using effective, functional knowledge to ensure our safety. When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, they feel no more pain. They are burdened no more. But the lives and actions of their family, friends, department, and community are changed forever. They bear the burden of the loss, they feel the hurt, and they reap what you have sown. All too often we act as if everyone owes us something. Before you react, remember that you signed the dotted line. We asked for this job. No judge sentenced us to time in the fire service. We chose this line of work for a reason, and if you have any sense at all, it’s not the benefits. We are the ones who owe something. We owe our families more than just making another 24. We owe our brothers more than watching how to save his life on YouTube. We owe our community more than learning search procedures from an IFSTA manual. We owe these people. We owe our children the right to have a father growing up, by embracing the facts……We can be called to meet our maker at any time. We must exceed the status quo. There are too many amongst us that are not prepared to face adversity. I cannot and will not allow myself to become complacent in my “service.” I will serve others with a tenacity that scares the mediocre. I will not allow the opinions of others to affect my service to my brethren, community, and most of all, family.
It’s an honor to serve. It’s an honor to respond in a time of need. Don’t let disservice be how you are remembered for your service.
Bremen Fire Rescue
Building the future fire officer and re-enforcing the capabilities of current ones.
Professional development in any career field is an important process for the stability and growth of the organization. The fire service tends to lean internally when it comes to promoting officers; this makes the practice of professional development a critical one. Our firefighters absorb specific operational knowledge about their response area over time, that knowledge becomes a brain trust which is invaluable to a department. The local operational knowledge required to be a fire officer in any given jurisdiction
is nearly a necessity. For that reason, it’s important for a fire department to develop the people they have as opposed to bringing in new officers from the outside. With clear expectations of your officers and a comprehensive development program, fire departments set the stage for their members to be successful while creating the foundation for a well-tuned and morale-rich fire department.
Professional development in the fire service can encompass many facets of leadership and management. As with everything, the scope of a professional development training program should be defined in writing. This definition could include educational requirements and address or defined a wide range of topics and resources for study such as:
- customer service
- conflict resolution
- communication (radio & routine)
- disciplinary action
- role playing sessions
- public relations
- ethics and holding a position of public trust
- personal life conduct
- social media conduct
- local incident command
- health & wellness
- applicable state and federal laws
- recognizing the signs of suicide and when to reach out
- creative problem solving
- diversity and cultural sensitivity
- handling customer complaints and much much more.
The list could be nearly endless. The core idea behind professional development is to identify the knowledge and skills your department finds desirable in an officer and create functional training around those topics. Training on each topic could be in the form of custom online multi media courses using a Learning Management System (LMS) (see Revolutionize Your Volunteer Training) combined with in-person training sessions. Building multi media classes around each topic allow the members to complete the assigned training on their own time, in their homes, at the ball game or in the air. No LMS? Classroom works just as well. Knowledge gained through LMS multi media courses should always be re-enforced with practical or even a role-playing session in the classroom. Some fire officers are unsure how they will react given a specific situation. Role playing puts the officer in that uncomfortable position allowing him to use his communication skills to resolve the problem. Coaching and mentoring during the role playing session helps to develop the officer’s skills in managing personnel.
Professional development training resources should be readily available to everyone within the department. The program you develop should be assigned to officers and used to refresh current skills as well as providing firefighters with the opportunity to learn and later promote. If utilizing a multi media LMS platform, a department could theoretically link course completion with potential for promotion when positions become available.
I’ve always held the belief that achieving certifications and/or education is just the beginning. It’s what you do with that education once you’ve completed it that makes all the difference. You can complete a driver operator course certifying that you understand the basics of driving and pumping a fire apparatus but does that necessarily make you qualified? Practicing the craft of being a good driver operator is essential to successful fire ground operation as the incident typically pivots on the pump operator. (See here) Similar to the driver operator analogy, simply learning about the aspects, principles, and processes of leadership and personnel management isn’t enough. The information and the knowledge you learn in classes require development and practice because that is the essence of being a professional.
It’s important to recognize that professional development is a process and it’s ongoing. There is mentoring and coaching that takes place throughout the officer’s tenure. As officers and future officers encounter situations and scenarios they aren’t quite equipped to handle, the act of walking someone through the steps to achieve the desired result will often help to form and develop a functionally more intelligent officer.
Every step of the way officers should be encouraged to own their role and not be afraid of making mistakes. There should be a mild expectation that we’ll all make mistakes at some point. We’re all human. Mistakes and missteps should be viewed as learning moments and an opportunity to develop skills and proper behaviors. As leaders, we should look at ourselves objectively and recognize that we’re all just practicing. Similar to how physicians practice medicine, we, as fire officer’s practice the art of leadership and our craft.
Without question, building a professional development program for your fire department will have a long lasting effect on the health and morale of the organization. If you or the members of your department do not possess the skills to create a professional development program or are not well versed in the topics requiring development, reach out to members or leaders within the community. It’s likely someone in your response area has the ability to help re-enforce customer service skills, conflict resolution skills and the like.
If you have any specific questions regarding anything in this article, please feel free to comment, and I’ll do everything I can to point you to some helpful topic resources.
Good Luck and Be Kind.
Other articles in the Thoughtful Leadership series include:
This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. In the history of the world the war to end all wars is considered a significant turning point in history. There were lessons that were learned and mistakes that were made that paved the road to a future global war. Scholars look back at World War I and discuss the failure of the Treaty of Versailles or the use of chemical weapons changing how future wars would be fought. One of the most overlooked topics (until recently) that has not received extensive research and discussion was the role that medicine played in the war and the impact that it had on combat medicine and civilian medicine.
During this war we see the foundation set for military medicine and we see the impact that Stretcher Bearers and Ambulance Drivers had on patient care. It was during this war that people realised that you needed first responders out on the battlefield to begin treatment immediately to keep them alive so that the patient could get to the next level of care. Unfortunately, that lesson was learned in the combat theater and was not given serious thought prior to going to the battlefield.
Today, military medicine is very progressive and the lessons learned in a combat theater are shared with other practitioners and in the last 50 years EMS has benefited from it. When WWI began, military medicine had not seen any changes since the Civil War. When the United States entered in 1917, the Army did not have an established Medical Corps. The Army was left to learn from what the British and French had learned 3 years prior to U.S. entry into the war. The system that the Americans would copy is by having care being given to casualties on the battlefield. Care would begin with the wounded receiving care from a Stretcher Bearer and then moving the wounded to an Ambulance. This concept of providing early care to the wounded gets its first test during World War I.
The Stretcher Bearer has much in common with today’s Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics. A Bearer would go over the top of the trenches into a dangerous environment unarmed with a medical bag in hope of sustaining the casualty until they could get them to the next level of care. Bearers would work in teams of 4-6 and would often have to carry a casualty miles through thick mud. These long carries were so long and both carriers and the casualty had experience so much that many bearers felt that they had been
passing over a life long friend to the ambulance rather than a patient. Some Stretcher Bearers faced sniper fire and would stay by their casualty protecting waiting long periods of time before they could move their patient on to the next level of care.
A Bearer could always be recognized from his hands. The wooden stretcher handles did not always do well in the harsh elements in Europe. The wood would splinter and was rough causing handlers to have hands that were calloused and splintered. Bearers were seen by Medical Officers as men that could make a difference in patient care on the battlefield. Many doctors saw to it that Stretcher Bearers and Ambulance drivers received ongoing first aid training. Other officers such as Chaplains kept a close eye on Stretcher Bearers and made sure that the overworked responders get sleep when exhausted.
Stretcher Bearers were not the only medical personnel exhausted on the front line. Once a Bearer removed a casualty from no-man’s land a patient would then continue their journey to a Casualty Clearing Station via Ambulance. Ambulance drivers would often have to navigate their way to makeshift field hospitals while encountering rough terrain, enemy fire, and patients screaming in agony.
When a patient made it to a Casualty Clearing Station they would be reassessed and decisions were made if the patient needed to be brought to another level of care or treated at the Casualty Clearing Station. In the first industrialized war of the 1900s nations did not place enough emphasis on patient care.
Many of the ideas born on the battlefield during WWI are still being used today on the modern battlefield and in EMS. The Thomas Splint was used to stabilize femur fractures and is still being used today. When used it dramatically reduced the mortality rate. At clearing stations doctors began to use X-Ray machines to locate bullet wounds and shrapnel in patients. Doctors were also learning new ways of treating contagious diseases, burns, and tissue damage. The lessons learned in Clearing Stations were used to train first responders on the battlefield.
Military Medicine to Civilian EMS
Many of the common procedures used in EMS can be traced back to World War I. However; it was not until the mid-1950s when physicians began to ask why lessons learned for emergency medical treatment and transportation during war could not be applied to civilian use. Drs. J.D. “Deke” Farrington and Sam Banks used these combat lessons to develop a trauma training program for the Chicago Fire Department. This program later developed into an EMT course.
Recently some of the combat medical treatments that are applicable to civilian EMS are the use of tourniquets, hemostatic agents such as Quick Clot, and Chest Decompression. The concept of
making sure people on the frontline have the necessary equipment to treat injuries has emerged in Law Enforcement. Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors that operate in a combat theater carry an (IFAK) Independent First Aid Kit on their Flak Jackets including tourniquets, Israeli bandages, and other trauma dressings. Many law enforcement officers nationwide carry tourniquets or a modified version of the IFAK.
The U.S. military continues to identify better means of providing care to combat casualties. EMS can now learn from these experiences to improve the capability of the EMT and paramedic so they can provide better EMS care to our citizens. When we look at the initial care provided to patients in combat or in the civilian world when help is called for the initial treatment begins with a courageous responder showing up with a medical and using their training and experience to get the patient to the next level of care. That concept of giving an individual some medical training and then sending them out into combat over one hundred years ago to save lives has not changed. In the future, EMS will continue to benefit from what is learned in combat because unfortunately, war is good for medicine.