While at the Baltimore Firefighter Expo, I met a man named Evers Trice, who owns Trice Enterprises, LLC. His booth contained a few of his self-invented items including the Fire Falcon and the Shlammer. Admittedly, I did not care for the Fire Falcon as it seemed too gimmicky to me. However, the Shlammer interested me and after some conversation, I was given one to try out for a couple months.
The Shlammer is a 6-pound flat headed axe replacement. Some of the features of this tool include a flat “adze” area to pry or chisel, a hammer head, and a hydrant wrench. It also has cut-outs for the forks of the halligan bar which makes a much tighter fit than your standard axe and makes it easier to carry one handed. I know some of you are traditionalists which I completely understand, however, the Shlammer has some really cool features that the flat headed axe just does not. Does your axe need a hydrant wrench? No, probably not, but it also fits gas shut off valves and may help you in a pinch if you don’t carry pliers in your pocket.
During forcible entry drills, the Shlammer was able to be used by itself to force an inward swinging door. I also used it to pry up corners of a car hood and deck lid, which it did fairly well. When married with the ProBar, it fit very tightly without flopping around. With just a light tap on the ground, the two unmarried and were ready for work. Overall, I was impressed with the ingenuity behind the tool and how well it did its job.
The major downside that I saw was the lack of an 8-pound option and the width of the adze area was too thin. This was echoed by all who drilled with it because the skinny adze didn’t allow you to gap the door far enough during FE. I spoke with Mr. Trice with the feedback and he happily informed me that he is beginning to design an 8-pounder with the adze width the same as a standard ProBar.
Like most things in the fire service, this isn’t for everyone. But it makes a great option for officers who are on under-staffed rigs or make it easier to force doors by themselves – which hopefully if you’re on a ladder truck you already know how to do. All-in-all, Mr. Trice has created something useful in the current trend of junk tools.
Check out www.firefalcon.us for more information and to see his other products.
***I will first address a perceived issue that has people whining – Station Pride DOES NOT endorse the IAFF or Volunteers exclusively. Station Pride is a conglomerate of BOTH volunteers and career personnel who share their opinions via articles that are written by the individual. Most of our career firefighter staff came from a volunteer department when they were younger. I am a volunteer with NO paid firefighter time. For some reason, volunteers are often so quick to defend our volunteerism and fail to see the bigger picture. What we all are here at SP, however, are PROFESSIONALS – regardless of where our paychecks come from. Can you say the same about yourself?***
The Media Damage to the Fire Service is an interesting article and a great addition from a “Mutual Aid” contributor. Mr. Duckworth has experience in the fire service and is the Local president of a very important organization – the IAFF. Out of respect for Mr. Duckworth, I will not nit-pick his article or attempt to degrade his opinion. My goal is to educate him as well as other paid firefighters with little experience with the volunteer system. Overall, I agree with you regarding the media “romanticizing” the fire service. I can’t stand how “Sons of Anarchy” changed the motorcycle world that I live in. However, I’m just happy they’re making shows about us. Police shows are a dime-a-dozen, yet very few shows focus on fire and EMS.
Everyone knows the history of the fire service. The more recent history, however, is the growth of the Combination System – volunteers and career personnel work together to provide emergency services to our communities. I happen to be a volunteer in the largest combination system in the country – Prince George’s County, Maryland. I am also a volunteer in another large combination department in Loudoun County, Virginia where we work mandatory shifts, earn a retirement, and are expected to be professional. What being a volunteer in both of these areas has taught me is that we are ALL held to the same rigorous training standards and certification requirements. This means that a lot of us don’t treat it as an “extracurricular activity” and we take it as seriously as you do. Sure, there are exceptions to this, but that’s with everything in life. It has also taught me that regardless of the sticker on the back window of your car, we all make mistakes. I have read numerous headlines about firefighters from D.C., Loudoun, Fairfax, et. al. who made some awful mistakes and were arrested for it.
My point, Mr. Duckworth, is that your paragraph describing how the media never differentiates between volunteer and career is insulting, uncalled for, and erroneous. The argument is tired and lame. I can promise you that when our citizens dial 9-1-1, they don’t care if my shirt says “volunteer” or “IAFF”; they need help, and THAT is why we are all here. Just because you may know some volunteers that are lacking doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands more who are very proficient, so please don’t generalize. Stay safe up there.
Fear usually stems from a lack of understanding. It’s easy to be afraid of something unfamiliar. The term “fear mongering” is used in political discussions while discussing hot button issues these days. The Google definition is: the action of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm about a particular issue. This article will discuss how it is used to describe the modern fire service in some areas. Unfortunately, phrases like “Everybody Goes Home” and “Risk versus Reward” have been taken out of their common sense meanings and been used as an excuse not to do your job. How many times do you hear things around the kitchen table in regards to NOT utilizing a tactic due to its danger? Roof operations, for example, is a fiercely debated topic amongst departments – both volunteer and career. There are also way too many leaders who limit themselves tactically because of fear. This usually comes from a lack of experience and/or training in the particular tactic such as running an involved heavy rescue or sending a crew to the roof of a multi-dwelling to trench cut. Let’s break down some current trends and some possible solutions.
There are an awful lot of people who are trumpeting the widespread use of transitional attacks (“hard from the yard”). At an acquired structure drill last year, I witnessed firsthand the tactic being put into play. The fire was lit in the Delta/Alpha corner in a living room and had self-vented through the large front window. Fire was rolling under the 8 foot porch roof but was fairly well contained to the room of origin. The first engine company stretched to side Alpha, the driver charged the line and secured water, and the officer did his 360 and established command. He instructed the second-due engine to stretch to side Charlie, proceed through the house, and extinguish the fire while his firefighter sprayed water through the window to keep the fire in check. After I playfully ribbed him for this tactical choice, he beat around the bush with his answer. What I got from his response was that he felt somewhat pressured into doing it because the current trend. This is a well respected man who is not afraid of fire; however he didn’t aggressively attack the fire because of what amounts to peer pressure. In 2005, I was taught the transitional attack as a tool for my toolbox and it has stayed in there as a viable option ever since. It was just common sense to me – if the fire is getting out of control, darken it down so you can advance to the seat of the fire. At the 2014 High Rise Operations Conference, Captain John Ceriello of the FDNY said it best: “…we didn’t need to call it something fancy, we just used common sense. If we needed to spray some water in a window, we did it and moved on.”
“I’m not risking the lives of my firefighters for someone’s house.” How many have heard this? How many were also taught that the fire service is here for life safety and property preservation? I, for one, am sick and tired of hearing cowards say shit like, “I’m not risking my life to save someone’s property.” If that’s how you feel, PLEASE set your gear at the door and get out. Our entire lives are represented in our houses and businesses. Irreplaceable items that are invaluable mean the world to people and it is our job to save them. Does this mean we act recklessly on scene? No, use your head for something other than a helmet rack. However, we have some of the best equipment, best PPE, and best training in the history of the fire service and yet we underutilize it. Get inside, put the fire out, and salvage people’s personal belongings. THAT is what we are here for.
Using the Words “Never” and “Always”
After a first due fire last July, a captain and I were having a talk about tactics. The fire was in a townhouse that ran the outside wall off the deck and extended into the attic. The Battalion Chief sent a crew to the roof for vertical ventilation as is common practice, especially on multi-dwellings/townhomes. The captain I was talking with has approximately 20 years of service in the northern Virginia area and is a volunteer battalion chief within the county. The phrase he said that really set me back was, “I will NEVER put a company on the roof for operations,” and then cited building construction as the factor in his decision. This is an interesting statement for two reasons. The first is that any leader should know that “never” and “always” are limiting in nature and should be used sparingly. I find that more and more, people use the word never with something this is, in fact, dangerous and then use firefighter safety as the guise to justify it. For example, “never touch a downed wire” is a common phrase we hear and for the most part it holds true. However, there may be a time when you must use your training and common sense when dealing with a downed wire. “Always use jack pads” is common despite rigs today whose jacks have large feet already. Jack pads were designed to increase the surface area and spread the load using something called the double funnel principle. It should be up to the operator to determine what the ground surface is and whether or not pads are needed. I once had an officer who said, “Always pull the 300’ attack line on any dispatched fire.” This I attributed to his complete lack of confidence in his firefighters; instead of training them on estimating the stretch, he gave an ultimatum. This standing order failed to make the firefighters think on their own, failed to allow the firefighters to make decisions based on training, and watered down yet another firefighter responsibility.
The second reason I found his statement interesting is because of the risk versus reward debate. Roof operations are a necessary tactic at some fires. Most of us that don’t hide in the front yard pretending to be busy understand that hot gas going up and out is better than running throughout the house. Something else to think of from a command officer’s point of view is a roof report. Structure fires have six (or more) sides and who better than to give you the roof report than the roof man? (If you said, “launch the drone,” stop reading and go somewhere else…this job isn’t for you). So by saying he would never put a crew on the roof, he limits his tactics. When I asked him why he felt this way, his response regurgitated half-truths about modern building construction and gusset plates and how lightweight construction kills. So instead of really diving into building construction and doing research on how little it actually causes firefighter deaths, he allowed fear to continue to rule his tactics.
Drinking the Kool-Aid
Having a discussion with a company officer this past weekend yielded some similar sounding scare tactics. This discussion involved a recent class I attended which was advanced tactics for heavy truck stabilization and extrication. In one scenario, we performed practical evolutions lifting a 53-foot trailer off of a car utilizing the ICC bar of the trailer. The captain said he was instructed to only lift using the bar as a last resort. “They are weak and can’t support the weight,” was what he was told. Nothing against this captain – he’s a good guy – but instead of doing research himself, he drank the Kool-Aid and thus limited himself on tactics.
Similarly, an instructor in the class asked us an important question after we had stabilized and lifted a large dumpster truck off of a car. He explained that at this point in the scenario, he likes to ask his students who would be comfortable sending their firefighters under the truck to complete the extrication. While all of us said that we were comfortable, he stated that a large majority of his students all over the mid-Atlantic region answered him with a no. The reason for that no answer was a lack of confidence in the equipment and capabilities. You can increase confidence by training and getting more comfortable with your equipment and their capabilities.
The modern fire service is comprised of all different backgrounds and people. Depending on how busy your jurisdiction is, there can be any number of types of people in your department. Some places are much easier to hide from work or hide from fire than others. Rumor has it that back in the day, DCFD had a phrase written in their applications that said, “No cowards allowed,” or something similar. Due to someone getting offended, it was removed. It brings up a valid point however that this job requires mental fortitude. If you’re not willing to sacrifice your safety for the safety of others then you are just a leech suckling at the teet of the fire service. This calling isn’t pretty and it isn’t easy. If you are more concerned with what NFPA/NIST has to say than the safety of the people you are sworn to protect, please remove yourself from our fire service. If you are more focused on following the regulations to the letter than completing the mission, please head for the door. Lastly, if you take more pride in not getting hurt and pushing paperwork than you do in the reputation and morale of your men and women, GET OUT. You are a dying breed and we’re here to see to that.
My overarching plan to combat fear mongering is to train. Yes, we hear people preach training everyday, but it is important to train for the right things. If you are unsure of certain abilities or capabilities, train until you are sure. There should be no second-guessing of tactics in your tool box. If there is, you need to train on those tactics. Likewise, once you’ve topped off your toolbox, seek out more knowledge to expand your strategy and tactics. I’m not an expert on any tactic but I constantly strive to be better. I also get my inspiration from guys like Battalion Chief Nick Martin, Fire Chief Tony Kelleher, Lt. Ray McCormack, and a few others who publicly express their feelings on aggressive tactics and getting the job done. Technology and knowledge are at your fingertips so there is no reason to be using scare tactics to train people. There’s no excuse for failing at your tasks because you let fear dictate to you. Expand your horizons, trust your training, trust your men and women and join us in taking back the fire service.
I stopped at a Moe’s Southwest Grill for lunch today. For those unfamiliar, Moe’s is a fresh, fast-food place with burritos and tacos. They greet every customer with a resounding, “WELCOME TO MOE’S!” as you walk through the door. From there, you are whisked through the line while the smiling employees make your food.
On this particular day, I was assisted by an energetic and friendly bilingual lady whose hat was adorn with pins. (pieces of “flair” for those of us old enough to remember the movie “Office Space”). After sitting down, this same woman walked the floor asking if everyone was doing well, all the while, yelling their trademark greeting as customers came into the store. This waitress was a proud, strong woman in a position many would consider a starter job or an “unskilled position” who has a great positive attitude. It was obvious that she took pride in her work ethic, her customer service, her appearance and her job. As I sat there eating my chicken taco, it dawned on me that this woman was an outstanding example of what every working person in America should strive to be.
The work ethic of the Moe’s waitress is the kind of attitude that’s especially important in the fire service. Every single day we are on display for the public at their worst time. How we look, act, and treat others is incredibly important. We all know the men and women on the job who have gotten bitter. They usually slack with the uniform, slack with responses, and slack with customer service. They gripe about policy, leadership, change, and training. They embody someone who is just there for a paycheck or the T-shirt. Think about it every time you go to a place of business, be it a restaurant, mechanic shop, mall, or whatever and observe the employees. Usually, one can pick out the slackers or the lazy, i-don’t-want-to-be-here-but-need-this-paycheck people. I quickly lose respect for workers who wear their unhappiness on their sleeve. Now consider yourself when you interact with the public:
-Is your uniform presentable or do you look like a bag of warmed-over assholes?
-Is your attitude positive and inviting or do you looked pissed off because you’d rather be on the couch at the station?
-Do you make an effort to interact with your customers (the public you swore to protect) or does your facial expression say, “I hate Pub-Eds?”
-Do you strive to set a positive example or just go with the status quo?
If an employee of a fast-food joint can set a positive example, so can you. Now, before everyone gets butt hurt, I understand there are times when you do not look your best; post workout, post fire, or chilling in the recliner with some house shoes on are a few times I myself don’t look the most professional. However, a personal attitude adjustment is easy and so are small acts of kindness like waving to children or assisting someone with their groceries. My point is that there are a lot of firemen and women who could use some remedial training in respecting the job including attitude, behavior, and appearance.
I’m willing to bet that a lot of these sloppy Joes deep down still have that pride. It’s up to the leaders of the rig/station/department to inspire them and make them want to find it. Once they take pride in themselves, they’ll take pride in the job. Once they take pride in the job, they’ll take pride in the department. Respect yourself, your house, your job, and your community.
There was a point in time where every young firefighter would read books about legendary men who forged the modern fire service and its traditions. These men were larger than life; living superheroes who braved the nastiest conditions sans air pack or bunker gear to get the job done. As the fire service changed and safety equipment became more common, there was a rift between “old money” and the new generation. Everyone became uber safety conscious and in a typical fire service knee-jerk response, started writing policies that made zero sense…all in the name of safety. This spawned a generation of firefighters who I like to call Billy Badass. They’re like Ricky Rescue’s slightly older cousin, they own a Trans-Am and chain smoke Reds. They act cool, think they’re awesome, and poor little Ricky wants to be just like them.
My issue with most of these people is their complete lack of respect. They act like they are untouchable and know everything. They are worse than a 2/20 – they are a 5/50. They also have no idea how to show respect to others whether it be a line officer or a firefighter. They spend so much time trying to give off a sense of ‘badassery’ that they end up causing two problems. The first is they alienate their coworkers and impressionable rookies who think Mr. Billy BA is a jerk. The second is that they influence impressionable rookies who want to be just like them and think it’s so cool. I have met numerous, outstanding firemen, from Denver, New York, Oakland, Chicago, Tampa, DC, PG, and more who are polite and professional and usually very friendly. Unfortunately, there are still those out there – both career and volunteer – that are so convinced they are superman that everyone else cannot come close to their level. They walk around with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude that they know it all. They also tend to act bored with the job or that they are above the fire service basics. Or perhaps its the person who’s really healthy and into fitness, acting as if they are better than you because they work out 9 days a week and drink protein shakes on the regular. Ever met a volunteer so insecure about being a volunteer that he is a gigantic Billy? Maybe it’s that anti-volunteer career man, “super hooah” IAFF guy who thinks all vollies are worthless and he’s a gift to the fire service. All of these are cancerous to pride.
By this point, everyone should know that when you encounter a problem, you should approach your superior with both the problem and a potential solution. So what are some potential solutions for Billy?
First and foremost, as a leader, you should know your people. Perhaps Billy feels like he is under-appreciated or under-utilized. Sometimes this causes a callous attitude and can be corrected with a sit down with Billy to go over his career goals. Most of the time, these people could use more responsibility and enjoy being challenged. Secondly, as a subordinate, strive to learn from Billy by constantly asking for his help with training. Stroke their ego a bit and cause them to open up. Lastly, do NOT allow Billy to negatively influence your level of professionalism. You must strive to do better, train harder, and improve every day. Your community expects it and deserves it. The easiest thing to remember is that we are ALL on the same team. Our goals are the same – life safety and property preservation. So instead of hating Billy Badass (or becoming him) think about the rest of your team and what you can do to help. When all else fails, stay positive and remember the words of Chief McGrail from Denver FD: “Change happens one retirement at a time.”
Anybody take pride in their bunk rooms? Some places have live-in firefighters with their own rooms while other places have large bunk rooms. Either way, take some time to add some personal flair to the place you lay your head at night. Pictures of your department’s history, action shots, posters, a disco ball – whatever you want to add some character. I particularly enjoy buying funny sheet sets for my house bag. Every six months or so, we’ll go to the store as a crew and buy ridiculous things to add to the bunk room. Most of us have children’s sheet sets and we never buy the same ones as each other. Again, silly things like this add to the character which adds up to having a station full of pride.
What are some goofy things you do? Share below. -1512