When I was first promoted to the officer ranks, I inherited a much older crew (in both age and tenure). The jubilation of the promotion coupled with the sobering reality that I was now the fall-back guy for anything that went wrong was quite the manic experience. My ego unwittingly got the best of me. I lived for a time under the delusion that as the officer, I needed to have the answers to every problem we would encounter. Trial and error was the order of the day with little progress and low morale. When I lost my driver to a transfer, I was able to convince a friend of mine from a neighboring station to replace him. Following his arrival, we set the standard of expectations of my crew. His frankness, professionalism, and intelligence prompted me to openly ask his opinion in many tough situations. I knew he would shoot me straight and was looking out for the crew and me, rather than having his own motivations. Before long, he spoke freely if he had a concern with any operations, but would always remain respectful that the accountability ultimately laid with me. “Everyone has a say,” was the culture we cultivated within our crew and because of this, we operated with impeccable production. Our relationship enlightened me that the greatest tool at the company officer’s disposal does not reside in a compartment, nor is it strapped onto his back; it rides belted in each occupied seat inside the cab. One of the smartest things an officer of any tenure can do is pose a simple question to his crew: What do you think?
It can be used in any situation where a fork in the road is encountered. Behind these four simple words is a thesis that tells the members that their experience is valued and that they have a stake in the operations at hand. Equally as important, it subtly encourages the crew to speak up without reservation which enhances the officer’s situational awareness.
Something to keep in mind is that there is a time, a place and a frequency to this approach. The officer must not hesitate to make the tough, split-second decisions that many on-scene situations call for and must understand that this question is not a way to dodge their basic responsibilities and duties. Accountability for the crew and their actions always lies with the officer, but when the situation allows for a second opinion, ask them what they think. The guys on the rig with you are motivated and driven human beings. In fact, they are some of the best and most caring individuals I have ever met. They want to be treated as such and significant ground could be gained by simply asking their opinion and letting their voices be heard. Their collective experience is the officer’s greatest tool, but like any other tool in the toolbox, you need to know how to use it most effectively, or you’ll be trying to vent a roof with a hacksaw. So I ask you: What do you think?
– Jake Henderson is a 30-year-old Captain with the Fort Worth, Texas Fire Department. He is assigned to Station 24 on the city’s east side which houses an Engine, Quint, and Battalion 4 as well as being a satellite HazMat station. Jake holds an Associate’s Degree in Fire Protection Technology and is HazMat Tech and Fire Inspector certified.
I know of a few departments around me who don’t let their juniors do anything, and by anything I mean throwing ladders, stretching lines, hitting a hydrant…You know, the basic things every firefighter should be 100% efficient at.
Up at my company, we look at juniors as the future of our company. They are involved in meetings, drills, hall rentals, cleaning. Everything a senior member can do at the station, a junior member can also.
I’m from a company in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, called Munhall Volunteer Fire Company #5. We run a Tower-Ladder, an Engine, and a Squad. In our borough, we have four different stations, one located at each end, and two in the middle. I can’t say we are a busy company, but every time we go to a call, we do it quick, proficient, and right. I really can’t stress enough about having a junior program in your stations. When I first started out, I was 14. I joined a company in the hometown I lived in, and it was called Whitaker. They ran two Engines, a Squad, and a Foam Unit. I fell in love with it the first day I joined. My dad was and still is the Assistant Chief there, and he helped me get through everything tremendously. If it weren’t for them having that junior program, I would’ve never had as much passion for the fire service as I do now.
After two years, I moved on down the street to the station I’m currently at. I joined when I was 16, and right when I joined they only allowed members 16 and up. But a few months had passed, and we changed our by-laws and are now able to allow members to join at 14. That was by far the best decision our company has ever made. We currently have seven junior members. I was the 8th, but I just recently turned 18 and have become a fully active member. When I was a junior, we had a junior officer line. I was the Junior Chief, my buddy Jake was the Captain, and the Chief’s son was the Lieutenant. Being able to already hold an officer position at that age was like winning an Emmy.
You must be thinking, “Oh, okay, they just had a title…” No, we had duties and responsibilities to handle by ourselves.
Me being the Junior Chief, my duty was to train the juniors up to my level and make sure they know the ins and outs of the fire hall. I was a pretty educated kid at that age, and I had my brother and my two uncles help me out along the way. Several times at drill, they put me as the lead guy, the front man, the role model for the other juniors to look up too. When I first started this, I would always wonder why they put a 16-year-old up on stage to teach the SENIOR guys. It took me two long years to realize why. The only way you are going to better yourself is by trying to better other people. If it weren’t for this junior program, I wouldn’t be as smart or as trained as I am right now.
When I teach at our weekly drill, I look at it from a junior’s perspective. I can see what they do and don’t understand; I was in their shoes for 99% of my time so far. No matter what we do at drill, the juniors do the same. When we cut holes in our simulator, they are right there doing the same thing. They watch us, then they do it. When they do it, we go step-by-step with them, making sure they don’t mess up, but when they do, we reassure them it’s okay. When you’re training, that is the time to make those mistakes. You learn a lot more from the mistakes than doing it right.
Many people criticize and bash juniors for being untrained “whackers.” Well, start training them. Get them involved with EVERYTHING. Every single time you’re at the station with them, go over the trucks, throw ladders, pull some lines, learn what every tool does and their names, learn the role of the officers, learn the different truck and engine duties. Teach every single junior how you would want someone coming to your house at 3 in the morning for a working fire. After all, those juniors will fill your shoes one day.
If you don’t have a junior program or you don’t train your juniors because they aren’t certified, then step up. Make a difference in a young person’s life and be their role model. Be the one that when they say they first started out, you helped them. There is no better feeling in this world than making someone’s life better, if you don’t think that is true, you’re in the wrong line of work. Every time you go to a call and see an elderly woman standing in her doorway telling you guys that the fire alarm was an accident, you check to make sure, and you smile and say have a good night to her. You just made her feel safer and one of the happiest people in this world. She now knows that when trouble occurs, people that have never even met her will drop ANYTHING to save her and that my friends is one of the greatest feelings you can have. Do not take this job lightly. Train, stay fit and treat everyone fairly. Just remember, you were a junior at one point in time also. Make sure all your other juniors act in the same manner of courtesy to that elderly woman, as you did.
– Jonathan Scripp
Munhall VFC #5
My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer 27 months ago. The shock and awe of hearing, “yes, it is cancer” is the most powerful, helpless feeling we’ve ever had. Paul’s cancer was a Gleason 7 score on a scale of 1-10. For forty-five minutes the doctor talked about options, and what he would do if it were him, what comes next, etc.,. We didn’t hear a word. We were in shock. Paul’s too strong, too healthy, too big for cancer. This can’t happen to us.
Paul had robotic radical prostatectomy surgery by the best. Dr. Tuerk at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Boston. We knew there most likely would be side effects of the surgery, but all we wanted to hear was that he got it all. The surgery was successful, but he requires blood work every 3 months and is unable to perform the duties of a firefighter due to the effects of the surgery. When the realization of his not being able to return to the job he loved so much began to set in, it was a heart-wrenching chapter in our lives. This was not the way Paul was supposed to leave the job. He lived for this job. His crew from Worcester (MA) Fire Department, Rescue 1 gave him the best retirement party possible. Full of skits, awards, and his ax. But it was ten years too early.
I couldn’t understand how a guy like my husband, who was so fit at 55 that he boasted about being “only one of two guys on the job that can climb ‘UP’ the 3 story fire pole”. With two brothers and multiple male first cousins, with no prostate cancer history, how could someone so healthy get cancer? I started researching firefighter cancer. This was around the same time the Boston Fire Department came out (here) with their video about guys they had lost to cancer. It was shocking how prevalent it was. We’ve been in this for twenty-eight years. We knew a lot of guys with cancer. That video led me to start researching the gear itself. I guess that’s where the rabbit hole opened.
I came across hundreds of articles about firefighters with cancer. Many studies on firefighters with cancer, dermal absorption studies, biochemical studies of firefighters with cancer, University studies of dirt deposits of turnout gear, IAFF supported studies, many personal stories, articles on the recommended actions all firefighters should take; washing gear, etc. I read as many NFPA 1971 Structural Firefighting PPE reports as I could find. What I found in those reports was concerning to me. Of 16 voting members of the committee, 9 are manufacturers themselves. That didn’t sound right to me
but what do I know. In the Report of Proposals from the NFPA meetings, I read how the Special Experts would question the manufacturers and protest certain aspects like their testing methods or particular standard tests all firefighters should perform on the gear, then everyone votes and the manufacturers seem to win more challenges than losing in my opinion. There should be a better balance in the committee. We’ve gotten too close and trusting of the manufacturers. Remember, their first obligation is to their shareholders.
A couple of months back, I was contacted by someone very well known in the environmental field, (as I had reached out to her some eight months earlier). She had clusters of firefighters with cancer. My reply was “I’m sure you do, every station has a cluster.” She asked one question about the gear, “does the gear have PFOA or PFOS?” I never heard the word before. I said I would check and let her know. After countless hours of research, I was able to find that PFOA is a component of the fire gear itself. The fabric is made with Terephthaloyl Chloride and p-Phenylenediamine. It has the chemistry formula C8, H4, Cl2, O2. The C8 is the problem, PFOA. Perfluorooctanoic Acid.
So why the heck is C8 a component of fire gear? If firefighters sweat and stew in these suits, surely it must be absorbed through their skin? What I found was an even deeper rabbit hole. The C8 is needed to meet the minimum Thermal Protective Values (TPP) that protect firefighters from the thermal dangers of the job. It also makes the gear very strong. It is the same material used in bulletproof vests for the military as well as an additive to aqueous film forming foam.
But, just a quick Google search will show the many toxicity issues, human and environmental, surrounding PFOA. The EPA has given it the designation of ‘Contaminate of Emerging Concern.’ Sounds wishy-washy when you read the studies showing the actual scientific evidence from around the world. The problem here in the US is the Toxic Substance Control Act hasn’t changed in years. There is lobbying against any changes in the current structure in favor of the chemical giants.
More searching led to this article from 2006 entitled ‘EU Chemical Law Passed Amid Controversy’:
EU chemical law passed amid controversy
By Emilie Reymond and Louise Prance, 18-Dec-2006
EU lawmakers have approved a new chemical law aimed at making producers and importers of chemicals, used in goods such as personal care products, prove that the substances they put on the market are safe for consumers.
It also states that the lobbying group American Chemistry Council is working hard to ensure that restrictions do not happen there in Europe or here in the US.
After a search of the European Chemical Registry’s site, I saw that firefighter PPE was on the list of textiles for restriction by the European Chemistry Agency or ECHA, as it had determined it was an SVHC or Substance of Very High Concern. The gear is made with the chemical C-8. The chemical companies stated in the ECHA ‘comments in response to proposed regulations’ that the alternative C-6 costs them exponentially more to make.
That led to the search of what firefighters in Europe are doing about it. I came across the 2015 announcement of a PPE & Duty of Care Forum 2016. It covered *Managing a potential transition to non-PFOA PPE. Europe is aware and already on the path to transition to something safer for their firefighters.
They didn’t want to use the alternative C-6 in Europe as it costs more to make. Affecting their bottom line. Keeping us in the dark for as long as possible, while lobbying against changes to the Toxic Substance Control Act here in the US, will save them money. The chemical companies are beholding to their shareholders to show them growth and profit. The manufacturers are using the American Chemistry Council to lobby against change in our chemical standards in America.
The chemical/textile giants were asking for a ‘derogation’ for the items of Firefighter PPE, military style vests, and some medical equipment. The ECHA declined to derogate the FF PPE, but it did give the manufacturers until 2020 to come up with a product not more than 25 ppb of PFOA. That would require the manufacturers to rework the chemical component of the gear. That is up from the original request of the ECHA’s of 2ppb. This paragraph, page 37, shows the ECHA ruling:
“A goal is replacement of C8 chemistry by less hazardous chemicals (fluorine-free alternatives are
said to be available by one stakeholder), or reformulation of C6 chemicals to resist
heavy duty washing. Available information suggests that C6 alternatives that can resist
washing and outdoor exposure are increasingly available.
Overall, given the critical human health/life protecting functions of the C8 chemicals,
and the above consideration on cost and effectiveness of substitution by C6 chemicals,
SEAC proposes an extended transitional period of 6 years after entry into force for
textiles for the protection of workers from risks to their health and safety.”
Keep in mind, part of the process in Europe was to notify the manufacturers and give them an opportunity to comment or protest these changes. That was in 2014. The actual comments were published in 2015. It is almost April of 2017 and we still have not been told that PFOA is such a concern in Europe it is changing the way the textile giants make the gear.
This past January I began asking whether or not we were making those changes here. I couldn’t get
an answer from anyone official or otherwise. No one had heard of it. It wasn’t in a discussion on any of the countless popular firefighter websites, not on any government websites, or the IAFF site. Zero information or discussion about Non-PFOA Firefighter PPE anywhere.
What really bothered me was that it wasn’t discussed at any of the NFPA 1971 Structural Firefighter PPE meetings that I read the Report of Proposals from, back to 2006.
The manufacturers sit at the table with our people and don’t say a word about the restrictions they are facing in Europe. The PPE manufacturers all still printing slick, glossy ads about their gear and the dangers of cancer in the job. They are reinforcing to firefighters the standard safety protocols of washing and inspecting your gear and your body, of not contaminating your families, of wearing all your gear during overhauls, keeping your gear out of UV light, but the discussion of the toxin PFOA and what they are being required to do in Europe does not come up.
There is no justifiable reason to not discuss it. It is as important as knowing about the soot on the gear, or washing your hoods, or washing your bodies and all the other cancer precautions relative to your job. With the money that firefighters pour into these manufacturers and the faith that we entrust them with, it is outrageous that this discussion is omitted.
Weeks ago I began posting about this on my personal Facebook page and sending this to over 200 Facebook firefighter pages. Thankfully, one lone Local Union President, Jason Burns L1314, of Fall River, MA asked if I would send him the information I gathered. He had recently lost two young members to cancer.
During the IAFF Legislative Meeting in Washington, D.C., March 3-8 2017, IAFF L1314 President Burns brought the matter to the attention of IAFF’s Patrick Morrison, the Health, Safety and Medicine Assistant for General President Schaitberger. At this time he is awaiting word from this officer.
This past Friday my husband advised me that Senator Ken Donnelley was a firefighter and a cancer survivor. Paul had met him in 99 as a family liaison during the Cold Storage Warehouse fire. He said I should call him. I did, and spoke at great length with his Chief of Council, David Swanson who advised he will be speaking to the Senator and Chief of Staff. By Monday the reply came from David Swanson, both Senator Donnelley and Mr. Swanson are looking into this issue. IAFF L1314 President Burns advised me that he will also be in communication with the Senator.
It’s very concerning, the cumulative effect of putting on the gear day after day, year after year. In addition to added absorption rate, a firefighter faces as their body temperate rises. In Europe the response of one manufacturer regarding dermal absorption of the PFOA to a group of firefighters
Was, ‘it’s not really that much.’ Wonder how many days, months, and years he’d like to wear that suit.
We need legislation to force the chemical giants to act immediately. To produce the same standards here as are now being used in Europe. These manufacturers should be under a requirement to advise when their materials sold here in the US are restricted in another country. This has gone on for too many years. The arms of the American Chemistry Council are long and reaching. That alone is a problem.
To share the knowledge of what is happening in Europe as well as studies and reports, I created a Facebook page titled, ‘Your Turnout Gear and PFOA.’ It will be updated with any information I can pass along. Link: https://www.facebook.com/Your-Turnout-Gear-and-PFOA-1808869939437081/
Like many firefighters, I spend part of my day searching the internet, Facebook, and various other forums reading articles and trying to stay current with recent advancements, news, and techniques in the fire service. It seems like a big point of contention recently has been between “safety sallies” and “aggressive interior attack” camps. While this has many parts to it, nowhere is this seen more so than on the topic of transitional attack. I don’t like to see our brothers tearing other fire companies down on the internet over a short video clip without asking themselves, “Why was (or wasn’t) this tactic performed?” I would propose that there is always a time and a place for either tactic. I would also say that it should be up to the troops on the ground to go with what they think will work the best for the situation presented to them.
Transitional Attack is not a recent invention. It has been around for years just without the fancy name. Looking back at many company histories, especially before the invention of SCBA, numerous photos can be found of this tactic. Before SCBA, this method was performed more out of necessity than choice. The atmosphere inside a building had to be able to support firefighters before an advancement could have been made. As technology has improved, we have been able to push farther into buildings, to a degree, even without improving the conditions directly in front of us. Whether you fall into the “Transitional Attack at every fire” group or the “never Transitional Attack” group, is there not room for compromise? Can we say some fires (and some fire companies) that there is room to go either way? Depending on your point of view, experience and local knowledge all will come together to help you decide if it is an appropriate tactic at that particular time.
One of the first things to point out is that Transitional Attack will take place at some fires, just due to common sense. If the fire is blowing out the entry way that you have to go into, it has to be extinguished before you can go any further. But what about the fires that can go either way? What about the fire on the second floor of an occupied residential building with fire venting from the second-floor windows and the status of occupants in the house is unknown?
To the safety sallies:
Understand that the crew you are watching stretch a handline in without first knocking down the visible fire might understand the building layout ahead of time and have information that is not known to you. They might have adequate staffing with a second-due engine and truck company right behind them. They might have the training and tools to attack this fire, in this manner, successfully.
To the aggressive interior firefighters:
I would ask you to understand that not every company feels exactly like you do about the “correct” tactics to utilize at a fire. They might have local knowledge of the circumstances that make this a viable and necessary tactic at this fire. They also might not be as well-staffed or equipped as you are also.
I have also seen fires fought by the same company with similar circumstances at two separate fires, fought two different ways. It could’ve been based on something as simple as the time of the day that affected their manpower. In the middle of the day, with two people and no second-in companies in sight, they might perform a Transitional Attack while they gather resources. However, later that same night, if that same fire were to be fought, they would stretch a line to the interior of the building.
Could there be a gray area where the officers on scene could apply the best tactic, without later being berated by their brothers on social media? Maybe a place where both tactics could simultaneously exist…
Paul Brutto Jr. has been a firefighter for the last 17 years and an EMT/Paramedic for the last 14. He is currently a Lieutenant/Asst. Ambulance Chief at the Citizens Fire Co. No. 2 in Mahanoy City, PA and works as a Paramedic for the neighboring ALS service.
In apartment complexes and commercial strip malls across the country, we have issues with line placement through narrow or obstructed paths. These can be caused by parked cars, short setbacks, parking barriers, planters, shrubs, etc. With this in mind, one option available is to pass these obstacles before the deployment of the hose. This is what I like to call “The Delayed Triple Split.” This maneuver allows for the entire hose bundle (on a triple layer) to be deployed after passing through any obstructions or obstacles on the pathway to the building. A few considerations go into this deployment process; they are as follows:
– Placement for the aerial at buildings. The best practice is to have the first arriving aerial’s turntable at the center of the building to access the entire length of the building.
– Placement for the next engine company to bring water or supply a “booster back-up.”
– The width of the average car is approximately six to seven and a half (6′ – 7.5′) feet.
– The width of the average parking space is seven and a half to nine (7.5′ – 9′) feet.
– When spotting the hose cross-lays, use an object in the same area on the truck to act as a reference point, i.e. Piston Intake Valve, wheel well, strobe light, etc.
– The objective could be met with only two firefighters involved.
– Find the average length of bedded hose. The average car is about fourteen to eighteen (14′ – 18′) feet long. You need to find how many folds in the cross-lay are needed to reach the sidewalk, which is approximately twenty (20′) feet from the apparatus.
– The Nozzle Firefighter and Driver/Backup Firefighter go in opposite directions (Triple Split) with the loop and nozzle. This allows for short setback deployments.
– When choosing which way to separate the triple layer on the walkway, consider the need for the loop to advance with the building, not against.
– When Backup/Driver is pulling the loop section of the Triple Layer to the opposite side of the fire building, keep pulling it until the fifty (50’) foot coupling is at the entry to the breezeway/recessed area. This will allow the Nozzleman to walk in a straight path to the entry point and keep all remaining 100’ of hose in usable position in the yard.
– On the return trip to the pump panel or relocating to the front door for Doorman position, the last parts of the hose is placed onto the sidewalk/walk space to allow for clearance once the hose gets charged.
– The 50’ coupling is brought to the front door, with the accordion style layout in the open area between the stairs and building.
– If the 2nd-floor apartment is the apartment, take the nozzle and 50’ coupling to the top of the landing. This will further prove the need for the Backup/Driver to pull the looped section far enough to align the 50’ coupling with the base of the stairs.
With these steps, the training evolution was completed in approximately 1 minute from the time the parking brake was pulled. This is an easy way to allow for the needless pulling of the Triple Layer in a straight line, causing multiple steps to place in proper position.
The key to this process, as with any new training elements, is getting out and practicing. Finding those landmarks on the truck, the direction of the loop placement, and placement of the final layout in the yard or on the landing are the fundamentals to making this stretch successful. Unfortunately, many things in these types of properties will reach up and grab anything on the hose layout to hinder the progress. Couplings get caught on the edge of parking blocks, hoses get pulled under tires, etc. By moving the stretch to the fire building side of the obstructions, the layout will transition smoother with fewer locations for Murphy’s Law to apply.
– Joel Richardson
I Wanna be in charge!
As a firefighter seeking a way to promote to the supervisory level in a fire service organization you have to realize that it’s not about what you do; it’s about what you don’t do. It’s about the little things daily that are not attended to; The little things that in reality don’t amount to much and may seem trivial, but collectively add up to define who we (and you) are as an organization.
The problem with this is that many firefighters never understand this concept until they are in a position of management and see if for themselves. Typically, 12-18 months after appointment as a manager, company officers find themselves sitting in their office completely overwhelmed. They simply cannot understand why their company is not performing well. They sit in dismay behind a wrecked desk of piled up projects that seem insurmountable. They contemplate and question the integrity and commitment of their own team while the rest of the company strolls along with no stress at all and oblivious to any problems. Deadlines are missed, tensions rise, and senior staff cannot understand how or why we struggle to accomplish the simplest of tasks to maintain our core values. And then the unbelievable happens, service levels are impacted for the worse and nobody can explain what happened.
Every officer walks into the position with the exact same dreams and goals. They want a cohesive group of firefighters that gets along very well. They want big fires that magically go out at the mere appearance of the company. They want to have fun. They want their co-workers to name their children after each other. Unfortunately, all of this is a dream, and not how it typically works. Time and time again I have witnessed this disaster unfold. No matter what the company makeup is, there is always trouble ahead for company officers. I challenge anyone to find me one company officer that says it was a cakewalk. Yes, dreams can be realized, but only after the initial trauma of becoming an officer heals and they recommit to their guiding principles that got them there in the first place. There are no officers that were bad or even average firefighters. Every officer I know performed at an EXCEPTIONAL LEVEL as a firefighter.
For years I have struggled to convey this message in a meaningful manner that would be easily interpreted by senior members of the organization looking for a path to management and eventually leadership. Over my career as a company officer and chief officer, I have sat with many firefighters seeking my advice and feedback on “what they need to do to become an officer.” Aside from the normal education and certification requirements, my answer has been consistent with every conversation. Start today by demonstrating some simple leadership. Let your principles and traits shine through. There is no magical bullet. There is no inside information, it’s that simple.
It’s Who You Are
The fact is, your interview for the position of manager started the day you walked through the door as a rookie firefighter. Becoming an officer is a really big deal, and it should be. But, becoming a firefighter is a bigger deal as the daily decisions you make will affect you for the rest of your career. You will make mistakes. And, you will have “off” days as a firefighter. But, how you respond to the occasional mishaps and feedback throughout your career will define how you will be as an officer.
How you ‘consistently’ attend to your job as a firefighter or driver will define who you are and is the best indicator of your potential as an officer. So, my first piece of advice is, “Start today, and be the best at the job you’re being paid for.” After many years of doing this job, I think I have developed an ability to spot an officer after their first 6 months. Trust me, it’s that easy. It’s a characteristic that is genuine and cannot be faked. That doesn’t mean people cannot change. But, some people get it from the first day.
Start today by showing you’re humble, that you’re human and
willing dying to learn. Start today by showing a constant and pervasive commitment to the fire rescue profession. Start today by being positive about everything. This is not a job you get by filling out an application. It’s one of few jobs that you actually “take an oath” to commit to. Start today by asking “why yes” instead of jumping on the “why not” freight train to a disaster.
There are no conspiracies or strategies to unlock to becoming an officer. Being an officer is just like being a firefighter. It’s not what you are, “it’s who you are.” It’s a personality, not a job. If you think becoming an officer is about taking a test, passing a set of exams, and charming the heck out of an interview panel you’re very “VERY” wrong. It just doesn’t work like that. It cannot work like that, there is too much at stake. This is why being an officer starts today, not after receiving a set of bugles. No matter how well you do on an exam, your traits and habits that you have demonstrated over your career will be revealed in the “process.” And, you cannot trick the process.
Becoming an Officer
So how do you start? It’s not about what you do day-in and day-out. Unfortunately, it’s more about what you don’t do. You, your company, your station, and even your department will be defined by what YOU DON’T DO. Anybody can extinguish a fire. Anybody can deliver EMS. Anybody can get through a shift with nothing broken and nobody hurt. If you don’t put out the fire, or keep your apparatus in top shape, then you will be defined by those missteps. Departments that struggle have people sitting on their butts whining about the daily whatever. They have firefighters with no initiative that blame the “system” on their attitude. Who are those departments? Those are the ones that appear on the daily TV news with their aerials in the air, or a dramatic situation that has nothing to do with providing this valiant service to the public.
So, here’s my 2nd piece of advice. Don’t look for praise when you do something that is expected. Taking out the trash is not going to get you a set of bars. You should seek praise when you do something unexpected (for you) that benefits the organization. It’s more about the simple things you do when you’re not looking for praise or recognition. I promise people (especially the senior leadership) will notice things are being tended to.
If you’re sitting around the station waiting to be invited to do something, then you’ve missed the leadership train. If you’re waiting for directions from your officer to do “anything outside of the normal,” you’re screwing up your officer interview. If your officer is drowning at his/her desk as you sit and “study something” on the computer, then you’re missing a huge opportunity. If you pass up an opportunity to work some overtime or attend training, you’re missing another opportunity, and it’s noticed. If you’re not the one that is leading the way on the simplest of daily tasks or new ideas, then you don’t stand a chance to promote in any organization.
So what am I talking about? Take out the trash without being told. Clean anything if it’s dirty. Double, and even triple check your tools and equipment. Train on something. And by train, I mean get your hands dirty. Pull hose, climb ladders, dress up without asking for permission from your officer. Become an expert “on your own time.” If something is in disarray, then be accountable and take the initiative to fix it. Establish very high expectations in regards to your station and apparatus. Ask the tough questions to yourself. Don’t depend on others and get over the barriers that keep you from accomplishing something. Do not wait on others (officers) to approve of your routine actions around the station. Answer emails, take on projects, complete assignments and be dependable. Trust me, people notice when it’s not done. Tasks not performed, training not completed are very noticeable. Not to mention hose loaded improperly.
And finally, above all. Be accountable to maintain the history of the organization. If we clean kitchens on Monday’s, then you be the one to ensure it’s done. No one cares why or why not we do something. If history dictates the routine task, then honor it. If the trucks are to be clean at all times, then be the one to grab the hose and bucket first. If for no other reason than honoring the traditions of our past members that built these fire departments. Remember, if you don’t do it people (especially those responsible for promoting you) will notice.
I frequently sit in dismay wondering why a firefighter in any capacity would accept anything sub-par. I think the answer is complicated and the reasons vary. But in general, I believe many just take it for granted and don’t evaluate the value and the potential of something simply defining who they are, or how they will be as an officer.
It’s your fire department, and your interview for the next step started a long time ago. Don’t take anything for granted. I have witnessed the smallest miscalculations remove a person from the process long before they ever even applied to be an officer. So please, stop waiting for an opportunity to come walking in and create your own opportunities through your daily “simple” actions. If you’re waiting for an officer to “create an opportunity” for you then clearly you’re not ready to lead. Opportunities are everywhere, so don’t underestimate anything, get up and DO IT.
– Brian Ritter
– Battalion Chief – City of Wylie, Texas
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” – John Crosby
“Be the change that you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” – Collin Powell
To Achieve Success, You Must First Be Able To Define Success
The one request that I receive more than anything else, has to do with our mentoring program. While I am more than happy to share anything that we are using in The Colony Fire Department (T.C.F.D.), what people are looking for is a turnkey mentoring program. Unfortunately, because our process is a model, that’s not possible. So what I thought I would do is to offer the steps that I believe are necessary for developing and implementing a successful and sustainable mentoring program.
I need to start by saying that I believe mentoring is the future of fire service training, the point being to make training personal. Training that impacts people on a personal level has proven to stay with them longer because when it is personal, the firefighter takes ownership of the training and therefore their success and survival. After all, what’s more personal than training that increases a Firefighter’s chance for survival?
Like everything else I talk about, to be successful, you must start with the end in mind (Covey). So the question here is, what do you want your mentoring program to produce? If the leadership team can’t answer this question, chances are you will not have success with developing a sustainable mentoring program. First, decide what you want to accomplish, and then decide the best way to get there.
Mentoring v. Coaching
I often hear people using the term mentor to address issues that would be better resolved through coaching. Coaching is generally a more formal approach used to address existing skills and behaviors. A firefighter or fire officer who is struggling with basic skills or lack of knowledge, who requires immediate improvement, would benefit better from the immediate feedback that comes from a coaching relationship.
On the other hand, if your goal is to position a fire officer of firefighter for future success with the organization, a less formal mentoring process based on a one-to-one mentoring relationship would have the greatest value. While the mentoring process may be somewhat formal or more informal, the focus should always be long-term success.
It has been my experience in the fire service, that coaching takes a different teaching and interpersonal skill set than does mentoring. Coaches must have knowledge, they must have skill competency, and they must have the courage to do the right thing. Coaching works well during indoctrination or orientation programs but leaves off where mentoring begins. While the mentoring process should evaluate the application of existing knowledge and skills, the focus should be on mastering skills and applying knowledge to real-world situations. Mentors are usually skilled at turning events into experiences that will last a career. They too must be proficient and knowledgeable, and they must have experience with the organization.
Step 1 – The Model
The first step in developing a mentoring process is to clearly define what the process should produce. Once outcomes are identified, work backward to develop a process that leads up to the achievement of those outcomes. We use a model in T.C.F.D. that clearly states what we hope our mentoring process will produce, and the parts of the model describe what is necessary for a successful mentoring process. By using a model, mentors are empowered to choose and use their own mentoring style, while mentoring towards a defined and consistent outcome. I have yet to see a successful and sustained mentoring program that was mandated or the result of policy. Like customer service, there are certain dos and don’ts, but exceptional customer service is the result of individual compassion and effort.
Step 2 – Changing the Culture
Culture modification often requires breakthrough change. Breakthrough change requires vision, commitment, and managing the culture daily. If the organization is struggling with committing to quality training, a mentoring program will likely also struggle. Once the organization embraces training, learning, and investing in the next generation of firemen and fire officers, mentoring is the next step to make sure they succeed and survive in those roles long term.
Changing the culture is the most difficult part of the mentoring process, and often the most feared. To reach full potential, mentoring must be supported by a learning culture. If the organization does not value training and learning, the members will not value the benefits of mentoring. Too often a “mentoring program” is put into place in hopes of solving deep-seated cultural or climate issues. While any form of mentoring can be beneficial with the right people, it should not be viewed as a cure for all that is wrong. Outside of a learning culture, mentors become discouraged and feel defeated because they are always going against the grain, and eventually the program fizzles out. For the program to succeed, support must come from the top, from the Chief of Department. It’s the chief that must provide the leadership, the horsepower, and be the main advocate for the process.
Step 3 – Mentoring Tools
This is the heavy lifting, and the phase that requires the most work and the greatest attention to detail. In The Colony, we want our mentors to model and teach The Colony Way. For mentors to be successful, the leadership team must provide mentors with the tools that define The Colony Way.
We want our mentors to teach philosophy more than policy. To do that, mentors must understand what the leadership and operational philosophy of the organization is. Coaches address policy, rules, and regulations.
T.C.F.D. operational standard is S.M.A.R.T3. Strategic, Managed, Aggressive, Risk Regulated, Tactics, Tasks, and Techniques. Our Fire Operations Guidelines (FOGs) and coaches address fire ground strategy, incident management, operational aggression, risk management, and company tactics. Mentors focus on the tasks, techniques, and the organization’s commitment to being smart versus just being safe.
Mentoring is a great tool for achieving operational predictability and consistency between shifts and stations. To accomplish this, the organization must provide mentors with the information that describes what that operational predictability and consistency looks like. When leadership or operational guidelines are lacking, the organism (the fire department) will adapt in order to survive. In the absence of leadership and operational direction, micro-cultures such as battalions, stations, and companies will make up their own.
Step 4 – Choosing Mentors
Once the process has been identified, the culture modified, and the mentor’s tools developed and distributed, it’s time to identify mentors. Choosing the right mentors is essential if you hope to achieve the best outcome. Remember mentoring is about people first. While those with mentor qualities should be identified and encouraged to participate, mandating members to be mentors is not the best route to a successful process. Mentors should:
• Have experience with the organization
• Have the ability to turn events (fires) into experiences (experience fighting fire)
• Have a positive attitude
• Be committed to the vision and professional standards of the organization
• Have a passion for the profession
• Be an advocate for the mentoring process
• Be someone who cares about the success of others
• Always be a part of the solution and not the problem
• Be a lifelong learner; a student of the fire service
Step 5 – Support the Process
This is the most important part. If a member(s) commits to mentoring the next generation of firemen and fire officers, the absolute minimum that chief officers and company officers should do is support the process and run interference for any negativity that may arise to defeat the effort, this takes courage. Those that don’t believe in progress, those that don’t participate in training, and those who oppose anything positive, should not be allowed the authority to derail the success of others.
In closing, I have yet to realize anything negative regarding the mentoring of new members and new officers. I can’t imagine why leadership wouldn’t fully support the effort. The only way we are going to be successful in meeting future challenges is to position our people and our organization for success and survival in the firehouse and on the fire ground. This should be job one for all Chief Officers
Chief Scott Thompson
The Colony Texas
Being a strong leader doesn’t mean you must be in charge. In fact, leadership is not absolute control. As I learned, leading up the chain of command is equally as important as leading down the chain (Willink and Babin, 2015). The best leaders may be the guys making the push off the back step and it is the job of the officer to use their people to ultimately ready the company for its “career fire.” Two concepts are at the center of being an effective leader: Defining expectations and planning. In this piece, we will talk about defining expectations.
There is a lot of rhetoric in the fire service today, some of which I am guilty of playing into. We must be realistic in defining our expectations because lofty or utopic goals are merely unicorns- unachievable and not real. We have to set a standard for ourselves, first and foremost. In a previous post about the airbrake drill, I detailed how just 25-30 minutes a day has brought our crew to the next level. We can communicate, anticipate needs and actions, and we’ve built trust. Training shouldn’t feel like a punishment, and I feel much of today’s training throws unrealistic scenarios and expectations on a crew, which immediately demotivates even the most highly motivated firefighters. Commit yourself to doing something for thirty minutes a day. Many would be surprised how many times you can raise a ladder in a thirty-minute period, or how many times you can stretch knee bundles. Like a diet or exercise plan, once you accept the commitment and discipline yourself to devote the necessary time, it becomes second nature, and you can move towards affecting the people around you positively. The cliché term is leading by example. People will follow suit.
War story time: While detailed at another station, I was using some spare hose to stretch knee bundles. About 15 minutes in, the officer walks out in the bay and asks what I’m doing. I explained that I was trying out some stuff I had learned in a recent class and was just getting some reps in. I guess he was interested because he stuck around and watched. Eventually, a third guy came out, and the officer said, “Hey watch this, do that V thing again you just did.” Later on, the fourth came out, and long story short, within twenty minutes of him being out there watching, he was now running lines, as we began to flow water. Impromptu drill–done. So what’s special about this? My discipline in “doing something every day” led to a drill that would have otherwise never happened. So I beg the question, who was the leader? Arguably, we each were because we committed the time to learn something new. Taking time to debunk some stretches and flow some water allowed each of us to get better. No one was forced to be out there, yet we all were and an hour flew by. An hour that no one can take away from us.
Getting back on track, how can your people do the right thing if they don’t know what is expected of them? How can you get upset with them, if you’ve never laid out what ideas, goals, and objectives they should be fulfilling? Part of doing the right thing in our trade is fulfilling the expectations placed upon you. As an officer, or even as a firefighter, you’re not wrong to lay forward your expectations, but you must pay close attention to your approach.
1. “Hey, we need to train every day because we suck as a company/department”
2. “Hey guys, training is really important to me, and I would appreciate if, for thirty minutes or so, while I’m out in the bay, that you join me. How awesome is it going to be when we show up second or third due and put someone else’s fire out?”
The differences between statement one and statement two are that you’re treating people with respect and you’re not downgrading anyone or the company. As the old adage goes, “You get more bees with honey!”
There will always be nay-sayers. There will also be that guy, that crew, or that shift that wants to make fun of you for practicing your trade. That’s fine. In the words of my friend Captain Jonah Smith (2016), “I may not be getting better, but what the hell are you doing?”
When going to your crew with a set of expectations, you should be well prepared to explain why you have these expectations whether it’s asked or not. What may not seem like a big deal to a member or two may become a big deal to them when you give them the reason behind the decision; it allows the member to own their role behind the reason (Willink and Babin, 2015). Remember, knowledge base is different for every member and some may not be aware of why a particular detail is important.
When crafting our expectations, we should have one clear objective, and that is to prevent catastrophic failures (Smith, 2016). If we can remain in control of our actions, accept our scope of operations, and work within that scope, we will be successful. If you’re assigned to an engine and you spend more time conducting RIT drills than you do stretching and operating the initial hose line, you just may find yourself in a position where that bailout is necessary. That is not to say RIT and survival are not important, but as an engine, you have one job (House, 2016) and you need to be the best at it.
Define expectations for yourself and your crew and hold yourself accountable. We each have the ability to effect change within our circle of influence; be positive, be a motivator, be a mentor, and watch the wheels start to turn.
– Zach Schleiffer
References: House, Gary. (2016). Smith, J. (2016). FDIC 2016. Willink, J., Babin, L. (2015). Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win. New York, New York; Penguin.
By G. Rice
Those who I work for expect daily that I train, develop, mentor and lead our firefighters. They are a tough bunch to work for. They have some of the highest expectations and constantly watch every move I make. I feel supported in my position and receive the necessary feedback to change my approach or position on any given topic.
Many would think I am speaking about my Assistant Chief of Operations or even possibly my Fire Chief, but I am speaking about the men of my Battalion. It’s important to understand this distinction because I believe we BC’s often lose sight of this. We exist for our men.
I’ve been working for just over a year as a Battalion Chief. My wife recently commented that my white shirts are looking dingy. I already knew this fact. It’s extremely difficult to train with my crews stretching hose, throwing ladders and participating in search drills while wearing these. I’ve smoked many a white shirt and recently spoke with my boss to ask about alternatives. He told me to keep smoking them and that they would buy me new ones this year. That is very reassuring. Not that they will buy new shirts, but affirming that training, sweating alongside my men is where he wants me.
I’m not naive to think that everyone reading this has a similar work environment. Many do not have support both above and below to be successful. So how do we create an environment where these types of attitudes will flourish?
It starts with us, BC’s. I’ve got to ask, when was the last time you PT’d with your men? When was the last time you flowed a line or threw a 24′ ladder? How about performed a search or participated in a Job Task Simulation. How often do you provide feedback, direction, or kudos to those you work for?
I’m calling out BC’s everywhere to ask for you to lead by example. Do you mask up daily and check over your air pack? Do you even have an air pack in the car? How about we start getting out of the car to sweat alongside our men? You know how I know they need a water break? Because I need one. It’s pretty simple. Do we expect our folks to be in gear but find us walking around an accident scene in sunglasses and a vest? Lead by example. It’s really very simple.
It boils down to accountability. We expect it from our company officers but are we being accountable to them? Do we put our officers in a bad way having to field questions about the BC who isn’t geared up? Do as I say, not as I do?
I’ll be attending Nozzle Forward training this November in Houston. This will be my third time through Aaron and his cadre. These guys are smart. Aaron gets it. He often speaks about a movement bubbling up from the bottom. It’s my job to assist my guys who are doing the same within our department. How many “Aaron’s” are in my department? Am I helping each member reach their full potential?
I know I have much to learn. In fact, I know this with every bone in my body. If I do my job correctly, many of my people won’t be working for me as we grow. They’ll be Engineers, Captains and possibly colleagues alongside me. I hope I can keep up with these guys. I hope I can remain relevant in our profession.
So put down your TPS reports and get out with the men. The reports and paperwork will be there when you’re done. Support their careers, mentor and lead.
The Colony Fire Dept
The Colony, Texas
Battalion Chief Garrett Rice
And now, an excerpt from the book Barn Boss Leadership by author Brian Ward.
This particular morning was like any other except I happened to be at home instead of work, waiting on the AC Repairman. I awoke about 0630 to go for my morning run as a fire call came in with an address one road down from my residence in the small town where I volunteer. In this volunteer department, I am a firefighter at rank, and I follow orders instead of the typical giving of them in my career status. While I do not shy away from speaking up, I feel it is important to listen and be respectful with my rookie status (which has it’s benefits – nozzle time). This understanding of leadership versus followership is important to understand as this incident unfolds. This is a key aspect discussed in Barn Boss Leadership concerning what makes teams successful.
The neighbor stated to dispatch that he believes he sees smoke inside the residence, but no one is home. I skipped my morning run and went en route to the call approximately half a mile away. As I turned down the road, I did not see any columns of smoke, and for all I knew, this would be a quick wash down or false alarm. As I got closer to the address stated by dispatch, I did not see any indication of fire. All of a sudden, in a bend in the middle of the road, was the mailbox I was looking for. Quickly, I looked to my right and saw a light wisp of black laminar smoke pushing from a small utility room window on Side A. I had arrived first on scene, established command, provided my size up, and conducted my walk around. It was a two story wood frame single family dwelling with smoke showing from the A/D corner on the first floor. As I made my walk around there were no lights on, all doors were locked and no other signs of fire or smoke showing.
As I started back up the hill towards the road, an additional volunteer showed up, and the two career firefighters on E2 and E4 were seconds later. We immediately exchanged information and transferred command as I rolled back to my firefighter status. One of the firefighters and myself grabbed the 200’ 1.75” pre-connect and took off to the front door. I did use my rookie status to take over the nozzle. We forced entry into the residence, controlling the flow path and not performing uncoordinated ventilation. As we forced the front door, the smoke quickly leveled itself one foot off the floor at the door and five feet in there was zero visibility. The smoke was very laminar and did not appear to be volume or heat pushed at the front door.
We continued performing a search along the right-hand wall, which would lead us to the A/D corner, looking for a door or hallway. After feeling around some furniture and about 20’ in, we found a doorway and made entry. There was a small sense of environmental changes but nothing too alarming, however, we were definitely closer. After about another foot or two, I could hear a crackling, but I still could not see anything. I made entry into the bedroom and felt a definite rush of heat but no fire. I made the decision to quickly discharge my 150 GPM nozzle into the ceiling to cool the environment but careful not to upset the thermal layering. After a few seconds, the heat did dissipate, but I still could not see the fire in this less than ideal condition. These are the ones that scare me the most or maybe you just call it being respectful – you hear it, see the smoke, feel the heat, but you cannot find the seat of the fire.
Let me back up to the night before, at Station 2, where we have our weekly training for volunteers. The goal this particular night was a 200’ hose entanglement drill with a disoriented firefighter. I packed out, flipped my hood over my mask, and went inside the training building. There were pallets, tires, 55-gallon barrels and other obstacles with my hose stacked on/over/under and through (no smoke or fire) – their imagination was in overdrive. The obstacle was to orient yourself and feel your way through the hose entanglement drill. The instructor made it a point to remind his students to always sound the floor making sure to always have a solid floor under you.
Just 12 hours later, as I sit inside this two story burning structure, I am listening to the fire crackle in front of me. Still operating in zero visibility, and nozzle in hand, I told my backup firefighters to prepare to advance. I hit the floor every few inches in front of me hoping that my senses would clue in on any discrepancies. My situational awareness (identify, comprehend and predict), I would say, was heightened as I understand the gravity of making the wrong decision and someone else’s life hanging right there with me. I continued sounding the floor. I felt another door to my right. I pushed it open and sounded the floor one more time. I suddenly felt a buckle of the hardwood floor planks and knew something was not right. I sounded it again and encountered the same result. I immediately told the two firefighters behind me to back out. We had encountered a failure of floor integrity, but I was unsure of the extent. While I am the “rookie,” neither of them hesitated or questioned my decision.
After we regrouped and changed our vantage point of attack, the “fire” was determined to be a slow charring fire in the walls from a lightning strike hours before the actual call. Once the smoke cleared, we went back inside to check for extension and other hotspots. Visibility was greatly improved, so I walked back to where I gave the orders to back out to determine what my senses had told me. The fire had burned through the wall into the flooring system; there was a 6’ hole in the floor only two feet away from where we stopped. The phrase, “Faith in God, Trust in Training” comes to mind. Whether it was the training the night before, luck, or the Grace of God – remembering the basics kept us inches away from danger. I personally thanked the instructors from that night’s training and showed them what they did, so they can share this story the next time they do hose entanglement drills or fire attack drills.
If these guys would have never seen or spoke to me before would they have still listened? This is the value of team building and training, and understanding when to follow and when to lead. Remember the basics of your training and execute it to perfection. Anything can happen in this job, so you better be good at it. Mastery should be your minimum standard. Drill not to get it right but until you cannot get it wrong. The difference may only be inches away…..
Be Safe and Train Hard!
Barn Boss Leadership can be reviewed here: https://www.createspace.com/5952190
Stay tuned for Station-Pride’s Product Review of Barn Boss Leadership!
Barn Boss Leadership, August 2016 publication – A unique blend of fire, science, psychology and fire service history provided by an author who has worked in the largest of metropolitan to the smallest of volunteer departments. True leaders develop their power long before they receive a promotion. This text is designed to provide a guide and self-awareness gut check for individuals of all ranks. However, the emphasis of this text is for the informal leader in the organization, who is the catalyst for action. This text is for the individual who considers mastery the minimum standard.
Brian Ward, Author of Fire Engineering – Training Officer’s Toolbox and Managing Editor/Author for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference by Jones and Bartlett. Brian facilitates programs around the country on emergency response, training and leadership topics in the public and private sector. Founder of FireServiceSLT.com.