Doing what’s right. We’ve all heard it. Many of us believe that we do it consistently.
And perhaps, when we’re on the job or in uniform, most of us do exactly that. But what about when we are off the clock and think we are out of the public’s eye? Those of you who have read some of my previous articles know that I love to use officially accepted definitions of words. The definition of Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles or moral uprightness. The one that I like better is the C.S. Lewis quote: “Integrity is always doing what is right even when you think that no one is watching.”
So who is watching?
Everyone. Everywhere. 24/7/365.
The best question that I have ever been asked during an interview was if I felt my personal conduct off duty should have any impact on my status with that agency. In a world of scripted (and often stale) interview questions, this not only took me by surprise but even made me giggle a little inside because the interviewing panel had clearly put some effort and thought into this and many other questions. Now, I pride myself on being pretty well spoken and can articulate my thoughts pretty well. For once, I was temporarily speechless as I formulated my response. After a noticeable pause, I responded with stating that was the best interview question that I had ever been asked, and that I was glad that someone finally asked it! My opinion on the matter is this; what happens in your own home, on your own time SHOULD be a private matter.
Scenario # 1.) A woman who works in the private sector drives home drunk and gets involved in a motor vehicle accident where there are no injuries. 99 out of a 100 times, the media will report on this with very little embellishment. It will pretty much consist of the pertinent facts of what, where and when, unless it involves a person of interest or celebrity. And that will satisfy the public’s need to know what caused them to be stuck in traffic on their evening commute home that night.
Scenario #2.) An off-duty police officer driving his truck, with LEO specialty license plates, is traveling at nearly 95 miles per hour on the interstate as he enters a clearly marked construction zone. Witnesses report this and identify the vehicle involved, and it is later discovered that the driver was, in fact, an off-duty officer. You can imagine the media feeding frenzy and headlines. And as a result, the agency that the officer works for will likely be forced to dole out some disciplinary action that could even result in being a career ending situation.
Scenario #3.) A brother is lost in a LODD, and thousands of firefighters show up to honor his sacrifice and support his family. In the local area that night, after the memorial service, some of them head out to the local bars for camaraderie and to tell the usual war stories and other lies. Nothing negative happens, and everyone goes home that night without incident. Aside from the out of touch John Q. Public Citizen, who is unaware that a firefighter was killed in the line of duty and sees a bunch of clearly identified firefighters in various states of questionable sobriety. This prompts an official complaint to the Chief’s office the next day, and perhaps certain city council members.
Is it fair that the three different situations get reported differently? Probably not. Everyone is human. We all make mistakes and have lapses in judgment. I can even speak from personal experience on this very topic. But the reality is that the public and media do, and will, hold public safety personnel to a higher standard. Once it is identified that the person in the news story is a (fill in the blank i.e. firefighter, law enforcement officer, medic, fire chief, teacher, doctor, etc…), then it will be reported as Fire Chief Jane Doe or Officer John Schmoe. The headlines will lead with the words: “Firefighter Arrested”, or “Teacher Suspended”, or “Paramedic Investigated”. The public and many politicians love to read about these kinds of things, and they can be used as political tools against our agencies when it comes time for public approval ratings and support for funding.
The fact is that we are in a position of public trust, and will be held to a higher standard even if it seems like it’s no one else’s business. Keep that in mind when driving your vehicle with fire stickers or light bars. Never forget that wearing a t-shirt or hat can identify your affiliation to an agency. Remember that the media will dig for juicy scandals because it’s in their interest to, “report the facts”. Be cognizant of the fact that when there is a public scandal that involves a member of public safety, the general public tends to see the rest of the members the same way as the headlines read.
Do what’s right even when you think that no one is watching.
How many times have you seen a T-shirt or patch from the FDNY, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Miami-Dade, Boston, Virginia Beach, Charleston or (fill in your own local area), and thought; “Are they a member, or just someone who bought the shirt?” If they just bought or traded for the shirt, does that make them a wannabe? If they are a member of that FD, does that affiliation somehow by itself make them better than you if you come from a small jurisdiction? Does it make them better than you, or somehow more qualified, simply because they are on a paid job, and you’re a volunteer? How about rivalries or perceptions between companies?
Most of us know the truth. But some still struggle to answer this question honestly. I am not trying to minimize the amount of dedication, or professionalism by being affiliated with any of the previously mentioned departments. Quite to the contrary. They are all well-respected departments that we often look to for experience, leadership, and examples. Most of those examples are good…nah, scratch that. They’re great, sometimes legendary. But sometimes, we learn by poor examples as well. The fact is that I have been blessed to meet firefighters from all walks of life, jurisdictions, and from multiple countries and cultures. I have been impressed by many and disappointed by many as well. The point of this article is to get you to consider something that has been eating at me for years.
I have fallen victim to it. I’ve been seduced by it, mentored by it (at times), and finally I have found my way back to the truth. Ironically, the truth had been spelled out for me back in 2002 but I chose not to consider it as truth until years later. Instead, I passed it off as a polite way of brushing me off. I will share that story with you now and then return to my points about perceived status.
The scene was 220 W. 37th St. in Manhattan, NYC at the quarters of Engine 26, “The Batcave”. My brother and I were on our way back to the hotel after taking in the night-time view of Manhattan from atop The Empire State Building. We had closed down the viewing deck, and were walking west. We spotted 26 returning from a call, and backing into quarters. After the rig was safely tucked in, we stopped and spoke with one of the firemen. After some small talk, asking us what had brought us to NYC and learning that I was also on the job, he welcomed us inside for a cup of coffee. Introductions were made, and soon the place felt like home. Now this guy knewthat I wasn’t from the city, but he encouraged me to apply, as the FDNY was still in full rebuild mode after 9/11. In fact, the Battalion Chief forced an application into both my brother’s and my hands and told us to apply immediately. He would do anything to help us in the process, to help us get on the job. Now, I don’t know too many firefighters who wouldn’t feel their hearts skip a beat just by the thought of gearing up with the legendary letters FDNY on the back of your black turnouts. I was no exception. However, I was on a city department back then, and I was also in the midst of my own rebuild. Recently divorced, single dad, financially strapped…you get it. Making the move to NYC to start over again wasn’t really an option for me at the time.
I felt down on myself for several days and weeks. I wanted to apply so bad, knowing full well that getting the chance to attend the academy at “The Rock” would be a long shot anyway. I phoned up a friend who used to be at Ladder 15 and told him about the story. In his direct NYC way, he told me what I instinctively knew but chose to ignore because I felt he was just brushing me off. He told me that being a firefighter for the FDNY is the greatest thing in the world…for him. He is, and always has been a New Yorker. But what he followed up with is the real meat and potatoes of this thought. Following 9/11 everyone wanted to be a firefighter. Or thought they did. Even more thought that the FDNY was the pinnacle of becoming a firefighter somehow. But the point he was making is that you can still be just as much of an asset…in many cases MORE so, right in your own hometown community.
The FDNY employs over 10,000 uniformed firefighters. Mutual aid is not an issue for them. They have some of the most amazing equipment, training, and experience that can be found in the global firefighting community. But does that make them “better” than any of the rest of us?
The answer is no…it does not. Each and every community has its own limited resources available to it. This includes staffing, apparatus, equipment, etc. The trick is learning how to do more with less.
Chief Frank Viscuso says that with problems, comes opportunity. I couldn’t agree more. But only IF you have the courage to recognize that and then act upon it. I have used this theory in my own career. Stepping up to run the programs that no one else would, or several others failed or gave up because the going got tough. I’ve made mistakes, learned from them, and then had great success with some. This leads to a certain reputation. Hard work and willingness to tackle what needs to be done, can lead to that reputation as a hard charger, or even be looked at favorably when it comes time for promotion. Sometimes, if you’re a guy who can mess up once in a while (like me) it can cushion the blow just a bit if the big bosses know you were trying your best. They’ll still give you your lumps for messing up, but it tends to be easier somehow because you know that they’re giving it to you because you deserved it, but then they mentor you at the same time.
How about perceived status within the same organization? Say, between stations or companies. Many times the guys at the busy houses get to lay claim to that kind of “swagger” because they get more opportunity to see fire, or run more calls. But simply because you’re assigned to an outlying house, or slower company doesn’t mean that you can’t find your own “swagger”. Become the best. The best at anything. Something that you’re either very good at naturally, or make the decision to be the best at something because no one else wants to. Learn everything there is to learn about locks or ropes or auto extrication. Become the “fix-it” guy around your house. Learn every single street, hydrant and FDC in your territory and become the map person. Be the first on the rig to respond and the last to quit working. Become the focal point for your neighborhood community for tours, information, or social events. Ready for me to blow your mind? It doesn’t even need to be that complex. Be the best cook in the house. Conduct research. Be the fitness guru. Become the company historian. Organize company outings. Be the mentor. Be the firefighter who always…always has a pen, a pocket notebook, a multitool and a pair of latex gloves in their pocket. Be ready (without turning into “Ricky Rescue”) for anything. If you’re a driver, don’t just put ice in the water cooler each morning. Be sure to have a bottle of water on everyone’s seat upon returning to the rig after the call. They will appreciate it, and you will be respected for looking out for them. Above all else, when you have ideas to improve your companies image, or to provide a better service to your community don’t hold back. Even if you meet some opposition initially (we all know the fire service is not welcoming of progressive change) don’t let it deter you. Speak up, own your ideas, and learn. Know and prepare how to sell the idea ahead of time.
Coming back to the real purpose of this article – YOU can make a difference right where you are. Today. NOW.
If your aspiration is to make it onto the job for one of these big metro departments, then by all means go after it. But having the local name on your bunkers is not going to make you any less of a hero to your local community when they call you for help. In fact, they may just appreciate you more. I think most of us all want to make it to the “big leagues”, but just like the old adage says, “Home is where you make it.”
I’ve had friends over the years ask which I thought was better to work for, the big city or the small county departments. My answer is always going to be the same. My opinion is not ever going to be truth for everyone. In fact, my opinion is just that. It is never truth. Truth is different for everyone. For me, working in a smaller department seems to be my cup o’ joe. A department where you have to get creative to get the job done despite smaller staff, and often even smaller resources and budgets. But that’s just me. I’ve had the experience of a larger department, in both volunteer and paid departments, so I know where I thrive. Given the opportunity again, I would always choose a smaller department where I can make my mark.
I’d love to hear from some of you with similar experience, from either side. Whether it’s from a volunteer to the “big city”, or from one community to another. Sound off and share it with us if you have your own version of this. Stay safe!
Notice the title is not “How to be a good fire instructor.” There is a distinct difference and the definition of “good” is relative anyway. You may be thinking that as an instructor, you have already taken all the classes and have become a subject matter expert, but have you really?
Let me be clear on something first and foremost; for those of you who believe that because you have achieved a certification in a particular discipline (i.e. technical rescue, hazmat, EMS, etc…) that means you have nothing to prove to anyone, and because you are certified that makes you qualified… nothing could be further from the truth. Being certified simply means that you have met and been tested on the minimum standards to attain that certification. That does NOT make you a subject matter expert. What makes you an expert in that field is dedication, training, and knowledge over and above what is the accepted norm.
Having said all of that, I have heard the arguments that you can be extremely knowledgeable about a subject and not be certified. My opinion on this matter is that if you want to be taken seriously by your peers, get the certification to back that knowledge up. I have personally been on both sides of this coin in my career, and I finally realized that I needed to put up, or shut up. Moving on…
To be an effective fire instructor, you MUST have the following traits and characteristics (among others) :
I remember sitting in classes as a very young and inexperienced volunteer and assessing the instructor as he made his introductions and pleasantries. I would look around the room at the (what I considered to be, at the time) old guys with the classic fireman mustache and gray hair and watch how they would struggle to relate to the younger, hard charging kid that looked like he had just graduated rookie school the month before. I took many classes where this exact same scenario played out month after month. I started to question how the local fire service had gotten to the point where the “kids were teaching the adults”. The funny thing was, that I was only a few years younger than the instructor. My own perception of what an experienced fireman was is what skewed the impression in my mind. Now, if you think back to the classes that you have taken in your career, you’ll recall classes that were better than others, and had instructors that were better than others. There’s a good chance that you have met some amazing teachers that were “old and salty” and some that were “young bucks”.
To clarify this point, I am not saying that you have to have 25 years on the job in order to be a good instructor. A person in a busy department or company with only 3-5 years can be just as effective as a person with 25-30 years in a rural community where call volumes are much lower. I am also not just referring to how many calls you have run, or how many classes you have taken. It is a balance of all of these. If you happen to be in a department that does not run many calls, and is a very young department, I encourage you to utilize the passion and dedication of people who want to better the department and themselves.
You have to be dedicated to the task at hand. You must, therefore, be a good student. It cannot be overstated enough. It is essential that you have the basic knowledge of theory and the skills to demonstrate to your students, but also learn about the new techniques and technology that is changing on a day-to- day basis. Have you ever taken a class where the instructor claims to be a guru in his field, but is teaching techniques that are over 20 years old and outdated? Dedication also means that you are accessible to your students, even after class has ended.
The original saying is “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” A more recent FaceBook meme shows a photo of a horse with the caption “You can lead a human to knowledge, but you can’t make it think.” I have personally shown this in classes to kick it off. It helps to lighten the mood just a bit, but also drives the point home…that you will not just breeze through one of my classes without being challenged, and then expect to get a certificate out of it.
You must find a way to motivate your students. This means that you show up and can show them how passionate you are about the job. You cannot teach people everything that there is to know. But you can give them a strong foundation when you teach the classroom theory, and then the basic skills required to do that job. You have properly motivated someone, if when after they have left your class they continue to learn, to drill and train, and to develop.
Let’s face it… Some of us come across as military drill instructors, either from past experience or from the projected idea that this is how it is done. It is important to let the students know that you are approachable, and that you care about their development and absorbing as much of the course content as possible. Whether they are paying for your course, or they were assigned to your course, you must treat them as the internal customers that they are. That being said, that does not mean that you go soft on them, or they get the certification just because they may have paid to be there. That degrades our craft, and is outright dangerous for all parties involved. Look for an article from me on this topic in the future.
Desire to be an instructor:
This applies especially to those who are seeking that full time role. It is one thing to be an “in-house” instructor, where you are still assigned to operations and running calls. It is an entirely different animal to make the transition to a full time training position. Trust me on this. The work schedule changes, the job responsibility changes, and there is less of the camaraderie and adrenaline than you have in the station. You have to WANT to be the very best that you can be. This applies to either type of instructing. You will never take a class again, if you keep finding bad instructors who act as if they do not want to be there.
Ability to Adapt:
This includes learning all you can about the subject that you are teaching, but also means finding ways to relate the material to your students in ways other than what the book says. You had better know how to think on your feet. I have known some amazing firemen in my career, but some just cannot teach what they know how to do. Not everyone is brought up the same way, and we all learn differently. Just because you were taught a specific way, does not mean that you are successful in delivering it the same way.
Reinforce the idea that training is where we make the mistakes:
It is said that some people do not like to train because it will show everyone how much they do NOT know. Mistakes on the training field or in the classroom are where we can take these and use them for learning and comprehension. It is the basic principle of Cause and Effect. Of course, we must monitor these to ensure that safety in training is always of the utmost importance. The real world is an unforgiving place, and even when we do everything right, sometimes things go badly. It is crucial to drive home the message of the VALUE of making mistakes in training. I have made many mistakes in my career, and will continue to do so. I just do not repeat the same mistake twice.
Do not BS:
Seriously, when a student asks you a question that you do not have the answer to (Trust me on this…it happens) do not make it up if you are not completely sure. This is one of the fastest ways to lose all credibility with your students. This can take you from a perceived subject matter expert to a complete fraud in a matter of seconds, in the eyes of your students. If you do not know, you can tell them that. But reinforce it with telling them that you will find out what the correct answer is. WARNING: Follow through is critical here! Do not just tell them that to blow them off or buy time. There are some who may criticize you for not having all of the answers as an instructor. I do not believe that anyone knows everything. Research the right answer, and then pass it along in the manner you deem appropriate.
Regarding hands on skills abilities…you had better be able to perform. There are several old sayings that would be appropriate here, but “Practice what you preach” is probably the most relevant. If you are teaching a ropes and knots class and cannot tie a bowline knot, then there is a problem.
Above all, be a good student. Try to place yourself in a student’s position before you teach a class. Know what you would want to get from it, how you would want the instructor to interact with you, and how relevant the material is going to be. Find ways to inspire and motivate students to continue learning after they have left your class. After all, we are all brothers and should continue sharing knowledge and experience with each other to help us operate as effectively as we can.
Know how to deal with classroom distractions, and don’t become one in your own class.
I took a class a few years ago where one instructor started the class. On day three, after all of us had acclimated to the instructors teaching style, and our surroundings, a guy opens up the door in the middle of the lecture, and strolls in wearing a hula shirt, cut off cargo shorts, and flip flops. Needless to say, we were all pretty shocked that someone would just interrupt an ongoing class that way. We were informed that this would be our stand-in instructor for the next few days, due to a family situation. The next day, that new instructor showed up in professional attire, but now we all needed to adapt to his teaching style, compared to the previous guy. And to say that they were different is an understatement. One instructor would read E-V-E-R-Y, S-I-N-G-L-E, W-O-R-D (making those 160 slide presentations really painful), while his colleague would interject a (somehow relevant) story about a scenario from 1982 after every slide (also making a 160 slide presentation very painful).
Knowing how to deal with distractions from your students, without in turn becoming one as well is a craft all of its own. If you have a student who is actively disrupting the class, and you call them out on it every 30 seconds, but don’t remove them from the learning environment, then you are creating as big of a distraction as the “attitude problem”. And yes, this includes the Know-it-all attitude in your class when they want to hijack your class. Find a way to deal with it, without punishing those who actually came to learn. Sometimes a bit of validation goes a long way with this type, or sometimes you may have to take a class break, and have a word with them, that it cannot continue.
Get out of the PowerPoint slides.
Firefighters don’t learn by PowerPoint. They learn by actually doing. But if the slide presentations are kept to a minimum, are relevant, and don’t try to teach an audience all they will ever need to know about the theory of swinging an axe, then I’m not opposed to them. But, KNOW your presentation. Put good info, or illustrations up on the screen, but get the class to focus on you. They will get a lot more out of the class, and you will be surprised at how much of a connection you can make. If you’re the person who never looks up from your Instructor Guide book, or you teach by reading the screen out loud with your back turned on the class, then it’s time to brush up on some solid instructional techniques. That presentation is not intended to be read word for word. Otherwise, we could just email that presentation to people, do a completion record, and that’s all she wrote. People attend classes to have an interactive experience. Many times, students can learn as much from each other, as they can from the lead instructor. That is something that is unique for attending classes, as opposed to online training or PowerPoints.
Are you ready?
How many years on the job do you need to have? How many fires under your belt? How many??? The answer is not simple. Yes, experience does, in many cases, demonstrate credibility. But it’s only the perception of credibility. My advice to someone who wants to teach, is to approach your appropriate officer about it. Start small. Teach an in-service session on a topic that you know well, and are passionate about. From there, move into more in-depth training that lasts a full day, but not multiple days. If you survive this experience, and you get positive feedback from your students and peers, then you’re probably ready for a multiple day class. Like anything else, it’s all about the progression of things. Go too fast too soon, and you may have a less than ideal experience which can lead you to never wanting to do it again. And learn how to take constructive criticism about how to improve your delivery techniques.
Being an effective fire instructor, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to be sure to leave the fire service better than we found it. But only if you’re dedicated to that ideal completely. I hope to take one of YOUR classes one day!
As this is my first article for the Station Pride movement, I thought it would be fun to write an article in a question and answer format. I’ll leave it open for people to ask more questions. Anyone who has aspirations of becoming an instructor, working overseas in the fire service, or wanting to know more about how things are done in other parts of the world may find this interesting. Anyone who has worked as a firefighter or an instructor “ on this side of the pond”, will likely be shaking their heads, laughing and/or experience PTSD flashbacks.
What is it like to train firefighters overseas?
Instructing outside of the United States is certainly as educational for the Instructor, as it is for many students. Moving so far away from home is never easy, and leaving the majority of your own culture behind is even more difficult. Factor in the differences in fire service culture, mindset and language or translation barriers and you’ve got a little better idea of just the tip of the proverbial iceberg regarding issues that you can run into.
The issue of communication is certainly a big one. While almost all of my students here are well versed in the English language, despite coming from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Egypt or Morroco, their version of English, or the true comprehension of it, can be lacking. What gets fun is having guys from Canada, South Africa, Australia or the U.K. and then trying to get on the same page with them. Either way, it is rare that you find someone who doesn’t speak even the most basic English. What gets difficult is putting things in technical fire service terms and getting non-english speakers to understand it.
For example: Ever had the debate with another fireman from the other side of the country about what a pike pole is called? To some, it’s exactly that, to others is called a hook. However, in South Africa it’s called a Preventor. As in, it prevents the ceiling from collapsing when you use it to remove the ceiling from above you. Imagine if you will, three firemen standing around arguing about what the name of the tool is and what it’s design is for, only to discover that it is used for the same tasks in all three countries…just called something different. We all immediately started laughing at how silly the whole thing is. Jacket vs. Tunic, Nozzle vs. Branch, Apparatus vs. Appliance, Vest vs. Tabbard. Needless to say, we all learn a lot from each other, have a few laughs and give each other a good ribbing, just to pass the time.
What’s up with that “euro gear”?
Without a doubt, it is nothing like anything we would use in the NFPA system. It has its benefits and its drawbacks. I’ll start at the helmet and work down.
The helmet style, often referred to as a “space helmet” or “helicopter helmet” is produced by several manufacturers that include MSA, Rosenbauer and others. It is thermoplastic, like some of our NFPA helmets, but has no brim off the rear. It has a neck curtain that attaches at the bottom to help protect the neck. It also has two separate eye/face shields that stow inside the helmet. My experience with it has not been positive, as it is extremely hard to hear anything except the sound f your own voice, and it retains an incredible amount of heat inside the helmet. It should also be noted that many of our students are fascinated with our U.S. traditional style helmets, and agree that they are of a much better design.
The nomex flash hoods are very similar, if not identical to ours.
The bunker jacket (often referred to as a tunic) is very light weight. In fact, I own North Face jackets that are heavier. It is extremely thin, and offers minimal thermal protection and even less water resistance.
The bunker pants ( referred to as trousers) is made of identical material. However, there are no pockets on the trousers, and they fit a bit like I suspect skinny jeans do on European men.
The boots are actually quite good, and offer a lot of support and have an athletic quality to them.
Finally, the SCBA ( referred only as a BA) is manufactured by Drager or Scott, but is to European standard. There is no gauge on the cylinder, and there is no way to tel externally if the cylinder is full, or empty. There is no integrated PASS alarm, and the external PASS systems are very quiet in comparison to even our older NFPA rated stand-alone systems. All of the buckles are thermoplastic. The cylinders are not much different in construction than ours, but there are some differences.
All of this being said, before you find yourself shaking your head with a triumphant smile on your face that NFPA is superior to our neighbors across the pond, you have to bear some things in mind.
Like their fire apparatus (referred to as a fire appliance) their PPE is constructed to mirror their tactics. Yes, contrary to popular belief that European firefighters do not make interior attacks in structure fires, they do. They just do it under a different set of guidelines than we do. And why shouldn’t they? They’ve been fighting fire for a lot longer than we have. Also keep in mind that their building construction is a lot older and heavier, and that the fuel load is of the legacy type. Something that we in the US are just beginning to understand with the help of NIST/UL.
What type of fire apparatus do you use?
The local fire departments use a variety of equipment, and span nearly a dozen or more manufacturers. Currently they operate Metz, Rosenbauer and Bronto aerials. For engines they primarily use Scania or Mercedes commercial chassis with Metz, BAI or Rosenbauer boxes. ARFF is exclusively Rosenbauer Panther crash rigs. However, our training facility uses new Oshkosh Global Strikers. The ruler of the country here has mandated that all fire equipment and tactics start to convert to NFPA. It is a slow process. As Qatar, as well as much of the region has only had it’s independence from Britain for a relatively short period of time, it’s very difficult to get them to change over. But it is happening. Some other Arab countries are already doing it. In fact, Saudi Arabia is roughly 95% NFPA compliant as of January 2015.
What are the strategy/tactics like?
What our NIST and UL research has taught us in cooling the environment before making entry, is not exactly cutting edge tactics. Many European departments began doing this a long time ago. The concept of “hitting it hard from the yard” has long been the tactics of departments outside of the US. What makes the NIST/UL research unique is that it PROVES it to be beneficial with science. I know, I know. I can hear some of you groaning already. But you simply cannot argue science, provided that the scientific evidence gathering is, well, scientific. Read that word as valid or sound.
What makes a lot of US firefighters groan about it, is that it’s not as “manly” or “aggressive” as how we are accustomed to doing things. We prefer to “take the hit” or “make the push” and “go for the grab”. (Insert your choice of catchy FDNY wannabe fireman speak here). Please don’t misread that last statement. Before you lose your collective minds over it, I mean no disrespect to the phrases, the FDNY or to our US fire heritage. I AM referring to the firefighters who like to simply use the catch phrases to sound more like a fireman. The bottom line is this boys and girls: it’s 2015. It’s time (and long over due ) to take a serious look at how we do things.
All of my students here wonder how and why we kill as many firefighters every year in the US. The fact is, it is truly amazing when you stack up the amount of firefighter LODD deaths from the US compared to that the rest of the global fire community. Now before you techies out there take to the internet to try to either validate or invalidate this comment, bear in mind that we have many more firefighters in the US than other countries. Statistically speaking, this is not hard to understand. But the way that we are dying at incidents (not including cardiovascular emergencies, which we all know is the highest cause) is still much higher than the global average.
NFFF, NFA, IAFF and IAFC (among many others) have amazing and effective initiatives to help bring the average number of yearly LODD’s down from 100.
We have made incredible strides in firefighter safety. But we still need to continue to take a hard look at our tactics, our PPE, and our overall effectiveness to get the job done. Notice that I didn’t say to make the job safer. I have heard too much of that my entire career, and am sick to death of it. I found myself screaming in my bunk room at Lt. Ray McCormacks FDIC speech in complete agreement. I had colleagues coming in to see what had me so worked up. I admired his courage to finally say it in a public forum!
Truth be told though, we are finding that the way that we used to do it, in some circumstances, was actually the right way, even way back then. The 2 ½” line, the smooth bore nozzle, the tactics of “making that push”. But we’re also finding out the hard way, that we’ve been wrong in a lot of areas as well. And our brothers and sisters have paid for it in blood.
But NFPA is really better than British Standard, Right?
Here’s the bottom line: Throw 100 firemen from 20 different countries in the same room together. Assuming that they can all communicate with each other, I would bet a years salary that they would all agree that there should be only one standard for firefighters to follow. They all would agree that there are too many standards that govern equipment, apparatus, PPE and tactics. Where the fist fight would start, is determining whose system to adopt globally. We all know how stubborn firemen can be when it comes to change. And how impossibly stubborn we get when we’re told that we have to relearn something that we learned 10 years ago…or 10 days ago.
Truthfully, the British Standard way is not as crazy as it all appears. NFPA could learn a thing or two from that way of doing things. And we have. Know where the NFPA 1901 reflective chevron requirements came from? That’s’ right… departments all over the world were using this to bring higher visibility to their apparatus decades ago. That NFPA 1500 requirement to use high visibility safety vests on highway incidents? Yep… you guessed it. They’ve been doing that across Europe for years too.
So what is the best way?
In my humble opinion, the Brothers (and Sisters) in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries like Japan, Singapore and the Philippines have got it pegged. They have waded into the quagmire that one can easily find themselves in regarding these two standards, have extracted the best of both worlds, and finally used some good common sense to apply it to the areas that they serve. I am in constant amazement from these firefighters who really research what is going to be best for them. They have a healthy respect for both standards, and their respective places in fire service history.
All of that being said though, the entire world is watching our NIST/UL research. No one else on the planet is conducting scientific research like this. And they are learning as much from the data and research as we are in the US. If you don’t hear Bob Dylan’s voice singing “the times, they are a changin’” then you simply aren’t paying attention.
What is your biggest challenge as an instructor over there?
There are two big ones:
- Fire Service Culture
- Cultural Values and Differences
This is sure to make for an interesting topic for my next piece, but to simplify it for now, you must understand that the fire service in many other parts of the world is not looked upon favorably. In many ways, there are a lot of similarities in how the culture here treats it’s firemen, and emergency services in general, to how the US treated it’s firemen and police officers around 120 years ago. It does give me hope, that one day, hopefully with the introduction of the NFPA system, that one day soon, the overall culture here will realize that these men should be respected for the oath that is so similar to ours in the US.
So, that concludes the question and answer article. If you have any more follow up questions about any of the above, or you have new questions, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll get to you just as soon as I can.