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How White Is Your Shirt?

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.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy Photo
Photo by Andy Molloy

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. 14322610107_6eea8c488d_bIt’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

 

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10 Deadly Sins for Fireground Failures – Part 2

Please refer to 10 Deadly Sins for Fireground Failures Part 1 here.
So here we are, already through 5 of the “10 Deadly Sins of Fireground Failures” and we haven’t gotten to the juicy stuff yet. In our line of work, we need to conduct ourselves in the most professional manner. We are the men and women who are called upon to not only save a life, but to also do any job that is encompassed in the job description of a Jack-of-all-trades. Whether it be 3 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoon, we need to be as ready as possible. Some call it ‘Combat-Ready’ others call it just being a firefighter. But how many times has the scene fallen apart around you? How many calls have you been on where it got much worse before it got better?

second 5 deadly sins
Well, as we continue the 10 deadly sins, please keep this in mind. We are here to do no harm. We are called upon to make the situation better. We are bettering the scene, and ourselves by not committing any of the deadly sins. Sometimes we need to prepare beforehand for what could occur during an emergency, and that’s why we train. Train hard and train often. With that being said, let’s keep going.

 


LACK OF PREPARATION

 Anything can happen on a fireground. We need to be ready for everything, plus anything else that can get thrown at us. Without our training, we’re a carpenter without tools.dont practice until you get it When we started, each and every one of us took an oath to help and assist in any way possible. It doesn’t matter if it was to the community, your family, or to yourself. We need to strive to better ourselves so we can abide by that oath, and return home after every tour of duty. If we don’t prepare, we won’t be ready. If we aren’t ready, it’s our own fault. Don’t be ready for anything, ALWAYS BE READY FOR EVERYTHING.

 


 LACK OF EXPERIENCE

The Brotherhood is one of the best aspects of our service. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we signed up for. Like every tool we have, it can have it’s advantages. One of the best advantages we have is the older members of our departments. Although some of them are tired, and over the excitement of running calls and screaming down the road, they are seasoned. They are a perfectly cooked steak that is waiting to be cut into. A seasoned veteran that spends their entire career gathering information is full of knowledge and know-how. Ask them. They know what they’re doing. All you have to do is ask an old salty dog what their biggest fire was. They will be sure to have a huge, ear to ear grin, as they speak about the scene of the most hectic, heavy fire they have seen in all their years. They need to be asked. Not only to get the experience from them and pass it on to the newest generation, but also to finalize their career.

Old firefighter

Whether volunteer or career, every firefighter goes through a series of phases. The beginning is when they are getting the very basic info (fire academy). Probation provides the means to get on-the-job experience, while still learning the job and how it works. The middle of the career is a slack period where the fireman betters him/herself and gets further education (either advanced fire/EMS classes or degrees). The hardest to cope with is the end of a career. The phase that occurs when the firefighter realizes they aren’t as young as they once were, and how they need to start passing it along to the new, young members. Before every Jake hangs up his helmet and coat for the last time, they need to reflect on their career. It provides excellent training to the membership, and finishes closing the doors to an invigorating line of work.

 


INABILITY TO FORECAST WORSENING CONDITIONS

Along with experience, comes that hidden sense to detect what’s wrong and what’s right. Whether it’s in a fire, or on a vehicle accident on a highway. A firefighter must always have their head on a swivel, and detect the possibility of worsening conditions. There are many situations that could arise, but detecting them beforehand is much better than to have to deal with the consequences later.

 


INATTENTION TO DETAIL

This one is mainly for the IC. Inattention to detail for the sake of this article is in reference to having too many radio channels that need to be attended to, and not being able to hear/understand all radio traffic. Another portion of that would include the ever-so-frequent radio transmission that no one understands, and everyone on scene is looking at each other, scratching their head, with the “what did they just say?” look on their face. Hopefully it wasn’t a MAYDAY. Hopefully it wasn’t a, “We’re out of water” transmission.

 


All in all, every department is different and run by different people of the same title. Our main goal is to provide the best quality of care, in the worst imaginable of times. We all have the same end goal in mind. Stay safe, protect property, stabilize the incident, and make sure everyone goes home. Every single one of us can find something that needs to be fixed along our career path. For the tenth deadly sin, I ask that each of you look at yourself. Find at least one sin that you need to fix, that could potentially ruin a fireground’s production rate. Let’s all take the time, and better ourselves, before something happens that can have disastrous consequences. It’s awfully easy to arm-chair quarterback a fire on YouTube, but it’s all irrelevant if you can’t do the same for yourself. In the end, it makes you a better firefighter, and it gets you to take the time to provide some self-realization in what can be fixed. We can change a lot in the big picture, just by making small adjustments in our own lives. Stay salty.

– The “Irons”

 

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10 Deadly Sins for Fireground Failures – Part I

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More than once, each and every one of us have been on a fireground that was absolutely chaotic. Whether it be in a state of disarray from the get-go, or operations were going smoothly and control has been lost due to one reason or another. That is the question. Do you remember the last time you were on a fireground that everything went smoothly? Those are the ones that stick out in my mind more-so than the scenes that were complete chaos. A fireground with no problems is almost thought of as a unicorn. One that is always dreamed about, but is never seen. For the purpose of this article, we will use the word “never”, and think of it as “seldom,” or “hardly.”   We will also use the name Joe Schmoe as your brother in battle. Joe has the best intentions,  he doesn’t always do the right thing at the right time. Poor Joe. We all have one, it’s up to you to know who he is.

 

After a lot of thought and tribulations, I have compiled a list of 10 Deadly Sins that are reasons why there are failures on the scene of an emergency. Whether it be EMS, Fire, rescue, or TRT, if any of these items occur, there could be an absolute break down in progress.

 


 COMMUNICATIONS

How many times have we been on a fireground Tac-channel, and “Joe” is on scan?   Better yet, what about when he hadn’t changed over to fireground operations at all? We all want to smack that guy, just to get his head in the game, but it happens. Now, what if Joe was the OVM, and interior attack is screaming for vent? What if he needs to bump up the pressure on the line?  Joe better get his act together! How about the good ole’ fashioned battery chirp.  The one that comes at the absolute, most inconvenient time while operating at a scene? Yep, that breaks down communication because not only can you hear the annoying chirp, but so can everyone else on the fireground. Trust me, we are all looking to see who “that guy” is.
 
 


 MANPOWER

Whether career or volunteer, getting personnel to the scene is a logistical nightmare.  Volunteers can never predict how many bodies will respond, and career departments sometimes don’t have the funding, and are operating at minimal or under-staffing. It’s a double-edged sword. A good incident commander can overcome this by performing the correct job functions, at the correct time. Mutual aid can be considered, if not for the incident itself, but for back-filling your empty stations. At least get them coming. They can be cancelled later, if they aren’t needed. Luckily, manpower is one of the easiest sins to overcome. You’ll see why when we get to the rest of them.
 


COMPLACENCY

Joe doesn’t need to wear his full PPE on this AFA activation. It’s always a false alarm. Does false alarm mean the same as unknown activation? Or should I say, does an unknown reason for activation constitute a false alarm?  Without going into tactics, I would bet most would say PPE, and investigate, investigate, investigate.   We all have our Joe’s, but this one should never happen if we strive to call ourselves professional firefighters.   If we were plumbers, wouldn’t we want to be the best damn plumbers out there? So we can get more clients, and make more money?  Well it’s the same for the fire service.   Go to work, DO YOUR JOB, and provide the highest level of customer service possible to get the job done correctly the first time.  And don’t go back to the scene later in the tour, just because of your own fault, Joe!

 

phonto

 


TOO. MANY. CHIEFS. (We all know what C.H.A.O.S. stands for…)

Now this one isn’t going to make me popular with the white hats, but it’s not always their fault. A leader can be anyone in the organization, from the bottom to the top. It takes that one special person to pick up the reigns and plow the way. With that being said, sometimes we don’t need idea-creators. We need workers. We need the collective coordination of ideas to come from ONE person, on ONE radio frequency, at ONE time. The confusion doesn’t usually come from having too many tasks, but rather, having too many people giving their own personal opinion about what should be going on at any given time. Too many plans at once is much worse than in a coordinated effort (Plan A, Plan B, Plan C…). This way, there’s no arguing, and no personal agendas that are left unfulfilled. Both of which create poor attitudes, impatient subordinates, and grudge-matches. And Heaven help me if I say the term “micro-manager.” I’ll leave it at that. So for the sake of keeping the scene running as smooth as possible, and the sanity of the members operating, remember why our officers are where they are. They are leaders. Not any Joe Schmoe can just jump in and take the helm. Let them lead. And on the other hand, let everyone do their respective job, and don’t jump in unless it’s not being accomplished.

 


FREELANCING & TUNNEL VISION

I combined these two because most of the time, they go hand-in-hand.  Let’s go back to bashing on Joe for a little while.  Joe just started with the department and it’s his first real fire.  Eager, and ready to work, he gets off the truck with his mask donned.  While grabbing his tools, pulling his line, and running to the front door, what does he see?  Our buddy Joe Schmoe sees absolutely nothing but a foggy lens, and an outline of a front door that he thinks he’s kneeling in front of, awaiting orders from his boss.  His boss is conducting a 360 and securing utilities.  Joe gets excited and goes inside to fight the beast.  Joe is currently spiraling downhill into the depths of the unknown.  Joe never read the smoke, never got a size up of the building, never received orders from his Engine Boss, and never even knew the house wasn’t on fire to begin with.  I’m not here to preach why freelancing is bad. We all know what happens. Joe continues to act out, and we all sit here and talk about him.

 

 

 

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