As firefighters, we are asked to provide many types of services. Firefighting, EMS, hazardous materials, rescue, and other tasks that are usually menial. We respond when someone needs help standing after a fall, getting cats out of trees, and removing storm debris for hours on end. We teach CPR to local organizations, fire safety to children, and assist elderly residents with installing smoke detectors and vitals checks. We commonly refer to this as “service” when in reality these are “services.”
Service is not the duties we perform on a daily basis. Service is the art of putting others before yourself. Service is not a cheap buzzword to be used in mission statements or administrative meetings. Service is at the heart of our obligations. It refers to our heritage and tradition. It encompasses the meaning behind our craft as a whole. We are the “fire service.” Service is defined as, “an act of help or assistance.” This is what we do. This is how we make our mark in the future.
We serve three distinct groups of people. First, the obvious, our community. To serve the community we protect, we must continually strive to improve. If we fail here, we provide a disservice to our department and the name of all those who gave their lives in service. If we take our position for granted, we fail to help those in need. Our lack of preparation leads to a failure to provide assistance to those in distress.
The second group of people we serve are our fellow firefighters. My biggest fear is allowing one of my men/women to perish, knowing I could have done more to prepare them. When we fail to ensure the safety of our crews, our citizens, and ourselves, we perform a disservice. This disservice has a butterfly effect on the daily life of everyone we come in contact with.
The next group we serve are our families. We serve our families by making sure we are using effective, functional knowledge to ensure our safety. When a firefighter dies in the line of duty, they feel no more pain. They are burdened no more. But the lives and actions of their family, friends, department, and community are changed forever. They bear the burden of the loss, they feel the hurt, and they reap what you have sown. All too often we act as if everyone owes us something. Before you react, remember that you signed the dotted line. We asked for this job. No judge sentenced us to time in the fire service. We chose this line of work for a reason, and if you have any sense at all, it’s not the benefits. We are the ones who owe something. We owe our families more than just making another 24. We owe our brothers more than watching how to save his life on YouTube. We owe our community more than learning search procedures from an IFSTA manual. We owe these people. We owe our children the right to have a father growing up, by embracing the facts……We can be called to meet our maker at any time. We must exceed the status quo. There are too many amongst us that are not prepared to face adversity. I cannot and will not allow myself to become complacent in my “service.” I will serve others with a tenacity that scares the mediocre. I will not allow the opinions of others to affect my service to my brethren, community, and most of all, family.
It’s an honor to serve. It’s an honor to respond in a time of need. Don’t let disservice be how you are remembered for your service.
Bremen Fire Rescue
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.
Our daily lives are completely reliant on decisions. Before we awaken, we have made a decision. Are we rising early to prepare for the day, or did we decide to sleep late and run behind? We decide to come to work on time or early. We decide to prepare ourselves physically. We decide to display pride in our craft. We decide to meticulously inspect our equipment, or we decide to do the exact opposite.
Did we decide to be lazy? Does drinking coffee and checking our Facebook take precedence over preparing to save a life? Does reading the latest article on celebrity gossip trump the duty you have to your brothers, to ensure you are not going to endanger them? Do we decide to spend more time armchair quarterbacking the decisions of others than making the right decision to drill our personnel to the point in which they cannot fail?
These decisions leave us at a crossroads on a daily basis take the easy path….or the right path. A friend of mine uses the saying, “The beaten path is for beaten people.” This is the heart of what’s wrong with the fire service as a whole. We’d rather concede and give people an excuse than hold them to a higher standard. That’s a decision in itself. Unfortunately for some, a difficult one to make. It should be automatic for us.
Every morning we should make the decision to go upstream, against the current. We must decide every morning not just to survive, but to thrive in a world where most would fear to go. Our job is to protect lives on both sides of the cross. If we choose the beaten path, we make a conscious decision to take the easy way out, to run the risk of having to live with ourselves knowing we allowed someone to be unprepared for the dangerous line of work we have. At no point, can we allow ourselves to let laziness be the order of the day.
Instead, we must DECIDE to awaken with a purpose. DECIDE to prepare for the worst possible scenario, physically, mentally, technically and spiritually. We must decide to make basic skills an autonomous response to stress. We must ensure we can make sound tactical decisions. This comes from deciding to prepare accordingly, deciding to prepare for your preparation of the unknown. As for me, I have decided that moderation is for cowards. I have decided that stronger people are harder to kill. I have decided that I will not waiver from my standards and expectations. I have decided that I will train with the intensity necessary to perform at a level higher than others. I have decided that I want to be the guy with the hard job, the crappy gear, the guy who can do more damage with a Halligan than most can with hydraulic tools. I want to be the guy everyone looks up to when the shit hits the fan. That’s my decision.
So, gentlemen, the day is yours……what did you decide?
In today’s fire service that is ruled by the almighty dollar, staffing reductions and lack of membership response have created a unique set of challenges. Regardless if your department is career, volunteer, or combination, we have been tasked with doing more with less. Less funding, less equipment, and less staffing. The mission statement of my department states in part, “…meeting the needs of our community in Fire Prevention, Fire Suppression, Rescue Operations, and Emergency Medical Services.” Nowhere in that mission statement did it say we could merely approach the needs of the community because that is all we could do with the staffing and equipment we have. We, as the fire department, are still expected to solve every problem that is thrown our way. In order to do that, we must adapt and overcome. We change our tactics and operations to incorporate the increase in responsibility and decrease in staffing. The most common “change” that has been made is to operate with a crew of 3 personnel on engine companies. While this is no doubt less than optimal, it is very attainable when you become extremely effective through training and practice. My department has taken to this change by creating riding positions that are followed on each alarm. A three-person engine crew has a driver/operator, an officer, and a nozzleman. Let’s look at some specifics of each position and how they interconnect to accomplish our mission.
The driver/operator of the engine is one of the most important and complex positions to fill on the fireground. There is an abundance of activities that need to be done in rapid succession and without them, the efforts of the crew will fail. The driver’s responsibility starts before even leaving the station. The driver/operator should drive the apparatus wearing bunker pants. This affords the driver greater flexibility once on scene; something we will cover in depth later. The driver should know the location of the alarm, the route to take to get there, and the hydrant location before he/she leaves the station. Trying to understand directions yelled over a blaring siren while trying to anticipate the reactions of the other drivers on the road will lead to confusion, missed information, and inattentive driving.
Once in the area of the alarm, the driver should approach the scene in a way that provides the officer with a view of three sides of the structure before the truck comes to a stop, if at all possible. This will help in the speed of the 360 size up since three sides have already been visualized from the front seat. The driver/operator needs to position his engine either past or short of the address building, leaving adequate room for the ladder/truck. Always take into consideration the orientation of attack lines and lengths. Know how to judge distances, and don’t park so far away that you make your attack lines ineffective. Positioning the engine is something that you only get one chance to do correctly. Once the engine is in pump gear and lines have been stretched, you can’t move to give the truck more access. Take your time and make smart decisions. Do it correctly the first time.
The driver/operator needs to be able to quickly disconnect the supply line and attach it to the pump panel. While this is being done, the officer will be completing his size-up and the nozzleman will be stretching the line. The driver/operator should then help the nozzleman stretch the line past obstacles and chase kinks. Remember, there is no backup man with a short crew. Once the officer and nozzleman have readied themselves, the driver should charge the line when called for.
At this point, the driver/operator will be the only member on the exterior of the structure. This makes him the only level of safety for the members operating inside. By driving in bunker pants, the driver/operator is already half dressed. The driver should stage the remainder of his PPE to include an SCBA together in a location close to the engine but out of the immediate work zone.
Until the arrival of next-in companies, the driver/operator is the initial RIT. This may necessitate quickly donning full PPE should something go wrong. Having it all together and staged makes this a quicker event in a time where every second counts.
Every engine in the fire service carries at least two ladders. Those ladders do no one any good when they are left on the apparatus. The driver/operator should throw ladders to the upper floors on each side of the building and the roof in the position of greatest benefit. If your crew has found the seat of the fire and the truck is still not on scene yet, you should perform coordinated horizontal ventilation to make the conditions inside more tenable. Remember, if the engines are short staffed, most likely the truck is short staffed as well. Use your time and energy wisely to create the best possible advantage at every opportunity.
Re-check the Charlie side. Make sure conditions haven’t changed or something wasn’t missed in the initial size up. The operator must be the outside eyes and ears for the officer on the inside. Be able to judge progress or lack thereof by the conditions that are presenting themselves outside. Understand building construction and be able to read smoke to ensure interior reports match exterior conditions.
Above all else, it is the job of the driver/operator to get the nozzleman water and to ensure a continuous water supply. You, as the driver/operator, need to know your apparatus inside and out. You need to know which valves open which lines without looking. You should be able to operate your pump blindfolded. Know the sounds that your pump makes when the line is flowing fully open, when your tank is nearing empty, and when the crew is having difficulty regulating nozzle pressure. By being able to judge these actions by sound, you can perform other critical functions away from the pump panel and still be able to correct problems quickly.
The officer of the first-in engine sets the tone for the entire incident and is looked to for guidance and leadership throughout the incident. As soon as an alarm is received, the work of the officer begins. The officer needs to know the address, be able to tell the driver/operator what route to take to get there, and locate the closest hydrant. This needs to be done before leaving the station.
Once on scene, the officer needs to give a detailed and appropriate size up. This size up paints the picture of the scene and allows later arriving units the ability to envision the conditions encountered by the first arriving units. This mental picture will allow them to perform a quick assessment of the progress the first engine is making on the fire. No size up is complete without a 360-degree survey of the scene. By instructing and training your driver to pull past the address, when appropriate, you already have seen three sides of the building before you even get off the truck. Your size up can be easily completed by running down the Bravo or Delta side and looking across the Charlie side. As long as you can see the opposite corner of the building, you do not physically need to walk completely around the building. If the rear of the building has an addition or a wing projecting from the Charlie side, then you need to continue to a point where you have seen every side of the building.
With a short crew, traditional Incident Command is not possible. You cannot stand outside and send your nozzleman inside by himself. Pass command, or at least give instructions to the next-in companies over the radio at the conclusion of your report before heading in with the nozzleman. The next-due officer can assume command or can relieve you when they arrive. You will do more good for the incident operating inside then you will standing outside giving assignments.
You, as the officer of the short-staffed crew, become the “utility player” of the team. Not only do you have to perform the normal functions of the officer, but you also need to pick up the responsibilities of the forcible entry firefighter. For this to be effective, you need to be proficient at forcible entry. Your nozzleman is relying on you to create access for him to stretch his line to the fire.
The single most important responsibility of any fire officer is to ensure the safety of his people. This is paramount. Safety of firefighters is reliant on many factors, some of which are a solid risk vs. reward benefit and a thorough understanding of building construction. Both of these components are interdependent. The type of construction will determine how long you have to work inside the building before it becomes unstable. Modern construction is made of lightweight wood and pressure plate connections. This type of construction has a very short resistance to fire. It will fail quickly and possibly all at once when exposed to direct flame impingement. With today’s furnishings inside of the houses made up of polycarbonates that burn hot and fast, the amount of time it takes for direct flame impingement to reach the structural components is relatively short. Couple that with the increased time of notification, response of membership and turnout time. Most fire departments are arriving within minutes of flashover and collapse.
As the officer, you need to perform a solid and thought-out risk vs. reward assessment before putting your people inside these buildings. This assessment needs to take into account the time of day, occupant status and advancement of the fire. If there is nothing to gain by placing your people in an immediately dangerous situation, don’t put them there. It is your decision as the first-in officer to allow your members to enter a structure on fire or hold them outside and go defensive. Don’t let your pride in being a super aggressive company get someone killed, alternatively, don’t let a scary fire stop you from saving savable lives or property.
The third and final position on the short-staffed engine crew is the nozzleman. The nozzleman is the one who will be doing the main work inside the fire building. For this reason, the nozzleman needs to be highly trained and competent. As the nozzleman operating without a dedicated backup person, you need to know your job and do it well. It takes tremendous discipline to complete the tasks assigned to you regardless of the surrounding circumstances. ALL problems on the fireground go away once the fire is out. Therefore it is imperative that a line gets stretched to the seat of the fire quickly and efficiently. For this to happen, the nozzleman must be proficient in pulling lines by himself. There won’t be anyone available to help stretch the line, so the nozzleman must be able to manage the entire pre-connected length by himself without assistance. This is not something that comes easily or naturally; it takes a lot of practice. Take the time to learn how to and practice stretching lines by yourself.
Just like the other members of your crew, you as the nozzleman need to be able to judge distances and know the capabilities of your lines. Know your district, know your equipment and practice constantly. Always err on the side of caution, and pull a line that is longer than you need. Remember, each floor of the building between the entrance door and the fire will take up 50 feet of hose, and you should have 50 feet available to you to make the room of origin. Add that up, and you are at 150 feet for a two-floor house not counting any setback you might have, such as a front yard. Make sure you pull a line that is long enough to cover the distance and still leave room to overcome any unforeseen obstacles in that process. Nothing will have a more detrimental effect on the operation as will stretching a line that is too short. Overshooting the lay is better than stretching too short.
Along with stretching the line by yourself, you will have to operate it by yourself too. Understand the nozzle reaction that will come from the line. Be able to overcome that nozzle reaction and force it to work for you not against you. One of the most common hose/nozzle configurations, a 1 ¾” hoseline with an automatic fog nozzle designed for 150GPM at 100 PSI creates approximately 75 pounds of back pressure. Anything over 50 pounds of back pressure will be difficult to overcome while still being effective. There are ways to overcome this reaction, though. Be comfortable using the walls, doors and furniture as your backup. By placing the line between your leg and the wall, a portion of the nozzle reaction will be passed on to the wall and therefore will lessen the amount that you will have to withstand. If possible with the layout of the building, create an “S” configuration of hose in the hallway. The more surface area of hose you have contacting the ground (friction), the less reaction you will feel.
While stretching the line through the building to the seat of the fire, you should also be searching the areas around you. Remember that all members of the crew need to constantly be multi-tasking and making the best use of their effort. It takes no extra energy to search the area immediately around you while you are stretching the line down the hallway and through the rooms. Obviously, this doesn’t apply if you are fighting your way down a hallway engulfed in fire, and don’t put the line down to search. If at all possible, take a moment before opening the line to use the light of the fire to look around the room. You may notice things you wouldn’t otherwise. Above all, remember that all problems go away when the fire goes out.
As members operating on a short-staffed engine crew, you need to be proficient in all aspects of the job, collectively and individually. As the fire department, we are looked at as being “Jacks-of-all-trades” and we are expected to handle any and every emergency thrown our way. We have been entrusted to protect the lives and property of the citizens we serve. The conditions that we work under will not be getting better any time soon, nor will the amount of staffing increase. We need to take it upon ourselves to overcome the challenges that are thrown at us. By utilizing the positions and operating as a cohesive group, a short-staffed engine can still be very successful and effective.
– Tim O’Connor is a Deputy Chief and Training Officer in a combination company in New Castle County, Delaware. He has been in the fire service for 14 years and has held various positions during that time. He is employed as a Firefighter/EMT in a combination department.
The coupling of transitional attack and SLICE-RS together is a complete fallacy that is bringing a poor light on a tactic that has legitimate value on the fireground. Transitional attack is a means of attempting to control the fire, or in this application, knock it back enough so that crews can transition into the offensive mode. I make no apologies when I say that SLICE-RS is a means to killing the civilian, which was obviously unintended, but desperately needs revision.
For those that are ready to tar and feather me for saying this, let me ask you a question. In what world does a firefighter put the rescue of a civilian at the bottom of the list? You can tell me all day that our safety is paramount, to which I will adamantly disagree. We have a dangerous job that we volunteered to do; no one held a gun to your head and forced you to apply to the fire department (career or volunteer). We are asked from time to time (some more than others), to do dangerous stuff because that is what we are expected to do by those who are helpless at their worst time. That doesn’t mean be reckless and unaccountable; there are thousands of departments that are wildly successful at taking risks everyday in order to protect civilians and their property. How are these departments successful? By developing a culture of aggressiveness through training, which creates buy-in, and will automatically force out those who are not willing to perform at the same level.
I, by no means, deny the science behind the live burns in the UL/NIST studies, but a house prepped for a 1403 burn is not the same house that we are responding to at 3am with people trapped. We do not remove all non-class A combustibles before we go to a job, we don’t create our own flow path via interior set up before our jobs, and we don’t know the extent and location of the fire as we would with a live burn. In turn, I am skeptical of a lot that is produced from “Principals of Modern Fire Attack” studies.
Everything about our operations should revolve around the simultaneous rescue and fire attack operation. Transitional attack is a very viable option as a first due officer completes his size-up. A very simple, “Hey get some water on that while I do my 360” is a transitional attack providing the crew goes offensive once the size-up is complete and conditions dictate that be the appropriate course of action. Frankly, I am tired of seeing photos and videos of a 1200 sq. ft. home with one or two bedrooms off, or hell, even fire in the attic, that caused the entire home to burn down because it, “doesn’t fit our department’s survivability profile” and we aren’t going to risk anyone getting hurt. Again, we do a dangerous job and we are expected to take risk.
When we as a service create an acronym, you’re essentially creating a step-by-step list for the firefighter to follow. When we as a service make everything an acronym, we’re calling ourselves dumb. I want a firefighter smart enough to analyze what he is seeing, and not just check-marking down a list. We can teach a seven year-old how to throw a ladder and how to open the bail of a nozzle, but the difference between an adult and child (other than shear strength and size) is the ability to think critically and apply critical thinking. Acronyms have created a mass application of tactics that aren’t meant to be mass applied to every fire we go to. Just because it’s a thing, doesn’t mean you should do it. The role of acronyms in any setting (educational, professional, firefighting, etc.) is to help aid a person in remembering a specific process.
What this fire service needs is the revival of the thinking fireman and the “pass it on” aspect of the senior man. After speaking with a mentor of mine this past weekend (an engine company officer at a fairly large Florida fire department),it was his assertion that the blue collar roots of this profession need to be placed at a higher value, to which I totally agree. This doesn’t mean we should not attempt to gain higher education, it just means that our priorities should be focused on having a workforce that is highly proficient at the basics before anything else. One example of a “system failure” is that we still have firefighters who are unable to operate a 2.5″ line due to poor education, technique, and line management. This is unacceptable. We need to boost the levels of department training, not to satisfy ISO, but to create and breed a culture of firefighters who are confident in their skills, abilities, and fellow firefighters in order to best protect the community as a whole.
If your department places their first priority on anything other than the people you are sworn to protect, I encourage you to start asking questions and help change the culture. “Me first” has never been the motto of the fire service, and I’ll be damned to see it happen.
– Zach Schleiffer
Ok, so when I started writing with Station-Pride, I made it very clear that I wasn’t going to write any kind of operational, tactical, strategic article, ever. Because I will admit it, I don’t know it all. Shocker to some guys I work with…you boys hush.
But today I watched a video of a respectable department in a medium-large city that were defensively fighting a very obvious total-attic fire in a 2-story brick/wood-frame residence. None of the pics I attached are related to the video mentioned. There was no visible fire involvement on the first floor and minimal smoke on the second, but they had a tower ladder or 2, flowing “big water” into this attic, as more firefighters than on my whole department were walking around the front yard.
Obviously, this was a tactical decision made by incident command, who most likely had a lot more information than I did from the video, but it brought up a big question.
I am in NO WAY “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” this event. I just use it as an example.
When we were young, and we tried to get into the fire service, most of us were asked, “Why do you want to be a fireman?” Many of us probably said something along the lines of, “I just want to help people.” I believe this is what we would say because that’s all we knew to say.
Pretty basic stuff. Simple…… and perfect. At what point in the growth of your career did you decide that if there weren’t a life to be saved, you would sit back and watch a building (somebody’s home, mind you) burn to the ground as you attempt to turn it into a swimming pool?
We are taught about salvage in the academy. According to the IFSTA manual, salvage is an “after-fire event.” But why?
When my great-grandfather was a fireman, they salvaged personal/important belongings DURING firefighting activities. The video I saw showed an entire first floor of someone’s home being ignored and flooded because two floors above was on fire. Again, I obviously don’t know the whole story from just a video, its just an example.
Most fire departments have a motto or a mission statement and in that paragraph, it talks about saving or protecting more than just lives. It’s re- assuring to the citizens in our response districts that we will take the risk to treat their home and its’ contents almost as important as their lives. That includes salvage during the fire event. If we filled a whole house full of water damage when the fire was through the roof, what have we done? Created a “total loss” for the insurance company, and forced the residents to lose more property than necessary. Not just property, but memories and sentimental objects that may not be readily replaceable.
Are departments short-staffed and behind the ball from the time the tones drop? You’re damn right. Across the nation, we’re fighting a short staff issue but that does not mean we don’t have a job we have promised our citizens we would do. If some departments wrote their mission statements based on past factual practices, I’m afraid some of the public would lose confidence in their local fire departments.
The decision to use a couple of members as a salvage team during the fire may not seem glorious, but it falls on the IC to make that call. Train with your crews with the explanation of; “try to save what you can. Clothing for the kids, picture albums, veterans flags… If you see vehicle keys hanging on the wall, maybe even a laptop or computer tower.” Trust your men/women to accomplish the very best they can when you make that assignment.
If your home had a fully involved room and contents fire, what would you want to save from another room in the home?
I live in a relatively small home. If we have a room on fire, I want some dedicated men and women to save, to the best if their ability, things that my kids will need to live out of a hotel room with while we recover.
Growing up, I got to see what the fire service is really like. I can remember my first ride in a fire truck with my dad when he was a Lieutenant. I remember the adrenaline rush that I felt as my dad would blast the Federal Q, and drive me around the block. The feeling that I can’t wait till I’m older, and I get to sit backwards and go to a fire one day. I will never forget that awesome feeling that I had inside of me that day.
As I grew older, I joined the Fire Explorers when I was 14. My love for the fire service grew tremendously. I always looked forward to going to every Thursday night meeting and getting to learn about the fire service, and how it began. I didn’t only learn how to operate the tools, flow water, do a search, or run EMS calls. I learned about the brotherhood. What an awesome feeling it was to know that I have a second family that is always there to support me. A family you can come talk to when there are problems at home. A family you can have fun with and spend time with each other’s families and kids. And most importantly, a family that will always have your back at your worst moment in life. Growing up with my father in the fire service and being an Explorer with the same department he was at, I was able to see how a brotherhood was really supposed to be.
As I graduated high school and moved onto fire school, I was able to establish a greater brotherhood with my classmates of Class 1102. Sharing memories together, constantly studying, and going through the toughest parts that fire school had to offer. After graduating fire school and getting hired on the job, I started noticing a change. The brotherhood didn’t seem to all be there. I noticed that some people only want this job for the money, and not for the love of the job and helping others in their community. I also noticed that some of our own brothers and sisters don’t even care about each other. It’s sad to think where the fire service started and where it’s at today, when it comes to the fraternity of the fire service. It’s like we are one giant soap opera, just one
issue after the other. People always complaining about policy and procedures, brothers and sisters talking about other brothers and sisters, and even going behind each other’s back’s and back-stabbing one another. I started to become sick to my stomach when I started seeing what was really going on and it saddens me to see that it has come this far.
Brothers and Sisters,
It’s time to wake up and realize what this career is really about. This isn’t just some job you come to because of the money and the benefits. This isn’t a job where you can come to work and cause mischief and turmoil amongst each other and tear each other down. This is a LIFESTYLE, a CAREER, that is much bigger than some “soap opera”, or some job that you think you’re getting great benefits from. When you choose this profession you better be all in, or nothing. This is a career, a lifestyle, that you live day-in and day-out and devote a third of your life too. Come into work and love to be where you’re at. Love this job and train to become the best at your profession. If professional athletes can train every day to become good at what they do and love their job at the same time, then so can we. We have to train like a professional athlete and become better every single day and not just sit around on a recliner and hope you’ll do it right when the public really needs you. Ignore the Soap Opera, ignore the negativity, ignore the ignorance that people have towards this career and become the 1% who will go out and make a difference in the fire service and show others how great this career really is. Join the movement and take pride back in your station and your career. Show the weak and broken that this is the best job in the WORLD!
– Christopher Intartaglio
As children, we are taught to think for ourselves. We are taught subject matter, quietly, in a classroom setting. We do our homework alone before we can go hang out with our friends. And then, we are tested in a silent atmosphere. I would have never thought I would be involved in a career that would have me thinking, learning, teaching, and doing things as a group, team, or platoon. This career is unique, and it takes a special person to accept the calling.
So what are some important job functions we need to do as a team?
In the academy, I was told the only two things we do as an individual in this career is put on our bunkers, and use the restroom. Quite frankly, I’ve been in situations where both of these have been falsified. But only because I’m in the company of my brothers. Only because they are family. And as family, we need to watch each others back’s. We need to warn each other of the dangers, and the situations we are getting ourselves into. And as teams, we need to work together.
Many group topics come to mind, but one of the most overlooked is the planning stages of incidents prior to us ever receiving the call. Pre-planning our attacks as a company, should be done before the alarm ever sounds. We are looking for the dangers we’d have while in a non-emergent setting so as not to be surprised by them on the fireground. This way, they are already known when the fire comes in at 3:30 in the morning and the Grim Reaper is staring us in the face when we walk in the front door. Pre-plans are especially more important since the construction boom of the early 2000’s and lightweight frame is now becoming the norm, building after building. But just because the construction is becoming the same, are the hazards the same? Are the hazards the same today as they were back in the 80’s and 90’s, when some of these buildings were last inspected and walked thru by the 1st due company? Are the firemen that were involved back then still in your department today? Probably not…but that would be only one of many reasons why we should be walking through these buildings and knowing what’s inside prior to our initial dispatch. Fire inspections, building codes, and fire suppression/notification devices just fix the tip of the iceberg. Next time you go to an automatic fire alarm, or medical run in an unfamiliar building, give the maintenance guy a shout. Ask him to take the “nickel tour”. If not, it’s their right, but if you can, it could be the difference between yours or your crew-members’ life. Get out there, and go get it!
– The “Irons”
Most volunteer fire stations have one. You know that one guy? He’s usually found wearing EMS uniform pants with trauma sheers, maybe a roll of medical tape, sporting a fire t-shirt while strolling Walmart’s auto section. He’s equipped with a duty-belt containing a mounted medical glove pouch, CPR mask key-chain, several Minitor pagers, a scanner, mini-Maglite, rescue knife with window punch and… you get the picture. He’s a walking Fire Store catalog.
He’s, sometimes, known to spout off NFPA codes, fire truck specifications, pump calculations and he knows everything there is to know about fighting fires and saving lives. But it’s likely this guy has done little of either. I know you’re aware of the type. This guy is lovingly, and ill-fatedly referred to as Ricky Rescue but may also answer to “Whacker,” “Yahoo,” and the transverse “Rescue Ricky.”
Believe it or not, it takes a special person to be Ricky Rescue. It’s not for everyone, but they fill an important void among people of our kind. Ricky Rescue is usually young and a little green with an over-enthusiastic affinity for firefighting. Ricky possesses the kind of enthusiasm we wish all of our firefighters had for the job but yet he lacks the humbleness of not flaunting the image and ultimately causing eye rolls. Ricky Rescue strongly values the public’s ability to immediately recognize him as a firefighter, and not just any firefighter…the best firefighter there ever was.
There is a sad psychological story that is playing out in the life and mind of Ricky Rescue, and perhaps I’ll cover that in a Part II, but for now… What do we do with him?
I’ve witnessed several of these characters throughout my career, and I’ve noticed avoidance among officer’s to manage these folks. Most leadership tactics I’ve witnessed involve suppressing these individuals, poking fun at them, holding them back from doing things, ignoring them, and basically trying to make them go away. Let’s face it, more often than not Ricky Rescue’s energy level is higher than most people can tolerate.
The short answer is to lean into them instead of shying away. Ricky Rescue needs a patient mentor, but one who will give him a long leash. Ricky Rescue has loads of enthusiasm, spirit, and energy so why not put that to good use? Giving Ricky individual tasks such as polishing everything or simple fire service research may not be enough. Task Ricky Rescue to the hilt. Give him a project or make him responsible for something and see what he does with it. I’m willing to bet Ricky will surprise you. You could make Ricky in charge of chrome, or have him research new extrication tools and present his findings. Ricky would probably love to update the district maps and is dying to help you organize your filing cabinet. If your inbox is stacked with things that can be outsourced why not give them to Ricky. If his product isn’t good enough to use, then coach him a little or don’t use it at all. Would you like to start plugging away at NFPA 1500, Ricky?
I know what you may be thinking here. “This is pretty cruel.” But I know from experience this method is a win-win. A Ricky Rescue needs to be kept busy. The busier he is, the less trouble he is causing or, the less he is annoying everyone. This works because Ricky gets to be a part of the successful operation of the fire department by actually having responsibility. It’s likely that nobody has ever trusted him with anything. This leadership tactic will help Ricky mature as well as fill him with a sense of much needed prideful satisfaction in that he’s actually helping. Ricky will be so elated about being a part of the operation that he wouldn’t dare give you anything less than his best.
Bear in mind, this tactic only works with a long leash. Give him a project and a brief explanation of what you want the outcome to look like and let him run with it. Allow Ricky to work through the particulars in his own way, you’ll be less frustrated, and he will feel like he’s trusted.
There are a few Ricky Rescues that are merely in it for the T-Shirt. These folks will give themselves away pretty quick. If the work your Ricky Rescue is giving you happens to be less than acceptable or he is slacking, perhaps you have a dud. A dud Ricky Rescue takes a lot of work, and in the end, you can only polish a turd so much.
All-in-all Ricky Rescue needs strong coaching, mentoring, and peer assistance. Turning your Ricky Rescue into a useful member of your department is a thoughtful process and one that takes a little planning but in the end, it’s worth it!
One thing that everyone in the fire service needs is pride, and the best part is… it’s free and it’s inside everyone. Some take pride in their wealth, success, rank, etc. Have you ever walked into a firehouse and seen bare walls and ask yourself why there are no pictures oranything showing the history of the department. There’s a good chance that there is a lack of pride in that station. It is also a slight possibility that the administration or powers that be don’t want things on the walls but I highly doubt it. Pride is all about putting pictures on the wall, whether it is pictures of incidents, events, pictures of personnel or inspirational posters. Another great idea is hanging old department equipment on the walls, find an old pike pole, clean it up, make it look good, and hang it up. Find an old hydrant from your district, paint it up and display it in the corner. If your firehouse has bare walls ask if you can do some research and find some meaningful things to hang on the wall. Take pictures of the crews after calls, trainings and community events.
As firefighters we need to take pride in the job, our equipment, our department and ourselves. If you don’t care what your duty boots look like then I can guarantee that the rest of your uniform reflects your boots. If you don’t take pride in yourself then I bet your apparatus is dirty and not taken care of very welleither. We need to take pride in every aspect of our job even if it doesn’t feel important. We need to take pride in our tools, keep them clean and take care of them. You might not have the newest and greatest equipment, but deal with what you have andtake pride in it. Sharpen your tools, clean the handles and inspect them on a daily basis. Take pride in your hose loads, no matter the time of day or night, rain or shine make sure to rack your lines with pride. If you load your lines sloppy then they will pull sloppy. When it’s time to go to work the last thing you want is a pile of tangled mess in the front lawn. Take pride in your equipment; clean the apparatus at the start and end of shift even if you didn’t turn a wheel. That piece of apparatus is expensive and the way it looks is a direct reflection of your department. Have pride in your station and never bad-mouth your department. Remember that someone in your city, district or town saw something in you and hire you. So take pride and be proud of that.
Pride is contagious. I have seen it happen. I guarantee if you polish your boots before the start of each shift then others will follow suit. If you take care of the equipment and tools others will also. Set an example and see what happens. If you have pride and show it then others around you will want to do the same. If someone doesn’t want to show pride then that’s on him or her, just keep doing what you know is right and never compromise your integrity. It doesn’t matter if you are a volunteer or a career firefighter you should have pride.
P – Professional (Be professional no matter if you are a volunteer or career)
R – Respect (Respect the senior person, yourself, the job, your equipment and your department)
I – Integrity (If you don’t have integrity then you have nothing)
D – Dedication (Be dedicated the job and love it)
E – Example (Be an example to others and your pride will catch on)
Stay safe brothers and sisters. Get your Pride on and be an example to everyone around you.