It’s on the internet, it must be true!

Whenever I hear someone speaking of mentoring, I usually have two different reactions. The first is, “Hey, yeah, those are some good points”, the second is sometimes, “Who does this guy think he is, Brunacini?”

Just as with a lot of the stuff we see on Facebook and other medias, how do we know who we are taking advice/direction from? I know, I run a page myself, and amazing-spider-man-2-stills-spidey-as-a-firefighterI’ll probably ruffle feathers, but really. Where and how do we set the mark for what we take as gospel and what we dismiss as radical ideas bordering on the ridiculousness? Luckily, I have had a mentor for the 18 years of my career and have been better because of it. But just like any good friendship – we don’t always agree on things. We have had a couple of really good arguments over the years, however, cooler heads prevail, and we always end up back where we started.

I think that there are some great articles out there. Some pages do more to teach and instruct than others do (not going to shame anyone.) I guess what I am getting at is to pick your “online mentors” carefully. I started a page just to speak my mind from time to time and give others a place to do the same. Not to provide any earth-shattering new firefighting wisdom. That is the beauty of the age we are in, and the curse. Anyone, anywhere can just log in, create something and start sharing with the world. It is up to you to weed out the weirdos, and those that are looking for ego-stroking “Likes”. They sometimes use catchy phrases, Interwebs 1cool videos and free crap. It’s hard to do, but you need to be able to distinguish between entertainment and things of real value. I think that in the end, we as professionals (career AND volunteers) can see through the cloud of BS, and these guys will end up revealing themselves. Our fire service community will police itself. The purpose of real training is to make you think. If you can have a genuine thinking session while reading or watching something on this jewel we call the interweb, then maybe it’s legit.

No one ever said you have to train only at the station or only while on shift. I do a lot of stuff independently. Sometimes that is what works best for me. The internet is a great supplemental tool for you to gain other views and see how things are done elsewhere. Don’t let the interweb be your guide. In the end, find yourself a “real” person to talk with. Someone that you will respect during this new relationship you will forge together. You probably have already thought of them as your mentor, just haven’t had the guts to ask them. So take that step, and begin the rest of your career. Be safe, have fun ~ K

Kris Hester – Firehouse Kitchen Table –


Preparing For The Worst, Hoping For The Best

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?

Prepare for the Worst 2

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 Prepare for the Worst 1known 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”


Certifications or Toilet Paper?

Is that a certificate of excellence or is it extra toilet paper?

Many or most firefighters, volunteer and career alike, hold multiple certificates. It’s a sign of the times, we have too many titles now and cross train in order to serve our public. There are no more specialist or elite teams. For example, I hold a Texas Commission  on Fire Protection (TCFP) Firefighter Advanced,  EMT – INTERMEDIATE, Rope Rescue 1 & 2, Confined Space Rescue 1 & 2, TCFP Driver Operator, TCFP Instoilet-paper-022 copytructor 3 and Texas EMS Instructor. Many guys on the dept I work for have some, if not all, of those certifications including Hazardous Materials Technician. We are no longer specialist,  we have to be proficient in all fields at the drop of a hat. It’s not possible to be expertly proficient in each area.

Education and training breeds confidence in yourself and your team while also maintaining proficiency.  Does having so many titles harm the fire service or does it make the fire service as a whole the “Elite”?   911 tends to be the people’s scapegoat, it may be defined as abuse sometimes. 911 is the way out of many situations people find themselves in daily around America. The fire dept, most of the time, is a catchall of the “emergencies” that are hard to define under a specific response group and we are expected to answer the call with bells on so to speak. Therefore we train. We train for everything and throughout a career in the fire service a fireman will obtain little pieces of paper that declare he’s awesome at any given subject or at least, was at one time.

In my opinion the “specialist” firemen are the people who continue to train on the subjects they have learned. The jobs that we have range far and wide from just squirting water and again we are expected to perform at the sound of the bell.

Ok, so there is the WHY we train, but what about the quality of that training? The type of training can range anywhere in-between the boring slide-show to the hands-on killer class. 1201_041 Certificate of Completion WELCH_fff outlinesThe QUALITY of the class or training session itself is the responsibility of the instructor and the students. It’s the attitudes of the men and women in training class that will subsequently prove to be the basis of the quality of the training session. If piss-poor attitudes are prevalent in class than even the most dramatic and top knowledge PowerPoint will be disappointing. The same goes for hands on training. The best classes out there will be terrible if the attendees don’t want to be there and don’t respect the instructor.

Instructors, it’s your job to make the class informative. Secondly, the class and the knowledge from the class has to be easily accessible to the men and women that are going to be attending. Lastly, the information has be put into practice, hands on skills training is the  type of instruction most firefighters strive on.

So all those certificates that say, you as a firefighter are good at what you do, the ones you hang on the wall or shove in a drawer, the classes you attended 1 hour ago or 10 years ago, do you live up to those expectations or should you use them as toilet paper?


The Fire Officer No-Win Scenario

Should candidate Fire Officers be required to face a Kobayashi Maru style exercise?

For the Trekkies out there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For everyone else; The Kobayashi Maru, also known as the No-Win scenario, is a fictional test given to cadets attending Starfleet Academy in the popular science-fiction series, Star Trek.

The exercise involves a realistic simulator that mimics the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. The cadet is acting as Captain of the Starship and is tested on his/her decision-making abilities undernowinscenarios1 pressure situations.

The Kobayashi Maru is the name of a Fuel Carrier with 300 crew-members aboard. The Carrier is sending a distress signal after sustaining heavy damage from hitting a mine in the Klingon Neutral Zone. The cadet has the ability to save the crew of the Kobayashi Maru, but in order to achieve that they have break a treaty, which triggers the arrival of three Klingon warships. It’s a “No-Win” scenario because it’s programmed-design makes it impossible for the cadet to simultaneously rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru while avoiding a skirmish with the Klingons and still get out alive. The cadet has the moral dilemma of breaking an interstellar treaty with a hostile force to save the 300-person crew at their own possible demise or sit and watch them perish from the safety of their ship. Either way, people die and it’s not possible for there to be a positive outcome.

The idea of the exercise is to provide prospective Starfleet Captains with a scenario that is designed to have no winnable solution. In essence, you are expected to fail but it allows you to decide, or at least have some control over, exactly how you fail. The objective is to subject the cadet to a stressful scenario that will test their ability to process life and death moral dilemmas. The end result of the test is irrelevant. The test itself is intended to judge the character of the prospective Captain who would be expected to make these difficult decisions if promoted. In this case, it’s the thought behind the Captacrew copyin’s decision that holds the most weight, and frankly, there isn’t a defined passing or failing thought process. It’s a pure judgment of character.

Captain Kirk didn’t believe in the “No-Win” scenario. He actually had to cheat the test by reprogramming it in order to win during his third attempt.

Should Fire Officers be required to face a “No-Win” scenario before becoming certified or labeled qualified? I think they should. The Kobayashi Maru is a solid way to measure one’s decision-making abilities when faced with a barrage of obstacles.

In 2008 I had the privilege of taking Fire Officer II at the Connecticut(CT) Fire Academy (CFA) located on the backside of Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. I say privilege because I’ve previously attended fire certification classes at TEEX and likewise Alabama Fire College(AFC); I can say without question that Connecticut runs a very progressive Fire Academy and I feel as if the curriculum is light-years ahead of their counterparts. Not to say TEECT fire academyX and AFC are bad schools by any stretch, the education I received at both was top notch and the instructors were incredibly knowledgeable. However with that said, at the end of CFA’s Fire Officer II class was a simulated practical that mimicked the intention of a Kobayashi Maru.

As I recall, one of the scenarios was a 2 or 3 story brick nursing home that had been renovated a few times. There were water supply issues, rescue challenges, manpower and mutual delays, as well as bizarre construction features. It didn’t matter what decision I made, there was always an obstacle or a reactionary problem from my command decisions. It was nerve-racking to say the least and my mind was racing a mile a minute. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get ahead of the scenario. It was frustrating and pushed the limits of my incident command abilities as well as my emotional intelligence.

CFA’s Kobayashi Maru had a panel of 3-5 well-experienced and knowledgeable Chiefs, hand-picked, from a few of the larger cities in the area. It was an intimidating group for this young up-and-comer and you knew you were on stage. The panel would constantly question my thought process but never elude to whether I was doing well or failing miserably. After making a command decision, all five heads would turn down towards their notepads and they would begin writing feverishly. The large screen in front of me projected the simulation. This was only a simulated incident, but you could definitely feel the heat.

I realized years later while completing my Bachelors degree that Connecticut’s Kobayashi Maru style exercise was meant to test my resolve and my ability to make appropriate decisions under pressure. Decisions that I was required to reasonably justify in front of a panel okeep-calm-and-kobayashi-maruf experts. I am thankful to have had that experience and I’ve never forgotten it. It was clearly evident that the Connecticut Fire Academy takes the task of training it’s Fire Officers very seriously and rightly so.

I’m not sure if the CFA still provides Kobayashi Maru style simulated incident command practical evaluations, but I hope they do, it was valuable and eye opening.

I firmly believe it should be a requirement for Fire Officer candidates to undergo a Kobayashi Maru in order to evaluate their ability to make decisions appropriate for the situation. It also provides valuable educational insight if they are ever faced with an incident of that magnitude. The practical itself, although a test, turned into an incredibly valuable learning experience.

I firmly believe that having to demonstrate your ability to lead a rapidly evolving and risky incident prior to becoming a fire officer is imperative to upholding the responsibility of possibly having to lead people to their potential, even if unintended, deaths. Your thought process and decision making abilities should be put in the hot seat and scrutinized. It’s an awful large responsibility and a heavy weight to carry if you think about it too much.

Of course and as always, aside from the Kobayashi Maru, general on the job experience and performance evaluations of prospective leaders will develop the necessary skills that successfully lead firefighters into battle. Over the course of working shift together, everyone gets the general sense of how you process information. Firefighters should be able to anticipate the decisions of their leaders most of the time.

The way most of us learn to command an incident is by taking ques from the white helmets we work for. Firefighters soak up experience throughout their careers which helps prepare them to face Kobayashi Maru type incidents. But shouldn’t that experience be put to the test before they are faced with making those decisions?

Does you’re State, academy, or department require a Kobayashi Maru?

Definition: Kobayashi means “small forest.” Maru is a common suffix for Japanese seafaring vessels. Maru by itself means “circle”.

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The Art of Leading Ricky Rescue

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!