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?
This product review is in no way, shape, or form influenced or swayed towards one side or another. It is strictly my perspective on what I believe in this product.
“When Things Go Bad, Inc. is a firefighter training company that has committed to deliver realistic training since 2005. WTGB teaches throughout the country at conferences and fire departments alike. All instructors share a level of energy that is motivating and contagious to the students. We here at When Things Go Bad are passionate about FIREFIGHTER RESCUE & SURVIVAL. The motivation for these Train-the-Trainer DVDs are to get this paramount information to as many firefighters as possible. Let us not allow our brothers and sisters to perish in vain. We do not rise to the occasion; we sink to the level of our training. Learn practical Firefighter Rescue & Survival tactics from experienced instructors on the When Things Go Bad training DVDs.”
I have known some of the instructors at When Things Go Bad for quite a while now, some of which are on the job in the same county as I am and are fellow F.O.O.L.S. brothers of mine. I’ve known them for a few years, but only recently have they become involved with Paulie Capo and his company. I personally called Paulie to ask for something unrelated to this when he mentioned he was looking for “the right website” to do a product review for his 5-disk DVD set based on Rescue & Survival.
I told myself, “When you have someone like Paulie Capo asks for you to review his product, you had better say yes!”
I opened it up and found the 5 DVDs, which were separated in their own individually photographed DVD sleeves and shrink-wrapped. Each topic/chapter was labeled on the back for ease of searching.
Each chapter skill was created by When Things Go Bad to remember and honor someone that was in a situation of needing its use. Just to name a few, some of the included skills are window lifts & ladder carries, the Denver Drill, high anchor/hauling, flat & peaked roof removals, firefighter stuck in a roof, the Nance Drill, the Naked SCBA Drill, Calling the Mayday, Disentanglement & Low-Pro Maneuvers, Rope & Ladder Bail-outs, What’s In Your Pockets, and Drywall Ladder Climbing.
This DVD set is by far one of the best resources available for training at the firehouse. We have all had our share of “Fire Porn,” but this feels like more than a training video. From senior members to rookies, I have found that every person I had shown this to brought something valuable away from it. When I got time to start the video in my firehouse, it took a few shifts to get through all five disks. Not because of length, but because of the lack of available time we had to sit down and watch them.
On the first shift, we got through the 3 Rescue DVDs. The rookie I had that day told me he was incredibly lucky to have learned some of the techniques in the academy, but he still just took away more than half the material for the first time. He was excited to get out to the engine room to practice putting some of the material to use. He was able to quickly learn, retain, and repeat the hands-on skills he just saw on the DVD set. With excitement, he realized that he could move victims and firefighters quicker and with less effort than ever before in his short career.
The second shift we watched Survival. I had a different firefighter with me who has a couple of years under his belt. I got the initial feeling that he wasn’t too sure if this was his cup of tea. He didn’t give me the vibe like he was going to take anything away from it. After the first chapter, he got into it and started some conversation with me about some of the calls that the skills were created for. I told him about the importance of having an open mind when you train in these type of scenarios. Sometimes we get into the mind frame that we will never have to find our air pack in an IDLH atmosphere, reassemble it, and then don it. I get where he is coming from… We will usually not have to enter a burning structure and locate our air pack. But, we may have to locate a downed firefighter that just had a massive event occur, and they need help troubleshooting their SCBA due to a displaced bottle or a loose connection with an air leak. This is why we train. This is why we do this. Disentanglement props are only as good as we can imagine them to be. Yes, we can cut every wire and not have any entanglement hazards. But this video gives us four different ways to escape from this scenario. Open minds will win versus closed ones. Open minds about training will prevail and make you a better firefighter.
After seeing these two firefighters learn from these videos, I realized that I learned just as much. What I knew already, I was able to reinforce in their minds by setting up the hands-on portion. The items that I learned, I take with me each time we roll out the door to the next emergency.
These five DVDs are an absolute asset to your training cache. It isn’t “just another training tape.” It is formatted and taped in a manner that makes it interesting and professional. When Things Go Bad has hit the nail on the head this time and I know they have much more to share. Their cadre of instructors are making a name for themselves and have taught at events such as Firehouse Expo, FDIC, Fire Rescue East, Wichita H.O.T., Fort Lauderdale Fire Expo, & Orlando Fire Conference.
Interview Questions with Paulie…
What made you start When Things Go Bad?
“I took firefighter survival/rescue classes and got a passion for the level of competence needed in that realm. After a lot of self studying about it, I had a local fire instructor ask me to come up with a presentation”.
It began with a couple guys without any official t-shirts teaching at someone else’s firehouse to starting a company.
“I didn’t intend to start a training company, the training company started itself. I just named it.”
Who are some of your biggest mentors?
Jim Carino 33 year Squad Driver in City of Clearwater
Jim Crawford – Assistant Chief of Operations (Retired) – Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire & Founder of www.rapidintervention.com (no longer in service)
What are some of the classes you provide?
Rescue & Survival classes – two entirely different entities. We have classes for each separately.
Tricks of the Truck – Truck Company Ops Class – Classroom & Hands-On (Forcible Entry, Search & Rescue, Ground Ladders, Vent…along with many, many, many tricks)
Engine Co. classes
Who are some of the most important people to help you get to where you are today?
“I’m a student of the job – learning so many things from so many people.”
my wife, Kristie
my two children
and my late father, Mike, who taught me the business side of life that I had no idea of as a fireman.
What conferences has your company attended? (Just to name a few…
FDIC Class & Hands-On instructor for the last 11 years
Keynote speaker at this year’s Orlando Fire Conference and “Nitty Gritty Engine and Truck Workshop” with Bill Gustin.
Colorado Chief’s Conference
Along with many, many more.
Discount code for anyone that purchases from our link
10% off use code: stationpride
As firefighters, we have all had associates that we have looked up to. These are the type of individuals about whom you say, “I want to be like him/her when I get older, get promoted, or advance my career.” We look up to those individuals that have taken the time to work with us, show us the ropes, responsibilities, and prepare us for our job and our future. There are no better teachers in the fire service than the seasoned veterans who take time out of their days to educate and train us on the way the job was, is, and should be in the future. So this coming year, instead of just sitting in the dayroom complaining of all the things I would fix if I were in charge, I am making 15 New Year’s resolutions for my fire department. These are things that I can spearhead to address our issues while imparting camaraderie, fostering a team concept, and promoting an actual desire to be a part of a world-class fire department.
#1. – Squashing the “us against them” mentality:
This is the management against firefighter mentality that exists in virtually every fire department. How do we resolve this? We stop letting anger fester. The complaining while sitting in the day room, during dinner, or at roll call is counterproductive. As the adage states, “Misery loves company,” we are only defeating ourselves. We need to ensure we don’t talk bad about ourselves outside the department. Stop airing our dirty laundry. The community will judge you by your actions, the words you speak, and your perceived appearance. Instead, be proud to be here. You are now a member of the best fire department in the world; yours. This organization is built on the shoulders of the people before you. Leave the legacy that you would want to return to. Have a sense of ownership. While you are here, this is your family, your firehouse, your job, and a stepping stone to your future. I am going to represent my department in a positive light. I want to leave a good impression.
#2. – Creating a conduit to admitting wrong-doings:
Whether it is up or down the chain of command, whether it is a captain or a chief, this is a big issue; never admitting you’re wrong. So as a leader, don’t fall into that trap. Admit your mistakes, take ownership, and move on. Be a leader. A leader is a person who has integrity, vision, honesty, trustworthy, has a drive, and a commitment to achieve that vision. They have the skills to make it happen. As a leader, first and foremost, lead by example. Don’t expect your crews to do things you wouldn’t do. Instill trust in your crewmembers. Your crew will realize that you have their best interest at heart and they will be more likely to follow you into hazardous situations once you have gained their trust. This also applies to vehicle checks, station cleaning, morning stretching and planning the day. Be present and involved. You must not be afraid to make a decision. Whether it is the right one or the wrong one, you must be able to decide and justify it, if questioned. A decisive officer instills trust and leadership with the crews. I am going to do a better job of making informed decisions. When I am wrong, I will admit it, correct it, and grow from it.
#3. – Redesigning indecisiveness:
Taking too long to make decisions is considered a huge barrier to effective leadership. Just remember, as a leader, people generally would rather you make a bad decision than no decision. The low hanging fruit is easy to harvest. The regular business day decisions set the tone for the ones you make during emergency situations. Even if you don’t make the right decision, you can make the decision right. Plenty of talented people, even the chief, go to exhaustive lengths not to appear dumb. Let it go. We have the right to change our minds; you are not admitting defeat. You are simply reassessing the situation and processing new information. Similar to a hazmat call where the offensive tactics aren’t mitigating the situation. We retreat, call an audible and deploy defensive operations. I am not dumb. I don’t know everything. I am learning. (See? It wasn’t hard to admit.)
#4. Creating a vision and purpose:
A lack of vision and purpose make effective leadership impossible. Make a daily schedule. We don’t have to adhere to it by the minute, but it gives guidelines for a typical day in the firehouse. Just to figure out a general schedule for each shift. It could be a list of times for training, cleaning, others tasks, down-time, meals, breaks, free-time. This visual tool will bolster the dissemination of information to everyone. They do this in grade school to keep the students on task and promote punctuality. In a broader sense, we need to define our personal goals. To accomplish this, we can start by writing a list of goals you want to complete. It could be of any type; personal, work-related, relationship, educational, or financial. Make it broad or specific. Share it with your supervisor. The department defines expectations of you as an employee; provide them with your expectations. Leadership won’t know what you want if we don’t tell them. It also helps write a performance review. We could define our purpose and share our vision with the entire department.
#5. Constructing a foundation of discipline:
Trying to be a buddy instead of a boss makes it difficult to be a formal leader. A huge morale killer in the fire service: having to drag around dead weight firefighters that no one wants to step up and discipline. If the captain or the chief does discipline, but it is inconsistent or not standardized between the shifts/personnel creates a barrier to effective leadership. The purpose of discipline should be to enforce the rules and standards that are valued by management, provide feedback, reaffirm expectations, and promote fairness through consistency. It doesn’t have to be negative/involve punishment or be confrontational. We can discipline ourselves. Set clear, achievable goals and a reasonable timeline to help yourself meet your job expectations. Additionally, always offer support and guidance to coworkers. After all, we are a family. One of my failures is deploying congruent discipline to all of my subordinates. I will remedy this with clear, concise, obtainable objectives.
#6. Fostering accountability:
Leaders need to take ownership for their actions and decisions both up and down the chain of command. Hold everyone accountable. We are the best fire department in our town/city/county/state/country. We set the bar. We should be the organization that other departments want to emulate. We have the opportunity to be a great place to work, but it starts with trust, motivating your crew, and taking ownership. As a driver, backstep firefighter, or riding the seat; it is your job and responsibility to keep your office, apparatus, and office space clean. Learn what motivates your personnel and use those techniques to instill a sense of pride and ownership in the work we do. Polish your shoes, the chrome on the rig, and that badge on your chest. I am working towards leading by example, a good example.
#7. Organizing our standardized operating procedures:
The departments SOP’s must be readily available. Show me the SOP’s and make me read them. Read them out loud to me. Make me sign that I understand and have read them. Hold me accountable. Hold everyone accountable. Set the rules and make me follow them. NO EXCEPTIONS. Foster a consistent team. You set the tone. Complacency kills. Keeping a positive attitude during your whole shift will instill a sense of purpose and pride in the job that they do every day. Encourage people to remain positive and do things to cultivate that pride, ownership, and positivity. Put in the same effort that you want from people. Accolades and “Atta-boys” go a long way in recognition. It doesn’t have to be coins, award ceremonies, or bonuses. Just acknowledge the type of behavior you want to retain and inspire. I am going to stop focusing on the negative.
#8. Developing effective communication skills:
Ineffective communication hurts the public, your crew, and also the department. A leader that doesn’t listen isn’t approachable. One that is inaccessible will create barriers. If they don’t know how to articulate themselves, or they are socially withdrawn, the results can be devastating. Having effective communication skills is vital when it comes to leadership. Communications is more than just being able to speak and write. Communicating effectively means you keep your crews informed, when possible, of daily events that will affect them and the way they perform their regular duties. Nobody likes surprises. Make sure that you keep the lines of communication open. Open communication between you and your crews gains respect. I am going to do better by practicing my public speaking, mentoring more firefighters, and calling my mother more often.
#9. Be receptive and take input on ideas:
Another barrier to effective leadership in the fire service is acting like you have all the answers, you know everything, you don’t need input from anybody, and there’s no humility. People find it very difficult to buy into missions and visions they didn’t help create, so get input! It is our department too, let us be a part of it. Tap into experience. This administration perpetuates the notion that no firefighter is different than the other. However, we all have different experience levels and training. Tap into that, it is a free resource and gives people a purpose. Let me teach; let me share; let me impart my experience on another coworker. It builds bonds, trust, and opens an avenue for potential leaders that can rise. Don’t forget the words “please” and “thank you” when asking personnel to complete a task (outside incident operations). These phrases will take you a long way in respect and motivation of your staff. I will be humble, share my thoughts and ideas, and continue to foster an efficient team.
#10. Cultivating trust:
Now, I want you to think about this one for a minute because this is huge. Do you know what the most effective way is to build and maintain a high level of trust? Do what you say you’re going to do when you said you would do it and how you said it would get done. Let your words mean something. If people can’t depend on you, they won’t trust you. I read a great quote once, “Trust is a lot like fine China; once broken, it can be repaired, but it’s never quite the same.” It ties into the lack of personal morality. This actually causes followers to be very reluctant about standing behind a leader. If you demonstrate a lack of personal integrity, you will have a huge uphill battle winning the trust of your followers again. A simple way to exude honor is pride in appearance. Perception is everything. YOU ARE THE EXAMPLE. Dress the part. Practice decorum. The statement still holds true, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I believe one way I can nurture trust in my co-workers and my leadership is to solicit advice, counsel, and train with them.
#11. Sponsor effective training:
Train with your crew. Training is a vital part of what we do, now more than ever. Convey the importance of training with your crews. Make each shift a training day. If there is no formal training scheduled on a particular shift, take the crew out for driver’s training. Get the rope bag out and brush up on your knots or learn some new ones. Practice buddy breathing with your self-contained breathing apparatus. Practice a rapid intervention scenario. Practice putting up ladders behind the firehouse. Pre-plan a building that you’re not familiar with, discuss the layout, construction type, and the potential risks and hazards. Would a rescue be a concern, and if so, where and how would you deal with it if it happened? What are the exposures? Where is the nearest water supply and is it enough to sustain a prolonged fire attack? Would this be an offensive or a defensive incident? What hazardous materials do you need to address? The more you train with your personnel, the more comfortable you will be with them, and they will trust you as their officer. Remember, this profession is a team effort. Freelancing will get you killed. This comes back to complacency. I am going to lead more training, developing new training modules, and sign up for more classes.
#12. Encourage time spent with the troops:
Staff officers are sometimes viewed as out-of-touch with what’s actually going on in the station. This can create an obstacle and should be addressed immediately. Be a good listener. Be open to what your crew has to say. Take time to be a good listener. If one of your crewmembers needs or wants to discuss something with you, make a chance to do so. Save what you’re working on your computer, put your cell phone on vibrate, and assign another crewmember to answer the phone to take messages for you. Such behavior shows your personnel that you honestly care about your crew and what they have to say. This behavior also instills respect from your personnel. Being a good listener is probably one of the most important ways to inspire trust and respect in your personnel. We must not forget that we are under the watchful eye of the entire community. We must hold ourselves to a higher regard than the other departments. If leadership is embarrassed to acknowledge us, then the community will follow suit. All due to the examples that the leadership sets. Don’t ostracize our department and co-workers. Don’t ignore us. Every day should be an open house at the fire department. I have an open door policy, I eat meals with the staff, I offer greetings and handshakes, and you should too.
#13. Inspire free thinking leaders:
This applies to informal leaders who are attempting to share ideas. One of the obstructions to effective leadership in the fire service is there is not enough freedom for free-thinking leaders. Informal leaders are squashed, and supervisory or positional leaders are very threatened by them. There is a fear of retaliation. Regardless of their position, whether it was a firefighter, lieutenant, captain, or command staff, they aren’t free reigned enough to put their ideas out there or say what’s wrong, or what needs to be fixed because they’re afraid they will be retaliated against. People need to feel safe coming forward with their ideas, suggestions, and input. And if you’re the one coming forward, you need to do it with respect and humility. As a formal leader, don’t use your positional power to try to keep people in line. Use your positive influence, your vision, and your role model example. Be a supervisor. A supervisor is the team leader, overseer, coach, facilitator, and a manager in a position of trust. It is your job to make sure that work is completed safely, effectively, and promptly. I am going to hold a meeting with my staff to solicit ideas, concerns, and comments to take to the Chief. They work for me; it is my duty to work for them.
#14. Provide mentors in the fire service:
When people are thrown into positions, they’re expected just to figure it out, and it’s frustrating. It’s not just rookie firefighters who need mentoring. Officers & veteran firefighters need it as well. Everyone needs good mentoring and good role modeling to look to in the fire service for good leadership. As a mentor, don’t be afraid to relinquish some of your information, your duties, and your valuable knowledge to the personnel who will be following in your footsteps some day. That is how the next generation will learn your position. Yes, I said YOUR position. None of us are permanent fixtures in the fire service. I have worked with officers who are afraid that if their secrets get out, someone will advance in front of them, or worse yet, take all their glory. Remember, firefighting is a team effort. Not one single person can do this profession alone. A good officer is also a good teacher. Lead by example. This year, I am going to mentor more firefighters and I am going to seek out a professional mentor for myself.
#15. Nurture respect:
We should not be condescending. Rather, we should be approachable, friendly, and inviting. The city/municipality/town judges us regularly; not by the leadership, uniforms, or effectiveness to extinguish fires, but rather by that one asshole that runs his/her mouth at the bar, public gatherings, or on social media. Respect is earned! It doesn’t come with a uniform, position, or title. Remember that a leader must lead from the front. An officer should strive to better himself/herself every day. It is your responsibility to motivate and keep your people heading in the right direction. It is also your responsibility to keep yourself motivated, educated, and up with the newest trends, management, and leadership skills, as well as equipment in the fire service. Never coast along because it only hurts those who want to do a good job. Morale will suffer if you don’t care. Motivate your crew. As a driver, back step firefighter, or riding the seat; it is your job and responsibility to keep your crew motivated. Keeping a positive attitude within your whole shift will instill a sense of purpose and pride in the job that they do every day. Learn what motivates your personnel and use those techniques to instill a sense of pride and ownership in the work we do. I am spending 2017 making my crew, department, and myself better. I want to work for a world-class fire department, so with these 15 resolutions, I am creating it; a world-class department that I have always wanted to work for.
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.
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!
Push me. Motivate me. Make my brain work. Quit bitching. No more whining. SHUT UP!
I read a LOT of fire service related articles. I try to put myself in front of at least of one form of media that will make me learn a fire service trick, skill, or snippet of knowledge every single day. I love the science behind “truck & engine company operation” articles and how they keep the fire lit in my heart.
When I see articles about somebody’s opinion on uniforms, or an article trying to arm-chair quarterback an incident they had nothing to with, I get sucked in. I read it. I feel the low morale, distaste, and bad attitudes that evolve around those type of guys. As I snap out of that and escape that bitch-fest, I wonder what it’s like to work with that person.
A few years back, I was that guy.
I went to work in a terrible mood. I did the bare minimum shift-in and shift-out and bitched and moaned the whole time about things I couldn’t change. People hated to be around me, things were always against me and I hated work. I’ll spare you the story of when I pulled my head out of my ass and realized how much of a jerk I was being. But I will tell you that change had happened, and since then, I have had the best years of my career.
If you have nothing else to talk about besides your opinion on departments that wear shorts or t-shirts, or you choose to pick apart an incident that you have only seen on Facebook, then I bet you’re the guy that nit-picks everything at your firehouse. Nothing is ever good enough for you, and you try to bring everyone down to your level, sometimes successfully I’m sure.
“How do we change that guy?”
Well, I don’t know honestly. I’m a big advocate of training and learning. Once I set goals in that I was going to get my mind right, and be the best I could be, I started paying a lot more attention to training. A good friend of mine says almost daily, “leave the fire service better than you found it.” That’s legit. That’s the “it” that we all need to keep “Debbie Downer” from ruining the morale of that shift.
So go train. Get your hands dirty. Make your brain stronger. Read something PRODUCTIVE and not belittling or demeaning to the business. We have plenty of those who are commonly referred to as “Debbie Downers.” It’s time we take back our fire service and make it something to be proud of. Instead of bitching about some fire departments uniform policy, maybe you should be training on your own department policy.
I want to apologize to all the Station Pride followers for the delay in my article. I have had writer’s block for awhile; I knew what I wanted to put down on paper but just couldn’t get it out. The last two weeks of teaching at our fire academy inspired me to get this article done.
I think about some of the greats in this profession; both still with us and those who are watching over us and what they have done to make this job better. I think about all the things that Lt. Andrew Fredericks did for the fire service before he was taken from us on 9/11/01. Even to this day, there are those of us trying to carry on his teachings and being “Ambassadors” for Andy. Some may not understand why we do this. It comes down to a fireman who made an enormous impact in the fire service, and we can’t let it die. I think of Chief Rick Lasky, who has inspired so many with his motivational “Pride and Ownership”. He has encouraged us to step up our pride game and take ownership in ourselves, our crews, our department and our community. There is Aaron Fields, who is creating a huge movement in the fire service with his “Nozzle Forward” class. Mr. Fields’ techniques are being taught all over the United States; from large metropolitan departments to small volunteer companies. These individuals are leaving this job better than they found it.
You don’t have to be a “big name” in the fire service to make a difference. Anyone of us can make a difference you just have to step up and be willing to take your lumps. Never giving up and continuing to push will make you stronger, and it will make a difference. I had a good friend and fellow firefighter from a neighboring department come visit me at the station some time ago. He explained how he was trying to get his department more motivated for training, trying different things and keeping an open mind. He left so excited and on fire. About two weeks later he stopped back by the station feeling totally devastated and defeated. Nobody was motivated and everything was getting shot down. We talked for awhile, and I explained to him that he can’t give up, people were watching to how he reacted to defeat. They were wanting to see if he was going to give up and roll over. Well, he didn’t give up. He called the other day to say there has been a huge turn-around in his department. The guys want to train. They are more motivated than ever, and they want to learn.
We hear firefighters complain all the time about their pay, benefits, crews, tactics, and training. Instead of sitting around complaining, step up and make a difference. One person can make a difference. It has been proven. One person can start a revolution. All it takes is the guts to step up and do it. At first, some may look at you like you’re crazy. They will tell you that things won’t change and that you are wasting your time. If you stay strong and don’t accept defeat, then good things will happen. I am sure that the first time that Aaron Fields showed guys his “Nozzle Forward” techniques they thought he was crazy and that it would never work. What about the first time Chief Lasky spoke of “Pride and Ownership?” People probably thought, “Who is this guy telling us how to have pride and take ownership?” There are so many people out there who have left this job better than they found it. It is up to each one of us to make a difference in the fire service. From the brand new firefighter to the Chief of the department. If we continue to complain and roll over, then I would hate to think of where the fire service will be in 20 years. We all have a love for this job, or we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in.
It is up to us to keep the tradition alive and keep it growing. Every day we need to think to ourselves; “What am I doing to leave the fire service better than I found it?” If you are not willing to make things better, then please do not stand in the way of those who are. Just remember that one person can make a difference in this job. Those of us who want more for this job are the sheep dogs, and we must stay vigilant. Stay safe and keep your heads up.
You will prevail.
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.