By G. Rice
Those who I work for expect daily that I train, develop, mentor and lead our firefighters. They are a tough bunch to work for. They have some of the highest expectations and constantly watch every move I make. I feel supported in my position and receive the necessary feedback to change my approach or position on any given topic.
Many would think I am speaking about my Assistant Chief of Operations or even possibly my Fire Chief, but I am speaking about the men of my Battalion. It’s important to understand this distinction because I believe we BC’s often lose sight of this. We exist for our men.
I’ve been working for just over a year as a Battalion Chief. My wife recently commented that my white shirts are looking dingy. I already knew this fact. It’s extremely difficult to train with my crews stretching hose, throwing ladders and participating in search drills while wearing these. I’ve smoked many a white shirt and recently spoke with my boss to ask about alternatives. He told me to keep smoking them and that they would buy me new ones this year. That is very reassuring. Not that they will buy new shirts, but affirming that training, sweating alongside my men is where he wants me.
I’m not naive to think that everyone reading this has a similar work environment. Many do not have support both above and below to be successful. So how do we create an environment where these types of attitudes will flourish?
It starts with us, BC’s. I’ve got to ask, when was the last time you PT’d with your men? When was the last time you flowed a line or threw a 24′ ladder? How about performed a search or participated in a Job Task Simulation. How often do you provide feedback, direction, or kudos to those you work for?
I’m calling out BC’s everywhere to ask for you to lead by example. Do you mask up daily and check over your air pack? Do you even have an air pack in the car? How about we start getting out of the car to sweat alongside our men? You know how I know they need a water break? Because I need one. It’s pretty simple. Do we expect our folks to be in gear but find us walking around an accident scene in sunglasses and a vest? Lead by example. It’s really very simple.
It boils down to accountability. We expect it from our company officers but are we being accountable to them? Do we put our officers in a bad way having to field questions about the BC who isn’t geared up? Do as I say, not as I do?
I’ll be attending Nozzle Forward training this November in Houston. This will be my third time through Aaron and his cadre. These guys are smart. Aaron gets it. He often speaks about a movement bubbling up from the bottom. It’s my job to assist my guys who are doing the same within our department. How many “Aaron’s” are in my department? Am I helping each member reach their full potential?
I know I have much to learn. In fact, I know this with every bone in my body. If I do my job correctly, many of my people won’t be working for me as we grow. They’ll be Engineers, Captains and possibly colleagues alongside me. I hope I can keep up with these guys. I hope I can remain relevant in our profession.
So put down your TPS reports and get out with the men. The reports and paperwork will be there when you’re done. Support their careers, mentor and lead.
The Colony Fire Dept
The Colony, Texas
Battalion Chief Garrett Rice
Who do I want to be? A question we have all asked ourselves at one point in our lives. At a very young age, I focused on playing baseball and being a firefighter like my dad. I loved baseball with a passion and grew up watching the New York Yankees with my dad as a little kid. I grew up wanting the best of both worlds, being able to play baseball for the Yankees and be a firefighter for the FDNY at the same time. I soon realized as I got older that I couldn’t have the best of both worlds. I had to come to a point in my life where I had to choose what I wanted to do with my life. At 18 years old and about to graduate high school, it’s not easy figuring out what you want to do. I was fortunate enough to have amazing parents who raised me right and taught me how to be a man of God.
I spent my whole life going to church every Sunday and even going to youth group every Wednesday night. I know in the fire service religion is a touchy subject and can cause controversy among a lot of the guys and gals at the station. Everyone has their opinion in life, and that’s what makes the power of decision-making so great, we get to choose what we want to believe in and do with our lives. Many people believe there is a God, and many people don’t. I believe there is a God, and I believe he sent his son Jesus Christ on this earth to die on the cross for our sins so that we may be forgiven. I also believe God has a plan for each of our lives and opens doors of opportunity for us each and every day. It’s up to me to have faith and trust in Him to guide me through my journey in life.
When I graduated high school, I had the choice of going to college and playing baseball, or start my career in the fire service and follow in the footsteps of my father. It wasn’t an easy choice for me; I spent many days praying and asking God what He would want me to do. That summer, I spent a lot of my time doing ride time with my father as an Explorer. One of the last fires I ran with my dad that summer was a fully involved office building that was next an abandoned warehouse. Even though it was a “surround and drown” type scenario, I knew from that moment that this is what I had a love for in my life. It’s like God set a fire in my heart, a burning passion to serve and help others in my community. From that moment on, I made it a commitment to strive and be the best firefighter/paramedic God would want me to be.
Fast forward four years later and I’m now a Firefighter/Paramedic with a great fire department, went to college to get my Associates Degree and now I’m working on earning my Bachelor’s Degree. God has provided for me in my life, and I will always be grateful for the many opportunities He has given me. At 22 years old, I am still very young and have a lot to learn and experience. There came a low point in my life, where I was angry and frustrated with how my life was turning out and I stopped putting my faith and trust in God. I started questioning myself and even wondered if this career was right for me, or if this was even the path God wanted me to go down. I lost all hope and at one point gave up. Then all of sudden God always finds a way to to give you reassurance and to tell you that He is with you and has never left you. Through friends, family, church and my amazing girlfriend, I was able to see and realize how great God is and how He had made me stronger. He restored my hope and confidence and gave me life again. I felt like a new man, and I felt a new fire restored in my heart.
Being 22 and still young, I don’t have a lot of advice or experience to give. If there’s one piece of advice I have, it’s don’t give up finding what your calling is in life. I don’t know exactly what God has planned for the rest of my future, but I do know He wants me to be the best firefighter/paramedic that I can be. He would want me to show His love to others in their time of need. For those that are still unsure what the future holds for their lives, don’t give up on searching for an answer. Even if you believe or don’t believe in God, there is a plan for your life. Someone is looking after you all the time. He loves you and cares about you, even when it seems like the rest of world is crumbling around you. He will show you the plans for your life, and He will lead you down the path that will bring joy and great success for your life.
As children, we are taught to think for ourselves. We are taught subject matter, quietly, in a classroom setting. We do our homework alone before we can go hang out with our friends. And then, we are tested in a silent atmosphere. I would have never thought I would be involved in a career that would have me thinking, learning, teaching, and doing things as a group, team, or platoon. This career is unique, and it takes a special person to accept the calling.
So what are some important job functions we need to do as a team?
In the academy, I was told the only two things we do as an individual in this career is put on our bunkers, and use the restroom. Quite frankly, I’ve been in situations where both of these have been falsified. But only because I’m in the company of my brothers. Only because they are family. And as family, we need to watch each others back’s. We need to warn each other of the dangers, and the situations we are getting ourselves into. And as teams, we need to work together.
Many group topics come to mind, but one of the most overlooked is the planning stages of incidents prior to us ever receiving the call. Pre-planning our attacks as a company, should be done before the alarm ever sounds. We are looking for the dangers we’d have while in a non-emergent setting so as not to be surprised by them on the fireground. This way, they are already known when the fire comes in at 3:30 in the morning and the Grim Reaper is staring us in the face when we walk in the front door. Pre-plans are especially more important since the construction boom of the early 2000’s and lightweight frame is now becoming the norm, building after building. But just because the construction is becoming the same, are the hazards the same? Are the hazards the same today as they were back in the 80’s and 90’s, when some of these buildings were last inspected and walked thru by the 1st due company? Are the firemen that were involved back then still in your department today? Probably not…but that would be only one of many reasons why we should be walking through these buildings and knowing what’s inside prior to our initial dispatch. Fire inspections, building codes, and fire suppression/notification devices just fix the tip of the iceberg. Next time you go to an automatic fire alarm, or medical run in an unfamiliar building, give the maintenance guy a shout. Ask him to take the “nickel tour”. If not, it’s their right, but if you can, it could be the difference between yours or your crew-members’ life. Get out there, and go get it!
– The “Irons”
QUESTION: Is it possible for a fire department to be fully, 100% NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) Compliant?
Let’s start off with declaring that there is no such organized entity as the NFPA Police. However, there ARE a select number of our kind who take it upon themselves to verbally wave the sword in defense of the NFPA. These fire service warriors of the internet like to take judgmental swipes at fire porn videos and images. From a recent video of a fire truck parading through town with two celebrating volunteers on the bumper to John Wayne style structure fire situations, these virtual tactical response teams ensure the rest of us are staying in line with NFPA.
Everyone is a non-credentialed critic. Except the Fire Critic, I suppose he’s the only legit one.
My point here is that I have yet to find, observe, or even hear of a fully NFPA compliant fire department. I often, jokingly, liken the NFPA Standards to the Holy Bible. It’s nearly impossible to follow all of it without sinning.
Before I continue, we need to get a few things straight. The NFPA is not the law. It does not carry the same regulatory meat cleaver as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA). OSHA is a government regulatory agency that enforces occupational safety and health laws passed by Congress. When OSHA laws are broken, organizations and companies can be fined or even sued by the government for non-compliance, they are usually sued on behalf of the offended party.
NFPA codes, standards, and recommended practices are written as an attempt to self-regulate our industry. The standards are written to give a benchmark of performance for the manufacturers who make all of our awesome stuff as well as providing minimum competency standards we “should” meet as firefighters and officers. The NFPA standards are created by committees consisting of fire officers, chiefs, manufacturers and technical folks. The main reason why manufacturers are on the NFPA is so there is collaboration between the people who need firefighting equipment and the people who make firefighting equipment.
There is a lot of sentiment regarding NFPA being a profit driven entity. I have a hard time seeing it that way. The creation of all of these things takes financing. You can’t print books and create content and expect everything to be free. Also, there are legalities involved with the construction, testing, and selling of safety equipment. All of our stuff has to meet certain requirements so we can all go home to our families. It’s important to have fire service manufacturers a party to the standards creation so we’re on the same page of self-governance. After-all, manufacturers would know whether or not it’s even possible to design equipment that can meet the standard being created. It’d be sweet to re-write NFPA 1901 so all fire trucks had to have hovering capability and an endless on-board water supply… But common sense would dictate that engineering has not yet figured out how to make that work yet.
With 7000 thousand volunteers comprising 250 technical committees, creating over 300 codes and standards(NFPA.org), writing tens of thousands of lines of text; is it possible to be 100% compliant? I’m not so sure. It would be great if one of our readers could chime in here and name a department that is fully provable 100% compliant. I’ve spent years assisting departments with becoming as complaint as they can be. The real fact of the matter is funding.
Bringing a fire department to 100% compliance with NFPA is incredibly expensive. Not to mention master level planning and auditing. Most fire department budgets won’t allow for it. I know departments that don’t provide an annual physical, annual fit testing, annual SCBA flow testing and the like. That’s a tiny fraction of what needs to happen.
For budgetary reasons and perhaps even ideological reasons fire departments will adopt chunks of NFPA or individual standards while disregarding others. Some of the largest fire departments in our nation pick and choose which NFPA codes they will follow because they know they just can’t pull some of them off completely.
I don’t believe the NFPA is intended to be a buffet of options, it’s intended to regulate the way we do everything, so we’re all on the same page. The fact is, we’re not, and as a fire service I’m not so sure we’ll ever be on the same page. But we have a lighthouse and a beacon to follow and that’s not bad, in fact it’s pretty great.
I bring all of this up for the social media warriors who call people out on their NFPA violations. It really needs to stop. It’s more than highly probable that your department has or does a few things of their own that don’t meet the NFPA standards. I want to say something about glass houses here but I’ve never been good with cliché sayings.
Do you know of a fire department that is fully NFPA compliant? Please comment below. If you find a legitimate one I will write an article on that department and eat my own words. I hope this is an educational moment for me.
All NFPA stats & information provided by: http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards
What is pride? Where does it come from? Where is it found? Every so often, I have a self-realization moment when I ask myself, “What can I do to better myself, and my department?” It’s hard to find answers sometimes, but I usually find that pride is where it all starts. But where do you find it? Where is it hiding? Figuratively speaking, where does it “grow”?
It starts with the basics. From the bottom, to the top. Pride can be found in the nooks and crannies of our firehouses. It can be found in many forms and states of matter. One of the best places to find it, is in the kitchen. Just by listening to the words flying across the kitchen table, you could find a sense of pride, or a lack there of. Whether good words or bad, they can either motivate you, or light the fire under you, causing to you grab the bull by the horns and find it for yourself.
Some things in the firehouse are necessary for everyday functionality. Station chores are also a great way to start your search. Early in my career, I learned very quickly that you could only polish a turd so many times. It’s still a turd. But if you put a little elbow grease in and go the extra mile, you will find self-satisfaction, integrity, and maybe even a ‘‘dat a boy’ from a veteran Jake.
Have you ever seen the ring of green algae underneath the toilet brim? Although gross, that is the type of place you will find pride. Removing that ring not only cleans the joint up, but also instills values, diligence, integrity, and PRIDE. It shows that you care. It shows that you are there, and want to be a part of the team. It also shows that you want to change things and make them better, even if it’s not just for yourself. Most importantly, you are there to learn. In exchange, the small stuff needs to be tended to. Cleaning toilets, sprinting to answer phones, and cooking the platoon’s dinner are all a part of the firehouse life. It shouldn’t be hard to find things around the house to do, as there are many little tidbits like this that exist.
Now that the station chores are tended to, let’s make our way out to the engine room. Ever hear a story about the chief that once had given a “White Glove Test”? Everyone has one. Try it one time. One swipe is all it took to find a trail of dirt. The idea behind it wasn’t to just give the rookie a BS job for 12 hours. It was to see what kind of integrity he has, and to see how long he will voluntarily do it for. No one would come out and stop him. Nobody would tell him when enough is enough. Anybody could wipe dirt out of the wheel wells. It takes dedication to wipe off the accumulation of road grime, grease, and funk that is found all over God’s creation as we drive miles and miles a day. Although tirelessly working for months, little by little, the dirt always seems to find itself on the truck. We all know the “White Glove Test” is for parade trucks. Anybody on a working fire truck knows there will never be an end in sight. But do you know what doesn’t find itself in the usual places? Accumulation. Pride took care of that.
– The “Irons”
Firehouse kitchens are famous for hosting solutions to the world’s problems. A steaming Bunn coffee maker and with coffee cups in hand, Firefighters around the country discuss the difficult news of the day along with ways to resolve the issues. Sometimes the issues are department related, while other times, it’s U.S. and worldwide issues. One thing is common though, we always have a solution. Most of these topics never have a clear and obvious solution, but firefighters know how to make decisions. We are calculated and decisive. We are masters of organizing chaos and we are proficient at resolving dire situations.
It’s in the coffee. We stumble into the fire station, grab a cup joe and find a place to sit or stand. Activity picks up as the off-going shift is rolling out and the incoming-shift is getting their mind together. We sip on a cup and off we go, deep into conversation of the do’s, the don’t’s, the why’s, and the what-if’s of the happenings during our time apart between last shift and today. Who’s kids didn’t sleep the night before? Who’s truck broke down the first day off? Who’s wife burnt supper earlier in the week. Maybe make a verbal jab at the rookie for not introducing the girl he was with at the bar the other night?
It literally happens around the world, firemen come together under a roof and as trained problem solvers we offer tips, opinions and jokes. Around the kitchen table, topic after topic is brought up throughout the shift and handled or solved one way or another. There is always a solution. Its part of being family and gaining trust with your brothers. That table talk is the closest we get with our brothers. Jokes roll, jabs are made, officers cringe at things they immediately try to forget, and a bond is built. After tough calls the coffee is there, the table is willing to catch the tears and the exhaustion from grown men who have been beaten by the last run. If the kitchen walls could talk, they could write more than a book of stories. Shift after shift, month after month, year after year, firehouse kitchens around the globe are the center point of solving the problems of the world and all amongst a bunch of firefighters.