Hook and Irons
We're All Zombies, And the Assholes Are Winning May 01 2014, 7 Comments
I've been a little jaded lately--confused and distressed. I haven't been able to put a finger on the pulse of it. It's everywhere and nowhere. It doesn't feel like pressure or anxiety, or doom, or fear--just sadness really. But I'll hold off on that for a minute.
There are things I love with a passion. I'm no different than most of you and the older I get, the more I realize how similar I am to most of my peers. So my list is probably a lot like yours.
In order: I love my family to pieces. My wife and my children are my reason and my life. There is no stronger statement. Next, I love the fire service and my department. The feeling is not the same as the ones I have for my family, it's more like the feeling of possessing a valuable but hidden gift. Maybe like finding ten dollars in the gutter and putting it in your pocket--that feeling like you've got something lucky and special that chance and good fortune brought you. The only difference is the ten spot is always there. Every morning when you put your work pants on, and shove your hands in your pockets, there it is again, the feeling of it--the luck of it. It never goes away for me. I'm lucky to love my work, my job and my craft.
I love other things as well, but this is the core of it. Everything else depends on these two things for me.
So why do I feel the way I do today? Why do others tell me they feel the same in different ways? There is something, maybe an up-welling you could call it. Maybe a shift. There is definitely a change. Everyone feels it and no one can quite put their finger on it. I know this because I see good people all around me grasping desperately for it, trying their best to keep tradition, goodness, and the brotherhood alive. You can find them and their followers on outposts at the busiest and best firehouses and all throughout the internet, but it doesn't seem as if we're winning, what it feels more like is comfort knowing you're not alone, like maybe you've found some other souls that realize the ship is adrift.
This is the difference.
One of the many things that Dads can do for their sons is point out who the assholes are. I know my Dad did. We'd get cut-off by a driver with road rage and my Dad would go, "Look at that asshole." Or we'd be at a job site and he'd point to the lazy guy sitting by the cooler and he'd say to me, "See that asshole, sitting down while everyone else is working." Or I'd hear the stories about shitty officers at the firehouse, self-serving 'assholes' who didn't care about the guys or the job, and it was all very clear. You could see the jerk, you could compare him to the others and you had a viable example of somehow or some way that you shouldn't be. And as best you could, you learned to avoid these types and not become one yourself.
Now, with the internet, texts, e-mails, tweets, Facebook posts, audio and video recordings and every other immediate thing out there, the assholes are lining up, wreaking havoc, hiding behind their curtain and are never accountable to the face or name of the person they're slamming. They line up as virtual vampire armies to weigh their 'very important' opinions and suck the life out of someone. They get all the feeling of power without ever risking looking someone in the eye and witnessing the pain they cause. No, they get to sit with their crooked spines and downcast eyes and type the thoughts that mostly would be better locked up.
I was lucky enough to be hired before computers took over the fire service. I knew who the assholes were. It didn't mean I didn't respect them, hell, sometimes I respected them more because sometimes you have to respect the assholes that tell it 'like it is,' and are not afraid to hurt your feelings. Because the next time you work with them you wanted to be able to look them in the eye and say, 'yeah, I got it.'
The fire service was clear and it was easy. I loved the directness--the black and white of it. Do this. Don't do that. Do it this way. See that guy, he's a real POS, but he is the guy you want next to you on the fire ground. And the Chief, well he was the boss and he fixed things with just a few words and he stayed out of the guys way and when he asked for something, you jumped on it.
After e-mail and the introduction of electronic communication the fire service changed. I've learned and still learn alot to this day about it, but I've settled on some personal truths.
- Firefighters (at least the ones you respect) are the types of people who like to be told, face to face what you want--what you like and what you don't like. They want to be treated like adults and spoken to face to face, even if the news is tough. I'm not sure how they do it in the private sector, but I believe we are the last breed of an older generation that values actions and handshakes, slaps on the back and an atta' boy every now and again.
- Firefighters are generally terrible writers, that's why they carry axes and not pens. With that truth established it is safe to say that most firefighters should save writing e-mails and texts for those dire circumstances when they are unavoidable. I have found the e-mail to any one person to be almost completely avoidable and after learning a few hard lessons I now only write e-mails to groups to deliver a message.
- When a firefighter receives an e-mail directed at him and only him, he automatically gets defensive. We learn early in the fire service that anything written can be used against you later. So, a seemingly innocent e-mail is often interpreted quite differently.
- Leadership or management by electronic communication is a fallacy, it is often a joke and it is the laziest way to lead. Furthermore, it is almost always a recipe for failure.
It is easy to get sucked into the computer. It is easy to get drawn into the black and white of numbers and so-called 'accountability tracking'. It's easy to click the mouse and pass judgement, make assumptions and learn 'everything you need to know' instantly, but you're missing so much.
The reasons for the numbers and the numbers themselves all come from people that are still out there sweating and trying their best to make it work. They're out there struggling, making the best of the situation. Get out there with them, talk to them, ride with them, empathize with them, then be tough, be a jerk, be nice, be funny. Just don't be the asshole behind the curtain with the crooked spine and the downcast eyes.
Those guys have yet to fix anything.
Fireman Jim Flynn September 08 2013, 6 Comments
On February 13, 1917 Fireman Jim Flynn entered the ring with a young up-and-comer Jack Dempsey. Jim Flynn who had passed the height of his career charged to the center of the ring and quickly sent the Manassa Mauler to ground with a devastating right. Twenty seconds later, Dempsey was still trying to find his feet. Here is an account of the knockout.
'With Dempsey still bent over and walking toward Flynn, both forearms and gloves covering his face, Flynn rushed again. The Pueblo battler gave Dempsey's head a quick shove toward his right and sent a short right hand hook through Dempsey's guard and straight to the point of the chin. (Salt Lake Telegram)
Dempsey was down 10 seconds in to the bout.'
That quick, embarrassing loss was the only time in Jack Dempsey's storied career (66-6-11) that the future champion was ever knocked out and it was the highlight of Jim Flynn's career, a fighter who 'fought them all' but never earned the heavyweight title. For a time, Fireman Jim Flynn was the best hope of defeating the feared Jack Johnson but was never able to best the 'Galveston Giant' in three tries. Jim Flynn was famous however for knocking out aspiring contenders with such neatness that he became known as the 'Destroyer of Hopes.' Jim Flynn ended his career with 47 wins, 41 losses, and 17 draws.
Jim Flynn was born in Hoboken, NJ with name Andrew Chiariglione. He was actually of Irish-Italian descent, but took the name Jim Flynn for professional purposes as the Irish were some of the most devoted boxing fans at the time. When Flynn was a young man, the family moved to Pueblo, CO where he took up railroading and became a fireman for the Pueblo Fire Department and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Jim Flynn remained with the fire service throughout most of his boxing career.
While researching ideas, the legendary knockout of Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler combined with the workman-like boxing career of the underdog Jim Flynn inspired us to create a design honoring Flynn for Hook & Irons. Choosing the the designer was easy for this one. Steve Wolf specializes in hand-drawn art and works frequently with different sports topics. Additionally, he is a collector of vintage boxing artifacts and he seemed as excited, if not more, to bring this idea to life. As there is no poster for this event that we know of that still exists, we asked Steve to imagine a poster for the bout using the style of lettering and drawing that was popular at the time. We also asked him to draw his best rendition of Jim Flynn. The final design couldn't be more striking than the photo he worked from. We hope you enjoy the design and the small piece of history where the workman--the fireman--the boxer--the constant fighter--won one for the underdog.
The Flynn Effect April 22 2013, 5 Comments
Much has been written in the journals and periodicals about the new generation of firefighters and how they are different from previous generations--not as worthy, not as smart, and more self-centered. We bemoan how they 'should be' and don't spend enough time getting them where they need to be. Certainly, at MDFR we have seen our share of questionable employees pass through our house. But I won't categorize the younger firefighters by their worst examples as each generation has its share of 'less than motivated' employees. Instead, I find most of the probies to be intelligent in ways that often surprise and sometimes humble me. And I have no doubts that tomorrows firefighters will be smarter than I am. But I do occasionally find them to be lacking and disappointing in ways that I've come to understand is a result of today's society.
But first let's talk about how they're smarter:
James Flynn is a researcher from New Zealand who discovered and coined The Flynn Effect. The Flynn effect is an explanation for the steady rise in IQ scores from generation to generation. He contends that the rise in IQ scores proves that this generation is more intelligent than the generation before and so on and so on. The effect is caused by each generation growing up with the increased benefit of looking at the world with 'post-scientific' spectacles. We classify, we analyze and we think more abstractly. In general, according to Flynn the rise in IQ scores is largely due to increased reasoning skills. Those increased reasoning skills allow us to solve more complicated problems than the previous generations. Additionally, more time is spent on mental pursuits than ever before. Proof is in the internet, the video games, the tv, the fantasy leagues and so forth.
And I can buy all of this. I believe James Flynn and hope he is right. I want my son to be smarter than me and I want him to benefit from the research and work of my generation. In the station, what I observe from my young guys allows me to generally agree with the Flynn Effect although as a good Captain, I will never admit that any of them are smarter than I was at their age. I can say I honestly spend very little time explaining the ideas of fire growth or the incident command system. These concepts and the importance of understanding them seem clear to most of the young guys. In fact, these are the things that most of the young guys cling to and quickly understand. I can also say that most of them can reason through tactics and strategy scenarios as well as most of our experienced chiefs. These are the areas that truly impress me.
The problem in the fire service right now is something I'll call the 'Y Gap'. I call it the 'Y Gap' because this is the generation that seems to suffer the most from this problem. The 'Y Gap' is, the distance between intelligence and physical skills. If the distance is short, you probably have a good firefighter on your truck. The good firefighter is intelligent, shows good foresight and has good hands-on skills. They can swing an axe, work a saw and don't buckle with the fear of heights. Additionally, they know when to put these skills to use. The 'gap' that I see is an increase in intelligence and a decrease in physical ability. Many of our recruits have never mowed a lawn, changed their own oil, worked a chainsaw, or swung a hammer. Instead, they pay someone to mow their lawn, change their oil and if they need to nail something they use a nail gun instead. We receive these guys without the base knowledge of mechanics and form used to do so many things on the fire ground. This is the area that most of the new guys suffer and the area that the academies do not focus on. So we get guys who can tell us the phases of fire, but have no idea what a two stroke motor is.
The answer is to go back to the beginning--take your probie to the saws and teach them why it's a two stroke engine and how it works. Then, let them cut scrap metal until they look like their not scared of the saw anymore. After that, challenge them to make cuts of increasing skill and so on until they know the saw well enough to cut any material in any fashion you ask. None of this takes intelligence. None of it takes reasoning or analytical skills. What it takes is form and practice and with enough of it you gain muscle memory--and with muscle memory you gain skill. And that is why I will always respect the old guys like my dad, who, while driving to a fire years ago felt the truck die to an idle at his feet. He popped the cab, saw that the throttle spring was gone and replaced it with a piece of the elastic chinstrap on his helmet. He made it to the fire (was last in) but he made it. And he made it there because he has common sense and grew up working on cars and performing a lifetime worth of manual labor.
So, if you are one of these new guys, I suggest you start changing your oil, mowing your own lawn, digging out your own stumps even though your intelligence and reasoning skills might tell you that there is an easier way to get it done. You never know, it just might save your life one day.