Hook and Irons
Dear Chief, A Letter From the Guys July 05 2018, 12 Comments
This is a letter from the guys. It is full of suggestions and reminders of things you may have forgotten or things you don't think we notice. It is written with the knowledge that we are not supposed to know more than you. We are not supposed to be presumptuous enough to tell you what to do. And we are not supposed to remember how you were when you were one of us. But, before we dive into this, it is written with the hope that you realize that all great leaders lead with the knowledge that those who follow are watching everything. You may preach what you want, but we follow the highest example, and that is supposed to be you.
You were not always a chief. We know who you were when you were one of us. And this can work in one of two ways--some people transition to chief very smoothly because they have spent their careers searching for the busiest houses, training when no one wanted to, but also training when everyone knew it was good for them. More importantly, these chiefs have already earned reputations as officers who take care of the guys on their truck, and in their station.
The other chief is the one who uses his badge to legitimize his power and pretends that the badge should be good enough regardless of the reputation they had earned prior to promotion.
Some people are thrust into positions of leadership. Most ask for it. For those that are thrust into these positions a certain amount of forgiveness and empathy is expected from those that follow. But we are not at war in the fire service and the majority of chiefs choose their career path. Very few receive field promotions.
Photo Credit: Michael Dick
The place you can make comparisons to the military is how you performed in battle during your career. Did you lead from the front? Were you aggressive? Or were you timid? Whatever you were, you will have a hard time demanding something different from your firefighters and still maintaining their respect.
Your Current State
Do you still put your gear on? Do you risk the embarrassment of being rusty in front of your firefighters to retain the knowledge of what it feels like to be the firefighter you are commanding? Performing one of the evolutions on a drill as a firefighter is just as symbolic as it is educational. It says without saying a word that the drill is informative, not punitive. It says that you are willing to work with and get dirty with them.
At the dinner table, do you demand to be treated as royalty, or do you set aside your privilege? I had a chief once who was difficult to work for. He was demanding and direct. He lacked tact and was quick to snap you back in line. He was a great strategist and tactician on the fireground and was absolutely unforgiving of those who were not prepared. He was, as my wife would say, 'a pill.' But once a month, without fail, he would cook for us, and when dinner was ready, would make us sit and serve us our meals as if he was our waiter. Then he wouldn't sit until we were all served and eating. And he wouldn't take a dime from us for the meal. That simple gesture still affects me whenever I think about it. The symbolism of it and the statement--the act of selflessness was his way of showing us how much he respected our hard work. Even though, in many respects, he was 'A Pill,' he turned us into a great battalion and I still miss working for him.
Conversely, after that chief retired, I was cursed for a short time with a chief who stayed in his office all day, never attended any company drills, would not eat with us, and would only communicate with us via e-mail directives. He was lazy and a coward. He acted as if "The Fire" would never come and was the definition of a 'copy' chief on the fireground. What's a copy chief, you ask? A copy chief is an IC who does not drive the action on the fireground but simply says 'copy' to every units self-directed action and suggestion. He was, in short, the next worse thing to freelancing on a fire scene. When, after two months, the battalion turned on him, the mutiny was quick, painful and ended with him leaving the battalion that everyone but him loved.
Photo Credit: Michael Dick
Your Future/Your Legacy
There will come a point in your career where you will think more about what you will leave behind rather than what you hope to do. On our department, it is a tradition to do a last alarm for every member's last shift before retirement. The recall is sounded at every station. The dispatcher then reads a canned thank you message and the air is cleared for members to wish you well in retirement. To me, there is no greater statement on ones career, then the air being filled with well wishers--coworkers, friends and peers, sending you off to retirement with kind words. Some thank yous have gone on so long that they interrupt emergency calls that are pending. And yet, there are a few that are followed with a terrible silence or an off colored joke. Afterwards, the fire alarm office gives you the recording as a gift and what an awful gift it must be to those self-serving people who have put themselves above others for 25 years.
As a chief, I ask you, how do you want to be remembered? Will you be remembered as the tyrant, the lazy S.O.B., or the miserable selfish chief who everyone loathed? Will they tell stories of how they survived your incompetence on a fire scene and your hatred of the fire service? Or will the firefighters who worked for you, pass on the highest compliment that can be bestowed: "He was great. He took care of us." And, "He was for the guys. Always."
A Brief History of the Pompier Ladder May 18 2014, 16 Comments
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.
101 Rules For The New Fire Officer April 18 2014, 19 Comments
I've gotten such a great response for the 101 Rules for the New Firefighter, that I've written a list for the newly promoted officer. I've compiled the list from personal experience and through reading and conversations with respected peers. Feel free to add to the list in the comments section.
1. Be calm. You are now the person who is in charge of keeping your crew safe. Your nervousness and excitement will never cause a positive response in those that are following.
2. Never ask a firefighter to do something you are not willing to do yourself.
3. A promotion is not a reason to stop cooking. You have not attained royal status yet.
4. Have your driver slow the truck down 2-3 blocks before arriving at a fire. This allows you to look for hydrants, visualize the scene, and slow your mind down enough to process what you're about to see and do.
5. A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
6. Arrive to work at least a half an hour early. If your firefighters arrive before you, then show up earlier.
7. Make your drills meaningful with achievable goals.
8. Participate in your drills. You are not a general. You are a fire officer.
9. Admit your mistakes to your crew. They know you're not perfect. Don't pretend to be.
10. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way. — General George Patton
11. You will see evil. You will see senseless tragedy. It is your responsibility to help your crew cope and understand it. It will also be your responsibility to recognize when they are not coping well.
12. When mistakes are made, take the blame. You are, after all, their leader. Their shortcomings are yours.
13. When good things happen, give credit.
14. Always have money in your wallet. No one wants to wait for the guy making the most money to go to the ATM.
15. Only pick the fights you know you can win. Be decisive.
16. Don't be afraid to bend the rules to serve a greater good.
17. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. —Sam Walton
18. Empower your driver. He is your strong arm, your life line, your enforcer, and your confidant.
19. It's easy to say yes. A good leader knows how and when to say no.
20. Don't take the tools from your guys. Give your firefighters the chance to be successful. Guide them and make sure they are acting safely. They will be insulted if you take the tool and their chance to complete the task away from them.
21. Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems. —Brian Tracy
22. You are going to be criticized. Do what you know in your heart is the right thing and you will be fine.
23. Always work for the better good of the whole, not what is best for you.
24. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers. They are people who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. —General Colin Powell
25. Don't take shortcuts.
26. Don't be offended if you are part of a practical joke. Be worried if the guys don't joke with you at all.
27. Be approachable.
28. Remember birthdays, the names of spouses and the children of your co-workers--take an interest in their personal lives.
29. When knocking on a door for routine calls (EMS or otherwise) step to the side of the door. Many firefighters have been shot through the door by startled or scared occupants.
30. Learn to gauge the emergency effectiveness of your crew. Not all crews can perform at the same level.
31. Don't be afraid to ask a firefighter what they are bringing to the table.
32. It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. —Nelson Mandela
33. Seek out the busiest trucks.
34. Leaders aren’t born; they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. —Vince Lombardi
35. Empower your firefighters.
36. Observe your crew, their moods and their actions. It's not your job to make their bad day worse, but to show them a way out of it.
37. It's okay to joke and play jokes. It's not okay when those jokes are exclusionary or make the member feel like an outcast.
38. Have your own coffee mug, make it a big one and don't let anyone else touch it.
39. Don't get mad when they freeze that same coffee mug in a block of ice.
40. Just because you're behind the nozzle man on the fire, does not mean you are feeling what he's feeling. Trust his words and his actions. Sometimes he needs your confidence to make that final push and sometimes he needs you to recognize a change in tactics is needed.
41. Give your plan a chance to work.
42. Time becomes compressed on a fire scene. It's your job to mark time accurately.
43. The driver does not need you to hit the air horn and the Federal. He only needs you as a second set of eyes and as an occasional navigator.
44. Do not tell the driver how to get to an address. Do counsel your driver if he gets lost and does not ask for help prior.
45. The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it. --Theodore Roosevelt
46. Never underestimate the power of common sense.
47. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is man up, and muscle through it.
48. We don't work with calipers, rulers and levels. We work with hooks, pry bars and axes. Fast, efficient and effective is more important than exact and perfect.
49. Stay hydrated.
50. One of the most important jobs you will do on scene is control the tempo of the work that is being done. No one mentions it, but everyone feels it.
51. Wear your seat belt and make sure the guys are wearing theirs.
52. If you have pride in your truck and your station, you will attract like-minded people.
53. It's fine to talk smack as long as it's with your neighboring station. They need to know who the best crew in the battalion is.
54. Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be. --Ralph Waldo Emerson
55. Take a structural collapse class and read Brannigan's Building Construction for the Fire Service.
56. In this order; you take care of your crew, your station, then your department.
57. Every EMS call is a chance to study building construction and layout. It is also a chance to recognize hazards from the inside out.
58. Your job is to remove doubt and build confidence.
59. Attend at least one fire conference a year. It will help you stay current on the latest tactics and techniques.
60. For as hard as it may be, you can not let the failures of management, union, or contract outwardly affect your demeanor. Firefighters take a cue from their officers. If you are negative. Your firefighters will be too.
61. If time permits, take a power nap. You'll be thankful you did at 3am when the crew is expecting your best.
62. If your budget permits, buy leather boots and a personal flashlight.
63. If you are on shift for the holidays, it is your job to make that day special for your second family. Coordinate the holiday meal, gift exchange, family time and/or whatever the station needs to make that day the best it can be.
64. You are not expected to know everything, you are expected to be able to find the answer or solution for almost everything.
65. Do not undermine the chief, even if you disagree with his decision or action. Tell the guys that you will talk to him and try to find out why he acted the way he did.
66. Small disagreements should be handled quickly and decisively even if it makes you the bad guy for the moment. Small unchecked problems become larger ones without intervention.
67. Before you commit your crew to a dangerous situation, be sure you've done your best to set yourself up for a successful conclusion.
68. Never write a correction, counsel, or shortcoming in an e-mail, particularly if you can deliver the message personally. The most misinterpreted communications are electronic in nature. Body language, tone of voice, and the necessity of looking the person in the eye are lost.
69. Don't be afraid to write an e-mail to your crew commending them on a job well done and cc'ing your supervisor with the message. This is an e-mail that is always well-received.
70. Do whatever you have to do to stay on the good side of the mechanic. Bring him water and coffee, offer him lunch or anything else that shows him that you appreciate the effort he's putting into your rig. They will work miracles for you if they think you're worth the effort.
71. You should not do personal business on truck time. If you do, don't say no when the firefighters ask you to take them somewhere for personal business.
72. Don't be afraid to give the fire a dash from the outside if there is something delaying your stretch into the interior. It may allow you the extra time you need to get the job done.
73. In a word, the best quality a leader can have is integrity.
74. A good plan executed in the moment of truth, is better than a perfect plan executed too late.
75. A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. —John Maxwell
76. Always leave room for the aerial pieces.
77. Always talk to the police that spotted their vehicle in front of the fire scene. It's not their fault God didn't give them common sense.
78. Now you're in charge. The time for complaining is over. Fix the problem or do your best to explain why it's FUBAR.
79. Complaints go up, not down. Additionally, not every complaint from your firefighters is worth your time or effort. Sometimes they just want to vent or be heard. In those cases, just listen. Sometimes the complaints are personal in nature. Don't be afraid to tell them so. If you try to fix everything, you won't fix anything.
80. In the morning, look at the roster of the neighboring units, judge who is effective and who is not. Knowledge of that on a fire scene may help keep you safe or affect a decision you are trying to make.
81. Buy yourself a custom shield. You studied your ass off. You deserve it.
82. Sometimes great command is quiet command. There is no need to use precious air time on the radio just to hear yourself talk.
83. Make all radio communications clear and concise.
84. Watch fire videos. All kinds. There are lessons everywhere.
85. A new rookie in the station is a great excuse to go back to basics with everyone. Most firefighting skills are perishable and training the new guy or gal is a great chance for everyone to knock the rust off.
86. The rookie should never be drilling alone. You and the crew should be geared up doing whatever it is you are asking them to do.
87. The best leaders create a 'shared vision' that followers can rally around and share in the work to complete the goal.
88. It should be the officer's habit to place themselves at the most volatile point in whatever task they are undertaking; just behind the nozzle, on the roof next to the guy venting, or in the house doing the search.
89. If you are not automatically dispatched with the ambulance to shootings, stabbings, or gang fights, put yourself additional. They may need your help and by the time you get there it may be too late.
90. Strong book knowledge does not translate into strong leadership.
91. Read, Firefighting Operations in High-Rise and Standpipe Equipped Buildings by Dave McGrail. It is, in my opinion, one of the best textbooks for the fire service.
92. When developing your drill, never make more than one large thing that your firefighters have to imagine. For instance, if they have to imagine that the house is on fire and you are going to practice advancing hose, then you will lose them if you make them imagine a lost firefighter. You must actually have a lost firefighter in a structure to make the drill practical.
93. Repetition of one or two skills during a drill is much more effective than practicing multiple skills one time only.
94. Become proficient at communicating on your radio and with your crews while on air.
95. Make sure your firefighters know that on a fire scene you want to hear their observations. You also want those observations to be stated quickly and succinctly.
96. Whenever extending above grade or below grade, you should always have a back-up line in place.
97. Carry webbing.
98. The TIC is a tool, don't forget to listen to the fire, feel for changes in heat and to look past the TIC.
99. Be humble. It will allow your peers to cut you some slack when you make a mistake.
100. One of the most dangerous things you will do in the fire service is work a multiple vehicle collision on the highway. Spot your apparatus appropriately and always maintain scene awareness.
101. Don't spend too much time on the computer, there is usually a much more productive way to spend your day.
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Firewire 09/11-09/18 September 12 2013, 0 CommentsFor the Kids
I don't know if its because my oldest just started kindergarten, but I thought it an appropriate time to remind everyone who our biggest fans are. As long as they are on our side, the fire service will be alright. These are some hard, fast rules in my station:
- Unless we're about to run a call, we will stop whatever we're doing to show a child the truck, give them a tour or do just about whatever they want.
- Always wave. You just made their day.
- Always stop to talk to the curious child, remember that was you xx years ago.
Never underestimate the effectiveness of a smooth bore nozzle.
FDNY 9/11 2nd Alarm
Great footage and tactics of FDNY 2nd alarm. It's nice to see fire companies working and anticipating what the fire might do and not playing catch-up. Here is a good example of that.
As firefighters, movember and having the best damned mustache on the planet has become a near requirement. If we don't hold the standards high who will? So, unless you're hairy like an ape and you have 5 o'clock shadow by 10:00 am, now is a good time to start growing. Here's some inspiration.
Escape the Cold; Learn Highrise Firefighting
Of the many conferences that happen all over the country, the high rise conference hosted by CF Tactics is one of the few that seems like it will be an unforgettable experience. The instructors, the venue, and the location are all outstanding. And for you Northerners, escaping the cold for a weekend in P-Cola would be worth the price. Click here to read more about the conference.
In the Shop
We've restocked the iphone cases and in the key fobs are back and better than ever. Now, you can choose between four types of leather and brass or silver hardware. Check em' out.
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 Bronx is Burning August 18 2013, 1 Comment
The San Francisco Ladder Shop July 17 2013, 15 Comments
As time passes, it seems to me that there are less and less of those things that signify what is great about the fire service. Technology, increased safety, innovation, and time chip away at some of our most beloved symbols. Some changes are for the best and some are not. It's hard to argue the effectiveness of a well placed and expertly thrown aluminum ladder. It's also an easy pill to swallow when they break and can be replaced quickly and cheaply.
But they're not the best for everyone. San Francisco Fire Department has stuck with the wooden ladder for many reasons. First and foremost, there isn't a city in the world that has more high voltage lines running overhead. The city is made up of very steep and very narrow streets that make ladder truck access very difficult. And finally, the wind that whips off the bay is nothing to laugh at. With all that said, San Francisco Fire Department relies heavily on their ground ladders. They need to be heavy and stable. They need to be non-conductive.
They need to be made of wood. And while they are not the only department to use wooden ladders, they are the only department the builds their own ladders.
Since 1917 the San Francisco Ladder Shop has been building, designing and maintaining all the ladders for SFFD. They are the only ladder shop of its kind left in existence--a true testament to how strongly San Francisco feels about its ground ladders. At about $100 a linear foot, the ladders are not cheap, but when they break, these carpenters and craftsmen just repair the broken pieces and put the ladder back in service. SFFD has ladders in service that are over fifty years old and work just as good as the first day they were put into service.
We chose The San Francisco Ladder Shop as our latest Signature Design because of everything they signify--craftsmanship, quality and tradition. SFFD. is rich in tradition and everyone knows them by their helmet markings and their wooden ladders. In my estimation, they protect some of the most difficult urban geography and the most challenging building construction in the country. They don't continue to use wooden ladders out of stubbornness. They use them because they are the right tool for the right place.
When we called up Tom Lane and asked him if he would be interested in designing a shirt that would honor the craftsmen of the shop, he jumped all over it. He knew that he would have to create something that was organic, natural and created by hand. When we saw the finished design we were so happy that we wanted to do something special with it. So we called a small local print shop that deals in fine art and had them make a limited run of 150 prints.
This has been a great project to work on. My favorite yet. We hope you guys like this design as much as we do.
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.
101 Rules for the New Firefighter April 10 2013, 92 Comments
1. When working at a new house for the first time, shut-up, work hard, and pay attention. I can promise you that everyone is paying attention to you.
2. The young firefighter knows the rules, but the old one knows the exceptions.
3. Let the tool do the work.
4. Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.
5. "Twenty-five years from now you will be more disappointed by the the things that you didn't do than the ones you did."
6. Don't make a scene and never disrespect your brother.
7. Never take the seat that faces the television when sitting at the dinner table.
8. When in doubt, take a halligan.
9. Two hands. Two tools.
10. Never claim to be what you're not. Time reveals all things.
11. If you don't know what you're doing, say so.
12. When approaching a fire scene, it is imperative to slow down three blocks before arrival.
13. Suck it up.
14. You shouldn't worry when the guys make fun of you. You should worry when they don't say anything at all.
15. Give Credit. Take the blame.
16. Never turn your back on the fire.
17. When things go wrong, don't go with them.
18. Always show up to work at least a half-hour early. There is no better gift you can give to guy or gal your relieving.
19. Never trust the hand lights on the truck. Buy your own.
20. Don't gloat. Don't brag. The guys will do it for you.
21. Take pictures often.
22. Seek out the busiest units and the best officers.
23. Drink coffee.
24. Don't tell war stories to non-firefighters. No one thinks its as exciting as you do.
25. Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.
26. Don't be so eager to get off probation. The time you spend riding backwards will be the most fun you have in your career.
27. Never be the last one to the truck, or the sink.
28. Be the last one to bed.
29. Don't be afraid to fail
30. Drill. Drill. Drill
31. Never respond to criticism in an e-mail.
32. Surround yourself with smart people.
33. Maintain a healthy fear of this job.
34. Stay committed to being a life-long student of the fire service
35. Share your ideas and observations. You never know it could save someones life.
"I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow."
36. Learn to cook at least two great meals.
37. Read John Norman's book, Fire Officers Handbook of Tactics
38. One fire sticker on your car is more than enough.
39. Don't complain about how many calls you had last night. No one cares. Least of all, the people that are working 9 to 5 jobs while you're napping.
40. Have pride in your department, but more for your station.
41. Be precise.
42. One of the best ways to learn is to teach--even if its teaching what you just learned.
43. Don't panic.
44. Befriend the driver. You won't get anywhere without him.
45. Go down fighting.
46. If you're carrying more than one knife, you're a moron.
47. Be careful what you put on paper or e-mails. You can't take it back.
48. Don't scribble in the logbook.
49. Learn how to swim. You don't want to be the guy that can't go near the water.
50. When you're a guest at a house (on overtime or just there for the day), follow their rules.
51. Offer to help before you are asked.
52. The phone and the doorbell are always for you.
53. Just because you have the uniform, that doesn't make you a firefighter. . .It just makes you a city, county, or government employee. Your peers will let you know if you're a firefighter or not.
54. When spending money, good quality leather boots are always worth the investment.
55. Never call out sick on a drill day.
56. If you don't have kids, Christmas is not as important to you. You should not be asking for the day off.
57. The one true measure of a successful shift is returning home safely.
58. Don't date a co-worker.
59. Carry two wedges and 20' of webbing.
60. You will find no better camaraderie than in a firehouse
61. Don't talk about the other department you worked for. No one cares.
62. Participate in a good practical joke.
63. Introduce yourself. Don't be offended when you're not remembered. You're not memorable--yet.
64. Treat your body well. You'll be glad you did.
65. Always have $20 in your wallet. No one wants to take you to the ATM.
66. Learn your territory. Know it like the back of your hand.
67. When you are out in public, never criticize your own department. You can make up for lost time on your next shift.
68. Take the stairs.
69. Don't show off. Impress.
70. When using a power saw, patience, form--not strength are needed to make the cut.
71. Choose the right blade.
72. Fire is always changing and you cannot be stationary in your attitude to something that is always changing.
73. Never criticize a fire or a call unless you were there yourself.
74. Don't wear your fire t-shirt to the gym unless you plan on giving mouth to mouth. Trust me, its never going to be the 18 year old co-ed with sweatpants that read, 'juicy' across her butt.
75. Be patient with the ER staff. They can't help that they chose such a miserable career.
76. Dorms are for sleeping. Turn the tv off and hang up the phone.
77. Don't go cheap on the ice cream and the coffee should be from Dunkin Donuts.
78. Courage is not the lack of fear, it is acting in spite of it.
79. You are what you do. Not what you say.
80. One of the most difficult and dangerous things to do on a fire scene is backing a truck up.
81. Pace yourself.
82. A fellow firefighter who is not willing to share their knowledge is suspect.
83. Avoid gossip
84. The common sense approach is usually the best way.
84. Stick to the plan. You haven't been at it as long as you think you have.
85. Follow instructions.
86. Read John Mittendorf's book Truck Company Operations.
87. Attend fire conferences. You'll see that your department is not the center of the universe and there are other guys that are already doing it smarter and better than you are.
88. Be the guy that everyone has to say, " take a break. You're making us look bad."
89. If your department allows it, invest in a leather helmet.
90. Always look up and around and read Brannigans book Building Construction For the Fire Service. If you can't make an educated guess as to how a building will perform under fire conditions, you are putting yourself in danger.
91. Demand more from your officer.
92. It is a good idea to carry a multi-tool.
93. Never defend the liar, the cheat, or the thief.
94. When your officer tells you to take a nap, it's not a joke or a trick. He wants you to be worth a damn at 3am.
95. You don't clean a seasoned cast iron skillet with soap and water.
96. Shaving your arms is not cool. It's a good way to contract MRSA.
97. I'll take the chubby firefighter that can work all day over Mr. February who has to eat six meals, drink three protein shakes, and is no good to me after one tank.
98. Always eat dinner with your crew. Your diet is not as important as family.
99. Never ask the guys to lie to your spouse when he or she calls the station.
100. When it's your time to drive, always remember that you're now responsible for all the lives in the truck.
101. The day you show up to work hungover, or sleep deprived is the day everyone is going to need you.
I've actually got more than 101, but I thought I'd like to see if anyone has anymore. That's all for now.
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The Decisive Moment April 05 2013, 2 Comments
To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.
In photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson used to speak of the decisive moment. The moment when all things come together within the frame of a viewfinder to make the perfect photo. That same moment, if not acted upon that passes and is gone. Afterwards, the geometry, the expressions, the light never come together in the same way again. The decisive moment refers to the single critical split second in which an event or experience culminates. The term also seems to define photography itself as a medium. It is the pause button to life around us. One frame equals one moment.
In the fire service, every fireman throughout their career will receive at least one chance to act--one chance to make a life changing difference in someone's life. The decisive moment will come and no one will be able to say when or where that moment will come. You can work the slowest truck and pray to be left alone, but over the course of twenty-five years rest assured the decisive moment will find you.
After the moment passes, you will remember it in one of three ways:
First, that you captured the moment because you had spent your whole career preparing for it--that there was nothing more you could have done. The concepts and the skills required to act in that moment had been rehearsed so many times that you didn't even have to think on that day.
The second way you will remember the decisive moment is to feel fortunate that you were able to guess and choose the appropriate thing to do and luckily everything turned out alright. Perhaps you were fortunate to be with someone who knew how to act during that moment.
Finally, the way I hope none of you remember their 'decisive moment' is with shame and regret, pushing it to the farthest confines of your mind hoping to forget it because you had not done all you could to prepare for that day. You dreaded drill time. You hid from the busy houses and chose to bid the slowest trucks regardless of who the officer was.
Our Lady of Angels School Fire
In the end though, we can't always control the outcome and sometimes our best preparations and efforts go unrewarded and unnoticed. But when the decisive moment comes and your mind captures that one image that will live with you forever, what will you think when you look back on it?
I hope you will say, 'I was there, I was present and I did all I could have done to prepare for that day.'