Hook and Irons

On The Importance Of Independent Fire Instruction February 07 2018, 4 Comments

A few years ago members of Firehouse 2 were sitting at the dinner table talking excitedly about attending the upcoming Orlando Fire Conference when the Battalion Chief walked out and after listening for a few moments to our conversation said, "I don't know why you guys would go to Orlando for training. You belong to one of the largest fire departments in the country. You have everything you need right here."

Photo Credit: Dennis Walus

The comment by the Chief killed the conversation, but didn't curb our enthusiasm. A few weeks later we were in Orlando taking forcible entry classes with Mike Ciampo, Truck Co. classes with the always aggressive Orlando guys, and a grueling RIC class with Jim McCormack.  The classes were intense and fun.  We returned home with a few bruises but had learned more in three days in Orlando than we had learned in three years of 'official training' from our own Department.

Why is that the case? Why hadn't we been exposed to this and many other things from our own department? 

Many years and many conferences attended have allowed a few observations and conclusions about the independent fire instructors that teach throughout the country and why they are vital to the growth and advancement of the fire service. 

Existing in a vacuum 

Independent instructors do not live in the vacuum that you and I and the members of our own departments do. Many of these instructors travel extensively teaching students from departments across the country.  As they teach, they share their information, but they also pick up tidbits of knowledge from different departments and incorporate the most valuable parts into their future lectures and drills.  They also glimpse into other departments operations and develop ideas on what works and what doesn't.

They are often the spark that creates groundswell change around the country. It is their global perspective that allows departments to change decades of tradition for a more progressive approach.  Often it is their knowledge and perspective that allows a return to common sense.  I cite the return of the smooth bore nozzle as one of many sweeping changes that instructors have ushered forth.  Another incredible and simple change that swept the fire service is the "Seattle Shuffle".  It seems crazy, that when I was going through the academy many moons ago it was an offense akin to murder if you ever straddled the attack hose, yet crawling on your hands and knees while looking down was accepted and common practice.

New and varied tip ranges in response to smoothbore resurgence  


While the word is loaded, there isn't a more appropriate term for what the instructors of the American Fire Service do every day.  They spread their message and they provide fine examples of firemanship with their attitude and their love of the fire service.  As a combined force, they are more powerful than NFPA standards and have arguably saved more firefighters lives in the process because they give you tools you can use when you need them most.

Ambassadors of the fire service should not be confused with preaching.  Many of the best instructors do preach, but it is always grounded in knowledge, sound tactics, and instruction.  In terms of the person I should be whether at work or home--well I'll just leave the preaching to my priest.  Everyone else who preaches should be able to deliver 'the goods'.


No single instructor owns the methods or the tactics they teach, but they do own the intellectual capital they have earned with their blood and sweat from years of teaching.  They teach for you to learn and share amongst your peers.  They do not teach so that you can steal their lecture and start teaching outside your own department. If you're not sure if you're stealing or just sharing, just ask yourself if you are in it for personal gain. In the end, I've found that most instructors are extremely generous sharing slides and information. They want you to spread the word, they just want to be acknowledged for their work and effort. Your students should know that you've taken the time to validate and practice the methods you are teaching as well as their source.

Photo Credit:  Dennis Walus


I can't think of an instructor who has become wealthy traveling and teaching the 'good word.' Often their dedication to the fire service causes problems in other parts of their lives.  They are wealthy in other ways though.  They have friends all over the world and a place to rest their head wherever they are.  But more importantly, these few, have etched their names into the fire service by molding it and spreading a message that guides not only our performance but how we can be 'smartly aggressive' by arming us with their knowledge and wisdom.  If they keep at it and devote their careers to it, maybe they'll be remembered among the likes of Andy Fredricks and others like him.  When your name lives on beyond your career, that is a wealth money cannot buy.


For years I've been to conferences all over the country and I still think of that Chief's comment, the error of his logic and the idiocy of his blind confidence. I thank God that I didn't let him influence me.  

Yours Truly,

A Grateful Student Of The Craft


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7 Lessons Seniority Has Taught Me June 08 2017, 8 Comments

A firefighter's worst critic, in all cases, should be himself.  No matter the error or the accolade, constant self-evaluation and a global reflection of actions and inactions after the fire should direct your thoughts on what you missed or what you could do better next time.  What follows are a few truths I have experienced in my own career.

1.  Losing track of time on a fire ground is a dangerous thing.

For me, this is the single most difficult thing to maintain. Personally, I have lost time in both ways--compression and elongation.  I can remember a time where I watched my firefighters struggle to force a steel door and made them abandon a perfectly good plan, only to move on to a plan that was not as good.  In the end, after I had calmed down and when I listened to the tapes, I realized that an unreasonable amount of time had not passed and I had let my anxiety amplify the passage of time.  Lack of experience had caused me to doubt the tactic.

Conversely, I have begged the Chief for a 'few more minutes' during a firefight when afterwards I realized that I was so focused and wanted my tactic to work so badly that I let time get away from me.  

So what is the answer?  We can't keep glancing at our watch while we're working, but we can fight to stay calm--fight to control our breathing and fight to stay in control and aware of the time.  Experience brings calm. Calmness brings clarity.  And clarity allows you to know if a plan is working or if it should be abandoned.  This goal is even more difficult and sometimes impossible for the many short-staffed crews around the country whose officers have to work performing two and three jobs in addition to managing the safety and efficiency of their crews.

2.  When things are going wrong, don't go with them.

If you have been in the fire service for any length of time, you are guilty of this.  Usually, it's stubbornness or timidity that is the culprit.  Admittedly, I have been guilty of this as well.  As a new Captain I operated on a fire in an apartment building with an enclosed hallway where I watched the attack crew with a junior officer try and deploy their hotel roll on the fire floor in a dirty hallway with zero visibility.  I knew this was wrong.  I knew it was more than likely doomed to fail and I did not stop it because I did not want to step on the officer's toes.  At that moment, I became just as guilty as they were for choosing a tactic that would more than likely fail and was dangerous to boot.  The fire, which could have been extinguished in under 15 minutes, took over 45 minutes to put under control. I learned a lesson that day that I will take with me to retirement.

3.  Manipulating the word 'Safety' to validate inaction is inexcusable.

There is an epidemic in the fire service right now and there are instructors across this country railing against the safety officers and various studies.  They are causing firefighters to second guess cautious aggression in the name of safety. The hallmarks of these officers are:

Using the benefit of hindsight and complete information afterwards to demonize an action that was taken with incomplete information.

They use studies and articles to validate their points, but they have never actually tried to replicate the studies, either on the fireground or in the training tower.  They operate on the faith of the author and the study and treat it as gospel.  Well, I have faith in God, but the rest of it, I will trust after I verify.

More importantly, these 'safety officers' are high enough in the administration to effectively change the fighting posture of your department.  This may be good or bad based on many variables, but to continue the analogy, I would want to be on the department that trains for the 1st or 2nd round knockout, rather then a victory at the end of a fight by decision.

4.  Festina Lente.

The latin phrase translates to, hurry slowly.  I have found no other phrase that better captures the attitude that firefighters should strive for on the fireground.  The term 'hurry slowly' allows firefighter to manage time and allow the countless clues and signs to be internalized before decisions are made.  'Hurry slowly' allows the experience of bread and butter fires to be tempered with a cautious check to see if anything has occurred that would make this fire different from the others.

Here are some great examples of 'Festina Lente' in action:

  • Conducting thorough 360.
  • Having a good look at smoke production and volume.
  • Making a concerted effort from the exterior to locate the fire inside.
  • Asking a quick question or two to an escaped occupant on location of fire, other victims, and hazards.
  • Slowing your apparatus as you approach the fire to study the building and set up proper placement.  This might even mean exiting the apparatus and guiding the apparatus through smoke and other hazards.
  • Maintaining accountability of your crew at each new compartment you enter inside the house.

Festina lente and fireground discipline go hand in hand.  For me, it is the frame of mind that I'm always trying to achieve and the two words "Hurry Slowly" which singularly are opposites are what marry the mind and body on the fireground--move with a sense of purpose, but keep your mind able to constantly evaluate and analyze the situation.

 5.  Computers and technology have taken us away from the critical aspects of the job.

By now, I'm not sure there is a fire department in this country that hasn't embraced online training.  The stronger departments use it to supplement hands on training.  The weaker departments use it as a check box to show all the work that is being done and to maintain certifications that take a department's limited manpower away from meaningful training.  

The danger in online training is that the computer creates a disconnect between a department and their firefighters and it standardizes a job that is anything but standard.

Additionally, anyone with half a brain should question the validity of computer training meant to teach hands-on skills unless the hands-on skill is 'how to click a mouse'.

Great athletes are not created by reading play books.  They are created with hard work and repetition which creates muscle memory and confidence.  Is the fire service so different?

6.  Lead your firefighters in.  Follow them out.

Their are many adages that accompany leadership and good leaders, but for the fire service this term is both metaphorical and real.  As an officer, it was always my job to show them that I wouldn't make them do anything I wouldn't do myself.  In a dark and hot house when we couldn't find the fire I would occasionally, if the situations dictated, put myself slightly in front of the nozzleman feeling through the smoke for that hallway or door--sounding the floor and guaranteeing safe passage for my guys.  It is vital to be a good detective, find the fire, and take the burden off of your firefighters shoulders. Additionally, good officers lead and direct the search.  They send their firefighters to search rooms, but never so far away that they can't be reached by voice, sight or touch.  And when the task is complete, they follow them out.  We have lost firefighters on my own department and on many others around the country because the officer of the crew did not follow this adage.

7.  Firefighters may respect the badge, but they trust experience.

The fire department ladder is only three or four rungs depending on the department you work for.  It is a much shorter climb than employees who are clawing their way to the top of corporate America.  Ascending through the ranks of the fire service can be done on many career departments in less than fifteen years and with only three tests.  In some departments a motivated employee can become a Chief in as little as twelve years. What that means is these employees have reached their terminal rank before they've reached the midpoint in their career.  The question begs to be asked:  Can a Chief who has more of a career ahead of him than behind be experienced enough to command the respect of the men and women who are in the trenches everyday?  The answer is maybe, but I would say it's doubtful.  Have they been on busy units their entire career? Have they packed as much valuable experience into their time as possible?  Or have they used that same system in which they catapulted to the top to hide away from Operations and keep from running calls and gaining that daily experience that is so necessary?


Firefighters know. And they will let you know the first time you command them to do something that you learned in a book that contradicts and conflicts with the realities that they have faced.  

Conversely, there is no better feeling than getting a 'thank you' from a senior firefighter whom you have guided correctly and allowed them to operate in a way that parallels their experience and knowledge and acknowledges and utilizes their capabilities.  That 'thank you' from a respected peer is the only accolade I've ever hoped for in the fire service.

***All photos were generously shared by Captain Brian Bastinelli of the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire. 


Be Safe Out There January 30 2017, 5 Comments

One of the great benefits Hook & Irons has afforded me has been the chance to travel and meet firefighters from all over the country.  I've enjoyed tremendous hospitality and unrivaled brotherhood.  I've met firefighters that work on farms all day and volunteer on their days off to firefighters that work multiple fires a day. I've learned that one is not necessarily a better firefighter than the other.  I've expanded my view and gained a new appreciation for my own department.  I've discussed methods, problems and tactics with firefighters from all over the world. There are some differences, but largely we share more similarities than anything else.

What has been most striking though, is the universal parting phrase of firefighters everywhere I go.

"Be safe out there."

It doesn't matter where you go.

"Be safe out there."

The phrase accompanies the handshake, from California to New York and everywhere in between.

I've thought about the phrase for some time now and wondered why it's so pervasive. Shouldn't it go without saying, 'be safe.' Isn't it the most obvious thing?  Hey Tom, "Eat some food today.  And while you're at it, drink some water too."  It seems so anyway.

But it's not.

We are reminded daily by LODD's, a barrage of youtube videos, and the actions of our own members that a lapse of vigilance, a pause in awareness, the temptation of short cuts and laziness can have dire consequences.  

"Be safe out there," is a quiet, friendly reminder to stay vigilant--to keep your eyes open and not let your guard down.

"Be safe out there," is an acknowledgement of the unknowable danger that lies in wait--a danger that takes good men and women even when they have done everything to the best of their ability.

"Be safe out there," is the hope that your awareness will protect you.  

"Be safe out there," is the only way we, who can not be with you in your time of trial, hope that the words resonate with you in your time of need.


Heroism and heroic acts subvert safety for the benefit of others particularly those who cannot help themselves.  Can you be brave or act in a heroic way without some risk? The answer most certainly is, 'no.'  Can you take a risk without setting aside your own safety, even in the most moderate degree? The answer again is, 'no.' Firefighters, police officers and members of the military understand and accept this fact.  Ultimately we are guided by our training, our experience and our team when making a decision to act. Those decisions make heroes, cowards or fools out of us all.  

I know that there is nothing I can do for you or you can do for me when we are called to act at that decisive moment--the moment where your training and your experience will guide your decisions.  All we can say as your friend, your peer and your brother is, "Be safe out there."


Brooklyn Engine Co. 17 July 30 2016, 0 Comments

Last year, I had the honor of donating to the NYC Fire Museum in the name of Dennis Smith (author of 'Report From Engine Co. 82).  At that time, after meeting with some of the staff, we decided to make a NYC Fire Museum tee based on their archives and designed by Hook & Irons.  The result of our first effort is Brooklyn Engine Co. 17.

The design is based on a banner that is displayed in the museum.  It shows the active roll of all the members of Engine 17.  The banner is beautifully drawn.  We wanted to take elements of the banner and use them to capture the spirt of the company and its story.  Below is a picture of the main part of the banner.

After reading more about the history of the company, we decided to focus on the engine's logo--a grasshopper.

The grasshopper was unique and the story behind the 'hopper club' was very interesting to me.

In 1849, Engine Co. 17 purchased a Philadelphia patterned 'piano box' style engine which quickly earned the name 'haywagon' because of its long and flat appearance. The brake and the pump levers were located on top of the engine and the men who climbed up and down it so skillfully were said to look like grasshoppers.  Even after they purchased a newer engine the name stuck.  'The Hoppers' kept their name for the rest of the company's existence.  At its high point, Engine Co. 17 boasted 75 members and their firehouse was regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country.

The resulting design is our best effort to create a station logo and design as if the company were still operating today.  We wanted everything to be hand-drawn and we wanted to bring the story of the 'hoppers' back to life.

It has been an amazing experience to be able to access the museum.  If you're visiting the city, you should stop by and support them.  You can even pick up a Hook and Irons shirt in their gift shop, our first retail location.

If you'd like to purchase Brooklyn Engine Co. 17, you can click here.


You can read more about the history of the Brooklyn Fire Department by following this link


Tools Of The Trade - Birth of 'The Hook' November 25 2014, 2 Comments

Earlier this year while visiting a neighboring firehouse, I saw that they had displayed a very cool shadow box with all of the different knots used in our fire department.  I really liked the idea and all of the other 'knot boards' I've seen.  I thought that it would be nice to see a board with many of the different types of hooks used in the fire service around the country laid out in a 'knot board' style so the viewer would be able to see all the different variations next to each other. As far as I knew, I had never seen anything like this before.


The first problem was finding the right designer who would be willing to research and sketch the different hook variations and lay them out in an interesting manner.  I chose Adam Weaver for this project because not only is he a very talented hand-letterer, he is also extremely talented at creating authentic and original illustrations. The only problem was that Adam is not a firefighter.  He did not know how important this tool is to us or it's many uses.  How could he feel as passionately as I do about our tools and our history? 

Fortunately, I've learned that Adam is a life-long student of many subjects and after the Keys To The City project, I know that he relishes learning the finer details of a subject rather than the broad strokes.

First, we set out choosing which hooks to use.  I tried to pick not only the most popular hooks, but ones that are unique to certain parts of the country.  After we settled on the subjects, Adam got to sketching.  We tried to never stray too far from the 'knot board' feel.  I wanted the design to be educational as well as visually interesting.


In the end, I feel Adam created a design that is truly original and unique--a design that I hope most firefighters would be proud to own.  

I want to thank Adam for being so patient and taking the time over these past months to learn so much about our world.   We have become fast friends and I hope Hook and Irons can tempt him into creating more designs for us in the future.

As for me. . .  Well I hope you guys dig all the care, dedication and time that went into this one.  And, as I always say, 'Wear it with pride.'  And this time, since we're offering a limited edition print, you can 'display it with pride' as well.                 


The Hook T-Shirt


Limited Edition Print

True Grit - Texas Born November 20 2014, 2 Comments

Being an indie brand and trying to survive out in the real world with the big fish has its own challenges.  There is no way that Hook & Irons can compete with big apparel companies. We don't have the budget for advertising and we don't have the staff to do all of the things I'd like to do.  My idea from the very beginning has been to reach out to other indie brands that I respect and admire, offer up a collaboration and see what comes of it.  This way the little fish can swim together.

One of Paulvilles Great Tees

I have been a fan of Paul McCreery for about a year now.  I found Paulville Goods in the same way most good things happen on the internet--as you're randomly reading and learning about something else.  I checked out his site, read his story and ordered a couple tees.  All hand-drawn by Paul, and all hand printed by Paul, one at a time in Austin, Texas.  

Around the same period, I started to notice what a great following we have in Texas and I wanted to do a design that is Texas inspired.  I reached out to Paul.  We brainstormed for a while on some imagery and phrasing.  A few days later he turned over the 'True Grit' design.  Simple, bold and perfect for Hook & Irons, this is the first design in a series collaboration for us.

Pic of Paul inking the design



Final Design

We chose 'True Grit' for two reasons.  First is the obvious cowboy reference.  Second is, I'm not sure there are two words that better describe the American Firefighter.  We hope you like the design, and if you're looking for some other killer designs and unique gifts for this holiday season, swing by Paulville and pick up a couple of his tees.  You won't regret it.


One of Paulville's latest tees

Birth of the Aerial Tee November 16 2014, 1 Comment

While scouring the internet and reading a historical essay on the San Diego Fire Department, I found a few photos that caught my eye.  The first was  a patent drawing By Chief A.B. Cairnes for an Aerial firefighting apparatus:

The second was  a photo taken a few years later of the Aerial after it was constructed:


The aerial stayed in service with the San Diego Fire Department for the next fifteen years, and it's inventor, Chief Cairnes served as San Diego's first fire Chief.  

Reading through this portion of San Diego's Fire History inspired me to make a design out of the patent drawing.  The first obstacle was finding the right person at the San Diego History Museum to propose the collaboration.  Next was finding the right graphic designer to make the patent drawing fit a t-shirt but still keep the heart of the original drawing in tact. 

The final design is simple and bold.  We printed it on three different colored shirts to give them each their own feel.

As with every Hook and Irons design, the purpose is to celebrate the history of the American Fire Service; the achievements and the legacies of those who have come before us with designs that are humble and clean.  Much thanks to the San Diego History Museum for being such a great partner on this collaboration and to Chief A.B. Cairnes for his contributions to the American Fire Service.




A Brief History of the Pompier Ladder May 18 2014, 19 Comments

Christ Hoell
Like most firefighters, I have a fascination and respect for anyone who has ever climbed or worked from a Pompier Ladder.  As buildings in the late 1800's grew in size and height, the ladder became a necessary tool for window rescues and scaling above the reach of ground ladders.  The ladder, shaped like a question mark, is driven hook first into the window above the firefighter.  The hook is pulled into the sill.  Then the firefighter climbs to the window, straddles the sill, raises the ladder to the next floor and repeats the process until he reaches his destination.  The pompier ladder is a simple, but effective tool for scaling buildings and saving lives.
The pompier Ladder was introduced to the United States in 1877 by Lt. Christ Hoell of the St. Louis Fire Department.  He learned of the tool and the method while working for the Elberfeld, Germany Fire Department.  The ladder had been invented about 50 years earlier in Germany and was already seeing wide use through the southern part of the country. 
In 1873 (at the age of 27) Christ Hoell emigrated from Germany and settled in St. Louis where he was a stone mason until he was appointed to the St. Louis Fire Department.  Early in 1877 two major fires in the St. Louis area prompted Christ Hoell to suggest and bring forth the idea of a 'Pompier Corps', to which he would train firefighters in the Pompier Ladder and other life-saving methods.  By December of the following year Lt. Hoell had trained St. Louis FD Hook and Ladder 3 and 4 and the first pompier crew was put into service in the United States.
After training the St. Louis Fire Department, Christ Hoell was given leave to train FDNY in the use of the ladder and his other life-saving methods.  New York's first rescue with the Hoell rescue device (pompier ladder) occurred on April 7, 1884 and was performed by John Binns of Ladder Co. 3.  The last rescue occurred on December 15, 1967.  Gene Dowling of Ladder Co. 25 made the daring rescue in 30+ mile per hour winds.  Both the first and the last rescues performed with the pompier ladder earned the James Gordon Bennet Medal, the highest honor bestowed to FDNY firefighters.
Many people owe their lives to this odd ladder and the daring firefighters who scaled the sides of buildings to save victims.  The FDNY carried the pompier ladder on their trucks until July 11, 1996 when it was decommissioned.  The Boston Fire Department still uses the ladder as part of its recruit training.
This design was hand drawn by Tom Lane using a turn of the century style that we believe matches the heart and soul of the ladder.  The lower left portion of the shirt displays the St. Louis FD logo with the year that Christ Hoell introduced the ladder to America.  We hope you like this new design as much as we do.

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.

Before e-mail

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

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. 






    Random Thoughts and Four Parallel Lines - By Leatherhead 109 March 13 2014, 0 Comments



    Training up future generations is becoming harder all the time. An officer needs to refine what is important and provide it. It is up to the firefighter to absorb it.


    I’ll allow I’ve been busy lately. Going back to school. Self-improvement, …or maybe self-destruction, …not sure yet. But I’ve had this topic on my mind for months and wanted to get it out to you. Pour a cup and sit yourself down…
    Its been that time of year for us. Twice a year our department is afflicted with the new and uninitiated, officially referred to as recruits or “probationary firefighter.” I say afflicted, maybe I should say blessed. But the desire to drink the amber liquid is certainly strong during these times.
    The process renews itself again and you are constantly bumping into the inexperience and confusion of the newly assigned probies on the shift. There is that temptation to growl and take a good size chunk the minute you lock eyes with them. Come to think of it, even looking directly at you, eye to eye irritates you, something in you wants them to just get out of the way. They get the picture quickly and give a wide berth. Some of that comes from our exhaustion of having to constantly deal with the new and uninitiated. And some of it comes from a belief that the new folks can never live up to those who have moved on. So, with a sigh perhaps, we pour a strong cup of the good brew and attempt to bring them up to par.


    Lovin’ the job! I take every opportunity I can to keep them learning. Improving character is on them, but giving them the opportunities is on us. Photo by Author.

    Where do we start? They of course go through the check offs and probie do’s and don’ts. But there is so much more than that. Especially nowadays. Sometimes we get those golden ones, those hell bent leatherhead’s that are on the move and practically were born with a fire helmet on. But that is getting rare. Most of them arrive having no idea what is expected. We need a vision to guide us in guiding them, a set of principles if you will. I speak this way because with all of the things that are bombarding the company officer on a daily basis, paying attention to the new jake on the rig is frequently becoming a lower and lower priority, whether the officer wants it that way or not. Time seems to be slipping through our fingers always.
    Our rig slides to a stop in the icy lot, the air brakes hiss, with minimal verbage from me, the driver has placed the rig very well. Black smoke boils up in the air. I order a line pulled and make my way to the burning vehicle. Its got a good head of steam up, assisted by plenty of engine oil and a tire. “Bam!” The tire goes and now the exposure vehicle is beginning to suffer. Looking back, probie has the line on the ground, but only just so..Sighing, I patiently wait for the snarl to get worked out..I feel impatient. The pop and crackle ahead of me makes me think of the wall of spectators in the neighboring eight story building and that now-burning exposure. I feel a flicker of temper. Constantly having to start at square one with these people. Probie calls for water and the line goes to work. I direct the effort to save the exposure, the fireman on the irons does his job well and we quickly get results. All in all, not bad. We’ll spend more time on making the stretch in confined areas. The exposure has some paint damage and a melted bumper. Could have been worse.
    Looking over at probie, he’s feeling the heat. Elated at having gotten his first fire, he’s also keenly aware that he made a disaster out of the his first-ever stretch. A dark thought dwells in my mind and the urge to lash out simmers inside me. In the past I might have torn him up over it, but I’ve grown old or something. I just look at him and smile a crooked grin. “Need to work on that..”
    Its not that I’ve grown soft. And not that I am learning to control my knife hand or my drill instructor intensity. Nothing so noble as that. I think the difference is that I have become ever more convinced that it is ultimately my duty to not only see to their skills, but his or her whole being. If there is an issue there, it is my issue every bit as much as it may be theirs. But hidden in me, at times is a tired longing to just go kick back and say the hell with it. I could easily just adopt a different mode of operation: pull the lines myself, break the windows myself, force entry myself, put the wet stuff on the red stuff….myself..then go find the lazy boy and call it a day.
    Some do so.
    Sometimes I think it would be easier. I have certainly known more than one officer that preferred to do it that way and often they would just leave the crew at the door and take care of business themselves. After all, we are there to get the job done. I think this issue is as old as the hills. But that is exactly how my generation of firefighters found themselves without answers. Nobody took the time to show us. Some say that in the ’80s and ’90s they just lost interest in teaching the arts and reduced it instead to “Essentials” and certificates. ”If you didn’t learn it there kid, you sure as hell won’t learn it here…” I tend to think that there is some truth in that. The new generations truly seem to have general traits or lack them, so did the ones that went before us. That buck stops with these pinned bugles, brothers! But I digress.

    Refining skills is a constant. Its is up to the company officer to foster an environment where they can be developed…”gain character”..Photo by author.

    The probie. He’ll get it. Repetition, coaching, demonstration…”no, it needs to be done like this, not like that..its important, let me explain why..” Keeping to the basics. “Son, …you’re efforts at making coffee are lacking…you really thought I’d drink this?”. (I need to find that coffee check sheet that LeBlanc sent me). Demonstrating and communicating what we want to see is not one of our finer points as firefighters. We like them to learn by some sort of osmosis. But like I said earlier, just because this was done to us doesn’t make it a successful tactic when leading those behind us. We have this nasty habit of pointing out the poorer aspects of our new people’s skill and lack of craft, but how many of us are quick to don the gear and gloves, demonstrating our own prowess and skill? Sometimes I’m not the best at a basic skill. Either the bones hurt or I don’t perform it often enough. So along with the will to demonstrate, needs to be the willingness to be humbled from time to time. Especially as you get older. There’s that slip and fall technique on the ice, where you brush the snow off your knees and backside and say, “humpf…, yeah, I figured that’d be as good a place to lie down as any..” Its’ all in the presentation. And so the winter days go up here in the north.
    But here is another nugget. The modern leader is also respected if he demonstrates that he or she is teachable and can absorb information and new ideas from the environment and from those they are leading. Today, studies of leadership in combat and other highly dangerous situations reveal that what causes respect for a leader, like other things in this fast-paced world, is changing. Specifically in how the leader is perceived by those being led. I’ll say more on this over other cups of Joe, but for now it is simply important to point out that of all the things that are important among those facing death or injury in combat, police work or even in the fire service, the leader’s ability to learn and adapt quickly to the changing environment is paramount. To put it another way, if you are entrenched in the methodology of your past and rigidly adhere to that knowledge base, you will grow stagnant in this fast changing world. And those you lead will not only fear your lack of ability to change and learn, but will not be as likely to follow you if they are given a choice.

    Keeping yourself in a place where you can learn and be teachable is important. Uncomfortable at times, but important. Bob Pressler at FDTN. Photo by Author

    Let me put it a third way. Talk all the talk you want. Bully and push, growl and mock. Once they begin to see that you don’t know what is going on, that you have failed to keep current in your own profession, this generation will lose faith in your ability to lead them and you will be left behind. They are dazzled by your sooted helmet and your bent bugles for a bit, yes. Eventually though, like we were at one point, they need you to present them with something of more substance. This is the failing point for so many of us.

    If you’re reading this, you’re maybe getting a little tired of my rant and looking for my point. Top off your cup..
    Maybe training isn’t the issue, but understanding what they need is..May I recommend adopting a stance of the Four Parallel Lines. Shall I explain?
    Four Parallel Lines. They define who we are and what we do, and we lay them down continually. They are invisible, but very tangible. They are our heart beat, our knowledge, our craft. They are our heritage and tradition and our survival. They are there but we give them little thought. The recruit’s ability to see these lines and learn them makes the difference between a fire service with a well defined mission and vision, and one that is lost and wandering. Our job as company officers is to illuminate them…so to speak.
    The first line is the body. Throughout our career, our body’s health and continual maintenance is essential. Without it, even for a short time, we are not ridin’ the red rig. The new folks have a much better foundation for physical health than we did at their age, but they lack application and temperance. With them its all out, all the time. Find ways to demonstrate and teach them pacing and moderation. Brute strength is not always best, I would much rather rely on someone who can go the long haul on a job and endure the job. The pounding our system takes just pulling a tour at the station is physically wearing. It may not show now, but it definitely shows as we age.
    The second line is the brain. Constantly in need of growth and challenge. There is so much to learn, they really cannot afford to kick back and coast along. So even if you are time limited, fire something at them. How is that building constructed? What are the three priorities for hose placement? Explain to me what the UL/NIST studies are doing to fire tactics right now? What killed the Wooster Six, how about SFD in the Pang Fire? “What? You don’t know about the Wooster Six?” And …let them see you working your brain! If they don’t see you learning, if they don’t see you seeking answers, they will not have a model to go by. Teach them to seek out knowledge and understanding. Require much of them here.
    The third line is character. New firefighters are constantly being taught skills and advanced or more experienced firefighters are constantly in need of refreshing these skills. Our skills, while dictated by our profession are really no different from other professions, they are essential steps in order to accomplish the task before us. If we were linemen or mechanics, would it be any different? But along with the skills, we are hopefully or should be learning character. Character is an intangible, which shows itself as we mature. Our character guides us in applying our skills. Another word for it might be assembling experience, which lends itself to helping us choose the right sets of skills for a given situation. This used to be taught on the job in the busy fire years of decades ago, but those days are fast disappearing and this character must be developed in training and daily fire house life. Character is largely developed over time and at ones own pace, absorbed from this firefighter and that officer. A continual process.


    The Spirit of the fire service is lying a little here and a little there, all you have to do is pick it up and breathe it in. ©Michael Dick http://www.fdnysbravest.com/ Used by permission.

    The fourth line, is the spirit. Spirit is loosely used to define the personality or consciousness of a being. A metaphysical concept. No doubt you realize I’m referring to the “Spirit” of the company, the house, the department, the fire service itself. You really cannot teach this. It has to be found, lying amidst the tossed and forgotten boots on the bay floor, the helmets on the hook, the tools in the compartment, the sound of the laughter and banter in the beanery and bunk rooms. A quiet cup of joe and a cigar out back on a summer night. The wail of the “Q” as your company leads in. This last line is the greatest gift that can be given to a new fireman. Its to be found lying about for anyone who has the ability to sense it, the discernment to take it in and the wisdom to use it to further the mission. It is who we have been, who we are now and most importantly, where we are going. Without it, this is just another job and sometimes they need us to help them become aware of it. Once again, the best way is to model it yourself.


    You can read more Leatherhead 109 here on his blog.

    Firewire 10/1 - 10/9 October 09 2013, 0 Comments

    The Video to Show at the Station When the Guys Complain  This is a video highlighting the struggles of the Highland Park Fire Department, which is located in the heart of Detroit.  When you're guys complain about the station, or  the rig, or running too many calls, show them this and realize that your situation is not as bad as some and is often better than most.


     In case running Into Burning Buildings is not enough excitement for you.  Here is a clip of a girl who thinks it's cool to swim with great white sharks.  Great video, just a little thrown off by the mousy voice and the gutsy action.  Either way, worth a watch.


    Variables with Kimi Werner from Justin Turkowski on Vimeo.

    Civilian Save

    Talking about gutsy, this is a pucker factor of 10 in my book.

     Tesla Takes A Cue From the Politicians and blames firefighters for a recent auto fire which occurred after an MVC and originated in the battery compartment.  Sometimes I get a little tired of being everyone's whipping post.  Either way, electric cars are here, you better start preparing for them.  Here's the article:


    Stonework on Rochester Fire Dept. Headquarters.....Just cool.

    That's all for now.  Keep it safe, keep your eyes open, and try to have a little fun in the process.



    Firewire 09/11-09/18 September 12 2013, 0 Comments

    For 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.

    Smooth Bore

    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, 8 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.

    Early Life

    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.

    Firewire 8/22-8/29 August 22 2013, 0 Comments

    A mostly fire related, semi-occasional, mining of web type stuff. 

    This week we released 'The Bronx is Burning' tee and so far it seems as if you guys like the shirt as much as we do.  If you're interested in learning more about The War Years in the Bronx, here are all four parts of the BBC documentary Man on Fire.  Each part is about 12 minutes long and give a true perspective of the time period.

    Doing all the research for 'The Bronx is Burning' tee, I've found so many great videos and pictures from the time period.  Here are a few more that didn't make the cut from the original blog.

    George Steinbrenner, left, gives manager Billy Martin a bearhug and congratulations after the Yankees defeated the Kansas City Royals to take the 1977 AL championship

    And the last New York thing I found (I promise) is a very cool before and after comparison to places in NYC.

    This is a very interesting photo essay.  You can see more by clicking here.

    Collab with Ryan Brown from Pursuit of NY

    Our new Bronx is Burning tee was designed by Pursuit of NY.  They are, about the coolest indie label I've seen in a while.  Check em out.

    Cool Stuff, you'll Probably Never Need

    A homemade adjustable wrench for all you doomsday preppers who are always preparing.

    Parting Thought That Pertains To My Frame of Mind During Most EMS Calls

    Enjoy your Thursday.

    The San Francisco Ladder Shop July 17 2013, 21 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.

    Through the Lock June 02 2013, 0 Comments

    Occasionally, we get inquiries about designs, custom orders, etc.  We also get suggestions, and at-a-boys.  We take all of these things seriously as we love hearing from all of you.  Recently though, we were contacted by Brandon Link, a designer out of Pittsburgh who caught our attention with some pretty incredible ideas.  What makes Brandon unique is that he is also a firefighter who works for Berkley Hills Fire Co. on Tower Ladder 247. 

    What was immediately apparent was that Brandon had obviously spent a great deal of time considering our brand, our style and our commitment to celebrating our great history.  He offered up some great sketches and shortly after we had a great design that gives the K-Tool its due justice.

    Link ventilating the 2nd floor windows

     Link ventilating the second floor windows and opening the soffit for the hose team inside

    Those that have used the K-Tool know that the ‘finesse’ approach, through the lock, is something that takes skill and confidence.  Its usefulness is obvious when forcing commercial plate glass doors and when minimizing damage upon entry is a priority.   The K-Tool was invented and patented by Lieutenant William McLaughlin (FDNY). McLaughlin was also a registered locksmith.  Additionally, he worked in the South Bronx on 19 Truck.  And later he became the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Fire Commissioner at FDNY.  His contributions to the fire service cannot be understated.  Decades old, the K-Tool is still the most popular lock puller sold today.


    From inception to final design 


     Example of K-Tool at work (ignore crappy hooligan)


    Highlighting the K-Tool and showcasing the work of firefighter/designer Brandon Link is the type of project we’re always looking for. 


    Legacy Built.


    Fire Forged.


    Wear it with pride.  Hook & Irons  K-Tool shirt.



    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, 93 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.

    -Michael Caine

    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."

    -Mark Twain


    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.

                        -Mike Ciampo

    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.

                                                          -Elvis Presley


    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.


    Windsor building fire

    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."

                                                                           -Woodrow Wilson

    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.

                                                                             -Mark Twain

    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.
                                                                                                                                               -Henri Cartier-Bresson

     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.'