Hook and Irons

Dear Chief, A Letter From the Guys July 05 2018, 12 Comments

Dear Chief,

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.

Your Past

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."

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The Damn Few May 09 2018, 3 Comments

The following is a guest blog by Capt. Mike Yetter, currently a USAR member, he is a training Capt with MDFR and former Captain of 'The Meat Grinder,' Aerial 29.

“The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”

– Unknown


“Here’s to us and those like us.  The Few. . .The Damn Few.”

The above lines are paraphrased, but in its entirety were made famous in the Book “Damn Few” by US Navy SEAL Rorke Denver and the movie in which he was also a part of,  “Act of Valor."  As with many inspirations that originate from the military, the concept of the few who make the difference resonates so true within the fire service.

Recently, it's become apparent to me that there are only a few who give a damn about the ethos, logos and pathos in cultivating true Firemanship.  It seems there are too damn few people who earn their paycheck compared to those that collect them. It appears more people are willing to get this job and damn few of them care enough to be good at it. There are too many recliners that shows signs of wear and tear when damn few are wearing out their gear on the training grounds.

The “Damn Few” are just that--the minority.  If you could group people into categories based on their work ethic, these would probably be the following categories as I observe them:

20% would consist of the “Aggressively Disengaged.” These are the people who arrive in body (not necessarily in spirit) just to collect a paycheck. They are barely average, yet complain when no one goes above and beyond to meet their needs. This doesn’t make them bad people, this just makes them useless. They are a liability to the department in terms of their lack of KSA’s and their potential influence to others.

60% are the “Average/ Status Quo”. As the group that represents the majority, these individuals are neither good or bad. They hang in the proverbial purgatory. Many who occupy this position have the capacity to rise above the status quo to either accomplish and be more, or  sink to the level of the bottom feeders. The only thing that separates the direction they go is the influence that guides them. These individuals have a choice. They are inclined by nature to be receptive to the influence that suits them.

Those categorized above are usually referred to as “Nice” when someone inquires about them. Be careful! If someone asks about a firefighter and the response is a shoulder shrug that coincides with an answer of, “He/She is a nice person…”  This is the tell, or politically correct way of implying that other than being a pleasant person, they typically don’t provide any benefit other than companionship.

20% are the “Damn Few." This designation is not self-imposed. These are the individuals who were either born to operate at a higher level or were so receptive to guidance it almost feels natural. These individuals are stubborn, somewhat idealistic, and have a strong disdain for anything less than the pursuit of perfection. Typically viewed as being “righteous”, they are seen as overachievers by their peers. Subordinates and supervisors (unless they are like minded) honestly don’t much care for them. However, when the impossible is presented because the many can’t accomplish it, it’s "The Few" that get it done. 

  

These thoughts transcribed are not done so from a pedestal. They are not intended to create inflated egos. These are merely observations from the trenches in admiration to the specific rare breed of individual who are rarely recognized for their dedication. 

Tonight, I raise my pint to you. . .The Damn Few.

Do you have a friend or coworker that you consider to be one of The Damn Few?  Write their name in the comment section below.

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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  

Ambassadors

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'.

Ownership

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

Wealth

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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I Will Leave the Light On For You - A Message For Police Everywhere July 18 2016, 7 Comments

Inspired by @rfdtruckie I have placed a blue light in front of my house.

Dear Officer, 

Tonight when you patrol the streets in the dark of this lonely night, blind to where the next danger lies in silent wait, I will leave the light on for you.

Tonight as the world and even our own president passes judgement on your profession, know that I understand your frustration as you must and do wait patiently for vindication. I will leave the light on.

Tonight when you rush to help those who don't appreciate you, who don't understand you, and who will be the first to condemn you, I will leave the light on for you.

Tonight as you take the world's misdirected anger and bear it time and again on your shoulders, I will leave the light on for you.

Tonight in your darkest hour, when you drive past my home, keeping watch over my family and my neighbors, I want you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.  I will leave the light on for you.

Tonight, as your own family sleeps peacefully in their bed, I know it is for them which you risk life and body.  And as you wonder time and again if the job is worth it, I will leave the light on for you.

Tonight as you question why you do what you do, look at my light.  The light is on for you and know you are not alone.  Know that the people who appreciate you the most will probably never need you.  The people who understand your plight will most likely never call for your service.  Good people everywhere are pulling for you and want you to know that the light is on for you.

You are not alone.  

When I wear my uniform, I witness the anger pointed toward you.  I have stood by your side as you mediated conflict after conflict in case after case where there are no winners only degrees of loss.  I have watched as you arrested sons and daughters, husbands and wives and countless others in order to stop violence and restore order--and I have seen the unjust anger toward you from those you are protecting.  

I have tended to your wounds, cleaned the bite marks, washed the spit from your face, and covered bullet holes in your body.  I have driven you to the hospital on more occasions than I care to remember.  As a firefighter, I stand in solidarity with you.  I understand you.  And when you pass the firehouse in the darkest hours of night, know that our light shines for you.

You are not alone.

I will leave the light on for you.

You are not alone. 

 

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How To Lose Good Firefighters In 10 Simple Steps September 06 2015, 24 Comments

During my time as a firefighter, I have enjoyed the best and suffered the worst a firehouse has to offer.  I have met some of my best friends and endured months with people I wouldn't trust out of my sight.  With that in mind, I thought I would compile a list--an easy to follow guide for the dirtbag, to ensure that any good firefighters that bid your station or who are placed in your house will not want to stay.  Just follow these 10 easy steps and you'll be sure to send those valuable employees packing and looking for greener pastures.  

1. Don't eat dinner together.  Crawl into the dark nooks of your firehouse and only come out to eat alone.  Bring your own special vegan-soy-protein infused meals, separated into individual tupperware containers and stored in one huge collapsible cooler that takes up half of a refrigerator--and make sure to never share.  Take turns in the kitchen, one at a time, cooking and preparing your own personal meal and eat by yourself while you scan your Facebook page dreaming of other places you'd rather be at that moment.

Olathe FD 

Eating dinner--breaking bread with your co-workers is sometimes the only chance busy houses have to sit and converse and to strengthen the bonds that good friends and firefighters have. Many of the problems I've had, have been put into perspective right there while we joked and laughed and took comfort in each others lives and stories.

Side note:  If you have a special diet because you just have to get on that firefighter calender or you realized that gluten makes you weepy, then you can still sit and eat together. You can eat the part of the meal that is acceptable to you and supplement it with your own.  The important part is that you make the effort and you see the value of a shared meal with some of the most important people in your life.

 

2. Do exactly what is expected of you and nothing more.  Look and see who is doing less and who is getting more than you.  See who drives the truck more than you.  See who sits in the better seat at the dinner table.  Make sure you show up right before shift change and whatever you do, make sure to never hold over.  

These people are personal behavior accountants, bean-counting the actions and in-actions of all their peers. They can recall with absolute clarity what each person has or has not done.  The problem with these types is they never put the magnifying glass on themselves.  

Good firefighters understand that cameraderie comes when you are doing more than is asked, when you are helping your brother with the most mundane tasks and when you suffer, execute and surmount obstacles together.  Trust comes after that.

3. Stop Training.  Complain at drill time.  Make excuses.  Drag your feet.  Whine and roll your eyes when you do the same drill again that you've been doing for the last fifteen years.  

There will come a point in everyone's career when they get comfortable--when they feel like they've got a good handle on their job.  And that is all well and good, but a good firefighter is always looking to be a little uncomfortable.  He wants to be challenged.  He wants to learn something new, even the smallest bit of information that may make his job a little easier and a little safer.

Training provides discovery.  Training provides purpose.  Training provides growth.  You should always try to remain a student of the fire service.  The day you finally graduate from the school of fire should be your first day of retirement.

4. No Recognition.  No matter what happens.  No matter what the new guy does, do not compliment him.  Do not recognize the effort.  He's just doing his job, right?

Verbal recognition is one of the only ways we as officers and we as peers can reward firefighters.  We can't offer them monetary incentives or days off from work.  We can't sweeten their retirement package, but we can tell them they did a great job on the nozzle, or that they blasted through that security door like lightning.  A compliment from someone you respect satisfies more personal needs than we would care to admit.  

In this line of work we often fail even when our efforts are outstanding.  The house burns, the person dies, and there is no effort that could have changed the course of what happened. Sometimes the only way we can make it better is by recognizing the efforts of others (even in failure) and giving them hope that the outcome won't always be negative.

5. Micro-manage.  One of my friends and one of the best drivers on our department was once told by his new chief not just to catch a hydrant, but 'how' to catch a hydrant at a fire.  After the fire, the order that was given and the way it undermined his knowledge and his skill, bothered him so much that he gave up his bid a week later, citing that, 'if he is going to tell me how to do my job at a hydrant, then he can get someone without a brain to do it for him.'  At the time, I thought the move was extreme, but later I realized that he knew that particular Chief would never trust his efforts and he would never feel happy with his work.  That Chief has only needed two or three of these steps to lose almost all his good firefighters.    

Good firefighters want to be given orders, but they also want to do it themselves.  They don't want you to hold their hand while they do it.  They want the opportunity to show you, 'I got this.  Don't worry.'

6. Ignore Feedback.  You're the senior man, right?  You're the officer, right?  If you wanted feedback from the junior guy, you'd ask for it.

When a firefighter notices something is wrong, don't just ignore him.  When he tries to show you a different way to do something, don't just blow him off.  If they want to try something new on an evolution or deployment try it out, let him discover what you may already know.  Who knows, he might even be on to something and you may not only improve the evolution, but improve the cohesion of the crew.  Sometimes the best you can do here is to provide a framework for them to try out their theory or suggestion.  And if you do shoot down the idea, at least you took the time to consider it and try it out.  

Side note:  Regularly ignoring feedback is a great way to keep firefighters from speaking up on emergency scenes.  If their opinions are not valued in the station, then why would they be considered during a time of danger?  There are firefighters who will follow you knowingly into a bad situation because it's their only way of saying, 'he doesn't listen to me anyway, so I might as well let him f*** up.'

7.  Be dishonest.  Say one thing and do another.  This is a fantastic way to lose a good firefighter.  If you can't be trusted, there really isn't much more to say.

8.  Do not support growth.  Belittle your firefighter.  Use training time to show how terrible they are when they make a mistake.  Do not work to make them better.  Don't let them act as officers and don't support outside education.

9.  Sabotage the efforts of others.  If someone takes on a project to improve the truck or the station, tell them 'they are all ate up,' or tell them to chill out, the department is not paying for that.  Better yet, tell them they're wasting their time by going to off-duty training.

Photo Courtesy of Bill Noonan 

The best firefighters are supporters.  They are team players.  Remember you're not always going to be 1st in.  You're are not always going to be the guy carrying the baby from the burning building.  Every football team only has one quarterback, but it is the effort and the support of the whole squad that brings the victory.  The great firefighters are often the unsung heroes, the never-mentioned guys that made the fire go so smoothly. Take pride in that.  

If you drag your feet when you're third due.  If you belittle the efforts of the young officer putting on his first drill, then you're well on your way to getting rid of that great firefighter. 

10. Disrespect yourself, your crew and your firehouse.  When you're off duty, act like an idiot.  Be selfish. Make the same mistake over and over again. Do something stupid and when you come back to work be stubborn and arrogant.  Whatever you do, don't apologize.  

Humility seems to be one of the most difficult things for a firefighter to cultivate.  Maybe because we have to be confident to do what we do, but eating a slice of humble pie after your blow-up the shift before earns a lot more respect than pretending it didn't happen at all.

If you're looking to ruin your station, if you're dying to get rid of that motivated guy, and if you'd rather hide in your cube the whole day, follow these simple steps and you'll be well on your way to finding more people that are just like you.








 


A Fireman Gives Thanks November 26 2014, 1 Comment

This holiday, I've compiled a short list of things I am thankful for.  Some I've taken for granted in the past and some I hold dear to me every day.  These are in no particular order of importance:

1.  The Halligan:  Sixteen years into this career and I'm still amazed all the time at how Hugh Halligan created a nearly perfect tool.  It's a step, a pry bar, a striking tool and I'm pretty sure if you're very careful you can use it to play vinyl records and remove splinters.

 

2.  My Crew:  I've been the bid-in Captain at Aerial 11 for a year and have been blessed to fall in with the best group of guys an officer could ask for.  My crew is mature. They are seasoned and they are true professionals.  They are the perfect mix of everything a fire truck needs. I've got a car buff, a grease monkey, a joker, a common sense guy, a straight talker, and a bulldog.  Truth is, neither one is any of those by himself, but together they are all those things and more.  

3.  Coffee:  This is my life-blood and is as part of my daily routine as waking, sleeping and eating.  I am thankful for coffee.  I am  thankful for the Bunn coffee maker in the station and I'm thankful of the never-ending supply that is on hand.  I'm also thankful that it's so good for you, because truthfully, how can anything this good be bad.

 

4.  The Chief:  This is something I had always taken for granted until this year.  Truthfully, you can't appreciate a truly great chief until you've experienced a truly terrible one.  Unfortunately, our battalion is on it's fifth Chief in 12 months.  Most have been mediocre, one has been terrible and all of them have not hidden the fact that they would rather be somewhere else.  So, to Chief Indy Morgado, Chief Mike Simon, Chief Danny Gonzalez, I say thank you.  To the others, I say that you truly have done a disservice to the rank.  I've got more to say about this, but I'll save it for a future blog.

5.  The Federal 'Q':  Really is there a sweeter sound to a firefighter?

6.  The Kitty Burger:  Many an afternoon, morning, and evening and late morning and early evening hunger pains have been cured with the kitty burger.  Also known as peanut butter and jelly, it is the official power bar of the fire service.  It is the protein powder for the guys that don't shave their arms and it is the perfect snack for firemen, because it can be prepared in under forty-five seconds and consumed on the way to a call.  If you're looking for a light version of this sandwich, take one piece of bread--pb on the upper half, jelly on the lower, then fold.  Kitty taco.

7.  Youtube:  This is a constant source of entertainment and education in the fire station.  Youtube has done more to bring the fire service together than any other thing I can think of.  It still amazes me that I can watch a fire from LA County, click a few more times and watch the brothers in Houston tackle some serious business.  Then click a few more times and watch the Crazy Hot Matrix.  Youtube has proven to me that firefighters across the country are largely the same--a little crazy (bout half a bubble off center), damn funny, and sometimes heroic.

8.  Modern Fire Boots:  When I started, we were issued the yellow martian moon boots--the rubber, guaranteed to slide off a roof, unable to leg lock a ladder boots.  I thought that was as good as it got until I tried on my friend's Haix.  Wow!  I will never go back and I'm happy to tell anyone that it will be the best money you ever spend in the fire service.

 

9.  The Firehouse Dinner Table:  It has been said before in many places, but the dinner table is where stories are told, friendships are forged, lessons are learned, and the brotherhood is born.  I am thankful for dinner with the guys.  On some days, it is the only time we all get to be together.  It is the place where I have had the most laughs and felt most at peace these last sixteen years.

10.  My Family:  I know, this one goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway.  You should feel just as sad to go to work as you are excited and you should be just as ready to leave in the morning as you are ready to hang for one more cup of coffee.  You should know that while you're away, your spouses are juggling everyday problems that are much more frustrating, long lasting and difficult than any fire you'll ever fight.  You are able to be who you are because of them and your success depends on their support.  

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  I wish you all success, laughter, and fire.  The ones you have to put out and the ones that drive you to be better than you are in 2014.

-George 

 


Tools Of The Trade - Birth of 'The Hook' November 25 2014, 1 Comment

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.

-George

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, 16 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.
-George

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. 

 

-George

www.hookandirons.com

 

     


    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:

    http://www.thebright.com/Fire/tesla-blaming-firefighters-making-tesla-fire-worse/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.

                                                                                                                                                     -HxI

     


    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.

    Movember

    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.

    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.

     

    Inspiration

    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 Last Great Fire of New York City - 1845 September 04 2013, 0 Comments

     

    Before dawn on July 19, 1845 a fire broke out on the third floor of a whale oil store on New Street (located in lower Manhattan).  An influx of early morning business and mild summertime temperatures might have aided in putting a quick stop to the blaze, but a warehouse located just a block away from the oil store was filled with a new shipment of salt peter (which is used in the manufacture of gunpowder).  Fire spreading from the oil store extended through the warehouses iron shutters and caused, 'a series of cannon-like bursts of smoke and fire, almost like a volcano, smashing into buildings across the street.  It culminated in a terrible final explosion completely engulfing the city block.'  The blast was heard as far away as Sandy Hook, NJ.

     

    The fire killed 4 firefighters (volunteers as the FDNY was not a paid department for another 20 years) and 26 citizens.  Before the fire was contained and extinguished it destroyed 345 buildings and caused nearly 7 million dollars in damage.  With all that devastation, the fire could have been worse.  The Last Great Fire of NY was the the third in a series of horrific blazes.  The first and second of which occurred in 1776 and 1835.  The result of the first two fires was a change in building codes.  All new buildings built in New York City had to be made of brick and mortar.  This code and the newer stone buildings helped to slow the spread of the blaze and aid in its containment.  The other significant aid to extinguishing the blaze was the recent completion of the Croton Resevoir which provided a steady supply of water throughout the conflagration.

    Here is an excerpt from a witness account of the blaze. 

    ". . .an immense body of flame... it instantly penetrated at least seven buildings, blew in the fronts of the opposite houses on Broad Street, wrenched shutters and doors from buildings at some distance from the immediate scene of the explosion, propelled bricks and other missiles through the air, threw down many individuals who had gone as far as Beaver Street, spread the fire far and wide, so that the whole neighborhood was at once in a blaze, and most unfortunately covered up the [fire company's] hose.... After this the firemen could with difficulty obtain any control over the conflagration."

    Inspiration

    When we contacted Ryan Brown from the Pursuit of NY, we gave him very simple instructions.  We wanted him to create a design that was historically significant to New York's history.  We wanted it to be a fresh, new look for a t-shirt.  The rest was up to him.  We knew the problem wouldn't be coming up with an idea, more honing in on one great idea.  The Last Great Fire tee is the result of all his research.  The whale represents the whale oil store that was responsible for the blaze.  The whale is also drawn into a rough shape of Manhattan and the blaze escaping from his mouth is roughly where the fire started.  Located on the top and bottom of the whale are map icons for the East and North River with an anchor showing north and south and the date of the fire.

    The Last Great Fire of New York City encompasses everything we look for when we make a shirt--a design that stands alone on its own merit and becomes more interesting once you learn the story behind the design.  Ryan Brown is one of the great talents we've come across since starting H&I and if you're looking for cutting edge designs from one of the hippest indie labels out there, you should check him out at Pursuit of NY.

    Historical Novel

    While researching The Last Great Fire, I came across a mystery novel that takes place in 1845 New York and includes the The Last Great Fire in the novel.  The Gods of Gotham written by Lyndsay Faye was one of Publishers Weeklys top ten Mystery/Thriller novels of the year.  Lyndsay spent over a year researching the book before writing it and by all accounts is very historically accurate.  Beyond that, I would recommend it as a very easy read.

    The Last Great Fire of New York City changed the building codes in New York City and eventually played a part in unifying the fire service into what would become FDNY as we know it today.  We're proud to release this shirt and recognize that from the ashes we rise and continue the mission of making the fire service better than it was before we found it.


    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.

    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.

    -George

     


    Our Lady of Angels Fire December 01 2012, 3 Comments

    Today marks the 54th anniversary of Our Lady of Angels Fire that devastated so many lives and marked one of the most tragic fires in American History.  The fire occurred at Our Lady of Angels School on the west side of Chicago and killed 92 children and 3 nuns.  Here is an excerpt from a previous Chicago Tribune story about the fire:

    "Max Stachura stood outside the burning building, begging his little boy, Mark, 9, to jump into his arms. Children were falling all about the father and he caught or stopped the fall of 12 of them. But little Mark was too frightened or he didn't understand his father. Mark didn't jump."

    Fifty years later, Mark's mother has the day in crisp focus, and adds a missing detail.


    As Mark stood at that second-floor window, fire to his back, he held a small statue in his hand and waved it proudly through the black smoke, hoping his father would notice. Mark had won the statue that day —a figure of an infant Jesus — for being first to answer a quiz question.

    The fire began at the foot of a stairwell in the basement of the school about an hour before school was scheduled to let out for the day.  The fire which started in a trash barrel went unnoticed for 10-20 minutes filling the stairwell and the 2nd floor (which did not have a fire door) with smoke.  Fire department units arrived within four minutes of being called, but by then the fire had been smoldering unchecked for possibly 40 minutes. It was now fully out of control. The fire department was also hampered because they had been incorrectly directed to the rectory address around the corner on West Iowa Street and lost valuable minutes repositioning fire trucks and hose lines. Additional firefighting equipment was summoned rapidly, but by then it was already too late for most that were trapped on the second floor.  Stories from the firemen and victims from that day are truly horrific.

     

     

     

     

     

    Our Lady of Angels fire brought sweeping changes in school fire safety regulations which were enacted nationwide, including mandatory sprinkler systems, fire doors, and requirements for specific building materials for the construction of new schools. Some 16,500 older school buildings in the United States were brought up to code within a year of the incident.  We've attached a short docu-film about the fire and if you're interested in reading more about the fire, its cause and the investigation afterward, you can click here.  




    Where We Stand October 25 2012, 0 Comments

    Today, just over a month after the launch of Hook & Irons we have been overwhelmed by the support received from the firefighting community.  We've made connections and friends in ways we would've never suspected, and received help in the most unlikely places.  

     

    Most surprising though is the support we've received from non-firefighters, friends of firefighters, and people who just appreciate the fire service.  The thing about firefighters is we are a tight bunch and can be pretty exclusionary.  Once we become firefighters and join the brotherhood those around us that we love often find themselves on the outside of our war stories and inside jokes.   They get a glimpse into our lives and our passion, but they don't necessarily get the 'invite' to be a member.

    What we're discovering is that Hook & Irons Co. is for everyone who loves the fire service.  It's for everyone who respects the best of who we are and what our profession represents.  And when Digital Arts magazine interviewed Tom Lane about our brand we were blown away.  It's not just the firefighters that are H&I company members, but graphic artists, history lovers and people who just dig the designs, the brand, and what we all stand for.

    And that is what makes us most proud.  If you'd like to read the article in Digital Arts, you can click here.




    Close the Book October 11 2012, 10 Comments

     

    This week, my department released a very short, simple memo.  It stated that on Monday October 8, 2012 Miami-Dade Fire Rescue would no longer maintain a hand written logbook.  Perfunctory and to the point, the e-mail was sent to every firefighter in our department.

     

    There wasn't a pause, a moment of silence, a last alarm, or even a mention of the tradition we killed in the name of efficiency.  No one said a eulogy and no one rang a bell for the thousands of officers that had carefully documented everything that had happened on their watch at their station on any given day in Dade County.  To think about the millions of calls our department has run in almost a hundred years is one thing.  To see the volumes of logbooks that document every one of them is another.

     Why was I so bothered by this change?  Every other officer I talked to seemed thankful that this extra bit of work was being lifted from our shoulders.  Don't get me wrong, at three o'clock in the morning there is no higher form of drudgery than sitting down and documenting some call that was anything but an emergency.  Why, after five day, does this change still bother me?  This was something that I had a hard time putting my head around.  I'm certainly not a technology hater or a doomsday prepper.  I have my iphone in my pocket.  I'm on Facebook.  I love having the TIC at my side going into a fire.  And I'm sure the department has all of our documents secured on servers in fireproof rooms and virtual  iclouds. Then it hit me.

    Those logbooks--those documents written in so many different handwriting styles, are the only substantive evidence of the daily work we do. Those books are the only thing that you can pick up, feel, read, and see what that day--any day cost us.  You can see it in the chicken scratch of tired officers or the careful letters of men who are not used to writing much more than their name.  But most of all, you could walk in before your tour, run your finger down the column of calls and see if your brothers had a fire, a rough night, or if the gods were kind and let them sleep.

    So this blog is not so much about blasting technology.  It is more a warning to consider the things you leave behind in the name of efficiency. 

     

    What was lost today?  Today I lost that moment in the morning when I sit with my coffee and write the names of each member of my company--that moment where I sit and consider their strengths and weaknesses and how I will use them in different situations.  Sure I will still do this.  I'll just have to find another way.  And for me, writing these names was a reminder to myself, a contract that I am beholden to that states that I'm responsible for the safety of each firefighter at my station.  If you don't believe me you can look for yourself and see it written in black and white on the page.  

    There isn't a blinking screen in the world that can provide that same feeling.

     


    Pay It Forward September 20 2012, 0 Comments

    Hook and Irons Co. was born with one philosophy, pay it forward. Our idea was simple; we would help the fire service reconnect with its history using the tenets of early American craftsmanship to build our apparel line. Through meaningful, simple designs, we are creating shirts that are more than shirts, they are historical threads and conversation pieces.  Whether you are active, retired, volunteer or just someone who loves the spirit of the American fire service, we want you to feel proud wearing our clothing. Firefighter or not, being a part of the brotherhood is as simple as knowing where we, as Americans come from and honoring that feeling everyday of our lives. 

    Recently, we received an e-mail that made us proud and re-affirmed our belief in the Hook & Irons project:

    " Thank you for making something that makes me feel like I'm still part of  the brotherhood. I spent 10 years as a volunteer helping other people because of things I witnessed in my youth. I was not motivated by the paycheck but doing my part of being a responsible human being.

    When my time with the fire service was done, I felt like I was on the outside. Sometimes hearing the comments from active firefighters has been very disheartening.

    Then one day something happened. I was walking through a store and a young man walked up to me and said, " You don't remember me but you saved my life. At that moment every sore muscle and sleepless night I had on the job was worth it. I do remember you Eddie! I told him. Never in my life did I ever feel so humbled. God saved Eddie that day, I was the tool he used.

     -Paul

    Paul served on Engine 7474 as a firefighter / EMT at Coloma Lotus Volunteer Fire Department California

                                                                                                          

                                                                                                                                                            


    Richie Stewart and the Social Club September 08 2012, 3 Comments

    In the early 1800's middle class Gentlemens Clubs were popular in most major cities. These were later referred to as Social Clubs. It was a place where people would escape everyday life and could meet, drink and tell stories. It wasn't uncommon to see patrons playing bar games, listening to live music or enjoying a fine rolled cigar. Modern day social clubs have evolved over the years.The original concept has slowly become what we know today as our favorite watering hole.  After a long tour of duty, these bars are commonly filled with firemen telling war stories or laughing over the pranks they played on the new guy. These are the times when we celebrate the brotherhood of the fire service. 

    While researching photos and the history of the fire service we came up with the idea to create our own Social Club.  We wanted to have an outlet where our fans could come together to celebrate the fire service and it's traditions.  A band of brothers who cherish the history of the fire service and want to carry on its legacy.  We want the Hook and Irons Social Club to be there when the bag pipes are filling the streets and when the bartender rings the bell for the last call. 

    When we set out to create the Social Club, we had one artist in mind. Richie Stewart.  

     

    We pitched him the idea and he immediately jumped on board. You see, Richie lives in Boston,one of the epicenters of early American Social Clubs, where he is no stranger to a tall glass of golden goodness. We looked through his logos and agreed on a concept; simple, clean and bold. He took his inspiration from catalogs of old Americana union logos, and a few weeks later he sent us this gem. 

     

    The bold typography and his artistic renderings of a drop of water and a lick fire represent "firewater" perfectly. We love the double meaning.  Finally, Richie rounded out the design with a smoldering cigar. Richie Stewart's art is unmistakable and timeless, if your interested in seeing more of his retro inspired work, click here.   

    With the logo complete, the Hook and Irons Social Club has come to life. We invite you to proudly wear the seal of what Hook and Irons Co. represents. There is a lot more to come from the Social Club.  Until then, like us on Facebook so you can share a pint with us at our next gathering.