Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences

*Image from genewhitehead.com


Lately I have seen several notifications of testing and recruitment initiatives for fire departments across the nation that are specifically aimed at veterans of our armed services. While I think this is a great thing on the surface I can’t help but wonder if there won’t be unintended consequences that come along with hiring our vets. Now, before you leave me a nasty comment and unsubscribe from the blog let me explain.

First and foremost you won’t find a bigger supporter of our military men and women than me. My family has a strong history of service in many branches of the U.S. military and I, myself was headed to the Navy before life circumstances changed things. Two buddies and I even showed up at the local Marine Corps recruiting office the morning after Gulf War Part I began (eternal thanks to the Gunnery Sergeant who asked if we really wanted to be Marines or if we were simply signing up because of what had begun the night before and then going on to explain that it would be over before we were out of Boot Camp). I strongly believe every American owes a debt of gratitude to our service members, past and present. It is in that same vein that I like to see these recruitment initiatives targeting retired service members. Anything that can help our men and women who are transitioning back to civilian life find a job, a purpose and income to support themselves and their families is worth backing in my book. However, when we look at military veterans and the fire service there is something that immediately jumps out to me. A parallel that perhaps others aren’t seeing in their exuberance to help out our retired soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coasties. That parallel would be suicide.

Just this past week alone (August 24, 2015 – August 30, 2015) 7 firefighters and paramedics committed suicide according to the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance FaceBook page. While I do not have weekly, monthly or yearly breakdowns for military suicides, according to the Military Suicide Report 100,000 military veterans have committed suicide since September 11, 2001. Let that number sink in. 100,000! And that does not include the active duty military members that choose to end their own lives. According to a Department of Defense report cited in the Military Times on suicide rates, the 2013 numbers (most recent cited) were 259 total active duty suicides across all service branches with another 220 in the Reserves and Guard. 479 service members in 2013 alone.

Behavioral health has been a hot topic in the fire service for some time now. Depression, PTSD, anxiety and alcohol and drug (prescription or illegal) dependency are all common problems facing todays fire and EMS professionals. Some of the factors that cause these issues to take hold cannot be avoided. They are hazards of our chosen profession. Just as we cannot pick and choose which calls we will answer because of what we may have to see and deal with, neither can the soldier pick and choose the patrol or mission to go out on. But the commonality between the two is that the experiences, sights, sounds, smells and memories that both firefighter and soldier are exposed to can lead to permanent imprints on each service members life. The risk factors and the resulting effects and coping methods are the same for both public safety employees and service members. The arenas are just different. So why then would we want to recruit our veterans for a job that is going to place the same stresses and risk for mental and emotional damage upon them? For some very good reasons, it turns out.

The fire service is a paramilitary organization with rank structure, designated jobs, a common mission, unit designations and camaraderie. Things that every veteran would recognize and be comfortable in the midst of. The fire service is a stressful environment in which members are expected to perform their jobs well and to complete whatever mission is before them. Again, something any veteran can relate to. Many skills developed in the military are desirable in the fire service as well. From leadership skills, to mechanical skills, to computers and radios, to tactics and strategy a veteran has a unique advantage over many civilian recruits. Besides being a way that the American home front can repay its debt to our soldiers it just makes sense to recruit them. There is a risk, however. In recruiting veterans we have to be aware of the parallels I noted above. Does this mean we should not recruit them? Absolutely not! I completely believe we should. But in so doing I think that fire departments across the nation must be prepared to take a step that until now has never been taken in the hiring process specifically and continue this throughout every members career.

I was once told by a Chief officer that no one in the history of that particular department had ever passed the mandatory psych exam prior to being hired. He went on to say that everyone was “off” in some way and that the psych merely looked for major warning flags that indicated propensity to violence, addiction, theft and other major issues. If some of these red flag issues were identified in an applicants testing they were failed. It makes sense to me, we all have to be a little “off” to voluntarily sign up for some of the things we know we will be getting into as fire and EMS professionals. But now that we are actively recruiting a portion of the population that has already been identified as having some “red flag issues” is merely “bouncing” them from a failed psych test the correct and moral thing to do? I would argue no and this is where I think the American fire service can perhaps have a positive impact on veterans identified as less than optimum employees but human beings nonetheless.

I would propose that fire departments begin to set in place a safety net of sorts for those veterans that do not pass psychiatric exams prior to hiring. Instead of receiving a form letter in the mail or a cold, disembodied voice on the other end of a phone telling them they failed and thus will not be hired, how about a meeting with a mental health professional to discuss the findings of the exam and what steps could be taken, if not already in place, to help this individual out? How about already having resources in place for the vet to take advantage of? Perhaps some vets will already have begun counseling or other forms of treatment on their own. Great! But as we have all seen with the recent VA scandals many simply don’t have access to these needed resources. They are a number in a long line of numbers waiting on bureaucratic red tape and policy. Set up partnerships between these resources and your department to work with both prospective candidates and your existing employees. Can we or should we offer this type of help to every individual who fails a psych? Perhaps the right answer is yes, but how about we start with those who have already proven all they need to prove to any of us?

Hopefully by now you understand that it is not that I don’t wish to see veterans serving along side of us but that I want to ensure that those that do and even those that tried to, have some sort of access to mental health resources. This is a deep subject, with many off-shoot conversations that can be had. It delves into mental health after employees are hired and have been serving. It branches into the understanding and lack thereof of many of todays administrators over the issue of mental health. This one article was not meant to address every issue. But as I saw these recruitment initiatives popping up I couldn’t help but see the potential risk this otherwise awesome opportunity posed to our nation’s warriors. I thought maybe if I was thinking it someone else was too and maybe if I wrote about it someone might see it and decide they could do something to make things better. I know there are a few chief officers who follow me, a couple legal counsels and many firefighters and EMS pros that can have influence in their organization. Maybe no one has thought of this. Maybe you guys can push it forward and have a positive impact.

Until next time,

Stay safe,


Fire Service Lemmings



Know what pisses me off? Well, yeah, that. That too. Yep, that. Ok, smart alecks how about I just tell you what pisses me off this particular time? Firefighters who don’t read. Which wouldn’t be you guys reading this because, well, you’re reading this and I don’t have a lot of pictures on my stuff.

In particular I hate firefighters who look at a picture and don’t take the time to read an associated article, post or what have you, and then comment on said picture. I had been thinking about this post for other reasons but then went to Facebook to do some mindless tooling around. I came cross Bill Carey’s page on which he had shared a photo from the Fire Engineering Training Community and the article associated with it, see below.

bill carey fb 2

Here’s the really, really ironic part. The article that is associated with Bill’s FB post is written by Lt. Brian Bastinelli and is entitled 1/250th of a Second. It talks about exactly what I’m talking about, how a photo is 1/250th of a second in time and we don’t know for certain what occurred before or after that captured moment in time. Lt. Bastinelli’s article can be found here. I highly encourage you to read it, it’s very good. So back to Bill’s FB post. At the time of this post there were 45 comments on the photo Bill posted. Exactly 41 of them were commenting on the hydrant flushing operation, the lack of hydrant maintenance or the argument over whether or not this was a real job and why the Engineer doesn’t have gear on. The fact that Bill was commenting on flushing your mind and doing some research on something and posting a picture to illustrate that  was completely missed by 91-freaking-percent of the people that chose to comment. Bill’s a very smart guy but I doubt even he meant to illustrate his and Lt. Bastinelli’s point so succinctly. SMDH.

This fire service ADD doesn’t just include photos and the comments that are made after them. Oh no. Lest we be accused of singling out one particular type of media we also apply it to the written form of communication too. LODD reports, NIST and UL studies and other forms of the more classic form of written communication fall prey to this abomination as well. Most often this comes from firefighters who only read a headline, or a summation of an entire report and draw conclusions from that little bit of information. Take the transitional attack and flow path arguments that are so en vogue right now. The research that is cited in many of these arguments is often times so bastardized that I find myself constantly questioning whether or not I missed something when I read the different publications because what is being spewed as gospel wasn’t in the bible I read.

Take some time to make yourself a better, more informed firefighter and actually read the reports. Do some research into a picture you’re seeing and have an issue with. Maybe there is an explanation as to how or why something is being done in a particular fashion that you aren’t aware of from looking at 1/250th of a captured second. Quit sounding like an idiot and making us all look bad when you type something without understanding or comprehension.

Stay Safe


Response to the Sudden Interest in “The Pussification of the American Fire Service”


Hi all. Over the last approximately two-and-a-half days there has been a very sudden and very dramatic up-tick in the traffic on my little old site. This increase in traffic has been to the tune of 11,883 visitors in this time-frame. Over 8,000 of those visits were yesterday alone. My previous one-day record had been 443 visitors. Imagine my surprise when I started getting notifications from WordPress about the increase in traffic and to what extent! This has been in large part due to my post “The Pussification of the American Fire Service.” This post was written January 5th, 2011 after the deaths of two Chicago FD Firefighters, Corey Ankum (Tower 34) and Edward Stringer (Engine 63) on December 22nd, 2010 and in response to a blog post by a Mr. Robert Avsec on Fire Chief magazine’s website. This blog post was, in my estimation, very insensitive and down-right inflammatory at the time of its writing and publishing. Much to her credit Editor-in-Chief (at the time) Janet Wilmoth removed the post and posted a sort of apology. This is why those of you who have tried clicking the link to the article have come up empty.

While the recent responses I have gotten to the article have been overwhelmingly positive I have seen a few that were not so. And I know that with as many visitors reading the piece and with far fewer comments on it, there are bound to be many more that have decided to let discretion be the better part of valor and just not comment. I understand this. The article is strong. It is polarizing. It is raw and decidedly not P.C. But it was me at the time of writing. As the last couple paragraphs describe I nearly lost a very good friend and CFD firefighter. I have seen countless others injured and killed. I watched live on local TV as the effort to rescue Firefighters Ankum and Stringer as well as their fellow comrades unfolded. I watched as they removed the bodies. I watched as the ambulances took them to the hospital, escorted by CPD cruisers and their companies apparatus. The lines of their Brothers and Sisters waiting to salute them. And I did it with a firefighter’s heart. A Brother’s heart. So when the blog post by Mr. Avsec appeared I reacted with the same.

I have been called angry. I was. I have been called bitter. I was. I have been called dangerous, a dinosaur, over-aggressive and someone who will likely get myself or someone else killed. Except for those last two, so be it. It’s my brand of firefighting. It may not be yours. As for the last two barbs, never. I may die on the job, no one knows. But I won’t do it recklessly or foolishly. I won’t do it uninformed or uneducated. And I certainly won’t take anyone else with me who is not there fighting side-by-side and equally as hard as I am doing the job we were sworn to do. If the possibility of dying in the performance of our duties, even while doing everything “right”, is not something that you can accept or are willing to risk perhaps your motives for doing the job are not what they should be. Does that mean I think you should die in the line of duty? Does that mean I want to die in the line of duty. Does that mean I have a death-wish? Absolutely and unequivocally no to all of those questions. It means that the risk of having to place my life in danger, or even giving it up, in the service to other people is something I have considered and calculated and come to terms with.

My definition of in the service to other people may differ from yours as well. I believe that it includes searching a years-long abandoned laundry mat that first-due companies knew was being used by the homeless and indigent for shelter. I believe it includes searching a building that was found to have board-up materials forcibly displaced. I believe it includes using all my experience, training and skills to help someone who may be in that building. Even if that building is abandoned, or dilapidated or supposedly empty. Because it isn’t empty until we say it is. The professionals who took the job, volunteer or paid, to search those buildings for people who may or may not be there.

So. To whomever started this post’s skyrocket ride. Thank you. I really appreciate it. Why now and how it has come to be so I’m in awe over. Honestly. I’m shocked and humbled that so many people would take the time to read something I wrote. Even if you disagree.

Until next time,

Stay safe.



This post isn’t going to be what about what you think it’s going to be about. I’m not asking the question that comes to mind most often when we see the abbreviation that this post is named for. In fact, I’m stealing it from Chief Billy Goldfeder and the others over at firefighterclosecalls.com. You see, for at least a couple of years those guys would use “WTF” in their gallery of pictures depicting firefighters and other emergency responders doing some not so smart things. Many of us, myself included, assumed they were just asking what many of us were thinking in our heads, “What the f*&K?!?” They took some heat over it too. Some called it unprofessional. Some called it picking on undertrained brothers and sisters. Some just didn’t like the implied cursing. And for a long time the Chief and everybody else just kept quiet and continued to do what they did and used the attention-getting abbreviation. Then, one day, kind of out of the blue, an explanation was posted. Some of you already know the story, but for those of you that do not it turns out we were all wrong. “WTF” didn’t stand for, “What the f*&k” and they weren’t calling anyone out per se. They had fooled everyone. Turns out they were asking a question; “Well-trained Firefighter(s)?” OH! Duh! <Forehead slap> That was a good one! Which is what brings me to my rant today.

I, along with many others in our profession, have been touting training as the answer for all evils in the fire service for some time now. If we just train harder, train smarter, train more realistically, train more often etc. etc. then our LODD’s will go down, our injuries will go down and we won’t see as many brothers and sisters getting into trouble across the country. Slowly, however, I’m starting to change my tune a little bit. Not that I don’t think we need to train in all those ways, we do. But in many areas we have been missing a vital component; training our firefighters how to think.

We are great at teaching our candidates how to do a task. We read the chapter on forcible entry, we watch the power point presentation, a couple YouTube videos of real scenarios, then we take them out to the training tower or an acquired structure and have them break some real doors and locks. Just. Like. The. Book. Says. Rarely do we get into the “why” part of how we do things. Someone once said to me that, “An airline pilot never had to load baggage to learn how to fly the plane.” Nope, he never did. But damn straight he understands the issues surrounding weight and balance and how that affects aircraft performance and fuel consumption rate. If the ground crew asks him at the last minute if he can take a rush cargo package that is an odd shape and weighs a lot he better know how it will affect his aircraft and the flight he is about to undertake. Shouldn’t it be the same with our firefighters? Here is how you do something but equally important here is why you do it this way. If we understand the why it leads to an overall better education and will help the firefighter overcome obstacles that are met in the field when he or she isn’t on a training ground with good visibility, lots of room and a prop that is intended to break. If they understand the why they can figure ways around problems when options A, B and maybe even C don’t work. Without that part of their education when the one method they have been taught for a given scenario fails they lack a critical thinking component to be able to come up with another solution.

This issue of teaching why is becoming increasingly important as more and more scientific research is showing what happens in fuel rich and oxygen starved fires. Things like flow path are becoming very important parts of our teaching these days. But why does a Probie need to know about its existence and the possible ramifications of early and aggressive ventilation. Because it may get them killed, that’s why. If a firefighter is ever only taught, smoke + heat + interior attack = ventilation and sets about taking every window in the place prior to the hose line being Robot Firefighterready can we really blame him or her when we’re still on scene two hours later trying to put the flames out from the outside? We need to be teaching, smoke + heat + all this research and stuff over here = controlled ventilation at certain key times and this is why. We need to be raising smart, thinking firefighters instead of dumb robots who are programmed to hit Halligan with flat head axe, repeat, repeat, repeat until set. Push on Halligan. Door open. What happens when door doesn’t indeed open but the robot has only been programmed with the one method of attacking this problem? Robots can’t think. They can’t adapt to a fluid situation and make decisions as to what the next-best course of action should be. Or to use information and clues from their surroundings to aid them in making those decisions.

My daughters are being taught using the Common Core curriculum. I hate it. I don’t get it a lot of the time. But you know what aspect about it I do get? The one that makes sense to me? They are being taught multiple methods of coming up with the same answer, particularly in math. Instead of sitting down with an 8.5″ x 11″ multiplication table and memorizing the entire stupid thing, like I did, they are given methods A), B) and C) to get to the same answer and allowed to pick the one that they understand the best. Heck, my oldest came up with her own method the other night that made sense to her and got her the right answer. How can you argue with that? I’ve seen her use different methods on different problems because it is easier or makes the most sense for that particular question. She’s being taught critical thinking without even realizing it. We need to do more of that in the fire service. Out with the old salt senior man screaming at the Probe, “Because I said so, that’s why”, and in with the here’s the task, here’s the desired end-result, here’s some different scenarios you may run into in the real world and here’s options for overcoming them.

Serving as an instructor at a multi-jurisdictional training at a burn facility I watched a crew give up and walk away. They were role-playing as the first-due Engine on scene of a working fire. The officer got off, did his 360, returned to his crew and gave orders. The line was pulled to the front door which was a forcible entry prop. They had to force their own door before the door to the tower was opened and they could advance the line. The prop was set with wooden wedges. Nothing crazy, not even soaked in water overnight. Just wooden wedges, two if I remember right. They worked on that door for what seemed like forever. i quitThe full assignment had arrived, received their orders and gone to work and still they were working on that door. The whole time using the same method that had not worked for them in the minutes preceding. Then they gave up. Literally dropped their tools, picked up the line and went around the tower out of my view. They eventually began their attack through a first floor window. Innovative? Sure. Adaptive? Yep. But I would argue that in a way it was kind of disappointing and deflating. This crew lacked resources upon which to draw when plan A didn’t work. They may have forgotten them over time. Maybe every forcible entry drill they had done over the last several years had only allowed them to practice one way and it had worked all those times. I don’t know. But it was an eye opening experience for me to observe. WTF?

Our profession has always had a strong and proud tradition of adapting and overcoming. Sometimes even to our detriment. We just fall back on this and maybe rely on it too much. As instructors, senior members, officers or just members with a passion for the job we owe it to those we serve with and those coming behind us to improve the way we instruct. We need to have a wide variety of weapons in our arsenal.

Until next time,

Stay Safe


On Robin Williams and Canada




















As the world reacts to the news that actor/comedian Robin Williams has passed in what is being reported as a possible suicide, the event is bringing renewed attention to the issue of depression. At the same time a recent article in the Global News, an on line Canadian news paper, highlights the recent spate of suicides among Canadian first responders. You could look at this post as having nothing much to do with you if you aren’t an extremely successful and well loved Hollywood celebrity or if you don’t happen to hail from the Maple Leaf. However, if you are here and reading this odds are you are a first responder, and it has everything to do with you.

Robin Williams had been very candid in the press with his on-going struggles with depression and drug and alcohol addiction. Williams claimed he had never been formally diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder but that he would get extremely down and sad for periods of time, which usually resulted in him turning to drugs or alcohol as self-treatment. While the symptoms of depression and/or bi-polar disorder could have actually contributed to some of his success with his high-energy brand of comedy (the manic up-side), the downside of the disease(s) were clearly worse.

So what does this have to do with Canadian first responders? It just so happens that Global News published a report on July 17, 2014 discussing 13 suicides among police officers, firefighters, EMT/Paramedics, dispatchers and jail staff in 10 weeks. Many, if not all, of these suicides are being attributed to the effect of PTSD, associated depression and other mental illness in these public servants.  This is not just a Canadian issue, as we all should know. PTSD and depression know no international boundaries and the common job we all share make us very susceptible to the diseases.

Many of you know that I struggle with depression. If you did not you can read about my history and diagnoses in a post I wrote about it here. I am not ashamed to say this. More of us need to be unashamed about the fact that we need help with some of the things we witness due to this job. The stigma of mental illness needs to be crushed if any real progress will be made toward lowering the number of public servant suicides. Our brothers and sisters need to feel safe in coming forward with their struggles before help is sought. Looking weak, fearing further isolation from their co-workers, worrying about job security or re-assignment, and a feeling of needing to deal with it on their own because they deal with everyone else’s problems are just some of the reasons “we” don’t seek help and take advantage of the resources that are many times already available to us.

Discussing mental illness isn’t as sexy as talking about flow path. It isn’t as glamorous as rallying support for the brothers and sisters succumbing to the cancers killing them from working at Ground Zero. But it is killing us the same as any other danger we face. It is something we can do something about if we all just have the courage to bring it out of the darkness and into the light.

Making Things Safer at the Scene of a Traffic Incident

TIM Logo.2

At the end of June I was fortunate enough to attend the train-the-trainer program at the National Emergency Training Center at the National Fire Academy for the National Traffic Incident Management program. That’s a lot of nationals in one sentence! And that’s the idea of this program. One, unified approach to how we as emergency responders deal with traffic incidents no matter if you’re in Washington state, Oklahoma or Maine. The goal is to enhance responder safety by teaching the participant the major factors and causal affects of injury and fatality secondary accidents while operating at the scene of an incident on the roadway. This class is targeted at police officers, firefighters, EMS, dispatchers and towing professionals all across the country in order to give everyone the tools they need to operate in a more safe manner on any type of roadway, not just Interstates or super-highways.

Three injury crashes occur every minute in the United States, putting police, fire, highway workers, tow truck drivers, and other incident responders potentially in harm’s way every day. Congestion from these incidents can generate secondary crashes, increasing traveler delay and frustration. The longer responders remain at the scene, the greater the risk they, and the traveling public, face. Every minute clearing an initial accident increases the chance of a secondary crash by 2.8 percent.

The National Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Responder Training program is building teams of well-trained responders who can work together in a coordinated manner, from the moment the first emergency call is made. They learn the correct deployment of response vehicles and equipment, how to create a safe work area using traffic control devices, and techniques to speed up accident clearance.

The program is sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration, which designed the course as part of the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) to improve highway safety and reduce congestion caused by crashes.

The curriculum is based on extensive and detailed research conducted with TIM responders across the country and is based on a train-the-trainer approach. The FHWA-led 10-hour course builds a team of instructors within each state, region, or agency. They, in turn, train their colleagues using this innovative curriculum. Shorter, four-hour courses and one-hour training modules (which became available online in late spring 2014) are used to cascade the training and make it available to all responders. Training modules are flexible and can be modified to fit state and local regulations or practices.

The TIM Training program has been endorsed by key agencies involved in incident response, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, State and Providential Divisions (IACP); International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC); American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC); and the Towing and Recovery Association of America (TRAA).
More than 40,000 responders have been trained across the country using this curriculum. The results have been very positive. Several states are now requiring their state police or highway patrol officers to take the training. To generate the strongest teams, representatives from all responder groups train together, including police, fire, sheriffs, emergency medical services, dispatchers, tow professionals, departments of transportation, and public works.

This class was some of the best training I have had in a while. The cause is also very personal to me. My response district includes 2 Interstate highways, 4 State highways and several large regional roadways. My department as well as the local police and sheriff’s department have had several close-calls, including me personally, and a few accidents as the result of secondary crashes while operating on the scene of a primary incident. Thankfully no serious injuries or deaths have resulted. If it was one thing I learned from this class, however, that could just be a matter of time unless we start employing some different tactics regarding to operating in the roadway.

If anyone is interested in hosting training for your department, group of departments or group of mutual-responders you can contact me through the website and I’d be more than happy to come and put a class on for you or TIMTraining@dot.gov.

Like Tiger Schmittendorf says, “The most dangerous job we do. The job we do most often.”

Until next time be safe out there,


Fire Behavior and Tactical Considerations UL/NIST

Some of you may have already seen this video talking about UL/NIST’s research into modern fires and ventilation. There are several out there regarding this particular subject so perhaps this is one you haven’t seen yet. We watched this for drill the other day at my job and while the information wasn’t particularly new to me some of the other guys were having it explained to them for the first time. The presentation is done a bit better than most of these types of research videos and there are plenty of pictures and videos to keep it going. I’ve it a watch and learn what all the talk has been about the last several months.