On Robin Williams and Canada

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

OH MY ACHING HEAD

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Concussion. It’s been a huge concern and media buzzword over the last couple years. Much of the discussion and attention has been brought about by several high-profile athletes having taken their own lives after dealing with what they believed were the side-effects of numerous concussions they had suffered during their playing careers, most notably Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. Both former NFL stars shot themselves in the chest so that their brains could be studied after their deaths in the hope of preventing or treating others with chronic traumatic enchephalapothy (CTE). CTE is being categorized as a degenerative disease caused by repeated brain trauma over a period of time, usually years, that results in a list of symptoms that leads many of its victims to live lives that are almost unrecognizable as compared to their lives before CTE. The most common cause of CTE is repeated concussion.

I think I was about 10 years old or so. Fifth or sixth grade, maybe. We were playing floor hockey in P.E. class in the poured-concrete with (probably asbestos) tile over the top gym. I remember having the puck and moving up the left side of the court, heading towards the goal. I think I was tripped by some other sticks, or maybe a leg, and falling head-first to the floor, bouncing my forehead off the concrete and tile. I also remember a class-mate named Randy was running behind me, trying to catch me on the play. Randy was the biggest kid in the school, no matter what grade. Over six-feet tall and over one-hundred pounds already, he wasn’t able to hold-up after I fell. He tripped and fell on top of me, bouncing my head off the floor split-seconds after it had already struck it the first time. I don’t remember getting from the floor of the gym to the principle’s office. I barely remember being told my step-dad was on his way to pick me up and take me home. The ride home, about a mile and a half, was fuzzy at best. Getting home I remember my step-dad had to half-carry me inside to our small den, where he laid me down on the loveseat, covered me with a blanket and told me to take it easy. I have sporadic, disconjugated memories of the next two days. I slept the whole time, waking briefly to hear bits of conversation coming from the other room or to see my mom or step-dad leaning over me saying something. That I remember I didn’t eat or get up to go to the bathroom, although I’m guessing I must have at least done the latter at some point. My parents never took me to the doctor. It was the mid-eighties and not much was known about concussion or traumatic brain injury. Certainly not by parents of the time, unlike today. Concussion was just another way of saying, “he got his bell rung”, and didn’t warrant anything more than a little time to recover, a slap on the butt and a “get back in there” from your coach. Today, of course, we know much more about the causes, symptoms and cumulative effects of concussion. But back then it just wasn’t a big deal. So I slept for two days and when I was either forced or felt well enough to get up (I don’t remember what the circumstances were), I resumed life like nothing had happened. Back to school. Back to basketball and baseball. Back to playing with friends. That was the first of what I’m guessing to be six or more concussions I’ve suffered over the years.

According to the Mayo Clinic concussion is, “a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. Effects are usually temporary, but can include problems with headache, concentration, memory, judgment, balance and coordination.” Concussion occurs when the head is struck violently or shaken very hard and the brain slams into the skull, causing injury. Contrary to popular belief losing consciousness is not necessary to suffer a concussion. The brain can sustain a severe enough injury to be concussed without the patient actually losing consciousness. This is the least severe of the three grades of concussion. While there is no universal consensus on the grading of concussions there are two scales that are most commonly used in the United States; the Cantu scale and the Standardized Assessment of Concussion.

The Cantu Scale was developed by Dr. Robert Cantu in 1986 and was adopted by the American College of Sports Medicine. In 1991 the Colorado Medical Society developed its own guidelines after several deaths of High School football players after suffering brain injuries. These guidelines were more restrictive than Dr. Cantu’s and were then adopted by the NCAA for evaluating college athletes. Whether it be the Cantu scale or the CMS scale they share four general evaluations. 1) presence or absence of loss of consciousness, 2) duration of loss of consciousness, 3) duration of post traumatic memory loss, and 4) persistence of symptoms including headache, dizziness and lack of concentration. When the results of these evaluations are determined the concussion can then be graded.

Grade I:  concussions are not associated with loss of consciousness, and post-traumatic amnesia is either absent or      less than 30 minutes in duration. Athletes may return to play if no symptoms are present for one week.

Grade II:  concussions in which the patient loses consciousness for less than five minutes or exhibits posttraumatic amnesia between 30 minutes and 24 hours in duration. They also may return to play after one week of being asymptomatic.

Grade III:  concussions involve post-traumatic amnesia for more than 24 hours or unconsciousness for more than five minutes. Players who sustain this grade of brain injury should be sidelined for at least one month, after which they can return to play if they are asymptomatic for one week.

Post-concussive Syndrome can occur in the days, weeks, months and even years after a patient suffers a concussion. PCS is the presence and on-going problematic occurrences of the signs and symptoms of concussion after what should have been the “normal” healing time. Symptoms include memory and concentration problems, mood swings, personality changes, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia and excessive drowsiness. While no one knows for certain it is thought that the symptoms and problems associated with PCS contributed to the suicides of both Seau and Duerson. Dealing with these symptoms on a day-to-day basis became too much for them to bare and the only way they saw to be at peace was taking their own lives. But they were football players with lengthy careers in one of the most violent sports played. What could they possibly have in common with us?

I think we would all agree that the profession of firefighting and the delivery of EMS care has countless opportunities for us to suffer head injuries. From collapses at structure fires, to falls off the rig or a ladder, to encounters with violent patients there is ample opportunity for us to suffer a concussion. In the span of my career I can think of at least three times I personally believe I have suffered a concussion as a direct result of the job. I’m sure there are many of you who firefighter c-collarcould think of one or more times when you “had your bell rung” hard enough that you saw stars, became unsteady or even lost consciousness. These occurrences are severe enough to cause a concussion and warrant an evaluation. If you are suffering from the continued symptoms of what you believe to be a concussion suffered in the past you can still be evaluated presently despite the length of time since the injury. The exam will be subjective and based upon the history of the event and the symptoms you suffered or are continuing to suffer from. According to the United States Fire Administration report Fire-Related Firefighter Injuries Reported to NIFRS released in 2011, 15% of the 81,070 injuries suffered by firefighters between 2006 and 2008 (the time-period of the study) were head injuries. That’s 12,160.5 head injuries suffered. Divided by the three years of the study equals an average of 4,053.5 head injuries per year. That’s a lot in my book. Are all of them concussions or possible concussions? Probably not. But I’d be willing to bet that a large enough number of them warrant an evaluation for concussion and the possibility of on-going problems after.

As with Junior Seau and Dave Duerson repeated concussion, or a single severe enough event of concussion, can lead to a life time of disabilities and mental health issues. Depression is just one such mental health issue associated with concussion injuries and its associated syndromes. As we all know the issue of firefighter depression and firefighter suicide has been a significant topic of late and one which needs to be talked about openly and honestly. The days of “just suck it up and deal with it” are long over. The days of shrugging off the splitting headaches and continued dizziness because “you’re tougher than that” need to be left in the past too. We have enough on this job that can kill or lead to permanent disability, don’t let this be added to your list too.

Until next time,

Be safe.

Chris

New Partnerships and Free Training

A new and exciting opportunity has presented itself and I’ve jumped at the chance. I’ve recently been given the opportunity to work with Chris Huston of EngineCo.22, and John Shafer of Green Maltese in their joint venture Fire Training Toolbox. FTT began as their brain-child with the vision of a place where firefighters could go for free, top-notch training  that was easily accessible and available to all regardless of pay scale, department size or training budget. It is also not meant to be a handful of elitist instructors who lecture down to the minions of the fire service, impressing them with their knowledge and puffing out their chests to each other. At the risk of sounding a little Utopian, FTT is supposed to be a group of highly motivated and eager individuals who enjoy learning and sharing their knowledge with others in order to make the fire service better. It’s basically open to anyone who wants to contribute, both on the learning and teaching end. That’s how I got involved. I asked.

So I submitted my first training article to FTT a few days ago. Hopefully it won’t be the last. I decided to do an article on a subject that I really don’t remember ever seeing done before, not to toot my own horn or anything. I wrote about opening an overhead door for defensive hoseline operations. “Huh?”, you might be asking. Well, think about it for a moment. There are two main reasons we open overhead doors, but both have distinctly different objectives. The first reason is to force entry. Meaning, the garage door is in the way and we need to get into the structure behind it. Obviously we have to force the door in order to get into the building. The second reason to force the door is to get at the fire behind the door. In this case we are going to assume the fire has us beat and this is a defensive operation. We aren’t going in but we still need to open those big overhead doors to be able to hit the fire. Will the same method work for both objectives? Depends on which method you choose. Guess you’ll just have to read the article. The link here will take you to the articles menu on FTT. Look for it there and check out the other articles and training modules available.

I’ve Been BURNED.

* Image from DETROITFIREFILM.ORG, all rights reserved.

Last night I had the opportunity and privilege to see the movie that most of us in the fire service have been talking about for a while now; “BURN; One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit.” I realize I am behind many of you out there in having seen the film but this was the first offering in my area and myself and about half my shift, as well as a couple guys from the other two shifts we allowed to join us, went to take it in. And all I can say is, “Wow.” I’m glad I did.

I’m glad I didn’t just sit back and say, yeah I “know” what’s going on in Detroit. I “know” what the Brothers are up against up there. I “know” they fight a lot of fire and I “know” they are doing it in less than ideal conditions. Because if I were to have done that it would have been like saying I “know” what war is like because I heard my Grandfather talk about it a couple times. I never would have seen it with my own eyes, listened to it with my own ears and looked at some of these men in their eyes as they told their stories. Now, it’s true, this was done on a movie screen but it was that powerful nonetheless. Especially if you’re a firefighter and can relate to at least some of what is going on in that once, and perhaps again, proud city. You can’t help but be moved by the men who go to work every day knowing they are going to fight multiple fires with less than ideal apparatus and equipment, and in some cases backing, because it’s their job and they love it. Not only that but because they have a duty to the people that are still left in Detroit. And therein lies a forgotten story in the conflagration of Detroit; there are still people who call the city their home and who have nothing else in their lives but what is in that house, as run-down or decrepit as it may seem to you and me. It’s not all about Devil’s Night and vacant structure fires. The DFD is still in the business of saving lives and protecting property when it can and has the ability to do so.

Many of us have seen the illustration below that explains the different meanings associated with the symbol of our profession. Gallantry; Perseverance; Loyalty; Dexterity; Explicitness; Observation; Tact and Sympathy. At this point and time in our collective history I cannot think of another organization as whole that exemplifies these credos better than Detroit Fire Department simply by showing up to work every day in the conditions they must and continuing to do the job they have sworn to do. A very powerful scene in the movie for me personally, and I don’t want to give too much away for those that have not seen the film yet, happened at the funeral of a young fire victim. This case was well publicized around the nation. There were equipment failures. The first-due Truck Company’s aerial didn’t work. She was trapped in the upper stories. The first arriving crews tried to get to her via interior stairs and ground ladder but couldn’t. She succumbed. And there, at her wake and funeral, were the men and women of the Detroit Fire Department. Standing with their community saying, “This was a tragedy. This shouldn’t have happened. We are here with you and for you.”  My first thought, selfishly, was, “I don’t know if I could have done that. What if they would have turned on us? Hated us?” But in Detroit things are different. The community, I believe, for the most part understands it’s not the rank-and-file firefighters who are not performing their jobs. It is not the guys with gear held together by duct tape and the last strands of stitching. Due in large part to individual efforts of neighborhood fire companies and the local press the community has turned its eyes downtown to the elected officials and has begun to call them to task for the state not only of the fire department but of the city as a whole. Again, this rapport with the community is not due to a Public Education Unit which is funded with tens of thousands of dollars in the yearly budget, a dedicated staff and its own vehicle to drive around to block parties and senior citizen events all year. It’s not even due to a Fire Commissioner who sits and eats a hamburger with at a local church gathering while asking, “What do you-all really need from the Fire Department?” It’s from the men and women who actually respond to the calls also taking the time to educate the people about the situation.

And really educating people is what this film is all about. While this film has obviously become a hit with us, firefighters, it really is not meant for us. In the Q&A session after the screening last night Producer/Director Brenna Sanchez said (and I’m paraphrasing a little bit here because I didn’t have time to write the entire quote down); “This film was made so that the next time people go to vote for budget cuts for you’re department they’ll stop and remember Detroit, and think, “I don’t want my city to turn into that.” After all you guys are all 1 or 5 or 10 budget cuts away from being in the same situation just on a smaller scale.” And she’s right. East Fork Little River Fire Protection District (still doesn’t exist, I Google it every time I use it) might not fight 30 fires a day, but if they don’t have the equipment or manpower they need for the 1 fire in the year they do get, isn’t it just as bad? Especially if there is a life on the line? But this film can only educate the intended audience if it reaches them. And here is where the project is still running into trouble. “Whaddyamean?” I just heard you ask. The movie is being shown all around the country to rave reviews! That’s true, and the monetary goals for actually completing the movie-making portion of the production were met. But the project is still an independent release and has no studio or marketing back. Very few chain movie theaters have agreed to carry the film in their normal line-ups (although Brenna and Tom shared some exciting news for the Chicago area last night, but not knowing if I have the ok to release that info, too bad for you 🙂 So the long and the short of it is that the project still needs help to ensure that it will be released commercially nationwide and reach its intended target audience, civilians. If you can find it in yourself to help out please go to BURN’s official website and make a donation, buy some swag, host a screening or do whatever you can. It’s not just about Detroit, it could wind up being about any of us.

Left to Right: Producer/Director Brenna Sanchez, FEO Dave Farnell (ret.), Myself, FF Ted “Tito” Copley

Front: FF Brendan “Doogie” Milewski (ret.)

Until next time,

Be safe!

Chris

Disillusionment or Looking Behind the Scenes at the Fire Department of Oz

I realize that the last post may have come off a little, shall we say, venomous? I still stand by it. I still think that there are a large percentage of Chief officers out there not running their departments in the right way for the right reasons. But I feel obligated, after a day or so of reflection, to explain a little bit of where that venom comes from.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I am not Dave Statter or Jason Jefferies. I am not Bill Carey or Bill Schumm. I am not Willie Wines or Rhett Fleitz. I am not a news reporter or journalistic-type who presents a very informative reporting site. I am a blue-shirt firefighter who is opinionated about what the fire service should be, needs to be and deserves to be. What you read here is in large part my opinion, which we all know are like anal sphincters. Everyone has one. Doesn’t mean mine is correct, and I acknowledge that and respect others opinions, for the most-part. Sometimes people are just dead wrong. So that’s where the blog itself is coming from.

So where am I coming from in what I choose to write? Well, most of the time it comes from emotion, if you can’t tell. It’s gotten me in trouble more than once if you can believe that (try to hold back your scoffs). Most the time when I sit down to write something has recently gotten my Irish-German mixed heritage up and it’s better than drinking and going out and beating someone up. I don’t sit down and write rough drafts, move things around, change things etc. etc. With the exception of one or maybe two proof-reads what you see is what you get. So that’s where I am coming from with what I write. So now you know what the blog is about, where what I write about comes from so what’s the history behind me and what led to this blog? I guess that’s the big question and what played into a lot of the emotions that led to the last post.

From the time I decided I wanted to become a firefighter as a junior-higher I had a picture of firefighters and of the fire department as a whole that was pretty glorified. Unrealistic, even. I pictured firefighters as a group of honorable men who were out to serve others above themselves. Who were self-motivated to become the best they could possibly be. Who relished training and job-knowledge and constantly looked to improve themselves. I looked at firefighters as masters of every aspect of their jobs and as it being completely unacceptable to be less than so. I looked at firefighters as men who were bursting with pride at the calling they fulfilled and who would never dishonor their departments or profession. I looked at the fire department as a whole, and I guess by default the leadership, as an organization who’s purpose was too important to be influenced by politics or personal agendas. Everyone involved in the organization realized that and was able to put those things aside to serve the greater good and protect his neighbor. The fire department had no room for error or to be unprepared so equipment was maintained to the highest standards. Even the smallest deficiencies were corrected immediately so as not to affect performance readiness. The organization, and again by default the leadership, sought out and promoted the best qualified and most knowledgable applicants regardless of political favoritism or other influences, because that’s how important good leadership is. Over the last 18 years I have watched that entire picture be destroyed. It really is like when Dorothy looked behind the Wizard’s throne and saw the wee  little man and all the apparatus that made the image that he wanted everyone to see.

Over the last almost two-decades I’ve learned what firefighters and the fire department is really all about. Here is a list of just some of them.

  • I’ve learned that people become firefighters because of the schedule, pay and benefits.
  • I’ve learned that they put more emphasis on their part-time jobs than their primary job.
  • I’ve learned that they put little emphasis at all on learning their job because we just don’t do it that often and it’s easy to hide.
  • I’ve learned that he who finds just the right niche, or does just the right extra job, or says just the right things or fits just the right mold are the ones who get promoted regardless of whether or not they will make good tactical decisions where they count.
  • I’ve learned that there is very little team or Brotherhood and it is more about “me” and what I’m going to get, how I’m going to get promoted or what I can get out of the job.
  • I’ve learned that decisions are not made on what is best for the citizens, the members or even what makes sense but more-so for financial reasons or simply because “I say so.”
  • I’ve learned that switching into rigs three or four times in a single shift, into whatever is least broken, is somehow acceptable.
  • I’ve learned that nothing is important until someone gets hurt or something else bad happens and then it will somehow probably wind up coming back on the people who least deserve it.
  • I’ve learned that very little thought needs to go into the actual mission of the fire department (and EMS delivery), we don’t need to re-evaluate things on an on-going basis because everything is fine.
  • I’ve learned that we don’t need to clean our tools because it doesn’t matter, an ax will still cut with rust on it.
  • I’ve learned that pride in our job and training is for “fisties” or for those that care too much.
  • I’ve learned that there is almost no leadership left in the fire service, there are only managers and administrators.
  • I’ve learned that no one in any position of authority cares about the level of readiness, level of training or effectiveness of their charges.
  • I’ve learned that higher-ups have everything better to do than run their shifts or departments.
  • I’ve learned that it’s more about the appearance of a fire department than the function of a fire department.
  • I’ve learned that there are those who do despicable things as management techniques i.e. dangling carrots, making promises, manipulating lists, releasing new rules and regs at key times to stir things up etc.
  • I’ve learned that, as much as I absolutely do not understand it, there are those that thrive on power, or the perception of it.
  • I’ve also learned that those that speak out get punished.

I haven’t learned these lessons in a theoretical way in which you might learn a lesson about trigonometry. I’ve learned them by seeing them, hearing them, experiencing them and living them. Those lessons I’ve learned over the last 18 years is my fire service experience. Those lessons are made up of the firefighters I’ve served with and the company and chief officers I’ve served under. Obviously not all of them were horrible. But if I’m summarizing my career in this way which way do you think the scales are leaning? The sad part is that to a certain extent, I still believe in Oz. Despite having seen the wee little man and all his gadgets and gizmos and the front he’s put up to make it appear as something it is not I still want to believe. Maybe that’s why I write. Maybe I hope I’ll affect something or someone somewhere.

Many of you out there can pick out one or more people in your careers who you view as a mentor. A roll-model that you would like to end-up like someday. Some firefighter or officer who is a wealth of knowledge and experience, a great teacher and all those other things I used to think made up a great fire service employee. I can’t. Not a single one. Every time in my career I’ve thought I’ve had one they’ve sold-out to something or other. Or they’ve betrayed the fire service, the department or  worst of all, themselves. Sure I’ve got guys that I still want to take bits and pieces of, but I have no one singular person who I can hold up and say, “I want to be like this guy.” Terry Hatton. Paddy Brown. Bob Hoff. Ed Enright. Ray Hoff. Andy Fredericks. Benny Crane. No one like that. But I have a wonderful list of examples of whom I do not want to be like. Maybe that’s just as good. I dunno.

So ‘dats it. When my venom comes spewing forth they got the best of me. If you don’t like it, sorry. Leave me a nasty comment. I probably won’t hold it against you. I hope maybe this explains a little bit of where I come from with this blog and in particular where the Calendar post came from. I don’t hate all Chiefs, if that’s what you think. I don’t hate all officers. I’m an equal opportunity hater no matter what color shirt you wear and it pretty much comes down to this; If you’re in this job for the wrong reasons, if you’re taking more from this job than you’re giving, if you don’t know or are not proficient at your job, then you suck. Get out.

Until next time,

Stay safe!

Chris

Blog Of The Year Contest

Hey all, once again Rhett Fleitz from The Fire Critic.com along with EMS1 and FireRescue1 and sponsored by American Military University are hosting a blog of the year contest. Please visit the Fire Critic’s page here to view the rules, judges and parameters for the contest and to nominate your favorite fire and EMS blog for consideration. There are categories for both the fire and EMS sides and sub-categories for each which include both judge’s choice and reader’s choice awards. There are many deserving blogs out there and, in truth, this one probably doesn’t qualify or deserve it, so go over there and nominate someone who does.

Edu-ma-cate Yourself

* Image from Check Out This Alternative to College, by Charlotte Allen

So I’m sitting in church yesterday listening to our pastor reflecting on a book that changed his life and heart in regards to racism. Not that he was ever racist, mind you, but that since he never considered himself a racist then he thought he was all good on the topic. If he wasn’t contributing to the problem then everything was fine. After reading a book by Dr. John Perkins entitled Divided By Faith, our pastor’s world was rocked and he decided to really start fighting against racism in our country and transforming his congregation, my congregation, into a totally open and accepting group of people. After that recollection he introduced Dr. Perkins who only spoke for about 10 minutes and then helped close the service in prayer (may I remind you at this point that this isn’t your typical fire service blog). Something Dr. Perkins said in that short address really hit me and is the basis for this post. For it is true in addressing racism or any other prejudice as well as it is in how I am going to tie it into the fire service. He said, “Education is asking a question about the condition in which you find yourself and then looking for solutions,” [Dr. John Perkins, Willow Creek Community Church, January 15, 2012]. Wham! I got slapped.

You see, many of us go to work, do our job, don’t really contribute to any problems and then go home. And a lot of people are content in doing that. Then there are some of us who go to work, still do our jobs but then look around and say, “What else can be better?”, “What else can we be doing here?” Sometimes those of us that look at things in such a fashion are called trouble-makers, malcontents or disenchanted. “Why rock the boat?”, some people would say. “Things are fine.” But in every organization in the world, fire service or not, in every human relationship in the world, in every community in the world there are things that can and should be improved upon. The first step is asking a question. In educating yourself about the current condition in which you are presently located. Think about how many times you’ve asked a simple question at work as to why a certain thing is the way that it  is, or the way that you do something in your organization and get the reply, “I guess no one’s ever thought to change it.” Or, “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” Really? No one has ever taken the time to look at something and devote a little brain-power to seeing if it can be improved upon? That’s really kind of sad, especially when the top of the para-military pyramid has never done it.

I do not advocate change for change sake. Sometimes I think that’s what happens in our profession. Someone wants to make a name or get a certain reputation so they institute changes to be “progressive” or to appear to be a “leader” <cough, cough, Ken Ellerbe, cough, cough>. If that’s the reason you are changing something then it is more than likely going to be counter-productive and often not have the results intended, whatever those results are. I do, however, advocate the systematic revisiting of policies, procedures and ways of doing things in order to see if they are outdated, inefficient or simply not needed any longer. Ask questions. But don’t just be a pot-stirrer, look for solutions or offer suggestion on things that can realistically and efficiently be implemented to change those conditions. If you’re going to suggest removing all the hose from your Engines and putting it on your Trucks you’d better have a pretty good reason for it. Research and take the time to think about not only what you’re questioning but the proposed change or solution as well. Too many people we work with say, “We should do something different!”, but then have nothing to offer in the way of what or how.

Be prepared for rejection. I wasn’t alive then but I’m pretty darn confident in saying that when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began speaking out about the black condition in America he wasn’t universally loved and adored. If you are going to walk into Chicago Fire Department Headquarters and suggest to Commissioner Hoff that the CFD should repaint all of their rigs from their iconic black-over-red scheme to blaze orange, be prepared for a staunch “No”, if only for the reason of tradition. But, if you go to your Chief and lobby him or her to revamp the running procedures to send two Truck companies on an initial alarm instead of the historic one and support it with data and facts and propose responsibilities that the second Truck could fulfill, then you may have a better shot. It may still be a “No”, but at least you come off as being prepared and well-thought-out instead of off-the-cuff and ill-prepared. I’m not necessarily advocating a popular uprising, but sometimes seeking support from others and getting their endorsement prior to presenting an idea helps too. If you’re proposing a new hose load, for example, maybe present it to the Training Officer first with all the supporting reasons and research. If the TO is behind it then taking him or her with you up to the office could help your cause, or at least shorten the process. Again, the first step is educating yourself. Asking a question as to why your current condition is the way that it is and then looking for a change or solution. In fact, you may find that everything is fine with a current way of doing something, or that the reason you do it that way is for a very good and solid reason you may not have  been aware of before. You have then furthered your own education as to the condition you are in.

I have never understood why organizations are scared of question-askers (is that even a term?). I have also REALLY never understood why organizations pretend to welcome question-askers and input-givers but only do so for one of two reasons. First, so that if no questions are asked or input is received they can say, “See? No one asked or gave us any input so we’re doing fine.” And secondly, if questions are raised or input is submitted that an organization can go ahead with a plan they had every intention of implementing regardless of question or input but make its members feel “good” that their input was requested and “considered”. Believe me, if you are a member of the upper peak of the para-military pyramid and you are reading this, that kind of behavior will severely damage both your organization as a whole and its morale as it eats away at the employees feeling of value. It would be better to not even ask for input and say, “This is the way we are going to do it because I’m the Chief and I say so!”, then to pretend to be genuinely interested in what the lower echelons have to say and then reject it. Remember too, pyramid-peakers, you always have things to learn and questions you should be asking beyond how much money you can save and how many concessions you can get from your troops.

We need to edu-ma-cate ourselves throughout our careers. That includes classes, training, certifications and other forms of formal education but it also includes taking the time to look around and wonder, question and problem-solve. Maybe we can take a lesson from Mother Necessity and a blast from our past.

Until next time, fellow Sherlock Holmes’,

Stay Safe!

Chris

Well, That Didn’t Work Out.

Well, ok. So by now you know that ‘ole Sledge’s first big break to present at a major training conference will have to wait for a while. Unfortunately the Gateway Midwest Fire & Leadership Conference that was sponsored by Go>Forward Fire Training had to be cancelled due to a lack of registration. Don’t worry, I won’t take it personal-like. I know no one wanted to waste their time with guys like Sendlebach, Brunacini and those Mitchell and Statter guys. It’s just unfortunate that they had to suffer because you guys and gals that did register only wanted to come see me <sorrowful sigh>. In all seriousness, it is unfortunate the event had to be cancelled but I get that it’s a business and there are certain margins that need to be met. I know that Go>Forward’s new inaugural event in King of Prussia, PA. will be a huge success and set the stage for all the events in the future. Hopefully I can still be a part of something in the future. But for now, I did make two promises to those of you that waste their time reading my smack when I wrote the post announcing that I would be presenting at the conference. First and foremost I promised a class. I was to present a class I have developed called, “Selling Out to the Fire Service”.  A class designed for the new guy all the way up to the Chief about why we got into this business, why we should be in this business and the commitment we all need to make to this business. Secondly, I promised that my Hallway Sledge persona would be killed-off and I would resurrect as my true-self. So let’s get down to business.

So some of you who checked out Go>Forward’s site advertising the conference already know who I am from the instructor bio page, so this may be a little anti-climactic. For those of you who still do not know… my name is Chris Sterricker and I am a full-time Firefighter/Paramedic in the Chicago suburbs. I am married to a wonderful and understanding woman and together we have two young daughters. I’m in my 18th year in the fire service, starting out as a paid-on-call firefighter and eventually getting hired full-time. I started this blog out of frustration over things I saw going on in our beloved profession and as a form of cheap therapy. It felt good to get stuff off my chest and to write about things I thought needed to be discussed. I really never foresaw the amount of success I’ve been blessed with in regards to this site. So I sincerely say thank you to everyone who checks it out.

Now, about that class. I obviously can’t give you something designed for two hours in a blog-post so what I’m going to do is give you the Cliff’s Notes version. I’ll try to hit the high-points and generate some discussion, which is, as always, encouraged.

Since I already took care of the intro part I’ll skip to the chase. What was this class going to be about? Well, in a nutshell, why are you a firefighter? Do you want to wear the super-cool t-shirts and have a built-in pick-up line, or do you really want to sell yourself out to a noble and important profession that requires much more than just a casual dedication? Are you looking for a fraternity and drinking buddies or do you want a true brotherhood (or sisterhood) and guys that’ll drop everything to give you a hand when you or your family needs one? Only you can make that decision and only you will know if you’re BS’ing yourself, but I guarantee others will see right through it.

So after I got done challenging everyone my next point was going to be that this job is just too important to not dedicate yourself fully to it. Important on a couple different levels. The first and most important level is to yourself and your family. The fireground, accident scene, haz-mat incident or any other of the multitude of calls we  answer can be very dangerous places even if you are hanging back trying not to get involved. Don’t you owe it to yourself and those that love and care about you to know what the heck you’re doing? To keep up on new trends and techniques? New information? Seek and attend good, solid training? Think about the knock at the door your significant other will get after you decided that dousing the stack of pallets in the shipping container that is your “training tower” in diesel fuel and then throwing in the fusee resulted in you being admitted to the burn unit, or worse. Dedicated professionals do not do those kinds of things. Smart, trained firefighters do not do those kinds of things.

Secondly, you owe it to those that you work alongside and who depend on you. All the same reasons apply. How would you feel if your actions, or lack-thereof, resulted in the injury or death of another firefighter? Imagine their family and friends and the pain and grief they would experience because of the death of their loved one. I have known many firefighters over the years who lacked basic skills and training as well as any motivation to know and get better at their job. Many of these guys had an attitude that being a weak firefighter didn’t matter, didn’t have any ramifications, because there were always other people around to pick up their slack. Someone else who knew what they were doing or how to operate that tool. Until the day came when they were forced into a situation where they had to perform and couldn’t. It’s not fair to the other guys and gals around you, period.

Thirdly, it’s not fair to “Mrs. Smith”. Mrs. Smith represents every person you and I have sworn to protect and who counts on us to know what to do and have the ability to perform when the worst day of their lives comes calling. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care if you receive  pay check or not. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care if you belong to a Union or not. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care that your department only responds to 100 or so calls a year. Mrs. Smith expects that when she calls 911 she will receive the same level of service living in her 100 year-old farmhouse in East Fork Little River as she would in her brand new condo in downtown Chicago. Now don’t get me wrong. Capabilities and training are two different things. East Fork might only have 5 or 6 people available to respond, whereas in Chicago that’s one company. The capabilities of the two departments are vastly different. But, East Fork better have been proactive in setting up Mutual Aid agreements knowing that they have staffing challenges. That’s a totally separate issue from those same 5 or 6 East Fork FD guys showing up and not having good, solid training and job knowledge. There is no reason in the world, in my opinion, that hose East Fork guys cannot be equally trained as any other firefighters in the country. Perhaps it’s naive of me to think that. Perhaps it’s brash and outlandish for me to expect, but that’s how I feel.

A trend I have noticed over the last few years is that Mrs. Smith doesn’t matter so much anymore. We matter more than she does. We matter more than her property does. We matter more than the oath we all took in one form or another when we started. I have actually heard statements made to the effect of, “We can’t do VES. That’s way above us.” Or, “We only search after the fire is out. It’s too dangerous otherwise.” Or, “If we have more than just one room involved or if we have really heavy smoke we go defensive. We can’t handle anything bigger.” What?!?! But somehow some ideas that are not too far off from these statements have taken hold of the fire service lately and made it ok to not go inside. Ok to write-off Mrs. Smith as soon as we pull up. Ok to really not make much effort at all to stop property loss. “…to guard my every neighbor and protect his property.” Isn’t that how the prayer goes? The Fireman’s Prayer? Again, if you’ve read any of my posts for a while you know I do not advocate throwing our lives away. I do advocate and believe in doing our job fully, safely and effectively. Especially in a time when we are under attack from politicians and our citizens alike. So, did you get into this job to actually do the job? Did you get into this job to risk your life so that someone else might live? Or did you just get on to show up at the fire and get your picture taken, or to take pictures? Did you get into the job to do the job or to give back to your community, or the community you work in, or did you just want to ride in the 4th of July parade? Did you get into this job because you believe in the oath and the prayer or because you wanted a pay check and time off? It’s time to decide.

So that’s a quick overview of what I was going to talk about and challenge the attendees with. Maybe it got some of you thinking. Maybe it made you angry when you read some of my statements. I’m ok with that. Evaluate your career honestly and look at yourself. Have you done everything to make yourself the best firefighter you can? Do you continue to do so? Do you train up others that you work with? Have you sold out to the fire service?

Be safe, train hard.

Chris Sterricker

Just Something I Had To Do

This is going to be my only post about 9-11. You may have thought it odd that I haven’t written anything up until now when everyone in internet-land has done nothing but write about that terrible day 10 years ago. Truth is, I don’t care if I ever see another image, hear another story or read another article about that day. I don’t need all of that to remember, reflect and honor all of those souls lost.  It still hurts and I don’t care to see it anymore. However, I want to tell a quick story that brought it into stark relief this morning. Bear with me.

My wife ran a half-marathon this morning, 13.1 miles. She has run a few in the past and one full marathon. What made todays race different than the others, besides the date, was the fact that she has been sick the last few days. Yesterday she was barely able to get off the couch. She couldn’t breathe, she was coughing and was totally wiped-out. Never in a million years did I think we’d be going to a race this morning. Yet, at 0530 the alarm went off, she got out of bed and got ready, loaded up on cold medicines (thank goodness there was no urine tests prior to the race), and we headed out the door. One hour and forty-nine minutes later she crossed the finish line. Not just crossed the finish line but was only one minute slower than her goal of one hour forty-eight, which would have been a personal best. We hugged and I congratulated her and told her how proud I was of her and that I thought she was one tough chick to run that good a race feeling as crappy as she did. She then began shaking, going hot and cold, getting nauseous and feeling like overall dog-shit. I piled her in the car and drove her home to bed. On the way I asked her why she pushed it. Why she had to run the race feeling the way she did. Her answer was simple, “I’m a runner. It’s something I just had to do.”

Ten years ago thousands of civilians, hundreds of firefighters, police officers and EMS personnel, hundreds of military personnel and air crew rolled out of bed and went to work as usual. Instead of coming home and going to bed sick they sacrificed their lives that day. Some voluntarily, some by no choice of their own. Either way, each of those people have since become a symbol and a force for an entire nation. Our 343 brothers that died that day, along with the NYPD and PAPD officers, did what they did that day because they were firefighters, police officers, EMT’s and Paramedics; It was just something they had to do. Something they were called to do by more than just their job title. It’s what they were.

May God bless each and every soul lost that day, may He comfort those left behind and may he always protect those of us left to carry on the calling.

Be safe.

Hallway Sledge

Firefighter Dads Part Deux

If you’ve read my original post entitled “Firefighter Dads” some of this may sound familiar, but as I’ve said before this blog is a bit of therapy for me so it is in this vein that I revisit this topic.

I didn’t win any parenting awards the other day. As a matter of fact I think that I basically just ensured my kids were relatively safe and didn’t destroy anything too badly. I was home, but I wasn’t really present. The call gods had been cruel the night before when I had worked and we didn’t get much sleep. Even the time we were in the rack I was tossing and turning, thinking about stuff, throwing pillows at the guys that snore. Maybe an hour and half is what I got. Then it was off to home to let my mother-in-law get to work. As I have mentioned in my first post my wife and I are truly blessed to have a lot of help and support from both our sets of parents. Since my in-laws live only about 10 minutes from us they often come to our house when my wife leaves for work at 0600 and stay with my kids until I get home from work around 0845 or so. Then it’s off to work for them for a full day. It sure seems that on these occasions the call gods were particularly vengeful the night before.

My MIL had already gotten the girls up and dressed, fed them and done their hair for me (thankfully). They were all gathered at the kitchen table coloring when I walked in. My MIL greeted me first and the girls turned around, broke into huge smiles and ran to me for their hugs and kisses. I love that part of coming home. I love seeing their excitement to see me, of me seeing them and their eagerness to tell me everything they had done in the 24 hours I was gone. Unfortunately, that feeling can’t last all day when I feel like I was run over by a truck. My MIL had to get going so she gave me the run-down on what had transpired in the couple hours that she had been there, relayed a couple things from my wife and was out the door to work. As I closed the front door I almost felt the panic set in. “I feel like shit,” I thought. “How am I going to make it?” I made some coffee, sat down and started coloring with the girls and made up my mind I was going to be fine today. Unfortunately the girls had other plans for me.

For anyone that hasn’t read the first installment or is new to the blog my girls are 4 and 3. They are both very high-energy and active girls. They take after their mother in that way, and would much rather be out doing something or playing than sitting still. They are also both very independent for their ages and are what I guess you would called “strong-willed”. I blame that on my wife too. Of course, she blames that on me. Well, it didn’t take long before a disagreement over a crayon led to an injurious occurrence, which I didn’t see because I was refilling my coffee. That led to my oldest wailing at the top of her lungs, which led to my youngest getting Tabasco on her tongue, our preferred method of “non-contact” discipline. Which in turn led to her wailing at the top of her lungs. I felt my nerves unravelling one by one like the strings that Tom was hanging onto while Jerry sat there watching and waving and Spike awaited underneath (that’s a Tom & Jerry cartoon reference there, in case anyone didn’t get it). Yet, at this point I took a deep breath, took a drink of coffee, burned my mouth, turned and spit it into the sink, and stood there with my back to the two screaming bobbsey twins, and just breathed for a few seconds. I turned back around and settled that particular argument and calmed both my daughters. That was the last bit of actual decent parenting I think I did that day.

The crayon dispute set the tone for the day. After showering and cleaning up I gathered the girls and put them in the car. i had some errands to run and me and my Lieutenant had agreed to meet for lunch later on. So we get to the first store and the girls decide that while I’m looking at a couple products they wanted to play tag in the aisles. I didn’t really mind. The store wasn’t crowded and the aisles were large. Not large enough, evidently, because soon thereafter I hear a crash from the next aisle over. Even quicker two little girls reappear at my side with wide eyes and strangely quiet mouths. I go to investigate and find out that my beautiful off-spring have pulled over one of those free standing cardboard product stands filled with post-it note packages. “Freakin’ great,” I thought. I started correcting the girls and telling them they had to clean up the mess when a salesperson came over and began doing it for them. I apologized and told him I’d have the girls clean it up. He stuck to his corporate training and cheerfully said it was ok and that it happened all the time. “Yeah right,” my inner monologue quipped, but I was too tired, embarrassed and frustrated to insist he allow them to make amends. Teaching moment number 1 foregone.

So then we head to the local mall for another errand. This mall is also where my LT and I were going to meet for lunch and it had the added benefit of having a large play area for the kids, so I thought they could burn some energy there for a while. So we get to store #2, a computer store, and I have “the talk” with them outside. “No touching anything. Stay right by me. No playing tag or running around. This is very expensive stuff, we can’t break it,” etc. Then we went in. At first everything was ok. Then,  as I’m standing at a large table filled with probably 10 display model computers and talking with the sales guy, all the computers go black at once and an ear-piercing alarm starts sounding. I look down and only my youngest daughter is visible, hands over ears looking up at me with a look of shock on her face. Almost immediately my eldest came scurrying out from underneath the table, jumped to her feet, hid behind my legs and wouldn’t come out. The sales guy crawled under the table, plugged the power-strip back in and reset the anti-theft device before crawling back out and rejoining me. For the second time in an hour I made one of my daughters apologize to a sales guy. Then we left and I had “The Talk, Part Deux” outside the store. We then made our way to the play area.

The play area actually went fine, except for me dozing off for a minute and waking up after my head hit the decorative metal fence behind the bench I was sitting on while “watching” the girls play. I got a text from my LT and we made our way to the restaurant. That actually went fine too. My LT has 3 girls, ages 3 – 5, so he’s used to the craziness and was actually a huge help during lunch. Other than the typical spills and mess, we finished up and left without much incident. Even the walk back out to our cars was ok. They actually got into the car, sat in their car seats and waited patiently while we finished up our discussion about a couple work topics. As I was backing out of the parking spot my youngest used her particularly annoying screech to yell, “Daaaaaaaaaaaddddddddyyyyyyyyyy!” “What, honey,” I half-grumbled. “Aren’t you dunna buttle us?” I slammed on the brakes. Put the car in park. Jumped out. Waved to the lady waiting to take my spot. And then actually secured my girls into their personal restraint systems. “Shit!” my inner monologue shouted again. “I need a nap.”

The endorphin rush managed to get me home without falling asleep. Then I made a huge mistake. I agreed to let them watch some TV. I thought I could kind of lay on the couch with them and take a snooze in relative safety. That was the plan, anyway. The constant hitting, screaming, pushing, yelling and general whining didn’t allow that plan to be seen to fruition however. It was at that point I mentally checked out for the rest of the day. I had 5 1/2 hours until bed time and 7 hours until my wife got home. “I’m done. I don’t care. As long as they’re alive when [my wife] gets home, I don’t care what else happens,” I said to myself.

And that’s pretty much what happened the rest of the day. Except for physically intervening in some particularly violent disagreements and doing some yelling, I did nothing to build-into my children for the rest of our time together that day. Again, if you’ve read the first post, the day I described above was pretty much the exact opposite of what that post was about. I hate those kinds of days. I hate feeling exhausted, angry, frayed, frustrated all at the same time and knowing that my kids are being gypped out of a quality day with their dad. It also pisses me off when I read comments by uninformed people who evidently feel we are all overpaid, do nothing but sit on our butts and sleep all night while getting paid, and pretty much rip-off the tax paying citizen. They never even consider times like this. Then agin, maybe firefighter dads (and moms) aren’t that much different than their white-collar counterparts who spend too much time at the office and not enough time at home. I dunno. I just hope I don’t screw them up too much. I love them too much.

Until next time,

Get some sleep and stay safe!

Sledge