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