Fire Service Lemmings

lemming

 

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

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

bill carey fb 2

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

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

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

Stay Safe

Chris

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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

Hook, Line And Sinker

* Image from Dan’s Ideas Blog.

I can’t keep quiet any longer. I have been beyond frustrated the last few days reading some absolute idiocy on the web related to our job. The topper came last night when Nate DeMarse, one of the founders of Brotherhood Instructors, posted a video on the groups Facebook page and asked for constructive input from brothers and sisters. The link to the page is here, look for the video from Hackensack, NJ. entitled, “How about a nice tactical discussion on the Brotherhood Instructors, LLC.Facebook Wall. Anyone with any thoughts? No bashing, no chest-beating…lets discuss this constructively.” I’ll let you in on a little secret. That whole no bashing, chest-beating thing lasted all of about two posts. Please. Go watch the video and then come back here. The comments are also worth a read but prepare to be there for a while. As of this writing there were over 70, mine included.

What sent me into a rage is all of the supposed brothers and sisters who went directly into keyboard firefighter mode. “They didn’t do this”, “they didn’t do that”. “I can’t believe they did this”, “I can’t believe they didn’t do that.” And those were the subtle comments. Much to his credit Nate edited many of the more harsh and callous comments out. One in-particular that raised my Irish to an almost new level was a gentleman who, in a spelling and grammatical error laden diatribe said so eloquently, “looks like this whole department needs to go back to fire school.” He then goes on to list off a litany of perceived errors and shortcomings that in his infinite wisdom and experience, he or his department would never have done given this fire in his response district. But what really got me was that in his “constructive” criticism he lists the non-use of PPV as one of the “errors” that Hackensack committed. Freakin’ seriously?!?! Who needs to go back to fire school? The problem is that he wasn’t the only one who advocated putting the big CFM’s in the front door. I wish, beyond anything that Santa could bring me this year, that this fire would have occurred in that gentleman’s district and we could have watched as his department would have flawlessly attacked this fire, put the PPV in the front door and watched as the entire building lit up simultaneously and then we could sit back with a nice hot cup of coffee and watched for the next hour or so as they deployed master streams and heavy lines until the entire thing collapsed in a heap of flaming kindling. But therein lies the problem, and what this post is about.

Any of you who have read my spoutings for any amount of time should know two things about me. 1) I have a large intolerance for not knowing your job and, 2) I truly believe that with enough of an effort there is no reason why every fire department in North America can’t be trained to a reasonable performance level. Lofty, I know. But they said a canal couldn’t be dug across Central America too. Keeping those two things about me in mind I launch into what I am talking about in this post.

It seems that as of late there has been a willingness by the neutered ( I know, I chose the PC term over what I have previously used. So shoot me.) American Fire Service to accept any new idea hook, line and sinker and to be applied in a blanket fashion to every situation that comes along. Much of this has to do with a lack of complete understanding of whatever tactic or technique we are using as an example. Now, I don’t want to hear from you PPV advocates about what a useful and effective tool it can be. I know, I guess. I’m not an advocate. But for this guy to criticize Hackensack for not having used it on that fire, in those conditions, is just dead-ass wrong and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of not only the uses and limitations of PPV but also of building construction, reading smoke and basic fire attack tactics. So at some point this guy, along with thousands of others across the country, had a class or a drill on PPV, their departments embraced it as the new sliced-bread, and next thing you know it comes off the rig on every job they have. Now, have they burnt down countless structures since employing this tool? I have no idea, but my guess would be they have created a few more parking lots than needed. It all results from a lack of complete understanding and employing the tool in the right situation. If there is one. Which, in the case of PPV, in my own opinion, is at a CO leak or after the fire is out and during overhaul. But ‘dats just me.

The same can be said of the newest hot-button topic, the dread Victim Survivability Profiling. It seems as if numerous organizations and individuals across the country took a piece of research by Captain Marsar and held it up as the original text of the Bible itself. “Behold!”, was the cry. “We no longer have to do our jobs or put ourselves at risk because the pour souls have already been lost.” I envision Johnny Carson as the Amazing Karnak, standing in front of a structure fire holding up the card to his forehead. “Yup. They’re dead. Let’s just hit it from the outside boys and then we’ll go drag ’em out and tell the papers what a tragedy it was.” In a different post on Facebook Bill Carey, the editor of BackstepFirefighter.com, posted the video from Lake Station, Indiana of a fatal house fire in which two small boys were rescued. He makes the statement that, “Certain research would have written them off”. His post can be found here. He is almost immediately jumped by an VSP advocate who invokes the holy name of science. In the comments Bill and Dave LeBlanc, who writes “A View from the Front Seat” and hosts a web radio show of the same name, get into a discussion over VSP with that commentator a couple other posters. If you haven’t seen the video go check it out and then read the comments following, again, mine included because I’m a glutton for punishment. Bill makes a very good point in his response to the discussion about VSP. Captain Marsar wrote his paper in a very narrow scope, the FDNY and the FDNY’s experiences. Bill and Dave both make another point with which I happen to agree; Captain Marsar’s equation of non-civilian fatalities in fires that killed a member of the FDNY relates how? I still don’t think Captain Marsar makes a very good case for how the two equate or what they really have to do with each other. But that’s another discussion. The main point is that his paper has been held up, almost singularly, as a reason to not search in certain conditions. What those certain conditions are, however, is anyone’s guess and left up to each individual to decide because it is a completely subjective thing. It is different from person to person viewing the exact same scenario. Many retorts to detractors of VSP state that, “the science doesn’t lie.” Well, the definition of science is, “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment;  a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.” Well, I don’t think one paper is is a “systematic study“, I don’t think any experiments were conducted in Captain Marsar’s research and he only “body of knowledge” that can be argued here is the knowledge of fire and the products of combustion in a compartmentalized space. Which we all know, or should, is so variable from room to room and area to area that standing outside and making a judgement call, in most cases, but not all, is in my opinion reckless and irresponsible.

So what’s my whole point? This isn’t really about the one commenter from the Brotherhood site or the argument about Captain Marsar’s research. It’s about educating yourself and having enough knowledge and experience to intelligently argue a point. How does the saying go? “Better to keep silent and let others think you are an idiot than to speak and remove all doubt”? Hey, I’m not perfect and I have certainly proven myself an idiot time and time again. But by God I try not to and I try to be educated on what I am speaking on. And so should all of you out there who are going to be keyboard firefighters. Think about what you are going to type the next time before you actually do it. Make sure you have a complete, or at least educated, understanding of what you are talking about beforehand. Otherwise all it leads to is bashing guys and gals that are just like you and me who were trying to do the best job they could with what they were confronted with.

Until next time,

Stay safe.

Chris

Whaddya Think?

Hey all, came across this video on Statter911.com. After watching the video I clicked on the comments as I saw there were more than 40 at the time. After reading them my blood was boiling. The thing that got to me the most was the number of people ripping this department for their choice of attack tactic. Seems the “we need to crawl in and get everything” crowd is alive in well, at least as they sit behind their computer screens and keyboards. Take a look and please tell me what you think.

Ok, so there are some issues in the video. There are on every fire. I’m not talking about air horn blasts, speed or purpose of movement or not coming off the rig on air. Those were points brought up in the comments as well. I really don’t care about those for this particular discussion. What do you guys think about the choice of a transitional attack? That’s what the all-knowing commentators seem to be blasting these guys for the most. I personally think it was a solid choice. You have houses very close to each other, the flames form the B side window are getting pretty close, the wind appears to be helping push it in that direction. Why not knock it and then go in to mop up? Aside from maybe using the B side window instead of the A side window like this particular crew did, I think I would have made much the same choices.

I think this argument of “aggressive interior” versus “ultimate safety yard-breathers” is getting a little out of hand on both sides. The recent comments by the chief from the USFA to the VCOS were, in my opinion, irresponsible and unprofessional. If you don’t know what I’m talking about click the link and read what he had to say. It’ll only take a minute. But so too are comments saying that you need to crawl in on every fire, get to within inches of the seat of the fire (so your gear gets nice and crusty looking) and then beat the red devil into submission. A transitional attack, used correctly, is an extremely effective tactic.

Much of what I have written on this platform has dealt with my belief that we are losing our “edge” as a fire service. I think that the comments made in Clearwater  are indicative of a growing trend in the fire service that believes any risk is too much risk to take. I disagree with that statement but I also disagree that every fire has to be a balls-out, hard-charging, fix bayonets attack. Instead of being labeled as a supporter of the “aggressive interior attack” I would rather be known as an advocate for smart, well trained, thinking firefighters who are not afraid to do their jobs or fulfill their calling. A chief I know recently likened some firefighters to robots who have an order programmed into them. They dutifully turn, leave the command post, vent the window and then turn and return to the command post for their next order. Since their order didn’t specifically tell them to take their hook and sweep inside the window after they vented the newspaper read, “the victim was tragically found deceased after the fire was extinguished, mere feet from a window that could have led them to safety,” instead of, “after firefighters broke a window to clear smoke and heat the victim was found and removed. They are now recovering in a local hospital.”

The most useful thing on a fireground is a thinking firefighter. The most useless is a non-thinking firefighter.

Chris