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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time,

Stay safe.

Chris

Hallway Sledge’s Hinge Hooks

A lot of times I haven’t shared things on this site because I’ve felt that they are too simple, too basic or that everyone should already know the information. Being able to attend the H.O.T. classes this year at FDIC gave me a bit of a reality check and reminded me what training is all about. While I was there I saw firefighters of all skill and exposure levels. Some were obviously well trained and had ample opportunity to practice their skills. Some were well trained but were rusty. Some had nothing. I started thinking about it and remembered that even though something may be common place to me or any number of you reading out there, there may be one or two who read this website which find the same information I present as brand new. And I guess you really never know who those one or two are. So, without further ado, I present to you; Hallway Sledge’s Hinge Hooks.

I was frustrated with the limitations of typical wooden door wedges; being kicked or knocked out of place, sliding on smooth surfaces, being too short in certain instances etc. I began messing around in the shop one day with whatever was on-hand and this is what I eventually came up with. My system is cheap, is fast to make, can be made out of almost any kind of scrap wood, is mostly universal to man-doors, resists being accidentally displaced and can also be used on most garage doors as well. Here is a step-by-step guide to making my hinge hook.

The first step is to gather your materials. I use scraps of wood from random projects or scavenged from dumpster diving, houses donated for training, wherever. 2-inch x 2-inch or 2-inch diameter nominal is fantastic but that usually means we get 1 1/2 inch for everything. Just don’t go over 2-inches nominal or you won’t get the wood between the door edge and the stop on the hinge side. I say this because when a standard residential door is open and a door stop is in place (the ones that are screwed into the trim around the base of the wall) you have about a 2-inch opening between the door edge and the door stop on the frame. Anything larger used as a chock will not sit in this space and prevent the door from being closed. If a door stop is not in place and the door is allowed to open all the way to the wall then obviously the size of the wood doesn’t matter so much and the hinge hook will still function as intended.

The next step is too secure your hardware and tools. You will need; screw eyes, s-hooks, corner braces with pre-drilled holes, a 1/16″ drill bit, drill, two pair pliers/channel locks. I use the #212 eyes, 1″ s-hooks and 1 1/2″ corner braces depicted in the picture. The bulk screw eyes and s-hooks come in 100 count packages and run about $4.50 at the local home improvement center. The corner braces don’t come in bulk that I have found and are, admittedly, the most expensive part of the whole thing. For the 4 piece package it’s also right around $4.50. Maybe that’s where someone out there can improve on my idea and find a cheaper alternative to this part of the hinge hook. So next grab your tools. Pretty simple. Preferably a cordless drill. Couple pair of pliers or channel locks. And a 1/16″ drill bit if using the #212 acre eyes. If you choose to use a different size screw eye you will need to use a drill bit slightly smaller than the screw portion to drill the pilot hole.

You are now ready to actually start building the hinge hook. Take the piece of wood you are going to use and place it on a stable surface with the flat surface down (I have to remember my audience IS firefighters). Place the drill bit in the center and drill a pilot hole. Try not to go too deep. You want to leave some virgin wood for the screw threads to bite into.

Next, take your screw eye and place it into the pilot hole. Tightening it down until the base of the screw eye is flush with the piece of wood.

Now take your S-hook and place one of the ends through the screw eye. Once placed take a pair of your pliers or channel locks and pinch the S-hook closed.

Next Take the corner brace and a pair of pliers or channel locks. Hold the corner brace with the pliers on hole closest to the bend in the brace. Next, place the other set of pliers over the other hole from the opposing direction. This makes it easier to bend the metal without getting in the way of the other tool.  

Using the second set of pliers, or the ones to the outside of the corner brace, bend downwards while holding steady on the inside set of pliers. This will form a hook shape.   Now you can attach the bottom hole of the straight leg of the corner brace to the open end of the S-hook and pinch closed as you did before.

This is what the hinge hook looks like in place on a standard residential door. 


And in the track of a residential garage door.

Congratulations! You’ve made your first HHH! Now pass it on to someone else. Just don’t go out and try to make money off it or I’ll use that hallway sledge and offer’s tool you saw in the background for something other than their intended purpose. Capiche? This is about helping each other and making things better, not about the Benjamins, yo.

I made a short video of how I make these and posted it to YouTube and it can be found here. I also posted a short video of testing the hinge hook against a garage door because I had some guys voice concerns that it wouldn’t hold up. That video can be found on YouTube here. Give them both a look and see what you think. And as Andy Fredericks would say, “Research, research, research.” If you think you can improve upon this I’d love to see your ideas. If you think you have something better, send them in and I’ll try and post them. It’s about sharing, folks, so everyone benefits.

Until next time. Happy researching.

Be 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