‘Dis One’s Gonna Be Quick

Things I’ve learned so far at firefighter camp;

1)  I really have no business writing a blog because I’m dumb.

2)  I have so much more to learn.

3)  Some of the people who would have every right in the world to be arrogant, pretentious jerks aren’t because they’re firefighters who love the job and love passing on their knowledge just like you and me.

4)  Whudder means water when spoken by someone from Philly, or Camden.

5)  With newer, more energy efficient construction a first-arriving company can pull up on a fire that is either heavily involved or has darkened down on the inside and left very little signs of active fire on the outside (which leads to a “light smoke” or “nothing showing” radio report) and as soon as you force the front door or a window fails that space will reach flashover in 60 – 90 seconds. Go to Underwriter’s Laboratories and check out the research for yourself if you don’t believe me.

6)  Our tactics have to change folks. They have to. And in order for our tactics to change our thinking has to change. That’s where the hard part is. 100 years of tradition…

7)  Aggressive tactics can also be safe tactics. But in order for them to be so you need to be trained and educated.

8)  Operating safely on the fire or emergency scene is NOT synonymous with doing nothing, going defensive or being unaggressive. It simply means you are taking every precaution humanly possibly to minimize the risk to yourself and your crew while carrying out the tasks that need to be completed for the job you are working on. Sometimes that means saying the job simply can’t be completed.

9)  Walking back and forth from the hotel to the convention center with all my gear 6 times sucks. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world for the experiences of the HOT classes.

10) Being in the room to hear Bobby Halton’s opening remarks, seeing Firefighter Larry McCormack from Chicago’s Squad 5 receive the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award and hearing Chief Steve Kraft’s keynote address was a moving experience. I encourage every firefighter who cares about this job to do it at least once in person.

People I’ve met while at firefighter camp (and some of whom have known me too!);

1)  Jason Jefferies ( Working the Job )and I finally got to meet in person. It was touching and kinda uncomfortable all at the same time.

2)  Jonah Smith ( The Hose Jockey )

3)  John Mitchell ( Fire Daily ) Ok, truth be told, John doesn’t really count. We used to work together but he’s way more famous-er than me.

4)  Gabriel Angemi ( CMD FD )

5)  Ray McCormack  ( Urban Firefighter Magazine )

6)  Pete Van Dorpe, Chief of Training, Chicago Fire Department

7)  Robert Hoff, Commissioner (Ret.), Chicago Fire Department, Deputy Chief, Carol Stream Fire Department

8)  Rhett Fleitz ( Fire Critic )

9)  Willie Wines, Jr. ( Iron Firemen )

10) Paul Hasenmeier ( Paul Hasenmeier )

11) Christopher Naum ( Buildings on Fire )

These are guys that I think are some of the brightest and most talented firefighters, officers and writers of our time. And to actually get to meet them and have conversations with them, and on top of that to actually have a couple of them know who I am, was surreal and an honor. I’m really looking forward to meeting some more tomorrow and to be in some classes and learn more to lessen my dumbness, but for now I’m going to take some Prilosec to calm down the bar-b-que I had for dinner and get some rest.

Be safe!


Making the Pilgrimage

Tomorrow evening I’ll be making my semi-regular trip to Indianapolis for our profession’s greatest educational gathering. It used to be an annual thing but, since becoming a husband and father, well, you know, sometimes things come up. But this year I’m there and I’m excited. Hopefully many of you who read this rag are going to be attending as well. If you are, and you happen to recognize me, please feel free to come up and say hi, shoot the bull and exchange info. You’ll have to rely on that great pick to the right though, I won’t be wearing any fancy BAS gear or anything as a walking billboard. A) Because such gear doesn’t exist, and B) I don’t roll that way anyway. But if you do happen to recognize me somehow or other please feel free to come up and say hey. To that end here are the classes I’m planning on attending while in Indy. These are just some of the awesome opportunities to further your job knowledge this coming week. And believe me, it was hard to select these because there are so many others I would love to take if I could clone myself (my Chief just had a stroke) and be in more than one place at the same time. Hope to meet some of you there!

Monday, April 16th

H.O.T. Class- Urban Essentials

Tuesday, April 17th

H.O.T. Class- Aerial and Tower Operations

Wednesday, April 18th

10:30 – 12:15  Tactical Safety

1:30 – 3:15      Commissioner’s Roundtable

3:30 – 5:15     The Art of Reading Smoke

Thursday, April 19th

10:30 – 12:15  Through the Windshield: Through the Truck Officer’s Eyes

1:30 – 3:15      10 Reasons Engine Companies Fail

3:30 – 5:15      Tactics Using Quint Apparatus

5:30 – 7:30     Fire EMS Blogs.com Blogger Meet-up, Rock Bottom Brewery

Friday, April 20th

8:30 – 10:15   Rapid Intervention Basics

10;30 – 12:15  Drills You Will Not Find in the Books

This week is also going to offer me the chance to meet two people I’ve gotten to know over the ‘net and the phone over the last couple years. Captain Jeff Schwering from Saint Louis County, Missouri is presenting the Rapid Intervention Basics class on Friday morning. Jeff also writes for Firefighter Basics.com and has worked really hard on putting this class together. He will not disappoint in its presentation.

Another guy I’ve gotten to know, Jason Jefferies, from Working the Job.com fame and I will be in the Urban Essentials class together on Monday. We’re both really looking forward to the class but we’re both really looking forward to getting together and chewing the fat over things too. It should prove to be quite entertaining.

Everyone that is going I pray for safe travels to and from for you and all your members. For those that are not going, try and get there next year and when this year’s conference is over hit up anyone you know that did go for their knowledge and experiences they gained. It’s well worth it.

Be safe!


Are You A 1-Percenter?

If you watched Captain Dugan’s keynote address at the opening ceremony of FDIC 2011 that I have posted below then you already know what this post is going to talk about and the chart above makes sense to you. If you have not heard the keynote address, take 22 minutes and go below to watch it then come back and you will understand. Don’t worry, we’ll still be here when you get back.

Every year Bobby Halton and his staff bust their butts to put on the best gathering of fire department professionals in the world. And every year they kick off FDIC with a featured speaker to set the tone and get everyone both pumped up and thinking about what the fire service is. This year was no exception. Captain Dugan gave a great speech and hit on some very poignant topics in todays fire service. I would like to focus on one small section of his overall address in this post, the 1-percenter. While I enjoyed Captain Dugan’s entire speech this one section really got me thinking. It got me thinking about what I perceive myself as, what I perceive others as and what is really correct.

You see, I perceive myself as a 1-percenter. I think that I strive to give back to the fire service and our younger members coming up behind us. I think that I train hard, educate myself above and beyond what is required and try to make myself the best overall firefighter and paramedic that I can. But that’s my perception. We’re all biased when evaluating ourselves, right? So what do others think of me? I guess it depends on who you would ask. I know that it might be hard for some of you to believe but I’m not universally loved and adored like I feel I should be (kidding, of course). I think that if you were to ask the numerous younger guys I have had a hand in training they would probably say some complimentary things about me and that we get along fine. If you were to ask some of the older members I work with you would get a few of those same opinions but you would also get the not-so-complimentary ones also. Some along the lines of, “trouble-maker”, “pot-stirrer”, maybe even “cocky” or the ever popular “he should just keep his mouth shut.” Problem is, that is exactly what Captain Dugan is talking about. If everyone just kept their mouths shut and went along with what was “normal” and the status quo then the picture we saw outside our windshields in 10 years would look awfully similar to the one we are looking at today. What’s our famous fire service motto? “One hundred years of tradition unimpeded by progress.” We all kind of chortle when we hear that but the sad truth is, it’s a fair and accurate statement in a lot of ways.

Here’s the one problem I see with Captain Dugan’s analogy; everyone thinks they are a 1-percenter. Think about that for a second, hold it in your brain and read on. Think of the crustiest, most ornery  member on your job. He or she probably thinks they are a 1-percenter. That person probably sees younger members coming up with college degrees, better training, perhaps a more “go get ’em” attitude and thinks that they are the problem with today’s fire service. If everyone had the experience that he or she had, if they had grown up in the school of hard-knocks old-time firefightin’ that they had they’d be real firefighters. They view themselves as the guardians of the old school and they view themselves as 1-percenters in their own way. On the flip-side we have the younger guys. The younger guys that do have college degrees, that do have better training, that are in a more enthusiastic and go get ’em phase of their careers and they view themselves as the 1-percenters. The officer that “leads” the way that he was “led”, even though it was really managing and they have no idea what the difference between the two is, thinks of themselves as a 1-percenter because he or she is doing it “right”, by the book, with a heavy hand and an un-waivering attitude. These new officers who actually talk to their charges and even more importantly listen to them and maybe even <gasp> ask for and consider other opinions are just weak and have no idea what they are doing. The chiefs that guide their departments down the same narrow road that they have been on forever view themselves as 1-percenters too. They are protecting the institution while everyone else is, in their opinion, trying to tear it down. Now, please, do not confuse buying new equipment, turnout gear and building new stations as “progress”. Those are things you absolutely have to do, they are not leading. Constantly reviewing your SOG’s and drafting new ones to fit new issues and developments within your response area, updating others that might be behind the times, looking at new technology and making it work the best for you instead of complaining about new mandates and resisting them for as long as possible, constantly looking for ways to improve the delivery of our services to the people we serve, that’s what I consider to be a 1-percenter. Not someone who looks over at the SOG book that was drafted when they were a firefighter and says, “Yep, it’s good. We have SOG’s and they must be fine because they were when I had to follow them.” Do you see what I mean? Everyone, somehow, someway, identifies themselves as a 1-percenter.

So what about the rest of the pie? We’ve got that 10 out of  100 that just shouldn’t be here. And I am a firm believer in that. One of my favorite sayings is, “I may want to be a brain surgeon with every ounce of my being, but God just didn’t make me to be one. Does that mean I should be given a scalpel and free reign in an operating room?” Believe me, if you want to live, the answer would be a resounding “No”. So why do we pass firefighters on probation that are marginal at best? Why do we allow firefighters that made it through probation and are less than stellar to be buried at slower stations or to skip out on responsibilities? I once heard a senior firefighter with years of great experience and strong job knowledge say, “I don’t need to teach these young guys anything. It’s not my job. I’m just trying to get through these last few years.” I have no problem with someone a few years from retirement being afforded some extra latitude in certain things but passing on your knowledge and experience is not one that is negotiable in my book. If that’s the kind of poisonous attitude you are going to have then maybe you should just go now. What about those not physically capable of doing the job? They put themselves and the rest of us at risk. While a yearly NFPA medical physical is great and I’m all for them I don’t put a lot of stock in them for actual “job readiness” or as my buddy Chris Brennan would say “the ready position.” If you pass your annual medical physical but then cannot physically make it through the SCBA entanglement maze during training, which is more important? Maybe it’s time to go.

Then there’s the 80 out of 100 that are “just targets”, maybe for our purposes we should say the 80 that are “just here.” Those guys and gals that aren’t bad firefighters or medics, they aren’t bad guys and gals, they can physically do the job but they kind of just take up space in the house and on the rigs. I don’t necessarily have a huge problem with these folks. While I certainly would like to see everyone reading extra articles, taking classes, working on extra drills and making themselves better I know that not everyone will be like that. There is the regular Army and then there are the Rangers. There is the Navy and then there are the SEALs. There are Marines and then there are Recon Marines. There’s the Air Force and then there is Pararescue. Not everyone can be in that elite field. As long as you have strong firefighting knowledge and skills, strong paramedic knowledge and can carry out your job correctly and efficiently with the most basic of direction, then you’re ok in my book. Just ok, but still ok.

Then we have the 9 out of the 100. The real firefighters. Who is in this group? These are the people who started out as the 80 and pushed themselves to be better. These are the people who love the job and can’t get enough. Most of the time these are the people you see taking classes for other reasons than just promotion. People who join specialty teams or seek assignment to the busier companies and houses. Most of the time they are the people who have their heads in trade journals and websites finding out what’s new and hot. They strive to make themselves better and see their profession as much more than just a job, it’s a calling. They are a wealth of knowledge and share it freely. They are enthusiastic and rarely have a bad day at the firehouse. Some call them “geeks” or say they just shouldn’t care so much. But they know better.

Then there’s the 1 in 100. The 1-percenter. This is the person that was a “real firefighter” and through a combination of hard work, dedication, training and pure God-given talent took their performance to a whole different level. These are the Olympic athletes of the fire service. Those firefighters and fire officers that just have that something extra that puts them above the rest of us. These are the true 1-percenters. I said in the opening I believe I am a 1-percenter, but I say it in the way that my first few paragraphs of this post were talking about. I perceive myself that way, but am I really? I don’t think so. I have so much more to learn and so much better that I can be. So while I strive to get there someday, I need to keep in mind that I could slip into another of these categories if I’m not careful. If I let too many set-backs take their toll, or too many perceived injustices quash my spirit. Continuing on the athletic example, I may strive for the Olympics but if I only get to the Major Leagues then I’m still better than 90% of those that try out. I’m pretty good with that.

So do you see the dilemma? Everyone who cares the least little bit about the fire service will place themselves in the 9% or 1% categories. That’s their self-perception. As viewed by others, however, maybe not so much. So what should we do? Should there be an NFPA standard to define what category you fall into? What would it matter? Our departments would just opt out of that one just like they do half the others that they don’t want to follow. Should an independent certification board be set up and then you could earn your “1% Card”? I dunno. You can probably tell I’m suggesting that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. Maybe we should all just move on as we are. Let those that think they are in the top 10% keep thinking it. Let them also keep their negative attitudes of those of us that are actually striving to be in that top 10% and then raise a glass in their honor at their retirement parties. Meanwhile we do exactly what I just said. Keep striving to be in that top 10% while aiming towards being a true 1-percenter. Keep striving to bring positive and meaningful change to our beloved fire service and keep training up those that will follow in our footsteps.

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

Isn’t This Cool?

During this time of our professions’ largest gathering it has led me to think about the job and the way that both technology and gatherings such as FDIC have led to changes for it. Although I was not able to get to Indy this year I am still in awe of this annual trek made by thousands of instructors, firefighters and officers to a mid-west city in order to learn, exchange ideas and generally advance our profession. How cool is that? Sure, other professions have large convention-type gatherings but does the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons gathering let doctors operate on people to try out new techniques or practice their craft? Does the International Hardware and Fastener Convention let you build, or destruct, a house or just let you try out the newest cool recip saw on a hunk of 4×4 at the dealer’s booth? Our convention lets you take H.O.T. classes that are taught by some of the most experienced and talented people in the world of firefighting and rescue. You can attend lectures given by equally talented presenters and then meet up at the bar afterwords for a burger and some libations and they are happy to talk to you. It is a totally different and awesome experience. Not to mention the hundreds of vendors and manufacturers displaying the newest and best products from apparatus to t-shirts that monitor a firefighter’s vitals. Truly mind-blowing. While all of that is great for our job and advancing it into the future it is not the best part of FDIC, in my opinion. It’s the people you get to meet while there and the conversations the ensue.

Many of you are familiar with the People’s Burn Foundation and their regularly updated video series, “To Hell and Back.” These videos chronicle the stories of burn survivors, both firefighters and civilians, and what an arduous, painful road to recovery they face. Well, a few years ago I was in Indy with a group of guys and we were having lunch at Ike and Jonesy’s, some of you may be familiar. In walks another group of guys and they start to look around for an available spot. One of their group stood out from all the rest. He had very obviously been burned on his head, face, hands and arms. You could tell that numerous people took notice but if there was ever a safe and non-judgmental place for this brother to be it was certainly there, in that restaurant, during FDIC. It just so happened that one of the few available spots was next to our group and we waved them over. They sat down next to us and we all did introductions. Turns out they were from Indiana, somewhat near the Illinois border. The normal shop-talk ensued and soon rounds were being bought back and forth. I think both out of a little bit of fear and respect no one had asked the brother with the scars about it. We simply accepted him as one of our own and ignored it. That is until I saw one of my buddies lean over to him and begin talking to him quietly, separate from the rest of the conversations and war-stories. This buddy is the same I have referenced in my “Pussification” post that had been severely burned himself. Before long “Bacon”, as his brothers from Indiana called him (we’re an empathetic bunch, aren’t we?), was telling us all about the incident where he was burned and his road to recovery and my buddy was doing the same. It was humbling, horrifying and educational. But most of all it was just cool. Cool to be able to sit in a bar surrounded by other brothers and sisters and be able to talk to someone that had this kind of experience all because of FDIC. Now, fast-forward one year and I’m on duty at the fire house. We all got together for drill and the Training Officer walked in and told us that we were going to watch the “To Hell and Back” video. Oh, cool, I thought. Then, about 20 minutes into the video, Bacon pops on the screen and they start telling his story! “I know that guy!”, I blurted. Holy crap! After the video was over I was able to add some more details and answer a few questions about Bacon’s story that some of the guys had. So, by extension, more guys learned from Bacon’s experience. Just mind-blowing to me.

So I mentioned technology too. When I first started 17 years ago the only way to learn from different areas of the country was through articles in Fire Engineering, Firehouse or other trade publications. Either that or you had friends somewhere else, went and rode around the country or dragged your wife or husband and kids into firehouses for visits during the family vacation. Now, because of the internet and other advances we have access to information, tricks, techniques and model procedures from around the world. Simply because of this blog and posting things on others I now know people from Fenton, Missouri; Harwich, Massachusetts; Roanoke, Virginia; Prince George’s County, Maryland; FDNY; Miami-Dade; L.A. County and City; Dallas and Winnipeg, Canada. Talk about a wealth of experience and a deep well of resources! I remember when the only way you heard about new techniques or ways of doing things was a greater-alarm fire and you were standing around talking to mutual-aid companies while watching the building burn and eating stale pound cake from the canteen. And as I sit here and write this I am listening to Sacramento, California Fire work a job in a three-story apartment building on my phone! Wow!  Look at tools, too. My very namesake, the hallway sledge, is a very traditional mid-west tool that originated in the Chicago FD. But now you can find them on rigs all over the country. A few months ago Mike Ciampo from FDNY wrote a great article in Fire Engineering about different tool variations from around the country, read it here . Just little modifications or additions to traditional firefighting tools that make it that much better or useful in a situation that might be peculiar to that locations building techniques etc. But 20 years ago would we know as much about the “New York Roof Hook”, or the “Boston Rake”, or the history and reasons behind why L.A. issues each member their own axe? The same can be said for hoseloads (read Urban Firefighter Magazine’s articles on the Detroit load here or the Kentland, Maryland bumper line here), riding assignments and any number of other topics.

If you are here reading this I guess I am kind of preaching to the choir. You are already demonstrating a desire to learn more about your craft and advance your knowledge. Some in our profession are not like that, however. Some may even see the internet and other modes of information dissemination as “bad” or a problem to be contained. Try working on those attitudes and show them how much can be garnered from these resources. Get the probie on different sites, not to confuse him or her, they need to learn your way first. But to advance their knowledge past just the basics, to offer them a perspective on the history and tradition of our great job. Never stop learning, never stop questioning and never stop investigating. That’s the only way we can keep moving forward.

Stay safe!

Hallway Sledge