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

Hallway Sledge is Involved in a Great Debate

Hey everyone. Just a quick post to give you a heads-up on a debate I am involved in over at FirefighterNation.com. Someone who goes by the username of EngineLadder reposted my post, “The Pussification of the American Fire Service”, to his FFN page. Well, that automatically gave me quite a bit of exposure which of course brings with it both supporters and detractors. Someone who probably fits the latter is a gentleman named Ben Waller. Mr. Waller and I have been involved in a back and forth tennis match of comments and replies since I first posted a reply to some questions that readers were asking in regards to my post. I genuinely think it has been great fun as well as a very good and informative debate between the two of us. If you’d like to take a little while to see if I’m completely full of B.S. or not click here to go to EngineLadder’s page on FFN and check out the comments. Any comments, for or against my position, are always welcome.

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge

 

 

Hello world!

Ok, so this is my first attempt at anything like this. Some people have said I have something to say so I figured, “why not?” I am a full-time- Firefighter/Paramedic who lives in the Great Midwest, somewhere between the Canadian border (the South side), the Mason-Dixon line, and between Ohio and Kansas (the state, not the musical group.) I am a husband to an understanding, patient (most of the time) and Registered Nurse wife who works in a teaching hospital that is also a Level I Trauma Center. My wife chose her specific field because of a love of children, she works in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where she sees the sickest of the sick and the injured-ist of the injured. The hospital is located in not such a nice neighborhood and receives patients not only from the immediate vicinity but also patients that are referred from many other small community hospitals and even from other bordering states. Together we have two young girls who both test us and bring us great joy. I like to say that God is revisiting my sins upon me by blessing me with two girls and giving them both a healthy dose of their father’s attitude. Oh, and by the way, I am also a Christian and not ashamed of it. So if that doesn’t sit well with you, I’m sorry but not regretful. There will be occasional references to God and maybe even <GASP> scripture on here.

So anyway, what is this really all about? Well, I am very proud of being a firefighter/paramedic. I truly believe that God (there I go again) put me on this Earth to perform those jobs. Am I the world’s best? No, absolutely not. This profession is one that has a way of slapping you down with a heavy pimp-hand if you get too big for your turn-outs. I do, however, think I have something to say and can maybe help give voice to some of my other colleagues who may feel the same, or even differently, about issues. It seems, however, that lately our ever litigious society has our Fire Chiefs very gun-shy about members who post opinions, commentary or ideas on the web. I’m not talking about the members like the idiot from Spalding County, Georgia who used his cell phone to take video of an accident scene in which a young woman was tragically killed and then the video wound up being shown to the woman’s father before he was properly notified. No, I’m not talking about that kind of absolute idiocy. I’m simply talking about the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions that any working stiff has about his or her job. Not defaming, not insidious, not attacking, just open discussion. Let me give you a personal example.

So I’m sitting in the Chief’s office for a friendly (ahem) little afternoon chat and he brings up a post I had made approximately two years ago on a major fire service website. The Chief was none too pleased with my post and decided to let me know about it, in a counseling sort of way mind-you. He proceeded to semi-quote me off the top of his head but he did it so inaccurately that I had to really search the deep recesses of my mind to figure out what he was talking about. When I finally did figure it out I gently tried to set him straight about the topic I was discussing in the post and what I actually had said. Well, of course, he’s still the Chief and he wanted his point made so he continued on and told me that even if that was the case, (paraphrasing) “can you see how dangerous putting things out there for anyone to see is? I thought you were a disgruntled firefighter (I wasn’t) who was bashing” that particular thing I was talking about. Hmmm, really. Then why didn’t you come ask me about it (my department is small enough to be able to do that) instead of waiting two years and then bringing it up in another completely different conversation? Here’s why:

Members or employees of the Department shall not publicly criticize or ridicule the Department (I wasn’t), its policies or members by talking, writing or expression in any manner where such talking, writing or expression  is: 1) Defamatory; 2) Obscene; or 3) Otherwise unprotected by the First Amendment.

There’s also one about divulgence of Department business that is so exclusive that pretty much talking about anything to do with Fight Club would get your butt kicked in a court of The Chief. And there-in lies the problem. Anything that is put out there on the great information super highway could be construed any way any individual wants. It is my belief there is nothing wrong with open and frank discussion and sharing your opinions. Sometimes they may very well be bitter or emotional. So what? At least it shows passion and a desire to get involved.

So, that is where I’m coming from with this blog and also why there is such a need to be vague. I’ll let you in on tid-bits that are relevant and hopefully add to an understanding of where I come from but I can’t publicly identify myself or my organization for fear of discipline. I can’t promise how regular this will be updated or how technologically savvy it will be but I hope to put something out there that someone may enjoy and could maybe use someday.

Stay Safe!

Hallway Sledge