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.

Lucky or Good?

There’s that saying; “I’d rather be lucky than good.” When it comes to the fire service I agree but I also believe that those that work very hard at being good tend to make their own luck. Sometimes those lucky breaks are really just preparations made by thinking firefighters who put a ladder in the right place before it was needed and someone called it lucky. Other times an incident commander calls it luck that the interior crew withdrew when they did before the hostile fire event occurred, never realizing that the well studied and experienced company officer was keeping tabs on the interior conditions and using his noggin as well as his book knowledge and experience to make an educated decision as to when to beat feet.  Is there luck in the fire service. I think so. But I don’t rely on it, and I certainly don’t wait for it. I believe you go out and make it for yourself.

There’s another saying that; “Practice makes perfect.” We all know, or should know, that the statement in and of itself is false. You can practice something wrong every time and all you’ll be doing is something perfectly wrong. Perfect practice makes perfect. That, however, takes a huge amount of effort. More effort than a couple hours here and there on the training ground a couple days a week. If you do a ladder drill during your prescribed training time are you looked at like you have leprosy if you suggest later in the shift to go over the drill again back in quarters? Daniel Manning wrote an excellent article for Fire Service Warrior entitled Focus, give it a read. It talks about keeping your, a, focus, and about becoming infectious to others. Something you can do with training as well. If you want a little more up-beat inspiration take a look at the below video. It’s of Remi Gaillard, soccer star. Watch the vid and think about how much practice he has gone through over the course of his career to be able to do the things he can with a soccer ball. Is it luck? Maybe. Or maybe those that put in the effort get paid off in spades sometimes too.

Pretty cool, huh? Imagine being so confident with a 24 or a 35. Imagine grabbing the line and just knowing how much line you’ll need to make the stretch. What if you never had to be nervous when standing in front of the pump panel again? It could all come true…with some hard work.

Be safe.


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!


I Will Be My Brother’s Keeper

* Image from Brodin Studios, Inc.

“You’re an a$$hole,” he seethed at me from behind his mask. “Sorry,” I replied as he made his way back out the window and onto the ladder he had just come off a minute before. I followed and held onto his SCBA straps as a safety. We didn’t need to hurt anyone for real during training. He went down a couple rungs and then looked back up at me again through his mask. Our eyes met. “You’re a dick!” I just waved, sighed and pulled back into the room waiting for the replacement crew to come rescue the victim that this now-burned firefighter could not. “Not my fault you took your gloves off,” I thought.

“This is stupid. This is going to get someone hurt,” was one of the first complaints I heard regarding a floor collapse prop I had built. “So how do we realistically prepare you for going through a floor and what to do to get out?” was my reply. “I’ve been here 26 years and haven’t come close to going through a floor yet! Be smart about it,” was the answer. “Congratulations,” I said. “I’m glad you’ve made it that long and haven’t had  any issues but you might five minutes from now. Or one of these new kids might in a day or a week and we need to train them as best we can to be ready to handle it.” The other firefighter took a long pull from his cigarette (don’t get me going on that dichotomy), shook his head and said, “It’s a bad idea.” We used the prop and did the training anyway.

“What would you do ‘Professor’?”

“Hey! Super-fireman! We need your expertise over here.”

“It’s easy to set up a sh*&$y drill when you don’t have to do it, huh?” (I’ve always done a drill I’ve set up, just for the record.)

It goes on and on. So why do those of us that stick our necks out in the training realms, be it at our department or in print, video or digital media, subject ourselves to the potential for conflict, frustration and occasional abuse? Because we have committed to being our brother’s keeper. And so should you, training staff or not.

I could have over-looked my brother taking off his gloves in drill. There was no fire in the room, no heat. But would I just be reinforcing bad behavior by doing so? Would I be letting him down in the future when he did it in a real fire without thinking and actually burned his hands? I would not be acting as his keeper if I hadn’t “burned” him and then followed up with a discussion later.

I could have just put another PowerPoint together talking about case studies where firefighters have been injured or killed in collapse situations and then gone over mayday procedures. But would that have been as effective as actually subjecting my brothers to a realistic drop; that moment of panic; in full gear; that disorientation and then making them call the mayday and manipulate their PASS and get out of the situation? If I did I wouldn’t be as good a keeper of my brother as I could be.

What if I just shied away from any sort of uncomfortable confrontation or corrective action? What if I just took the easy way out of every situation that required an instructor to stand up and say, “Stop! We need to talk about this.” Would I be acting as an advocate and protector of my brothers and sisters? Or would I simply be acting as a chump who wants some extra pay to do training, or some brownie points or whatever other selfish reasons people find to get involved not just with training but with other “extra” jobs around work?

This does not pertain just to me, however. Or to any of you who are training officers or instructors. It should pertain to all of us. Each and every one of us should be our brother and sister’s keeper when it comes to training and knowing our jobs. We should be holding each other accountable for our actions and knowledge. If you see a brother or sister that may not know the correct operation of a particular tool, offer to go over it with them. If you have a particular “thing”; EMS, pumping, ropes and knots, SCBA, whatever, pass on your knowledge every chance you see to those that are weaker in those areas. It is not just up to your training divisions and its staff. It’s up to each of us. We are all each other’s keeper’s. Or at least we should be.

I’ve said it in other posts and I’ll say it again. This job is too important to be taken casually. We need to be as absolutely proficient in every aspect of this job that our individual departments are responsible for. If we are not, we will be letting Mr. or Mrs. Smith down when we do not have the knowledge, cannot use a tool or perform a skill that is required in a given situation. Worse yet, we may not be able to do so when one of our Brothers or Sisters needs us to perform for them. And to me, that is unacceptable. That is why I continue to stick my neck out. That is why I continue to take the ribbings, good natured or not. That is why I continue to take the scrutiny that this blog is subjected to. Because maybe, just maybe, someone picks something up that makes them a better firefighter and may help them or someone else on the job one day. I am committed to being my Brother’s, and my Sister’s, keeper. It’s the way it is supposed to be. It’s what this job was based on.

Are you in?

Be safe!


Can You Hear Me Now?

* Image from

Hey all. This post was actually inspired by one that my buddy Jason Jefferies wrote for Fire Service Warrior he titled, The Most Important 6 Inches. And like Jason, I’ll just say get your minds out of the gutter. If you haven’t read his article shoot on over to FSW and give it a read, it’s well worth it and I’ll still be here when you get back. So, this post is going to focus on arguably our second-most important tool on the emergency scene; the portable radio. Some of you just yawned and got ready to find another page to go to but hang in there, I’m not going to be talking narrow banding or the pros and cons of trunking systems or anything like that. Hopefully you might pick something up from this article.

I’m a stickler about my portable. I’m very fortunate in that my department actually issues each member their own. So every day I know what condition it is in, when the battery was changed last, any particular issues the radio may have and an overall “feel” for the tool. I realize I’m fortunate. I know there are departments out there that cannot afford this luxury and may not even be able to provide enough portables per riding position on the rigs. I think that is truly unfortunate and dangerous but it is a topic for another post.

At the beginning of my shift my radio is one of the first things I check. I carry mine in a radio strap so I start there. I make sure that the strap is in decent condition, that nothing looks like it is going to fail or is worn too badly. If it needs a bit of cleaning I’ll clean it up real quick-like. Then I check the outside of the radio for obvious damage. Hopefully I would have known about this during the last shift had something happened severe enough to actually crack the case or something, but you never know. I pay special attention to the cord connecting the radio body to the remote microphone, this is especially susceptible to damage in our line of work. Finally I check the remote mic. Again, if a little cleaning up is needed I do it real quick. Then I actually turn the radio on to check the battery status and to see what channel it is set to. My department does not have a set standard for when to replace the battery, it’s left up to each individual to use their brains. Our battery life indicators have 4 bars on them, I personally will start a shift with 3 bars showing. If it goes to 2 during the shift I will switch the battery out. Obviously, anything less than the 3 bars showing initially gets switched out immediately. I always double-check to make sure the radio is set to our main dispatch frequency also. Being detailed out to other stations is quite common and you never know who (or you) might have forgotten a radio and borrowed yours and left it on a fireground or training frequency the shift before. It’s just a good idea to check.

Ok, so that was pretty basic, I know. For those of you that are still reading, thank you for hanging in there. The next thing I’d like to discuss is how the radio is carried. Honestly, I don’t really care. It’s up to you. It’s however you’re comfortable and can operate the tool but here are three parameters that, in my opinion MUST be met in whatever method you choose to carry your radio. 1) Radio traffic must be able to be heard. 2) The radio switches and buttons must be able to be operated. And 3) The radio must actually be on.

The first point doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with volume, although I’m sure we all know co-workers who think that it does. What I mean by carrying the radio in a fashion that radio traffic can be heard is carrying it in a way that the speaker is somewhere near your ears. Not clipped to your belt. Not stuffed in your back pocket facing backwards. Not stuffed in your front pocket. Actually somewhere near your ear-holes so that the information being broadcast over the speaker actually has half a chance at making it into the computer in your skull and being decoded into useful data. If you do that you might find you don’t need the volume cranked to 11 just to be able to hear. This is why I personally like the radio strap. Throw it on and the mic is at my left shoulder every time, close to my ear.

Second point, being able to operate the tool. I’ve seen some interesting methods of carrying radios over the years, mostly related to our bunker gear. Obviously the radio pocket is probably the most popular method, and that’s fine, as long as you can get the radio out to change channels or the volume or activate your emergency button. The thing I dislike about the radio pocket is that it a almost necessitates the use of two hands to operate the radio. You can pull the flap open with one hand just fine, but with structural firefighting gloves on you aren’t going to get two fingers into the pocket to turn the knobs to change channels or the volume. Which means you have to pull the radio out of the pocket and hold it with one hand while you perform those actions with the other. It just seems cumbersome to me and slows things down. I’ve seen guys use the belt-clip to clip the radio to either the belt strap or the chest strap on the SCBA. I’ve seen that go both ways. I’ve seen it work ok and I’ve seen the radios get the ever-loving snot beat out of them too being exposed like that. Plus, with both the radio pocket and the belt-clip method, the coiled remote mic wire is left exposed to become an entanglement hazard to any burned out mattress spring, drop-ceiling grid or just about anything else that is looking to reach out and get us. At least with the belt-clip method the knobs and buttons are exposed and able to be operated with one hand and by feel only, that’s on the plus side. Again, I prefer an extra long radio strap worn under my bunker coat that allows the radio to hang just under the lower edge of the coat, exposed for operation of all the controls, with the remote mic cord running up underneath the coat removing the entanglement hazard, out the top of my coat to a retractable lanyard system secured to the storm flap of my coat at my left ear. Again, I’m just giving you my thought process on why I came to this system as the best solution for me personally. I’m not trying (too much) to sell you on it. But I do want you to give some serious thought to how you have your rig set up at work and maybe make some changes if need be.

Ok, third point. The thing actually has to be on. I can’t tell you how often this doesn’t happen. Whether it be intentional or unintentional numerous radios are left off during both training and actual incidents constantly. NIOSH reports are filled with incidents of firefighters being injured and killed with their radios being off. Near-miss reports are filled with the same. Yet I constantly hear, “There’s a radio every 5 feet, I don’t need mine on.”, or “I hate carrying that @$#& thing.” If you don’t turn it on, or worse yet, if you don’t have it, the tool can not help you. I would hate to think that a firefighter found themselves in trouble, had just that little bit of panic set in, and were talking into a microphone that was off the entire time they were trying to call a mayday because they forgot to turn the radio on in the heat of the moment, pun intended. It doesn’t even need to be a structure fire where it can help you out. What about EMS runs? Ever had your partner go back to the rig for something and you suddenly remember you need something else? Or the situation changes and you need another piece of equipment? I guarantee he or shed is not going to be happy if they get all the way back up to the fourth floor just to find out they have to turn around and go back down again. How about a personal safety stand-point? Same scenario. You’re on an EMS run and something bad happens and you don’t have a radio. God forbid but something has happened to the rest of your crew and you don’t have a way to communicate. Or it’s just you and your partner and he or she went to the rig to get the aforementioned piece of equipment and suddenly the calm and agreeable psych patient turns on you and you’re fighting by yourself with no means to call for help? Ego and machismo aside, wouldn’t it be better to be able to key the mic and at least be able to alert someone that something was wrong? Carry the thing, turn it on, turn it down.

The last thing I’ll say about our portables is; LISTEN TO THEM! Just because the traffic isn’t directly to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to do with you. Make sense? Example; You are Truck 1 assigned to throw ground ladders to the C-side of the building on a 2-story residential fire. As you are completing this task Engine 2, who is making the attack on the bedroom fire on the second floor, requests ventilation on the B-side near the B-C corner. You hear this, radio command you are in a position to roll a ladder and complete this task, badda-boom badda-bing Engine makes the room, fire out, everyone’s happy. Same scenario but because you are not listening to the radio traffic and because the message does not begin with “Truck 1” you don’t pay attention to whoever is yapping on the radio. Command has to wait for another Truck to come up from staging, make it to the B-C corner, vent the window between dirty looks at your guys, who are all now standing around doing nothing because your assignment of laddering the C-side is complete, the fire has moved into the adjoining bedroom because of the delay and is moving into the attic. Nice job ace. Missed radio traffic is a huge pet peeve of mine. And I’m not talking about missed radio traffic that is directly to a unit, I’m talking about general emergency scene traffic that contains information that provides clues or basis for judgement to everyone operating that people routinely miss because they are focused on what is going on two inches in front of them or because they only pay attention to the radio transmissions that begin with their unit numbers. Drives me nuts.

Your radio is as much a tool as an ax, Halligan or your SCBA. You need to be familiar with its operation and “feel”. The only way you will get that is by using it and practicing with it. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Something as simple as closing your eyes and counting channels as you turn the knob is  a quick drill you can do yourself without anyone else even knowing you’re doing it. Go out and try different methods of wearing your radio with both your station uniform and your bunker gear. Find out what is going to work best for you. Don’t just assume that since there is a “radio” pocket and a tab sewn on your coat that it’s the best place for you to carry the radio. After all, you know what happens when you assume, right?

Until next time,

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 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 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 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!


The Tower of Bad Habits

* Image from the Boca Raton Fire Department website

So, back to business as normal. Obviously given the title of this post and the picture above we’re going to be talking about training towers today. And it really doesn’t matter what kind of training tower you have, the fancy state-of-the-art one, the on-a-budget-one, or the re-purposed con-ex container type. Any kind of permanent structure that your organization uses for on-going training can actually have some unintended consequences if you as a trainee or a trainer are not careful. The training tower can turn into a <key spooky music> Tower of Bad Habits.

If you didn’t think I had lost my mind after the last post maybe you are thinking I have now. But stick with me for a minute. How can something that is intended to give us a readily accessible, relatively safe and hopefully realistic training experience create bad habits in us? Well, it’s simple really. Its because of those things that we kind of get lulled into a sense of security when we head down (or up, or over) to the tower to do some training. After a while we know it’s so many steps to the second floor. So many to the third. We know it is so many crawling movements to the corner and then a right turn, then so many more crawls and another right turn. We know the floor is concrete or steel or whatever and suddenly sounding for stability drops by the wayside. We just know a fourteen foot roof will make the second floor window for rescue with a bit to spare, a twenty-eight will make the third for ventilation. We find ways to cheat that are specific to our tower that may be a detriment to us at an actual incident. Instructors are just as guilty. We don’t allow the guys and gals to use their flashlights because we’re not using real smoke today and we can’t get it dark enough in there. The steel floor has been tearing up the knees of the bunker pants so we let the troops walk around more than we should. Or we loose or imagination and start falling into the same-‘ole same-‘ole and as soon as the members hear what the drill topic is they already know what the drill will be, what the benchmarks will be, how they must accomplish them and have a pretty good idea of what the scenario will be.  Trainee and trainer alike must challenge themselves to treat each training evolution as the learning experience it is meant to be and to push outside the comfort zone.

Obviously the benefits of having your own, or shared, facility at which to conduct training far outweigh the negatives. Departments don’t need to worry about the availability of acquired structures, making them 1401 compliant, acquiring permits, etc. etc., and they are generally available whenever the department would like to utilize them. Unless you are extremely lucky your department is not going to be able to afford to build a structure that is representative of every type of occupancy in your response district. Therefor the structures that are built are either pretty generic or maybe representative of the worst target hazard in your town i.e. the biggest building is a 5 story apartment building so the tower was built to be five stories high. Look at the brand new facility built in Boca Raton. Is every structure in Boca Raton a five story perfect rectangle with exterior stairwells? Of course not. How about Vienna, North Carolina? Is every structure there  three stories with only one solid wall? Odds are probably not. So that means the respective departments have to get creative. They must find a way to practice the lead-outs from the standpipe down the hallway to the fire apartment. They must find a way to simulate a garage fire. How about basement fires? I don’t think that in my travels thus far that I have seen a tower that has an underground component to it. That would be cool though. To actually be able to go in on the ground floor, make the stairs, fight your way down, maybe practice shielding yourself with a wide pattern fog (smooth-bore guys don’t hang me), practice exterior vent in a coordinated manner to give an exhaust point. Adds a lot to the cost, though. Shame, that. So, we have to make do. We have to get creative. There are plenty of ways to mix-up the every day training in the same tower you’ve been going to for years. Maybe we go all the way up to the roof and put the fire on the top interior floor and fight our way down. Or use an exterior entrance like on the Boca tower to do the same and fight down a level. Think outside the square or rectangular con-ex box. Be careful though! Just because those steps are cast concrete or steel grate doesn’t mean we don’t have to sound. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to practice staying near the walls, over the stringers, because that’s the strongest area. We need to keep our basic firemanship alive in the tower of bad habits too.

I’ve seen the advertisements for the new, clean burning propane buildings that come with stainless steel mock-ups of beds, kitchens, living rooms, just about anything you want. It’s great because there’s no mess to clean-up like using traditional hay and other Class A combustibles. Propane is better for the environment when it burns. The structure can be easily cleaned and the props can be used again and again. The down side is those props are immobile. They weigh several hundred pounds or more and are generally bolted in place and pre-piped for the gas feed. So once they are down they aren’t going anywhere. After the first few “reported bedroom fires” you’re going to have a real good idea of where the fire is, how to get there, what the lay-out of the building is, how much hose you’ll need, primary areas for search and that about two seconds worth of nozzle work is all that will be required once you reach the seat of the fire. All while done in nearly clear visibility or through clean theatrical smoke. Talk about building bad habits! Now, again, I’m not really knocking the manufacturers of these systems. They saw a niche and they built a product to fill it. I think they have their place and are pretty good but they come with limitations and unintended consequences also. Just keep it in mind and take some personal initiative to keep yourself sharp even though you have a pretty good idea what’s coming.

Being a Parrothead I am reminded of Jimmy Buffett’s song, Bank of Bad Habits. In it one of the choruses goes as follows;

Bank of bad habits
The price of vice fortold
One by one they’ll do you in
They’re bound to take their toll
The wrong thing is the right thing until you lose control
I’ve got this bank of bad habits in a corner of my soul.

Now, any of you fellow Parrotheads out there knows that the song isn’t exactly talking about training towers, but I think it draws a nice parallel. The price of your vices that are continuously repeated on the training ground may well foretell your undoing on the emergency scene. They are certain to take their toll on your skills and your preparedness if you’re not careful. The wrong thing in the tower is the right thing until control is lost on the scene. And we all have that little bank of bad habits in the corner of our souls. Ahhh, yes. Words of wisdom from Jimmy.

Now. Fins up!

And be safe until next time.


Obviously This Is The Next Step In Safety

Heads-up displays in our masks; tracking software that allows Incident Commanders to see our movements inside a building on a computer screen; the new low-profile SCBA under development; fire extinguishing grenades; and somewhere, I am sure, someone is working on a robot to go in and put a fire out for us so that we don’t have to needlessly risk firefighters anymore. But until then, there’s this. The next logical step in firefighter safety. Because after all, nothing is really an emergency any more and no one else’s life is worth risking our own.

OSHA: First job at scene of fire is paperwork

As a clarification, when I end my posts by saying, “Stay safe!” I mean stay safe in the course of our job. While doing our job, not as an excuse not to do our job. And I certainly don’t think that more government agencies with little in the way of practical firefighting knowledge or experience should be handing down mandates that actually make the job more unsafe by removing a company officer and allowing the fire to build. <Shaking my head> I just don’t get it.

Stay safe while continuing to do the job we have all sworn to do.


P.S. I know this is childish, but, know how we have that other name for the NFPA? Maybe OSHA’s should be the Occupational Stupid Head Administration. Just a thought.

English: Logo for the United States Occupation...

Image via Wikipedia

P.P.S  Then, no sooner do I get done posting the above then I go over to get my daily fix of Fire Geezer and I see this article. I almost tested for Grand Rapids back in the day as my wife went to school there and loved the area. Glad now that I didn’t.

Fire Chief Wants to Replace Fire Engines with Pick-ups


* Image from City of St. Lego Fire & Rescue Service

Firstly, if you haven’t clicked on the link above for the City of St. Lego Fire and Rescue Service take some time and do so. The only thing I know about the site is that it was apparently built and maintained by a man named LegoTom and he appears to be the Chief of Department. I gotta admit, it’s pretty cool. He is in charge of quite a large department with many stations and apparatus, an EMS division, Beach division and even an Air Wing! It’s an entertaining visit that both you and your kids would enjoy tooling around on. Give it a look. And now on to our main topic.

When does size-up begin? “Before the tones go off,” is usually the text-book answer you’ll receive when asking that question. And the answer usually refers to being prepared for the call before it even begins. Knowing your still district and its particular building styles, knowing the roads and their peculiarities, being familiar with target hazards etc. etc. But I disagree. I think size-up really begins when your alarm clock goes off in the morning. Let me ‘splain.

When your alarm clock goes off on the morning of your shift is it a normal day or is something off right from the get-go? Are you feeling ok? Is that darn cold still hanging around or is your back more sore than usual this morning? Were the kids up in the middle of the night so you didn’t get as much sleep as you would have liked? There are numerous things that can affect your next 24 hours at the firehouse that consciously or not, you begin assessing as your feet are hitting the floor first thing in the morning.

Next comes your drive in to work. Some of us have a long commute with plenty of opportunity to get the day off on the wrong boot. Traffic, idiot drivers, car trouble and the weather can all lead to hypertension before we even lay eyes on the house. What house are you even going to? Are you going to your normally assigned station or are you on a detail today? If you are detailed, what companies are out of that house? Do you know what position you’ll be filling today? What kind of still district does this house respond to? What things are just a little different about working at this station that you should start getting your mind right with that you may not have to think about if you were working at home today? How about the crew? Let’s be brutally honest here. Every department has a particular shift/station/crew that seems just a little “off”. Are these the guys you’ll be hanging with for the next 24?

Ok, so now we’re in the station. Cup of coffee, shoot the bull a little, get dressed. If you do not have a regular riding assignment what are you doing today? I go so far as to carry different things with me when I’m pumping than when I’m in a different position. In the summer I carry sun screen in case I’m standing at the panel for a long time. In the winter I carry heavy ski-style gloves for the same reason. Is there anything extra you should prepare for given your particular assignment that day? I have a different check-out I go through depending on what I’m doing that day. I work in a house with an Engine, Tower and Medic. So on any given shift I could be driving any of the three, back-step on the Engine, right front seat of the Tower or attendant of the Medic. Besides the obvious differences of each check-out I do little extra things too. When I drive the Engine or Tower I always turn the rear flood lights on and point them down and to the corners of the rig right at the beginning of shift. I do this for two reasons. 1) If we get a night-time run and I have to back-up with no help I have a little extra light already on. 2) We respond to a couple interstate highways and some heavily travelled state and local highways, so if we get a wreck at night there is a little extra scene light and it lights up the back of the rig when we are in a blocking position. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll prevent someone from plowing into the back of us. There are extra little nuances that each of my check-outs has like this depending on what I’m doing that day.

Speaking of check-outs. What rig are you even in today? Is it your regular front-line rig or are you in a reserve due to maintenance? Being in a reserve rig can be a pretty big change. From cabinet placement to equipment storage to seating, there can be numerous differences that will lead to a small level of unfamiliarity throughout the shift. There’s one reserve rig that I am in from time to time that I physically cannot get into my air pack while in the jump-seat. That’s something I better be aware of before we roll up on a working fire. On days when we are in that rig I put the air pack in an exterior compartment along with my irons and make a conscious mental note that I need to speed things up a little more throughout the day when we arrive on scene. Maybe you like your tools positioned a certain way. Or maybe the guys on the shift before you do and you can’t even find the irons because they’re in a different compartment or other little hiding place that the back-step guy before you likes. Better find that out before the first run. Some of the guys I work with make fun of me because it takes me about 10 minutes to get my gear and arrange it on the rig. I like things a certain way. I have come up with a system that I feel lets me gear-up quickly and efficiently with everything in its right place and it begins with how my stuff is positioned on the rig. Boots on the floor angled toward the living area of the station, suspenders spread out so they don’t get tangled up. Bunker coat on the grab-rail. Radio strap hung over the bunker coat next, then the hood. This allows me to put my hood on first, then my radio strap (I wear mine under my coat), then my coat. I position my helmet in the jump seat the way I like. I hook my mask up and check it and my pack out. I position my tools like I like them depending on what rig and what role. Then I move into the actual rig check mandated by my department. It’s little things that let us be speedy and efficient when it matters.

So now that we’ve gotten to the station, evaluated who we’re working with and readied ourselves for the role we’re going to be fulfilling that day. We should probably make sure everything is working right. I know of very few departments that everything on every rig is working 100% correctly, 100% of the time. So what is it about your rig today? Is there that one particular cabinet that sticks, or pops open, all the time? Did the off-going shift report that the PPV fan was running rough or was difficult to start? Maybe the truck guys were saying that the K-12 was idling rough. Maybe we need to take a look at that and try and fix it, or replace it with another, before we really need it. If you’re driving that day is this the rig with the really touchy brakes? Or the one that the fuel gauge doesn’t work on? Better talk to the other Engineer and see how many runs they did or check the hand-written fuel log to see if you need fuel right of the get go. Most places have some form of check out sheet that you fill in the little boxes and make sure everything is there. But that’s to good enough most of the time. Make sure you size-up everything that you need to do your job. Speaking of doing your job…

Keeping it real again…we all know of people on our job who are less than ideal. Maybe you need to develop contingency plans, at least in your own head, for some different scenarios related to the people you are working with. Maybe before you go up to the front door with the line you need to check and make sure the guy that has a little extra hard time getting the rig into pump actually has it in pump. Maybe before you head up to the building with your tools you need to check and make sure the guy that always has the “mask problem” has everything in working order. And maybe you need to go up to your buddy the you trust the most and say, “Listen. We’ve got longer on the job than most these kids have been alive. Let’s keep an eye on ’em together today.”

It is definitely true that size-up begins long before the tones go off, but it doesn’t always have to do with brining buildings, vehicle extrications or complicated medical calls either. Start making a conscious effort to look around at the small stuff on a daily basis and sweat it. Keep in mind, there’s a whole lot of people who don’t and you’re entrusting your safety to them.

Stay safe!



Protect This House!

* Image and terminology are registered trademarks of the Under Armor Corporation. But you already knew that, didn’t you.

This post is going to be breaking new ground for BAS. I’ve asked another thick-headed, knuckle dragging firefighter who is still clinging to the old ways of doing things (like me) to write a guest post. I kinda imagined those of you who read this probably got bored of listening to me ramble all the time so I thought maybe a slightly different message from another jake from another part of the country might make things interesting. Besides, it will give some exposure to the author’s blog for people who may not have run across it yet. So without further ado…

Jason Jefferies is a firefighter from NC who is the primary contributor for his site He’s been a firefighter since 1996 and for the last 6 years he’s been employed by the Charlotte Fire Department where he is currently assigned as a Firefighter II to Ladder 13/C and HazMat 2/C. He is also a volunteer with the Belmont Fire Department in his hometown.
Along with numerous professional certifications Jason is also an IFSAC Live Burn and Rapid Intervention Team Instructor.  Jason and I have gotten to know each other over the last year or so and are currently suffering through a long-distance bro-mance. Stay strong brother. Someday we’ll meet up and have a beer or 6 (did that just get weird?). Here is Jason Jefferies’ post on respecting your heritage and your career.

Protecting Ourselves

Before we begin, I’d like to thank Ol’ Hallway Sledge for asking me to write a guest spot here on Backwards and Stupid.  I’ve read everything he’s written and I can surely say that I feel like he and I are cut from the same cloth.  When he asked me if I would write something, he also gave me Carte Blanche (yeah, I’m a smart Southerner, get up on that!) and basically said I could write whatever without editorial influence in any way.  I’ll just say this and then we’ll get started:  The following words could have just as easily been written by anyone that gives a damn about the fire service.

Anything worth having in this world is worth fighting for and anyone that will argue against that doesn’t have their head on right.  This profession that we proudly call ours is one of those things.  That’s what makes the fire service so great.  Look at the fierce allegiance that is present in many firehouses, it’s evident on our patches and in our slogans.  You’ll see phrases like “Pride of the Westside” and “We finish what others can’t”.  Honestly, we are all like a bunch of street gangs.  We all have our own turf (our still alarm area), we all have our own colors (company t-shirts and patches), we all have our own gang members (firemen) and we fight tooth and nail to maintain our identities and existence.  If you love your house, you’ll protect it, even if that means getting nasty at times.

I’m fortunate.  I’m assigned to one of the most sought after companies in my city, and believe me there are some great stations out there, mine is just the best (ya see how it starts?)  Long before I even entertained the idea of being a fireman, the men at my firehouse were forging a tradition that has stood the test of time.  A firehouse cannot build a reputation overnight, a good reputation that is. It takes years of sweat and toil, years of successful rescues and top notch work, years of always being the go to guys.  Where does that leave us assigned there today?

It’s our duty to perpetuate that reputation and sometimes it’s not easy.  When transfer time rolls around, we don’t lose guys.  We lose guys due to promotions almost all of the time, but every once in a while someone that does not fit makes it into the ranks.  It does not take long before the shift basically lets the round peg know that he does not fit into the square hole and should leave.  If an undesirable fireman puts in a transfer to come there, he’s told don’t bother.  Is that the right way to do business?  Yes.  You see, we may be relatively new to the American fire service when compared to 400 years of history, but we are an old school house, and we’ll be damned if we are going to tarnish the reputation that was set for us.  What’s my point of all of this?  Stick with me just a little longer.

Society today tells us that we should be all-inclusive. Ideas that say, “everyone gets a fair shake, everyone gets fair treatment, and no one is excluded”, are crammed down our throats from the day we start school.  Sure, it works for most places, but never in the fire service.  Let’s be honest, not everyone is cut out for this job but we are constantly running into people out of place in our firehouses.  Some are out of their element, some are simply lazy, and others are just plain old stupid.  Don’t think so?  How many guys on your fire department have said things like, “I’m only here for the benefits.”?  How many guys would rather spend ALL day lining up lawns to mow for their sideline job but ask them for 1 hour of company training and they pitch a tantrum like a 4 year old?  How do they relieve you, 1 minute until the bell rings I’ll bet.  How many Mouches do you have?  Don’t know what a Mouch is…they are half man and half couch, only getting up to eat, sleep, or hit the john.  Don’t even get me started on their inability to function as a team member on menial tasks, not to mention acting as a part of the CREW on a fire.  This is where the all inclusive, everyone deserves a chance, anyone can do this job mentality has gotten us.  You see, I don’t know your story, but I know your fire department.  I know it because they are all the same just change the names and faces and we are all the same.

This is not a gripe.  I have a solution:  Here’s how we at my firehouse handle it.

We have, as my Dad used to say, an old fashioned “You Suck” meeting.  Basically the firemen and engineers get together and let the guy know that he isn’t cutting the mustard.  Straighten up, fly right, and get your crap together.  If you can’t, get your crap and find a new company.  Will that ruffle feathers?  Yes.  Is it tactful?  Nope and it shouldn’t be.  We are not baking cakes here, our job is deadly and someone that will shirk a small task like cleaning the head will also shirk and important one like chasing kinks in the attack line.  Why are we abrasive, big, mean, poopy heads?  Because we love our firehouse, and we’ll be damned if anyone will tarnish it.

That’s the mentality it takes to protect a firehouse, but doesn’t the message transcend far past my little old corner of the fire service?  You bet it does.  If everywhere, everyone who gave a damn about this line of work would take a mentality such as this, perhaps we could separate the wheat from the chaff in this profession, making us all better in the long run.  I’m an idealist I know, but I love this job and will do what it takes to protect it, even if that means saying, “You suck.”

Jason Jefferies

I couldn’t agree more Jason. Folks, I think I’ve said it in another post but I’m going to say it again. I may want to be a brain surgeon with every fiber of my being but God just didn’t have that plan for me. So just because I really, really, really want to does that mean I should be handed a scalpel and drill and be sent into an OR? Heck, no! And I wouldn’t want anyone who was anything less than at the top of their game poking around in my brain either! People fail. People try really, really hard and fail. I’ve done it hundreds of times as I’m sure you have too. We don’t have to let every probie that comes along into the fraternity. Some just suck. Period.

I’m not a heartless person, most of the time. I know that anyone that might be denied their dream or lose their job will probably have a strong emotional reaction and maybe even some tough financial or relational times as well. And I truly would feel bad for that person and his/her close friends and relatives. But that is not enough reason to risk my life and safety, my fellow brothers and sisters lives and safety and especially those who’s lives and property we’ve sworn to protect on someone who doesn’t belong.

If you haven’t been to Jason’s blog before please either click the link in the post or on the right in the blogroll and check him out. Add him to your favorites and keep checking up for new stuff. And if you beat me to Charlotte, look him up and buy him a beer.

Stay safe,