It’s All About Me

I think I’ve said this before so forgive me if I’m repeating myself. I don’t know why I read the comments written by other “firefighters” posted under some story or other regarding a fire or rescue situation. All it does, in general, is infuriate me. And so it has again. Buckle up lads and lasses.

Last Thursday evening there was a 2-Alarm apartment fire in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Five firefighters and one civilian were injured while four additional civilians were rescued. One of those rescues, in particular, has brought a lot of media attention and drawn the ire of many keyboard incident commanders. Captain Scott Kilpatrick of the PGFD entered a second-floor apartment above the the fire apartment, located a conscious victim who was unable for unspecified reasons to assist in her own movement, and then stayed with her for approximately 15 minutes after being unable to remove her on is own and radioing for help. Captain Kilpatrick shared his airpack with the victim, alternating breaths off his mask, while they awaited assistance from other firefighters. This resulted in both Captain Kilpatrick and the victim being transported to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation as well as thermal burns to the civilian. This is what the KIC’s or the keyboard firefighters are bashing Captain Kilpatrick for, and why I am supremely pissed.

I distinctly remember more than 18 years ago now, sitting in the training room of my first paid-on-call department, on the first day of the training academy, the training Captain giving his opening speech. In it he outlined what it meant to be a firefighter, what it meant to serve and that it was so much more than just a job. He also told us something that I already knew full-well and expected but something which I could tell some others in the room might not have thought much about before that moment. I’m paraphrasing a bit here so indulge me, but he said words similar to the following;

“Odds are ladies and gentlemen, that at some point in your careers, if you keep doing this long enough, you are going to get hurt. Hopefully it won’t be serious but it will probably happen. It’s just the nature of our job. We work in a dangerous environment that cannot be controlled all the time as much as we try. And of course, there’s always the chance that someone could make the ultimate sacrifice. Someone might die. Look around the room. There’s, what? Fifteen or so of you in here? By the time you get done with this academy, if you all make it, you will be a tight group. You’ll be close. Can you imagine if someone in here is just suddenly gone? You go to a fire together one night and only one of you goes home. It can happen. On average it does happen about 100 times a year. But we are here to save other peoples lives. To make a difference. Because if we don’t, no one else is going to.”

I thought those were powerful words back then and I still think they are powerful words today. But if we fast-forward those 18 some-odd-years now that training Captain would be delivering a different kind of speech. A speech that I think is at the center of a problem in today’s fire service and one that crops up in the comments made against firefighters like Captain Kilpatrick who go out and successfully save a life while making a conscious decision to risk his own. Here’s how today’s training Captain’s speech would go on the first day of the academy;

“Good morning and welcome to the first day of what will hopefully be a great career in the best job in the world. You know, this really is the best job in the world, isn’t it? We get to help people. We get to do some pretty cool things. We get to ride around in big red shiny trucks. But all of that doesn’t matter at all if you aren’t around AFTER your years of service to enjoy your family. Your grandchildren. Your pension you’ve earned. You can’t enjoy those things if you make bad decisions on this job. Bad decisions like not wearing your PPE. Not wearing your mask. Going into buildings that the fire is advanced to a point where there is nothing left to save and there is no viable human life left. You cannot be around to enjoy those things if you put yourself at risk! There is nothing, NOTHING!, that is worth risk to yourself, your health, your safety. You cannot save anyone else if you yourself are injured or incapacitated.”

Now, to be clear, I heard a variation of that speech too. But the focus was not on me. It was not solely on me first, mission an optional second and civilians a distant third. I feel that is what we are smashing into our recruits brains these days, and they are buying into it.

I am in full support of safety standards and of physical fitness. I believe in wearing all your gear, eating healthily, exercising and not taking unnecessary risks on emergency scenes. I am, however, in full support of doing our jobs and in knowing that in order to accomplish certain things on the emergency scene I may have to place myself in a position to risk my health and safety. This does not cause me to shy away from those tasks. This does not cause me to avoid those tasks or automatically label them as unattainable simply because they involve risk. Yet I feel that many in today’s fire service are doing exactly that. Take Captain Kilpatrick’s situation for example. One KIC in his reply to another KIC stated; “The [firefighter] did in fact put the Lady’s Life first. He demonstrated real Fire and EMS Dedication”…Dedication? By removing his mask? Please tell me you would NOT do the same.” I am standing up to say that I would absolutely do the same given the same circumstances. And here’s why: 1) I have a CONSCIOUS victim who is communicating with me. Are you telling me you are going to listen to her cough and gag and slowly loose consciousness while you continue to breathe off your tank? Oh, yeah. You would. It’s all about you. 2) I can leave. I came in off a ground ladder placed at a window. I know where that window and ladder are. If the victim becomes unconscious, my air runs out or conditions become untenable and I still cannot move her then I can leave and save myself. 3) It is a human life that you have taken an oath to protect. I don’t really think I need to expound on this one but maybe I do. For whatever reason the victim could not move. For whatever reason Captain Kilpatrick could not effect a rescue by himself. Captain Kilpatrick made radio and 911 contact and reported where he was and what he needed, help was coming. He made the decision to essentially shelter in place, for lack of a better term. He made the decision not to leave her. To do everything in his power to preserve her life until more help arrived. Even at the risk of himself.

Since 2009 our LODD numbers have been under 100. Thank God! Maybe we are finally listening. Maybe we are all exercising, eating better and training. Some would say we aren’t taking as many stupid risks. Some would point to VSP and other such “tools” as new innovations that have helped us to not place firefighters in harms way thus lowering the numbers. Maybe it’s a combination of numerous factors. But any way you slice it firefighting is always going to be an inherently dangerous profession that will never be able to be made 100-percent safe. It will require, yes require, firefighters to place themselves in positions that will risk their health and well-being in order to perform our job. If you do not subscribe to this treatise or worse yet do not believe it, maybe you were like some of the people in my academy class that first day and didn’t quite think this whole thing through.

Until next time,

Be as safe as possible in the course of carrying out the job you freely undertook and swore an oath to carry out.

Chris

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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!

Chris

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

Well, That Didn’t Work Out.

Well, ok. So by now you know that ‘ole Sledge’s first big break to present at a major training conference will have to wait for a while. Unfortunately the Gateway Midwest Fire & Leadership Conference that was sponsored by Go>Forward Fire Training had to be cancelled due to a lack of registration. Don’t worry, I won’t take it personal-like. I know no one wanted to waste their time with guys like Sendlebach, Brunacini and those Mitchell and Statter guys. It’s just unfortunate that they had to suffer because you guys and gals that did register only wanted to come see me <sorrowful sigh>. In all seriousness, it is unfortunate the event had to be cancelled but I get that it’s a business and there are certain margins that need to be met. I know that Go>Forward’s new inaugural event in King of Prussia, PA. will be a huge success and set the stage for all the events in the future. Hopefully I can still be a part of something in the future. But for now, I did make two promises to those of you that waste their time reading my smack when I wrote the post announcing that I would be presenting at the conference. First and foremost I promised a class. I was to present a class I have developed called, “Selling Out to the Fire Service”.  A class designed for the new guy all the way up to the Chief about why we got into this business, why we should be in this business and the commitment we all need to make to this business. Secondly, I promised that my Hallway Sledge persona would be killed-off and I would resurrect as my true-self. So let’s get down to business.

So some of you who checked out Go>Forward’s site advertising the conference already know who I am from the instructor bio page, so this may be a little anti-climactic. For those of you who still do not know… my name is Chris Sterricker and I am a full-time Firefighter/Paramedic in the Chicago suburbs. I am married to a wonderful and understanding woman and together we have two young daughters. I’m in my 18th year in the fire service, starting out as a paid-on-call firefighter and eventually getting hired full-time. I started this blog out of frustration over things I saw going on in our beloved profession and as a form of cheap therapy. It felt good to get stuff off my chest and to write about things I thought needed to be discussed. I really never foresaw the amount of success I’ve been blessed with in regards to this site. So I sincerely say thank you to everyone who checks it out.

Now, about that class. I obviously can’t give you something designed for two hours in a blog-post so what I’m going to do is give you the Cliff’s Notes version. I’ll try to hit the high-points and generate some discussion, which is, as always, encouraged.

Since I already took care of the intro part I’ll skip to the chase. What was this class going to be about? Well, in a nutshell, why are you a firefighter? Do you want to wear the super-cool t-shirts and have a built-in pick-up line, or do you really want to sell yourself out to a noble and important profession that requires much more than just a casual dedication? Are you looking for a fraternity and drinking buddies or do you want a true brotherhood (or sisterhood) and guys that’ll drop everything to give you a hand when you or your family needs one? Only you can make that decision and only you will know if you’re BS’ing yourself, but I guarantee others will see right through it.

So after I got done challenging everyone my next point was going to be that this job is just too important to not dedicate yourself fully to it. Important on a couple different levels. The first and most important level is to yourself and your family. The fireground, accident scene, haz-mat incident or any other of the multitude of calls we  answer can be very dangerous places even if you are hanging back trying not to get involved. Don’t you owe it to yourself and those that love and care about you to know what the heck you’re doing? To keep up on new trends and techniques? New information? Seek and attend good, solid training? Think about the knock at the door your significant other will get after you decided that dousing the stack of pallets in the shipping container that is your “training tower” in diesel fuel and then throwing in the fusee resulted in you being admitted to the burn unit, or worse. Dedicated professionals do not do those kinds of things. Smart, trained firefighters do not do those kinds of things.

Secondly, you owe it to those that you work alongside and who depend on you. All the same reasons apply. How would you feel if your actions, or lack-thereof, resulted in the injury or death of another firefighter? Imagine their family and friends and the pain and grief they would experience because of the death of their loved one. I have known many firefighters over the years who lacked basic skills and training as well as any motivation to know and get better at their job. Many of these guys had an attitude that being a weak firefighter didn’t matter, didn’t have any ramifications, because there were always other people around to pick up their slack. Someone else who knew what they were doing or how to operate that tool. Until the day came when they were forced into a situation where they had to perform and couldn’t. It’s not fair to the other guys and gals around you, period.

Thirdly, it’s not fair to “Mrs. Smith”. Mrs. Smith represents every person you and I have sworn to protect and who counts on us to know what to do and have the ability to perform when the worst day of their lives comes calling. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care if you receive  pay check or not. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care if you belong to a Union or not. Mrs. Smith doesn’t care that your department only responds to 100 or so calls a year. Mrs. Smith expects that when she calls 911 she will receive the same level of service living in her 100 year-old farmhouse in East Fork Little River as she would in her brand new condo in downtown Chicago. Now don’t get me wrong. Capabilities and training are two different things. East Fork might only have 5 or 6 people available to respond, whereas in Chicago that’s one company. The capabilities of the two departments are vastly different. But, East Fork better have been proactive in setting up Mutual Aid agreements knowing that they have staffing challenges. That’s a totally separate issue from those same 5 or 6 East Fork FD guys showing up and not having good, solid training and job knowledge. There is no reason in the world, in my opinion, that hose East Fork guys cannot be equally trained as any other firefighters in the country. Perhaps it’s naive of me to think that. Perhaps it’s brash and outlandish for me to expect, but that’s how I feel.

A trend I have noticed over the last few years is that Mrs. Smith doesn’t matter so much anymore. We matter more than she does. We matter more than her property does. We matter more than the oath we all took in one form or another when we started. I have actually heard statements made to the effect of, “We can’t do VES. That’s way above us.” Or, “We only search after the fire is out. It’s too dangerous otherwise.” Or, “If we have more than just one room involved or if we have really heavy smoke we go defensive. We can’t handle anything bigger.” What?!?! But somehow some ideas that are not too far off from these statements have taken hold of the fire service lately and made it ok to not go inside. Ok to write-off Mrs. Smith as soon as we pull up. Ok to really not make much effort at all to stop property loss. “…to guard my every neighbor and protect his property.” Isn’t that how the prayer goes? The Fireman’s Prayer? Again, if you’ve read any of my posts for a while you know I do not advocate throwing our lives away. I do advocate and believe in doing our job fully, safely and effectively. Especially in a time when we are under attack from politicians and our citizens alike. So, did you get into this job to actually do the job? Did you get into this job to risk your life so that someone else might live? Or did you just get on to show up at the fire and get your picture taken, or to take pictures? Did you get into the job to do the job or to give back to your community, or the community you work in, or did you just want to ride in the 4th of July parade? Did you get into this job because you believe in the oath and the prayer or because you wanted a pay check and time off? It’s time to decide.

So that’s a quick overview of what I was going to talk about and challenge the attendees with. Maybe it got some of you thinking. Maybe it made you angry when you read some of my statements. I’m ok with that. Evaluate your career honestly and look at yourself. Have you done everything to make yourself the best firefighter you can? Do you continue to do so? Do you train up others that you work with? Have you sold out to the fire service?

Be safe, train hard.

Chris Sterricker

Firefighter Dads Part Deux

If you’ve read my original post entitled “Firefighter Dads” some of this may sound familiar, but as I’ve said before this blog is a bit of therapy for me so it is in this vein that I revisit this topic.

I didn’t win any parenting awards the other day. As a matter of fact I think that I basically just ensured my kids were relatively safe and didn’t destroy anything too badly. I was home, but I wasn’t really present. The call gods had been cruel the night before when I had worked and we didn’t get much sleep. Even the time we were in the rack I was tossing and turning, thinking about stuff, throwing pillows at the guys that snore. Maybe an hour and half is what I got. Then it was off to home to let my mother-in-law get to work. As I have mentioned in my first post my wife and I are truly blessed to have a lot of help and support from both our sets of parents. Since my in-laws live only about 10 minutes from us they often come to our house when my wife leaves for work at 0600 and stay with my kids until I get home from work around 0845 or so. Then it’s off to work for them for a full day. It sure seems that on these occasions the call gods were particularly vengeful the night before.

My MIL had already gotten the girls up and dressed, fed them and done their hair for me (thankfully). They were all gathered at the kitchen table coloring when I walked in. My MIL greeted me first and the girls turned around, broke into huge smiles and ran to me for their hugs and kisses. I love that part of coming home. I love seeing their excitement to see me, of me seeing them and their eagerness to tell me everything they had done in the 24 hours I was gone. Unfortunately, that feeling can’t last all day when I feel like I was run over by a truck. My MIL had to get going so she gave me the run-down on what had transpired in the couple hours that she had been there, relayed a couple things from my wife and was out the door to work. As I closed the front door I almost felt the panic set in. “I feel like shit,” I thought. “How am I going to make it?” I made some coffee, sat down and started coloring with the girls and made up my mind I was going to be fine today. Unfortunately the girls had other plans for me.

For anyone that hasn’t read the first installment or is new to the blog my girls are 4 and 3. They are both very high-energy and active girls. They take after their mother in that way, and would much rather be out doing something or playing than sitting still. They are also both very independent for their ages and are what I guess you would called “strong-willed”. I blame that on my wife too. Of course, she blames that on me. Well, it didn’t take long before a disagreement over a crayon led to an injurious occurrence, which I didn’t see because I was refilling my coffee. That led to my oldest wailing at the top of her lungs, which led to my youngest getting Tabasco on her tongue, our preferred method of “non-contact” discipline. Which in turn led to her wailing at the top of her lungs. I felt my nerves unravelling one by one like the strings that Tom was hanging onto while Jerry sat there watching and waving and Spike awaited underneath (that’s a Tom & Jerry cartoon reference there, in case anyone didn’t get it). Yet, at this point I took a deep breath, took a drink of coffee, burned my mouth, turned and spit it into the sink, and stood there with my back to the two screaming bobbsey twins, and just breathed for a few seconds. I turned back around and settled that particular argument and calmed both my daughters. That was the last bit of actual decent parenting I think I did that day.

The crayon dispute set the tone for the day. After showering and cleaning up I gathered the girls and put them in the car. i had some errands to run and me and my Lieutenant had agreed to meet for lunch later on. So we get to the first store and the girls decide that while I’m looking at a couple products they wanted to play tag in the aisles. I didn’t really mind. The store wasn’t crowded and the aisles were large. Not large enough, evidently, because soon thereafter I hear a crash from the next aisle over. Even quicker two little girls reappear at my side with wide eyes and strangely quiet mouths. I go to investigate and find out that my beautiful off-spring have pulled over one of those free standing cardboard product stands filled with post-it note packages. “Freakin’ great,” I thought. I started correcting the girls and telling them they had to clean up the mess when a salesperson came over and began doing it for them. I apologized and told him I’d have the girls clean it up. He stuck to his corporate training and cheerfully said it was ok and that it happened all the time. “Yeah right,” my inner monologue quipped, but I was too tired, embarrassed and frustrated to insist he allow them to make amends. Teaching moment number 1 foregone.

So then we head to the local mall for another errand. This mall is also where my LT and I were going to meet for lunch and it had the added benefit of having a large play area for the kids, so I thought they could burn some energy there for a while. So we get to store #2, a computer store, and I have “the talk” with them outside. “No touching anything. Stay right by me. No playing tag or running around. This is very expensive stuff, we can’t break it,” etc. Then we went in. At first everything was ok. Then,  as I’m standing at a large table filled with probably 10 display model computers and talking with the sales guy, all the computers go black at once and an ear-piercing alarm starts sounding. I look down and only my youngest daughter is visible, hands over ears looking up at me with a look of shock on her face. Almost immediately my eldest came scurrying out from underneath the table, jumped to her feet, hid behind my legs and wouldn’t come out. The sales guy crawled under the table, plugged the power-strip back in and reset the anti-theft device before crawling back out and rejoining me. For the second time in an hour I made one of my daughters apologize to a sales guy. Then we left and I had “The Talk, Part Deux” outside the store. We then made our way to the play area.

The play area actually went fine, except for me dozing off for a minute and waking up after my head hit the decorative metal fence behind the bench I was sitting on while “watching” the girls play. I got a text from my LT and we made our way to the restaurant. That actually went fine too. My LT has 3 girls, ages 3 – 5, so he’s used to the craziness and was actually a huge help during lunch. Other than the typical spills and mess, we finished up and left without much incident. Even the walk back out to our cars was ok. They actually got into the car, sat in their car seats and waited patiently while we finished up our discussion about a couple work topics. As I was backing out of the parking spot my youngest used her particularly annoying screech to yell, “Daaaaaaaaaaaddddddddyyyyyyyyyy!” “What, honey,” I half-grumbled. “Aren’t you dunna buttle us?” I slammed on the brakes. Put the car in park. Jumped out. Waved to the lady waiting to take my spot. And then actually secured my girls into their personal restraint systems. “Shit!” my inner monologue shouted again. “I need a nap.”

The endorphin rush managed to get me home without falling asleep. Then I made a huge mistake. I agreed to let them watch some TV. I thought I could kind of lay on the couch with them and take a snooze in relative safety. That was the plan, anyway. The constant hitting, screaming, pushing, yelling and general whining didn’t allow that plan to be seen to fruition however. It was at that point I mentally checked out for the rest of the day. I had 5 1/2 hours until bed time and 7 hours until my wife got home. “I’m done. I don’t care. As long as they’re alive when [my wife] gets home, I don’t care what else happens,” I said to myself.

And that’s pretty much what happened the rest of the day. Except for physically intervening in some particularly violent disagreements and doing some yelling, I did nothing to build-into my children for the rest of our time together that day. Again, if you’ve read the first post, the day I described above was pretty much the exact opposite of what that post was about. I hate those kinds of days. I hate feeling exhausted, angry, frayed, frustrated all at the same time and knowing that my kids are being gypped out of a quality day with their dad. It also pisses me off when I read comments by uninformed people who evidently feel we are all overpaid, do nothing but sit on our butts and sleep all night while getting paid, and pretty much rip-off the tax paying citizen. They never even consider times like this. Then agin, maybe firefighter dads (and moms) aren’t that much different than their white-collar counterparts who spend too much time at the office and not enough time at home. I dunno. I just hope I don’t screw them up too much. I love them too much.

Until next time,

Get some sleep and stay safe!

Sledge

An Open Letter To My Dear Taxpayers

Author/Editor’s note: This post is intended for the disgruntled tax paying citizen that has seemingly turned against us in recent years. If you are a regular follower of this blog and know someone who could stand to read this please, by all means, direct them here.  All quotes are “cut nd pasted” from their original sources so grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors are original from their author. As always, feedback is encouraged.

I admit it. I do it to myself. It’s kind of a sickness really. I just can’t help myself from clicking the “Comments” button at the end of an on-line news article or blog post revolving around firefighters. After reading those comments I usually end up feeling very disheartened, somewhat sad and occasionally just plain mad. These feelings are generated by the very angry and misinformed comments I read posted there by citizens that really seem to hate us. In some cases I kind of get it. The poster may be reacting to a scandal that was recently uncovered by a local reporter or a very public failure of some kind (read, Alameda, California). But for the most-part these angry posts are in direct relation to our earnings, benefits and working conditions or more accurately what a lay citizen thinks he or she knows about them. Oh, and lets not forget the big bad union. A ton of comments are leveled at us gold mongering union firefighters squarely in their sights. I keep looking for websites or blogs dedicated to retail employees, white-collar careers and un-employed living in my Mom’s basement workers so that I can comment on their situations with absolutely no background and little understanding but I can’t seem to find any. If I could I would surely be able to offer those workers some clear insight into what they should be doing and what they really deserve as compensation. Ok, like I said at the beginning, this is supposed to enlighten those people who pay their hard-earned money to taxes that go to support the fire department and its employees. So I would like to start doing a little MythBusting here.  

Let’s see, where to start? I guess we’ll tackle the point that has most people up in arms right now; compensation and pensions. Compensation, so many people seem to hate the amount of money that we make. They feel that because they, as tax payers, are “paying our salaries” we should make just over minimum wage. Here’s an example from a comment in a recent news piece, “Do you not understand that there is only so much money available. if these guys were paid a fair wage there would be no need for layoffs,” by resident702. Or this one, “Good they are over paid and take advantage of the system. KARMA’S A BITCH,by sevenhills. Hmm, ok. I don’t know what either of the authors of these comments do for a living but I’m going to draw a parallel using a generalization so please indulge me for the sake of argument.

Lets say resident is a hardworking employee at the local HomeDepot in the building materials department (my personal favorite). Each day at 0800 he reports dutifully for work, punches his time card, ties on the trade-mark orange apron and hits the floor. He takes stock of what lumber is low and needs restocking, tidies up a bit, replaces stock and helps answer customers questions. He gets a lunch break and a coffee break, talks with other co-workers, and kind of passes the last half-hour or so of his shift so he can get out of there. He punches his time card and goes home. Good day of work. Every two weeks he cashes his well earned paycheck and then grunts in disgust when it comes time to pay his tax bill.

Now, lets say sevenhills is a mid-level employee of a techy type business. His job is to analyze sales trends and make recommendations for production or new market research. He too starts his day at 0800 every Monday through Friday, except holidays and weekends, and wears his work gear consisting of a suit and tie. He sits down in is cube, fires up the computer and simultaneously checks e-mails and phone messages that have come in from the night. He grabs his first cup of coffee, chats it up with a couple co-workers, returns to his desk and fires off a few e-mails, returns a couple calls and gets to work on that report his manager wants before the end of the week. He’s really got to ensure that it’s a good one too, because business isn’t good and they’ve already let 15 people go in his division and there’s no way he wants to be next. He may even stay late tonight to make sure he gets caught-up on things. Every other week this guy too cashes his paycheck and like his brother-in-arms resident almost chokes as he writes out the check for his local taxes.

Ok, so why the stories. Well, in each of our two working stiff’s jobs they have a pretty narrow scope of expertise. One, lumber and associated building materials and the other sales figures and what they tell a business about the market they operate in. Both are very important knowledge bases and are needed not only by their respective companies but by those who rely on them for good, sound advice. Try supporting a an entire second story with a 2×4 and you’ll get a lesson in stresses and failure very quickly. Give a casual glance at sales figures and recommend building and marketing more of an inferior product and you get, well, the BlackBerry. But in the end both these guys are responsible for a narrow area of expertise. So how does this relate to a fire fighter, you may ask? This is how.

I am required to have a near expert level of knowledge in the following areas;

  • The chemistry (yes, actual science stuff) of fire and how it occurs and behaves
  • Biology on a pre-med level (I’m a paramedic too)
  • Anatomy and Physiology (see above)
  • Math to an advanced level (yeah, fire fighters use math too and paramedics use it a lot)
  • Law, in order to carry out my duties within the local, county and state regulations regarding numerous different areas (business inspections, fire and life safety ordinances, laws regarding the treatment of patients, road laws pertaining to operating fire vehicles and numerous others)
  • English and grammar in order to write patient reports as well as inter-departmental communications and those with the general public, almost any of which could be called into court and dissected by a lawyer
  • A dabbling of foreign language, in my case predominantly Spanish, in order to communicate with my patients and those I am trying to help
  • How to drive and operate a fire Engine (the one with the water and hose on it), specifically the pump which gives the firefighters on the hose line water
  • How to drive and operate an Ambulance
  • How to drive and operate a Tower Ladder (the one with the big ladder and basket on top), specifically the aerial ladder and its capabilities and limitations
  • How to use and maintain every tool the fire department uses, from axes to the “jaws of life” to the nozzles and hoses. There are literally hundreds.
  • How to respond to and operate safely at a Hazardous Materials incident
  • How to respond to and operate safely at a Technical Rescue (high-angle, low-angle, trench, collapse) incident
  • How to respond to and operate safely at a water incident
  • How to respond to and operate safely at a motor vehicle accident with and without someone being trapped in the car (in other words, cutting the car apart)
  • How to respond to and operate safely at any type of fire incident
  • How to diagnose and treat just about any medical or traumatic ailment you can think of
  • Oh, and how to remove a days-old kitten from a 2-inch drain pipe, because we respond to those kinds of calls too.
Hmmm, that’s kind of a lot you have to know to be a fire fighter and/or a paramedic. And speaking for myself, I have a Bachelor’s degree and if given college credit for all of my on the job training and classes could easily qualify for another degree. So we are educated as well. What is all that job knowledge and training worth? Oh, and don’t forget, we have to be darn near perfect with every decision we make or something really bad happens or someone dies.
Ok, onto the next topic. The dreaded pensions. Key foreboding music here. Do the majority of jobs in the U.S. have the benefit of a pension? No, most do not. At one time in U.S. history did most jobs have the benefit of a pension? Hard truth is yes, they did. Everyone from steel mill workers to insurance companies to railway workers to an assortment of white-collar positions had pensions as “retirement plan.” So what happened to those pensions and why were they given up? Well, the short answer is that many of those jobs were private sector and the companies simply decided to take the pension away, plain and simple. When you are a private business you are working for one person and one person only, the owner. And the sole purpose of you working there and doing your job everyday is to make the company successful thereby making more money for the owner. Well, why would I pay you money to retire when I could have all that money for me? Poof, no more pensions. And because most of those kinds of positions were non-union there was no one to stand up for the employees or to enforce contractually agreed upon commitments. Those private-sector jobs that were unionized that fell prey to the disappearing pension were, in general, due to a willingness to give up the pension at the negotiating table in order to try and solve financial short-falls within the company, much the same as fire fighters and other public sector employees are doing now with other pay and benefit areas. Unfortunately many businesses still failed leaving their employees with no pension. That is the risk of the free-enterprise system.
I really like this quote by 1776, “Glad to hear it! Every time they lay off one of these greedy overpaid goons it frees up over $100K in revenue. Or, in the case of the **** slugs, over $200K. 1 FireFrauder fired = 4 Teachers saved Firemen are anything but ‘working class’. They make more than you and I put together, and they do it lounging about cushy fire stations figuring out how they can scam taxpayers out of even more money to pay for their ridiculous pay and benefits. Fire all of them and you could replace every one of these arrogant morons with ivy league graduates for half the cost.”
So why are fire fighters fighting tooth and nail to protect their pensions? Simple, it was promised us when we started the job by the people who were at the same time using funds that were meant to support the pension for other projects. Fire fighters contribute, in general, about 10% of each paycheck towards their pensions. The employer makes up the rest, and yes, it uses tax payer monies. That money goes into a fund that is then invested in order to attempt to make money to grow the pensions fund (non-tax payer money) and to ensure that there is enough to go around. Someone retires, a new guy is hired to replace him and starts to replenish what is being paid out to the retiree. At least that’s how it is supposed to work. The way it has really been working over the last twenty or more years goes like this;
“Hey, Mr. Mayor.”
“Yes, Mr City Manager.”
“You know, people would be much happier in town if they had more parks for their kids to play in. And then more people would want to move here. And you know what that means! More tax revenue! Oh, and then because this is such a great place to live more businesses would want to move here. And you know what that means! More tax revenue! This is going to be great!”
“Well, yes Mr. Village Manager, that would be great. But where are we going to get the money for all these new parks? A new tax?”
“Oh no, Mr. Mayor. That would make people unhappy and be counter-productive to our plan. We have to find money somewhere else.”
Both look skyward, drumming their fingers on the part-time Mayor’s mahogany desk.
“I’ve got it, Mr. Mayor!”
“Yes, Mr. Village Manager.”
“We’ll use that money from the fire fighters and cops pensions! They don’t need it right now and once we build these parks and attract all the new residents and new businesses we’ll have plenty of money coming in to pay it back!”
“Don’t we have to pay our share of their pensions into the fund every year, Mr. Village Manager?”
“No, Mr. Mayor! That’s the beauty of this plan. The state law just says we have to contribute but not when or how much! Besides, we have actuarial reports that say at the current growth of the investments and with the new hires paying in we’ll be just fine!”
“But, Mr. Village Manager, those actuarial studies say that those numbers are only based on best-case scenarios and highest percentage returns. Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution?”
“Mr. Mayor, please. If our actuaries say its so, then who are we to question them?”
“Well, ok, Mr. Manager. I guess its ok. And we are acting in the best interest of the Village, right?”
“Right, Mr. Mayor.”
So all this “extra” money that villages and cities had just lying around doing nothing, like being deposited in the fire fighter and cops pension funds, was used for other projects. Also, as we all know, those actuary studies hit a little bump in the road after, oh I don’t know, maybe September 11th, 2001 and up to now. Oh, and then because of the decline in the economy and the cash strapped condition of most municipalities and government entities employees that retired weren’t being replaced by new hires because of cut-backs. So there was no new influx of money to keep what little solvency was left in many pension systems. Yet, while all this was going on, each fire fighter was continuing to contribute his 10% a paycheck to try and make his retirement more comfortable. Oh, and the whole retiring “early” thing? Yes, fire fighters can retire after 20 – 30 years of service. So, a fire fighter that was hired at age 21 could retire anywhere between the ages of 41 and 51. Most, however don’t get hired as soon as they are eligible at age 21 and many stay much closer to the 30 year mark than the 20, which combine to push the retirement age higher. The reason fire fighters shouldn’t be required to work until age 65 or more is very simple. Fire fighting, training and operations are very strenuous and more fire fighters are killed every year by heart attack and stroke than by actual burning buildings or other causes. Some of you will immediately say, “then the lard-butts should get into shape!” I’ve got news for you, physical fitness certainly helps, no doubt, but heat, stress, physical exertion and the weight of our gear all combine to hammer even the most physically fit fire fighter and greatly increases our risks for these, and other, medical issues.
Lets see, what’s next. Oh, ok, how about the one about fire fighters don’t do anything and spend the majority of their day sitting around? watchdog had this to say, “Th amount of money th ese jerks make for siting around doing nothing is incrdibal. they go shopping during the day and sleep all night. Good riddance.” In some ways I think that we are victims of our professions’ name. Fire Fighter really does imply only one thing, the actual combatting of fire. It doesn’t take into consideration the hundreds of other types of calls we respond to and which the general population may not be aware, some of which I listed above. Recently the newly installed chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Rescue Department wanted to change the official moniker of the department from DCFD (District of Columbia Fire Department) to DCFEMS, or simply FEMS for DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services. He stated he wanted to make this change to reflect the multi-facted role the department played, both fire response and emergency medical (ambulance) response. There was an outcry because evidently, unbeknownst to both the chief and this author, “fems” is a derogatory term sometimes used against homosexual people. Without that little issues, however, I think I kind of agree with him. We do so much more than just fight fire and I don’t think the public really understands or realizes that. The Redwood City, California, Fire Department understood that and when faced with a severe reduction in both budget and manning they produced this excellent video entitled, “We Never Had a Fire”. Please take a few minutes to watch it.

On a daily basis in the U.S. firefighters respond to calls involving any and every kind of medical emergency imaginable, activated fire alarms, activated carbon monoxide alarms, “wires down” (from telephone poles) calls, “smell of something burning” calls, well-being checks on people that have not been seen or heard from in a while, leaks and spills of innumerable different liquids, gases and solids, auto accidents, people trapped, building collapses, trench collapses, people trapped in machinery, unknown odor calls, wires sparking calls, auto fire calls, water rescue calls, field or brush fire calls, the “my (insert home appliance here) is making a funny sound” calls, flooded basement calls and yes, even the days-old kitten stuck in a 2″ pipe calls. Notice that very few of those calls involved fire at all and I didn’t even mention structural (building) fire fighting. The fire department is the jack-of-all-trades, experts at all, safety net of the public. The police, public works or any other department in your local municipality can not and will not be able to respond to and mitigate even a few of those calls noted above. And besides answering calls we constantly train to respond to different kinds of calls, perform maintenance on our stations, equipment and apparatus (our fire trucks), perform fire prevention duties, public education duties and community outreach duties. Yes, there is down-time. No, we do not respond to calls or perform those other duties 24 hours a day seven days a week. After a certain hour (it is different from department to department) it is “down” time, where we can relax, watch TV, exercise or do pretty much whatever as long as it allows us to remain ready to respond to an emergency call. Some days are busier than others, some days are slow. I defy any worker in America to tell me that they actually work every second of every work hour of every day (think Facebook checks, personal portfolio checks, smoke breaks, BS’ing with coworkers, on-line games etc.), and most work days are at most half as long as a firefighters (using a 24 hour shift). Early in our dating my now wife couldn’t understand why I came home and went right to bed or took a nap during the day. So, I gave her a challenge. The next shift I worked I would call her every time we either got back from a run or were at the hospital. She would then have to stay up for one hour (a good median amount of time it takes to handle a call) before going back to sleep. The fire and EMS gods were kind to me that shift and we were busy. After the third phone call and with it being pushing 3 AM she called a truce and begged me to just let her go to sleep. I was merciful. Sometimes I still need to remind her of that.

I think the last myth I’ll try to debunk (since this post is at 3,366, 67, 68) words is the oft-heard, “we don’t need as many firemen because there aren’t a lot of fires anymore,” myth. Along these lines tbvegas had this to say, “They are so overstaffed. I watched these guys put out a trash can fire once. There were 8 trucks and 35 firefighters on the scene. 1 guy holding a hose putting out the trash can. Seriously. The hole hero thing has need milked to death! They could fire 40 more and it would still be just fine.” Man, I wish I knew what Mr. or Ms. tb did for a living so I could expertly tell him or her how many people they needed to effectively do it. Here’s what else I would say to tb and to you reading this post, without direct knowledge of the specific call to which tb is referring I can only hazard a couple educated guesses as to what happened. 1) tb is full of BS and wants to make the local FD look as bad as possible so he made this story up. That happens A LOT in this on-line comments. 2) If his count of 8 trucks and 35 firefighters is to be believed I would have to believe that this call came in as something other than a trash can fire. Perhaps a “dumpster fire in or next to the building”, or an unknown type fire at 123 Main St. So, not knowing exactly what was on fire or where it was in relation to the address the dispatcher probably sent a full structural fire response to be safe. I can tell you from personal experience that when you show up with one fire truck (or ambulance, even worse yet) and find a raging structure fire it is a lonely feeling. To avoid delays in combatting the fire most departments dictate that any type of unconfirmed fire, fire next to a building, or in a building, no matter how big, has a full assignment sent in order to minimize damage and eliminate a delay. Does this sometimes result in 8 fire trucks and 35 firefighters on the scene of a trash can fire. Yes it does. As soon as the situation was found to be a trash can fire and nothing but a trash can fire were 7 of those 8 rigs and all their firefighters made available to respond to any other call, I can safely say I would bet my next paycheck on it.

When there is a structural fire the lay person jut doesn’t realize how many tasks need to be accomplished and how quickly they need to be done in order to minimize damage and potentially save a life. In fact, residential structure fires are back on the increase in the United States and are still the most common to result in the most deaths and injuries every year. Don’t believe me? Check out the United States Fire Administrations 2009 Annual report  here and check it out for yourself. The tables and associated notations can be found on pages 5 – 10.

So, while you, the average tax payer, may not necessarily care if Joe Bob’s Big TV Emporium burns to the ground you may care when your house, your family members house or your friends house catches fire and someone is still inside. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently conducted a very large study on the affect of the firefighting crew size in regards to achieving 22 key fire ground operations specific to residential structure fires. For the study NIST used a response of 3 Engines (water) 1 Truck (big ladder) and 1 command vehicle. This is a fairly standard response model around the country, not always but very common. The conclusion that NIST came to is that a crew of 4 – 5 fire fighters per apparatus (the Engines and the Truck) is the best number in order to accomplish those 22 tasks in a timely enough manner to save lives and property. The average number of fire fighters responding on most Engines and Trucks across the country is 3. Many places that are served by volunteer or part-time fire departments respond with 1 – 2 firefighters on an apparatus. You can find the report here. Be warned, it is full of excellent information but is a scientifically based white paper. It is written in a scientific format and contains firefighting terms. Still, if you believe that your town, city or village has too many fire fighters you should give it a read.

Ok, I think I’ve probably done nothing to convince those that are hard-core fire fighter haters out there that we really are needed and what we do is actually important. I hope that I’ve managed to change some minds or at the very least educate some people. Regardless, I will continue to report for duty every day and give my best in order to help people that I have sworn to protect. If any civilians want to discuss other issues like full-time fire departments versus volunteer or part-time or the fact that many fire fighters work part-time jobs on their days off I’d be happy to answer questions about those topics as well. But for now I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. Good luck and …

Be safe,

Hallway Sledge

And This…

I came across this pic on Captain Willie Wines’ site, Iron Firemen.com. He gives a brief summation of his thoughts associated with this pic and they echo a lot of what I’m thinking. I’m slowly coming to the realization that a large percentage of the country’s fire services think that stuff we see in this photo and the video below are ok, “cool” or whatever. I just don’t get it <shaking my head>. It’s sad. People will get hurt and/or killed for absolutely no reason. It’s very sad. If you’re going to be a firefighter, be a professional one.