On Notoriety, Fame and Making a Difference

Notoriety

*Picture from likesuccess.com

 

Another year, another FDIC in the books. I didn’t attend this year. Maybe I will again, maybe not. The reasons are perhaps best saved for another post when I feel like committing professional suicide. But, in watching this years FDIC through the lens of social media I think I made the right decision to stay home this year. I may have gotten in trouble.

You see, there is great training to be had once a year in Indy. There is knowledge to be had and insights to be gained. There are also colossal wastes of time. And it is difficult to know the difference from reading a course title and description. Heck, sometimes even knowing the instructor personally backfires as a litmus test for whether or not to invest one’s time in a classroom or HOT class. I guess it is what it is. Not everyone is a great instructor ( even at the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference [that’s what it means in case some of you didn’t know]) and not every class is ground shaking and world changing. The truth of the matter is it’s a huge business. Either for an existing business or for one that hopes to get going. And for many instructors that teach at FDIC it is the latter that draws them.

I admit that at one time it was a goal of mine to teach at the Super Bowl of fire service training, as many have described it. I wanted to be known, respected, rub elbows with the biggest of the big names. All of that has since changed for me, personally. I no longer desire any of that. There are many that do and I guess that’s ok, depending on your motivation. Now, I don’t begrudge anyone making a buck or two. I actually think it’s a God-given, American right to do so. And if a gig at FDIC makes your side-business take off, more power to you. Or if your side-business leads you to a gig at FDIC, more power to you. But I guess I’d ask what is that side-gig? Is it providing good, solid, foundational  training? Is it trying to start a movement that corrects an issue in the industry? Is it providing a support service for those of us in the industry? Or is it providing a side-show? Douchebaggery, I believe one post I saw described it as. Is it dressing up in silly costumes and parading around drumming up business for yourself? Is it stumping for any manufacturer of any thing (often dressed up in that silly costume)? Is it giving out as many of your t-shirts/ challenge coins/ stickers/ whatevers as possible so your “brand” gets out there more? Seemed like it by much of what I saw.

If you’re providing something back to the fire service I guess handing out all that stuff is ok. Obviously manufacturers do it in order to convince you they are the best provider of your next fire apparatus/ SCBA/ bunker gear/ whatever. And if you provide training through classes/ books/ videos/ whatever I get it too. But it’s these individuals and organizations that provide nothing back but a website or brand that represents what? Themselves? That they, the individual, is the greatest dragon slayer/ blog writer/ postulator/ whatever. I’ll admit, when I was putting a lot of effort into this blog and was about to attend FDIC I thought about making a t-shirt to advertise the blog. Figured I’d wear it around and maybe get recognized, maybe network a bit, maybe draw new readers to the site. But I couldn’t do it. It felt…. I dunno…. greasy or something to me. Because, you see, I don’t really provide anything back to the fire service. I write my opinions, provide some thoughts, maybe even a little bit of actual training that might help someone somewhere along the line. But that’s really it. This blog is an outlet for me, not a business.

Notoriety, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is; the condition of being famous or well-known especially for something bad : the state of being notorious. Many people use this word incorrectly and have a misunderstanding of its meaning. They confuse notoriety with fame, which is defined as  the condition of being known or recognized by many people. See that subtle difference there? Notoriety gets you fame for doing something dumb, usually. Fame can also get you notoriety, also after doing something dumb. So, are you walking around FDIC feeling all smug because of your notoriety? Whoops. Or are you pretty secure in your fame, until it turns into notoriety? Also, whoops.

Here’s what I’ve decided for me personally. I can have the type of impact I want to have for my fire service career by training the probies that come into my department, by being a good instructor in our Training Division, by continually improving myself and learning and by passing on my knowledge and experiences. I don’t need FDIC to do that. I can do that right here at home in my department and the departments in the general area that train with us. I may write something here or share something on the Facebook page that helps someone. That’s my reward. That’s what I’m looking to do. I’m looking to make a difference, not sell a product or an image.

If one of your goals is to teach at FDIC or any other trade conference or show ask yourself why you are aspiring to that. Fame? Notoriety? To make a difference? Only you know for sure.

Be safe.

Chris

When 5 One-hundredths Matter

* Image from the BBC

Five one-hundredths of a second doesn’t even exist to me. I really have no comprehension of what that measure of time even means. But try telling that to Michael Phelps. Better yet, try telling that to South Africa’s Chad le Clos. Because that was the exact amount of time it took to out-touch the world’s most decorated swimmer and win Gold in the Men’s 200 Meter Butterfly. An imperceptible amount of time to most was the difference as big as the Grand Canyon to a man who had just beaten his self-admited idol. But that’s not really what this particular story is all about. Although I love a good underdog story. It’s about what Michael Phelps said later about the race.

In an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas after the race Phelps said; “It’s probably the finishes I’ve done in work-out that ended up coming out here. You know, there were times where I’d go kinda slow into the wall in work-out or kinda touch kinda lazy, and it showed.” If you’re interested the entire interview can be seen here. I give kudos to Phelps to taking ownership of what he classifies himself as a lazy performance or perhaps taking something for granted. Something that he had done hundreds, probably thousands of times in practice, came out on the biggest stage in the world and cost him, for the moment anyway, his record-breaking 19th Olympic medal. If you’ve read my rants for any length of time you may know where I’m heading with this.

Pulling hose is pretty boring. I get it. But it doesn’t have to be. Remember when you were a kid and you’d make up scenarios? Like 2 out, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and you’re up to bat with your team down by three? Why can’t you do that with your hose drill? You’re first-due, on the knob, it’s three A.M. and the fire’s on the second floor with no one standing outside. The truck is right behind you and you have to secure the stairway and get into the hall. GO! Would five one-hundredths matter? Realistically? Probably not. Would five seconds? Ten? A minute? Anything that you can do now, on the training ground to make yourself more proficient, more smooth, more complete will pay off on the bigger stage. Like Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s house at 3 A.M.

Around the Chicago suburbs we do a drill called the “Paxton Drill.” It is in honor of the Paxton Hotel fire that occurred in Chicago, Illinois on March 16, 1993. The Paxton Hotel was a four story single room occupancy hotel in which most residents made their homes on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. When the Still Alarm was dispatched for light smoke it took initial arriving companies less than one minute after arrival to begin screaming for a Still and Box Alarm and an EMS Plan 1 for a heavy fire with numerous people trapped. The late Chief Ray Hoff was then Captain of Truck 10 and was the first-arriving Truck officer. He and his crew immediately began throwing ladders to as many windows as possible rescuing the people trapped by smoke and the advancing fire. Once those rescues were made they would roll the ladders into new positions or strip the other on scene apparatus of their ladders. Most firefighters on scene that night operated on their own, at least initially. The “Paxton Drill” times a crew to see how fast every ladder on the rig can be deployed to designated windows on a building or training tower. Can it be kind of boring? Maybe. Can it be monotonous? Perhaps. Did it pay off for the members of Truck 10 and the other units that operated at 1432 N. LaSalle that night? Ask the 100 people that were rescued by the CFD, most over ground ladders. Did time matter? The next time you do a ladder drill wait for a crew who is motivationally challenged and hold your breath as soon as they begin the task of removing the ladder and see if you can hold it until it would be in a position to actually effect a rescue. Then you tell me.

In many ways the world of sports is parallel to the profession of firefighting. I think Michael Phelps’ words are very apropos to us. We cannot expect to continuously practice at half-speed with no sense of purpose and then think that we will just be able to “turn it on” when it really counts. It just doesn’t work that way. Five one-hundredths of a second. About the amount of time of the last agonal breath of a victim in a smoke filled bedroom at 3 A.M.

Train with purpose.

Be safe.

Chris

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