Free Agency

I have been very honored to hear from some young brothers and sisters that are just starting their careers in the fire service via both this blog and the Facebook page. I always like hearing from these younger members who are eager to soak up anything fire service related. It reminds me why I continue to be involved in training and why I m so passionate about it. It also reminds me that there is an opportunity to mold these young firefighters. Not into mini-me’s or anything but into good, solid young firefighters who will grow into excellent firefighters as their knowledge and experience increases. So it is with these young lumps of clay in mind that I write this post. Some of you older lumps of something or others may find it helpful too…

So why is this post titled “Free Agency” and why is there a picture of a guy wearing a free agent t-shirt? Remember something, my rookie phenoms. You are the Michael Jordan’s; the Patrick Kane’s and Jonathan Toews; the Ben Roethlisberger’s; and the Hope Solo’s. You’ve picked your team, er, your department. You’ve been assigned your teammates, the guys and girls you’ll take field with. But guess what? In something that is very unique to our job you get to pick your coach. You may have been assigned a Lieutenant, Captain or a mentor by your department who is officially responsible to oversee your probationary period and make sure you get all of your required items checked-off in your first year, but they don’t have to be your career-long mentor. Your true coach. You are a free agent. You, and only you, get to decide who gets that honor. The honor of having you as someone who looks up to them. Someone who goes to them for knowledge and experience and guidance. Choose wisely and it will serve you well for your entire career.

One of my past part-time jobs was as a flight-paramedic on a helicopter out of a local trauma center. This trauma center was also a teaching hospital for both future doctors and nurses. It gave ample opportunity to teach not only for formal educators i.e. the Doctors and Nurses that actually taught in the programs but also the Doctors, Nurses, Techs and guys like me who worked there as well. Anyway, one day a local ground ALS unit was inbound with a gunshot wound to the chest. I was working the helicopter that day and happened to be in the ER at the time. We were allowed to assist in the ER with codes and traumas and such so I thought I’d stick around and see if this turned out to be anything good. Soon, the attending trauma surgeon entered the trauma bay followed by his gaggle of doctors-in-training. He started shooting questions at them; what are things to be looking for; what could complications be; what should our interventions for those complications be etc. The medics rolled through the door soon after and it was immediately clear that the situation was critical. CPR was in progress, blood was everywhere, two large-bore IV’s that were almost empty etc. etc. The patient was transferred over to the ER bed and the assessment was begun. The patient had been shot once in the left upper chest with an unknown caliber gun. Never conscious at the scene. CPR in progress the whole time. Weak pulses with CPR, nothing without. The trauma surgeon went right to work but was still shouting out questions and listening for answers the whole time he was working. The pt wasn’t intubated so he looked at me and asked if I mined helping one of his “kids” with the intubation. After that, and purely for the teaching aspect I think, the decision was made to crack the patient’s chest right there in the ER. Even the ER staff was like, “holy crap.” So after the chest was open we saw the problem. That problem was a very large hole in the patient’s left ventricle of his heart. The trauma surgeon didn’t get excited, he didn’t back away and declare the patient dead. He calmly asked for a foley catheter. One of those catheters that goes in the end of a penis to drain urine from the bladder into a bag. The nurse he asked did a double-take and he calmly repeated his request. She went and got the foley and handed it to him. He took it out of the packaging, inserted the end that would normally go into the penis and then up into the bladder into the hole in the heart, inflated the balloon on the end of the catheter that normally would hold the catheter in place in the bladder, asked one of his students to hold the tubing and collection bag and “make sure this doesn’t fall out”, and then told the nurse in charge of the trauma bay to call the operating room and let them know they were on their way. Everyone, myself included, looked around stunned. Where the hell had he learned that?! For the non-medical type peeps out there, the balloon on the end of the catheter plugged the bullet hole in the heart, the catheter drained the blood into the collection bag to be transfused back into him later. He hadn’t learned that in medical school, he learned it while serving in Vietnam. If you want to look at it in our terms, he didn’t learn it in the academy or in his probie year, he learned it after. When it counted. From people who had been there and done that. Get where I’m going with this? Medical school, the fire academy, high school, it’s all the same. It’s the basic preparation for what you will need to perform in your job or in life where most of the real learning will come from doing and experiencing. But you can’t just hope to stumble upon things on your own. You can’t just hope for “a-ha” moments to happen throughout your career. You need someone to help and guide you with the things that don’t ordinarily get taught as part of a regular curriculum. You need a Yoda.

Now, as fair warning, not every guy in the firehouse wants to be Yoda. Not every guy in the firehouse should be Yoda. There’s no reason to rush picking your sensei. Your probationary year should be a year of learning the things your department wants you to learn in the manner they want them to be done. As long as you have someone assigned to you who is half-way competent at their job and can teach you those things you’ll be ok. Picking your Yoda, your career coach, is something else. It doesn’t need to be done in that first 12-months. Make sure you have a job first. Take that time to look around and see who really has a passion for the job, not just who comes in and does the job. Who’s the guy or girl who’s still out on the apparatus floor doing a little extra spit and polish on the rigs or tools after everyone else is sitting having a cup of coffee? Who can seemingly answer almost any question with a reasonable answer but if they don’t know something then takes the time to find out and share the knowledge? Who might join in on the inevitable kitchen table airing of the grievances but then actually offers solutions to the problems and tries to mediate what’s going on instead of simply fanning the flames? Who is the guy or gal that loves this job? Maybe that’s who you should be thinking about to be your tour guide through fire service life.

Not everyone picks a coach. Some guys, most guys maybe, don’t. They make it through their probie year and figure they’ve got it made. They figure they learned what they needed to learn and that they’ll get what else they need in drills and whatever future classes they’ll take for certifications. But there are so many more things to learn about this job than just what you’ll learn in drill or at those classes. Maybe that’s why you’re reading this website in the first place. Obviously a mentor, a coach, doesn’t have to be just one person. You can pick up as many things from as many people as you can in this career. And we all know that you can learn just as much from people that you don’t want to emulate as those that you do. But you should find a couple people on this job whom you can consistently go to for solid advice. For good direction. For answers to questions that other people seem to be guessing at. But take the time to evaluate who you want those people to be. You are the free agent. You are the rising star and you don’t want to sign with just anyone. So take a look around and see who’s making the best offer to help you and career. And then go play your heart out, kid!

Until next time,

Be 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,