On Notoriety, Fame and Making a Difference


*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.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay safe!