Friday, December 28, 2012

Progressive Drills

This past Fall we were doing a Survival class and one of the drills we do is the "following the coupling" drill. It is one of the most basic of drills and is well known throughout the fire service. We have posted on this drill before on using a cut piece of hose to hand to your firefighters and have them tell you which way would be back to the truck.

We get comment about how basic this drill this and some like to try and shrug it off. Well, as we all know, we must master the basics. Like in athletics, we building the fundamentals and gradually move to more advance skills that expand on those fundamental skills. On the surface these skills are very basic but look a little harder; we can make these advanced drills easily that will incorporate the basic skill and more advanced techniques.

This is true for any drills, start with the most basic and when mastery is achieved, add to the drill and make it more advanced. Do this in steps and before you know it you have an expanded drill that will challenge the most seasoned firefighter.

So, for this example of drill progression we will use the "follow the coupling" drill. We start wtih one firefighter on a charged hose line. Black them out or in a smoked room, put them on the line somewhere in the middle. Have them find the coupling and make their way out. Easy enough.

Now, we want to build in the parameters for calling a Mayday, so we have them call the Mayday using LUNAR and they must communicate with command as they find their way out by "following the coupling." Now they have to think about more than just following the coupling but the basic skill is still being used.

2011-06-27 001 001


You get the idea. Here is how this drill can progress:

-One firefighter lost off of the line, one on the line. The one on the line verbally leads the lost firefighter to the line and they follow the coupling out.

-One firefighter has an air issue, they can buddy breath on the way out following the coupling.

-A downed firefighter on the line and his crew packages, fixes the air and removes him following the coupling out.

So, you can see that we can expand on this drill. Your only limited by your imagination and creativeness. Use caution not to make so unrealistic that it frustrates your firefighters though. It doesn't take much to make a drill challenging; keep it simple.

Have a Blessed and Safe New Year and thanks for all of the support this year.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012: A Year of Reflection

At the end of every year I like to take a look at what went well and what could have been better. I like to evaluate my priorities, make sure I've learned from the mistakes I've made and to resolve myself to improving in the upcoming year. This post is a quick snapshot of how I feel about 2012. It's not necessarily about me as an individual, but I have some things that I feel I need to say "thank you' for and some things to pass on that I've learned and would like to share.

This year was our first full year with Engine House Training, LLC. If you haven't checked us out yet, feel free to do so and let us know what you think. When we started this company the goal was to provide realistc training for all levels of firefighters. No matter volunteer or paid, we wanted to give back the skills and methods that we have had the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business over the years at the larger conferences, mainly FDIC.

We always said if we could pay for our expenses, our food and beer, we would be happy so long as the content was good and requests were made for the training. Our training model was simple: provide a class that we would want to take; train on the equipment that is immediately available without gadgets and special tools, and keep it simple. Luckily, in large part due to the great instructors that are part of our company, we have been able to do that. So, here is shout out to Frank Lipski, Gary Graf, Dave Konys, and And Seers who are co-ownerss with me. Our instructors who make the classes so good are Jeff Weffelmeyer, Kelly Foster, Andrew Krato, Bob Little, Matt Black, Scott Hulsey, Steve Heidbrider, Jim Silvernail, and Mario Montero. Thanks for keeping this meaningful and fun!

This year also created some opportunities for me personally and for EHT. Because of the graciousness and encouragement of Penwell, Fire Engineering and Bobby Halton and staff, we have been able to share on Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio. This was definitely not on our radar and was a pleasant surprise. We are humbled and honored to be a part of the Fire Engineering family and we hope we can provide topics that are interesting and timely for the fire service. For Bobby, Fire Engineering, Pennwell, and anyone that has listened and supported us, Thank You!

On a more personel note, I have been lucky enough to be able write and blog for Fire Engineering and I can't tell you how blessed I have been to have had such encouraging role models in the great fire service community. A lot of what I have been lucky enough to do I never dreamed I would be doing. I would like to thank some very supportive folks who have encouraged me over the years. First and foremost, thanks to Bobby Halton for giving me a chance and allowing me to contribute to Fire Engineering. To guys like Ray McCormack, Billy Goldfeder, Chris Naum, Eddie Buchanan, Doug Cline, Dave McGrail, Dave Dodson, Erich Roden, Curt Isakson Rick Lasky, John Salka, Skip Coleman, PJ Norwood, Anthony Avillo and many others, you were supportive and encouraging even though may not have known it. Thanks!

So, on to a few things that I learned this year. I was lucky enough to make it to the Andy Frederick's Training Days, and what a great conference. If you ever get the chance, you should really take the time and money to attend. It is a fantastic time. As I sat through the first and second day of the conference, I noticed a veteran firefighter that looked familiar. He was sitting across the audotorium and I couldn't tell for sure who it was, but I thought I knew him. I noticed this guy taking notes and really paying attention.

At a break I found him and realized I did recognize him and he is a well respected leader and instrutor in the fire service. The entire conference he spent time taking notes and immersed into the presentations. It was obvious he was there to learn. It made a huge impression on me as an instructor, as a student of the fire service and as an officer. If Bill Gustin, the final speaker on the final day of that conference feels like he still has more to learn, then I sure as hell do to!

Not that I have ever felt that I didn't need to learn more, it's just amazing to see a leader like Captain Gustin walking the walk and practicing everything he teaches. It made me even more driven to stay an active student of the fire service. It was also a clear reminder that we are always being watched. I may not be being wathced a the level of the fine captain, but back at our departments, firefighters are watching to see if we are walking the walk. Thanks Captain Gustin!

This past year has been incredible! Not because of any of the writings, radio shows, presentation or articles. It's been incredible because I have had the blessing of working a side job with some of my best friends training other firefighters and learning from each one of them. It's been incredible because I have been given a gift of working in the fire service, doing what I love to do. It's been incredible because I have honest, caring Brothers and Sisters to lean on when times get rough that will lift you up and give you encouragement, because we all have bad days.

To all of you out there, have a Blessed New Year and thank you for all you have done for the fire service. Keep doing what your doing, it does make a difference. Keep walking the walk, someone is watching and your actions speak louder than words.

Finally, even thought they likely will not read this, my fist family; my wife and kids. Without their patience, understanding and support I would have nothing. They are the best and are as much of any successes as I am personally.

I love this fire service with all of the best and the worst it provides. Please keep it in your heart, maintain it's integrity no matter where you are, and plaease, pass on your passion. God bless you all and I'll see you in Indy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Buddy Breathing Hose Practice

Just a quick tip for practicing with your Buddy Breathing Hose. In our classes one of the skills that we notice to be week is the ability of firefighters to manage their Buddy Breathing Hose with gloves on. Although Buddy Breathing is not in the current SCBA standard, it is in the upcoming 2013 standard.

Obviously, drilling with your SCBA and using the Buddy Breathing Hose will increase your confidence and skill level. Getting out and using the SCBA and practicing during evolutions is always optimal. But, repetition can take place off of the drill ground.
To increase the amount of frequency that you get to connect and disconnect your Buddy Breathing Hose all you need to do is ride in your apparatus.

For most of us, not all, but the majority of us we have our SCBA in seat mounts so that when we mount the apparatus and buckle in we have the packs in our back. They are in the position they would be in if we were wearing them. This makes the ability to get to our straps fairly easy.

While riding around town, going to a non-urgent call, wear you gloves and find your Buddy Breathing Hose. As you ride, practice disconnecting it and connecting it over and over again. Try not to look while you do it. This will create muscle memory and confidence when we get on the drill ground.

Use your time wisely and be productive as often as you can. Be creative and you can practice other skills like knots while riding the apparatus.

Thanks for reading and train hard. As always, expect fire.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Glove Friendly RIT Mask

This photo shows a way to make an SCBA face piece for your RIT bag/kit glove friendly. You can use a garden hose or any kind of rubber tubing or hose that would be easy to grab with a gloved hand. We used a small bungee cord and ran it through the bonnet and attached both ends to the hose. This allows for easy feeling and grabbing the back of the mask with gloved hands.

We also attached large key rings to the pull tabs for the face piece bonnet to pull it tight. These rings can be any size you want, but make sure they are easily accessed and grabbed with glove hands.

These two methods have worked very well for us and during training evolutions has stood up to the pulling and tugging.

Let us know if you have other methods that work well for your department.

Thanks and keep training hard.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Are We Honest Engough

  One of the most challenging aspects of being an officer, leader or instructor is providing honest feedback to our crews.  It sounds simplistic and most will say in response to reading that, "I am."  Well, as easy as it sounds, skimming over the "bad" stuff is easier to do because we are Brothers and Sisters and we hang out off duty or whatever.

   We're going to address this problem specifically as it relates to the training ground.

 We try to involve our company officers in most all drills.  The idea is that the company officer will be directing their crews on the emergency scene, making critical, real-time decisions and we want them to use drills and exercises to practice and refine those skills.

   Recently we drilled on a new operational guideline that included some new equipment.  We provided a video showing and explaining the new guideline and discussed the new operational guideline.  The company officers were supposed to sit with their crews to watch the video, discuss the guideline then go out and get familiar with the equipment that would be used during the training evolution.

   Some officers are more driven than others and some think they already know everything, and as you might guess, change is not embraced by everyone.

   Ours has not always been an environment where honest, constructive feedback was accepted.  Like many departments, we got by and used tactics that were taught 20-30 years old, they worked back then so why change them now?

   This new guideline addressed a low frequency/high risk event and is something we haven't historically trained on in the past.  The simple fact that we were making this drill as realistic as possible was already causing some grumbling and not everyone was in favor of the new equipment and tactics associated with the new guideline.

   I knew we were going to have deficiencies, after all, we want to find them during drills and training as compared to when the real thing happens.  

   The first two days we had to make some corrections, as was expected, and in one case the attack line had to be redeployed to make sure it was done correctly.  There was constructive advise and recommendations made and good questions as to "why" we were making some of the changes.  It was a positive learning experience and each person understood the correct way to operate under that guideline with the new equipment at the end of the day.

   The third day was not as positive. It became apparent that one company officer spent no time with the video or his crew in preparing of the drill.  This particular day I was involved in the drill and a chief officer was running the exercise.

   During the drill many deficiencies were noted by assistant instructors and the guideline was not adhered to.  When the drill ended, one small deficiency was noted, but everyone was told they had done a good job.  Not good. I only found out about the larger, very significant problem later that day as input from the assistant instructors started debriefing me on the events.

    We had to pull the deficient company officer in and explain what he did wrong and why.  Since there was not an honest evaluation of the drill, he was under the impression that he did okay. This creates huge problems with credibility and trust between the trainer, officer and/or leader and crews or students.

     It all worked out in the end.  If we are not honest about performance and allow our firefighters and officers to believe that deficient behaviors and performances are acceptable, we are training them to fail.  We must provide honest feedback, even when it's not the popular thing to do or there is push back.

    In all aspects of training, I see this regularly in the classroom and on the drill ground.  When a task or skill is performed wrong or not to an optimum level, it must be addressed with respect to why and the importance of doing it right the way.  However, when addressing these issues, it should be done in a constructive way as not to degrade or minimize that firefighter or officer.

    Whether your in the engine house, on the fire ground or on the drilling ground, we have to be honest about our performance.  Even though this can cause friction with some, it builds trust among your team because they know that your intentions are to make the team better.  Don't fail your people by letting things go, make them do it right before they leave the training ground and go back to the engine house on a positive note.

    Thanks for reading and train hard.  I appreciate everything that each one of you do for our fire service.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Command and Size Up Reminders

Here is a great "memory jogger" for Command Functions and Size Up from one of our instructors, Scott Hulsey.  I know it's short, but these little cheat sheets can be used during training evolutions or at the kitchen table to stay sharp as an incident commander.

Size-up Matrix

Command Sequence Cycle

Click the link for each and feel free to use how you wish. If you have additions and suggestions, please share.

Thanks for reading and keep training.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Don't Forget the Obvious: Basement Self Rescue

In our classes we spend a lot of time showing firefighters how to stay out of and how to get out of bad situations.  Our fire service is seeing an increase in firefighters who are falling through floors into basements or sub-levels.  This is large part due to the engineered flooring systems that do not perform well in fire conditions.

Fires are growing more intense much faster than in the past and the structural members of these buildings are under attack before we arrive in some cases.  The importance of knowing our response areas, getting an accurate size-up, doing a 360 evaluation of the building and choosing an appropriate tactic are more critical than ever.

We teach different methods of removing ones self from a basement and removing a downed firefighter from basements.  There are several techniques for removing a firefighter including using an attic ladder, using the hose, rope, or webbing to lift them out of the hole. We can also cut the floor away from the exterior making a window a door to remove someone.  These are just a few examples.


For self rescue we teach using a hand tool as a step or as a recent post by Chris Huston discusses, using the drywall as a ladder to get yourself out.  We also teach using webbing as a stepping device with the assistance of firefighters on the outside.  All of these techniques are good and and should be practiced. However, we know that if we fall through a floor we may lose our tools and it is going to be very bad down there. Speed is of the essence.

When go over the teaching points of basement rescues, we always talk about things to do to avoid this from happening in the first place.   Doing a good 360, sound the floors, descend stairs feet first, know your still area and building construction are good places to start.  I also like to point out that the hazards we discuss in regards to basements, junk and clutter, can also be our friend.

If you find yourself in a situation in a basement or an area with a high window for egress, use the stuff in that space as steps. Pile it up under that window and climb out.  Don't forget to use the obvious.  I have done training in acquired structures where we put firefighters in the basement and they are free to use whatever is available. You would be surprised how many limit their resources to only what is in their hands or pockets.

Train hard and sometimes thinking outside the box is as simple as looking around at the "stuff" that is right at your feet.  Thanks for reading and expect fire!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering With Your Actions

Today is a solemn day. Eleven years ago this country was attacked by terrorists and changed us forever. That day is remembered not only for the horrific events of the attacks, but also for the heroes of that day.  We lost 343 of the bravest our profession has known and some of the most influential fire service leaders and instructors we have seen.

Today will be filled with ceremonies, Facebook posts, blog post like this one, speeches and news coverage of events remembering this day all over the country.  There will be a lot of Brotherhood going around and a lot of drinks raised to honor our fallen, all as it should be. There will be flags lowered, memorials opened and black bunting hung in memory and honor of those that sacrificed.  These things make me reflect on what those that gave the ultimate sacrifice would think and how they would want us to remember them.  With all of the ceremonies and events being wonderful tributes, I believe as firefighters we must do more to truly honor their legacy.

Here's my list:

  • Don't just call each other Brother, act like one every day
  • Be physically and mentally fit
  • Be engaged everyday in our profession, don't just act proud, show your pride by engaging
  • Learn something about our profession every day no matter how small or large the task
  • Pass on the lessons of those that taught us, share and give much to those who come after you
  • Stand up for what is right even when it goes against what's "popular"
  • Be excellent at whatever you do; not all firefighters will be officers, but whatever you aspire to, be the best at it--everyday!
  • Encourage and teach those younger than you, don't degrade them-they are our future
  • Be involved--see a problem, be a part of the solution
  • Leave our fire service better than it was when you entered it
These are just a few thoughts that I had. They are nothing that haven't been said before, but things that I try to remember everyday.  I feel very fortunate to be able to be a part of this fire service and to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives that I serve and work with.

As we take time to remember today, carry the feelings from today with you everyday.  Carry the pride and the honor with you knowing that that is what those 343 firefighters would want.  They expect that we will carry the torches left behind by them.  Be courageous ambassadors of the this noble profession on a daily basis and pass that on to those that are younger and new to our job.

God Bless those families left behind and those that were lost.  Take care and Never Forget!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Running Up Hill

Many of us stay in shape in different ways. Some just lift weights while others circuit train or ride a bike.  Of course the Crossfit craze is out there too!  I really enjoy running and do a great deal of it along with some resistance training. It is a time to test my aging body and to clear my mind during a time when I'm all by myself.  Actually, during my runs my mind races and I have lost many ideas because I had nothing to write them down on during my runs.

The challenge is not against someone else or even a clock. It's really against me. Can I push it for half more mile or a full mile more?  Can I sustain a faster pace than I ran last week?  Will this hill break me or will I be able to push through without breaking stride?  Everyday is a different run and no run is ran the same.  Sometimes its the wind, heat, cold, rain or a sinus infection.  Other days it may be the dinner you had the night before not setting well, whatever the case is you choose to push ahead or to ease off a little.  However, quitting is never an option.

In recent weeks I have talked to other fire service people who have become frustrated with circumstances at work or in other fire service related endeavours and they question their motivations and the worth of their cause.  I myself have sought the advice and encouragement from some of my mentors recently too due to some of those same frustrations.  I begin questioning if my efforts will be worth the time and energy I put into everything I do in regards to teaching, training, self improvement and all of the extra "stuff" I do to try and make the fire service a better place for those coming after me and for those that are already here.

We all deal with the same personalities and negativity no matter where we are when it comes to affecting change in the fire service and sometimes it seems we are making no head way.  Then something happens or someone drops you note or an email that changes those doubts.  It reminds you why you are doing what you are doing and that you are making a difference.

I recently presented and didn't feel especially good about my performance.  I didn't get any negative feedback, but I just did not feel like I would normally have after giving a class.  Couple that with the normal challenges of being a training officer in a department that is transforming itself and I was questioning my efforts and wondering if I was still being effective.  We've all been there and it can seem lonely in those places. Then I received two messages of encouragement and how some of the information that I had shared and provided was being used by crews and positive outcomes were resulting changed everything and reinforced my resolve to keep on keepin' on.

Then, today I was having a conversation with a more junior firefighter and we were discussing our training programs.  We were discussing the challenges with starting a new training division and how  patience is key. As he left I said to him, "It's like running hills."  What I meant by that was that running hills is not easy and seldom thought of as fun. But, if you continue to press on and include them in your training regimen you learn how to handle them during a race and you are faster and more efficient in the flats.

Running hills may not get easier over time simply because we try to run them a little bit faster and a little more efficiently, so it's a constant battle. Or, we may move on to a larger, steeper hill that is even more of a challenge. But, we can be sure that we are physically and mentally stronger for stepping up to the challenge.  That new hill may take more time and effort, but with persistence and the fortitude to not be conquered you will persevere.  

Our fire service challenges are no different.  We all need a little pick me up every now and then, but the key is to push on. Don't quit!  Encourage yourselves and those around us to continue to be constructive and productive in sharing ideas and knowledge that is important and vital to our performance on the fire ground. If your message is received and used by one person that had a positive impact, you succeeded.

 Bad days?  Sure, they will come, we just need to make sure  that they go too.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Apply What You Learn

     With today's budgets it's getting harder to send our people to conferences, seminars and quality hands on training that sharpens our minds and skills.  So, when we do send our people out to bring back information or have an instructor come in to provide a new perspective, are taking advantage of those experiences?

    I will admit that in the past I have attended conferences and classes that provided some great insight and ideas and then never tried to establish them at my agency.  You know how it goes, you sit in on a great class with a dynamic speaker with all of these great ideas and we get all pumped up and ready to conquer the world.  Then we get back to our department and do absolutely nothing with it.  To me, as a training officer, I didn't get a return on my investment.

    Sometimes it's not the attendees fault. Sometimes the organization that he works for is not receptive to these changes and shuts it down before it can even start.  If that is the case, why even spend the money to send someone?  As training officers and chiefs, we need to do a better job of not only encouraging our people to attend these classes, but pick and choose the ones that we can use to make productive changes in our organizations.

    A good method of determining how to spend your training dollars on external resources is to take an honest look at your deficiencies.  A fire department has to look at not only where we are excelling and doing well, but where we need improvement as well.  But, is has to be a realistic evaluation.  If we think we are stretching lines "good enough" but have never timed our deployment or we only use a pre-connected crosslay for training, we are likely setting ourselves up for failure when it really matters and conditions dictate a different line.  This hard, honest look is many times not an easy thing to do.

    Once we have determined our deficiencies, we now must figure out how to change.  Our high rise operations were in bad shape. The equipment we used and the operational guideline was not conducive to what would lead to success on a high rise fire.  We brought in a well respected speaker who does extensive instruction on high rise fires and tapped is knowledge for what we could do better.  The chiefs bought in and things finally started to move forward.  But, even after we implemented the new equipment and guidelines, we still had people that didn't understand the importance of making the changes. This is just human nature, but we are in much better shape regarding high rise firefighting.

    It was money well spent because we invested into to the information that was provided during the class.  Our operations are safer and more efficient because of that investment.  It took bringing in an outside speaker to get the "buy in" but it was effective and a good return on investment.

     I understand that not every fire department can afford to bring in speakers to change their operations.  That's really not the point here. The point is that whether or not we have big or small budgets, we should try to focus on utilizing every bit of information that our training provides to us and our people.  This can come from online resources, webcasts, articles, any sources of credible training will provide you with avenues to make improvements in your department.  Even just trying something different and finding that it isn't better than what you have provides perspective and a good day of training.

     The same intent should be used when we send people outside for training. What is the benefit and can we apply it at our organization?  How will we use that information to invest in our department?  Those are questions that must be asked when expending funds for sending our people out on these reconnaissance missions. After all, that's what they are, right?  We send our firefighters to listen to other firefighters and officers provide information about our job to bring back "nuggets" to use to make our department better.  The key here is to actually use those "nuggets" when they are suggested.

     Every fire department has it's own needs and methods for improving their organization.  Right now, funds are tight and the costs associated with bringing instructors in and sending firefighters out may be too much.  But, if we become more judicious with how, who and what and how it relates to our needs, we might have a little more luck with the next budget cycle.  And, maybe not.  But, our firefighters and our department will have experienced meaningful training that made a difference in making things better.

      Whatever you do in regards to training, try to find someway to make an improvement in your personal skills and knowledge and in the operations of your department. It might not even be a change as much as an awareness that wasn't there before.  Obtaining knowledge does not always equate making changes, but being aware of something that we weren't aware of before.

      Use the training.  Bring it back and share it.  We are wasting time and money and doing our firefighters and department an injustice if we don't wring out every drop of water from that learning sponge and use it. Keep training and sharing.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Behind the Back and Thru the Legs

Behind the Back and Thru the Legs

I always loved sports. I played just about every sport I could and eventually settled in with basketball and baseball. The coaches I had were always preaching the fundamentals and basics explaining that as players, we had to master the basics to the point that things like dribbling and passing were second nature. When those basics were mastered we were able to ascend our skill sets to seeing an open player before he is open and making moves on the fly, avoiding the defender with moves that were more challenging because we had a "feel" for the game.

The "feel" for the game allowed us to improvise and do things on the court that weren't necessarily practiced. A defender stepping in front of us quickly, obstructing our passing lane may force us to make a behind-the-back pass. This is improvising with an advanced skill based on our most basic of skills: passing. Does the player get punished for this advanced skill? Probably not, especially if the outcome is a positive one.

When we get to an advanced level of skill sets, it typically comes from past experiences and hours upon hours of training. With that training and experience also comes the ability to recognize situations that are not typical. These non-typical situations will require us, if trained appropriately, to make the best possible decision for the best possible outcome. The mantra of always use two hands to pass and catch the ball with thumbs turned down may not work or be appropriate in a certain situation because the desired outcome is not going to be achieved.

The same can be said in the fire service. In recent weeks a Philadelphia firefighter made a heroic save and was faced with a decision to give the fire victim his air. There has been a great debate over the actions. I was recently asked by Eric Rhoden on his and Ray McCormack's radio show what I thought about the incident and the reaction that followed. What came to me was a baseball situation.

We teach our kids to get square to the ball, get our glove to the ground, field the ball in the middle of our body/stance and to turn toward our target and so on. You get the point. But that doesn't always get the out. Sometimes the fielder has to dive for the ball, getting dirty and bruised and maybe tossing the ball behind his back to get the out. Is there less margin for error? Yes. Is it taught that way? Not usually. Is it effective in certain situations? Absolutely!

There is one important variable however. You must be highly skilled and practice daily to make plays like that. You can't just walk out onto the field and expect to perform at that level. I don't know the firefighter in Philly that made the save, but my guess is that he is very competent with his SCBA and has mastered the basic skills surrounding his air supply. I would also guess that he is one that takes his craft very seriously and wants to perform at a high level for incidents just like the one he performed so heroically for.

I always teach that in the fire service there are no "always" and no " nevers" because right when you think you have every situation covered, a call comes along that you never thought about. Ask yourself every day when you walk onto that engine bay floor, "Am I ready for the worst call of my career?" The conclusion I always come to is "No." But, I train, drill or engage myself into the fire service every chance I get, just in case that call or situation comes along that requires something a little extra of me. Hopefully I will be ready to dive for that ball to make the play.

Finally, thanks to Ray and Erich for having me on and thanks again to Fire Engineering and everyone on the site, you all keep me engaged and excited about the fire service. Take care and stay cool during this hot summer. Be ready to dive for that ball.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's In Your Pockets: Wire Cutters

When we started offering classes and offering hands on training, the one thing we wanted to make sure of was that the training was as realistic as possible.  We had all attended hands on training drills and classes and we know what we liked as a student and what we didn't.  So, when we run our drills we want the student to have as realistic of an experience as possible in a safe setting.
One of the props we use in multiple drills is an entanglement prop.  The purpose is used in many ways:
--identifying the hazard during normal firefighting operations and avoiding the area
--identifying one of the parameters for calling the mayday
--being able to self extricate or untangle yourself when debris falls on you
All of the above are important and crucial for firefighters and officers to have a strong mastery of. The portion we are going to address today is the use of wire cutters to cut entanglements that may have you trapped.  In many cases, a firefighter who is calm, aware and who has the right tools, cutting a few wires may create an easy escape.
The first rule here is to stay calm and don't barrel your way through the wires. This will expend needed energy and air that you may need later or for an extended wait for help.  Additionally, trying to use brute strength, in most cases, will only tighten your entanglement making locating and cutting the source of entanglement harder.
In past classes we have taken, and provided, we would hook a firefighter, have them verbalize the mayday, find the entanglement and then unhook them.  What we found after a couple of classes is that we were teaching them to just identify the problem and not really solve it.  So, we began making the firefighters in the prop cut or remove their entanglement on their own. This was a real eye opener.
The tools that we carry are not always adequate for what we want them to do.  One common theme among many firefighters that attend our class is that they carry multi-tools like a Gerber or Leatherman believing that they will use that tool to cut their way out of an entanglement.  Here are some problems that are seen with these tools:
--they are small and hard to find with gloved hands
--once they are found, they have to be opened and made ready to cut
--they have a very small surface area for cutting wires, very small
--they really are a two-handed tool, one to hold it and one to open the cutters/pliers
--many keep them on their duty belts and are unable to reach them
What we recommend is a pair of cutters that are fairly large in your pocket and are easy to feel and retrieve.  They should also be able to cut at least an 8 gauge wire or the aluminum sheathed commercial romex.  They should be sturdy and easy to operate with one hand. The reason we recommend longer handled cutters is that they provide a little more leverage by holding them lower on the handle if need be.
The photos show the multi-tool and a pair of wire cutters that we picked up and the local auto parts store for around $15.  They aren't real heavy and I personally have cut objects, flexible water line, that were 3/8 of an inch with no problems.
Just know your tools and what it's capabilities are. If you have expectations for the tools in your pockets, practice with them.  I have seen firefighters throw "tools"in there pockets that were absolutely useless when they finally trained with them.
Train hard and train with purpose and make drills as realistic as possible.  Just a note, most HVAC companies will give you left over flex duct that you can use for entanglement drills. It's realistic in regards to what we very likely could run into and they stretch out to allow multiple evolutions with one small section.
Take care and keep on training,

Monday, May 7, 2012

Future Officers? Be Able to Answer These Questions

I get asked frequently by up and coming firefighters all of the time about what they should concentrate on in order to be prepared for promotion. Of course, there are the typical replies about certain types of training and education along with career development paths. Most are enthusiastic and really into the job and others want an easy way to a gold badge. In recent months I have started to offer some new suggestions after witnessing firefighters jockeying for a new officer's position and I am sometimes met with quizzical looks. It is somewhat simplistic, but I really wanted to break down the promotional questioning to make the candidate take some reflection of his/her career. In many cases, the candidate will know when he tries to answer what his odds are of being chosen.

 Before some of you go on a rant about how promotions are more complex than what I am about to offer, just humor me for a moment. This is not the ONLY questions that need to be posed. However, by asking them you will see and hear most of what you need to know. If you are the candidate, you too will find yourself either prepared for the questions or you will be fishing for an answer that sounds good. If you are a potential candidate ask yourself these two questions on a regular basis to determine where you are in your career. This is not competition with others, it's about you and how you develop yourself. If you are already an officer, these questions should be a time of introspection. If you are the interviewer you will likely know the answer to these questions before they are answered, and that's okay. It disallows a lot of BS from the candidate.

 So, here they are:
 What have you done in the past 90 days to improve yourself, the department and those around you in respect to the profession of firefighting?

What have you done over the last three to five years to prepare yourself to take on a formal leadership position that separates you from the other candidates?

 Okay, let's start with number one. Why would we ask the 90 day question first? What do most officer candidates do as soon as a promotion is posted or an officer retirement is announced? That's right, the race is on to take on new projects, kick up the training and enroll in classes. They will start "acting" like a leader and they are a little more friendly. We know what's going on, come on!

 For those that train everyday, that treat people with respect, that go out of their way to help and that offer to take on projects, all for the right reasons, this is easy. Others that don't do this on a daily basis will sound real good and will have this confident smile because they just nailed it! Wooo hoooo, they have just given the best answer to a candidate interview and they feel invincible. But, we know it all started just weeks ago and that the motivation is just for the badge. Now comes the decider and it will separate those that love the job and those that are employees.

 Now we ask the second question and the employee just looks at you for a moment, a bit perplexed. There are some "uhs" and "ums" and they are trying to figure out what you want to hear. They, in my experiences, will start to replay what they did over the last 90 days. Most of these folks have not performed or strived to make himself better over the years, much less worried about those around him. It will become obvious that his track record is to perform when there is something in it for him, but only then. The spaces in between are spent doing other things, if anything at all. The candidate that is prepared will have a list of classes, trainings, ideas, projects and conferences that he has shared with his fellow firefighters. This will be a consistent trend that will very likely transfer over to his career as an officer. In addition, as a formal leader, he will very likely encourage his crew and/or shift to do the same and he will have high expectations for performance. This is the guy you want to promote.

 I understand that you are not going to promote based solely on these two questions nor am I condoning that. There is much more to a promotional process than two questions. But, what I do believe is that when the candidates are interviewed, these two questions can be a strong indicator of who is just an employee and who is a firefighter. Asking yourself these questions on a regular basis will not only prepare you for possible promotion opportunities, but they will build a strong foundation for who and what you are in the fire service. Be a firefighter with integrity, respect, honor, tradition and pride. If you can't answer these questions with pride and conviction, then you might be in the wrong profession.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Firefighter's Own Worst Enemy: A Synopsis FDIC 2012

When I created this class it was in response to my own attitudes and behaviors that I had developed over a period of time. During those 18 months of "darkness" I allowed outside influences to dictate my perception of the fire service, what my job is and should be and the direction of my future. Luckily, I had other influences around me that recognized I was drifting and helped to set me back on course.

After I was re-calibrated I realized that most of my problems were of my own doing. I was allowing other's attitudes and perceptions to affect my own. It was easy for me to buy in to the negative influences because that was popular. It is always easy to swim with the current in that regard. Instead of standing up for what I truly believed in I allowed my values and principles to be altered by the peer pressure to act and react in an appropriate manner.

When asked what my class is about, I struggle sometimes to fully explain it to others. It isn't just about peer pressure or about keeping a positive attitude. It's about more than getting up out of the chair and working out and training. It is about more than being a positive example to others and to not fall into the easy way out.

This topic is not a typical firefighter related class. We cannot deny that our egos and perception of what a firefighter is does not include introspection on our thoughts and attitudes and how they can affect our team. In that regard just teaching this class is sometimes a challenge knowing that many will not "get it."

My first career firefighter job was in a small suburban department in St. Louis County. There was a battalion chief there who was an old Navy guy and had an old timer attitude but understood very well that the fire service had to progress and was a supporter of training, physical fitness and higher education. He was also an old farmer who always had a saying or euphemism for just about every occasion. As a young firefighter I didn't truly understand those sayings nor did I try to attach them to any real meaning.

One of his favorite sayings was that "a firefighter is his own worst enemy." He would say this frequently and I never really put too much thought into it until many years later after I had moved on to a different department. He never elaborated and never really preached, he just threw out these little nuggets of advice and would go about his business. Well, it finally struck me what he was trying to say.

In just about every aspect of our job we create our attitude. That attitude will dictate our course in the fire service. Those that have an attitude that the only PR we need is running calls will have to live with the results of that attitude. For those that refuse to train and do not place any emphasis on continued improvement in our skills and tactics will be forced to live with the results of those attitudes. The problem is that these individual attitudes not only have a direct impact on them, but also on those they work with and the organization.

We have to understand that our actions, behaviors and attitudes do affect more than just ourselves on a personal level. This is probably the most difficult thing to get firefighters to understand. If a guy doesn't want to train and is not made to train, he will be inefficient and will then be the weakest link of the team. If one or more members of the team are grossly out of shape and can't perform, then they become a liability to the team if things go bad or they go down in a fire. Your health is not only your business, it can directly affect those you work with.

Being part of the fire service is not the same as the majority of other jobs. The plumber that fixes the pipes will probably not contribute to the loss of his own life or others if he screws something up. Could there be some water damage and cost him some money? Sure! But nobody is going to die because of his lack of training or commitment to his profession. (Nothing against plumbers.)

The fire service does not have that luxury. It is cliche and to some the extreme, but if we screw up, our citizens we swore to protect, our Brother and Sister firefighters and/or ourselves may not live to see the next day. This is a fact and is one we must wrap our heads around. We need to understand that not only does every action have a reaction, but every inaction has a reaction as well and typically it's not positive.

A lack of fitness can and will result in health problems and poor performance leading to the rest of the team having to pick up the slack; which we are good at. A lack of training will result in inadequate skills and the completion of sound tactics which, again, will put others at risk. These are real game changers and during the class we discuss some hypothetical situations where we show how this can happen.

Finally, we pass on to others what we display. If the prevailing attitude is one of working hard to get out of work then that will be what the rookie firefighter becomes. He doesn't know any better and the circle remains unbroken. We have to break that circle and create a new environment. There is no easy way to change the culture of a company much less an entire department.

We owe it to ourselves, the citizens we protect, our fellow firefighters and our families to be the best we can be. I had a senior firefighter who has coached his kid's athletics for years tell me we don't need to train because we "know what to do." I asked him how many times a week he had practice for his teams? He stated two to three times a week. I then asked if he did the same drills and concentrated on the same basic skills at every practice? The answer was "yes." Did he make his team run or were they allowed to walk during the practices and scrimmages? Of course they had to run to build endurance and get in "game" shape. Then I asked how we were any different from those teams? Well, you can probably guess what he said......"That is different."

That's right, it is different. That team may lose a game if they don't practice. We may lose a firefighter, a citizen, a building or a block of buildings if we don't practice. It's time to be different. It's time to not cave into negative peer pressure and to create our own positive peer pressure that makes it "wrong" to be on the side of "inaction." It's time we hold what we do and love to a high standard and expect the best of ourselves and of those around us. Do the job and do it better than well. Encourage others with our actions and show the next generation what being a firefighter is about. Don't let them be their own worst enemy.

Join me at FDIC 2012 on Friday @ 8:30 for “A Firefighter’s Own Worst Enemy.”
Room 103-104

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tools for a Purpose

We have taught a lot of classes and trained extensively on numerous firefighter operations. One thing that always interests me is the choice of hand tools by firefighters. Each has their own preference and favorite, but in many cases when challenged as to why that specific tool is their tool of choice, the answer is not clear to them.

Some are bound by the fact that they work on a truck, engine or squad. Some are bound by their riding assignment based on what order they arrive on the scene. In many cases, however, they just pick what they want and what is convenient or easy to carry. This is dangerous and we encourage each firefighter to choose their tool with a purpose in mind.

When choosing your tool some things to consider are what your using it for, will it accomplish your tasks, is it durable and reliable and does it complement the tools of other members.

I'm not here to tell you what tool to use, but I have some suggestions for you to consider when picking your tool

--Can you use it for forcible entry or forcible egress?

--Will it get the job your are assigned to do accomplished?

--Will it allow you to perform multiple functions with that tool? Is is versatile?

--Are you familiar and proficient with that tool? Do you train frequently with it?

--Will it complement what your team members are using? This could be especially important for forcible entry and for being a more efficient team.

Take a look at the pictures and discuss the pros and cons of each tool. For example, I don't like seeing guys coming off with a close hook. It is good for overhaul, but for forcible entry or breaching walls and getting out of a bad place, it's not very useful. This is just my opinion. But, I have had firefighters pick that tool because it's light and easy to carry.

Make the tools that are preferred easy to access and train with them. Clean and inspect them on a regular basis. Take care of those tools. Get know their capabilities and their limitations. You have to get your hands on them.

Discuss these options as a crew and/or company and share your thoughts. Take care and expect fire. Train hard!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Learn the Building

Here are some more pictures from my A Shift buddies, Jim, Bob and Dave at Florissant Valley Fire Protection District. These photos show the challenges of just getting into some of our buildings. It’s a lot easier to get a good look at the working mechanisms and traits of these obstacles during daylight and in non-emergent situations.

Take time to know what is behind these doors and grates. What are they protecting and how secure are they? Is just a matter of prying bolts out of the brick and concrete or are they really seated into the building? Now is the time to find out.

One note, the pic with the bars is actually a smoking lounge for an adjacent bar. Access is made from inside the building but it looks like a different occupancy. Don’t wait until it’s smokey and dark.

Stay alert and get out and look around. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Challenges Everywhere--But We Have to Find Them First

Hey, here are some pictures sent to me by a Brother who is going out the DOING the job. The whole job. He and his crew are getting out and checking on things. Bob gets IT and thanks for the pics. These are in his still area and these are buildlings that get inspected and then they go right back to doing this kind of stuff. We have to be prepared for everything and anything. Imagine being the RIT and forcing the back door to make access for a Mayday and dealing with the mattresses? Look at the pictures and just imagine and discuss the challenges that you would face in those situations. Not to mention patrons trying to evacuate a smoke filled building.

Stay sharp and get out of that chair. This is important stuff, don't put it off. I'm a huge proponent of training on line deployment, search, vent, and all the rest. This is just as important. Stay safe and keep training.

Thanks to Bob Tresch for the pics and making a difference by sharing.


Friday, February 3, 2012

More Building Construction for Size Up

Here is a quick look at a building that offers more than one considering in regards to construction characteristics. The building in the photos is currently a resale shop. This building has been a tack shop, lawn equipment, sold boats and trailers. If you look hard at the front, it has been added onto.



The right side of the building was the original and the left was an addition. The front and side walls are wood frame with a brick veneer. As you can see, there is a parapet wall on three sides of the building. Both sides have been rearranged multiple times on the interior to accommodate the occupant of the moment. The original roof was flat.




This side view shows some exterior doors and the brick veneer. We can also see the electric service and a boarded up window. This two doors lead to different areas of the building and are not adjoining. You can also see that the parapet wall appears to be very tall and of combustible material.


This is the rear view and the most telling about this building. We can see that the back wall is different from the other three walls. The back wall is of block. We can also see that the roof is a lean to type of construction and knowing the history of this building, it is a "rain roof" or "roof over" that covered an old flat roof.

We can also see the parapet wall is brick on the two side walls with support ties. We know that those connections are very likely going to fail during a fire. There is a lot of void space that could be difficult to get to due to the "rain roof" and early collapse of the parapet wall should be expected.

In addition, the importance of the block wall in the back is important for orientation as well. If we get inside and get to a wall that is block, we have a pretty good idea of where we are. We only would know this by pre-planning and/or doing our 360.

These are just a few of the considerations you must think of when presented with this building or one like it. Discuss this with your crews and identify buildings that are similar in your response areas.

Train hard, stay safe, and remember those who have fallen for the lives of others. Please especially remember the families of Chief Kyle Ienn, Firefighter Doug Haase, Chief David Flint, Fire Lt. Kevin West who all left us this week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The 360: Bulkheads

We have all heard and been taught to do a 360 of the structure during a working fire.

There is some debate, but this is becoming common practice and there are several things to look for.

The picture is a bulk head for a basement. We have always been taught and trained to look for and create a secondary means of egress for upper floors. Well, it’s no different for basements.

When you make entry, especially if the fire has not been isolated, make sure that either you open it during the 360 if it’s not locked or that the information is relayed to the next in crew to cut the lock.

Cut the locks to ensure crews can exit if needed.
It may be as simple as cutting a padlock or as difficult as forcing a door or security bars.

It is important to create this exit to safety for the crews operating inside. It might just be what saves their lives.

Stay safe, be smart and train hard.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Cure

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about "The Sickness" in the fire service. There was a great deal of conversation from this post that was constructive and on point. I must admit that I wrote it with this post in mind. Actually, this post came to me before that one did, but I wanted to define the problem in a way that most could relate to.

While reading the responses to the post a great guy and respected chief posted a response, "OFFICERS" as the solution. I couldn't agree with him more and that was the premise of this series of posts. A great deal has been posted about the role of the officer. Some write primarily about the company officer and others about the chief officer. The fact is that it is about both. They are intertwined and both play a vital role in "curing" the "sickness."

The officer has the responsibility to keep his people ready, proficient and engaged. Although each individual has a responsibility to these same expectations, at the fire house, the officer must set the tone. They dictate how the day goes and what gets done. They determine what is acceptable and what is not. Without this oversight, the "sickness" spreads and grows much easier.

At the company level the officer must address early on his expectations to his crew. It should happen at the time of promotion or when receiving a new assignment or a new crew member. The crew deserves to know what is expected, what is acceptable and what is not. This establishes ownership and responsibility by the officer early on.

Not all firefighters will have a passion for this job when they go home and are away from the fire house. Not all firefighters are going to take vacation to go to FDIC or other training opportunities. They may not be engaged when off of the job and we have to understand that there are different levels of passion for what we do. It doesn't excuse poor tactics, limited knowledge of strategies and current trends and definitely does not excuse poor attitudes towards those that do have that passion 24/7.

The officer sets the tone for the crew or company. So goes the officer, so goes the crews. The officer's attitude is contagious and will be passed on to his crew. If the company officer does not want to train, complains about doing inspections and other firefighter stuff that requires us to get out of the recliner, so will the crew. If the fire officer still believes the best forcible entry tool is his foot, so will the crew. If the fire officer believes that a booster line is the line of choice for an initial attack line, so will the crew. I think you get the point.

The bottom line is this: We have to promote great! We have to buck some trends and make some tough changes in regards to promotions. We must promote the best person for the job, not the popular guy. Not the lesser of two evils or the easy, non-controversial choice. Not the Union guy just because he is the shop steward. Although the candidate could be one of those people, there should be more to the decision making.

Let's be clear, I don't believe you have to have a degree and I am not subscribing to the idea that we need to lean to an all academic promotion process. I am calling for a process that works at your respective department, allowing the best candidate to get promoted to all positions. We have to pick people that are going to insure that their people train, understand the traditions and history of our profession. We need to pick people that will demand more than just coasting through and will instill, in the words of Chief Lasky, "Pride, Honor and Integrity."

These officers must prepare their people to take that position down the road. They must mold, coach and mentor their people to be the best at whatever position they hold and want to achieve. A great deal of this is by leading by the right example. I believe that our fire service has some of the brightest leaders amongst us right now. Some are in formal leadership positions and some are not. The goal needs to be to tap into those resources and not only let them make a difference, but encourage it.

So, a challenge to firefighters, company officers, chief officers, union officials and politicos; let's make a difference. Let's utilize our most valued resource, our people, in leadership roles. Let's stop the spread of the "sickness" and provide the cure that is right in front of us. Let's encourage and let our leaders lead.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

High Rise Markings

If you have a high rise or respond on mutual aid to a high rise district, do you know if they are marked for floor identification? If so, do you know how they corresspond with the interior labels? High rise buildings are marked differently, if at all. In our area the windows are typically marked with a reflective sticker, one on every fifth floor. Where this gets tricky is when the interior floors are labeled differently.

This high rise has red circle on the corner on the fifth floor window and the 15th floor window. You can see them in the top right hand corner of the windows on the right side. Now, some places will actually put numbers on the windows, but we are going to just address this one method. If you count the windows you will notice that it doesn't add up.

This building has eliminated the 13th floor, thus making the floors on floor off if counting. This is where preplanning comes in.

It is important to know how the outside corresponds with the interior. In some of these buildings the ground floor may be labeled as "Ground" or "Lobby" and not the first floor. In addition, if there are penthouse units at the top they may be labeled as such and not given a numerical label on the elevator panel. On this building the 13th floor has been eliminated. It goes from floor 12 to 14. On the photo below you can see that there is no 13 on the panel.

We need to get into these buildings and be familiar with the labeling of floors. The last we want to do is deploy to the wrong floor or take an elevator to close to the fire floor. It is also important when searching for victims, knowing what floor is reported and how the occupants will report floor numbers.

This is by no means the only marking systems, just one method. Get out, know your system and train with it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Sickness

I occasionally get requests for advice on problems others are having in their respective departments. The topics range from how to get away from officer elections, officers who don't train, senior firefighters who are not buying in to new ideas and how to get their departments to train more. Every situation is different and it is tough to offer much without being directly involved. So, inevitably, I offer a diplomatic thought, which I hate to do. But, we know there is always two sides to every story.

Let me shift gears real quick to help drive home the point I want to make. A few months ago I ran an EMS call with the ambulance. A mother called us for her adult son who had overdosed on heroin. She was irate because she thought he had cleaned up and she was sure her son had gotten the drug from his father. Well, the son was brought around with some Narcan and he ended up leaving with his dad, who just happened to be nearby. The mother's speculation was accurate. The addiction to heroin of the father has been passed on to his son and is facilitating the drug abuse. They are both sick from addiction.

A similar problem is permeating in the fire service. I witness this sickness, have had discussions with firefighters from all over the country about this sickness and it is the "I know it all and we don't need to train" sickness. This illness causes an addiction to doing nothing.

When asked how to combat this and to make these people change I used to say to lead by example, be inclusive and ask for input from these individuals. And you should still do these things, but the fact is that some of these people have years of experience and do have something to offer if they would just do it in a constructive, consistent manner.

What I have learned is that we can't save them all. There are some that just don't want help. They don't want the intervention that has been attempted and they need their addiction. I have also come to the conclusion that after teaching classes, conducting training drills and sessions that the addiction is not to doing nothing, it is an addiction to staying in their comfort zone mentally. They do not want to be challenged for fear of not knowing how to do something.

Just the like the father mentioned above, some of these senior people are passing this same addiction to some of our newer firefighters. Some of these younger, impressionable firefighters are being enticed by the addiction and sickness that is contagious. It is easy to not be challenged and to just float along. It's easy to not have the confrontation with the infected guy pushing his addiction. It's easy to take the path of least resistance.

So, how do we fix this? I don't know that we can fix them all. We can talk about leadership, culture and the officer's role, but the bottom line is that we must instill the difference of right and wrong in our young candidates from the onset. Just like we tell our kids to "just say no to drugs", we must teach our young firefighters to say "I will train and improve" for their entire career no matter who is pushing a vile addiction upon them.

For the guys that have been perpetuating their addiction for years? We can't help people who don't admit that they have a problem. These firefighters are set and in many cases will not change their mind set. They will do what they are told and they will train when made to do so, but they don't believe in what they are doing. At that point, we need to focus our efforts, resources and energy into the group that can make a difference.

Some will say that we can't write people off. I say we have to cultivate our younger firefighters and work hard to instill the core values and character to insure that they don't become addicts. Make them strong to have the ability to resist the garbage trying to be handed down by those that are infected. In the end, if we do our collective jobs right, the addiction will be to train and to improve.