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.