How can data drive a fire department?

Posted on Thu, 27 Aug 2015 16:38:10 UTC

Choices about how to deliver fire and other emergency services was once the domain of a chief's intuition and past practices. The financial and service demand pressures on fire departments now requires those decisions be data-driven.

That was the message offered by three fire chiefs at an International Association of Fire Chief's Fire-Rescue International seminar Wednesday. In short, providing the best service to the community means knowing what data to collect, making sense of that data and looking for creative ways to use that data in different service-delivery methods.

One mistake Stockton, Calif. was making was just counting the number of calls, says the city's recently retired fire chief Jeff Piechura. "We just counted; we didn't really drill," he said.

When they did drill, one thing they found was that most of their fire fatalities occurred during normal working hours and to those who tended to be home alone at those times — children and the elderly. And many of those were cooking fires.

One of the big impacts to Stockton came from changing how it responded to EMS calls. The city had a private ambulance firm contracted to respond to all calls, yet they still dispatched a fire department rig.

What the data showed was that 25 percent of the time, the private ambulance company was calling off the fire department. By cutting out the lowest-priority calls from their response protocol, the city trimmed its number of calls by 5 percent.

In Bend, Ore., Chief Jeff Blake also had resource-availability problems, and consequently higher response times with EMS calls. They turned to quick-response vehicles to do fast assessments on patients and adjusted the responding units accordingly.

This was important partly because they were operating with a regional dispatch system that at times could be "wonky," Blake said.

The move meant more resources available to the tune of a 28 percent reduction in time out of resources. And, within the first three months of the program, they shaved 1 minute and 10 seconds off their average response time.

Littleton, Colo. Fire Chief Chris Armstrong also turned to quick-response vehicles during that department's peak call hours between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Littleton dispatches its quick-response vehicles to all fire alarms that come in from only one caller. Their data showed that actual fires generated several 911 calls where as false alarms were from a single call.

"We can't say that we're not coming to nonemergent calls," Armstrong said. "We can change how we respond. Are we providing the services we want to provide or the services the community demands?"

Littleton had to add its quick-response without adding personnel or vehicles. They did so by assigning some firefighters to 40-hour weeks and outfitting existing vehicles.

In the coming year, Littleton will roll the program back into its regular shifts by having its quick-response firefighters work 12 hours then jump to an engine or truck assignment for the remainder of the shift. And if there's anyone who's on overtime, that person will be sent home and replaced by the firefighters coming off the 12-hour quick-response shift.

Armstrong estimates that this move alone will reduce the department's overtime spending by 50 percent. And this comes with the backing of the union.

Firefighter cancer: An inconvenient truth

Posted on Mon, 8 Jun 2015 15:51:22 UTC

How often has someone said I will do anything not to get cancer? Or, you can put anything in place of "cancer."

Regardless, these are easy words to say but difficult actions to carry out. I remember when my wife was fighting cancer. I said if I would get cancer I would do ….

I work in the alternative health care field and often hear people say they would do anything to get rid of a condition.

Yet when the rubber meets the road and reality sets in, they won't do anything. It has suit their lifestyle or needs or whatever they want to do. People don't want to give up certain things. They often say they will do anything except give up (fill in the blank).

Occasionally, I receive emails from readers commenting on my columns. I found one comment especially interesting.

Accepted risk
The individual writes that he believes it is an accepted risk that firefighters get cancer. He continues to write how FDNY is not going to clean their gear after every incident. Respiratory protection is not worn when it should be.

Quite frankly I can't argue with these points. They are reality, not necessarily acceptable practices, but they seem to be the way things are done.

So why do we continue to be sadden every time a firefighter is diagnosed with cancer? Why do we continue to want to put legislation forward on presumptive measures that because we are firefighters it is a job hazard?

Maybe we first need to clean our own closet and do anything it takes to prevent the cancer in the first place. When presumptive legislation is put on the table, how can lawmakers pass legislation when they see firefighters sitting outside their window puffing on a cigarette or not wearing protective gear to prevent them from inhaling the toxic fumes?

Are you getting defensive yet? If so, maybe this has hit a nerve. I certainly hope so.

No more excuses
We need to stop delaying and making excuses. We need to stop turning our heads and making the inexcusable practices acceptable. Enough is enough. Let's quit saying if I would get cancer I would change. Let's quit saying that you would do anything to prevent cancer except ….

Let's take a realistic look at what we can do to prevent this horrible disease. Granted, there are circumstances where we can do everything we have available to prevent cancer yet still contract it.

If we have failed in prevention, then we need to look at how to treat it. How can so many people successful treat their cancer and live many years when others succumb to the cancer after weeks, months or a few years?

The next several columns will look at what we know causes cancer in firefighters and what can be done to prevent it. I have no intentions of sugar coating anything — by the way, cancer thrives on sugar and it has no business in anything we talk about other than getting it out of our diets.

We need to quit being politically correct and address this fast-growing killer before you become the next victim.

Fire cadets and fire departments

Posted on Thu, 22 Dec 2011 12:22:38 UTC

Fire cadets play an important role in assisting local fire departments. They also are a great way to encourage young people to go into firefighting careers and EMS programs. While cadet programs aren't considered direct recruiting tools, they are ways to expose students to the life of a firefighter so they can decide if it might be the right career path for them.

Many people aren't even aware that fire cadet programs exist. What are fire cadets and what are their duties? Here's a brief breakdown of how these young future firefighters contribute to local fire departments.

Generally, programs for fire cadets accept people between the age of 16 and 20. Some require that they be at least in the 10th grade. If they're still in high school, most programs require that students maintain at least a 2.0 grade average in order to remain active in the program. If they've graduated from high school, they should be in college and maintaining a good grade average.

Application acceptance for fire cadet programs can be ongoing through local fire departments, or it can be limited to once or twice a year. Applicants must have undergone CPA training and certification prior to applying. If accepted, cadets go through a training program.

The cadet basic training program teaches them introductory level knowledge of firefighting skills, tools, equipment and fire science. It also helps cadets develop positive mentoring relationships with firefighters. The cadet instructors evaluate the students during basic training to assess their ability to undertake duties and their commitment to becoming a fire cadet. Proficiency exercises take place at this level to assess the student's physical abilities.

Some fire cadet basic training programs also require that trainees participate in ride-alongs with firefighters and

Fire cadets generally spend about 100 hours or three to six months in supervised cadet training activities. After that, they are considered for ride-along certification, which gives them an opportunity to accompany firefighters to emergency calls. During this phase of training cadets can spend anywhere from 12 to 24 hours on a firefighting under the supervision of a mentor or instructor.

Although special instructors are responsible for fire cadet training, fire station personnel also sometimes assist with basic training.

Once they've been certified as fire cadets, inductees are allowed to assist fire departments in a non-hazardous capacity. Their duties might include cleaning equipment, restocking supplies and helping to clean up fire scenes.


Fire attack: Understanding landmark buildings

Posted on Tue, 6 Jan 2015 17:44:41 UTC

Fires in landmark structures pose some unique operational challenges for fire department, foremost being the mindset of the initial responding companies. The default mindset for firefighters is to quickly initiate an interior offensive attack on the fire using 1¾-inch lines. Such a predetermined mode of operations often results in unsafe, ineffective and inefficient operations when responding to older, longstanding commercial structures.

Let's consider what some of those unique challenges look like.

Older structures can typically include a mixture of construction types, such as wood-framed and ordinary, as the building has undergone modifications over the years. This results in the creation of unprotected void spaces for fire travel, incompatible electrical systems that are prone to overloading, and improper and overabundant storage (due to lack of space).

Keep these three pre-arrival fire development characteristics in mind when attacking a landmark fire.

Fires that originate outside of normal business hours, especially during the overnight hours, will quickly develop beyond the incipient stage and be into the well-developed stage — the point at which an offensive interior fire attack starts to become unsafe, ineffective and inefficient.

Fires will quickly locate and spread to those unprotected void spaces, like those between multiple ceilings. Fires are more likely to be showing from multiple points that are remote from the point of origin.

The percentage of the total building involved in fire will be greater as will the total BTUs being generated by the fire.

Discussion questions

  • What is your initial size-up of the incident?
  • What would your Incident Action Plan entail for this fire according to your size-up?
  • How do the tactical actions of the fire officers and firefighters in the video compare to your IAP?
  • What corrective actions, if any, would you take as the incident commander?
  • How would you compare and contrast the use of multiple smaller-caliber streams and fewer large-caliber streams for managing a fire like this one depicted in the video.
  • What role will issues such as water management, air pollution, impact on personnel, etc., play in your small- vs. large-caliber debate?

Spotlight: Cutters Edge provides safer, better way to get the job done

Posted on Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:49:44 UTC

Company Name: Cutters Edge
Headquarters: Baker City, Ore.
Signature Product: 2100 Series MULTI-CUT® Fire Rescue Saws and BULLET® Chain

Intro: At Cutters Edge, we are proud to make Fire Rescue Saws specifically engineered and built for the fire rescue service. All of our Fire Rescue Saws feature next generation engine technology for more power, torque, better fuel efficiency and 75 percent less emissions.

Where did your company name originate from?
It came from a typical late night play-on words. “Cutting Edge” was a catch phrase at the time and even though our product gave the cutter an edge over the tools currently being used, we didn’t want to be lumped into a trendy stereotype.Instead of ‘cutting,’ we decided on ‘cutters’ – note: no apostrophe – relating to the operator, and ‘edge’ to not only the extra edge, or advantage, our product gave the cutter, but the ‘edge’ on the chain itself, which stayed sharp much longer.

What was the inspiration behind starting your company?
A safer, better way to do a job! I was a forest ranger in the mountains of Southern California and a green volunteer firefighter. I was assigned to make a trench cut (the Lakeland Lodge fire in Lake Cuyamaca, Calif. in 1978) to separate the kitchen from the rest of the building. Our department had a Homelite DM50 cut-off saw with a carbide-tipped blade. I got it done, but thought there had to be a better way, and went about finding it. Turns out, other firefighters had already tried chainsaws (see “Company” dropdown on our website homepage and Capt. Mo Bullard of the L.A. City Heavy Duty Rescue Unit had already invented a carbide-tipped chainsaw chain. Using chainsaws with carbide-tipped chain still had some issues and now I spent about 30 years trying to figure them out.

Why do you believe your products are essential to the fire community?
There are just so many variables in cutting structural materials at fire and rescue scenes, and the environment we have to work in can be pretty rough. If the decision is made to make a cut, it’s imperative that we can complete the cut. We engineer our tools to work in these environments and cut the wide variety of material that are going to be encountered.

What has been the biggest challenge your company has faced?
Bureaucracy and tradition!

What makes your company unique?
Our focus. We have only one product, Fire Rescue Saws. In many ways that’s right, but we have several models and then the carbide-tipped Bullet® Chain, Diamond Blades, Diamond Chainsaw Chain and now the BulletBlade®. However, we only do one thing and that’s make Fire Rescue Saws. Between our three saw models, we have not found a material we cannot cut!

What do your customers like best about you and your products?
What I hear the most is their reliability.

What is the most rewarding part of serving the firefighting community?
The brotherhood.

Do you support any charitable organizations within public safety?
No specific organizations, but we do give back a lot through free training and equipment. We are supporters of the Wounded Warrior program and, while not specifically a fire service organization, an important one to us.

Is there any fun fact or trivia that you’d like to share with our users about you or your company?
As a firefighter, two different houses I owned burned down. Both in one fire and the largest wildland fire in the history of California – the Cedar Fire in 2003.

What’s next for Cutter’s Edge? Any upcoming new projects or initiatives?
There is always something on the drawing board. We’ve been going green both with engine designs and manufacturing practices, and our move of corporate headquarters to Baker City, Ore. in 2008 really reduced our environmental footprint.

5 traits of great firefighting instructors

Posted on Mon, 31 Mar 2014 09:11:41 UTC

When I began to consider what traits make a great fire instructor, I was inundated with ideas. There were so many people who came to mind who had shaped and mentored my career as not only a firefighter and officer, but also as an instructor.

One of the sayings that always comes to mind is, "every officer is an instructor" just by the nature of the position. I have learned over the years that instructing is more than just managing a crew. To truly instruct, you must be invested in the people you are leading, not just ordering them around.

Great instructors have some common traits that make them great. I would argue that instructors are unique in their delivery, in their experience and in the way that they create their own content. But, these five traits are found in almost every great instructor out there.

1. Knowledge
An effective instructor must have knowledge of the topic. I am not talking about "you took a class and now you can teach it" type of knowledge.

No, you have studied, read up on, asked those who are experts, and researched the topic in order to teach it to others. This process takes time; many will skip this step and eventually be caught by a student who knows more about the subject matter than the instructor. That's not a good situation.

2. Experience
With prerequisite knowledge also comes the need for experience. For example, you will not see me teaching farm-rescue classes. Although I have some background in that topic, I have not obtained the correct amount of knowledge or experience to effectively deliver that type of information.

To be effective you have to use knowledge from past experiences to add credibility to what your are presenting. I have witnessed newer instructors take a class and immediately want to teach it because they like the subject and are "into it."

This typically does not end well. Great instructors teach what they know and have experience in.

3. Ability to relate
Effective instructors can make content relevant to their audience. They have the ability to use experiences and events to illustrate concepts and theories.

This is most commonly done with storytelling and knowing how to relate to the audience. So, if I work in a suburban area and use tactics that are geared for a large number of personnel, I need to be able to teach tactics that can be used by a more rural department if that is where I am teaching.

Being able to relate is one of the most important traits a great instructor can have. Think about sitting in an EMS or first-aid class with a doctor as the instructor. That doctor, no matter how smart and how much experience he has, will be completely ineffective if he cannot relate the content to the audience in a way that meets their understanding and needs.

4. Passion
A great instructor must have a passion for teaching and the profession. We have all sat through a class with an instructor who was just there for the money or because he was made to do it. It is a miserable experience.

Passion is something you have or you don't. An "OK" instructor can be very successful because of the passion she exude during the class. It is contagious and it makes people feel good to know that the teacher care about the job and the students.

Normally, those with great passion are also those who take the time to learn the profession and job. They are usually students of the fire service and love passing on what has been shared with them. It's palpable and their students very rarely nod off during the afternoon.

This trait is what drives the instructor to take advantage of every learning moment that comes her way. These are the instructors who will stay after the class to show a group or individual the answer to a question instead of just telling them.

For example, after a hands-on class this instructor is the one who stays to show another technique, to let a student get more reps or try something new that was brought up in the class.

If the instructor is passionate, then the students are more likely to be as well.

5. Humility
Nobody likes a know-it-all. At one time, you were a new firefighter and didn't know as much as you know now. The great instructors will tell you that they are lucky and have been blessed with great mentors and instructors who helped them along.

Being humble is genuine with great instructors because they realize that they still have much to learn and that sharing the knowledge, experience, and information they have obtained to this point is an obligation and responsibility they have to the fire service.

Students are more accepting of information from an instructor who admits not knowing an answer or shares examples of professional failures. Those things help to make the instructor real and more credible and show transparency.

We are in this profession for a short time and our goal should always be to make the next generation of firefighter better than the current one. Humility plays a large role in that.

I'm sure you have your own ideas of what traits a great fire instructor should have, and you're probably right. We all are individuals and have unique gifts that make us effective.

Make sure your information is credible and that you have put in the time to ensure you can effectively deliver and demonstrate the material.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next month. Train hard and be effective in all that you do.

Fire chief saves child, earns F-16 ride

Posted on Mon, 9 Jul 2012 08:52:53 UTC

At two or three Gs, the pilot told him in the pre-flight briefing, it will feel like you are wrestling a couple of guys but holding your own. At five Gs, you'll feel like you are losing the fight and at 9 Gs nothing moves — wherever something is, that's where it stays. They went over the procedures to eject if something went very wrong.

This was part of several hours of pre-flight instruction that Hobart, Ind., Fire Chief Brian Taylor went through prior to his 45-minute flight in an Air Force F-16 last week. The flight was in honor of him being named Hometown Hero at neighboring Gary, Ind. air show, following a dramatic rescue late last year.

Hobart is city of less than 30,000 residents that's mostly residential with a sprinkling of retail and light industry. The fire department operates out of three stations and carries a crew of 52 career firefighters. Last year the department responded to 3,650 calls, which includes ALS ambulance runs.

The fire
One of those calls came on Dec. 10, where Chief Taylor was the second to arrive on scene at mutual-aid call for a single-family residential structure fire. A mother and her two young children were inside. The initial report was that the mother was gone, one child had been found and the other was still missing.

"On arrival I had no intention of doing anything but command," Taylor said. "Anybody with kids knows that all rules go out the window."

Chief Taylor has three children.

One side of the house was fully involved and largely destroyed. Chief Taylor entered the structure to find the child — without his SCBA. He knew better; he's a 19-year veteran about to celebrate his second anniversary as fire chief.

"I didn't take the proper steps," he said. Tunnel vision had gotten the better of him, and part way into the structure he feared he might have gotten himself in trouble.

Fortunately, Chief Taylor's left-hand search yielded the room with the child. He was lying on the floor near the bed. Chief Taylor ran with the child to a waiting ambulance (see the accompanying video).

Lake Station, Ind., Fire Department's Lt. Robert Saylor rescued the other child.

"He wasn't breathing and had been in there for a significant amount of time," Chief Taylor said. "He's a miracle."

It was his first save and he regularly visited the child in the hospital. The doctors warned him that situations like this typically ended badly. But against the odds, the child's condition continued to improve.

That save is what landed Chief Taylor on the Hometown Hero radar and ultimately in the seat of the Thunderbird's F-16.

Pulling 9 Gs
During the pre-flight briefing, pilot Lt. Col. Jason Koltes, used a model of the plane to demonstrate what they would be doing in the air. Pulling 9 Gs takes a lot out of a person not used to it; Koltes told Chief Taylor to expect to be very tired the next day.

"It was incredible," he said after the flight. "It was so much more than I anticipated; the sheer power of that aircraft is awesome."

As thrilling as the ride was, it was important to Chief Taylor that a firefighter had been selected as the Hometown Hero.

"This was more of an honor for the fire service than for me personally," Chief Taylor said. "The fire service tends to experience a lack of recognition that it deserves. Over time, a community becomes complacent and views its fire department as an insurance policy."

The lift-assist calls won't be splashed across the news like was his rescue, or even his F-16 ride, but it means the world to that person who needs the help, he said.

Photo Rick Markley
Chief Taylor and Lt. Col. Kolte taxi to the runway.

Near miss
In the end it all worked out — the children and Chief Taylor made it out of the fire and pilot eject mechanisms on the F-16 went unused. And whether Lt. Col. Koltes learned anything from their flight is unknown, but Chief Taylor learned plenty from that December fire.

In addition to learning to keep tunnel vision in check, he learned that his and neighboring departments had problems with primary search, accountability and command structure.

Since that fire, Chief Taylor and the neighboring chiefs have met to go over the incident and how they can improve their response at future mutual-aid incidents. Additionally, they've held joint department trainings to allow the firefighters to get to know and get used to working with one another.

And while Chief Taylor paid close attention to the instructions on how the body behaves at 9 Gs, so too has he paid attentions to the lessons from a fatal fire.

Crisis intervention teams: Helping our own

Posted on Mon, 16 May 2011 10:01:15 UTC

In the public safety field, one of the least addressed topics is the mental wellness of our responders. When tragedy and violence hit, we're the first to be there. Having to care for people when they are at their worst, and having to deal with the impact of the call, can take its toll.

This tends to impact the first responders in many different ways. These individuals might be the first people to see the tragedy but they are the last to admit that it has had any emotional or mental effect to them. So, when an outside group comes in to intervene or defuse the situation, there is resistance from the first responders

First responders tend to rely on their comrades in the field. When outside groups or people try to intervene, the responders tend to be reluctant to their offers of help. "You have no idea what we do" is usually the cause for reluctance.

This is why we created a peer-driven support group that we call the Horry County Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). The team is made up of 11 peer support members, four councilors, one training instructor and one chaplain.

The CIT is continuing to grow and manage all of its internal staff as well as other departments in the local area. They are also recruiting police and 911 dispatchers to round off the group. This will make the CIT very versatile.

Horry County Fire Rescue covers more than 1,134 square miles and responds to more than 42,000 calls per year. The department is made up of 275 full-time uniformed staff and 200 volunteers.

The CIT for Horry County is no stranger to unique and very stressful calls. Some of the calls that the CIT has had to intervene with have been:

  • Horry County Fire Rescue roll-over engine call that had three firefighters and a lieutenant trapped
  • Horry County Fire Rescue volunteer went into cardiac arrest during a medical call and had to be intervened by the same members who responded with him
  • Horry County responded to a fellow firefighter's home, where he had already committed suicide. The crew prior to his shift from his own station responded
  • Multiple child abuse calls; some with death as a result
  • Multiple drowning calls involving children at local motel pools
  • Motor vehicle accident deaths involving children and infants
  • Multi- casualty incidents involving a large number of deaths

These are just some of the calls that have made an impact to Horry County Fire Rescue staff over the past couple of years. Those who responded to these have had the opportunity to get help from the CIT with positive results.

The CIT has also put together a White Paper to describe some of the statistics from the past three years. This paper will give other departments information in the field of crisis management so that they too can make their wellness program complete. Check it out here

Fire department tests bounce-house rescue device

Posted on Wed, 1 Apr 2015 10:01:07 UTC

POKENIOUT, Mass — With the rash of inflatable bounce houses taking flight last summer, one fire department is "aiming" to do something about it.

New Bedford neighbor Pokeniout (Mass.) Fire Department is beta testing a device one of its members invented that will make quick work of fly-away bounce houses.

The invention, dubbed Rescuepoon, incorporates a medieval crossbow and now-outlawed lawn darts tied to a spool of deep-sea fishing line.

The device works like this. When a call comes in for an escaped bounce house, the fire department will deploy its Rescuepoon crew, that will put the dart in the crossbow and fire it into the bounce house.

"If the dart seats well enough into the bounce house, we can reel it in," said Pokeniout Fire Chief Isley Fulakrap. "If not, we use the line to track it once it lands."

The device was relatively cheap to build, the chief said. The only difficulty was locating lawn darts, which were taken off the market in 1988 following a previous ban in the 1970s. Chief Fulakrap says they are working up a modified version for when they buy up all of the Ebay and Etsy supply of darts.

That version, RescuepoonXL, will use a harpoon gun to fire a four-foot pike pole, also tethered to fishing line. The XL will be heavier and harder to store, the chief said, but he believes it will have a 35 percent greater shooting distance and be less susceptible to wind conditions.

Although the chief was extremely positive about the Rescuepoon, he did say it had a few minor bugs to sort out.

"It took us a while to train up our guys on the crossbow, and there may have been one or two mishaps with passing birds," Chief Fulakrap said. "We did nick a Rescue Randy Jr. in the head one time and one of our captains lanced Engine 1's rear tire."

Chief Fulakrap said he also plans to push bounce house makers to make them safer for kids by designing them to deflate faster when pierced.

"You pop a Jart into one of those suckers and it takes on a mind of it's own," the chief said. "In our testing, we've seem 'em do four, maybe five complete high-speed 360s before slamming into the ground. We just want the manufacturers to take some responsibility for kids' safety."

The chief plans to deploy the Rescuepoon this summer.

What's the most ridiculous complaint you've heard?

Posted on Wed, 16 Sep 2015 12:10:15 UTC

Complaints are a part of any job.

And while firefighters don't hear half as many complaints as a telemarketer would, they still have plenty of head scratching moments.

We asked our Facebook fans to tell us the most ridiculous complaint they've heard while on duty. Here are some of their responses.

And if you haven't already, let us know a complaint you've heard in the comment section below.

"At the station washing the mud off the engine after a long fire, a car drove up and yelled that I make too much money and all we do is wash our vehicles and watch TV all day." — Jeff Dahl

"Why do we have to do gear up drills? Don't you just put your gear on and go?" — Cassidey Marge Podniestrzanski

"Some person's house was fully engulfed in flames, we had part of the road blocked off to stretch lines and put the fire out. One neighbor was upset because they couldn't get home … while their one neighbor just lost their home." — Chris Wynne

"Not waving back at people." — Adam Fortier

"In a rural setting we were responding to an MVA code 3. A farmer in the area came down to the station and complained about the sirens on a country dirt road. He said it upset his cows." — Robert Lonberger

"Someone told me, 'You guys get paid too much for what you do.' My reply: 'You're absolutely right. But here's the thing, we do not get paid for what we do. We get paid for what we're willing to do.'" — Richard Paul

"We had a fatal car vs. pedestrian and we had the section of road shut down for the sheriff's department to do their accident reconstruction. I had an intersection blocked with one of our brush trucks and was standing next to the truck in full turnout gear. An older woman stopped to yell at me for blocking the road and to tell me my DUI checkpoint was unconstitutional." — Brad Niederer

"We are a small volunteer fire department. We have pagers, but also a fire siren that goes off when we are paged. One guy complained that we were being too noisy when we were toned out and wanted us to be more considerate." — Jim Giffin

"As we were doing CPR on the sidewalk of a strip mall, a lady carrying her yoga mat asked us if we could move the rig. It was blocking her car and she had to pick up her kid from school." — Gavin Moylett

Firefighter candidates: be ethical, not an ostrich

Posted on Wed, 16 Sep 2015 20:33:50 UTC

It is common for fire departments to ask a question during the oral interview related to a hypothetical situation that requires the applicant to make an ethical decision.

Expect to be asked what you, as the probationary firefighter, would do if you witness another firefighter using illegal drugs, drinking or possessing alcohol on duty, harassing or behaving inappropriately (even illegally) towards a co-worker, stealing from a residence or business while on scene, or even cheating on an examination.

First of all, why would a fire department ask such questions of candidates? First, because these incidents happen regularly.

Don't believe me?

Do an Internet search on terms such as those mentioned above or just simply type "firefighter behavior" or "firefighter discipline" and you'll have scores of hits. Or just go to and see for yourself some inappropriate activity, much of it while on duty.

Second, fire departments ask such questions to evaluate your ethics, values, integrity, honesty and morals.

Revealing character
The sad part is that many candidates when faced with such a hypothetical question either put their head in the sand like an ostrich — deny it can even be occurring — or choose to say nothing because they don't want to cross the "red line," be a snitch or be someone who destroys the brotherhood by throwing a fellow firefighter under the bus.

I remember asking one candidate why he would do nothing when we outlined what appeared to be a firefighter using illegal drugs. He said something to the effect of firefighters are the most upstanding, honest individuals and would never do something like that, so it can't be true.

I wanted to tell him that he was clueless and naïve to think that way, but I couldn't given the situation. Had he paid attention to what is going on around the country via social media and the Internet, he would have been better prepared to answer that question.

He failed, obviously.

We have a sign on the wall in our academy that states, "We don't test character; we reveal it." It means that we put candidates through a battery of tests to evaluate their character (oral interview, background investigation, polygraph evaluation, psychological evaluation, etc.) prior to the academy.

Making the call
People can mask their true character and sneak into the academy. However, once you are put into that academy under high-stress situations and with teammates and instructors who are challenging you, your true character comes out — sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a not-so-good way.

Sometimes that is why candidates are released from the academy or put on probation — because of character flaws that were finally revealed. Don't let that be you.

It is probably impossible to find a human being who doesn't have to make an ethical decision on a daily basis. That includes firefighters of all ranks and in all parts of the country.

In the more than 20 years I have been in the fire service, I can't remember a day I have not had to make an ethical decision — either on duty or off duty. Sadly, many people don't invest much time and effort into thinking in advance how they will act when facing an ethical dilemma.

As someone who is entrusted to serve the public, paid or volunteer, the highest standards and values must drive your ethical decisions so as to not lose the public's trust.

Six pillars
Look at the surveys that evaluate the level of trust in various professions; firefighters usually rank in the top three. We cannot take this for granted as repeated bad behavior will erode that trust.

Making the wrong ethical decisions leads to disciplinary action like termination, suspension or demotion, not to mention public scrutiny and embarrassment.

One of the best resources I have found to help guide ethical decisions is "The Six Pillars of Character," by the Josephson Institute. These six core ethical values form the foundation of the Character Counts youth-ethics initiative.

If you are not already using most if not all of those six traits, I highly encourage you to do so. Knowing right from wrong and making that knowledge part of your daily behavior will help show a fire department that you are worth their time, effort and energy to hire as a firefighter.

Firsthand account: 10 lessons from a massive flood

Posted on Tue, 15 Oct 2013 06:52:02 UTC

One of the largest disasters I have ever been involved with started in the middle of a plate of rigatoni when I heard our south units in Erie, Colo., speak of significant volumes of rain.

It was 17:30 on Sept. 11. I was in Longmont, Colo., just to the north of Erie. Mountain View Fire Protection District covers a large area, so I pushed the pasta aside and headed south in case things got interesting.

While driving, I noticed that all the irrigation and run-off ditches in the area were running high, but had not over-topped just yet. That was not surprising as it had been raining for the past two days.

The most recent rain event had caused localized flooding south of our Station 6 near Coal Creek. Blocked storm grates had increased the flooding, damaging many houses in that area.

I wasn't too worried that this would happen again. As I drove through a downpour, calls started coming in for downed power lines along a main artery into the town from the local interstate.

Multiple storm-related calls
We blocked traffic in both directions for about a mile to prevent shock while waiting for the power company to repair about six separate line breaks. We lost power to the area around 18:15 as rain continued.

As crews waited for power company reps, the volume of water running down the road increased to the point where soil from local field was being washed downstream and starting to flood Coal Creek and run into the local high school. Normally our crews would assist, but another call to the middle school's fire alarm systems had thinned out our resources.

At about 18:30, I coordinated with local police, who had set up an emergency operations center, to establish any rescue necessities in the areas that had flooded before. The storm drain that had caused issues a week before was working well at this point.

But water continued to flow into Coal Creek; the rising water had overtopped the road, effectively trapping smaller vehicles and stalling others. No rescues were called and by 20:30 the rain subsided and vehicles were able to cross the Coal Creek Bridge. Power returned around 21:00 and the local EOC stood down.

Mutual aid
I made it back to my station around 22:00 and got ready for bed. Around 02:00 I received a call from our dispatch center asking if we had any water-rescue resources that we could send up the canyons, as there were multiple collapsed structures and swiftwater rescues.

Our department has limited water rescue resources, but I called the number given me to inquire about specific needs prior to sending personnel to an unknown situation. The individual I called said that water rescue capabilities of all levels from all the surrounding fire districts had sent to Lyons or Boulder.

It quickly dawned on me that there were significant water-related disasters occurring along Boulder Creek, Lefthand Creek in Jamestown and most importantly the Saint Vrain River in Lyons. All three converge in our district.

I had to refuse to send our limited capabilities out of the region as there were no other resources left for what could be significant water rescues in the near future.

Preparing for the worst
I contacted our chief of operations who was engaged in incident management at the Boulder EOC and set in motion a plan to staff extra apparatus and ensure we could deliver service to both sides of the district once the flood waters divided it.

I also called back swiftwater-rescue certified individuals to staff another specialized rescue apparatus. Our district had recently completed surface, flood and swiftwater training to include the use of a personal watercraft (Kawasaki Jet Ski) for water rescue scenarios.

I drove the district to assess the water levels at all the bridges that crossed the two creeks and one river. At 05:30, water was up to the bridge girders and rising quickly.

About this time came emergency traffic from the incident teams in Lyons and Jamestown advising all personnel downstream to evacuate due to collapses in multiple dams. Six dams had collapsed, 20 had overtopped and that a weather system parked over the area had dumped 14 inches of rain in four days.

In some areas the sheer volume of rainwater run-off caused walls of water 20-feet high to rush down canyons that had no vegetation due to recent wildland fires. And our district was in its path.

People trapped
Water that normally running around 200 to 300 cubic feet per second had spread a half mile wide and was running 10,000 cubic feet per second. It spread out over the banks of the St. Vrain, flooding farm fields, destroying greenway paths and uprooting trees and utility poles without difficulty.

Our first call, around 08:30, was to rescue a couple trapped on their second floor as floodwaters washed through their first floor. When we arrived, the swiftwater training we recently completed had not prepared us for this level of impact.

Every few minutes, you could hear loud cracks as 12-inch circumference trees struck the bridge and shattered. You could also hear trees breaking as they fell into the creek or other trees.

Our first structure was the one with the highest risk and the greatest danger to the civilians. This home had beautiful stucco covered fence structures that funneled the water into and around their home. Horse trailers had been picked up and wrapped around trees. A pick-up truck sat abandoned 30 yards from the home with water up to its hood.

Dangerous 'rescue'
Our plan called for a three-person team to cross the torrent to reach the couple who were using their phones to video the rescue. The first team member struggled but made it across. The second and third members lost their footing, forced to use the water rescue rope to swing them into the far side of the rushing waters.

Once reached by the team, the couple was ready to leave until they saw how they were going to have to cross the water. At this point they refused and would wait until the water lowered. We advised them that the rain was expected to increase, not decrease, but they refused.

Our team reluctantly left them in their home to continue the remainder of the mission. Three other homes in the area were contacted and all persons we talked to were perfectly fine with staying in their homes.

We advised them that staying was not be the best option as the water would be constant for a few days, may increase significantly and more than their homes could be lost. Later that day, a military six-by-six had to be brought in to rescue them; the six-by-six was almost lost to the volume of moving water.

Chin pinned to the car ceiling
Over the next few days, our team rescued people stranded in homes, cars and trees. Most rescues were simple, putting personal flotation devices on our evacuees and guiding them through the water.

One rescue required using our watercraft to help extricate a young woman from her vehicle. The water had risen to her chin, pinning her head against her roof. We broke a window, pulled her out, put a PFD on her and moved her on the personal watercraft.

Our team was also tasked with accessing a gas line in a flooded field breached from repeated assaults from rushing debris. We found and secured the valve.

As we ran from call to call for water rescues, our district was evacuating areas in the flood's path. Getting from point A to point B was no longer a straight-line proposition. Road closures became required knowledge to reduce already extended response times.

Water moving at 10,000 cfs punishes structures, especially bridges. While many bridges withstood the pounding, often the water diverted around both ends of the structure and washed out the road base, collapsing the roads leading to the bridge.

Strained resources
In most cases, evacuation just required going door to door. However, those with limited mobility needed assistance being evacuated. Teams of two helped move them to a patient collection point for evacuation on busses.

To make matters worse, on day two we were advised that the water supply systems had failed. There was no water pressure and the water was considered contaminated. The pipes supplying the water district had been washed away; in some areas missing pipe sections were 300-feet long.

Associated with the no-water issue, some areas were crippled with a no-flush directive as sewage systems failed. The district had portable toilets and pallets of drinking water delivered to all stations. Our command team worked with the FEMA resources through local EOCs to hand out water to residents in our area.

During our evacuation of the mobile home park we noticed that a large amount of water reaching this area was from a failed irrigation ditch. This was the second time in two months a wall in the ditch had failed.

An excavation company hired to dig a new flow path dug through three metal pipelines. As all the gas wells in the area had been shut down for prevention, no leak occurred. All energy companies were contacted to ensure that they would assess their local wells prior to turning them back on.

Once the ditch was diverted, we used four, 12,000 gpm pumps to remove the water from the mobile home park. After approximately 18 hours, the task was completed.

As the water recedes, significant challenges lay ahead. At this time, there are only eight known fatalities and 60 unaccounted for across the entire state. Estimates put losses at more than $2 billion dollars with the number of damaged homes at 17,500. More than 11,700 individuals were evacuated.

10 lessons learned
With the event largely behind us, it is time to reflect on what went right and what went wrong. Here are the top 10 things we learned.

1. One cannot have enough water rescue equipment at a time like this. We rapidly used PFDs for the water rescues. In some cases, we forgot to retrieve them. By the time the local EOCs were able to order and replace them, we were about out.

2. Personal watercrafts work well in deeper water, but in water only a foot deep they can scoop mud into the impeller. An inflatable boat would work better in a shallow draft and has pinpoint access using ropes connected to the raft for stability and steering.

3. Swiftwater rescue training does a great job preparing an individual for water running around 500 cubic feet per second. This event was projected to be about 10,000 cubic feet per second, forcing rescue personnel to be slower and more careful.

4. During rescues our personnel were pelted with debris ranging from trees, railroad ties and barrels to colonies of prairie dogs. We also had to anticipate health impacts from failed sewer treatment plants, septic systems and collapsed or displaced oil storage battery tanks.

5. That people want to see you in times like this, doesn't mean that they want to leave with you. Some will assume they are fine under the circumstances until water or food run out, or until the level of water continues to rise as you said it would.

6. Most fire districts around us sent their water rescue capabilities into the mountains to assist areas with significant flooding. When that water ran into the foothill areas, there were very few water rescue capabilities left.

7. Emergency operations centers had to deal with looting, road closures, oil tank failures, water line breaks, electrical systems collapsing and all that water. While they faced their tasks as gracefully as possible, they were unable to meet the request for logistical needs in the field in a timely manner. Look for alternative means to gain resources or pre-negotiate contracts for equipment and services. We were lucky to be able to provide for the basic human needs of our stations early in this event.

8. Swiftwater rescues took much more time as the unit assigned to this task had to keep up on road closures to ensure initial access routes could be completed and end up at the right area in the shortest time possible.

9. While we were not faced with the violence or mass casualties, we all worked long hours under stressful conditions. After the week-long operation, crews became short-tempered, forgetful and lethargic. It is important to crews that this type of physiological response was normal. Crews should be monitored for the next few months for extended stress-related issues.

10. Many of the homes lost belonged to firefighters. These brothers and sisters should expect our support and assistance helping to get things back to as normal as they can be.

It will take a few more weeks to be able to provide running water and sewer to homes in some areas. It will take significant effort to replace the homes that were lost. We may not have road constructed to get people back to their homes before the winter arrives. It may take as long as two years to get roads and bridges back to the state they were before the 10-day rain.

But make no mistake, all the personnel involved in this event can take home the pride of a job well done. Neighborhoods, individuals, private organizations, rescue groups, local and regional fire districts and emergency management personnel came together to deal with the impacts of the greatest flooding seen in Colorado in maybe a millennium. I am proud and honored to have been able to serve with such an august group of professionals.

Eight Things to Do for Your Crew in 2008

Posted on Wed, 2 Jan 2008 12:23:09 UTC

With 2008 under way, it's time for us to reflect on the year past and to begin developing our plans for the future. Here are eight straightforward ideas that company officers can use right now to help their crews stay ahead in 2008.

1. Be an informer
Passing on relevant information about decisions, plans and activities to the people (your firefighters) who need it to do their work is vital. You can't expect them to accomplish goals that they know nothing about. Discuss the daily objectives at the morning briefing, including any training, inspections, pre-fire plans or scheduled community education. You can never provide too much information to your people.

2. Promote the team
Crew cohesion, or working together as a team, is an important human factor in firefighter safety and for getting things done. Problems with crew cohesion have been identified with several near-misses and tragic accidents. Look for and promote good work practices that safely and effectively accomplish team objectives. Stress the importance of how individual capabilities contribute to the team's success.

3. Create a training plan to keep your crew ready Your training goal should be to prepare your firefighters to be ready to operate safely and effectively at any intensity level, anywhere, anytime, and to return home alive. Readiness training demands teamwork, dedication and sustained practice. Create a flexible and believable training plan that addresses the training needs for your crew while prioritizing those training needs, focusing on safety first.

4. Address problems as they occur
Be willing to confront problems head on and have those tough conversations with your firefighters. A team that is comfortable talking openly with each other, and willing to air their disagreements or problems, will move forward together. Identify and remediate all performance issues immediately, understanding that everyone operates at a different level.

5. Define your expectations and keep them believable
It's pretty simple. Let your crew know what you expect of them. Here are a few examples: Be safe by responding safely, following operational policies, maintaining and operating equipment properly, and practicing personnel accountability. Be proficient by training for readiness and improvement, arriving on scene ready to work, communicating effectively, and following the chain of command. Be professional by practicing a positive image all the time, everywhere you go. Be nice to each other and everyone you meet. If your team makes an effort to follow these basic expectations, you will have a safe and rewarding year.

6. Motivate them
Recognize the likes and differences of your firefighters to help you motivate them to be a more productive team. Appeal to their individual emotions and values to generate enthusiasm for their work. Invite their participation when making decisions, and allow them to have responsibility in carrying out their work activities.

7. Recognize and praise them, at the right time
Provide praise and recognition for excellent (not ordinary) performance. If it's really good work, put it in writing. Be specific about what you are praising. Give praise for weak performance that’s improving. Recognizing their efforts shows your appreciation for the work they do.

8. Support and mentor them
Act friendly and considerate. Be patient and helpful. Do things to facilitate your firefighters' skill development and career enhancement. Be responsive to their requests for assistance or support, and set an example for proper behavior. Be their leader.

Take some time and see if you can add a few ideas to the list. Even if you can only address a few of these recommendations you'll be on the road to developing a fresh attitude and healthy approach for a new and exciting year.

Safety tips for winter-weather response

Posted on Tue, 28 Jan 2014 08:28:50 UTC

Winter has settled in with record lows, dangerous wind chills and significant snowfall covering much of the nation. Unfortunately, how people respond to these weather events can result in house fires, automobile crashes, carbon monoxide poisonings and personal injuries.

Likewise, how you respond to incidents when the weather is a factor requires extra consideration to ensure your safety as well as those who've called for our help.

Statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association confirm what most of us know from our experience in the fire service: that house fires increase during the winter months. The majority of these fires are a result of food left on the stove, candles left near flammable items like decorations or curtains, or space heaters left unattended and close to flammable objects.

When we're called to a winter house fire, we're not just attacking the fire and smoke in the structure or searching for potential victims. We also have to be attuned to what's happening as a result of snow, ice, freezing rain or wind. Snow accumulation on the house and tree limbs, ice that may already be surrounding the house or that will develop from flowing water, and low-hanging or downed wires can all impede our work.

Maintaining situational awareness is imperative. Pay attention to what's going on around you on the scene, including with the structure and your crew. Proper ladder placement is critical in any incident, but when these harsh weather conditions come into play, we must be extra diligent. When possible get someone to heel the ladder for extra stability.

Road safety
Similarly, how people drive can be affected by the weather. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 24 percent of all vehicle crashes in the United States occur during rain, sleet, snow or fog, and the slick pavement it produces.

Keep this in mind when responding to the scene of a crash during bad weather: If the driver who you are on your way to assist had difficulty seeing due to fog, heavy rain or blowing snow, or hit black ice, you should expect to experience the same conditions. While it's important to arrive to a scene quickly, it's far more important that you arrive safely.

It's also critical to be conscientious of how you and others around you are driving at all times. It's common for motorists to become nervous behind the wheel in inclement weather.

That level of uneasiness only increases when they hear sirens or see lights behind them. Their reactions, such as stopping short in front of you or skidding into oncoming traffic, may result in another incident.

Drive appropriately for the weather conditions. And remember that driving defensively doesn't mean driving aggressively.

Above all else, use your seat belts every time wheels roll. Whether you're responding in your personal vehicle or department apparatus, it's imperative that you buckle up. It’s that simple.

The bottom line: Stay alert, drive smart, be safe and stay warm.

Rapid Response: Mass murder at Ore. college shows challenge, importance of good PIO work

Posted on Thu, 1 Oct 2015 20:28:09 UTC

What we know: A gunman entered a building Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Some of the first information about the active shooter incident came from the Douglas County Fire District #2 Twitter account:

The first tweet from @DCFD2

"Active shooter at UCC. Please stay away from the area."

A second tweet from @DCFD2 42 minutes later reported: "Active shooter scene is code 4. Multiple casualties all pt's transported. Media requests are being handled by Douglas County Major Crimes."

An hour later FOX news host Shep Smith lamented the lack of updates and the inability of local and national media to identify a point of contact for official statements from the scene.

Why it’s significant: Active shooters put an overwhelming strain on EMS, police, fire, and hospital resources. Of course the national media wants the latest information and details. But the need for timely, official and frequent updates about the shooter – active or neutralized, number and severity of casualties, and family reunification away from the school and at hospitals – is especially critical.

Top takeaways: This incident is only a few hours old and in the days ahead there will be much that firefighters medics can learn from the EMS response and treatment of the injured.

But right now, as this incident continues to unfold, these are my top takeaways:

1. Naming a PIO and identifying a media staging area is an immediate IC priority

In the earliest minutes of the response the incident commander needs to name a PIO and authorize the PIO to establish a media staging area. When there is no PIO the media fills the void with unconfirmed reports from parents, student tweets and elected officials that may or may not be on the scene.

2. Give frequent media updates

The PIO needs to be able to frequently, as often as every three to five minutes, share the latest information. Even the update of, "There is no additional update and the next update will be in 5 minutes" is better than no update at all. Encourage all media to follow an official Twitter account and hashtag in those updates.

3. Create an active shooter tear sheet

Every fire, EMS and law enforcement agency should have at the ready a single piece of paper – a tear sheet – that describes their preparation, training and equipment for active-shooter incidents. The info on this sheet about most recent training, response protocols, use of tourniquets again will provide useful content to local and national media awaiting more response.

What’s next: Families are counting on emergency responders to deliver information that is timely and free of speculation. An official spokesperson who is accessible as soon as possible reduces speculation and uncertainty, which is especially critical for the friends and family of the people directly involved.

Further reading on active-shooter incident response:

Active shooter: Rescue task force medics get to victims faster

Standard EMTs need to be ready for active shooters

Wis. EMS and police prepare together for active-shooter incident response

EMS response to La. theater shooting described

Why Acadian CEO’s La. shooting debrief video hit all the right notes

8 traits great firefighters share

Posted on Mon, 14 Sep 2015 23:14:10 UTC

After years of study and interviewing hundreds of great firefighters, leaders and thought leaders in the fire service, here are the top eight characteristics of the best of the world's bravest.

1. They expect success
Great firefighters and leaders have set an expectation for themselves to be the best they can be and to not leave anything in the tank. They have a personal standard that they will not compromise.

At times they get frustrated with the system or organizational flaws, but they continually meet and exceed the expectations they set for themselves.

They have a can-do attitude with a relentless work ethic. For them, it's not about if they will accomplish a goal, but when they will accomplish it.

2. They have a clear plan
Have you ever been driving down the road and — bam — a bird dropped it's business on your windshield? We'll that is not how becoming a great firefighter works.

It will not randomly hit you and you won't just walk into the firehouse one day and be great.

Great firefighters have a plan. They outline what they need to know, what classes and certifications they need to obtain, what skills they need to master. Then, they continue to stay sharp on those skills and work on their plan.

This plan takes them step-by-step toward being a great and respected firefighter.

3. They work hard
The fire service is a "doing" business. When someone calls 911, they are not looking for advice or an opinion. They are looking for someone to show up now and solve their problem.

Great firefighters work hard to perform at their best both mentally and physically. It takes hard work to stay mentally sharp and physically strong.

Great firefighters invest long hours training their minds and their bodies and practicing the skills that go into being a great firefighter.

4. They are teachable and a life-long students
One of the most common traits of great firefighters is their humility. The student is never greater than the teacher.

Therefore, for fire service leaders to move up the ranks and still be willing to learn from others, especially those below their paygrade, demonstrates their true humility.

This is what got them to the top and one of the main reasons it keeps them there.

When we stop being willing to learn and start thinking that we know it all, complacency sets in and we eventually get destroyed. Therefore, great firefighters stay humble and continue to be students of great firefighting throughout their careers.

5. They exercise self-control, persistence and delayed gratification
Find the most direct route to your goal, but don't fall for the short-cut trap; there are none. Great firefighters know that it takes discipline and time to maximize their potential. Exercising self-control, persistence and delaying gratification are cornerstones to building an enriching career.

A lack of self-control will cause firefighter burnout. This is not the same burnout we get from being overworked on our shifts.

Those who lack persistence and have false expectations on when they should be rewarded become frustrated and bitter. This can lead firefighters to quit trying to improve themselves.

An insatiable ego is linked to low self-esteem, selfishness and an inability to delay gratification. Do you know any firefighters who have an insatiable ego or who are bitter or burned out? Unfortunately, they are not hard to find.

Great firefighters have learned and exercise self-control to avoid burnout. They exercise persistence through the season they are in to meet and exceed the challenge and not fall into a false sense of expectation. They delay gratification knowing that it will come — it's not a matter of if, but when.

6. They are accountable
It's easy to point a finger and blame others or objects like an alarm clock when it doesn't work. But that's not going to make you or your team better.

You can play the victim role, but that is crippling because you give away your power. We always have a choice.

Great firefighters always take 100 percent accountability 100 percent of the time because that is where the power is. It is where you find the power to improve and the power to adapt and overcome.

If my alarm clock doesn't go off and I'm late, it's my fault. I am responsible for my actions, not the alarm clock. I should have two alarms clocks, maybe three.

Always be prepared with a back up plan. We have pre-incident plans in the fire service for all types of scenarios. Great firefighters have plans and back-up plans for all kinds of scenarios that they are responsible for to make sure they get the job done.

7. They surround themselves with great firefighters
Show me the five people you surround yourself with and I can tell you what your future holds. Humans are tremendously influenced by peer pressure.

This peer pressure can work for us and against us. It is usually talked about in a negative way like during our high school years. But, it works both ways. You become like those you spend the most time with.

Great firefighters know this and use it to their advantage. They surround themselves with other great firefighters and leaders to use positive peer pressure to their advantage. This is how they stay consistent and motivated in the pursuit of excellence.

8. They appreciate the past and the present
What we appreciate appreciates. In other words, what we focus on and invest our time and energy in becomes more valuable to us.

Firefighters have so much to appreciate about those who have come before them. They blazed the trail and helped raise the quality of the fire service.

We get to stand on the shoulders of those great firefighters and leaders. Yet we also must plan for the future challenges so that those who come after us can stand on our shoulders and continue this proud and selfless tradition.

Join in making the fire service better by reminding yourself of the characteristics that you have and incorporating the ones you need to. It starts with you and me.

Let's be the change we want to see in the fire service. Let's be the example of how to be a great firefighter and leader.

5 ways to prepare for an active shooter

Posted on Fri, 2 Oct 2015 22:28:01 UTC

The events in Douglas County Oregon reminded me that no one is immune to acts of violence: no town is too small, or too remote or too sleepy to eliminate the possibility of tragedy paying it a visit.

I reviewed the dispatch tape from this event and was impressed by the professionalism, the poise and the deliberateness of all who responded to what had to be a chaotic and horrific scene.

Police officers were on the scene in less than 4 minutes. They engaged and neutralized the threat in less than 5 minutes. Fire and EMS resources were marshaled quickly and efficiently.

Listening to these professionals do their work also reminded me of the things we all have to do to be prepared to respond to acts of mass violence in our community. Here are five of those items.

1. Mentally prepare
First and foremost you have to believe that this can happen in your community. It can happen to you whether you live in New York City or Roseburg Oregon.

Because if you don't believe in your that it can happen, you won't do what is necessary to prepare.

2. Build relationships
The next step is to review your relationships with the different people and agencies that will be involved in this incident. This includes those from law enforcement, public office, the media and neighboring emergency response agencies.

If you wait until the incident occurs to meet and interact with these critical partners, you are behind the curve. Reach out and get to know these folks.

Set planning meetings, exercises and drills to get used to how each of you work, what your operational imperatives are as well as each other's strengths and weakness.

Those relationships will pay off big time when a major event strikes your community. The plan is important, but the planning process is everything.

3. Know your limitations
Understand what you agencies limitations are. If you only have one ALS ambulance and 20 people are injured, you better have thought about where those other EMS units are coming from.

You better have a first-name relationship with and a phone number at your disposal for the person who can get those resources moving.

4. Deliver aid fast
Develop a plan to get medical aid to victims sooner rather than later. Sitting staged in a safe location away from the action doesn't cut it anymore.

Develop plans to provide care in the warm zone as soon as possible after injury. This means having an active violence protocol in concert with your law enforcement partners such as the rescue task force concept that couples EMS providers with law enforcement offices to get to victims in minutes rather tens of minutes.

5. Practice the plan
You can't have first responders to show up to an incident and be expected to jump into a dangerous area, wearing equipment they have never seen before, let alone worked in, and operate with people they don't know using unfamiliar terms.

This has to be a team sport, and successful teams practice together.

There are many resources available for responding to active violence incidents. There are many people who are willing to work with you. There are protocols and plans that have been developed that are yours for the asking.

But first you have to accept the fact that on any given day, in any given town, there are bad people who are capable of and willing to bring harm to your community.

Why fire departments must become risk-reduction departments

Posted on Fri, 13 Jun 2014 01:00:00 UTC

By Douglas Cline
Feb. 8, 2011
Updated June 13, 2014

Some fire service leaders expect that fire departments across the United States will see a paradigm shift from just emergency response services to a comprehensive community risk reduction and management focus.

You hear it as you talk with fire service leaders across the nation. National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer research documents are being developed and presented on this very topic. It was a discussion topic at an International Association of Fire Chief's strategic planning meeting.

So why do we need to change directions?

The fire service already handles the majority of emergencies and crisis within the community. We need to focus on a proactive approach.

This would allow for not only a safer community but help focus on the quality of life of our residents. Preventing incidents from occurring significantly reduces cost, improves the quality of life and increases the potential for economic sustainability.

New rules of engagement
The impact of budget cuts is witnessed almost daily in the fire service with browning out of stations, closing of companies, staff reduction through attrition and yes even critical staffing reductions by employees being laid off. The fire service has reached a new fold in its history.

With this new fold occurring we must adapt our philosophies, strategies and even our beloved tactics.

When corporations and builders engineer and construct disposable buildings then we need to tactically focus our efforts on engineering and code requirements of automatic fire suppression systems and early detection systems. When the owners and builders ignore this option and a fire catastrophe strikes, we need to use the new rules of tactical engagement.

Fire departments will need to shift from traditional emergency responses services and transition into a combination of emergency responses services with a primary focus on being a community reduction team focusing on public safety in a multidimensional approach of safe buildings through code enforcement, building requirements, environmental impact, community safety, responder safety, community health and wellness and community risk reduction through research and education.

We will become the mother ship that guides critical thinking in all aspects of safety throughout our community.

The fire service will need to focus on assembling a set of best practices in risk reduction and work diligently to manage risk via educating our communities, proactive engineering practices and code enforcement.

However, the fire service does not collect data well at all. We have to transition to being very analytical of collecting certain complete and accurate quantifiable data based upon a standard data model for comparative benchmarking studies.

The battle is won however on the proactive side through risk reduction and risk management. The long-term impacts will benefit everyone. Our success will be determined by not solely the retrospective data but community and family buy in. This relates to the true potential risk that exists, verses how it has been reduced

Fire service has a leadership crisis

Posted on Mon, 7 Apr 2014 15:05:54 UTC

After my last article, I received emails from various people around the country. Some offered thanks and support for continuing to carry the message on the importance of a diverse workforce.

Some gave me even more material to use in future columns about issues that women are confronted with. And some asked permission to reprint the article, which was nice recognition and another avenue to expose the issues women face across more audiences.

I have had the good fortune of meeting some amazing people in the fire service, from firefighters to chiefs, to magazine editors, to leaders of affinity organizations, to scholars, to political leaders, to vendors, and to members of other public safety professions confronting the same challenges we have in the fire service.

Throughout these brief interactions, I have met few brave enough to stand in front of a crowd and voice their heartfelt support on the issue of diversity in the context of their own failures. It has been a long haul of shaking my head wondering when the fire service would finally "get it."

Reason for hope
Why is it still an issue bringing women on the job, promoting women to front-line officer positions, or considering women in chief officer positions? Women lead Fortune 500 companies, women are in high-ranking positions in the military, two women have run for vice president, and we have real potential for a woman running in the next presidential election.

Recently, I received reason to hope that maybe some fire service leaders are finally getting it. IAFC President Bill Metcalf and Tucson Fire Chief Jim Critchley spoke at a conference hosted by the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services.

President Metcalf admitted that the fire service has failed in promoting diversity. I could not believe my ears when I first heard the words.

I made eye contact with various people sitting around me, and all of us had the same look of shock on our faces.

Then, Chief Critchley said that he had been confronted the day before by someone who challenged him to do more for women. He was told that it was not enough for fire chiefs to say they supported women, and that they were behind us and ready to be there for us.

Changing mindset
Instead, Chief Critchley was challenged to take the forward position on this issue, and lead from the front. Chief Critchley spoke clearly in admitting that there was more that he could, and should, do more for women in the fire service.

Standing before an audience of more than 200 conference attendees, two white male fire chiefs admitted failing women in the fire service. A truly cathartic moment for those of us who have been trying to represent and advocate on behalf of women for what seems like a lifetime.

President Metcalf offered two more issues that relate specifically to diversity. The first was that the fire service is in the midst of a leadership crisis due to the pending retirements of some of our most experienced leaders.

The second was the issue of behavioral health and the importance of fire departments offering programs to mitigate this latest industrial "hazard" that we are experiencing. I agree with the importance of these issues, but, pardon the interruption; we have a bit more to discuss regarding these two issues.

Leadership crisis
I would propose that in tandem with the inability of the fire service to sustain and grow diversity in the industry, we have had a leadership crisis for the last 30 years, starting when women first broke the barriers of entering the fire service.

How can I back up such an assertion?

Because I still hear and receive emails of the issues women confront. For example, two women who are in high-ranking positions in metro-size fire departments have recently been exposed to unethical management practices.

These unethical acts will significantly influence the ability of these two women to reach the highest-ranking position in their department. Both are highly qualified, highly educated, highly respected women. Both are being held back by other ranking chief officer making false accusations on performance issues or just frankly keeping women down.

And these women are defenseless. Their fire chiefs will not step in and correct the issues. If the women file an EEOC claim, their careers and reputation will take a beating. This is simply another failure in leadership.

Champions needed
The issue of behavioral health for women has been around for the same 30 years that we have been exposed to failed leadership. Women who are harassed, mistreated, shunned, discriminated against, etc … have been talking about behavioral health issues (like depression) for years. Yet, no one has been paying attention or admitting the significance of these issues.

Many women have left the service due to behavioral health issues. Respectfully, women are keenly aware of the failed leadership and behavioral health issues in the fire service. We are thankful that these issues are now being addressed on a broader scale.

Yet, our recruitment and retention numbers are diminishing. Women are leaving the service, retiring, and many, many departments do not have one woman on the job.

Have we missed our opportunity for women to reach critical mass in the fire service? Is it worth it for women to continue battling the same issues over and over? Will we overcome?

A universal problem
The good news is that the failure of leadership in the fire service is consistent with the scholarly opinion on leadership in general. Leadership development programs are failing across many industries.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to make the connection that more leadership development programs — degree and otherwise — should equate to better leadership. However, many agree this is not the case.

An interesting perspective on leadership development was recently promoted through a TED talk by Roselinde Torres, senior partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group.

Torres offered up the following: the reason leadership development programs are not producing 21st century leaders is because many of these programs are designed around a traditional leadership model that was effective 20 years ago.

Today's leaders need to be prepared to deal with complexity and information flow at levels never seen before, she said. Leaders must be more global, digitally enabled and transparent.

You can watch the TED talk to fill in the gaps, but the final analysis comes down to leaders answering three questions for themselves.

Making change
First, where are you looking to anticipate change? Who are you spending your time with; what are you reading; and how are you distilling this into understanding where your organization needs to go?

Second, what is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network? Who do you spend your time with — people like you or people different from you in any way possible so that you learn to establish trusting relationships that lead to the accomplishment of a common goal? Who are you listening to?

And last, are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past? Good leaders dare to be different.

Yes, President Metcalf and Chief Critchley, the fire service has failed. You both have shown tremendous courage in speaking to that failure and women do appreciate your support.

We will follow your lead. We will continue to be patient … for a little while longer.