Quick Clip: How to attack the McMansion fire

Posted on Thu, 6 Nov 2014 09:04:53 UTC

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In this week's quick clip, Chief Rob Wylie and Lt. Rom Duckworth talk about how to attack a McMansion fire.

"There are a lot of unique features to consider," Lt. Duckworth said. "As these things start popping up around your response area, you can't just think of them as slightly bigger homes. You have to take an entirely different approach."

Chief Wylie said pre-planning is the answer.

"Most people wouldn't mind you going around their house and taking measurements," Chief Wylie said. "As far as distances for hose lays, using preconnects, places to do ventilation, all of these things can be pre-planned just as you would on a commercial building."

How does your department pre-plan for these types of fires? Sound off in the comment section below.

Firefighter rehab lessons from a triathlon

Posted on Thu, 25 Sep 2014 10:40:42 UTC

I recently had the pleasure of providing medical support at a New Jersey Ironman event. While working in the medical tent at the end of the 1.2-mile swim, 50-plus-mile bike ride and 12-mile run, it struck me how in many ways it was similar to a rehab sector at a major fire.

But upon further consideration, there were some significant differences as well.

First, I noticed how varied the participants were in terms of physical condition. I expected most or all to be in excellent physical shape to participate in the event. But there were many who were somewhat overweight — but they finished.

We experience the same at a fire scene. Some firefighters are in excellent shape and others could use a bit more diet and exercise. As medical providers, we need to be able to treat individuals of all shapes and sizes. But I will note that at this athletic event, the overweight participants were not the fastest, but they also in general did not need our medical services.

"I did not prepare"
The participants that did need medical evaluation had an almost universal statement: "I did not prepare or train as much as I should have."

We can all take a lesson here. We need to prepare ourselves for the task at hand, whether it be running a marathon or making a grab at a working structure fire.

Athletes have the advantage of knowing when they are going to compete. We do not.

Career firefighters' call to duty may be anticipated by shift, but in reality we need to be ready to go any time the bells go off. We need to train and prepare ahead of time so we can be of service to our community and not a burden to our fellow firefighters.

Guerrilla triage
Operationally, we found it quite valuable to station a couple EMTs at the finish line. Our tent was close, but these "triagers" were able to eyeball each participant and assess whether medical treatment was needed or if the runner was simply tired.

This is exactly the role I tend to assume on the fireground as a fire department physician. As firefighters are walking around, doing their assigned task or approaching the rehab sector, I look them in the eye and watch how they walk.

I am looking for a purposeful gaze, a steady gait and clear speech. They can be tired, but they should not have an alteration in mental status. Those that show these signs are engaged for further assessment.

Just as at a fire scene, the environmental conditions play a significant role in the number of individuals that presented for care. On this day, it was cloudy with temperatures in the 70s. This was ideal and certainly lessened the impact of the exertion.

On the fire scene we need to be aware of the conditions as well. A hot day with high humidity results in significant exertion even at a non-working fire scene. Awareness and anticipation allow us to be better prepared to care for those that need it.

Difference in focus
Again, there are a number of differences between the triathlon and the fire ground. Now I understand that what I describe below may not happen everywhere, but I have seen examples enough times that we must acknowledge they occur.

None of the triathlon athletes were embarrassed for needing medical evaluation and care. They did not try to minimize complaints or issues and they were honest with the medical providers, even if they had to stop in the middle of the race.

Too often I see firefighters (and tactical operators, law enforcement and other athletes) minimize their complaints with a goal of getting back in the fight. This is noble, but we must admit that it may be a bit selfish.

If you are hurt more than you let on, you could be a liability to your department, your mission, or your team. Be honest with us and let us help you get back on your feet to fight, even if it has to be on another day.

Perhaps this was a unique group of people, but these tri-athletes really seemed to work with us. As a result, we were able to effectively treat them and the number that had to go to the hospital during and after the event was very small.

What's in a name?
Obviously the other major difference was the overall situation. In one case we have a recreational athletic event, and in the other someone may have lost a home, occupants or fellow responders may have been injured or even killed. The stress level is inherently different.

This may explain the denial of complaints seen at fire rehab; rather than a conscious decision, firefighters may not realize how injured they are due to their focus. In addition, staffing can be an issue.

The athletic event was planned months in advance and staffing was known. The fire scene is unplanned, and staffing may be stretched on both the fire and EMS side, limiting our ability to be efficient in the rehab sector.

These two situations seemed similar, but in many ways were not. Even the name was different — we were medical or Athlete Medical Support.

I wonder if our thoughts (and sometimes prejudices) about the activities going on in a firefighter rehab sector would be different if we called it Firefighter Medical Support. Perhaps the term rehab has a negative connotation — implying that something is wrong with you that has to be fixed, like physical rehab, drug rehab, rehabbing an old house for example.

Stay safe.

Why rescue is a thinking person's game

Posted on Wed, 8 Aug 2007 12:38:53 UTC

Updated Jan. 19, 2015

Years ago, when I took my first search and rescue class, the instructor talked about the six-sided review of a building or incident. "Look up, look down, and make sure you look all around before committing yourself," he told us.

Over the years, I have thought of that simple saying on many emergency incidents and have passed it on to thousands of my students during training. The bottom line: Don't get sucked into something before you give it the old once over.

It's easier said than done sometimes, especially when lives hang in the balance and quick action will affect the outcome of an incident. But what about all of those other occasions when you may have the time to do it right? ?

What is your approach and thought process when you come across a technical rescue or any type of rescue for that matter? Is it a well executed series of steps or a fly by the seat of your pants operation?

Good team members, the right tools and practical training shouldn't be under valued, but that doesn't replace mentally being on your game.

To do that, you have to do something that most people hate or are too lazy to do. Rescue is a thinking game. You need to play the "what if" game. "What if a car goes over that edge, what if that building falls down, what if that place blows up, what if I have to cut that guy in half to get past him, what if I have to crawl in that hole to get that victim?"

It's not enough to just know how to use the tools, or be well practiced or to have a cohesive team. Rescue is a thinking game, and the people who can plan ahead, see something coming and are ready for it.

Organized chaos
You're always behind before you get there, that's a given. But how far ahead of the incident are you when you arrive? I used to work for a battalion chief who would say, "You don't bring a crisis to an emergency." Sure it's organized chaos at some scenes, but your level of organization and the ability to achieve the required levels under the most impossible circumstances is the real key.

How many of us can say that we are "masters" of our craft and how many want to be? Chances are, if you're reading this column, you're already a student of the trade, which makes you a cut above the rest. But there is a lifetime of learning to be done and every day is a school day in our profession.

If you think that you know it all, have seen it all or have it done it all, we're all in trouble and chances are you're probably a liability at a significant incident. Confidence should never be replaced by arrogance.

Rescue is a thinking game. The best people who have seen a thing or two tend to mostly be humbled by the experience — they don't say much, but when the going gets tough they often get going.

I love watching new firefighters, they have so much energy and so much enthusiasm, and they're great to be around. It's also fun to watch them expend all of that energy to no successful end sometimes. But with age and experience comes wisdom!

The veteran firefighter may not always be as enthusiastic, but that tempered approach, years of real world experience and knowledge of the tricks of the trade, often carry them through most calls.

But to be in the class above, you have to love it a little more to be really, really good at it. Superstars train harder, practice longer and are very, very focused.

So what does it take to be a master of disaster? Out of the box thinking, the ability to write down your first 20-30 moves on any type of rescue with a twist and a constant desire for perfection. And don't forget the lifetime of learning, listening and talking about the "what ifs" of our job.

When firefighter courtesy-light laws go bad

Posted on Fri, 20 Nov 2015 15:16:46 UTC

I wasn't surprised by the amount of reader interest in the story about Pennsylvania State Police issuing warnings to firefighters for illegal lights mounted inside their vehicles. Since that story came out, I've been trying to put my head into that peculiar-looking trooper hat to see the world as they do.

No luck. I tried, really, I did.

I'm not buying the argument that there's a public safety threat if civilians somehow mistake a volunteer firefighter's POV with interior-mounted lights for unmarked or undercover police vehicles.

In fact, I'm not buying that the general public even makes that mistake. Most unmarked police units are the same make and model as marked vehicles. And undercover cars are unlikely to be tricked out with lights, because, well, they're undercover.

The notion that firefighters would be impersonating police is unlikely, though not without precedent.

I know there are incidents of young firefighters using their lights to pull motorists over or commit other missteps — like the guy who used his to make faster pizza deliveries. However, I'm sure that this behavior is not rampant or of epidemic proportion.

So, what's the deal in Pennsylvania?

We can speculate that it's a fairly local issue given how big the state is and how the warnings seemed to be concentrated around the Pittsburgh area.

Added burden
What I can say for sure is that this is a bad law and that laws like it may exist in other states. Many of those who commented on the story were unsure of the exact language of their state's courtesy light law.

Requiring exterior-only courtesy lights places undue financial burden on firefighters having to buy, mount and wire more expensive light bars. And as many readers pointed out, this will decrease the value of the firefighter's vehicle.

There are enough legitimate barriers to recruiting and retaining volunteers without this added burden.

In the past five years, LED technology has advanced to the point where a small dashboard light can be bought for less than $100. They are plenty bright, and even a simpleton like me can figure out how plug it into the auxiliary power port.

The story has reopened discussion on the value and proper use of courtesy lights by volunteers. When used right, they can aid a firefighter getting to the station quicker and delineate their vehicle if they respond directly to a scene, as some must.

Know your law
I'm in favor of allowing the lights, but with the understanding that they are used sparingly and with extreme caution. Many aspects of firefighting require firefighters to make mature and responsible decisions — navigating traffic is one of those, and we can handle it.

However, I'm not in favor of law enforcement using an outdated law to get at someone's pet peeve, if that's what's going on in the Pittsburgh area.

While the reaction from readers didn't surprise me, the reaction from the firefighters who were warned did. I would like to see more push back from the fire service. And if they are being conciliatory in front of the cameras and pushing back hard behind the scenes, all the better.

However, taking a "that's the law and we'll follow it" position is not the right response.

Again, this is a bad law based on suspect reasoning. There is some effort at the statehouse level to partially change it, but that will take time.

That effort needs to be supported, and in the interim, the police need to stop enforcing the law — dumb laws go unenforced all the time, just look at those archaic laws governing what consenting adults can and cannot do in the bedroom.

Take the time to review your state's courtesy light law. And if it's a dumb law, get on the horn to a friendly lawmaker to get it fixed.

Otterbox cases offer robust smartphone protection

Posted on Tue, 21 Jun 2011 15:03:20 UTC

With each new iteration of the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry or Android phone, consumers are faced with the same question: "How will I protect this device from the inevitable drops, falls, bangs, dings, and scratches that inevitably arise from daily use?"

That is even more relevant for first responders who, with the ever-growing use of fire, EMS and police apps, are becoming increasingly dependent on these pocket-sized computers to do their jobs.

For civilians, a broken smartphone means an interruption in their quest to defeat Angry Birds. For first responders, a broken smartphone could mean a lost life or a hamstrung investigation.

OtterBox, with their heavy-duty Defender Series cases, has created a level of smartphone protection that will keep your mobile device well protected through month after month of heavy-duty daily use.

OtterBox sent me a Defender Series case to try out with my new iPhone 4, but they also manufacture models for Blackberry, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, HTC, and LG smartphones, as well as the Apple iPad.

The effectiveness of the Defender Series comes from its layered design. Instead of a simple plastic or rubber case that clips around your phone, the Defender has several layers of protection to keep the phone safe from drops and scratches.

The first layer is a polycarbonate shell that clips snugly around the phone. A plastic membrane on the front of the shell offers durable screen protection, making an adhesive screen protection film unnecessary.

Installing the shell took less than a minute and, once in place, it felt totally secure; pulling on the front and back of the case didn't offer any give.

Surrounding the base shell is a silicon cover that smoothes over the base layer's hard edges and creates another level of shock protection. The silicon layer has flaps that cover all the iPhone's ports and clip securely shut, but can easily be pulled open for access to the charging port, headphone jack, and volume buttons.

With the first two layers in place, the protected iPhone then clips into a polycarbonate holster that holds the device face in or face out.

The holster is, essentially, a case for your case, and with the phone clipped into all three (polycarbonate shell, silicone layer, and holster), the phone feels extremely secure.

It's bulky, but not overly so, and for the day I wore it clipped to my belt it never felt intrusive or uncomfortable. Firefighters, Medics or cops — who are used to having gadgets hanging from their utility belts — won't notice the added bulk.

But the real question when it comes to smartphone cases is: How far can you drop it?

I tested it for myself, dropping my Defender-wrapped iPhone from waist height, and then chest height. No damage whatsoever. I was tempted to drop it off our balcony, but the memory of replacing the glass backing of my iPhone a few months ago stopped me.

I asked OtterBox' Public Relations Specialist Kristen Tatti about the case's dropping capability, and she said their rule is "Three feet to concrete," meaning you can drop it from your pocket without risk of damage.

Tatti added that local firefighters in Fort Collins, Colo., (OtterBox' home) have been outfitted with the cases, and all have raved about the Defender's durability.

"They say it's nice to have something sturdy so they don't have to worry about their phones," she said. "With more and more firefighters getting emergency pages on their smartphones, a broken device can really ruin your day."

OtterBox also makes lines of cases more sleek than the Defender, including the "Commuter" (a simpler polycarbonate and silicone combination) and the "Impact" (just a silicon shell). Visit OtterBox' website to learn about all their smartphone and tablet cases.

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

Unnoticed door locks increase firefighter risk

Posted on Tue, 17 Sep 2013 09:17:42 UTC

For many departments, the first-due engine is staffed with three to four firefighters, in some cases even fewer. There are five key job functions that must occur: size up, action plan, water supply, the initial stretch and forcible entry. These items will quickly tie up a short-staffed rig.

Luckily, in many parts of the country forcible entry is fairly simple. In many communities key-in-knob locks are the primary, if not the only device keeping the "bad guys" out of peoples homes. A short throw on the locking mechanism combined with wooden doorjambs means a very basic forcible-entry effort is all that's needed.

Recent UL studies — as well as years of studies from overseas, particularly Northern Europe — all point to the importance of door control on fire progression. Smooth forcible entry not only allows us to put the line in the right place, but also provides for better door control.

For many departments, the forcible-entry team will also be on the initial hand line. Quick and easy forcible entry allows for the team to still have the energy needed to make the attack.

Barring the way
It doesn't take more than a stroll through the local big-box home store to see that are several off-the-shelf devices to make door harder to force. These cheap and easy contraptions not only sell to homeowner's fears of invasion, but also require no skill to install.

The most prevalent are bars to buttress inward-swinging doors closed. And because they don't require additional hardware on the door or jamb, you won't necessarily know it is buttressed when sounding the door.

During a recent structure fire at a center hall colonial, after performing my 360 with no visible flame or smoke on the interior, it became clear that the unlocked side door gave the easiest, most direct line of attack for the first-due engine. The homeowners weren't home yet, but luckily the fire remained external due to a lightning strike. While walking through the house we discovered a store-bought device on the locked front door.

As we discussed the event later, some things became clear. Had the fire progressed to the interior, I would likely have placed the initial line through the front door.

The likely outcome
Our first-due engine would have begun forcible entry on that door and would have met with more resistance than seemed appropriate. The front door didn't have sidelights that would have made it possible to view the device from the exterior.

These slow downs would have likely led to a change in tactics, such as heading to the side door, and possible even a change in strategy given my team would have wasted time and energy on the front door.

Worse yet, had they headed in the side door, our truck crew would have begun to soften egress points incase the interior teams had to escape. Naturally the interior teams would consider the front door at the base of the stairs a natural exit, only to find it barricaded.

A quick web search of home door security bars will show the myriad of devices out there for the general public. Don't get me wrong; we can overcome these devices.

However, the standard size up isn't going to see the device and command is likely going to create an action plan that doesn't fit the tougher forcible-entry profile these devices create.

Add that to short staffing and everything slows down except the fire growth.

Fire service census: Beyond the numbers

Posted on Mon, 9 Nov 2015 11:36:56 UTC

The U.S. Fire Administration released its 2015 fire service census in mid October that gives us an interesting set of statistics on the state of the fire service in the United States.

On the surface, there is not much change from year to year. But perhaps more important are the analytic trends that we may see over time.

First, we might ask how valid is this information?

With more than 27,000 fire departments reporting, an approximately 90 percent participation rate, any pollster or research marketer would say that this data is highly accurate. In fact, most surveys are considered accurate with a 25 percent to 30 percent return rate for decision-making scenarios.

One of the first things we can deduce from the census is that for all intent, fire protection is still a local issue in the United States.

Eighty-seven percent of all fire departments in the country are volunteer or mostly volunteer — meaning that the fire service is still closely tied to local communities and provide several types of emergency services. Nearly 70 percent of all departments have only a single station.

In addition to fire protection, over 75 percent of all departments provide some sort emergency medical service — from first response to advanced life support. Again 75 percent of departments provide vehicle extrication, while slightly less provide some sort of wildland or brush fire response.

Head count
In order to determine trends in the fire service, I looked at some numbers from both 2005 and 2015. Surprisingly, the total number of firefighters reported in both years has held relatively constant, around 1.2 million throughout the entire country.

At first glance, this may seem to be good news. But over those same 10 years, the general population has grown from 296 million to an estimated 325 million — a nearly 10 percent increase.

In part, that is due to the increased life expectancy of our aging population. As more of the baby boomers grow older, they will increase the demand for fire and EMS.

So, the same 1.2 million firefighters are being called for essential emergency and non-emergency responses more times per day, per month and per year than the firefighters of a decade ago. In short, the resources are not increasing at the rate of demand.

The next time a local official says that fires are down and therefore you can get by with fewer firefighters, pull out your response statistics and remind them that we do more than firefighting. Also provide them with the demographics in your area to show that the overall service demand will be increasing, not decreasing, for many years to come.

Migration to paid departments
While some census statistics were not available by states, I can focus on another trend using Ohio as an example over the past decade.

When I left the position of state fire marshal, Ohio had 1,280 individual fire departments. That number has decreased to 1,143 in the current census — a drop of 10 percent. This confirms that in some states, consolidations and regionalization is a growing trend.

At the same time, Ohio's total number of firefighters has increased from approximately 43,500 to 50,000. In that same period, the number of career or mostly career departments has increased from 15 percent to 17 percent.

Without reading too much from the tealeaves, it would appear that some of that increase in the number of firefighters is in predominately career departments. This may also be a consequence of consolidations that now employ more firefighters in the career ranks.

What can we speculate for the future from this data?

Recruiting tool
As the array of candidates square off for the 2016 presidential election, there are several who have proposed various schemes for free secondary education including free college tuition. If that is an attractive concept to the upcoming generation, I'll add a caveat.

What if that educational benefit were tied to at least a three-year commitment to some sort of universal community service? In order to reap the benefit, a qualified individual seeking a college education would have to choose a service area — something akin to the National Guard, acting as a teacher's assistant, or becoming a firefighter in a local community.

A similar program has been used in Germany for decades and to this day there is no shortage of able-bodied volunteer firefighters in that country.

At one of my previous departments, we actively recruited college students from five colleges within a 25-mile radius of our community to become volunteer firefighters assigned to shifts at the station. We provided these students with the fire and EMS training they needed for state certification, a favorable environment for study, and access to high-speed internet.

At the same time, they were available to staff our initial response unit, providing better service to the community. Our regular compliment of firefighters still responded on all of the dispatches, but the overall response to the community was greatly enhanced.

As a secondary benefit, several of the students settled into the community after college and continued their service as volunteer firefighters or went on to the career ranks with a college degree.

A census such as the one provided by USFA is more than just numbers. Additionally, you need to do the analytical work to better understand the underlying trends behind these numbers and how they can be become a benefit for your department and your community.

Approach the census with an open, unbiased mind and perhaps you will see a new concept or discover a new idea that will help your department be more progressive — and one that will be around to report your progress in the 2025 USFA fire service census.

Apparatus Advances in 2007

Posted on Fri, 28 Dec 2007 10:00:00 UTC

Photo Jamie Thompson
Apparatus on display at the FDIC in Indianapolis in April.

At the beginning of the year, the fire apparatus industry really seemed as if it would suffer because of the new 2007 EPA Guidelines for Diesel Engines. While it wasn't all smooth, it didn't turn out as bad as some had imagined. Admittedly, it did require a lot of redesign and engineering of cabs and bodies to have the new engines fit. But it seems that sales have increased in the second half of the year, with many large orders being placed despite the new designs.

This year brought us the PUC from Pierce Manufacturing, which is a new concept that provides ease of maintenance with easier access to the pump, engine and transmission as well as a Pierce Pump. The vehicle also has more compartment space, chest-high cross lays and easier access to the rear hose bed by an angled ladder.

E-One had an extremely busy year, with several new products being launched including a new ARFF Vehicle, the Titan Force 6, with a five-person cab, exterior pump panel, multiple roof and bumper turrets, 3170 gallon poly water tank and a 437 gallon poly foam tank.

Also designed was the urban pumper, with a low ergonomic hose bed and a hybrid energy command vehicle for homeland security use. At FRI in Atlanta, it introduced a new SUV command vehicle — Comms-One — which promotes command interoperability in radio communication.

In more recent months, KME introduced the Challenger pumper line. The Challenger family features 36 different body configurations in steel, aluminum or stainless with 29" deep body compartments for added storage. It has numerous hose bed and compartment configurations including high capacity and low, easy-access hose beds. All can be built on KME Custom or commercial chassis.

Meanwhile, Ferrara's main launch in 2007 was the Heavy Duty 5 section Midmount ladder, which touts a shorter wheelbase and a lower overall height.

In addition, Crimson has built a new pump panel — ControlXT — in conjunction with Fire Research Corporation. It incorporates a more easy-to-read panel with engine information, water and tank level gauges, pressure governing systems and other customer-selected controls and displays. ControlXT will be standard or optional on all Crimson product lines.

Finally, Rosenbauer America debuted the T-Rex in 2007. In conjunction with Metz, the new articulating platform sets up in 25-30 seconds, has an aerial height of 102' equipped with a 2000 gpm pump and room for 115' of ground ladders. It also features a platform collision avoidance feature and a 1400 lb tip capacity.

All of the manufacturers are building and designing with firefighter safety in mind, which in my book is something that should continue in the coming years. More attention is being placed on larger cabs with more room for firefighter comfort and safety, lower hose beds and increased storage space as well as multi-tasking vehicles because we are all trying to do more with less in this day and age.

Just when you think nothing else could be possible, the fire apparatus engineers come out with another new idea that takes the industry by storm. With all of these new innovations that were introduced this year, I can hardly wait for the offerings in 2008. It should prove to be an interesting year. If that is not enough, newer stringent EPA Diesel Engine requirements crop up again in 2010. Oh well!

Greek tragedy for firefighters

Posted on Mon, 12 Jul 2010 14:35:47 UTC

By Jay Lowry

What does the Greek financial crisis that hit the headlines earlier in the summer have to do with fire stations being built?

A great deal. Unlike 20 years ago, we live in a very connected world and the global market is influenced by local events with repercussions felt in cities and towns across the United States.

When Greece received a bailout from the European Union, stocks plummeted in the United States — and didn't stop dropping for a while.

Why should firefighters or EMS care?

There is a steady drum beat for financial reform including pension reform, eliminating deficit spending and reducing salaries. These are local effects of a national and even international problem. NFPA 1710 staffing is being attacked as wasteful and the financial crisis helps those who want to have barebones service.

Some firefighters state this was the worst budget year in history. Not hardly.

In many areas, the big bust will be the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 budget cycles.

The mood of the country coupled with rising debt, deficit spending, massive entitlement programs and loss of investor confidence will combine to make the current situation look tame.

Warren Buffett is known as the "Oracle of Omaha" because of his financial acumen. Testifying before Congress last month, and in subsequent interviews, Buffett discussed rising concerns over municipal bonds.

He has divested, as have others, in muni-bonds because cities and counties are finding it very hard to make payments. This is very bad news.

All is not lost. Fire and EMS will survive but both must plan for tighter budgets while educating the public on the importance of the services performed.

The economy will rebound eventually but don't expect it to happen soon. Even so, the effects will have consequences for years to come.

Fire and police: Bridging the divide

Posted on Mon, 9 Nov 2015 11:36:56 UTC

Detroit's mayor and city council recently made Eric Jones the next fire commissioner. He comes to the position with a purely law enforcement and administrative background.

Commissioner Jones has impressive qualifications. He has over 25 years as a law enforcement officer in Detroit. During his time as a police officer, he obtained a law degree and passed the bar exam. He has deep professional and personal ties to the community. His son is a Detroit firefighter.

He has been the top administrator in a city department. But he's never been a firefighter.

I am guessing I am not the only one who wonders how this decision will be received by rank-and-file firefighters. It reopens questions of the value of fire service experience versus administrative experience when leading a department.

It also opens questions about the relationship between police and fire departments.

Why the disconnect?
Historically, there have always been rivalries between police officers and firefighters. Mostly these rivalries are good-natured, but sometimes not so much.

There are the stories of public altercations and police officers arresting firefighters at emergency scenes. And then there was the lack of communication and coordination between police and fire in New York City on 9/11, a division caused by many years of bad blood between the two departments.

What has caused these conflicts and disconnects? Police and fire departments may support significantly different organizational cultures, but essentially they serve the same mission: to safeguard the community in crisis and prevent harm.

But the differences are real. Historically, police officers are armed and the ones who deal exclusively with crime and violence. Firefighters are not armed, and their focus has traditionally been dangers caused by hazardous conditions rather than people.

Over the years, these lines have been blurred in many ways. Firefighters often find themselves dealing with law enforcement issues, whether it is in responding to emergency medical calls or investigating suspicious fires. Law enforcement officers must often take command of incidents that go far beyond just criminal activity and encroach on what has typically been the domain of fire departments.

Thin purple line
These blurred lines of responsibility and authority have caused tension in some agencies. Firefighters complain that police officers are overstepping their authority at scenes. Police officers complain that firefighters get in the way rather than support their efforts.

Firefighters complain that police get more money. Police officers complain that firefighters always want to be the good guys and paint cops as the bad guys.

Sometimes disagreements are minimal — low-level gossip or fleeting resentments. But sometimes these conflicts translate into organizational cultures that put two agencies that should be supporting one another in opposite camps.

You can see this play out on MVC scenes where firefighters' goal of restricting traffic for safety is at cross purposes with police officers' desire to keep traffic moving. You can add to this, scenes where police are first to arrive at a structure fire and attempt search and rescue or where firefighters deal with EMS patients who become aggressive.

Having police and fire departments perceive one another as enemies or even competitors does not serve anyone's needs. What can a fire chief do to improve relationships and collaboration between these two entities?

Common ground
When I was a firefighter, my department had generally very good relationships with the city police department. Any individual differences were just that and did not translate into organizational conflict.

What factors contributed to this good relationship? Without a doubt, one factor was that in our city, police and fire shared a common localized pension system. Our pension was administered by an equal number of elected representatives from the police and fire departments.

The pension board allowed police and fire to work together on an issue that was of great common interest to both groups. It was also an issue outside of each agency's usual locus of control.

The pension board was collaborative, friendly and completely on the same side of the common issue. And since all board members were accessible to all pension members, it was common for a firefighter to call up one of the police representatives with a question and vice versa.

Cross-training is another way that police and fire can better appreciate and support each other's essential roles. For example, some fire departments have created teams of SWAT medics to directly support police intervention. Likewise, some police departments have trained members to do first-response at hazardous materials incidents.

Top down
Collaborative scenario planning is another way for police and fire to be on the same page when such coordination is most needed, which may be the best opportunity for volunteer or combination departments to work with police.

This type of planning often happens at the top levels of each department and its success or failure depends on personal commitment among individuals in those positions.

And this brings up the most important factor that contributes to good relations between any two agencies: commitment from the top down that such cooperation is not just nice to do, but essential to be able to jointly achieve the core mission that the organizations share.

This commitment must be expressed not just in official statements, but in all everyday activities: refraining from gossip, speaking well of the other, seeking out ways to connect face-to-face, supporting the other in the media and in public gatherings.

This assumption of support does not mean that police and fire departments can never be critical of each other.

Quite the opposite: when a relationship of trust is assumed, then people can be honest, critical evaluators of the other when such diversity of opinion is most needed. But this kind of disagreement should always be done in a way that is respectful and not based in self-interest.

Fire and police departments ultimately do different aspects of the same larger job of keeping the community safe. The more these agencies understand one another and practice collaboration, the better that mission will be achieved and the safer everyone will be.

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.

Rosenbauer steps into the chassis market

Posted on Thu, 15 Mar 2012 09:50:18 UTC

Not wanting to wait till FDIC, Rosenbauer debuted its completely new cab and chassis at a viewing for sales people, local firefighters and some members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

After a two-year research and development phase, the company decided to manufacture its own cab and chassis at a new recently rented 34,000 square-foot factory.

Rosenbauer wanted to be in total control of the manufacturing process not just building the body, but the whole vehicle itself.

The present design will be available in six cab configurations and five options for cab interiors with seating up to 10 firefighters. The cab is constructed of 3/16-inch aluminum and is available with a wide grill and optional round or rectangular headlamps.

The most noticeable difference on the cab is its one-piece windshield, which Rosenbauer said gives a greater unobstructed view. The company also increased space for foot and hip room for the driver and officer. The floor in the cab is completely flat on all options or cab configurations.

The vehicle comes with Weldon’s V-Mux electrical system, Hendrickson front suspension, a high-performance air conditioning unit providing 67,000 BTUs of cooling power, as well as wider doors and steps for easier entry and egress, and a wraparound dash for driver ease of operation.

Along with the Cummins EPA 2010-compliant engine package, which is available up to 600 horsepower, the vehicles will come with either 3000 or 4000 EVS Allison transmissions and will be available in single- and tandem-axle models with up to 60,000 pounds of axle weight.

I am sure we will see some additions and modifications made to the vehicle in the coming months before the first vehicles leave the factory.

But according to Rosenbauer, over 25 vehicles have already been sold. One of the first is going to the Goldsboro Volunteer Fire Company in Caroline County, Md.

A family-owned business founded in 1866, Rosenbauer has built global partnerships with 11 manufacturing locations worldwide building innovative, safe firetrucks. For more information, click here.

Top 3 products you can't get in the US — yet

Posted on Mon, 22 Oct 2012 16:40:56 UTC

Three interesting products were demonstrated at the European Resuscitation Council 2012 Congress in Vienna, Austria, last week. They are all so brand-new that they're not even available in the U.S. yet.

Physio-Control based out of Redmond, Wash., unveiled its newest product, TrueCPR, a standalone CPR feedback device designed to provide rescuers with real-time feedback on chest compression depth, rate and quality. TrueCPR utilizes Triaxial Field Induction (TFI), a magnetic technology that overcomes erroneous overreporting of compression depth from devices currently on the market when used on a mattress or stretcher. Physio-Control expects to launch TrueCPR in Europe shortly and in the U.S. in 2013.

RhinoChill, a unique therapeutic hypothermia induction device, was on display by Benechill International, from Wallisellen, Switzerland. Designed for initial induction of therapeutic hypothermia in the pre-hospital environment, RhinoChill uses a nasal cannula like an intranasal cooling catheter to cool post-cardiac arrest victims rapidly. An inert coolant is delivered through the catheter while flowing oxygen or compressed air to facilitate evaporative cooling of the brain, effectively lowering core body temperature. BeneChill International currently markets RhinoChill in Europe and expects approval in the U.S. in the future.

The Corpuls CPR, a new automated CPR device, was introduced by Corpuls, Inc. of Kaufering, Germany. Expected to be released in Germany and the rest of Europe in 2013, the battery-operated device includes an integral long backboard and features adjustable depth and rate parameters. The manufacturer has no current plans to bring the device to the U.S. market.

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
Website: http://www.cuttersedge.com/

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 www.cuttersedge.com) 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.

How the fire service assassinates its leaders

Posted on Mon, 1 Dec 2014 16:54:32 UTC

As many of you know, Fire-Rescue International 2014 was held in August in Dallas. Since Dallas has hosted FRI several times, I always stay at the Hyatt Regency, which is only two blocks away from Dealey Plaza, the crime scene of the assassination of our 35th President of the United States John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

One evening as I was coming back from dinner, I walked through Dealey Plaza and sat upon the very stone pillar from which Abraham Zapruder filmed the assassination. I sat that evening and reflected on what happened on Nov. 22, 1963. That afternoon, our country lost a president, a woman lost her husband and two children lost their father.

Any person who studies history and is familiar with this event can form their own opinion of whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or whether it was a conspiracy that involved Lyndon B. Johnson, the CIA, the Russians, Fidel Castro, the mob, or any combination of those and others.

At 12:30 p.m., more than just a president was lost. He was a leader with ideals and convictions about where he felt our country should prevail and emerge. As with any president, not everyone will agree.

In fact, Kennedy took on several unpopular situations such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, his instructions to his brother Bobby Kennedy to take down the mob, and his fight against communism. With any issue, there are usually proponents and opponents. Unfortunately, his convictions to taking on the issues led to his death.

Challenging the norm
Things aren't much different in the fire service. We have leaders who challenge the norm, and they too can find themselves the brunt of ridicule and attack. I certainly experienced it with my previous two articles on "fire porn."

It was easier for some to attack and call me names than to consider the other side. It simply puts them in an uncomfortable place; their response is to lash out, and I generally understand that. Flattering to me though, it seemed more supported my position and opinion that a change in what we view as our mission is in order.

When assuming a leadership position, you must know that you will take some heat. It is a privilege of the position. Leaders emerge when things aren't easy. We all look for someone who is competent, capable and willing to take charge of a given situation that isn't easy.

I reflect back to taking the reigns as fire chief for Riverdale, Ga. I was the first outside chief the organization ever had. I was 29 years old and had three battalion chiefs who had 30-plus years each in the fire service, and I was coming from the state fire marshal's office as a fire prevention advocate where, coincidently, the former chief was the new state fire marshal.

Needless to say, I had a few hurdles to overcome, but I was committed to serving the members of the department and the community.

Keeping the focus
Yes, I took criticism because I had to make changes that were unpopular. Everything from anonymous letters to websites were assembled. At times, it was painful because it became personal.

Over time, I learned that you must stay focused on the task and mission at hand, but most importantly, you must remain committed to those who choose to follow and rely on you. You will find that you have more support than you know.

In many of the leadership positions I've held since, I have always had some who opposed, challenged, or disagreed with me. Over time, I have learned to appreciate a different perspective.

In fact, during the onslaught of the negative comments on the fire porn columns, I "liked" them in the Facebook fashion. I truly meant that I appreciated someone taking the time to read my thoughts and reflections, and then to comment, good or bad.

There was only one or two who called me names and had no basis for their ridicule, and that is just a variable that comes with leadership.

Assassinating character
Unfortunately, in many of the fire service websites and blogs, we "assassinate" many of our leaders' character, integrity and ideals. Don't get me wrong, there are many in recent recollection who have committed "leadership suicide," and most likely are deserving of the many negative comments they receive.

However, in today's instant gratification of the Internet and social media, it's easy for people to express thoughts and feelings in a hurtful and undeserving way. The "you pile on, we all pile on" effect can occur, which leads to individuals who know little to nothing about the individual or the situation chiming in with ridicule and criticism.

The effect of this public ridicule now is there are many talented individuals who could be great leaders but are reluctant to take on leadership roles. I can't tell you how many individuals over the last two years have told me they are content where they are because they don't want to face the same stress of criticism and ridicule by the detractors as they have seen their boss or chief go through.

That folks, is leadership assassination.

Being brave
You have to be brave to step outside the lines and challenge the norm. You have to be brave to say and do what nobody else is willing to do. You have to have the energy and understanding to see through the negativity, to find the truth, to see a different perspective, to be vulnerable on occasion, and to keep moving forward.

Leadership is not easy. It has challenges, but it should always be embraced as a privilege and met with enthusiasm.

History has told us that President Kennedy was warned of the dangers of going to Dallas. He understood his role as a leader, he embraced it, and moved forward. We know that in this extreme case, it cost him his life.

However, we must be mindful that our words can be just as deadly as bullets, and can have an equally riveting effect on individuals.

We, as a fire service, must be conscious to develop leaders and their skills, not assassinate them.

Be safe.

How fire departments went from volunteer to career

Posted on Tue, 14 Jul 2015 10:50:35 UTC

On April 10, 1845, Pittsburgh's volunteer firefighters had an abundance of spirit. But as fire companies, they were unprepared to face the most disastrous fire in the city's history.

Despite their failings, the city nonetheless paid them tribute for saving several notable buildings and slowing fire spread on the flank running parallel to the Allegheny River.

America in the early decades of the 1800s was in a period of rapid industrialization. While cities grew increasingly more combustible fueling the public's inherent fear of conflagration, there was as yet no sustained call to replace the volunteers.

It took changes in the demographics of volunteer membership and the introduction of steam fire engines to push the transformation that led to professionalism.

By mid-century Pittsburgh's volunteer companies, as in other cities, were places of male culture tinged with aggression, competitiveness, a sense of patriotism, and connection to neighborhood. Volunteer rowdyism was widespread, contributing to the loss of public confidence and respect, but the failure of the volunteer system was not the sole reason for the establishment of a paid professional service.

The new politics
In the second half of the nineteenth century municipal governments reorganized under new models as the influence of politics in local government operations grew.

Men running for public office acquired votes and power through political bosses. Volunteer fire companies were the type of neighborhood-level organization that could make or break a person's political career.

The push to replace Pittsburgh's volunteer firefighters with a professional department came from politicians and businessmen, the community elites of the city.

In Pittsburgh, the impetus for change came from Christopher L. Magee. In 1870, Magee was president of Consolidated Traction Company, the owner of the Pittsburgh Times newspaper, cashier of the city treasury, and city treasurer.

Magee studied municipal governance structures in Philadelphia and New York and came to the convenient conclusion that cities needed "bosses" to make them safe and secure places.

Not simply skilled in business administration, but political control as well, Magee tapped into his business connections and applied his political skills to build a power base within the city's Republican Party machine. This necessary strategic consolidation of power paved the way to rid Pittsburgh of its disorganized and unmanageable volunteer fire companies.

Insurance scam
For home and apartment dwellers, fire posed a daily threat to lives and property. But to business and factory owners, fire represented something different. For them, fire was a risk to their investments.

While we think of the risks from fire losses as being covered by fire insurance, successive conflagrations in American cities in the nineteenth century threatened the financial foundation of fire insurance companies.

Insurance in that era was an unregulated industry and many fire underwriters were under-capitalized, meaning they lacked the capital reserves to pay out the claims they were insuring.

In short, though you paid your premium with no guarantee the fire insurance company had the reserves to cover the losses sustained during a great fire. Business owners thus had a strong interest in ensuring that all fires were attended to quickly and fought aggressively.

In March 1870, Pennsylvania's governor signed legislation granting powers to Pittsburgh to establish a municipal fire department. With this law, Magee and Pittsburgh's elite had the necessary power to transform the city's fire department by dismantling the volunteer system.

As they saw it, the city's fire problem was significant, complex and diverse making it reasonable that a fire department should be run as a large business or corporation would, with trained managers issuing orders to workers who carried them out soberly and faithfully.

Business of firefighting
In the first seven years of the department's existence, five men held the position of chief engineer. All five had been volunteers and provided the critical continuity for a smooth transition.

Importantly, Magee neutralized any potential disruption to his political-machine by appointing volunteers to leadership positions in the new fire department and ensuring that other volunteers were shown preference in receiving appointments.

Through strict enforcement of rules and regulations covering behavior while on duty and attending fires, the problems inherent to a volunteer system were avoided.

City administrators made sure the fire department followed proper purchasing procedures and accounting rules. The members of the department wore uniforms to show loyalty to the organization as opposed to a single fire company, as well as to make them noticeable to the public as their servants and protectors.

The rules demanded courteous behavior while on duty, not only to interactions with the public, but with each other, requiring officers and firefighters address one another by surname only, and showing a respectful manner. The prohibitions included profanity, smoking and drinking alcohol.

The meaning of professionalism
Applying a corporate culture to a municipal fire department produced a well-managed department. Whether it produced the necessary component of leadership is open to question and it appeared that way to one nineteen-century fire chief.

That man was Eyre Massey Shaw, commanding officer of the London Metropolitan Fire Brigade.

During a visit to the United States around 1870, Shaw encountered a prevailing attitude among American fire chiefs that he deemed unprofessional. He offered proof of this in what became a famous quotation about the job of a fireman.

Shaw spoke of an American fire chief who claimed that the way to learn the business of being a fireman was to go to fires. Shaw, himself a colorful character, observed that the chief's statement was as preposterous as a person wanting to learn the job of a surgeon by going about lopping off people's limbs.

Today we know that going to fires is a critical component of learning to be a good firefighter. And while Shaw was pointing out a questionable attitude, he knew going to fires was important. That is evident as Shaw never missed a day in his first six years as chief, endeavoring to attend all serious fires in London.

What Shaw was implying was that there was more to the profession of firefighting than a well managed, business-like organization.

Shaw, himself an ex-military officer, believed in training, study, practice and drilling as the foundations of professional firefighting. The American belief that esprit de corps or attitude was all that a department needed would in time show itself as a fundamental weakness resulting in negative attitudes toward formal learning in firefighting for many decades.

While the metropolitan departments established formal training programs, it was not until after World War II that the states established firefighter training programs.

By the 1970s, the basis for certified training programs grew from national standards written by the National Fire Protection Association. With formal training programs based on a national curriculum firefighter training became universal for all fire departments and with it professionalism spread.

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 www.firefighterbehavior.com 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.

3 habits great firefighters share

Posted on Fri, 13 Nov 2015 23:15:01 UTC

Habits are an interesting and an integral part of who we are. And there's been a great deal of research into how and why habits function the way they do.

In his 2012 book, "The Power of Habit," Charles Duhigg writes that in the past decade science has learned more about habits than we ever could have dreamed of 50 years ago. They aren't simple to build, break and change, but it can be done and we now know how, Duhigg writes.

As with all other aspects of human life, habits dictate what type of firefighters we are. Here's a look at three habits great firefighters share and those who want to be great aspire to develop.

The habit of training
My personal mantra is that every day is training day. Every day we have the opportunity and the responsibility to fulfill our ability and calling to be the best firefighter and leader we can be.

Every day we have a choice to do something that will take our skills and career to the next level. Every day we can build upon our foundation to be ready when the moment comes when we are called upon.

Every day we get to live out this awesome calling of being a firefighter. There are never two identical fires and there are no two days that are identical. There are patterns and similarities, but we never know exactly what can happen at any given moment.

So great firefighters have the habit of taking every opportunity to train. Training includes practicing skills on the training ground and around the firehouse. It also includes reading articles, listening to podcasts, taking classes, reading fire service and leadership books, reviewing case studies of close calls and LODDs, taking care of our bodies and more.

Firefighters need so many skills that we cannot waste any moments we have to train, otherwise we will limit our potential. So make every moment count. Train like your life depends on it, because it does. Train often like your big one is coming next week, because it just may.

2. The habit of teaching
We've all heard that all-too-familiar expression, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." This maybe true for some, but great firefighters and leaders know the truth. Those who can, do and teach those that can't, so that those that can't, can.

True mastery of a subject comes from doing and teaching. That's because doing something with near flawless expertise takes a deep level of understanding. But passing that skill on to others takes an even deeper level of understanding, which is mastery.

There are so many challenges to transferring knowledge, skills and abilities to others. Among them, students will challenge you with questions and scenarios that you have not foreseen.

This in turn will challenge you to go deeper into the subject and solve these challenges. And that, of course, is how you master the subject. That mastery will be the return on your investment of doing and teaching.

Great firefighters know this and therefore are always looking to teach and train others.

3. The habit of being prepared
This is common sense because the fire service makes its living on being prepared. We train and prepare for scenarios that others don't. That is why they call us: to help them out of a problem they are unprepared to resolve.

We have prepared with the right equipment, personnel and training. We have contingency plans with contingency plans. We have mutual-aid agreements and access to additional resources so we are prepared for whatever happens.

With all this indoctrinated in us, how can someone not be prepared? How can a firefighter be late? How can a firefighter not have a change of clothes?

There are times that we don't carry our skills and training into our personal lives. Great firefighters and leaders use those same skills in their personal life so that they are always prepared for whatever is thrown at them.

I have multiple ways for making sure I am up and early to work. I have multiple sitters on call for taking care of my children, multiple bags of clothes and a little stash of money just in case.

In fact, my wife told me that it's a little ridiculous to have an emergency fund for my emergency fund for my emergency fund. Yes, that's three emergency funds. But, I told her, we never know. We could get hit with a three banger and I want to be prepared.

Great firefighters have the habit of being prepared. Yes, it is a habit. It is a choice that we make and then continue doing it to make it a habit in all areas of our life. This includes being prepared for work as well as our finances. It includes our family arrangements, our cars and our health.

Which of these three habits do you do? Which one if any are you going to implement in the next 30 days?

Schedule it in your calendar for recurring and you will find yourself doing what great firefighters do. Remember, reading an article doesn't make us better. Implementing it makes us better. Go for it.