Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Can you provide any Assistance?

Some time back I gave a driver training classroom session for many of our drivers. As part of presenting useful information they could use, I went into some detail about the various tools available at the Dispatch Center. Being a rural county in non-flat terrain, finding locations can be a challenge at times and they have acquired and become adept at using various software tools to help all the agencies they serve. They have satellite photos, tax maps, GPS tracking, etc. I explained each of these and their uses to the class and encouraged them to make use of the dispatch center when they were in need of assistance. “Think of your Dispatcher as another person on your crew” I told them.
Just a few short days later we were dispatched to a medical emergency at oh-dark-thirty and it was my night on. “Podunk Rescue, respond to 25 Elm St, for an elderly female with abdominal pain”. Dutifully, we did just that, but when we arrived on Elm St. we could not locate number 25, but we could find most of the adjacent numbers. My driver was getting impatient and fidgety and wanted to start cruising around. I latched onto the teachable moment and said “Hey Bob, hang right here for a minute. Remember what I said the other night about Dispatch?” “Yeah!” he said, “Lemme try” and he picked up the mic and called Dispatch: “Control, this is Medic 88, we are having difficulty locating this residence, can you provide any assistance?” “Medic 88” Dispatch came back, then began to speak in that slow, clear, and purposeful tone you use for a small child that does not understand why they’ve done something wrong: “You are looking for………. NUMBER TWENTY FIVE……… ELM……. STREET”. My driver was non-plussed and keyed up “Understand control, we are out in the area and unable to locate that number, can you provide any ADDITIONAL assistance?” He looked at me to see if it sounded ok with no sarcasm and I nodded an approval with a little smile, glad that he kept his cool and sounded professional. We perked up when we heard the squelch break again, expecting the useful information we needed. The dispatcher had a one word answer: “No”. I was stunned and my driver was confused. While our heads were still trying to digest this single syllable rebuff, a different voice came on the air with what I had expected originally, “Medic 88, number 25 will be the third house on the right, it shares a driveway with number 23. Follow the long driveway up and past number 23 and you will find a yellow raised ranch about 100 feet further on.” I smiled at my driver and off we went. I found out a few days later that we had a new dispatcher that night who didn’t know what kind of ‘assistance’ we were looking for. I thought that was a new voice, but at that hour my brain don’t work so good. We had a good laugh over it later, but I would have paid good money to have a photo of my face when the dispatcher came back with her simple “No.” It must have been precious because my Driver still tells the story and giggles like a little girl when he comes to the part where he explains my expression in great detail.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Servant Leadership

When I was thinking about the demise of Medic999’s Blog for the previous post I remembered a comment he made during the live audio webcast for the most recent set of ‘A Seat at the Table” recordings. I had gotten home late after another rough day and remembered the live feed, but got there pretty late when they were halfway through the third session. I listened in while I reviewed email and did other computer chores. It was most interesting after they ‘wrapped’ and left the mic open for 15 minutes or so and we got to hear several broken conversations abut moving forward and follow up thoughts on comments made during the sessions. As they were not taping, there was no mic coordination and some things were hard to hear. There was a comment, only partially heard about how a good leader serves those who follow him/her. I heard Mark ask “yes, don’t they call that ‘slave leadership’ or some such thing?” and a comment was posted on the chat screen correcting him that it was actually called “Servant Leadership”. I am familiar with this term and concept and had intended to make a post here or follow up with an email to Mark expounding on the topic as I thought it would be a valuable topic to get out in the main stream. Alas, with Mark’s site gone, this forum will have to suffice and I can only hope the 5 people who read this blog will get the word out.
Briefly explained, Servant Leadership is a concept whereby the Leader’s main purpose is to serve the needs of those he leads. That is to say that the leader’s job is to make sure the people he leads have the information, tools, training, support, or whatever else they need to get the job done. This allows those being led to accomplish their goals without constant and persistent direction from the Leader. Done right, it provides a certain level of personal satisfaction in the ‘workforce’ in that they have met their goals largely on their own with the tools they have been given, and it also satisfies the Leader in that his ‘crew’ is functioning well with minimal intervention.
Of course, the devil is in the details and this process takes a lot of skill and a little extra work initially, but just as it stands, wouldn’t you think this might be a great concept? I did, and that’s why I have been practicing it for over 10 years. I can tell you that it is indeed, not easy. You need to make sure your people know what is expected, and what is not. You have to be VERY clear. Putting things in writing provides a ready reference for everybody as to what was said, and it also shows that you believe in your plan enough to commit it to writing and stand behind it, or modify it as new things are learned.
You also need to be consistent. Leaders who cannot control their emotions need not apply here. People need to know how you will react in a given situation and you need to control your reactions to comply with the message you have previously sent. If you ‘change directions’ on them, they will quickly lose interest in trying to work as a team. When you do need to change directions, they deserve an explanation so that they understand why a change was required. Admitting your own mistakes is part of the job. Nobody should expect a Leader to be perfect, and one that can admit mistakes and move on will have a crew that should be able to do the same without being made to look foolish. We save a lot of time, effort, and credibility when we say “Hey, that was a really bad idea I had, let’s not do THAT again. Do you have any ideas we might use?”
There are many other facets to this whole concept, but the point is that you can make it work anywhere in any organization if you put the effort into it.
You might be thinking that it can’t work in a paramilitary organization like Fire and EMS, but I can tell you that it can work well. Of course when on the emergency scene we need to follow the chain of command, our SOP’s, and there is little time for counseling sessions on the fire ground. However, creating a group that knows their job well, and allowing them to do that job can create a lot less stress for the Leader as well as the group. It allows everybody to take ownership of their part of ‘the job’ and take pride in the result.
So why is this important enough for me to put out there for you to read? Well where I live, in the volunteer fire service, I have found that people don’t usually volunteer to work for, or with people that are poor leaders, bark orders, cover up their own mistakes, blame others, or generally are not enjoyable to work with. If they do join up, they leave pretty quickly when they learn how things go. The better the leaders, the better the organization runs and survives. I firmly believe that the lack of volunteers in our service is directly related to the Leaders that run it. We need to work on this as ‘JOB ONE’ until we get it figured out. Getting and keeping people will be much easier after that.
Leader’s who can work well as servants typically are looked upon as being “lucky” to have such a great crew. The truth is, they made that crew what it is, but prefer to let the crew get all the credit. After all, somewhere in that crew are several new Leaders learning how do it right.
For some proper and more thought provoking writing on leadership please go read Mick Mayers work over on Firehouse Zen where I have long been a fan and learned quite a bit. This piece has his take away messages from the loss of Medic999. It’s a good read and I sure would like to buy Mick a cup of coffee someday and share thoughts.
So now I am going to ask you if you’ve ever had a Leader that you enjoyed working with? This would be somebody that made you feel like part of a team and who appreciated your contribution. In short, it would be somebody you would want to emulate. Can you tell us what traits that person exhibited that you found worth emulating?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Down Time

This is my first feeble shot at a Blog Carnival submission. I don’t write much about subjects which are handed to me, but what the heck. I waited too long and will have to post this when I didn’t want to, still being in mourning at the loss of Medic999, but here goes. It’s a first shot and maybe some folks will come and read it, then look at the other offerings I have.
As I work in the volley side, our definition of “down time” is somewhat different from the career. Career folks spend their time at the station or out on posted positions. Volunteers show up to work when called, with a some exceptions. Many volley EMS Squads do duty periods and I know of at least a couple of Fire Departments that maintain a response crew 24/7 in the station to provide initial response. The closest my Department comes to this is when we have storm standbys, or are ‘moved up’ to cover another district while they work a major incident. Those occasions are rare, probably happening 3-4 times a year.
However, I do keep myself available most of the weekends when I am home because everybody else is out working or doing family stuff. That would have to be my down time. I work on Squad record keeping to try and bring us into the 20th century, supply orders, coaching and consoling members who need support, and repairing gear that a lot of people throw out because ‘it’s broke’. I also clean and make sure my gear is up to snuff and ready to go. I am never happy with how I set “my stuff” up and am constantly fiddle-farting around with it. Lastly, I think. Actually, I think a lot while I am doing all that other stuff.
I think about how to make improvements, how to make people happier and better in their jobs, and how to make our lives easier and safer. I believe thinking is way underrated in today’s society. I think about our last call and what went right and where I could have done better, then I prepare a plan for the next similar call. You see, I am not a real quick thinker on my feet, so I find that having a pre-programmed response to various incident types and locations helps me function more efficiently and safely. I believe most good EMS and Fire folks do this, or they should.
In the volunteer world there is little difference between down time and off time. I define off time as those periods when you cannot respond, such as your child’s wedding, a special anniversary, when you’ve had ‘adult beverages’, or when you are ill. The rest of the clock is fair game.
Speaking of which, I have to go clean my bunkers of all that crap from the last call. See you on the street.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mourning The Loss of a Close Friend

It’s been a crazy week for me.
Lots of hours at the ‘regular job’ working on salvaging time on a major project that one of my c-workers had allowed to get off track, had me working 13-17 hour days at the end of the week to get things back on track with some good old ‘hands on time’ while trying to see what else was needed to pull things back into line, all the while, my co-worker had ‘other priorities’ that left the project in my hands. (I wonder if he’ll have ‘other priorities’ when he needs a new job?) I’ll let the boss worry about that part when he returns from an overseas trip in 2 weeks. I also had the usual 3 nights out for the Fire Service (meetings, drills, etc).
But the real stressor this week was learning around mid week that Mark Glencourse had reached the difficult decision of shutting down his blog “Medic999”. Being the professional that he is, Mark would not explain the details that caused him to even consider this decision. He preferred instead to respect even those who are taking pot-shots at him and allow them to remain hidden while he was fully exposed. Mark allowed them (in my eyes) to remain cowards and keep their dignity, or at least not have to come out publicly and wage a fair fight based on facts.
It is always difficult to do mental battle with unarmed people and I am guessing that Mark saw the futility in this. In addition to his reputation (which remains stellar), he has his livelihood and his family’s future to consider. I am also guessing this is what led him to give into the pressure of the cowards, and I have no doubt this is the tool they used to get their way. The loss of this Blog is quite palpable to those of us who read Mark’s posts everyday. For myself, he was like a co-worker who would share stories about how his day went and interesting things that occurred. He would also ‘talk to me’ about things that were bothering him and I would have an opportunity (through the comment section on his blog) to offer encouragement, a pat on the back, or if I thought I could help, even offer advice.
Mark and I sometimes corresponded directly and I recall one evening where it was already ‘late’ where I live that I had dropped Mark a note. A response came back in 5 minutes even though it was an ungodly hour where he lives. We had 4 or 5 notes back and forth that night in a half hour period, until I finally told him he needed to get to bed because I was going to bed.
Mark also did things FOR me as a friend would do, although he never knew it. He would put up a post that hit a chord for some reason or other and I would realize that the story would be helpful or instructional to one of my people or fellow Officers. I would send the link to them along with some comments to help them see how they might apply it. It opened discussions that Mark was not part of, or indeed, even aware of. His actions traveled farther than he knew or will ever be able to document.
On the comments section of Mark’s final post is a comment by a “Capt. Tom” that speaks of leadership and the courage it takes to put oneself ‘out there’. I would like to echo that sentiment here. Mark is not only a leader but he is the kind of leader who sets the example for others to follow in everything he does. Such people become ready targets for the insecure. I have had very similar experiences myself and can say that the effort it takes to continue, because you know you are doing the right thing is…. Well, let’s just say it has to be down there somewhere for you to pull it out and keep going. Mark has this rare quality.
Mark, along with his Bro’ Justin were the inspiration for this blog you are reading now. I had always liked to write despite my lack of skill and thought this might be an outlet for the frustrations I experience. At best, I might be able to pass along some information that might be useful to others whether intentionally, or by accident. Now I know that only about 5 people ever found this blog, and I haven’t seen a comment in months, and so can conclude that I lost those 5 readers and am writing for myself. But that’s OK. Someday maybe somebody will find this little corner and start reading the old posts and find something they can use. In the meantime, I hope Mark sees this one so that he knows he made a very real impact on one Volunteer Fire Officer and EMT out in the middle of nowhere who is concerned about keeping his people safe and their skills sharp.
Mark, you will be missed. More importantly, your contributions will be missed even though I know you will quickly (if not already) have found a new way to make a difference. I will miss having that blog out there ‘trolling for newbies’ who happen along, get hooked, and start learning things they never realized were important. You won’t get this effect while writing for the big EMS publications. Those formats speak to folks who already ‘get it’, not the ones who need to get that ‘first contact’ with new ideas.
Hang in there Mark, and make sure we all hear the splash when you jump into a different pool so we can come and watch the show.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can I really do this?…..Part 2

So if you’ve read the previous post you know of my self doubts when I started in this game. I’m sure you had yours also. I knew if I made it through the major cardiac job I was in pretty good shape, but I had never in all my experiences, an experience with a lot of blood. I had seen and worked with a severed finger or two, and back about 25 years ago I took a co-worker into the hospital that had opened up his arm with a spiral laceration that started above the elbow and ended at the tip of his pinky, (Funny, but we never thought of calling an ambulance, just wrapped him up and put him in my truck.) He was in surgery for 8 hours while they tried to repair the nerve damage followed by 6 months of rehab, but I digress.
All those jobs I handled as a layman had blood for sure, but none were the big bleeders. I had concerns that all that blood might be distracting enough to keep me from doing a proper job…..
It was a cool early spring evening, just around dusk as I was headed home from shopping in town. I heard the page go out for a Department in the town next to ours, the town I was in right now and it sounded bad. Car vs. Bicycle up on the four lane that I was just pulling onto. I had no choice but to pass the scene and I was ahead of all the responding apparatus. There was a Chief Officer just in front of me as I pulled into a parking lot 100 feet short of the scene. I grabbed my turnout coat and caught up with the Chief as he approached the scene. I identified myself and offered to lend a hand until his crew showed up and he accepted. The Medic unit pulled past us and got to the patient first. It was the call I dreaded. The pool of blood coming out from under the patient kept growing by the minute, definite multi-system trauma. It was a high speed hit and run. The Medic got busy quick as there were lots of people standing around and watching, but not being any help. The Medic’s EMT partner had the unmistakable ‘deer in the headlights’ look, He was freaked, no doubt, and he was useless to his Medic. I stooped down and asked the medic if I could lend a hand. He didn’t look up, he was too busy, he just asked “Do you know your CPR?”. “Sure”, I said. He nodded at the patients chest and just said “Show me”. I went to work and started to hit a rhythm with the medic, stopping when he tried to get the tube, putting some cric pressure on to try and help him, and verbally directing his EMT through the motions of getting a backboard in place and preparing for packaging. The Medic began to speak to me in low tones to let me know what he was thinking and what was coming next. He knew I could hear him and get ready or think ahead and make sure he got what he needed. He wanted to get the patient off the road and into the rig where he had lights, it was now full dark. We could not kneel on the ground to work on this patient because it was just one big puddle of blood. We boarded the patient quickly, and moved him to the stretcher in almost one move. Then up and into the rig as others grabbed the gear and piled it into the side door. The last thing I did was ask the EMT if he was “OK” to drive, he looked at me like I had insulted him, but didn’t say a word, just climbed in the cab and turned the rig around and headed out.
And it was over, just like that. My total time on scene could not have been more than 6 minutes. I spoke to the Chief and asked if I could do anything else even though I knew the answer. He said “No, but thanks, appreciate the extra hands and those are good ones you’ve got there.” I left the scene and got back in my truck and waited in the traffic like everyone else. I never saw that EMT again, but I see that Medic regularly although that was the first night I worked with him. He has taught me a lot over the years and I love working a job with him. He’s one of the best I’ve ever worked with. In all the calls we’ve worked, I never discussed that first call with him. I guess I knew all that I needed to know. I answered my own question and never worried about it again.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Can I really do this?

CAUTION: Long Post Ahead...
Last month the Handover Blog Carnival was hosted by Steve over at “The EMT Spot” and the subject de jour was “What was your ‘Moment when it all clicked’?” I’ve been enjoying the blog carnival since Mark started it last year, and this last issue was no exception. I even thought of posting an entry, but I still had not gotten back into the writing mode. Now that I am ( back in writing mode) and have a few minutes, I thought I would take a shot.
I tell this story a LOT to new EMT’s as a way to explain how we all go through similar adjustments, fears, and self doubt as we enter this field. I am thought of as a pretty solid EMT by most folks I work with, especially the new ones who don’t know any better, and many have a hard time believing I ever doubted myself and my abilities. So, let’s go back a few years (ok, many years)…..
At this stage in my ‘career’ I am a newly ordained Certified First Responder (CFR, one step below EMT-B in our State) and have been a functioning and active driver for a couple of years. I had taken the class and got my ticket because I was frustrated when we could get a rig out for an ‘off-hours’ call but had no medical folks to initiate care until our backup ALS arrived. Most of these calls I could have handled just based on my life experience and knowledge, but without the proper credentials, I couldn’t offer anything more than conversational therapy. So I jumped in and soon realized that now I would have to handle more than just the simple bumps, bruises, lacerations, belly aches, and all the other things we see every day. I began to wonder how I would perform when the big one hit and I had arrived first or second to the patient’s side. That would put me in the position of making decisions and ‘doing stuff’ that could make all the difference to that patient. I thought about this a lot and worried that I might not function as well as I needed to. I had two main concerns: 1) What about the major call, where what we did would undoubtedly make a difference in whether that patient lived or died?, and 2) What about the ‘big blood’ call? I had never had a call with a LOT of blood and wondered how I would handle it, and if indeed I could do the right thing. I thought about these questions for about a month before the first one was answered.
The scene: It is Sunday on a major religious holiday weekend in the spring at about 6pm. A family has just enjoyed their big dinner and had a nice afternoon enjoying each other’s company. All the kids and grand kids came to spend the day with Grandma who is finally going to a doctor the following day to get her long standing issues looked at. Grandma is tired from all the activities and goes in to take a shower while her kids are washing the dishes and cleaning up the house after all the activity of the day. A loud ‘thump’ is heard from Grandma’s room and when they check, they find her on the floor. 911 is called and I am ½ mile away when the page goes out. I throw the family in the car and head for the rig, but it passes me already headed to the scene 2 blocks from the firehouse. I turn around, tell my family to ‘wait in the car’ and head across the lawn. The rig driver calls out to me and throws me a BVM (Bag-Valve-Mask) and says they need it inside. I head in and look around: We already have a competent Officer in charge trying to usher family members into another room but stops when he realizes that the new EMT at the patient’s head has forgotten all of his training and is losing it. He has not begun any treatment and is confused. The Officer kindly and gently says to the EMT “um, Chuck, you know the family, do you think you could come out here and help me collect some information? UU is here and he can take over from you. I could really use your help out here.” I am disarmed by how calmly the Officer got things re-arranged and I quickly find myself working next to a very experienced and competent EMT who is presently overloaded. When I land on my knee, he barely lifts his head and just says “ Can you take the airway?” “Yup” I replied and tilted the head while I fumbled for an OPA. I got the OPA in (much easier than on a plastic mannequin!) and started bagging. CPR was rolling along and we were in a groove pretty quick as the equipment was coming in or being setup. The AED says “NO SHOCK ADVISED” and I think ‘Damn!’ but I keep plugging and am now starting to think beyond what my hands are doing. I call for a backboard and begin to converse with the 2 others who are now working the patient. We are planning how to get the patient on the board and out of here without losing the rhythm any more than we have to. 1-2-3 and she is on the board and secured, then onto the stretcher as ALS arrives. The ALS rig is a ‘double medic’ which is rare in our parts, and soon two more off duty medics arrive who are volleys on our Squad during their off hours. Grandma doesn’t know it, but she has 4 of the best Medic’s in the county working on her.
ALS sees how tight the bedroom is and they decide we need to get her out to an area we can work, so we roll her out and I see that our fire police and firefighters have cleared the dining room out so we can get through easily. “This will do, right here” says the lead Medic. We stop there, switch out the AED for the Monitor/AED, get some lines started, I turn the airway over to an EMT and run out to the rig to get the portable suction unit I have requested twice and nobody can find. I run it into the house, set it up and get suction going on the patient, showing the ;’Airway guy’ how the switches work on this unit, just in case he missed the in-service on it. I ask around the gurney if anybody needs anything and get “it’s all good” as my only answer. Drugs aren’t working, defib isn’t helping, the patient is in PEA (Pulseless Electrical Activity: The signals are there, but the muscles are not responding). The medics decide it’s time to move out. I grab two armfuls of gear and do a run-around on the gurney, jump in the rig, stash the gear, and start setting the rig up, get the O2 turned on, get the suction pump running, and all the inside lights on just as they bring the patient into the rig.
At this point I am thinking ‘whew, I’m glad I’m done here’ and I start to climb out of the jump seat to make room for a Medic or EMT better trained to do this. (By this time we have amassed about 10 extra people on the front lawn and I see 4 EMT’s among them. I am assuming one of them will take my place because I am just a CFR. Nobody steps forward.) As I start leaving the rig, the first Medic enters at the head of the stretcher. I wished him luck and said I would get him a fresh EMT if he wanted it. He grabbed my shirtsleeve and flipped me back into the jump seat. “You just stay right there and keep doing what you were doing.” I said to him “You know I’m just a CFR, right?” His hands never stopped working as he positioned all the equipment and worked with the other Medics to get set in the rig all the while compressions continue, I am unconsciously hooking up the O2 to the BVM and getting some more suction in the airway so they can get another shot at dropping the tube. He never looked at me and spoke like an old geezer sitting in a dark bar dispensing wisdom to some kid who needs it. In a calm, relaxed, and conversational tone he said “Look, you are doing a great job and right now I don’t care if you’re a flipping Cardiologist or a Janitor, what I need is someone I can trust to handle the airway while we try to get the damn tube in and you have just been elected.” ‘OK’, I thought, ‘You’re the boss’. So off we went on the 15 minute run to the hospital as I watched and learned and did what I was asked. Mostly I watched and learned. Grandma didn’t ‘make it’ but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Four good Medics, a super quick response (the first responder was on scene in under 2 minutes of dispatch), and all the tea in China could not reverse what had happened to this woman over the years of avoiding the Doctors and proper medical care. We arrived at the Hospital, the Doctor did his assessment and ordered the cessation of resuscitation. I collected gear to return to the rig and when I looked into the back of the Ambulance I realized it was a mess we had. Lots of stuff on the floor: papers, wrappers, some ‘wet stuff’, and tubes hanging here and there. Then I took a look at myself: Soaking wet and beginning to smell a bit from all the sweat. I took a walk out to the heli-pad a dozen yards away and had a cigarette. My hands were shaking just a bit and I had some strong emotions boiling up. Strangely, I had no remorse or sadness and this surprised me. Someone had died here and I wasn’t sad. Instead, I felt elated in a queer sort of way. I was pleased that this patient had received every lucky break to save her life and everyone worked well together, but it was just going to happen. This wasn’t ‘our fault’ and I fully knew that. I felt good because I didn’t ‘mess up’ and I found that I could, in fact, ‘do this job’. Of course I felt pretty bad about the fact that I felt pleased with the way the team worked.
The medic came out and asked how I was ‘doing’. “OK”, I said “I’ll start cleaning up the rig in a bit, I just need a minute to calm down.” He looked at me, and looked over at the rig and said “Yeah, that rig is a sh—house now, sorry about that.” “You know” he went on, “something you said back there gave me the impression this might have been ‘YOUR FIRST’, but working with you I had the impression you have done this a few times before. That’s why I kept you in the rig. You did good and should be happy with that. It’s all we can ever expect.” “Yeah, I know”, I said, “I have done this before, but this is my first time ‘on the job’ before today, it was as an untrained civilian and it wasn’t pretty. Today I was hoping somebody else could step in and help get a better result. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” “No”, he said, “This isn’t a movie and you know that. You did good today, we all did, and that’s all I can give you.” “That works for me” and I looked at him and gave him a smile and got to cleaning up the rig.
Question #1 had been answered and at that moment I had no idea that question #2 would get answered in the next 2 weeks.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Time to Change Brains

For the first time in a long time I have to leave town for more than a couple of hours. I was sitting here relaxing and thinking about the upcoming drive to a neighboring state to visit family I haven’t seen in about 20 years. We’ll probably be gone for 8 hours or so, but that is enough to lose touch with what is going on in ‘the District’ and possibly miss a big job. It has been a lot longer than I realized since I left town. Usually I have the occasional 1-3 day business trip, a visit to the State Fire Academy for several days, or some sort of weekend vacation or activity. I don’t think I have been out of pager range in the last 6 months now.
I’ve been in town so long now that it’s hard to drop out my brain and relax. Spending the day with civilians that have no idea of what I do back at home makes me feel a little awkward and it is at times like this when I realize that his job has a profound effect on me and the way I see the world. Each time I go away it gets harder and harder to change brains. Every time I find myself in the Academy Dorm, or a hotel room in Texas or Chicago I relax because I know if nothing else, I will get to sleep through the entire night without the pager waking me up.
I have cousins 2 states away that I visit every couple of years (not the subjects of today’s trip), but even when I visit them I am mostly in my normal alert status because one of my cousins is Chief of the local Fire Department and he understands me better than most, as I do him. In addition I have been visiting that area since we were all kids and spent the summer days in jeans, work boots and no shirt out in the fields cutting and baling hay. Good times, and it feels like home when I go there even though some of the fields are growing condos now. The last time I visited him was for an LODD funeral of one of his people. I will be seeing him for a weekend next month and maybe this time I will hop a ride on one of his calls.
Today I’m going into a city-suburb environment that is very foreign to me (hell, they have hydrants ALL OVER their district!). They have lots of traffic and strange driving habits ‘down there’. Lets see if I can still change brains and fit in.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Did you ever feel like the Maytag Repair man?

Yeah, you know the guy, he sits around all day waiting for someone to call for him to come repair their washing machine. He never gets a call because Maytag machines are so good and he winds up finding other things to fill his day.
Well, tonight I feel like him. I heard a call on the radio for a chimney fire in a district about 15 miles from here, too far for mutual aid, for us anyway. It turned out to be a working structure fire. So I’m sitting here listening to the second alarm and all the dispatches for mutual aid, move-ups, investigators, draft site setup, etc, and I am thinking “Why can’t that be us?”
Now this thought surprised me quite a bit. You see I am not, and I never hope to be, one of those whackers that goes nuts on a big call or wishes for one in our district. I HATE these guys. I would really prefer that everybody stays safe, does not wreck their car or burn their home, have medical emergencies, suffer trauma, or anything like that. I would like to stay home. I don’t not wish ill on anyone, and lets face it, we make a job out of other folks mis-fortune. We train and PLAN for it, that’s why we do well at it. We EXPECT it to happen and we KNOW it WILL happen.
As I’ve mentioned before, we are a rural district. A few years back, not too many, we responded to 15 working structure fires. Some were pretty ugly and some were a lot worse. But we were good at it. We had several nice saves that year. We got popular with our mutual aid companies too, being called for working fires all over because our interior teams were hardened and had it all together. We had discipline, did our jobs, and got out. No muss, no fuss, no big deal. A very tight group. Any department that called us knew what they were getting and knew they could depend on us. They often used our Chief to handle the interior attack teams and coordinate the suppression effort.
We train hard and often, even today. We get down on ourselves when we don’t get it quite right in training or on a real job. We take the job seriously. Unfortunately, not all Departments run this way.
We haven’t had a working fire call in over 2 years. We have had several structure fire dispatches that have turned into “saves” with minimal damage. We have had a couple that would have been workers if the residents had not made the right call and summoned us when they did. I know that these should be counted as victories and they are. We feel good when somebody can sleep in the same place they woke up in because we provided them a hand at the right moment..
Still, we have qualified (read: “Properly and fully Trained”) Interior Firefighters that have not seen a ‘worker’ yet. I’m getting old quick. The last worker I went in was a hardware store fire (a year and a half ago?). We saved the building (and when I say “we” I mean all the companies on scene, not just our company, it’s a team effort) and the business was re-opened in a couple of months better than ever. The good part of that job was seeing the owner in near tears asking politely if we could ‘just get the computer out of the his office?’ and we managed to do that for him. It was still in working order and he could have kissed us all. The bad thing about that job was seeing the lack of discipline from some of the other companies. They didn’t stick with their assignments, redirected their efforts on a whim, free-lanced, and did things that made us all realize they could get us hurt if we paired up with them. Standing 6 feet in front of a 8 foot wide plate glass window when heavy black smoke is pushing out of the eaves is not the smartest thing in the world, especially a building filled with paints, chemicals, propane bottles, and all sorts of other goodies. The first arriving engine parked broadside to the front of the building and 15 feet away. This clearly shows a lack of training and endangers everyone.
Staying sharp is difficult when you don’t get the practice. If you don’t get the practice, the interest in training drops. If training drops, skills drop accordingly. It’s an ugly spiral.
So now that I’m thinking this through, it’s probably not that I wish we had a worker to get the juices flowing. What I am really hoping for is something to keep the interest in training and skills going. Sure, if we had a true working fire that would get the juices loaded for a few months, but perhaps, as an Officer, I should be looking for other ways to accomplish the same thing. Hmmm….
Nope, not coming up with anything that gets the crew roused as much as a working fire. Does anybody out there have any ideas to share? What we’re looking for is something that builds confidence, tests skill, enhances camaraderie, contributes to trust between crew members, and re-enforces the training. In addition, there should be the requisite adrenaline boost and overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.
I’m still drawing a blank here.
Well I can tell you that I am not ‘wishing’ for a structure fire. It’s December and that means ice, frozen fingers and toes, slipping around at the draft site, slipping around at the dump tank, pumps freezing, frozen gear inhibiting movement, and MANY extra hours of putting equipment back in service. Trying to load frozen hoses in pickup trucks to get them back to the station and thaw them out to drain them gives me nightmares. A few years back there was a major structure fire a few towns over that resulted in three frozen and cracked pumps on three engines costing those companies many thousands of dollars. Before you say “well, those pump ops were poorly trained” hold your tongue. It was 10 below zero that night, the incident ran 7 hours, and the pumps were in recirculating mode when they froze and cracked. It took a week for neighboring departments to help the ‘home’ department repair, clean, service, and put them back in service. Each department volunteered a night to go down and help them out.
So no, I do not wish for a structure fire tonight, or any night. But I do wish that somebody could tell me how we prepare for the ‘ugly night’ when we seldom have an ‘ugly night’.

Small Towns, Part 2

So again, it’s a holiday weekend. A good part of our active members are out in the next town on parade duty and we have light resources in town. I have the ambulance parked in my driveway, and a partner at his house ready to respond. I just have a feeling the weekend isn’t ‘over’ yet. So here, the previous post continues….
My instincts (ok, lucky guess) was correct and we did get a slightly out of the ordinary call and although dispatch gave us terrible information which sent me in the wrong direction, I was still first on scene and after a quick size-up, called in a second alarm for more manpower and the Rescue with a stokes basket. The Chief heard the traffic and turned out for the call and added a request for our six wheeler. That turned out to be a great idea. We had a patient who had slipped while fishing and possibly dislocated his knee about a half mile from the road. It was a long rough walk in, and we had to cut a path with a chainsaw to get out. Each of the 10 people we had in there was needed, plus Fire Police controlling traffic out on the road. We got so turned around that I called on the radio and asked the ‘road crew’ to sound a siren so we could check our direction of travel. All well and we had him out quickly and even had the patient laughing as we picked our way through the woods. Now if I can overcome the humiliation of falling ON the patient as I approached him, it will be a good memory. I had approached him from behind, asked him if his name was ‘Fred’, and he replied “yup, that’s me, the dude that broke his leg, just when the fishing started to pick up”. I knew we had an airway and an oriented, calm patient. So I put the gear bags down, observed his position partially in the water with his right leg bent and it appeared he had an odd protrusion of the knee. His partner had placed a tackle box under his head for support and I reminded myself NOT to step over him, but walk around. As I did this I stepped on the little edge of pond scum that the water always laps onto the shore. I went down like a sack of potatoes and the next thing I knew, I was laying perpendicular to my newest patient and possibly about to experience as much pain as he was. We were both laying on a flat, clean rock perhaps 12 feet by 30 feet long. We call it ‘ledge rock’ around here. I landed on my left hip… hard. But worse, I touched Fred on the way down. At that point I had not even asked him which leg was damaged so I tried, in the three milliseconds that I spent falling, to miss him. I succeeded to a point, but I did touch his ‘good leg’ and moved it. His good leg supported his bad leg, so they both moved. I immediately looked at his eyes when I hit the rock and could see that I had done him no good at the same moment I had a flashing thought that I had really screwed myself up because my ears were ringing and sounds got fuzzy for a second. He confessed that it hurt ‘a bit more than he was hoping for now’. Then he asked if I was ok and I felt really stupid. “Hell No!” I was thinking, but I just apologized to him and said I was fine.
Because of the long rough walk in, we thought that bringing him out via a water route might be a lot easier on Fred so we called to check on a police boat. They said “15 minutes”. After 20 minutes in the hot sun with no boat in sight, our six-wheeler showed up with the stokes. We re-thought our situation and packaged the patient and chose the land route out because the water was too shallow to bring the boat in close enough and we would have to wade out into water about 3 feet deep. The chances of slipping and dropping our patient were too great. We carried the stokes 100 feet to the six wheeler, loaded it, and then walked the six wheeler out as we cut a clear path with a chainsaw. We got out to the road, transferred to patient to the stretcher, and I turned the call over to our other ambulance (which had left in the middle of a parade to give us a hand). I took stock of myself. I looked like hell; my duty pants were covered in pond scum, I was soaked in sweat, my back hurt, my hip was throbbing, and I walked ‘funny’. I figured I’d get the rig back in quarters and get home for a shower before anybody noticed that I was walking like an old rodeo rider. Mission accomplished, nobody at the station noticed that I had a spasm in my hip when I tried to climb into my truck and almost doubled over in pain.
Just in case you think I am suggesting that an Officer hide an injury, let me assure you it’s not that at all. You see, I am an Old Guy and anything these ‘kids’ see that makes me look like I can’t do the job anymore. I love the job and when I hot my limit, I have no problem grabbing ‘a kid’ and putting him in my place to get it done. But in the meantime, I just want to keep plugging along doing what I can.
I got my shower and decided I was ‘done for the day’ and put on shorts and sandals. My crew called me on the way home from the hospital to let me know they were back in service, but had stopped for an MVA they witnessed to offer aid and called in to dispatch. The regular duty crew goes on shift in about an hour. All in all, not a bad holiday weekend… considering what it could have been. (Just for the record, 2 days later my hip was back to normal and the patient suffered no ill effects from my fall.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You gotta love small towns!

OK, so it’s one of those National Holiday 3 day weekends in the pleasant season of the year. This day happens to be the holiday itself and many of our active members are out of town doing the ‘parade thing’ which is great because I am not with them. I hate doing parades, not really sure why. So we’ve kept a couple of Officers and critical people in town to provide coverage (which isn’t really that hard because apparently I am not the only one who doesn’t enjoy parades). So we have some fire apparatus and one ambulance out in the public eye, which leaves plenty of fire equipment in town and one ambulance at the station on the north end of town.
We did a little pre-plan and there is another EMS officer and myself ready to respond until we are back in full service. I have some chores to do that will take me around town and I consult with my partner for the day and tell him I will take the rig over to top off the fuel and make my few stops before bringing it to my house so that we can get out quicker. Holiday weekends can bring heavy call volume and some bad auto accidents. Earlier on this particular weekend we ran nearly continuous calls for a 6 hour period.
So I went over to the north station and traded my pickup for an ambulance. Before I even got out to the main road (about 3 miles from the station), I saw the Chief coming down the road in my direction. I knew he would wonder why the rig was out and I could see him slowing down to talk. I pulled up even with him and said “hey Chief! How do you like my new fly-car?” He laughed about the running joke we have, we’d like to get a Rapid Response car but the guys with the money just don’t see why. Still the Chief asked ‘what was up’ and I explained the plan for the day and that it just made sense to keep the rig handy as I did my errands. He thought that was a great idea, wished me a happy holiday, and told me he would be around if we needed him. We both went on our errands.
On my way to the filling station I stopped at the local coffee shop for a fresh cup, for some reason the previous 6 cups didn’t seem sufficient. When I was leaving the store a gentleman walked in and asked in a loud voice “Who is the person here with the Podunk ambulance parked outside?” I looked the fellow over and could see that he too was headed for a parade somewhere in his VFW uniform. I figured he had a question in connection with parade routes or something so I confessed that I was indeed the operator of said Ambulance, “What can I do for you?”.
He said “well, my Mom passed away about 6 months ago and a friend of the family had sent a donation into your agency in her name, but the post office returned it because of address issues.” He held out his hand with an envelope in it and continued: “I have been carrying this around for months trying to catch up with one of your members to make sure you get it. It’s only a small donation , but my Mom always talked about how nice you people were to her and how well you took care of her in her final years, no matter what time she called you.” I hear often lot around town, so I asked him who his Mom was and when he told me I realized she was the nice old lady who lived down the road and was my patient on several occasions. I had actually taken her to the hospital on what turned out to be her last trip for a twisted swollen ankle. She passed a few weeks later because she had decided she was tired and it was ‘time to go’. I knew her other son well, but had never met this son. As we talked he started to get a little choked up and I took the opportunity to tell him that his Mom was a wonderful and thoughtful lady that was always a pleasure to assist. He thanked me and asked that I pass on his thanks to the rest of the crew, and off he went.
OK, so I have this check and letter, I had better drop it off at the main station, so I stop there and run into to slide it into the proper mailbox slot. Good, in and out without running into anybody, now to get some fuel. I head off down the little side street and pass another member coming up the hill and when he sees the rig he put his hands up in the universal sign for “What’s up?” and gives me a quizzical look. I pull over and he turns around and comes back. We chat on the side of the road and I explain the plan for the day. He agrees it makes sense and I comment that it is turning out to take longer than I thought to just get fuel and I am rethinking just driving around town. We both laughed, got in our vehicles and went on our way. I finally get in and fill up. The attendant at the fuel station wants to know what call I am returning from “I didn’t hear the siren go off this morning” he says. “Nope, we didn’t have a call, just running errands and trying to keep the rig handy in case it gets busy again like the other day”. Back in the rig now and time to pop in on my folks and make sure all is well, they are just around the corner from the filling station. I back the rig up their long driveway where it looks down on the road and I can drive straight out if I need to. I spent about a half hour or so with them and then headed home to park the rig in my driveway. All along the route I see the occasional head turn as if trying to figure out where I am going or what’s going on. Some of these heads belong to the less active members that are always listening to a pager or scanner, but only come out for the big calls. I smile and drive on. As I am backing into my driveway I wonder how many phone calls I will get from the people who drove past my folks house when the Ambulance was parked in their driveway, or indeed, when it was parked in mine. I know full well that for the next couple of days people will stop my wife or I in local stores and ask ‘what was going on..’ on Monday.
For sure they will ask about all the sirens they heard around mid afternoon that day for the call we did get, more on that in the next post. But for now, I’m just saying, you gotta love small towns.