Saturday, February 26, 2011

Don't take me out Coach...

 Man! Last Friday evening we lost our internet connection during a snow/ice/rain event. I thought it was due to the storm and didn't fret much. We were busy running jobs anyway, so there wasn't much time to be concerned, but on Saturday afternoon when it all cleared up, I called my provider, and after 20 frustrating minutes of doing really STUPID things as he went down his checklist, we finally got it fixed. In the end, he wound up following the lead I had presented at the outset of the conversation and we were all fixed up. End of story.
 This Friday evening, the same thing happened. I called right away thinking we could fix it with just 20 minutes of me being patient and polite, but no, this wasn't going to happen. The techie informed me that our "signal levels" were way too high and they would have to send out a person to remedy the situation. "Sir", he said, I can have a technician out to your home either Friday or Saturday, which would you prefer?" "Well", I responded "today is Friday, so if you want to send him out now, I am here for him". "Oh no Sir, you've mis-understood, I meant NEXT Friday or Saturday".
 It was like getting hit in the face with a pike pole. A whole WEEK without my internet connection? NO WAY! I asked the tech if he was kidding, if we couldn't try a few things, and if he wasn't sure we might get a guy here sooner. He came back with 'no joy' on all those questions. I sucked in my belly and took it like a man. "OK, if thats the best you can do, then that's what it will have to be. Thanks for your time."
 But then I started thinking about what a WEEK without my connection meant. It meant driving to the other side of town, pulling out my laptop and downloading all my mail at the fire station. I would also load up an evenings worth of web pages to read. It would mean missing a lot of those emails from folks that know when I am home, and giving them delayed responses, probably too late to be any good. It would mean losing track of how my favorite cousins surgery and recovery is going down in the Lone Star State. Basically, it would mean I would have to re-arrange my morning and evening routines until the precious techie arrived.
 It took about 12 hours of waiting before I resolved to find a different solution. I called back today and lied about my problem to the computer voice in order to get to a person. I didn't beat around the bush and asked the tech to do exactly what I asked for. She did it without any discussion. It didn't fix it, but she kicked me up to the next skill level, and that tech and I managed to get things working. I canceled the tech visit appointment for next week and thanked him very much for his patience and persistence, he taught me enough to fix the problem myself next time.
 "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, TEACH a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime"
Please don't take my internet away! Life gets turned inside-out when you do that.

I'll Live

 For those who were following, I got a short form letter from my PA yesterday regarding my Stress/Echo test earlier in the week. He had checked the box that said "No Problems Found".
Guess it's time to clean off the weight bench and get back to work.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Old Business

 So last summer I was locked in battle with the powers that be at my paying job. I chronicled the events here at the first salvo, not knowing it would grow, and then here as it developed into something I had trouble understanding, then went further here as the battle lines were drawn and ultimatums were presented. I mention my continuing effort to deal with the situation in the opening paragraph here. Finally, I share the outcome (my decision) here.
 Now the reason this is all being brought back up now is that if you read all those posts again (I'm certain you ALL read them the first time, right?), then you noticed that I mentioned I was having an article published in a Occupational Safety Magazine that "touched" on the subject at hand?
 Well, as it turned out, the article was not published in September as I had been told. It was, in fact twice as long as that publication ever accepts and would not fit in the magazines preferred format. You writers out there might guess where this is going, but you'd be as wrong as I was. They picked it up as a 2 part feature in the January and February issues.
 So it hits the stands and my ESHW sees the article in her copy. She won't even mention it to me. She confides in a mutual co-worker that I "obviously wrote the article to offend, insult, and embarrass her" and it was just a result of my being a poor sport. Obviously, the ESHW is bad at math because I wrote the article in April, more than 4 months BEFORE the afore mentioned confrontation. The EHSM has not mentioned the article at all, or at least not to anyone who will share the conversation with me. It strikes me as strange that my 'front line' co-workers have seen the article and are slapping me on the back and offering congratulations for getting something published, as well as commenting on how they felt the article made 'excellent points that should make people re-think things they do'. Yet those who work in that particular discipline, and who should strive for such publication, choose to avoid any acknowledgment that the articles exist.
 There is no victory in winning a mental battle with unarmed people.
 I just thought that those who followed the original series would get a kick out of the follow up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I couldn't help but notice.

 I track the FF fatalities carefully. This year I am logging them and keeping notes for the classes I will teach next year.
 So far this year, in about 7 weeks, we have experienced 22 Firefighter Fatalities. That's TWENTY-TWO. Last year by this time we had 10. Ten is too many, but TWENTY-TWO?
 For the last couple of years the numbers have been, thankfully, going down. This year might be the next 'blip' on the chart.
 I can't help but wonder if the trend for us to do 'more with less' is having an effect on the numbers. Crews driving further, pushing harder, reaching beyond what is normally expected. and coming up short more often than usual.
 I'm just speculating here as a watcher of the gruesome statistics, that we are seeing either an anomaly, or a direct result of massive down-sizing, budget squeezing, and robbing Peter to pay Paul. (Paul being the brother-in-law of the Mayor who has a construction company which employs the Mayor's son.)
 I am also noticing what seems to be an enormous rise in the number of apparatus accidents. Now this may be due to the 'winter from hell' that many parts of the country are experiencing, but I suspect there is something else at the root cause. I don't collect or follow the data on these because, unfortunately, there are just too many of them and nowhere I can find to cull the data off of an Official site that might have good numbers.
 Anyway, I couldn't help but notice. Maybe it's time for a safety stand down?

 Just sayin'.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Update to previous

Well, I got through the test (glad I had time to study), and I don't know what I was so worried about. I didn't see anything on the ECG that stood out, but there is the more important issue of what was on the sonogram. I can take a stab at the ECG, but can't even lay a guess on the sonogram. All the valves appeared to be functional and flapping around as I would expect. But the Doc says he needs time to study them before offering a report.
 So I survived the test, but now I need to wait and hear from my primary care Dude to see what they really think. Waiting.... it sucks.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cowboying Up

 I wasn't going to write about this because it is as personal as it gets and I didn't think it had any interest to anybody. But as I sit here now looking into the face of my fears, I think it might be time to 'walk the talk'.

  In just under 2 hours I go down to the local test center for a Stress Echo cardiogram. It seems my PA is slightly concerned about these little chest pains I have had that come out of the blue and go away. It's nothing really big. They don't hurt, I just 'notice them' a little and they only last 5 minutes. No, it's not angina, and I won't give you any more details because I know you will all start focusing on a differential diagnosis. Thanks, but I'll get that covered elsewhere. Really, thanks.
 No, the reason I'm writing this is because I am a bit scared and worried about how this might go, and what the outcome will be. Will I get pulled off the truck, will they take away my interior certification, will I wind up being one of those 'proper diet and medications guys'? Am I done?
 I don't want this test. I don't want to know. I have too much to do yet.
  On the other hand, I have read too many NIOSH reports about responders who die in the hours after an incident of SCA and their only complaint was "not feeling well". I have taught dozens of classes where I implore the participants to stop the 'hero crap' and take care of themselves and their co-workers. So many Firefighters die in their beds either from the stress of the job, or their genetic pre-disposition that it is just stupid not to look into it when something 'doesn't seem right'.
 One of the things I admire about Chief Billy Goldfeder is that he 'walks the talk'. If you ever spent time with him you will know that several years ago he realized he was headed in the wrong direction with his health. He changed that direction in a big way. This took a hell of a lot of courage. He lost weight, eats a good diet, gets his regular cancer screenings, and preaches to anyone in earshot so that they too might be around longer.
 So in 2 hours I go in to face my fears. I was going to blow it off, but then I thought about Chief Billy, what he said, and what he DID. I thought that if he could do it, so could I. At my age, which quite frankly is an age where I should be taking a step back, I really need to be more careful. I don't want my Department planning my funeral, really. I'd rather have my wife do it long after I've retired from the Department.

 So, I'm scared, but I'm going to do this. I hope when your time comes you can do the same, if not for yourslef, then at least for the folks whose photos you carry in your wallet.
 Wish me luck. I'll let you know what comes of it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Handy WInter Tip

Hey here's a tip for those who work in colder climates. Regardless of the weather, we need to keep our trucks clean. If you have a station big enough to clean the trucks inside (we don't) then the task isn't so bad, but washing a truck when it's 15 or 20 degrees out can be a challenge, and unpleasant at best.
 To make the job a little easier on your hands, get a pair of diver's gloves. You can find them at Cabbella's or any other outdoor store this time of year. They are popular with ice fisherman. These gloves are made from the same neoprene that is used in wetsuits and will get water soaked, but they allow your hands to stay warm. They are also handy for water rescue ops in colder weather but do not do well with rope work. They are also great for pump ops, but these gloves may not last too long handling hose fittings. Mine are holding up well, but I don't get the kind of 'on the job time' that a career guy might have. All I know is that it beats the hell out of having wet cold hands.
 I've been using these for years and never thought about it much until I stopped by the station and my Cap was complaining that he lost feeling in his fingers from washing his truck. I threw him my gloves and by the time he finished, he was a convert.
 Your mileage may vary, but give it a try.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Raping of the Fire Service, Part II

 To paraphrase Ron White, 'I wrote that post, so I could write this post.'
 When you read the previous post, you may well have been wondering why I was writing about the attacks on the Career Fire Service, after all, I am just a volunteer, right? Yes, of course you are correct, and my inherent knowledge of the Career Service is limited to having an interest, paying attention, and spending time with career brothers and sisters on the job and in training, as well as at the Academy. So admittedly, I don't really 'have a dog in that fight.' This is all true and I only wrote the previous piece as a prelude to this one and also to point out the gross lies flaws in the arguments being presented by the media and the politicians the feed them.
 Now how, you may ask, does this affect the Volunteer Service, and why should I care? Good questions I was hoping you would ask.
 As goes the Career Service, so follows the Volunteers in some form or manner, eventually. Obviously, the Volunteers are not worried about their pensions. What little they may get, will not blip on the radar for quite some time. But Volunteer Fire Departments ARE dependent on funding in one form or another from their communities. At some point all these small communities are going to be looking to 'save money' somewhere and for sure they will look at the big expenses and the high profile spenders. Your Fire Department is going to be a big glowing dot in the middle of their radar.
 In the United States we have the most confusing and widely varied systems for providing fire protection that it is impossible to make any kind of general assumptions. I've seen Departments that raise all their funds themselves, fix their own equipment, buy their own PPE (in some cases the members themselves buy their own gear), and are completely independent. Some Departments have a Fire District and levy a Fire Tax, some do a combination. Some are county Departments, some are overseen by a Board of Fire Commissioners, some  by the elected politicians who have no knowledge or training in the Fire Service. Some are independent and contract to the town they serve for a fee which is negotiated. Some run very business-like operations with full accountability, and some don't think it's anybodies business but theirs how they spend their money. You can read about a lot of the trouble these Departments find themselves in every week on Firegeezer.
 So having seen what our Career brethren are going through, we have a little lead time to get out houses in order. Read the handwriting on the wall, we are next, make no mistake.
 What can be done to deflect the impending storm, you ask? Well, I have some ideas on that front. Pick the ones that work for your Department and situation.

 1) Perception is reality. If your Department is percieved as a bunch of 'good ol' boys and girls' having a good time on the taxpayers dime, then that is the reality of how you appear to the public, whether it is true or not doesn't matter. It is the perception that counts. YOU need to change this. Act professionally. Learn how to say "Sir" and "Ma'am", speak politely, and carry yourself with pride and confidence. Act is a manner that is ALWAYS defensible. If you have members that like hot rodding to calls, you had better rein them in quick. Do the things you need to do, in a way that makes people respect you, not think you are wasting their money.

2) Show the public what they are getting for their money, whether they pay through a tax, a fee, or a donation. People usually don't mind paying for something if they see what they are getting and realize it's value. If they see you 'out and about' doing things that add value, they will remember that. I can't tell you how many people beep and wave when they see me out washing the engine on a Sunday. I get a lot of folks that stop in to ask directions, ask about the Department, or stop by to say thanks. Think about it, how can somebody just meet up with Department members to shoot the breeze? So when they see you out in public, that's when they ask questions. It's a great opportunity to tell them how we operate and what we do. More importantly, it's a chance to explain why we do things the way we do and correct what they learn from the TV.

3) Be available. Start doing the street fairs, put an EMS unit out there. Bring an Engine our Rescue and give the kids tours. This provides more 'face time' and allows the public to know that you are really there for their protection.

4) The only difference between 'good service' and 'excellent service' is the effort we put in. If you take the extra 20 minutes to cover roof holes with tarps on salvageable structures, help the property owner recover his/her property. Make sure fire victims have shelter arrangements or help make it happen. Show some concern for those we respond to help. Being short with them has a bad effect. Again, their perception is your reality.

5) Make sure your books are in order and as clean as a whistle. Having clean books is a minimum requirement these days. You need to make sure there is no opportunity to even imply that there might be an irregularity. Delaying an answer to a request for audit information from the proper authority will imply that there is something wrong. Your agency should pay to have their books audited on a regular basis by an independent auditor. This is just good business and it protects the Agency as well as the folks keeping your books. (Also, in the event that your financial person has taken a little 'excursion', you will find it sooner, rather than later.)

 In short, as Poor Richard said, "An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure." If you put the extra effort into letting your served population know what you really do for them, they will probably never come to your door asking for their money back because they already know how it's being spent. But if you treat them as if they are lucky to have you and shouldn't ask questions, you are in for a long ugly road indeed.

 Think about it.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Raping of the Fire Service.

I read (watched) the commentary and rhetoric generated by the Fox News videos hosted by the former consumer advocate and current pin head, John Stossel. He started out small time and it appears he never left, just found a bigger venue. Now he can say stupid things to a lot more people, but his level of intelligence has not changed. If you missed these videos, you can go catch them here at Boron Extrication, a great site by the way.
 In a way, it's hard to blame these needle necked jerks for asking the question they are asking, and for making the implications they are making. The Unions, they say, are bleeding the country dry with their pension programs.
 This is the kind of tripe they pick up from the politicians who are focused on making a big enough splash to retain their cushy positions. Nobody wants to point out that the pension plans were negotiated in good faith with an eye toward being fair to the public servants who put their lives and the welfare of their families on the line to do the job.
 The talking heads are using some pretty skewed data to support the nonsense they put up as logic. They say that firefighting and Police work is safer than fishing and many other occupations. They base this information on the fatality rates. They also say fires have dropped by 50%. What they don't say, know, or want the public to know is that Firefighting leads almost every year in the injury rates, followed closely by Police. They also don't mention that the average fire today is many times hotter faster, and more dangerous than anything we've seen in years past. As I said, they don't want the public to know this.
 I took a look at the injury rates reported by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2008 and 2009 here. I wanted to see what the actual injury rates were for various occupations. If you look at this chart, you will see, as I did, that Fire protection leads the way in nonfatal injuries and illnesses with days away from work in 2009. Firefighting is followed by Air transportation and then by Police protection, which is followed by nursing and then heavy construction. I don't see fishing anywhere on this list. This listing, if I understand the data, would also include those who go out on permanent disability or early retirement due to their injuries. A detail which is not specifically mentioned.
 All those who would gut the pay and benefits of our public employees are using the fatality statistics. However, I think we can all be proud of those statistics. In the Fire Service, we have worked tirelessly to bring those numbers down in the face of continued challenges to our safety. We work on it every day, as not other industry does except perhaps the military. There are no extensive and ongoing training programs for the crab fishermen of the world. They are working with essentially the same tools and methods they used 60 years ago. The Fire & Police Services on the other hand, have evolved. They have accepted the risk and resolved to minimize it in any way possible. We use state of the art equipment, trucks, and tools, we have found ways to do things that do not require as much risk as we used to incur. WE have reduced the fatalities, not the politicians, and yet in a sick twist of fate, they seek to use that victory to prove that we are no longer needed as much as we used to be, and that we are not 'worth' as much as we were just a decade ago.
 We already do a lot more now, with a lot less manpower than we had 20 years ago.
 The pity is, that when all these pay scales, work rules, and pension plans were negotiated years ago, the politicians heralded these agreements as victories. Now that the math isn't working out quite the way they expected, that want to change history and blame those around them.
 We elect these politicians to run our Governments and handle the business of running our Towns, Villages, Counties, States, and Federal Government. The fact that they have failed miserably to act in a responsible and effective manner is not something they should seek to blame on others. They should look in the mirror and blame 'that guy'.
 The Fire and Police services are still some of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Don't let the talking heads tell you otherwise. It now becomes our job to make sure the public gets the true message. There has already been enough damage done and the stages is set for some real catastrophes in the coming years until our fighting forces are back to the proper numbers. In the meantime, when the catastrophe hits, and we all KNOW that it will, we need to find a sensitive way to say loud and clear, "We told you so. Don't blame the firefighters, blame yourselves."
 This has been an editorial opinion of the management at Unlimited-Unscheduled Hours.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

He never really found his path

 It's snowing steady and at a late and very dark hour, a Father works with his Son to help him repair his snow plow so he can go out and earn his living in a few hours. As they work, the Father is shivering with his poor choice of a light jacket, and the Son is quite comfortable in his hooded sweatshirt, adjusted after most of his days being spent out in the weather that the Father was no longer adjusted to.
 "OK, swing it to the right... a little more, GOOD, now drop the plow a bit." " Are you sure your fingers and toes are clear?" "yeah, I'm all clear, just drop it slowly....GOOD."
 "OK Dad, got the pin in, I'm all set, thanks."
 "OK then" Dad asks, "I'm useless here then?"
 The son smiles, "No, not useless, just finished." The Dad starts to walk away and remembers something he wanted to ask his son about for a few days. The son works long, irregular hours and they don't see each other mush these days, even living in the same house. "Hey, what about this guy I see the Memorial Page for on Facebook. I saw your comment up there. What happened to him?"
 "Oh, you mean Mark? Well, he uh, well, Wait, do you remember him? Do you know who he is?"
 "Yeah, of course I do." The Father remembered a strapping young man, in exceptional physical shape with bulging muscles. Built like a brick shithouse, he was. He joined the Department and put in some effort in the beginning, but the regular training and meetings didn't fit his 'style'. He had a hard time accepting directions and orders, and didn't last long. He had decided it wasn't for him and moved on. At least he showed some courage and decided he it wasn't for him and moved on, not like a lot of folks who try to get the rules changed to fit their needs, or hung on to just complain. This fella knew he didn't fit and just moved on. Still he seemed like a great guy with a lot of enthusiasm. he could have made a great firefighter.
 "Yeah, well" the Son went on, "I don't really know the details, I haven't seen him much lately, but apparently, he was taking prescription meds, either his or somebody else's and that night he also drank a lot of vodka, and ..."
 "Yeah, OK, I get it. I just had no idea how he died or why. I was shocked to see the memorial page. It's a shame, he could have been somebody."
"yeah" the son said, "he just never really found his path, you know what I mean, Dad."
 "Yeah, dammit, I do know what you mean. I wish I didn't, but I do. He never found his path. It sucks."
 "Yeah" the Son said, "It sucks a lot."

Monday, February 7, 2011

I just noticed a hole in the bottom of my Holy Grail

FDIC, The Fire Departments Instructor's Conference occurs in March each year in Indianapolis, IN and is the largest conflagration of Fire Instructors in the free world. It holds a firm spot on my bucket list.
 Being a small time Instructor from a small Department in a small County, it is not likely, or even expected that I could make it to such a conference. When considering that everything I do in the Fire Service is volunteer, it is even less likely that I will ever make it out there for the week. Finally, when you consider that I have no connection to anybody with a budget that might help with the expense, that I would have to take vacation time, that I would leave the wife at home, and that pretty much seals my fate.
 None the less, each year I read Study the classes, workshops, and HOT sessions just in case somebody calls me about a buddy who has canceled, and could I fill his spot and 'help' with expenses. (Don't laugh, my son and I once did a 12 day trek in the mountains of New Mexico that very way. It could happen again.)
 So today, during my lunch break I was reading the lineup for this year's event and daydreaming about the workshops, HOT sessions, and classes I would pick (if i were [whimper] actually [queue pitiful moan] going). I had worked my way through the very many sessions and drooled over the speaker lists and dreamed of meeting those whose books and articles I have read for years.
 The last section I was going over was the Classroom Sessions and there were some very tough choices to make with so many good speakers. When I worked my way up to Thursday's classes. it hit me that the person, or persons who arranges these classes is not paying very close attention. Normally, when planning a conference such as this with very many good presentations, the program is sorted so that presenters with similar or complimentary subjects are spread out over the different time slots. This way, an attendee can have a particular interest and get a different session in in similar subject in time slot after time slot. This makes sense right?
Apparently, not at FDIC. I draw your attention to Thursday, March 25th, the 1:30 to 3:15 time slot. They have placed Rhett Fleitz, Dave Statter, and Curt Varone so they all have sessions competing with each other. When I realized this I went back and found several other time slots where there were sessions on similar subjects competing with each other. No wonder I was having trouble choosing! Somebody's not paying attention here folks.
 Now the reason I use this valuable blog space to mention this is because I know many of my distinguished readers do have  the means to attend this prestigious event. Dear comrades, while you are out there in Indy, would you please mention that similar sessions should be separated in time slots so that folks can attend several good sessions back to back instead of having to choose? If I were there this year, I would have to choose between Rhett, Dave, or Curt, and I would want to see them all! ( I do, however, note the irony of Rhett going up against Dave, with Curt being unavailable to mediate because he has his own session going on.)
 Now, I really plan on making 2012 for sure, I am working on a savings plan now and am interviewing folks that will share the trip expenses with me. (Is ti legal to run a raffle off of your blog?) So if you folks attending this year would kindly take notes and send them along when you get home, I'd really appreciate it.
 Hopefully blogging will not have gone out of style by 2012 and I can finally hook up and meet some of the folks I've been reading for the last 3 years or so.
 Geez, I wonder what these guys were thinking?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I've got 2 minutes, tell me what I need to be a good Instructor.

 So, I'm working on these forms and formats I mentioned in the previous post and I am really thinking hard about how to lay this out so that a newly appointed skills instructor can fill in the blanks on a form and come up with a workable, comprehensive lesson plan.
 My mind goes back to the Academy and my Fire Service Instructor 2 class, where they take the stuff you learned in FSI 1 and add to it all the stuff about lesson plan requirements, legal requirements in Life Safety Training, all the ways you might get sued for errors of omission, etc., etc.. I am thinking this ain't going to be so easy.
 My FSI 2 class was for all intents, the class from HELL. I am not talking about the Instructors, they were top notch, with many decades of experience. They were hand picked as the best in the State. They did a great job. No, I am referring to the material, the time schedule, and the amount of learning that we compressed into 6 days. Class began at 8:00am and went to lunch, continued on until dinner, and some evenings we had a short session. Whether or not we had an evening session there were assignments to get done by the end of the week as well as the Pro-Board exam to study for  and our practical exam presentations. Consequently, almost everyone in the class could be found either in the lounge or in the rotunda (common areas) studying together or working on projects and presentations until 1:00am almost every night. One night we were still at it at 3:00am. We took one evening off to celebrate the birthday of one of our Instructors at a local watering hole, other than that, it was all business, all day, every day.
 There were about 30 students in the class. Only 2, myself and another fellow, were volunteers. Everyone else was either career Fire Department, or employees of the State Office of Fire Prevention (our State Fire agency). I was a little intimidated at first, but the guys in the class were great and all very friendly. There were no 'volley vs. career' sentiments in the crowd and we all worked together as a class. I made good friends with a huge fella from a career Department from the other side of the state that is very urban and gets a lot of ugly stuff (think 'Detroit' like). He was the happiest guy I think I have EVER met and always made everyone around him smile. (Mostly I think he was really happy because his wife was at home with his 5 kids while he was getting a good night's sleep here at the Academy every night for a whole week.) We had a good class and eveybody came away with one or several new friends.
 But the class, as I said, was a bitch. I was visibly sweating my practical exam. My proctor/examiner, brought in from another state for the occasion, was the retired Chief of a very large career department with 35 years on the job. Just being introduced made me think there was no way I could impress this guy, and I almost lost hope then and there. How would you feel if you were put on a stage to perform in front of someone you honored and envied?
 For the FSI 2 practical, you must present an instructional program of your own design. You have a very finite period in which to do this and you are judged (graded) on a 2 page check list which includes things like material, timing, deportment, level of interaction with the students and a whole laundry list of required elements (3 or more types of media, visual aids and proper use of same, cognitive exam, etc. etc.).  You are also required to execute an evaluation of another student and you are graded on how you preform that evaluation. Finally, your written lesson plans are scrutinized to ensure that they comply with the minimum legal requirements for lesson plans and record keeping.
 If you pass the practical, you are permitted to go on to the written (Pro-Board) exam. They don't tell you what you scored on the practical, only that you passed and can sit for the written. Your final grade for the class is based on your submitted project grades, your practical exam, and your written exam. You do not get your Pro-Board (National) ceritfication unless you pass the written with at least a 70% score. I have always done well on written exams and once I got through the practical I breathed a lot easier.
 Until I opened the exam book. Apparently nobody had mentioned that anything in the FSI 1 material was fair game in the FSI 2 exam. Consequently there was a LOT of stuff in the exam that none of us remembered from FSI 1. I suffered through this exam like I have never done before. Instead of being done in the minimal time, I finished 10 minutes before the deadline. I was certain I had failed. I was devastated that I had spent an entire week of my time away from family only to fail.
 There were a lot of my classmates out in the hallway after the exam looking at their shoes. They felt like me, and were uncertain at best. Eventually they started calling us back in and handing out 'the envelopes'. These were the standard 9" x 12" brown envelopes that contained our grades and exam results along with the paperwork to either enroll in the next re-run of the class or get your National certification paperwork. We all opened our envelopes with caution and dread.
 My heart sank when I opened mine. I had received and overall grade of 83% for the class, but on the written exam I had received exactly a 70%. This was the minimum for passing. This had never happened to me, ever. I am always a 90's kind of guy. But then the wave passed over me when I realized I had passed and would not have to come back and do it again. This relief was immediately replaced by concern for my classmates and I shoved the papers back in the envelope and looked at the faces of others. Mostly I saw the same relief that I must have displayed, but in several cases I saw some pretty disappointed faces.

 I hung around for a while as others filtered out on their way home. I had a 4 hour drive ahead of me and was in no hurry (frankly, I was wired tighter than the filth string on a banjo.). I finally found an opportunity to catch the lead Instructor alone. I thanked him for his teaching effort that week and all the extra time he put in with us in the wee hours. Then I slipped in a comment about how I appreciated that they had probably had to throw out some of the poorer questions on the exam. This is what must have allowed me to reach a passing grade. "Oh no" he corrected me, "The exam is the exam. We found some questions that we will file a formal protest on, but these results are what they are, there are no adjustments. It is possible that some grades may be adjusted upwards after the review, but not today. You got exactly a 70 based on the questions in the exam, no adjustments."
 Five people in that class failed the written exam. Every one of them was in the career service, some of them were Instructors for the State Office of Fire Prevention, some were Department Instructors. I say this not as a dig, but because that's how hard the exam was. These were all good, competent Instructors.
 I think about that experience from time to time and how hard it was. We often do the 'killer classes' that take a lot out of us physically, I never thought the hardest class I would ever have was spent entirely in the classroom. I also think about that big happy guy from the big urban Department. He was killed fighting a fire in an abandoned building when it collapsed about a year after our class.

So now I'm sitting here trying to figure out how to put all this information into some 'fill-in-the-blank' forms to keep these guys on task. I'm finding it's not quite as easy as I thought it might be. Do any of you have forms and cheat sheets that you use for your instructors? I'm looking for ideas on helping these guys and gals get their thoughts together. You can email any ideas or suggestions to and I will thank you for it. I need something to get me off a dime here.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Have you hugged your Intructor today?

Ok, perhaps not hugged, but how about a handshake and a sincere "Thank You"?
 Every year I get my Officer assignments from my Chief and I usually add a pet project or two of my own that I set as personal goals to accomplish and help the Department improve over the course of the year.
 This year is no different, but at our New Officers meeting the other week I noticed the Chief raising the expectations of the newer Officers to provide formal training for our members and thereby spread out the teaching 'burden'.
 Now we've all heard the old expression "Those that can, DO, and those that can't TEACH", but we all know that in the Life Safety business this is just not the case. I am not going to trust my crew's safety to an instructor who doesn't know what he is talking about and doesn't use those skills on a regular basis. We always look for someone with demonstrated skills and expertise. We look for the SME (Subject Matter Expert) to prepare our people because they deserve the best training we can supply, whether it comes directly from us, or someone we chose.
 Now just because somebody is an expert does not mean they can teach. Teaching is a very separate and unique skill set. Each of our Officers, new and old, has some very strong skills and knowledge in one area or another, or even many areas. Most of them are excellent instructors given a 'one on one' situation. However, only a few of them handle groups or classroom situations well. This isn't a failing on their part, it is simply that they don't have the proper training to arrange and execute a comprehensive learning deployment. They are not familiar with lesson plans, teaching adults, managing class time, planning ahead for how a class will 'feel' to the students and anticipate what will work best for a given group. Also, most lack good computer skills that will help them put together interesting classroom presentations that will foster interest in the psycho-motor skills (hands on) portion of the class.
 Putting it all together into a kick-ass presentation is a tall order. Getting participants to leave a class saying "wow, that was a great drill" is really hard to do, even for a good instructor. Good men and women dedicate their careers to finding the magic formula to pull this type of class off. How can we expect a volunteer Officer to make it happen with little or no educational training?
 So my little project this year is to create some tools to help our newly ordained skills instructors put their lesson plans together in a 'fill-in-the-blanks' format and show them how to use it. Simple forms that they can fill out with their class goals, and when they have all the blanks filled in, they will know that they have basically met all the teaching requirements. They will also have the documentation of what they have taught for the training files.
 Last Saturday I was at a full day OSHA 8 hour refresher class as part of the Instructor Cadre. I have about an hour and a half section I have developed for this year's classes. Every year I come up with a completely new section and I strive to have something totally different. The subject and format I came up with this year was a bit of a reach. We've never done anything like this before and if not presented with care and clarity, it could be taken to be a bashing of a small volunteer department at the worst call in their history. It is, of course, no such thing. The point is that what happened to this small department could have happened to anyone given the same circumstances. My point is to make people think about their decisions, lest they make the same errors this Department made, and I stress that what they did at each critical step was something we could have done in the same circumstances. Each time I present this, I have to get on my game face and get my head in the right frame. This year has been tough, because if I have a bad night I will completely blow this presentation and the wrong message might be perceived. It's not easy, at least for me, and I make my intentions clear to the students. I also tell them that if they didn't like the presentation, they need to let me know how I can make it better. I have no illusions about how good I might be, or not.
 This particular day I had a student come up to me after the class and reach out his hand and say "Thanks, that was really well done and it will make me think a lot harder next time things don't feel right." Then he started to talk about stuff he had followed up on from my session last year and showed me some new things he had found and learned. I got out my notebook and took some notes.
 Instructors (good Instructors) put a lot of effort into their classes and their craft. They learn from, and work WITH their students if they are any good. They share tricks and pointers with other Instructors and they steal good ideas like a raccoon in a chicken coop. (I have no shame in telling you that the format I use in my latest class is brazenly stolen from a format I saw Chief Billy Goldfeder present a couple of years back. His approach grabbed me, it grabbed everybody else in the room, and I spent as much time watching the participants in that class as I did watching the Chief. I don't have his charisma, but I did find good content for my program.) (OH, and if you ever want to see what an inspiring instructor can do with a well done presentation, go buy a copy of "The Beat Goes On" (proceeds go to the NFFF).)
 So the next time you sit through a class or a drill and find yourself thinking you'd rather be somewhere else, take a nanosecond of your brain time and ask yourself if the instructor is thinking the same thing, or if he/she is trying to teach you something that will help you do your job better or perhaps keep you from killing yourself and/or your crew. Maybe you could thank him/her by participating in the session, or at least acknowledging his/her effort.
 Here's a small clip from Chief Billy at FDIC in 2007 as a teaser:

Get the full video, it is timeless.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Something I gotta say...

And NOTHING says it better than this image that was sent to my phone today:
 We've had so much of this white crap that we are at the level we should be at in the 3rd week of March. And these temperatures are no walk in the park either. I can tell we've had too much snow when:

A) I hear we are getting snow and think it might effect my plans but then realize it's only 8 inches and don't think twice about it, and
B) When I am at a meeting and there is a 15 year old present who looks out the window, sees it has begun to snow (again), hangs his head and mutters "shiiiiit!"

 I thought Capt. Mike and TOTWTYTR would appreciate these little thoughts.

 NOW, It's not too late to get your votes in! Go over to Fire Critic and cast your vote until Midnight tonight (2/1/11). Firegeezer is probably out of it BUT Rescuing Providence has found it's second wind and IS catching up to the Ambulance Driver. Go cast your vote and let's see if we can put Mike over the top! One vote per computer every 6 hours, use the wife's rig, and each of the kids, and get those numbers up. C'mon folks, we can DO this!