Monday, May 30, 2011

On Memorial Day

I apologize to all the Men and Women who have served and in most cases made severe sacrifices for our Country, our Government, and our Citizens, to maintain the way of life we have come to cherish. My intent, earlier in the week was to write something of significance, and I spent a fair amount of brain time working out the correct tribute. Wednesday evening that all went out the window as you have put together from the preceding posts. There was nothing about this weekend that resembled a "holiday" for me. The wake and funeral exhausted me beyond what I could ever expect. The pain and anguish is palpable, even physical. It has little to do with my role as a responder, and more to do with my place as a father.
 It didn't help that at the funeral, I heard the whispers: "There's UU, he was first on the scene, he seems pretty broken up." It didn't help that in his remarks during the funeral service this young man's father thanked our Department for being there quick and doing everything that could be done. Nothing did, or will help, I just need time, leave me alone. No, I really don't want to talk about it and share my feelings, thank you very much. If you must know, Yes, I am very broken up because I get to keep my son, while he has lost his. I am having a hard time parsing out 'the luck of the draw'.
 So this weekend I have neglected our current service personnel and Veterans and I am sorry. It is the first time in 15 years I have not been at the parades to honor our Fallen. Usually I put my flag up to half staff at 6am and raise it to full staff after I return form the 2 parades we do (it is supposed to be raised at noon, but if I'm not here, I can't do it).  I am sorry that I have not been able to do what I intended. I'm sure you all understand why.
 None the less, now that the funeral is over and I have returned home and put on some comfortable clothes and pretended to do some chores around the house I am thinking of the Vets, and my family members that have given of themselves over the years. My cousins who are serving now, my Brother who served during Vietnam, my brother-in-law who also served in 'Nam, my Father who served in WW II, and one of my Uncles who also served in that War.
 My Dad strikes me as one who epitomizes what drives a person who enlists. During WW II he tried to enlist in the Navy. They rejected him because he had a heart murmur (Rheumatic fever as a child, it nearly killed him). Undaunted, he applied to the Coast Guard, this time armed with a note from his childhood and current physician attesting to his good condition. The Coast Guard had him visit a specialist who put him through an arduous physical fitness test, and finally admitted him. When his was firmly ensconced in the Coast Guard and serving on patrol boats off the east coast of the US, he put in for a transfer to the Navy. This, he knew, should require no screening exams as he was already 'serving' and a damned War was going on. Securing the transfer he wound up as a Chief Petty Officer on a Sub Chaser serving in the Philippines where he spent the duration of the War.
 My Dad doesn't talk much about the War except for the funny stories about shooting sharks, or stealing supplies from another outfit. But for me, my Dad is a Hero. I don't mean a hero that should be honored by all, just by me and my family. Because my Dad, just like hundreds of thousands of others in That War, and all Subsequent Wars, put their own lives on hold and did what was best for their Country. The left their homes, jobs, futures, and families to do what needed to be done so that our way of life could continue, and they knew full well that there was a fair chance they might not come back. Too few Americans understand the courage and commitment this takes. My Dad is 92 and still believes that what he did was what any sane person would do. He sees it as nothing unusual and 'what you should do when that type of thing happens.'
 Those of us in the Fire Service know a little bit about commitment and what it takes to put it all on the line when duty calls. For myself, I know that I will never be able to hold my commitment on a par with what my Dad did, but I believe I understand just how much it took for him to do that, and I am eternally grateful for him and all the other Men and Women who did the same thing.
 What we owe them can never be repaid, Thank a Vet everyday and by the time you die, you might have thanked 1% of them.
 We owe them much.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Blessing

 If you've read the past few posts you know that it was a trying and painful few days for my Department family and me over the last week. I have a wake to attend today, and a funeral tomorrow before the final healing and sorting process can begin.
 They say God doesn't give us more than we can handle, but on more than a few occasions I have come to question that theory. I think there is a chance that this time God overdid it a bit this time and might have felt a little bad about it, because he threw something in to help me deal with it.
 Just 25 hours after we finished up that bad call and only 2 hours after the CISM session we had a bad storm come through and wreak some heavy havoc. I was so wiped out that I had taken the night off and slept through most of it because I needed the sleep badly. I was exhausted. We gad about 10-12 calls during the overnight and more calls started coming in when the sun rose and people discovered the damage. I grabbed a few calls before going to work because I knew the crew had been up all night and just went to bed, or off to work.
 All simple stuff requiring a report, or blocking off a road and notifying the power company or DPW. The last one was yet another "trees and wires" call and I headed up, but couldn't find anything as I crept up the main road searching the overhead. I swung around, came back, and still found nothing, so I pulled into the driveway of the address that was given to get my truck off the road and do a foot search. That's when I saw it. In the driveway, which was around 100 feet long, there were 5 or 6 20 inch diameter maples toppled over in every direction. A detached garage was blown to pieces, wires, power poles, and stuff all over the place.Two cars were fairly flattened. There were 2 houses served by this (formerly) nice driveway. I couldn't even see the houses. These folks got clobbered.
 I got out, walked up and was greeted by a gentleman walking down to meet me. After getting the basics covered (the houses are ok, nobody hurt, no smoke or fire, nobody with medical issues, etc) I went through the normal safety cautions like "Don't touch any wires until the power company gets here, take lots of pictures, call you insurance company" and also explained that as this was on private property, there was not a lot the Fire Department could do beyond ensuring the residents safety.
 I was about half way through the spiel when the fellow lifted his hand and said "I get it, everybody's fine, we're cool here, we just wanted to make the notifications and get the power company here to cut the power and get us on the 'list'. I am retired from the FDNY and I know the drill. There is no rush here."
 My eyes must have given me away. I looked at him and thought "FDNY, really? He looks like he's younger than me! Retired?" He offered a little more "I was forced out at 3/4 retirement after I broke my back working on The Pile for a month. It was the second time I broke my back, and they forced me out. A lot of guys went out after 9/11."
 Soon the Chief showed up and I gave him the rundown. The bottom line was that the situation was stable and with everybody out working, they would have to wait until the power company got there to get things started.
  We called dispatch and gave them the report. The Chief left for the next job and I started to leave myself when the fellow asked me which way I was going and if I could just give him a lift down the road to get some coffee at the market. "No sweat" I said, just hop in.
 So down we went and in that short drive I learned that he was a Lt. with Rescue 3, had 18 years in, and lost a lot of friends. He was mustered out and went through a bad bout of alcoholism, divorced, got dried up, 'fixed' himself, found a new love, and life is now good for him. He's been living in our town for 8 years. He misses the Service though, and 'hanging with the crew'.
 He asked me about our Department and I just said that it is probably a lot different than his experience, but we suffer our pains. I mentioned the tragedy that we were currently dealing with and he instinctively began to talk to me like a Brother who had worked by my side everyday. Sharing some short stories and metaphorically putting his hand on my shoulder. It was amazing how much we talked about in just 10 minutes.
 I dropped him off at home and on my way into work I gave the Chief a call and told him the guys story. I knew that we should be able to do a little more to help this guy out, and I also knew that the Chief (who spent 2 weeks on The Pile) would feel the same way.
 The Chief made some calls and got things rolling, he got a power crew to expedite over and get the power cut off, then he called some contractors to go over and scope the job and get them some quotes. Later that day, he called in a dispatch for a public service call for a non-emergent structural collapse and got a crew there to help remove some of the trees, open the driveway, and get the 1 car out of the collapsed garage.
 I stopped in the following day to check progress, and we chatted a little more. I invited the guy to come by the station anytime. For his part, he was very grateful for everything we did and impressed by our crew. I assured him that what we did for him were things that we are not 'supposed to do' and asked him to keep it a little quiet. We were just taking care of a Brother, it was no big deal.
 My short conversations with this Brother probably did more to help me through this week than anything else I tried.
 I'll stop by and check on him later today and bring an application with me. Our Department could always use a few more 'support members' and I think our young folks could learn a lot from this Brother. I know this old guy did.
Be Safe, Be Sharp,

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rough Week

Yeah, it wasn't really good for us around here the second half of this week and as a result I will be attending a wake and a funeral over the holiday weekend. (See previous post and associated comments.)
 Last night we had a CISM session. Now let me say that after all the ugly jobs I've been involved with I have learned a few things about stress, grief, emotions, and all the stuff that comes along with the heart wrenching jobs. I am certainly no expert, and you should absolutely not take what I say as a guide. However I have learned that we each have our own best coping mechanisms. My suggestion is that you find what works for you and use that whenever you feel the need. My personal experience supports most of the psychologists research, to whit: Drinking alcohol to excess doesn't help anything, exercise does. Talking to a trusted peer helps a lot, getting it out is important, and you need to do it with a protected source so that you feel totally comfortable.
 CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) works for some, but I can tell you that it doesn't work for me. I am too inhibited to cry and talk in front of those who I must also lead. Every time we do one of these, I walk out feeling exposed and that doesn't help me much. None the less, it might work for others, so I support the process because the important thing is that my people get whatever they need to get them through whatever they are going through, and that they can get 'it' in whatever format works for them. So we use a combination of CISM, peer support, and various ad-hoc methods (drinking beer around a campfire, coffee at the deli before work, bullshitting after drills or work parties, whatever). We call and check in with each other to see how we are doing.
 So I survived the CISM session last night as did everyone else. It was the first time for a lot of those involved in the job, actually I think there were only 3 of us in the group who have been through this before. The rest were all newbies to the process. The session took more from me than I got out of it, but I hope some of the youngsters found it helpful, especially my son. He witnessed, on this call, the first of his peers to die as he watched. He lost someone who was his closet friend all through grammar school, middle school, and a good solid friend through High School and into adulthood. Three days on, and I don't think it's really hit home for him yet.
 As for me, I started my personal flavor of CISM this afternoon by leaving work early and doing this...

It's a 3 minute drive from my house, and a mile and a half hike in from the road. No people, no noise, (no fish), and nothing to do but think and sort things out.
 It works for me. In fact, It worked so well, I might do it again this weekend.
 I'll miss you Woodchuck, it was an honor to know you and watch you grow into a man.
Be Safe, Be Strong, Be Sharp,

Thursday, May 26, 2011

When Firefighters Cry

When Firefighters cry, it is without shame.
When Firefighters cry, it is not because they could not do more, but because there was no more that could be done.
When Firefighters cry, it is a visceral and painful cry that creates an actual muscular pain within. It comes from deep within their soul.
 When Firefighters cry, it is not because they didn't do their best, it is because their best wasn't good enough...tonight.
 When Firefighters cry it is because they understand, better than most, how unfair life, or death, can be.

There are days, not many, when I hate this job. Today is one of those days.

Monday, May 23, 2011

It's been a while...

Any of the folks who drive in my agency will tell you that when I am in the back I will tell my driver "Nice and easy to St. Nearest, if you please" and that I will say that 99.8% of the time. I don't like hot runs to the hospital for safety reasons and only would consider them if the patient was probably not going to make it unless we gained every second we could or there was nothing more we could do for this patient outside the Hospital.
 So I can tell you that I can count the number of hot runs I've had in the last 5 years on the fingers of one hand. The other week we had one and we all got to test out our sea legs. I can also tell you that I am now very familiar with the appearance, texture, and odor of  'coffee ground emesis' as well as 'coffee ground feces'. I could have gotten by without knowing what each looked like when spread, in copious quantities all over the floor of the ambulance. I got a case of the dry heaves on this one, but I kept working. The rig needed a good hosing out and decon anyway, and what better time than 2am on a Monday morning?
 I hope he made it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Long Enough

"How long have you been doing this?"
 Every time he gets asked that question, he either looks at the ground, or off in the distance and just says quietly "Long Enough."
 Usually the questioner senses the immediate change in his demeanor and changes the subject, sensing that they either hit on something he wishes not to discuss, or perhaps they are afraid of the answer they might get to the next question.
 Truth be told, he is actually expecting that next question, but it never gets asked, at least not yet. On the day he does get the second question, he'll answer that he's been at it long enough to loose that swagger that you are issued with your first EMT or Firefighter Certification. He's been doing it long enough to know that all you can do, is the best that you can do. He's been doing this long enough to know that you can see something new at any given moment and you have to handle it. He's been doing this long enough to know that he will never see it all. He has been doing this long enough to laugh at those who claim they have 'seen it all', because he knows them for the fools that they are.
 He's been in this long enough to know that the pain of somebody else's tragedy can take a long time to ease. He's been doing this long enough to know that life is nothing like a TV show. He's been in this long enough to know that some die even when you think they'll make it, and some live even though there is no hope for them. He has been doing this long enough to be humbled by the complexity and resilience of the human body, as well as how frail it can become at times.
 He's been doing this long enough to know that making judgements about people and their life situations is both wrong and a waste of time because mostly, you can never really know what their situation is, or how they got there, and any judgements you make will likely be terribly incorrect.
 He's been doing this long enough to learn that laughter, especially in the back of the ambulance, is a precious thing and can have great healing powers.
 He's been doing this long enough to know that he is just a cog in the system and that his purpose is more to provide comfort than treatment, but both are important.
 He's been in this long enough to believe that the greatest invention of the 20th century was home smoke detectors and he can't understand why everyone doesn't keep them installed and working.
 He's been doing this long enough to have made friends with many of the ghosts that haunt his nights, but he is still working on some of the others.
 He's been doing this long enough.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Random Stuff

I feel like I owe you folks a post, but as I used up a bunch of material in my last post, I am kind of coming up dry here today. So you are about to be subjected to a 'stream of consciousness' post. You have been warned.
  • I read Rogue Medic's post on bad ambulance drivers this morning and was glad to learn that it isn't just me that feels many of our drivers are a bit too aggressive. When I drive I can seldom avoid all stops, BUT I plan for that stop well in advance and work the speed down over a long distance, then as the vehicle is beginning it's last few few before stopping, I LET MY FOOT OFF ON THE BRAKE PEDAL PRESSURE. This little maneuver allows the vehicle to stop without the inertial change and the little jerk. Try it, it might take some practice, but you can actual come to a full stop without anybody realizing you've stopped moving. This little trick, combined with looking way down the road to plan for what MIGHT happen, has kept me from getting any complaints from my techs in the back. Some patients will complain no matter what. To Whit:
PATIENT (on stretcher in back of rig): Tell that DRIVER to take it easy, it's not like I'm gonna die right here!
EMT: Ma'am, we haven't left the accident scene yet.
PATIENT: Don't You tell me! It feels like he is taking us across a cow pasture!
EMT: Yes, Ma'am, I'll tell him. (Under breath: "This is gonna be a LONG ride.")
  • Did my morning chores today which includes a trip to my folks house to get then the weekly essentials, milk, bread, etc, along with the Sunday paper. I spend some time doing a few little things around the house and see how they're getting on. With the steady rain today, it doesn't look like they'll be doing much.
  • Yesterday, I bit the bullet and spent the day installing my lights and radios in the new truck. It's getting harder and harder to do this stuff in these vehicles with less access holes, more trim, and everything tightened up. But I did manage, after pulling out the center console, carpets, and various door trims, to get everything installed with hardly any wires showing. Halfway through, my driveway looked like some kind of sick extrication drill with parts all over the place.
  • This week was a stressful one at the paying job. New product releases are always rough and we are working on one now that is being pushed through at a ridiculous rate (10 weeks instead of 6 months), and there are always a lot that can go wrong. My part of it is almost done and ahead of schedule. I excel at these types challenges because it was my specialty for 20 years and I have gotten good at pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The other parts of this project are loafing along and we will most likely have a mad rush near the deadline to make it all come together, but at least they won't be waiting for my stuff. I was so drained when I got home Friday that I was in bed by 8:30.
  • So Saturday when I got up and decided to get the truck work done, I completely blanked out on a public service/community day event that was taking place, and I missed it completely. I have to send a note of apology the organizer, but to be fair, I had not gotten a reminder or anything in the last 2 weeks.
  • In spite of all the stuff on my mind this week, I found myself thinking about the trials of another blogger friend across the state who is sailing some rough seas with her Department these past couple of months. I hope things worked out to her satisfaction, but I know she will come out of it fine in the long run.
  •  My damned dog ran off yesterday. It's a game she plays and thinks it great fun. She just goes out for a 'walk-about' then comes back in an hour or two. But like a fool I went looking for her with the truck because she won't come to me when I'm on foot, but she loves tuck rides and will jump right in. I found her grazing at the other end of the swamp, and when I opened the door she jumped right in, on my new seats, all dripping with brown swamp water. So today, if the rain lets up, I'll try and get the new stains off my new seats. Yeah, she's cute, loving, and my best buddy, but when she does stuff like this she is just the 'damned dog'.
  •  Sunday's around here are a little different. Most of my friends and neighbors work 7 day weeks, so Sunday is just another work day, sort of. They try to make some time for family by starting early, doing short fill in jobs, or saving Sunday for doing quotes and estimates. I ran into several at the local coffee shop this morning and they were all discussing the rainy day plans, one already had 4 hours work in by 9am. I felt guilty heading back home to do whatever chores I felt like, or not, around the place here.
  • TOTWTYTR had a fun post yesterday about his day at the range. I love posts like this because they take me away from the routine and transport me to another place and time, and the writer is not even aware of what he is doing for me. His post brought me back about 25 years to my own day at the range when I was testing out a (new to me) rifle I had rescued from mothballs that was chambered in .222 Remington. I loaded up the clip, took aim, and CLICK. Nothing. Waited a few minutes in case of a hang-fire, chambered another round, took aim, and  ... CLICK. I thought I had a box of bad ammo, so I turned it in to the Range Officer. After returning home and doing some investigating, I figured out that the rifle had spent so much time sitting in a rack, cocked, that the firing pin spring had gone soft. A week later I replaced the spring, went back to the range, and she fired just fine. That gun is a real tack-driver. In those days I would be at the range once or twice every week running hundreds of rounds through my handguns, rifles, and occasionally shotguns. I miss those days when I spent my beer money on powder, primers, and bullets.
  • Every time I think about FDIC I get excited. Although I still have no idea how I am going to come up with the money, it looks like this is really going to happen for me. Now we have three of us planning on going from the area, and I am going to try to get together with the other guys to firm up some long term plans. I just can't wait.
  • I added a page to the blog yesterday titled "Series Posts" (see it up there at the top?). This is just a place for me to put quick references to the longer multi-part series that I have done. Check it out and see if there isn't something you missed from the past. I'll also have posts I feel are worthy of referring to later, it makes them easier to find.
Well that's all I got for today, sorry. No big EMS or Fire revelations here, just routine stuff. I'm sure my issues are of little interest to you, but you have to take what I've got, and today, that's not much. Maybe later something brilliant will hit me.
 Be Safe, Be Sharp,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back To Normal

... or as normal as it gets around here anyway.
 Well, I've got the 'series bug' out my system and I thank you all for suffering through it. Actually not all made the cut, because I notice that the readership has fallen, which gives me a good idea of how the group of posts was received. I was afraid that might happen, but I have never made apologies for the content here, reminding all that I write as much for me as I do for you all. The content in that series contained a lot of things I have been wanting to say 'out loud' for a long time. We can fix this service if we just work on it in a business like manner.
 It was interesting to see that some readers became a little bit more 'regular', looking for the next installment, while others didn't show up as much. I'm thinking any career service readers I had pretty much faded away when I focused on the Volley Service, and I don't blame them. There was one exception and that was Capt. Mike. He checks in pretty regular, no matter how bad it gets here.
 I never started this blog to give the big boys a challenge, just to get some stuff off my chest and perhaps share something that somebody else out there would find useful. This is why there is no facebook page, no "like" buttons, no attempt in anyway to get my 'name out there'.  I figure if folks like it, they get the word, and if they don't, well then I learned something. As an Instructor, I am very interested in what gets people interested, and what does not. This understanding is vital to make my classes meaningful and worthwhile for those who participate in them. The concepts in the proceeding series were those I was considering putting into an article submission for one of the major fire service Magazines. I wanted to judge interest, and I've think I gotten my answer.
 In other news, let me catch you up on what's been going on around the farm while we were all occupied.
  • I played Safety Officer/5th Instructor on 2 live burns in 3 days. Both of which kicked my ass. These bottles don't last as long as they used to, have you noticed that? The first burn was for a Firefighter 1 class. The first one for this class, and the Instructors worked hard that night. I was working with State Fire Instructors that had been my instructors not too long ago. Having  virgins on their first burn meant a lot of extra work pushing them and showing them what they should be doing and how it's done. All of the Instructors were Career guys except me, and one, a veteran Captain, remarked to me that he had humped more hose in the last 3 hours that he had pulled in the last 2 years. I made a remark about him earning his pay ( as I was tripoding and trying to catch my own breath) which led to a discussion about the recent (paid) Instructors jobs which I had considered, but failed to apply for. I mentioned that it would have helped pay for FDIC next year and he lit up. He said "Next Year Man! I am going to finally go, nothing is gonna stand in my way!". So now I have another traveling partner. Sweet! We are gonna have a blast. I came home that night soaked with sweat right down to my socks, and a huge grin on my face.
  • The second burn was a class given by a guest Instructor. I had met Ray last year when he came up to do a workshop on building size up and initial fire attack. This year he used the training center, did a 45 minute classroom session, followed by a few hours out in the burn building putting it all together. These students were more experienced and we focused on decision making, communications, and coordination. I didn't sweat as much on this one, but my gear is still drying out. Good Times with a good Instructor at a good facility. What more could you ask for?
  •  I am back in class myself, taking a Fire Behavior class from one of the Instructors I worked the first live burn with. Good class and I am learning some stuff. I think I am also doing a fair job of keeping my mouth shut most of the time. It must be rough having an Instructor as a Student in a regular class. I keep catching myself as I am about to blurt out the latest numbers and statistics that the Class Instructor doesn't have handy. He is pretty good about it. When I do slip up, he gives me that look, smiles, says "Thank You, UU, now please shut up" I apologize, we all laugh and move on.  It's good to be learning some new stuff.
  •  My ass is dragging today. We had an unusual shift last night. Caught a run at 11pm (dementia patient found wandering down a two-lane, nearly got hit twice) and as we were doing the turnover at the hospital, we got dispatched to a cardiac emergency (A-Fib) so we dumped and ran all the way back out of Small City to our District, loaded that patient and transported with ALS aboard back to Small City. As we were turning over THAT patient, we got dispatched for a respiratory arrest call. Dump and run again with a long hot run back to town to load-and-go, again with ALS on board. This one was a 'worker' with all the toys brought into play and our medic did a great job. I got back into bed at around 3am. So yeah, it was rough to get up at 6 and go to 'work'.
  • The last 5 days have been interesting. My wife, Sister, Mom, and Dad are all over in Cape Cod where my Sister has a house (that's a far piece from here). I thought I would have some time for myself to relax, be a bum, and do some stuff for 'me'. Turns out it doesn't work that way. By the time I check the mail at my folks house, feed and run the dog, clean the dishes, cook, take care of the training commitments, etc., I barely have time to sleep and go to work. Who would have thought? I'll be glad when they all come back in a couple of days.
  • We had a public service event yesterday. An annual run sponsored by a Law Enforcement to benefit the Children of two Officers who died in the line on duty  in our District about 8 years ago. We have lots of volunteers for this one because they get a T-shirt and a hamburger out of it which is more than we usually get. I've done this one for many years, but these days my 'contribution' is to let the young folks go have fun while I post myself on standby in the middle of the District. I read the paper, drink my coffee, watch the boats and the birds out on the Big Water, and let the hours roll by. As is usual, no work rolled my way.
 Ok, so we are back into the day to day mode here and I've used up enough material in this one that could have given me a weeks worth of posts. Looks like it's gonna be slim pickings for the next few days.
 Be Safe and Be Sharp,

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Volunteer Fire Departments 2.0 (9 of 9) Respect

This is part 9 of a 9 part series. You should have read the preceding parts: Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four, Part Five , Part Six, Part Seven and Part Eight, before moving onto this one. Today's subject is Respect in the Volunteer Service.
 One would think that this subject needs not be addressed at all in this series. I am here to tell you that in many cases, it is a necessary part of the discussion. I know that we all believe we have respect for each other and treat others well, but the plain fact is that I have seen otherwise.I have seen Departments that don't respect their members, Officers that don't respect those under, or over, them, and Members that don't respect each other.
 It's easy to point at the stand-up guy or gal who sets a good example, takes all the training, helps the newer folks, and is dependable. We all respect THAT person. But what about the member that makes mistakes, doesn't learn too quickly, pulls the occasional dumb move or says the wrong thing that makes the rest of us look bad? What about that "Department Whacker'?  The guy with all the lights and stickers on his car, the embarrassing bold statements on his T-shirts ("My job is to save your ass, not to kiss it', or "I save lives, what do you do?"). Do we respect that guy or do we make fun of him? Respect has a lot of facets, and takes a lot of forms.
 I'm not implying that we each need to love one another (that can cause some different problems, which I have seen in a few agencies), what I am trying to point out is that we DO all have to work together, and we have to do that when it counts the most for others. If we can't work together on a committee, how the hell can we expect to do it when lives and property are on the line and we only get one chance to get it right the first time?
 Using myself as an example here, I can tell you that there is one member I work with that I would never invite over to my house, try to spend time with, or advise somebody to look at as an example. That persons life choices are poor (in my opinion) and he does things that I would never consider, and frankly I do not respect him as a neighbor. However, he is a good firefighter, has given many years to the Community in his own way, and he has earned my respect on that level. I never argue with him and I never criticize him in front of others. I treat him with respect, even though it is very hard sometimes because of the things he does to hurt people when he gets mad. For me, if he does the job, he gets the respect for doing the job.
 I think (I'm not positive on this) that where we make a mistake is in making judgments and deciding how to treat people in general based on things they do that don't matter to the Fire Department.We are not running a society, we are running a business.
 The best practices here which I have collected are these:
 Separate the personal feelings from the business of the Fire Department. Leave the personal stuff at home and leave it out of all decisions made at the Fire House. Make this part of your culture.
 Treat your co-workers with respect. This means the Department has to leave personal alliances and friendships, AS WELL AS RELATIONSHIPS, outside of the decision making process. Your written rules, regulations, and procedures will help you with this in a big way.
 You have to work as a group to maintain equality for all. Decisions, elections, incentives, and everything else should be performance based.
 Respect has to come from all directions, both up and down the chain of command. If your governing Board does not respect their front line personnel enough to get them proper gear and keep it in working condition, you are already on a downward spiral.
 If your Chief Officers do not respect the Line Officers enough to take their input on the fire ground, you also have a big problem.
 If your Line Officers do not listen to their members and address their concerns in a MEANINGFUL manner, you have a big problem.
 These are the things you need to look at and attack as a team. Although I placed this subject last, in truth, if you don't start with a certain level of respect, you are going to have a hard time making any improvements in all those other areas we talked about. The respect that the other person may not be right, but he deserves to be listened to is a good start. You also need enough respect to realize that the other guy just might be more right than you are and be able to change your mind. (By the way, I have earned more respect for changing my mind, based on a good discussion, than by winning arguments.)
 When you provide effective and meaningful training, it shows you respect your members time and needs.
 When you offer timely and predictable recognition, it shows you appreciate the time, effort, and skill your members provide.
 The list goes on, but the point is that putting all the other stuff together in a cohesive package shows respect both for the needs of the Community and the needs of the members. Treat others with respect and they will respond in kind
 So that's it, the best compilation I could formulate with my writing skills on the big fundamental issues facing the Volunteer Service as I see them. At this point, I'm not sure if I'll do a summary post or not. I may go through and re-read it all and see if it is worth putting it all together. But for now, these 9 posts are 'it'. I have gotten a couple of comments and a few emails telling me that the reading was worthwhile, so I hit my low end goal anyway. However, I'd still like to leave the door open for any of you who would like to post some better ideas or debate those things I put forth. I have seen a lot of promising things in our volunteer Departments and a lot of heart. I know we do the job now, but I also know we can do it better, and with less effort if we get our act together.  Every Department has strengths and weaknesses and a big part of the job is identifying both so that we can make improvements. Let's break that old adage: "200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress" into tiny little pieces and move forward, shall we?
Be Well, Be Safe, Be Sharp, and look good doing it,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

We are Experiencing Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By

 Sorry folks, if you tuned in here to get the last installment of the series today, I just couldn't get my act together. A Company meeting Wednesday night, assisting at a live burn for a Firefighter One class on Thursday, and something else on Friday that I have to look up, and I just couldn't make it happen.
 The best we can hope for is Saturday morning, but more likely Sunday because Saturday I am again assisting with a live burn for a guest Instructor running a special class on initial fire attack which looks to be the live burn from hell because they expect 40 participants. I didn't mention that I am also representing the Training Center as the AHJ and need to make sure everybody is compliant with the State Live Burn Regs. So, once again, life intervenes and I know you understand when I make a choice between helping out at a H.O.T. Session or being delayed with a blog post.. I just wanted you to know I am not sitting in a bar enjoying my evenings while ignoring y'all.
 Damn I wish I got paid for some of this stuff, or at least got a T-shirt out of it. (My shirts are getting kind of ratty.)
 Be back soon,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Volunteer Fire Departments 2.0 (8 of 9) Recognition

This is part 8 of a 9 part series. You should have read the preceding parts: Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four, Part Five , Part Six and Part Seven before moving onto this one. Today's subject is Recognition in the Volunteer Service. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these posts will get shorter and shorter as we near the end of the series because each uses the points that were presented earlier and builds on them. With only 2 posts left, this will be the shortest yet.
 You may well wonder why I am including Recognition in a series that addresses the Major Challenges in the Volunteer Service. If you are asking that question, then I obviously need to explain some things I have learned.
 Many people are naturally generous. either with their time, their money, or both. However, those same folks will be very wary of donating anything if they believe that their donation is not needed, or not appreciated.
 Every Volunteer is a DONOR to your Department. The Department's job is to recognize this on a regular basis, whether formally, informally, or in a public way. Most (or at least many) do not want or need recognition to continue to do their jobs. In fact, many get embarrassed when they are singled out. However, put people in a position where they believe they are taken for granted and their attitudes take a downturn. So we need to walk the line here and make sure folks know that we value them.
 Many Departments have some sort of annual event where they recognize many of their members for length of service, special activities, service of note, or any other list of things. This is good and it builds morale. The only downside I see to this is that some get left out if they are just a middle of the road member. The guy or gal that is there a LOT of the time, but never holds an Office or does anything 'special'. These are our Grunts. The workforce we come to depend on day in and day out. Where would we be without those folks and how do we recognize their value?
 First and foremost, create a culture where members feel free to recognize each other in an informal way. Walk up to a member after a tough call and let them know that you appreciate the simple fact that they were there and doing their job well. "Hey man, I was really glad to see you at the pump panel when I went in. I like knowing that you have my back." You'll always get a smile and know you made somebody feel good. Peer recognition is a very strong thing. I can say for myself, that when I have the respect and appreciation of my peers, I don't really care what anybody else thinks. These are the guys and gals I work with that depend on me. If they trust me then I feel like I have earned something very valuable.
 Second, I have seen that Departments which have a standard recognition program have a very high morale, in general. For instance, I know one Department that gives 'optional equipment' to members when they reach certain milestones. When they are voted in as a probie, they are given two t-shirts and a hat. When they complete their Firefighter One, they are given a new set of Bunker gear, when they complete all the requirements for their probational year and become a full member, they are given a leather helmet. Their standard program is written down and the requirements are clear, when you earn it, you get it. So if you see one of them on a fire scene, you can tell by how they are dressed where they stand in the Department. This creates a certain drive for members to stay on track and earn that 'stuff'. The psychologists will tell you a lot about why something like this works, but all I know if what I have seen, and this works. It comes back to having things well organized and planned, while being consistent in your treatment of your members and getting away from doing things on a whim. It's a business, so run it like one. You can't give them a raise or a bonus, so give them a job shirt.
 Third, recognition of your members in the public eye will not only do well for that member, but also for the entire Department. Getting out press releases when appropriate can go a long way to providing good PR for your Department, the individual member involved, and all the other members. Everybody likes to see one of their team get put out in front and recognized when they deserve it. Even if you just put a congratulation note on your message board on the Fire House, it makes a difference for people. And it's all free, you just have to DO IT. Also, don't forget to always nominate some of your members for the County, State, Regional, or other awards that are available out there. Many of these awards go wanting for candidates. One year, members in my Department were awarded 3 plaques by the regional EMS council because there were few nominees and we took the time to write up the nominations.
 Bottom line: Tell your people you appreciate them. Do it sincerely, and do it often. Make it your Culture, get EVERYBODY to do it, not just the Officers and Organization. This all leads into our next and last subject.
 Coming Up: RESPECT

Be well, Be safe, Be sharp,

Monday, May 2, 2011


 I'd like to just take a minute here and thank those in our Military and Intelligence community for completing their mission. For the families of those who have given so much of themselves, including their many lives, I want to give my Thanks. Few will ever understand what you have accomplished and what was required to make it happen.
 For our enemies, let this serve as a reminder, that we will Never Forget.

To our Men and Women, I'll just say "Strong Work, Thank You."

Series Intermission II

 OK folks, time to get some popcorn and hit the restroom. The end is in sight. It is looking like this series will end up with 9 posts in total. We have 2 posts left to go.
 In the meantime, while working on these posts, other issues in the world have continued on and I wanted to throw a few of those bullet items in.
 First and foremost, I wanted to say a big public "Thank You" to Bobby Halton, Fire Engineering Magazine, and Dr. Mike Mcevoy. Mike and some buddies had their inaugural Podcast last night of Firemedically Speaking on the Fire Engineering Talk Radio network and in the course of the evening I called in and wound up being given/awarded/presented with a free and full conference pass to FDIC in 2012 courtesy of Bobby. This is huge for me, as it puts me one giant step closer to getting out there and handling the expenses. I want to thank all involved for the great gift as well as for their continued support of all of us in this game by providing timely, useful, and cutting edge information and training. I strongly suggest you check out all the Fire Engineering Podcasts coming up, they have big names and and have a podcast almost every week night. I don't know how they are going to keep this pace up.
 Second, I mentioned an injury at the end of installment 6 and I just wanted to let you know I am fine. I had suffered a lac down to the bone on the top of my left thumb due to a high speed impact with a piece of 1-1/2 inch pipe. (ALWAYS WEAR YOUR DAMNED GLOVES, MORON!) The bone bruise was much worse then the cut, but we all know this is a terrible place to have a severe lac and get it to heal right. I opted for a finger splint instead of stitching it up (I suck at sewing, especially when I only have one hand). It made for really tough typing and I had a huge problem with my 5 button mouse, but I am out of the woods now and the cut has closed up, with the hope that I can move my thumb again in another couple of days. There is still some pain from the impact.
 We had another kick-ass drill the other night which was on ladder operations. We haven't done this in a while, so we had a short classroom session covering all the technical terms and considerations as well as a review of proper ladder positioning for various chores such as evacuation, ventilation, and FAST team egress, , followed by a hands on session of throwing ladders, doing the odd carries, and getting up on the firehouse roof where we did some simulated ventilation on some skids with the vent saw. All in all a good night going over the basics. Thanks go out to Capt. Adam for that one. It was a pleasure to lend a hand and have another Instructor take the lead and do a great job.
 So we have 2 more posts left in the series. I encourage you to throw up some comments and share your successes or problems. Also, if you disagree with what I post, please feel free to throw that up there also. I have a thick skin and would welcome the discourse.
 Be Well, Be Safe, Be Sharp,

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Volunteer Fire Departments 2.0 (7 of 9) Organization

This is part 7 of a multi-part series. You should have read the preceding parts: Part One, Part Two, Part ThreePart Four, Part Five  and Part Six before moving onto this one. Today's subject is Recruitment in the Volunteer Service.
 Thousands of words have been written on this subject by many authors and organizations. I will not repeat those words here. My readers are smart enough to go seek that material out and review it if they need to. There are tons of good ideas and programs already in print and ripe for the taking. I do suggest, that if Recruitment is an issue in your Department that you indeed go and look at many of these great resources.
 No, instead, in this post I will try to focus on why some Departments have little trouble with recruitment while others suffer long and hard for each new member they gain or old member they retain.
 We all know the excuses reasons that recruitment is so difficult: The training requirements, the time away from family, the current trend for many folks to work long hours or multiple jobs just to make ends meet, as well as all the hurdles people throw up for themselves such as "I am not the 'emergency type'", "I could never fit in with that crowd", "They are a tight clique, those guys are", "I don't have any experience with that sort of stuff", and "I can't afford it, either the time or the money". This last refers to the misunderstanding that each responder buys their own equipment. I know this is wrong (or it should be), but if we don't correct that minomer, they will go right on believing it, won't they?
 So the first secret I have learned from watching good Departments is this: If you want to recruit, signs, newspaper ads, and campaigns are fine, but if you really want members then you have to get out there and talk to people. Answer their questions, show them how things work, put them at ease. Do a little hand-holding (Easy folks, this is a metaphor). You can't just say 'Hey come on down to a Department meeting the first Monday of the month', you have to offer to pick them up, bring them there and introduce them around. make them feel comfortable, let them know what they can expect. Everybody has apprehension and most folks won't tell you what their concerns are, you need to guess well, and give them enough information to feel at ease. Emphasize where your Department is flexible (such as the types of jobs they can choose) and where you have strict requirements. Being open, honest, and informative helps prevents those false starts and misunderstandings.
 The next glaring secret I have seen is having all those other things that we talked about in the proceeding posts: Having a solid Organization, good and effective training, making good use of your members time, and all those other things, make members feel welcome and valued. This is key: if people are giving their time, YOU need to SHOW them how valuable that time is to the Department and community. NEVER ASSUME that they know this, keep reminding them. In my Department, I never do a call where somebody at some point does not say "Hey, thanks for coming, nice work", or something along those lines. It just good business and a nice habit to get into. It's easy, it's free, and it DOES mean something. It means somebody realizes you dropped what you were doing and came to help. Even if you did very little, you did show up ready to work, and that means a lot. Think about that on your next call.
 I mentioned doing all the other things previously discussed, but I want to focus on training. Most folks who stay in this business do so because they like it. They like helping and being good at their job, that takes training. I know that many Departments think they already spend too much time training, but I am going to point out again that if you have good solid, productive, and meaningful training, your members will stick around longer. I know of 2 Departments in neighboring towns. One Department added a retirement incentive plan (LOSAP) for their Volunteers and several members from the second town transferred over to the other Department because of that plan which their Department did not have. Several folks who joined in later years chose the Department with the retirement plan. Well, over time it became clear to many that the Department with the retirement plan didn't offer much else, whereas the second Department had an outstanding training program that was ongoing and consistent. These days there are several members in the retirement Department trying to transfer over to the Department that has regular training because it is a better performing group, more active, and has interesting and regular training. The Department with the retirement plan is known in the area as largely lacking in skills and calls regularly for mutual aid on routine calls, whereas the Department with the good training is called to assist them and many other Departments in the area because of their proficiency. They are widely known as a crew that "comes ready to work". Incidentally, this Department had to put a moratorium on new members last year because they had more people coming in than they could handle with training and gear requirements. Nice place to be, isn't it? Too many new members. Everybody in the County wants to know what "their Secret" is. Well, I just told you.
 This post is short, because it's simple: Treat People right, Let them know what they can expect, and do what you promise. That's it.
 Now if you have some recruitment secrets, please post a comment and let everybody know what works for your Department. People are always looking for ideas, and many hands make light work.
 NEXT UP: (after an intermission) Recognition