Thursday, November 27, 2008

Insurance Companies Hiring “Private Fire Companies”?

I am posting this as a blog, because I am limited to 1500 characters if I reply to the article. I feel that it is important to get this discussion on The Kitchen Table.

Here is the link:

This raises a lot of questions in my mind.

For instance:

Where are these firefighters coming from?

With communities suffering to keep their rosters full of capable people, how is that we have enough to populate “private fire companies”? Could these people be “two hatting”? Are communities being left under manned while these privateers earn money from the insurance companies?

What qualifications do these private fire companies possess? Do they have any type of recognizable or certifiable skills?

What standards are they being held to? Are they similar in type to industrial fire brigades, for instance?

What AHJ has been empowered to over see the activities of these insurance company employees? NFPA? NIOSH? DOL?

What about the equipment that is being used? Again; is this equipment that will pass muster if inspected? From apparatus to PPE; who is insuring that what is being used is acceptable and safe?

Are these insurance company fire brigades making it better or worse for agencies such as the US Forest Service? Are they in a position that may require another agency to risk their resources and lives to get them out, should they need assistance? What has been gained?

It is an interesting concept, but how did it sort of “sneak” up on us? I don’t remember seeing the memo or even discussion on this new phenomenon. I feel that, before this cottage industry is allowed to deploy on a larger scale, we need to make certain that it is an industry that will be tightly regulated. Otherwise; we will be dealing with more deaths, all in the names of saving some rich guy’s property.

We need to make certain that risk vs. gain has been properly implemented and one justifies the other.



Thanksgiving Day

Today while we are at the virtual kitchen table, and maybe combining stations or companies for the traditional thanksgiving meal, lets give thanks for being members of the greatest profession in the whole world....The Fire Service.

Be thankful for all that we have, remember those that have less than us and let's have a quiet and safe shift.

I do have an idea for this year though....when we gather at the big kitchen table, let's leave an empty plate, place setting and chair for those who have left us this year, either by natural causes, LODD, or a veteran of the armed forces from our city or town or department, who is not here any longer. If we have not lost a member or a retired member, then use it to remember our veterans who are deployed.

If we say never forget, use the empty chair as a reminder.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Inconvenient Safety Measure

I’m always impressed with the very libertarian approach our fire service takes on issues that they don’t like for whatever reason. I mean, it’s all well and good to require regulations and ordinances for everyone else when safety is the topic, but when the federal government comes down from on high and attempts to pass legislation that might increase our safety, well, it’s a different story.

Not that this legislation was without flaws; but the consideration for hazmat personnel and personnel actively fighting fire aside, the occasional argument about the “aggrevation of wearing the vest” and that “my turnouts are sufficient” seem a little ridiculous especially since I’m familiar with my vest (which is pretty easy to don) and my own turnouts (exactly how much good the retroreflective trim is on it after the fires I have been through).

Does your turnout ensemble meet the NFPA standards? Yes, mine does. Is the ensemble serviceable? Again, yes, mine is. Am I lit up like a department store Christmas tree when working in one of the most hazardous environments we routinely face? The answer is no.

I think reason prevailed and I think the right changes were made. But the whole “incovenvience” of safety rules gets me going a little.

In regard to this issue, we have an obligation to honor the souls of our brothers who have been tragically killed in the line of duty while working traffic incidents by remembering their situation and trying to prevent future losses. We have a need to be visible in traffic. I heard someone the other day bemoaning the chevron striping my department’s (Hilton Head Island) new apparatus (see picture by Lt. Jason Walters). You know what? Who cares if it clashes with your uniform? It’s visible. It’s going to hopefully save your life.

When inconvenience and aesthetics trump safety, I have heartburn with that. Do you want to be the officer that tells a family that we lost their loved one because we wanted to be color-coordinated or because the vest was a pain to wear? It’s time we looked deep into our hearts and asked ourselves, do we want to be safer? Do we really?

Opportunity During Tough Times?

A lot is being said and written about the negative impact our economic downturn is having on just about every (if not every) fire department in the country. My department is not immune though we are supposedly one of the richest counties in the country.

While times are tough my view is there are sometimes opportunities hidden during those time frames. Likewise, we should all be taking an honest look at how we do business and if we can conduct business more creatively and efficiently. If I were Chief for a day I would immediately form an Incident Management Team (IMT) comprised of all components of the department. This would include labor/volunteer/civilian staff as well as a couple of key community stake holders with unique business backgrounds and talents. The goal would be to develop an Incident Action Plan (IAP) to address the current and even future budgets (two to five years out) through creative means. Look at the department’s Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT’s) and address in an honest and bi-partisan manner. My feeling is this approach may limit the extent of any current painful mid-year cuts while also positioning the department for future growth.

One approach that may be somewhat controversial and frowned upon by most departments is the thought that some of the uniformed administrative positions could be transitioned over to civilian staff. Having been on both sides of the fence, I feel strongly that we need to start taking an honest look at what functions can truly be handled by civilian staff (which is cheaper to be blunt) so that we can ensure adequate operational functions by uniformed staff. Who knows, this approach may even allow you to have your cake and eat it too by saving a vital admin position (as there will be a significant cost savings in theory) and even maintaining, or increasing, your operational staffing! In the politician’s eyes, you have shown a way to reduce cost yet maintain staffing which is all good!

We can inflict our own pain in a way that works best for us or we can wait for others (read politicians) to inflict worse – and that will happen without proactive action on our part!
Just my two cents worth – which may only be worth a third of one cent by now. Am I eligible for a bailout?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Forward to Yesteryear or Back to the Future?

The other day I challenged my battalion to think about methods or technology that would essentially change the way we do business in the future (like the Fire Grenade concept, as discussed by Jamie in his FireRescue1 article on November 18). Today we should consider that things the fire service did in the past may very well catch up to us as well. The case in point is this one, where private fire contractors are being paid by insurance companies to go in ahead of regular fire assets and secure homes endangered by wildland interface fires. As you can see in the article, insurance companies are taking measures to keep from having large losses by hiring their own crews, somewhat like insurance companies did over 200 years ago. While this measure is encountering a little controversy, the idea of the insurance companies realizing that public fire protection is understaffed and underequipped for fires of this magnitude and sending their own response is a very interesting one and something that could arguably be stretched into other venues as well. It would be all well and good for the public and the insurance agencies to work to help us meet our needs instead, but just as other industries have found out, if consumers are willing to spend extra to get "premium" service, there are people who will be happy to provide it (for a profit, of course). Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it makes you think.

Just because we do our job one way today means nothing tomorrow. Be prepared for change by educating yourself and opening your mind to other possibilities. You might be the person who comes up with a solution to a fire service problem and radically changes the way we operate in the future.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


First and foremost my thoughts and prayers go out to the family of FDNY Lieutenant Robert J. Ryan, age 46, from Engine 156 who lost his life in the line of duty in a ceiling collapse.

As I heard of the news, as well as some of the bad news of the week, I am feeling crumby with a rotten feeling in my gut. LODD are tough enough but as we approach the holidays to have families tortured by grief makes it even worse.

As I am growing in my knowledge of the business every year, I am now shifting my focus. I try to learn about all the details of each LODD and pass on whatever I can to make sure I try to minimize it happening in my own department, but I am now often struck by the information about the families, friends and members left behind.

A LODD will affect literally hundreds of people and sometimes many more. So as the numbers continue to climb, multiply the LODD numbers by hundreds and thousands.

We will never get to a number of zero, but in my humble view, we are not able to stem the tide just yet. I am becoming at a loss professionally. We have better safety standards, the best gear and technology we can buy, we have the 16 safety initiatives, but we continue to lose ground.
We will have time to talk about that stuff later, but I would like to hear from you and your thoughts on this issue.

But for right now, give your attention and thoughts to the family and friends of Lieutenant Ryan and the members of FDNY who have lost another brave soldier in the battle of the flames.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bail Outs – The Government Kind

Yeah; let’s talk about “government bailouts”.

How does it affect “us”? Well, I don’t know about “us”, but I know how it affects me. It makes me crazy!

First, the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street: the companies actively listed on the NASDAQ are “publicly traded, privately held”. When stocks are down, there is much buying and when stocks are up, there is selling for profits.

Deciding on what to buy has always been a trader’s privilege. It is gambling in its purest form. If you gamble correctly, you will make a lot of money. When you don’t choose the right stocks, you could lose a lot. Where is it written that the process should be subsidized by governments?

If I get in over my head and say, purchase a house-i.e. gamble that I will continue to get pay raises or even stay employed-who helps me? The answer is still ME! I would never look to the government for help. A bank or mortgage company; yes. Bankruptcy would be last on my list. The ghost of my father would haunt me to insanity if I didn’t make good on my commitments. And that is what it is; honoring my commitment to a lending institution.

Second, the $25 billion bailout of the Big Three automakers: first of all, you don’t drive a Cadillac to a meeting to plead poverty. You don’t pop champagne if you get the money and get to keep your Cadillac. You should be ashamed; ashamed that you were able to “work the system” at the expense of the truly needy.

The last time I looked, the free market supports companies that manufacture and sell a quality product at an affordable price. I think that I just summed it up right there! Is it any wonder that Toyota has sold the number one car in this country right up to this year? You don’t hear them crying for a hand out.

Bottom line is: if your labor and benefit costs are too high and people aren’t buying because of quality issues, including crappy gas mileage, then what should be done?

I agree that a CEO is not worth $30 million a year, but neither is a guy running a pneumatic wrench making $30-plus an hour. Have you ever wondered why employees of a national union continues to draw their cushy six-figure salaries, while their membership is walking the picket line for $200 a week? The unions aren’t free from some blame in this, either. They have a hierarchy that they must pay for, too.

We live in a very greedy, "ME" society…until things go bad! Then, it's "WE"!

Which brings me to the fire service: where was the government bailout when some of the apparatus companies were filing for bankruptcy or going out of business? Am I the only one who hears crickets chirping?

What we do is literally a matter of life and death. What Wall Street and automakers do are not!

What we do is to take a bad situation and make it better. What they do is to pay out exorbitant bonuses when times are good and to ask for taxpayer money when things are bad.

What we do is to have a pre-plan and to prepare for disaster. What they do is to sell the “flavor of the month” during Super Bowl Sunday.

Since the FIRE Act was enacted, the fire service has been infused with a grand total of approximately $2.9 billion (2001-2007)! And they have cut the funding every year since its inception. Does anyone else see a problem here?

We are a country who will stand by and watch fire stations close and firefighters getting laid off, forcing those who remain to do more with less and yet, those same people are yelling for the government to bail out these publicly traded companies.

The natural order says that, when a company goes out of business, ten more will be there to take their place. The same cannot be said of firefighters and fire departments.

It would be an entirely different scenario if firefighters ran Wall Street or an auto company. Workers would definitely have to grow thicker skin. They would have to think for themselves and be challenged to improve the team.

That would make us and the country much stronger and it would be done without a bailout.

Our Economy - Are We Doing The Right Thing?

By now you all have heard the story about the Big Three Auto Execs heading to Washington to plead their case - by luxury corporate jet. On the other hand, how many of you have heard the story of the Goldman Sachs executives opting not to recieve cash or stock in light of the recent economy?

As emergency service leaders and stewards of tax dollars, we need to be aware of our responsibility to the citizens when it comes to spending, especially in this time of anxiety. I know that personally, the economic situation has hit close to home, with my wife's business dependent on whether or not people choose to build or renovate their homes and not knowing what the outcome will be. I'm hoping the powers that be remember there are plenty of us out here who have been religiously paying our mortgages and paying our taxes and we really want to know how we are going to get relief in all of the "rescuing" going on at Wall Street.

As a fire officer, though, I am affected in the service I am providing the public. I want to make sure that especially now, my personnel all realize that while the citizens "don't have a choice" in who comes to put out their fire, they do have a choice in supporting your programs and funding your operations. Make sure you show your customers what a great deal they have in supporting your organization; get out there and talk to them, reassure them, and get them involved. By showing the citizens that you care, it will pay huge dividends in the long run, and that's an investment that will pay off no matter what the economy does.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Firefighter Bailouts - Captured on Video

I have had a recent influx of firefighter bailouts caught on video. Some are fairly current videos that have just surfaced, and others date back to the 1990's. Either way they bring light to a specific type of training that is often overlooked. Make it easy on your fellow firefighters. Place ladders on all four sides (if possible) of the structure in case a rapid bailout is necessary. It is much easier to slide a ladder over a window then it is to get one off the rig and place it. I trained in firefighter survival, and ladder bailouts were required training. Just make sure when you train in your departments you have the proper safety lines in place. Train and train often!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Covering the financial crisis

In the newsroom, we've been seeing more and more stories come across the wire about departments facing major cut backs as cities start to feel the economy slump.

Jamie's prepared a set of in-depth exclusive articles on FR1 on the crisis's impact on the fire service. They range from expectations for the Obama presidency to tips for purchase apparatus during a credit crunch.

And I got to do one of my favorite things: make a special coverage page. This is the first (of many!) to feature a Kitchen Table block, which includes links to individual posts, authors and related keywords.

I think it's on a good way to take a trend in individual local news stories, look at the causes behind it, and provide a forum for commentary on it. We'll be adding another exclusive article to the page tomorrow, and I'm updating the TKT section regularly.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CA Fire Photos

Hey All,

A friend sent over a link to some amazing pictures of the devastation in California.

Please stay safe.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Big toys?

When you look at the American fire service, you see lots of apparatus, but is all the apparatus necessary? Big trucks, lots of lights, lots of equipment. With the downturn of the economy, will the fire service take a look at what is essential rather than what they think they need? Where is the proof that the apparatus we are purchasing makes a differnce? Does a $500,000 engine put out a fire any differently than a $200,000 engine?

Where am I going with this? Go out to your bay in the station, and ask yourself - do we have more apparatus than what we need - quantity and quality? What is big enough? What works the best, not what looks the biggest and the best?

It is time for the American fire service to look at the fire apparatus and make changes to become more economically efficient?

Lets hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On the Road to L.A.

I am "flying" to L.A. for Saturday through to Wednesday and then home. I will be meeting with Dan Jordan and John Hicks who wrote the book titled: The First Responders Book of Humor and will give you an update on how that went. If you have the chance to get the title at a book store near you....strap on your seat is filled with great wisdom on stress in the first 72 pages and then some excellent humor in the story telling in the balance of the book......

Also meeting with Brett Hill, firefighterveteran, who is working on a project to honour the 911 fallen at the ten year remembrance...the project is titled..."The Release of Souls" and is tentative for the Hollywood Bowl. We will be discussing that and more so will post on his update for the project as well.....Also asked to talk with L.A. Fire Cism team members to discuss how "they do it" as L.A. has the oldest Cism team in the fire service. (that is what they said today by phone so we shall see) The L.A. fire cism program is over 20 years old.

The wisdom they have gained in getting the program working to a fine tuned sense should be something we can all gain some insights on.
in the of tomorrow (saturday) up up and away
.....shannon pennington firefighterveteran

Beg, Borrow and Steel

Next month, we will sign a contract for the purchase of a new fire truck. The reason is very simple: if we don’t do it now, we can expect to pay 20 % more (NFPA standards) next year for the same truck and another 20% in 2010 (emissions standards). More than likely, you can add another 7% for increased material costs as well.

Our budget this year will be $87,000. The truck that we are purchasing will be a triple threat. It will have four-wheel drive, a bumper mounted monitor, rescue sides, foam, a 650 gallon water tank and on board generator. It will be a Class A pumper. Price will be $300,000!

Because our newest engine is a 1998, we will not qualify for a FIRE Act grant. Believe me, we have tried and gave up two years ago. In Illinois, we have a Zero Interest Fire Truck Loan program. More than likely, we will be “too well off” to qualify for that. So, we will either finance through the apparatus builder or the local bank, depending on interest rates. We will probably go with the local bank, though.

How do we afford it? How can we afford not to? If we do it now, we will be able to meet payments while bumping up our tax rate 4.99% per year. That way, we don’t have to have a Truth in Taxation hearing or request a referendum to raise taxes. We have two fundraisers each year, so we can still purchase necessary replacements for PPE and loose equipment. We can even hold some money back for new truck purchase. We have been fortunate to obtain grants for new SCBAs, turnout gear and a new thermal imaging camera. We also charge for services to out-of-district users.

We have no secret for purchasing during these hard economic times. We have always watched our funds very carefully, made every dollar count and have provided our fire district with outstanding volunteer fire and rescue services. We prepare a five year plan, stick to it and have the public’s support. With this new truck purchase, we will retire a 1969 unit. We have one, outstanding loan on the rescue truck, but we own everything else, including the building.

Debt can be a killer! When I was chief of the department, we were told that we didn’t have any money, but we didn’t have any equipment either. It left one to scratch one’s head!

In summary, you have to look five years down the road, plan for purchases foreseen and unforeseen, avoid debt by “living within your means”, take advantage of discounts by group purchasing, apply for the grants that are out there, bump the tax rate to the maximum that the laws allow and charge non-residents.

We have to think like a taxpayer. Come to think of it, we are!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Helmet "Bling"

It is one of the quirks of the fire service to be sure. It amazes some and displeases others but it always generates buzz.

The fire helmet is constructed to protect firefighters from injury but more than any other piece of equipment, including apparatus, the helmet is most often discussed and personally outfitted. In short some firefighters like to put "bling" on their helmet.

From the shamrock to IAFF stickers, a grinning bulldog or the American flag the helmet sports as many looks as their are firefighters. It's a great source of pride for people on the line.

What matters though, more than looks, is functionality. Will the helmet save your noggin? Bling is fine but breathing is far and away more important.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Where is our version?

I have recently found myself infatuated with a new series called “Rookies” on A&E. The show follows rookie cops in their first 12 weeks of patrol work and it is quite compelling. In fact, at times I feel the urge to defect over to the police side… yeah. It’s that good.

I found myself wondering why we don’t have a show like this on the fire side. The best firefighting shows I’ve seen are “The Bravest” and “The Battalion.” (Battalion promo is below.) Both are good, but neither is on par with the production quality and storytelling of “Rookies.”

FlashoverTV is powered by

Why? The backbone of “Rookies” is the dynamic on-scene footage. In the fire services shows, the exterior shots can be a great aspect of the story, but I want to see more. I want to be along for the ride as they charge the line and engage in search or suppression. I want to see what the nozzle-man and officer see.

Unfortunately obtaining interior scene footage provides several challenges.

1) Personnel: Managing personnel on the fire ground is one of the most important and difficult challenges. Adding a camera man or a Steadicam to a team engaging in interior operations isn’t realistic.

2) Reaction shots: Stories are told through the actions and reactions of the characters. When wearing an SCBA, much of that aspect is lost.

3) Environment: IDLH atmospheres tend to be very dark with limited visibility. Capturing watchable video can be hit or miss.

4) Communications: Communicating wearing and SCBA isn’t easy, even with a voice amplification device.

So, how do we solve these problems? I think helmet cams can are part of the answer. But they do have several drawbacks.

What do you guys think? Is it possible to overcome these problems and make an entertaining fire show?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

PPE and The (Non) Cool Factor

This is an urgent memo to firefighters believing PPE can protect you if you leave the coat open, pants undone and generally only wear PPE because "it looks cool."

PPE is only effective if worn per the manufacturers instructions. Actually even for those people who are not willing to read the instructions simply use your head. If you fasten the coat and pants it will protect you. See?

The second part of the memo is the "looking cool" part. This isn't the prom or a club. It's a profession. "Bling" for helmets and gear is less important than the functionality of said equipment!

The Greg McDougall Story 30 years on the line/ptsd

The story of 30 year career firefighterveteran Greg McDougall who now "lives out of his van" after serving on the front lines of his community.
Being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress is with it's stigma and in the jargon of the fire service, "not manly".

If you have a weak stomach for facing and sharing his reality then the story of what happend to a "brother" who cared and loved the job is compelling and worth the effort to get to know.


Greg was and is a professional who did his job unitil....the "job did him". His is a story no different than any other fire fighter who has served or is currently serving as a full time professional or as a volly. He is diagnosed "Post Trumatic Stress Complex. "

Here's a link to the story and video on CTV Calgary: Former firefighter fights mental health stigma

He is YOU and he is Me.

His message is plain simple and clear....get help....before you get into the "emotional smoke" of events that can take you "off the front lines" and put you on the downward path of loss, grief, and emotional pain....that is waiting like a weakend floor from the "fires of reality" when you do not deal with stress.

Monday, November 10, 2008

How long do we keep injured firefighters?

One of the most challenging issues I faced as a fire chief was a firefighter who was injured on the job. Having a firefighter injured is never a great thing to deal with, but we know that the job has some inherent risks and with these risks come injuries and in some cases even death. Some injuries are permenant and others take years to overcome.

That being said when should firefighters be terminated off the payroll? Before you react emotionally, which is very easy to do on this subject, here are a few things you must considered before you respond.

The firefighter is governed by a bargaining unit contract that offers pay and benefits for six months and nothing beyond that time period. There is no known time period that the firefighter will be able to return to duty. There is one side telling you that you need to release the firefighter because you are filling the position with overtime pay, there is the other side telling you to be compassionate and let the firefighter on the books for an indefinite period.

There are pro and cons to both. You are preparing to set a precedent. Where do you go from here? When do you release a firefighter from the organization? You are not able to make a position for a firefighter every time they sustain an injury. Some organizations say it is one year then you release the firefighter. What is the magic number? How do you determine what the right time is to release a firefighter? You have to use compassion and yet make sure it is a good business decision also.

Let's hear from you.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Notes On a Scandal

It happens daily. Each time a report comes out describing firefighters taking hits from elected officials or misguided leaders someone within the fire service defends the actions. It's usually the same old, tired voices but it angers people on the line.

Firefighter Hourly is not part of the good old boy system. Neither are a host of others who desire to see firefighters treated with dignity and respect. Still, in some circles, it's about people being granted most favored status rather than discussing the issues relevant to the fire service.

"Let's be kind" is a fine approach if there is a reasonable chance firefighter safety can be advanced in this way. However, as history teaches us, kindness is not always returned. Consider Chamberlain when he offered "peace in our time" only to face a near disaster on the British Isles. Churchill, long tired of good intentions, stepped in to act.

No one person is Churchill. Instead a group of firefighters decided enough is enough. If our own people can't look out for us we have to look out for ourselves. I've heard this repeated time and again from small and large departments. Enough with the feel good stories. Let's talk about what's wrong so a small group of people can fix it.

There are a thousand ways to look at a mountain. It depends where one is standing. If a large body of people are standing where an avalanche is occurring don't explain to them the mountain is good and fine. Instead find a way to help them avoid being buried. If they want a view of the tranquil side they will seek it out. In short, help or get out of the way.

Firefighters are more important than feelings or being in good graces with the high priests of the fire service.


I was just reading one of my favorite local bloggers, STATter911, and noticed an interesting article. It was about the Sacramento FD (CA) and the fact they have been dealing with rotating firehouse closures, or "brownouts", to close a budget gap.

What is cool about this is that the union has a better idea and is taking action! I applaud the Sacramento local and the fact they are seeking a creative way to overcome the problem instead of just complaining about it. This could be a shining example for all of us as many of our departments are in, or soon to be in, the same boat. Please take a moment to read the article: According to the Sacramento Bee

My Travel Update: I did have one minor issue that was probably inevitable after I wrote my last posting mentioning I had really had no misadventures. My luggage did not make it onto my flight when I changed planes in Chicago. Fortunately, they put it on the next flight which was an hour behind. While a bit inconvenient, I cannot complain as the alternative could have been worse!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cellar Nozzles On Ladder Pipes

Irreverent thoughts compiled whilst watching a firefighter prepare a vent saw by kicking it:

  • Looking at the parking area beside a fire station it became apparent why so many accidents are happening around the country involving apparatus. If someone can't park a Ford Focus within the lines how can said person operate a ladder truck?
  • Explaining his displeasure with my contention that ladder work is not being performed as it should be an emailer went to great lengths to explain why his own opinion was far superior. He then noted he had never been on a department that had a ladder truck. If only he had put that at the start of the email.
  • Recounting a story to an old friend I told of a firefighter we called "Boo" who was in a basic firefighter class. Boo was hardly a Rhodes Scholar but made himself an intellectual legend in the class. The instructor told him to do a one man raise with a 24' extension ladder. Boo looked down and back up replying "You mean by myself?"
  • Automakers are looking for 200 billion to help bailout their companies. Let's do it as long as the bailout includes 200 billion toward the fire service.
  • For every fire station a Mayor closes five members of his or her staff should be laid off.
  • I am off on a three day trip. Stay safe whatever you do.

Cutting Tool A Must

We all know confined spaces are very dangerous. Combined spaces with fallen wires increase the degree of danger. I often train RIT members and firefighters alike a very similiar training evolution as the video above. Many things happen in a scenerio where a firemen becomes entangled in wires. You will find even the most "seasoned" members tend to panic and no matter what they will admit you can hear it in the way they breathe. Practice this often. It is more common then you would think. If you don't allready carry some sort of cutting tool GET ONE NOW! Dikes, wire cutters, knives, you name it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

This Blog Open All Night

This post is supposed to run about 700 words but instead, because of the budget crunch, 300 words will be closed during the day, only to reappear at night during busier times. Sounds ridiculous but even more so when one discovers city and county officials think along these lines.

The Mayor of Philadelphia is closing fire stations but you can trust him. He claims service won't diminish at all. Obviously failing to see the pink elephant in the room he states this with a straight face. Aren't Mayoral aides around to correct their masters? Or, are they hiding from Philly's bravest?

The FDNY is closing shop on five engine companies during daylight hours because fires only occur at night. In addition, lest a firefighter learn a valuable skill, probationary school is now going to be cut by five weeks. Pesky thing that education.

Atlanta is using rolling brownouts wherein a ladder company is shut down because it costs money to run a fire department. Instead of the Mayor leading the charge on this one the fire chief is the public face of a poor policy. Perhaps a run for Mayor is in his future?

We have seen this before. In New York in the 70s and Boston in the 80s fire departments declined, calls went up and firefighters battled during "the war years."

Excuse the sarcasm but lives are at stake. readers see it but our elected officials and their minions are too busy preparing to fiddle while Rome burns.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Everyone Goes Home video


Listen to this excellent presentation from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Everyone Goes Home® Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives section 13

What’s That Smell???

Hello blogosphere,

My Name is Seth Niesen and I apologize for my late arrival at TKT, I was out doing what I love most.

I have been involved with the fire service since I was 17, and have been a volunteer firefighter with departments in WA and CA. I also spent two years working on an ALS Ambulance….we don’t talk about those. As of now, I have sold my soul to the internet and work for (and full time.

I have been instructed to provide witty and insightful (and coherent) commentary on the things I see happening in the fire service. Whether or not that will happen is yet to be seen (Vegas odds say bet against). As for now… back to filling up the water cooler.


My Kingdom For A Ladder Truck!

Forgive me for borrowing a line from Shakespeare for a post title but in these "lean" times it fits. The economy is all the rage now and budget cutters are gleefully looking to cut staff, stations and training. It's not much different from any other day except now they can point to Wall Street and say, "See!"

Oh the woes of budgets. Already doing more with less firefighters now must worry about the purchase of items essential to the functioning of a fire department. In this case I mean ladder trucks and coffee. (Don't worry, no one touches the coffee.)

Truck work is an under appreciated diamond. For the departments who get it ladder trucks help to prevent the spread of fire, search for victims and perform the tasks essential to life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation. Yet, if the bard were writing for the fire service he would note the absence of appreciation for truckies.

We must battle tooth and nail to preserve the basic elements of the fire service. If we fail recovery will not take place until a decade after Exxon is again posting record profits. The money is there and we must assume the position of defending the fire service. In some respects the gloom and doom is "much ado about nothing."

My Travels

In a posting a few days ago, I mentioned I was travelling to the state of WI to speak at a conference there. I also mentioned that I would maybe post a thought or two while travelling – especially if I had any mis-adventures. As I sit here at the Minneapolis – St. Paul Airport this morning, I am happy to say (knock on wood) that I have had no issues thus far. Of course I probably just jinxed myself!

Coming and going, I have a stopover at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. On the way through I saw something interesting that caught my eye. Here is the picture below.

It was a flu shot station sponsored by the University of Illinois. Just sitting there in the middle of the terminal. How cool is that? Who came up with that idea?
This prompted me to think: what could we as a fire service be doing that is out of the norm or our comfort zone to reach out to the community? I know there are some departments that do help with flu shots.

But what else could we be doing to get our assorted messages out? In these tight economic times, we really need to take a look at how we do business and what we can do to add value to what we already do. Value added service is something all of us should be looking at! In these tight times I would suggest that our best defense (against budget cuts) is a good offense (continue to move forward).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Taking Care of Our Own/Stress and P.T.S.D. in the Fire Services

Wow....imagine that....we are now sitting in the 21st Century around a "virtual" kitchen table.

Hats off to the people who had the idea. I have been in and associated with the fire service for 32 years. In those years I have grown to admire love and support the work and those wounded working on the front lines of their community. Who am I talking about? You and those around you.

At the present time we are challenged with low funding, moral issues, threats beyond our borders, disasters in our home communities, from "Intentional Human Design", or good old "Ma Nature".

Through all of it, we step into the abyss with our equipment, our rigs, our mission to preserve protect and save life and limb. All good "Rubber Boot Warrior" stuff of which great story and myth emerge and merge into our psyche and our culture. What is hidden in the emotional smoke of events that shape us is .... the toll, the sacrifice that we make, to what we do making it look easy to those on the "outside of the system".

It is, as we know around the kitchen table, not easy at all. We take all of the work and the "smoke sweat and tears" in our stride. Suck it up Buttercup is the mantra.....The question is.....does all the bravado work? Does what we did before work now? Are we kidding ourselves about the toll "Operational Occupational Stress, P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)" is taking on us?

I am asking the question here in this blog.....are we kidding ourselves about the way our jobs shape and alter and affect our inner selves between the basement and the attic, our minds our souls? Are we "knights in shinning armour" covered in the blood and guts of our work riding around on our "chariots of fire" pretending that, we are invincable? I don't know the answer to that. I do know a few kinks in the flow of the hose towards points of view that we should and could be aware of.

As of October under the "Everyone Goes Home Fire Fighter Life Safety Initiatives", the United States Fallen Fire Fighter Foundation, the I.A.F.F. and the United States Volunteer Fire Council has included information on stress and stress related issues affecting us on the front lines.

Under section 13 of the life initiative, it states: "firefighters and their family shall have acess to psycholigical services".

I had an opportunity to discuss with Chief Ron Siranicki of the USFFF this past February, what we could do about the suicide rates in the American fire service. Our discussion led us to the collaboration about firefighter stress issues and a link to the following web site: where you can get connected to many resources and material about stress as it affects us on the front lines.

It is not union run nor is it run by a corporation of company. It is run by firefighterveterans who have diagnosed ptsd and was formed in October of 2001 just after the 911 event. The web stie itself has been up for 22 months and has had over 200 thousand hits from firefighters across the nation and around the world.....

On September 11th 2008 a second editon of the book titled CopShock by Allen Kates available on line from Amazon Books was re published with some 50 plus updates for Cops and Fire Fighters. The story of FDNY retired firefighterveteran Jimmy Brown is something that we all need to read. A link on the web site at allows you to listen to what he has to say about the stress and his experience with depression. Have a look......

There is a link at the top of the front page of to the story of firefighterveteran "Gregg McDougal out of Local 255 Calgary Alberta Canada" and his battle with depression after 30 years of service. It is also something to have a look at.

Gregg was forced to live on the streets because workers comp cut him off of his disability. His story is sad and compelling to hear. Are we really all that far away from leaving our own behind that we do so at the expense of telling ourselves "we care about the public we serve?" Are we too not a public that needs to get help from others and at the same time help our own? My thought after seeing this was "there but for the grace of God go I" a look at that one for a cuppa reality at the kitchen table.

In the meantime....I am on this blog because, it is after all, the kitchen table....and about now....I think I will go to the coffee machine for a some diesel.....nuff of this heavy stuff....

.....what's for lunch?????who is cooking? How much is this going to cost? I just had that at home? Any other ideas?

Geeez guys....job bob and's everywhere.......

take care all of hug...yeah...we can do that....

Shannon H. Pennington ptsd firefighterveteran
26 year career firefighter IAFF

Can I have more in my allowance now?

Well it's a new day and the day after election shows a new direction in the future.....or does it?

Both President elect Obama and candidate McCain, promised great things for the country but as only one branch of government how much can actually be accomplished? Further how much can be achieved in the first term.

I remain very hopeful, but very concerned for those local fire chiefs and labor organizations throughout the country who may be in some pretty tough economic times right now. Different states and different parts of the country are in different forms of the "R" word.....recession.

There are fire chiefs from major city's with reduced apparatus manning, reduced total shift strengths, rolling brownouts, layoffs etc. This translates into some pretty difficult decisions being forced on fire departments that were already operating at the bare bones level.

In my own department now manpower is lower than it should be, and we may be forced (not yet, thank God) to make cuts. Certainly not my idea, certainly not my labor organizations idea, but really a fact of the economy itself. My title for this post might have seemed a little silly but the fire service is really asking for it's share of the "allowance" from the available funds of the city or town they are in. Of course I know we are a vital service, but in many communities throughout the country some taxpayers on fixed incomes, the elderly, and others just don't have it to give. They want firefighters, they want paramedics on their ambulance, and they truly believe that we provide a noble and necessary service, but their personal economic decision might be food, or heating oil, or prescription medication.

I truly believe we are in for a difficult 18 months to two years ahead of us as a national fire service. I see that there could be some losses in large and small departments alike in various parts of the country.

The challenge for us at the kitchen table level is great. I have some thoughts while we sit here and have coffee on this shift.
  • Labor and management have to work as close together as they can during difficult times. Focus on the short and long term problems.
  • Members should chat be open and communicate, but in difficult times we need to provide rumor control and not speculate about layoffs, closing companies and all of that stuff which spreads through an organization like wild fire.
  • Turn your frustration into some positive action and remember that we have to continue to protect, those that support us, and those that do not support us.
  • Every member has to be the positive spokes person for our agency so that folks will want to give us that extra "allowance".
  • Firefighters can do anything. There is not a tougher group of people who will come through when the chips are down, then us. We just need to remain focused as the internal tension within our organizations rise. Tensions internally and externally as we argue for what we know we need.
  • Chief's need to make sure that citizens know and are educated as to what cuts in dollars, relate to in cuts of service. This is not to scream that the sky is falling, but it is to be professional and clinical and let those we serve know that cuts in dollars have a direct impact on service delivery.
  • Chiefs need to realize that items obtained with grant funding, still need additional funding for maintenance and replacement. Often we get grants for items that do not appear presently and they increase our capability, but they will need to be repaired, maintained and replaced. You should not count on that grant always being funded at the same level as the last time.
  • Chiefs need to be steady and strong under fire from the city management, from their frustrated troops, and from the angry electorate at large. This can be difficult (trust me on this one), but heck if the job of chief was easy everybody would be doing it!

The tough economic times we are in will get better. It may be a tough ride and we will come out OK on the other side, but they have the right folks on the job.....the American Firefighters!

Stay safe, until the next shift.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The 9 as an introduction to the fire service

Jay's last post was really touching -- though certainly not in the same way for me as it is for a firefighter.

On June 18, 2007, I heard about the tragedy on the news like any other American, but by June 18, 2008, I was involved in a job where I couldn't help but consider what the loss meant to the fire service.

That week, Jamie interviewed several people close to the tragedy including the fiancee of one of the 9. (Read it here.) And Jay wrote a lovely column called 'Reflections on 9 Firefighters'. Columnist Tom LaBelle also wrote about loss and legacy -- we put it all together in the first special coverage page I worked on at FireRescue1. (See it here.)

As someone who was just learning about the fire service and just learning to work with firefighters, I found that anniversary an incredibly powerful introduction to a culture full of tradition and emotion.

A I read about the highway dedication, I'm glad to know the Charleston 9 will be remembered in a more profound way than I might ever understand.

The Charleston Nine Memorial Highway

In Charleston the old town is sleepy tonight. Parents are watching election returns whilst children prepare for bed. Throughout the city firefighters stand ready to respond to calls at a moments notice.

Someone will roll out tonight and drive down the newly named Charleston 9 Memorial Highway. On the way to help someone they will carry with them memories of nine men who we all knew, loved, and respected.

As a former Charleston firefighter each of these men carry a special place in my heart. Those I worked with are always on my mind but the youngsters, eager to wear the patch, often find a place in my thoughts.

The long aftermath of the tragedy, wherein the IAFF came in and provided critical help in straitening out what was a complex leadership and management issue, are also in our hearts.

The families are the bravest. Holding steady while the world came apart around them was no easy task. Yet, when one looks for strength the families are first on the list. Yesterday they watched a highway dedicated and today they are still without their loved ones. We can offer them monuments but they want their loved ones.

The highway has long been used as a metaphor for life. We all travel the life highway wondering if we will ever make an impact on someones life. The 9 men of the Charleston Fire Department who perished on June 18, 2007 never have to worry. They impacted us all.

Why Legislate Against Volunteerism?

With the recent position statement issued by the IAFC, “two-hatters” are again in the spotlight.

I have participated in discussions concerning a career firefighter’s right to volunteer as a firefighter in other communities. And it is refreshing and encouraging that an organization such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs takes a very clear position on it.

Now; I don’t believe that it is wise to volunteer in the rural portion of the municipal department that a firefighter works full time for, but I see nothing wrong with that same firefighter volunteering outside of the community where he works. It should be his/her individual right to volunteer or not.

The issue evokes as much emotion as discussions on politics and religion among firefighters. The reasons, both pro and con, fly back and forth like Scud missiles!

The IAFF’s official, public position on the practice of two-hatting is stated in part in a letter from Harold Schaitberger to Felix Grucci on July 25, 2002 and states, “…Specifically, concern has been raised that our organization [IAFF] engages in actions against volunteer firefighters that would be injurious to these individuals’ employment status, and job security with their government and/or fire department position…[T]he IAFF does not support actions that would jeopardize the ability of a career firefighter to obtain or maintain active membership in a volunteer organization. This is a personal choice.”

However; these statements are in direct contradiction of the IAFF’s Resolution 43 that condoned and encouraged reprisals against professional firefighters in Prince George’s County, Maryland and as volunteers in nearby communities.

Schaitberger has since clarified his position on union members volunteering as firefighters by stating, “Although an IAFF member may make a personal choice to join a volunteer fire department, that personal choice is one that can have serious consequences under our Constitution, including the loss of IAFF membership”.

So, you have IAFF members who want the freedom to choose to volunteer on their off days and you have a union that wants monopoly-bargaining control over its members.

What are some of the other issues at play in this controversy?

From the union’s side, they feel that it softens their bargaining power if members fight fires for free during their off time. Some believe that, by limiting union participation in volunteer departments, that you could force some communities to go with full time departments.

Injuries and illness have been raised as concerns. What happens if a career firefighter is injured while volunteering and can’t work his full time job? He might collect temporary benefits and his position may have to be covered with overtime.

What happens if the firefighter gets cancer? Did he get it as a volunteer or at his full time gig? It opens up the whole “presumptive Pandora’s Box”.

These are legitimate concerns and to a degree, an entity has a right to protect its “investment”.

But, how far can that go? Will you be told that you can’t ride motorcycles, para-sail, scuba dive or own guns, because those activities pose risks?

That reason that this two-hatter issue hits the hot button is simple: does a union, employer, government entity or anyone else who may exert power or authority over us have the right to tell us how we may spend our free time?

If they do, where do you draw the line?

If they don’t, then who pays if there is a catastrophic illness?

In my mind, there are still more questions than answers.

And it leaves me wondering if a community would give up fire protection all together rather than pay for full time protection.

After all; isn’t that the bottom line; what type of fire protection a community wants and can afford?

True Strength

“You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like ‘honor’, ‘code’, ‘loyalty’; We use them as the backbone of a life trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline.”

– Jack Nicholson, as Col. Jessup, “A Few Good Men”

While we all know (and secretly loved) Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Col. Jessup in the movie, this monologue, delivered in context, probably made most of us cringe. The long and short of it was that Col. Jessup ordered his subordinates to violate the sacred duty they really held- to use their strength for good to defend the weak.

The point of my using this quote, however, is in a different context. There are plenty of “civilians” who don’t understand public service and don’t understand that there are people who put aside their own comfort and safety on a regular basis to keep them safe. We use words like “courage”, “valor”, and “service”. We see them as something that makes us different from the rest of mankind. When it is said that “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for their friends,” we GET it. These aren’t just words to us, they are our credo.

We can’t, however, continue to throw our bodies at incidents and hope for the best. Or worse, sacrifice our personnel in unsafe acts that are unjustified or are for no good reason. We lose firefighters on a regular basis for no other reason than driving too fast, failing to buckle up, or neglecting our own health. Does the public care a few weeks later that you sacrificed your life daily for them? Think hard about it and tell me if they do.

Laying down your life without cause means that children grow up without fathers or mothers; failing to return from an alarm means that spouses must carry on where the loss of their loved one has left a void. We forget that others may have risked much to try to save us and may have even risked it all and died in vain. We forget that the community that depends on us is now one less and must find a way to make up that person, that leader, that friend. We must challenge ourselves as leaders to understand the situation that is at hand and insure we don’t take unnecessary risks simply for the sake of doing so.

Those of us in the emergency service are called to educate the public as to what we need and we can show them how failing to support those needs can translate to hardship on them. But we can only take the taxpayers so far kicking and screaming when they don’t see that the risk sometimes exceeds the benefit; that the immediate savings in tax dollars doesn’t translate into safer homes and businesses if our truck companies are shut down or we can’t repair the equipment we need to do our job. Our challenge is to make our community safer and in doing so, making our jobs safer.

Our calling is to be better people so that we can defend those who can’t defend themselves. We shouldn’t look down on the people who need our service, but try to remember that they make us who we are. We need to do a better job of getting the public to understand our existence in the hope that maybe they will see, and as a result, advocate for us to elected officials and other citizens. Most of all, though, we need to make sure our efforts aren’t in vain, and that we give our all only for good reasons. It takes discipline to hold the troops outside of a fire that is not quite a defensive one, but you suspect an imminent collapse or a quickly changing scenario. It takes courage to say, “I’m going to lose weight because I want to see my kids graduate college”, or to challenge some gung-ho firefighter who thinks charging into a vacant building to “get some heat” is doing the right thing. Doing the right thing means taking care of yourself and your team so that you can take care of the public in the long haul.

Being a zealot for safety doesn’t seem like a “sexy” thing to be sometimes, but when you think about it, how many people outside of the fire service remember your loved ones ten years after you are dead and gone? Being loyal to our brother and sister firefighters requires that we honor each other by taking care of ourselves and to take only calculated risks for good causes, and eliminating unnecessary ones. Don’t let anyone ever fool you into thinking that throwing your life away for no reason is an honorable or courageous thing to do. Take the time to understand the hazards of each incident and in fact, during everyday operations, and insure you and your team all go home in the morning.

Taking a Seat at the Kitchen Table

I wanted to take a quick moment to introduce myself and take a seat at the Kitchen Table.

My name is Bill Delaney and I have been in the fire service for over 26 years. You can find me in the columnist section of FireRescue1 under Prevention Matters. As the title suggests, I am currently residing on the “Dark Side” of the fire service – Public Education.

Through this blog, I hope to comment on a wide variety of topics and not just public education and community outreach. I feel I have had a rather unique fire service experience starting off as a volunteer fire fighter, next becoming a career fire fighter, and for the last eight years a civilian manager for fire and injury prevention programs with Montgomery County Fire & Rescue (MD) just outside of Washington, DC. This has provided me a more global view, or so I believe, of the fire service that I hope will enhance what I might blog about.

Well, that is it for now. I am actually getting ready to fly out to Eau Claire, WI to speak at the Wisconsin State Fire Inspector's Association Annual Conference for Fire Prevention Professionals. I am a last minute fill in but am excited about the opportunity. Perhaps you might see an entry or two about the conference or any adventures/ misadventures I may have to and from the conference.

Monday, November 3, 2008

What needs to be done here?

Hi Folks, I am the new guy in the virtual kitchen here, and before I sit at the Kitchen table, does anything need to get done first? (Hey, I am the rookie here at least )

This is my attempt at a short intro while the folks at the table try to size me up!

I am fortunate to serve as Chief of department in a small suburban department in Massachusetts. My bio has all the gory details. I am now out back in the street responding and doing the job I love. I am not a big city guy but have been lucky enough to get a variety of experience under some different conditions, so I consider myself lucky.

I have been blessed and fortunate to have been selected to speak at some local and national venues, FDIC, Firehouse, FDSOA, and been published in Fire Engineering and Firehouse.

I write for my own blog as well

I love the training side of this business and get involved in leadership and people issues.

I will be posting whenever I can trying to take a look at some issues from my clearly warped point of view, that sometimes the fire service tries to out-think itself and we should try to simplify things more than we do.

I got some strong views on size up and risk assessment issues, love gadgets and video production as sidebars to the real job.

I look forward to chiming in and sharing some thoughts around the table with the rest of the members. I got a bit of a sense of humor so I can share some laughs as well as the serious side of the business.

I want to try to make it like a true fire house kitchen, but I will keep the language a little better, and the politics and religion out of it!

You see I also believe that what is said at the kitchen table is really important most of the time because it is the members talking about the stuff that is affecting them at the moment.

Any blog that is about the brothers and sisters in this business is good to be a part of.

Now, lets just be glad that the old saying is really not true......thank God that the walls in most fire house kitchens cannot repeat what they hear!!

Stay safe until the next shift in the kitchen. Where the heck is Firegeezer when you need him to put another pot of coffee on?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Who and Why

Questions about why someone decides to write are usually met with a frown. Writing was onced described as staring at paper until blood drips on it. It can be difficult in the best of times.

What makes writing for The Kitchen Table an enjoyment is easily identifiable. is out to make a difference and it's an honor to be included among the "crew." New media, such as blogging, is the future and The Kitchen Table is ahead of the curve.

Christi posted saying she would let each of us give an introduction. Currently I edit Firefighter Hourly and Venting the Roof while serving as a columnist, and now blogger, for My work has appeared in Fire Engineering, American Fire Journal, Fire Chief magazine and assorted blogs, newspapers and publications around the world.

Some of my posts will be serious while others will be a bit humorous. It depends on the day and what's going on around the fire service world. You know what it's like-sitting around The Kitchen Table.
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