Saturday, January 31, 2009

Does your dog wear a sweater?

When my wife recently got Molly - our puppy - a sweater. I - in my most loving and tactful way - questioned the need and the expense. I think I said something like "Have you lost your mind? A sweater for a dog??? Frankly, I thought it looked silly and was unnecessary.

She then proceeded to explain that unlike our other dog, Molly's short hair doesn't keep her warm when she goes out on some of our colder winter nights. After she got so cold that she shivered on a couple of her evening walks, the doggie sweater was purchased and presto - Molly is now nice and warm. There was an immediate benefit - Molly no longer resists going outside, and she's stopped leaving those special little presents on the carpet...hurrah!

The doggie sweater has a parallel for the fire service. How many of us set up our gear in a way that looks cool, but doesn't protect us the way it should? How many of us wear a pair of melted, opaque Bourkes because we think the OSHA-compliant goggles make us look geeky? How many of us don't wear flash hoods because we feel the need to use our ears as a meat thermometer? How many of us resist getting new gear issued because it doesn't look salty?

Get the right gear and wear it appropriately, even if you think it makes you look like you're wearing a doggie sweater. You'll get used to it. Molly did.

Friday, January 30, 2009

If You Can't Be Careful, You'd Better Be Tough

From my blog at Firehouse Zen:

Our job is dangerous to begin with. So why do we need to add to the danger in a controlled situation? Talk about your efforts in futility- where is the glory and honor in falling off a ladder, or letting a line get away and getting clobbered, or allowing a recruit to get trapped in a controlled burn? If you aren’t going to use your safety equipment and if you aren’t going to use caution in conducting assigned evolutions, shouldn’t we expect you to get hurt?

Have you looked around your district today?

What do you Really know about the buildings in your district?

As you drive about your response district today, coming back from an alarm, heading to the firehouse tonight or running errands around your community this weekend, take a good look around.
Ask your self a simple question; “How well do you know the buildings, structures and occupancies in your response jurisdiction?”

Be honest, do you really understand how those “older residential” structures were built and understand how fire travels and impacts your fireground operations? Are your aware of the newest features of engineered structural support systems being constructed within that new set of homes going up in your second-due area? Are you aware, that vacant office building is being converted into a light manufacturing and assembly business? How about those unoccupied store fronts and businesses that have recently closed up due to the tough economic times.... any special hazards or operational concerns to your company should you get a dispatch to respond? Have the senior members of your station or department shared their stories of operations and incidents at various buildings around your district or community? Did you listen to them, or were you quick to dismiss those “old war stories”. There’s a wealth of “pre-planning’ nuggets hidden in those stories. Take the time to listen, remember or postulate.

Take a good look around….think about any given building, the one across the street that you’re looking at while you wait for the traffic light to change; Think about a fire in that same building. Do you really understand how it will truly perform under combat structural fire conditions? What’s the building’s collapse profile, how much operational time will you have, what dynamic risk assessment factors will you have to deal with, how safe is it for you to engage in interior operations upon your arrival? How can this building, its occupancy and structural system hurt, my team, my company, my firefighters, my department, me?

Sometimes things aren’t as obvious as them seem. You may have responded and operated at numerous incidents at a wide variety of buildings in your response area, or very few; some routine, others maybe more demanding…the question remains, “What do you Really know about your buildings?” Your life may one day depend on what you actually do know or recollect. Take a good look around.

National Near Miss Reporting System Resources

Did you know that the Near Miss Hit a Major New Milestone?

The National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System reached another milestone when it posted its 2000th report to the website. Report #08-511 was submitted on October 14, 2008. It documents a highway incident that has a favorable outcome because the crews maintained situational awareness and employed best practices to avert injury. Visit to view the report. The reporter notes:

“Situational awareness is a key. The cold, the bridge, the sprinklers, time of day are all contributing factors to a potentially bad outcome. Something had already gone wrong for someone and that's why we were there anyway. Preparation and knowing how and where to position and what the created safety zones are leads to going home the next day… A couple of seconds sooner or later and this would have been a tragic event instead of property damage only.”

Did you also know that also has some great resources and materials to download? If you haven't visited the site in a so!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

It doesn't have to be lightweight to kill you

In his excellent tactical series on Firefighter Nation, Christopher Naum hammers home the dangers of lightweight construction. He stresses knowing the buildings in your district and understanding the construction methods that were used both before and after lightweight construction became prevelant. I recently attended a safety seminar that he did at the South Carolina Fire Academy, where he did an excellent presentation on how lightweight construction doesn't have the mass, the fire resistance, or the workmanship that older structures made from dimensional lumber have.

Chris's most recent scenario really got me thinking and delving into a fire from my past.

Back in 1979, one of my best friends, Steward Gandy was involved in fighting a fire in one of the more solid homes I've ever seen. The home was actually a Type III building - masonry walls, dimensional lumber rafters and joists, and dimensional lumber partition walls that were more solid than some of the load-bearing walls I've seen in modern lightweight construction. The home burned one night. Steward was searching it when a deep-seated attic fire collapsed the center of the house. Steward didn't die immediately - he was trapped and ran out of air.

The moral of the story - even solidly constructed buildings can kill you.

I only had four years of experience at the time. I was one of Steward's pallbearers, when I was 21. I still remember the funeral like it was yesterday.

Unfortunately, I've been to all-t00-many LODD funerals since then, and I'm heartily sick of them. Listen to Chris, and maybe we can stop going to LODD funerals.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blogger Profile

Lessons from New York

I just spent two nights teaching paramedic students at St. Vincent's Hospital (Institute of Emergency Care) in Manhattan ( I might have learned more than I taught. To begin with, I haven't lectured in a paramedic course for maybe 10 years or more. One reason for this is that after some 30 years as a medic, I don't quite see the same passion and enthusiasm that I've always felt for EMS in younger, newer medics out there. To be truthful, I've had some downright ugly experiences with paramedic students in clinical settings over the past few years that really made me wonder what brought those students into the program in the first place. Certainly, it would be unfair to generalize this to all newbies and medic students, but I must admit, my views are often influenced by personal experiences.

So here's what I learned in New York City this week, and it doesn't involve one or two students but rather, an entire class. I learned that enthusiasm, pride, and love of EMS grows by example. The class at St. Vinny's is led by a tenured faculty that exudes enthusiasm, pride, and a love of the job. I learned that students need to hear from lecturers (like me) who believe that EMS is the greatest job on the planet. And when that happens consistently, students walk out of class with the same pride and love of the job that has kept folks like myself in the business for over 30 years. I learned that instead of criticizing, I need to get my butt into the classroom a bit more and share some of the knowledge that the streets have lent me. I wonder how many other seasoned medics out there this applies to?

Mike McEvoy

Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System Is Valuable

Too often brothers and sisters out on the line are exposed to extreme circumstances yet, unless told around the kitchen table, those experiences never make it out to the bulk of the fire service. The Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System is an anonymous way to contribute any close calls you've had throughout your career so others might learn.

This project has been in place some time. It provides valuable training aids for suppression personnel on the close calls everyone faces daily. Over at we are big supporters and The Kitchen Table can now become yet another resource to direct firefighters to this life saving service.

Technology Reliance

Do we overemphasize new technologies or are they acting as a crutch for poor fundamentals? This is a question posed in a thread on Firefighter Nation in regard to accountability.

As nice as some of this technology is, at the heart of the matter is this: are we teaching our firefighters to work within an organized approach to incident management or are we allowing them to do their own thing? If we have people who will not work within an established incident plan, maybe they need to find another line of work. Company officers: are you allowing this kind of "rogue mentality"? Or do you insist that crews stay within "voice, vision, or touch" and check in/check out of the Hot Zone?

Monday, January 26, 2009

USFA Announces Board of Visitor Appointments

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) announced on January 26, 2009, the appointment of two new members to serve on the Board of Visitors (BOV) for the National Fire Academy. Effective January 14, 2009, Randy Novak and Adam Thiel have joined the current BOV members: Ms. Helen Johnson, Dr. Sandy Bogucki, Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, Mr. Robert Cumberland, Mr. Chris Neal and Columbus Fire Captain Jack Reall.

Director Novak is the long-time director of the Iowa State Fire Training Academy and an officer in the North American Fire Training Directors Association. Chief Thiel is the Chief of the Fire Department in Alexandria, Virginia, the former Deputy Chief of Goodyear, Arizona and the former State Fire Training Director in Virginia. Director Novak and Chief Thiel replace outgoing BOV members, Dr. Robert Fleming and Fire Chief Don Oliver.

“Both Dr. Fleming and Chief Oliver were passionate, articulate and influential members of the BOV; no task was too difficult, no challenge too daunting, no effort too complex,” continued Onieal. “Their legacy will always be the visionary course of action that they set for the Academy. Saying good-bye to both of them has been one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do, but fortunately for all of us, they both offered to continue to assist the NFA in any way they can.”

The Board of Visitors plays an important role in enhancing the academic stature of NFA. Authority for the Board comes from Public Law 93-498, the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974. Functions of the Board are to examine National Fire Academy programs; monitor the adequacy of the Academy facilities; and examine the funding levels for the Academy programs.

Members of the Board of Visitors are selected from professionals in the fields of fire safety, fire prevention, education and training, fire control, research and development in fire protection, treatment and rehabilitation of fire victims, or local government services management, and from such professional organizations as will ensure a balanced representation of fire and emergency services interests.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Homebuilders Trying to Preempt Adoption of State and Local Sprinkler Regulations

Homebuilder Tactic against Residential Sprinklers

It has come to the attention of the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition, that homebuilders are beginning a move to prevent adoption of the 2009 IRC provisions for residential fire sprinklers by introducing state legislation that would block new local adoptions of these provisions.

Such bills were recently filed in Arizona (HB2267) and North Dakota (SB2354). If your state fire service organization utilizes the services of a legislative monitor, please alert them to be on the lookout for anti-residential sprinkler legislation, and if you come across something, please let the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition know.

All U.S. model building codes now require fire sprinklers as a standard feature in new homes.On September 21st, the International Code Council (ICC) overwhelmingly passed two proposals to modify the International Residential Code (IRC), requiring fire sprinklers in all new homes at their final action hearing in Minneapolis, MN.

The first proposal, RB66, added the requirement for fire sprinklers in townhouses that fall within the scope of the IRC, and the second proposal, RB64, added the requirement for one- and two-family dwellings, effective January 1, 2011.A Discussion Guide on the New International Residential Code Requirement for Residential Fire SprinklersPrepared by the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition (202) 470-6447 September 24, 2008

Q: What happened in Minneapolis with respect to residential sprinklers?

A: Two code change proposals, RB66-07/08 and RB64-07/08 were approved bythe International Code Council membership modifying the next edition of theInternational Residential Code by requiring fire sprinklers in new homes. One ofthese changes, RB66, will require all new townhouses to be equipped with firesprinklers upon adoption of the code. The other change, RB64, will require allnew one- and two-family dwellings to be equipped with fire sprinklers effectiveJanuary 1, 2011.

Q: What is the International Code Council?

A: The International Code Council is a non-profit association that developsmodel code documents, including the International Building Code, InternationalFire Code and the International Residential Code, among others. These codesare the predominant building and fire safety regulations adopted by jurisdictionsin the United States.

Q: What’s a model code?

A: The United States is unique among major industrialized nations in the worldwith respect to building and fire safety codes. While these codes are developedand maintained by a national government body in most countries, the UnitedStates relies on consensus code-development processes run by non-profitassociations to develop building and fire safety codes. States and localjurisdictions are not obliged to adopt these model codes, but most do becausemodel codes help to standardize building and fire safety regulations over largegeographic regions and because these codes relieve jurisdictions from theburden of managing an ongoing code-update process.

Q: What is the International Residential Code?

A: The International Residential Code (IRC) is the model code published by theInternational Code Council to govern construction of one- and two-familydwellings and townhouses not exceeding three stories in height. The IRC isadopted in 48 states, plus the District of Columbia, either statewide or by one ormore local jurisdictions. California and Wisconsin do not currently use this code.

Q: When the 2009 IRC is published, will the sprinkler requirementautomatically become law in the states where the IRC is used?

A: No, the IRC itself is merely a model code document. It does not become lawin any jurisdiction until it is subjected to an adoption process, which varies amongjurisdictions. The sprinkler requirement will likely be controversial in manyjurisdictions, as it was at the national level in the IRC process, and it isanticipated that local home builder associations will lobby regulators in an effort to have the sprinkler requirement excluded when the 2009 IRC is adopted. Firesafety advocates will counter that the sprinkler requirement should be kept in thecode. Ultimately, the decision to adopt or not adopt the sprinkler requirement willrest with the jurisdiction’s administrative or legislative body charged with adoption of the new code.

Q: Is the IRC the first model code to require sprinklers in residential occupancies?

A: No. Actually, it’s the last U.S. model construction code to add this requirement. In the U.S., there are two “families” of model codes made availablef or jurisdictions to adopt. One family of codes is published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the other is published by the InternationalCode Council. The NFPA building and life safety codes added a requirement toprovide fire sprinklers in all new homes in the 2006 editions of these codes. On the International Code side, the International Building Code (IBC) added arequirement to provide fire sprinklers in all new residential occupancies governedby that code in the 2003 edition. This requirement impacted condominiums,apartments, hotels and some townhouses. Townhouses not exceeding three stories in height and one- and two-family dwellings were not impacted because these occupancies are not governed by the IBC. Instead, construction of these occupancies is governed by the IRC.

Q: Will the new fire sprinkler requirement affect homes that are remodeledor additions to existing homes?

A: No. The change specifically excludes remodeling and additions to existinghomes. These limitations were provided in recognition of the extreme hardshipthat might be incurred in having to replace the water supply for an existing structure that was not initially designed to contain fire sprinklers. Although home fire sprinklers do not require a large volume of water to operate, the demand may exceed the capacity of the water service to an existing home.

Q: With the housing market experiencing the greatest decline in decades,isn’t it the wrong time to be adding new mandates?

A: The International Residential Code sprinkler requirement for one- and twofamily dwellings contains an effective date of January 1, 2011, which provides time for the housing market to recover before taking effect.Q: Will the new sprinkler requirement increase the cost of new homes?A: Perhaps, but the cost impact is likely to be nominal. The price of a new home is typically established based on the strength or weakness of a local housing market and the balance of supply and demand, rather than construction costs.

Recent market statistics demonstrate this quite clearly. Just a few years ago,soaring demand caused home prices to increase far faster than the rate ofinflation or material costs. Now, home prices are generally declining even thoughmaterial costs are increasing. Builders must adjust sales prices to remaincompetitive with existing housing stock. In mature markets, the builder’s cost for a fire sprinkler system will be less thancosmetic enhancements, such as granite counter tops, or upgraded carpeting.

One source of mature cost data associated with residential sprinklers is Scottsdale, Arizona. Scottsdale, which became one of the first major U.S. jurisdictions to require residential sprinklers, roughly 20 years ago, hasdocumented their sprinkler system costs as being in the range of $0.55 to $0.75per square foot. Today, Scottsdale has more than 40,000 sprinklered homes.

Q: The IRC currently has an appendix, Appendix P, which gives localjurisdictions an option to require fire sprinklers by adopting this appendixif they so choose. Why was it necessary to put the sprinkler requirementinto the main code rather than just leaving it as an optional appendix?

A: The International Code Council’s code development process involves theparticipation of building and fire safety experts and other affected interests fromacross the United States, and these parties deliberate the appropriate regulations to include in ICC’s model codes.

While many people regard the role of modelc onstruction codes to be an absolute minimum requirement, these codes aremore appropriately regarded as the “model” regulations for safe buildings. Considering that roughly 8 out of 10 residential fire deaths occur in unsprinklered homes, the ICC membership determined that their model residential construction code, the IRC, should now recommend fire sprinklers as a standard feature in allnew homes. This action also recognizes that there is no premise for the IRC to promote residential fire safety on community-by-community basis, as opposed topromoting safety and regulatory consistency among all jurisdictions. No other ICC code has sprinkler requirements or residential fire safety as a local choice tobe made at the time of code adoption, and now the IRC is consistent with ICC’sother codes in this regard.

Q: Is the residential fire problem limited to older homes?

A: According to a recent HUD study, the median age of homes in the U.S. is 32 years. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that more fires and fire deaths occur in “older” homes, simply because there are many more of them. However,the residential fire problem is certainly not limited to older homes, and it is hasnot been directly correlated with home age. Given that most residential fire fatalities are associated with ignition scenarios related to human behavior, which are independent of home age, it is clear that home age is not well correlated withfire risk. In addition, fire growth in a home is largely dependent on contents, notthe structure itself, and contents are independent of home age.

Q: Aren’t smoke alarms enough to provide a fire safe environment?

A: Some home builders claim that smoke alarms are good enough to protect thepublic and that residential sprinklers aren’t justified. Without question, smoke alarms save lives and they are largely responsible for the dramatic reduction in U.S. fire deaths over the past 30 years. Nevertheless, smoke alarms are onlybasic life-safety devices. On their own, they do nothing to stop the spread of fire,protect property or protect firefighters.As smoke alarms age, their reliability declines. This concern prompted theNational Fire Protection Association to require a 10-year replacement cycle forthese devices in their NFPA 72 standard.

Two difficult questions to answer arehow many alarms will actually be replaced at 10-year intervals, and what will happen to the reliability of alarms that are not replaced? Although an estimated 96% of U.S. homes with telephones now have at least one smoke alarm, in ¼ of reported fires in smoke alarm equipped homes, the devices didn’t work.

Another study revealed that a surprising 34% of fire deaths in one- and two-family dwellings during the 2000-2004 period occurred in homes with a working smoke alarm. Perhaps this statistic correlates with the fact that fire death rates for theyoung and the elderly, those who are least likely to be capable of self preservation even if they are awakened by a smoke alarm, are roughly double those for individuals in the central age group. Smoke alarms are good, but they can only go so far in reducing the nation’s fire death and injury rates. We need residential sprinklers to complete the home fire safety package.

Q: Does the IRC offer any incentives for the installation of fire sprinklersystems in dwellings?

A: Incentives are not included in the 2009 edition of the IRC. A cooperative effort between representatives of the International Association of Fire Chiefs(IAFC) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in 2007 did resultin an incentive package, which became Proposal RB67-07/08, but this proposal was unsuccessful in the ICC process.

The package recognized the enhanced safety provided by residential fire sprinkler systems and recommended reductions in permissible property line separations and a variety of other fire related code requirements in the IRC to help offset the cost of adding sprinklers and permit more design flexibility for new homes. Unfortunately, this proposal was defeated when home builders who represent the National Association of Home Builders on the International Code Council’s Residential Building Committee attacked the proposal at a public hearing in February 2008.The tactic of attacking the incentive proposal appeared to be part of an overallstrategy by NAHB at the time to deflect any mention of fire sprinklers in the mainbody of the IRC. Some code official groups subsequently re-proposed two parts of RB67 in a public comment for consideration at the Minneapolis hearing, but the IAFC decided to withdraw the entire proposal because the public comment lacked the comprehensive approach that was intended in the original submittal.

In withdrawing RB67, the President of IAFC stated in testimony that the IAFC would empanel a special committee to study the issue of residential sprinkler incentives and develop a model recommendation that would be made available to jurisdictions considering adoption of the 2009 IRC.

Q: Is an engineer required to design a home fire sprinkler system?

A: No. Home fire sprinkler systems utilize a very simple design approach thatrequires a water supply capable of delivering adequate water to operate one or two flowing sprinklers. A cooperative effort by the National Association of HomeBuilders and the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 2007 resulted in Proposal RP3-07/08, which adds a new prescriptive design approach to SectionP2904 to the IRC plumbing provisions. Proposal RP3 was approved by the ICCmembership for inclusion in the 2009 IRC. The approach is a “cook book”methodology that involves selecting numbers from a series of tables to identifythe required pipe size for supplying fire sprinklers. Engineered systems are still permitted to be used to improve efficiency in design or provide solutions for installations on low-pressure municipal water supplies. The approach is similarto structural design under the IRC, where span tables can be used to provide aconservative structural design and engineered solutions are permitted as analternative.

Q: Some people are claiming that the fire service “packed” the Minneapolis hearing to win the vote. Why is this claim being made?

A: The number of ICC voting governmental representatives who came to the Minneapolis code hearing to vote on the residential sprinkler issue was unprecedented in history. The level of interest in this issue was not surprising given that fire-safety advocates consider the residential sprinkler requirement tobe one of the most important code changes in the history of model codes andthat the National Association of Home Builders is vehemently opposed to this change. Participation at the hearing was bolstered by two programs that were offered toprovide travel assistance to ICC members, one by the IRC Fire SprinklerCoalition, and one by the National Association of Home Builders.

The IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition program, conducted on behalf of more than 100 international,national and local public safety interest groups, offered assistance togovernmental representatives who would not otherwise be able to afford toattend. The IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s program was initiated in direct response to a funding program launched by the National Association of HomeBuilders in 2007 and repeated in 2008 to bolster code official attendance at ICC hearings.The idea of sponsored travel was initially NAHB’s, not the IRC Fire SprinklerCoalition’s. Nevertheless, unlike the NAHB program, which advertised funding availabilityonly for sprinkler opponents, the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition’s program did not discriminate based on the voting preference of the applicant. Also, unlike the NAHB program, the IRC Fire Sprinkler Coalition program did not distribute any funds directly to travelers, instead opting to pay for airfare and hotel expenses directly to the travel vendors to avoid any potential for personal gain by participants.

These and other safeguards were put into place for the Coalition’s program to ensure that the program was both legal and ethical. In the end, the outcome of the vote was a reflection of the commitment of those who were willing to sacrifice their personal time to travel to Minneapolis, attend a weekend hearing and participate in the final vote.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Operating in a Compressed Time Frame

A couple of recent events got me thinking about the way firefighters and fire officers must operate. The dramatic plane ditch into the Hudson River and the tragic Ladder 26 accident in Boston both gave me a time to reflect on the subject.

In the case of the plane, it is reported that Captain "Sully" had about 4 and 1/2 minutes to make some critical decisions about what to do with the crippled airliner with about 150 folks on board.

While we have no concrete information on the Boston incident, a conservative estimate might be that the driver had maybe 15-20 seconds (if that) to make any critical decisions that may have affected the outcome. It is clearly uncertain if any decision would have had a positive impact at all, and it is not my point to discuss the rights or wrongs, but merely to look at those two blocks of time.

As firefighters and fire officers we need to review and study the works of the folks like Klein who have taught us about RPDM Recognition Primed decision Making, and what training or simulation experience can we put ourselves through that will make us react appropriately during critical emergencies.

No one can prepare for the horrendous things that might face us such as an accident, a mayday, and explosion or whatever, but the use of simulation and training to whatever level possible will at least burn an imprint into our mind which might help us.

Training and experience affect our jobs so greatly, that we need to be always vigilant to challenge ourselves (safely) in any way we can.

The decisions that we might make in a compressed time frame will be critical.

While we think that the four and half minutes to lad a plane is a long time, I am sure that it was not that long for the folks involved.

In the case of the Boston incident, as I just look from a distance without any facts, I am not sure that much could have been done in those few seconds that would have affected the outcome.

Our task as firefighters and fire officers is to try to do anything we can each day to prepare us for any decision we have to make in an extremely compressed time frame. The review of lessons learned are essential but they give us the benefit of days weeks and months to decide what we would have done, when faced with the same set of circumstances and facts.

Take the time now in the station and during training because when the decision needs to be made, you may not have sufficient time to think things out completely, and you may have to rely on your training and experience.

Magnesium Fire Dangers

A drill that demonstrates the dangers of using water to extinguish a fire involving magnesium. Featured on

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SAFER Grant- Be Careful What You Wish For

Yesterday on my blog at Firehouse Zen, I planned on commenting on the report by that Minneapolis is considering whether or not to accept their recently awarded SAFER grant. Well, before I had a chance to do so, it turns out my own department, Hilton Head Island, is also in the same boat. I was actually in a meeting with the Chief of Department when the story broke yesterday, which led to a lot of discussion then and today about this complicated situation.

What do you think? What is the responsible thing to do for both the taxpayers and the department? Trust me when I say we are looking at all the angles, but we'd love to hear what you think.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Be a PUPIL and be successful

An exerpt from my FFN blog...

Approaching a big fire, emergency, or staff project with the mindset that you're the teacher sets you up for failure. The PUPIL mindset can help you be much more successful. PUPIL is not only a concept to help remind you that the best leaders strive to continually learn, it also is a mneumonic that can help structure your approach to the problem.

P - Preparation If you're prepared, you have a much better chance for success. Preparation includes planning, but it isn't limited to it. Training, planning, good SOGs, and the mindset that "it CAN happen here" are all parts of Preparation.

U - Understanding If you don't really understand the problem, you're likely not going to be successful in overcoming it. Understanding comes through education, training, risk assessment, networking, and brainstroming.

P - Persistance If you give up easily, the problem will beat you every time. You have to be persistant in order to win. NEVER give up. If Plan A doesn't work, try Plan B. Have a Planning Branch working on Plan C and Plan D, just in case.

I - Idiotproofing Face it, not everyone you will see at a fire, a disaster, or in a group setting will see things the same way you do. There will be people that will actively sabotage or passively resist new ideas or new thought processes just because they're new. You have to anticipate resistance and build it into your IAP or project timeline if you want a realistic action plan. Other people just maynot "get it". They may resist out of the best of intentions...or laziness...or discomfort with change...or they may just not be imaginative enough to see that an alternative approach may create success.

L - Luck Luck plays a part in every big fire, disaster, or major project. If you have good luck, recognize it and take advantage of it. If you have bad luck, recognize it, figure out a way to overcome it, and refer back to Persistance.

Good luck, everyone.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Civilians Fighting Fires? Maybe Coming To Your District Tomorrow!

It's a balmy 46 degrees here on Hilton Head Island, which is a cold January morning in our parts. So in an effort to get your minds moving, I found this AP article in several places (but can be read at; there is this controversial idea to allow civilians who have not evacuated from wildland fire areas to assist in defending their neighborhoods.

While this sounds like a completely bizarre idea given the propensity for litigation here in the States, the idea has been utilized in Australia for a number of years and seems to be working. Four years ago, when I was at the NFA, one of my classmates was an Australian chief who discussed the concept and all the rest of my classmates were, as you can imagine, a little shocked.

It is just another example of breaking the paradigms about how we currently do business and what may change in the future. Keep your mind open and look for ways to be innovative. You just might be the next Alan Brunacini, who shocked a lot of fire departments around the nation with a far-out idea of customer service being an important fire service quality.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Year's Resolutions vs. the Same Old Stuff

I recently posted this on my Firefighter Nation blog.

A lot of us make New Year's Resolutions to break bad habits, make positive changes in our lives, or to set a goal that we want to meet during the new year. We often see firefighters who make New Year's Resolutions to improve safety for their departments. These changes can be as simple as reminding ourselves to pay attention to details, to base our actions on size-up and not on thoughtless reactions, or something similar. They can also be as complicated as implementing a new safety program within your department.

Unfortunately, old habits are hard to break, so making a positive impact on safety is difficult, and some of those changes will - unfortunately - be short-lived.Without changing our culture to improve safety, we'll be stuck with SOS - the Same Old Stuff. I don't like SOS, because a big part of SOS is getting the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation's LODD notices. I subscribe to their listserve, so I get the notices as soon as they're distributed. 2008 ended with SOS. The 114th LODD notice for the year was published on December 31. New Year's Eve is my birthday, but the LODD notice really cuts into the "Happy" part of the birthday. It really puts a damper on the celebration.

Unfortunately, 2009 seems to have started with more SOS. I recieved another LODD notice today - the first one of the New Year. There will probably be many more. Let's all make a New Year's Resolution to do everything within our power to eradicate safety SOS this year. Let's do the little things that make the scene safer for us and our fellow firefighters. Slow down. Pay attention. Don't freelance. Work in teams. Follow ICS and accountability principles. Don't conduct interior firefights in Born Losers. Drive safely. Wear your seatbelt. Use good roadway safety practices. Get in shape. Eat healthy foods. Stay hydrated. Rehab. If you need help, ask for it. If you feel bad - especially at a fire - ask for help.

Most important, all of us need to institute and maintain a safety culture in our departments and with those departments with whom we run mutual aid. Let's try to see a significant decrease in those LODD notices this year. I'm making a New Year's Resolution to do everything I can to avoid SOS behaviors.

Friday, January 16, 2009


From Firehouse Zen:

We are coming to the end of a series of promotional exams for our personnel and I had someone say to me that a certain person deserved a promotion because they were the “most experienced” candidate.

I’m of the belief that experience is only valuable if you actually learn from it. Longevity isn’t the same as experience. Surviving something isn’t the same as living it. There’s a big difference between lasting through a ride on a horse and riding the horse. It’s much like the difference between taking your dog for a walk and the dog taking you for a walk.

The more you see an event occur, or an event like it, the experience becomes valuable if you can constructively critique your performance, understand how you can improve, and make changes to your behavior. If you can’t do these things, your experience is useless.

Benefit comes from being able to see the right pitch, recognizing it for what it is, and to swing when the timing is right. Are you mentally able to let go of your perceptions and beliefs for a minute and recognize that change is difficult, but often required, to improve?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Venting, Rescue Video in Tacoma Washington

2005 video from helicopter featuring Tacoma Washington firefighters going to work on the roof of a senior apartment building. Venting and a first floor rescue are featured in this video.

Every Day is Groundhog Day

It's a little early to be discussing Groundhog Day, especially with so much of the country frozen and snowy white. I'm going to get an early start, regardless. Groundhog Day is the name for the annual celebration of that old weather predictor, Punxatawney Phil, held each February 2. The legend has it that if Phil sees his shadow, it's six more weeks of winter, if not, hello spring.

The annual event was the theme of a hit 1993 movie starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell.
In the movie, Murray plays a weatherman sent to Punxatawney to monitor the celebration. While there, he lives the same day over and over, waking up each day knowing exactly how the entire day will go, what everyone will do, and realizing that he's condemned to live that same day endlessly, over and over again.

Working a fire department administration job can be a lot like the movie. A while back, my boss made the comment that "Every Day is Groundhog Day". He went on to say that he comes in every Monday with a "to do" list. Then the staff meeting pushes new priorities to the top of the pile. Then a couple of new personnel issues pop up. Then there are the questions about "do I get overtime for that class, Chief?" Then a citizen complaint. Then the budget gets cut and we have to re-calculate everything for the other half of the fiscal year. Then there's a problem with a contractor. Then, it's Friday afternoon and most of the Monday "to do" list is still untouched. Next guessed it...Groundhog Day all over again. Don't forget the 37 phone calls, 12 new voice mails, and so much email that the system administrator calls to ask "when are you going to clean out your inbox?" for the third time this week.

There is no way to completely control Groundhog Day...sometime things just happen.
I have found a few ways to keep it from being completely out of control, however.

Rule 1 - Don't work on anything really important for the first hour of every day. Get a cup of coffee, ask about the administrative assistant's family, plan a social event with one of the fire companies, or see if the Chief will take you out to lunch. Then, go to the office, check your email and prioritize it. Ditto for voice mail. Respond to the small questions that will come from the companies, especially on Monday. Don't let last week's minor work pile up this week.

Rule 2 - Communicate with your boss. If you're swamped, tell him/her. If working on the new project he/she just gave you, ask what two other incomplete projects you can forget for a while.

Rule 3 - Prioritize. Most of us have an overwhelming workload that forces us to seriously prioritize, but it's easy to lose focus if you try to please everyone. Make sure that the really important things get done. How to tell if it's really important...If not doing it will cause someone to die, it's important. If not doing it will cause someone a serious injury or illness, it's important. If not doing it will screw up a multi-million dollar project, it's important. If not doing it will cost you your job, it's important. If it won't do one of the above, maybe it's not Priority 1 today.

Rule 4 - Don't be too busy to go to calls. If your department has a working fire and you think you're too busy to go...well, let's say that you should NEVER be that busy. This one should probably be Rule 1.

Rule 5 - Plan. Keep a calendar. Use a PDA or your laptop to remind you of meetings, deadlines, and important dates.

Rule 6 - Be patient. Working on administrative projects isn't like seeing fire come out the window and 10 minutes later we're starting overhaul. Working projects is a never-ending, well, Groundhog Day. You won't finish a major staff project in 10 minutes. Don't expect instant gratification during a staff assignment. You won't get it.

Rule 7 - Look at the calendar. See when the next Monday arrives. Mark it as a Groundhog Day holiday. Trust me on this one - most Mondays are just like Groundhog Day, deja vu all over again.

Rule 8 - Look in the mirror. If you don't like what you see, go look at your boss. He/she probably looks more stressed out than what you just saw in the mirror. That's not going to lower anyone's blood pressure.

Rule 9 - Delegate. If you try to micromanage everything, you'll spend your life looking at trees and never realizing that there's a forest. You'll be unaware of the lumberjacks working their way toward you with the chainsaws, too.

Rule 10 - Leave work at work. Nothing says "Divorce" like coming home every night complaining about work to your spouse. Most spouses don't really care what kind of day we had, as long as we actually come home alive and well.

Rule 11 - Did I mention that Monday rolls around every week?

Bean Counting

As Firefighters from around the world gather in "Beantown" to attend the wake and funeral of beloved Lt. Kevin "Two-Times" Kelley, we should all consider the events of this loss and take our "Bean Counters" to task when we get home. The economy is rough right now, but when is it not? Those in budget offices (said Bean Counters) need to understand that you can't defer maintenance and capital purchasing of apparatus and equipment. There is historically, myriad instances where faulty doors, brakes, hydraulics, etc. on "older" equipment has caused the death and injury of Firefighters. It is up to the Bean Counters, when cooking their books, to consider the fact that if the fire department has 100 rigs, it needs to budget for 100 rigs' care or replacement.

Furthermore, fire departments should rethink putting every bell and whistle on the rigs to scratch the backs of these Bean Counters, quid-pro-quo right? My department removed apparatus from the FD budget and placed them in the City's capital purchasing budget. This allowed for safer operations and a more timely replacement program; and doesn't pit staffing vs. vehicle purchasing. How many of you have to cut staffing to buy bigger Trucks?

Fire departments should also reconsider privatized "fleet maintenance" centers over traditional fire department shops. I know it does cost more, however, fire trucks are very specialized machines that require more than just routine brakes and oil changes. It is paramount that we have those fire department mechanics available and the infrastructure to fix and get these rigs back into service. This greatly prevents relying on older, spare rigs for long periods of time; and as a result, possibly preventing the loss of those who use them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Boots on the CheckerPlate

As Boston works it's way through the maze and asks the questions along with the "should have could have would have" we find ourselves in observation and contemplation.

The front line is pushing back to the rear with the "need to know" of the "how? and the why?".

I am struck by something that triggered in my upstairs locker centers around the "fundamentals" of the American people and the "Spirit of 76" can do attitude that has carried this great nation into the 21st century.....

In Iraq during the "early stages of the war" the Humvee's being used were just not equipped with the armour to protect many of our exposed soldiers from the blasts and shrapnel produced by I.E.D.'s. The spirit of '76 came out and the women and men started to put flame to metal and tacked on "hillbilly armour" to the units until the "R.E.M.F.'s" started to get the up armour kits to the front lines ..... we lost many before that finally became a part of the kit that addressed the need.

In the Boston sense from comments posted here at the kitchen table (yeah we talk here about the crap that needs to be talked about cause it is what we do when the job needs to get done)....I am again reminded of the spirit of '76, the courage, the flame, the "can do spirit".

I too remember after a line of duty that we still had to work the "front lines" with shifts that did not break the continuation of service delivery that citizens needed. No "hang ups" when you dialed 911 to ask for help from fire. "Men" are asking hard ball questions....ones which will not look pretty to those who must deliver the answers....."Men" are going to call to task those who are in charge to get to the "basement of cause" on this one.

The union has stepped up to shelter the family God Bless Them......and that shelter is no less than equal to the same shelter offered and freely given from the passionate heartspaces of all of Boston Fire.....and for that matter any firefighterveteran I have ever encountered in this type of

Before the pipes begin to lament.....the "broadsword of truth" shall cleave it's way into this mess....but leave no doubt in your mind or the mind of anyone who views this event......the "Rubber Boot Warriors" who are on the immediate front lines in Boston are "warriors in a culture that accepts the sacrifice".

Boston Fires long history and service to it's citizens begins with those who put their boots on the "checkplate" and who ride their charriots of fire into the abyss of need.......but...

answers to questions.....hard ball in your face questions needing answers "now" are being asked.....the family and the members deserve those answers as soon as they can be

Boston stands "Fast" and holds the fireline in check.....with their reality.....and we can but give them our prayers....and our thoughts to all in "that extended family".

From the nozzel end with the rough and tumble of this would expect and get nothing less.....from the finest.......

my thoughts my point of way...

Unused Resources; Lost Opportunities

I’ve been struggling with something for a bit, and decided rather than trying to be politically correct, or trying to avoid sounding like I’m giving a good friend a shameless plug…..I’m going to give a good friend a shameless plug for all the right reasons. He's my mentor both professionally and firematically and he has better "outside the box" solutions to the Recruitment and Retention issues facing the fire service than I've seen anywhere else.

Have you been to ? No? Why not? If you weren’t aware of the existence of the site, I’ll give you a free pass, providing you march yourself over there to check it out. Do it today.

If you know about the site, but haven’t checked it out, then I’m going to assume that you and your fire department or ambulance squad or firematic organization have none of the following issues:
  • Recruitment---got all the volunteers you can handle? Are you drowning in new recruits? Are you drawing younger members by the dozens?
  • Retention: --are your drill nights attended by 90% of your members? When the automatic alarm call comes, are you fighting off eager firefighters or dragging them off the truck based on seniority? Do your members show up in droves when you have a (pick one) car wash, blood drive, pasta dinner, equipment fundraiser etc. And are they all there for setup, event management and breakdown/cleanup? Or is it more like my department, where the same 8-10 people show up for everything but you don't see the others until you get an "exciting" call?
  • Funding: --Don’t need more cash? All your members are properly outfitted (leather boots for everyone….hooray!!!) , you’re all driving in brand new or late model apparatus, you have a rescue boat, rescue snowmobile, brush truck and you have plenty of dough to keep the lights and heat on? You’ve never applied for a grant or thought about it because you have more funds than you’ll ever need?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Tiger Schmittendorf has almost 30 years of fire service experience coupled with a career background in sales, marketing and public relations. He has the expertise, unique fresh approach and brains to back up his promises.

Are Tiger’s services free? No. He’s an educator and leader, not a privately funded philanthropist, but he does deliver.

If you are experiencing any of the difficulties that most departments are now facing with budget cuts and reduced staffing,contact him and ask him what he thinks.

It’s not going to cost you a dime to check out his info and initiate a conversation.

I think you’ll be glad you did.

Boston Issues Present Clear and Present Danger

The death of Kevin Kelley in Boston is a tragedy. We all paused to think of Kevin and his family as well as the brothers on the job in Boston. However, instead of allowing time to pass the Jakes in Boston decided they needed to protect other Jakes straight away.

Brake issues are at the forefront of the investigation in Boston. Already a second unit, the first inspected after the death of Kevin, has been removed from service. If Boston's firefighters had waited another accident could have occurred.

I'm close with a number of Boston jakes. My own writing on the issue began because they asked many of us to begin to probe the issues early on due to the danger presented. Local 718 spoke with Kevin's family. They want the truth.

The experts are in place to begin to determine all of the facts. Due to the circumstances it would have been unwise, and unsafe, to avoid pressuring the city into inspecting 55 front line units.

Kevin Kelley is forever in our hearts. We also have to think about the jakes responding to calls today.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hooking Em Young ---This Ain't Your Daddy's Fire Service---Recruit Now

In response to the troubling prevailing trend of declining volunteerism in the Fire Service...oh the hell with that...let's call it what it is, we're in trouble folks....the numbers are bad, the kids aren't signing up and the current membership is aging at a rate that almost guarantees the death knell for Volunteer Fire Departments.

What to do? I've created (and it's a continuing work in progress) a program that my organization (The Firemen's Association of the State of New York...aka FASNY) has given a preliminary green light to pursue that will, hopefully, trigger a response in the target market...Generation WhyShouldICare.

My Master Plan, and yes, you can leave that in capitals, is to bring the fire service into the schools, statewide. Only this ain't your daddy's fire service; we're bringing a younger, hipper, sexier that speaks the same language as the 14-21 year old bracket. My hope is that this Recruitment program (yes, the dreaded "R" word) will kick these kids in the butt and get them off of their apathetic duffs and get them to sign up.

Interested? Hit me up with me your email address and I'll share my thoughts and Master Plan.

Boston Ladder Truck Fatality/thoughts

Monday morning quarterbacking from my armchair will not cut to what is going on with the loss and the "catastropic failure" somewhere in the ladder truck.

Suffice to say at this point "we do not know what happened". Like any other loss it will be investigated. Unlike other losses this one hits home with the Emergency Services who are supposed to be "going to help" and not being a part of or involved in "an accident scene" where our own have been killed and wounded "in the line of duty".

It would be a dis-service to try and "guess what happened".

The deceased, the inured, the crew and members of Boston Fire deserve our respectfull silence without commentary except to say......"we feel for our brothers and sisters in the service" in that neck of the woods. Americas front line firefighters routinely go out into the dark abyss of emergency runs to help the "last alarm and return to quarters" for the ladder/pump crew we can say.....the line is still steady and remains intact with Boston.

I have driven rigs that have had brake fade from hot runs....and lost partial braking ability....not fun...not something you want to practise....nor even try to guess as to what you would do your best.....that no civilians were killed is a credit to the operator and his ability to steer his rig away from any fatality.....luck...skill...who knows...but the angels were with him and the crew....and those affected by the impact in the building......

Lets "tap out to time out" on further discussion and awaite the "experts" and "crash investigators report. In the meantime.....

......another line of duty....another loss....another parade.....and the pipes...... oh yes the pipes they are a calling.....

....and we who are left weep.....and carry our dead.....

our heads are low in thoughts and prayers for all of Bostons finest......

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H5N1 Bird Flu Claims Young Adult In Beijing

H5N1 Avian Flu is simmering in parts of the World. The virus has not found it's way into North America yet. Should we be concerned?

With the expected role of first responders in mind it is important to stay up to date on this potential pandemic.

From Reuters we read of a young and otherwise healthy woman that died from the bird flu on Christmas Eve in Beijing.

"Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection said the woman had had contact with poultry before falling ill.

China's official Xinhua News Agency earlier reported that the woman from eastern Fujian province had bought nine ducks at a market in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, and then gutted the birds.

She gave three ducks to her father, uncle and a friend and kept the other six ducks, the agency reported.

It added that 116 people, including the patients 14 family members and neighbor and 102 medical workers, had been in close contact with the patient."

In other H5N1 news the January 4 edition of the L.A. Times reports;

"........the virus appears to be entrenched in Indonesia, parts of China, Vietnam, Egypt and other countries where backyard flocks are more difficult to regulate than commercial chicken farms, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Though bird flu viruses are common, highly pathological ones such as the 1918 virus and H5N1 -- which has been lethal to 100% of chickens infected and 63% of humans known to be infected -- are rare.

Scientists have little experience with which to gauge how H5N1 will evolve.

But, Webster said, "We still have to treat this as a potentially very, very dangerous virus."

In 2005 Hill & Associates issued a special report that discussed the pandemic potential as it relates to businesses with an International presence. The report singles out affected countries best prepared to deal with requisite quarantines, vaccination programs and an infrastructure capable of confronting a pandemic.

China, Pakistan, Thailand score low by H & A readiness standards. Japan, Australia and South Korea score higher and stand ready to confront a widespread outbreak. H & A did not address the readiness of the U.S. in their study.

The Times article points out that vaccination against H5N1 is tricky. Current vaccines for birds and humans are designed for many flu subtypes. Undisciplined or rampant vaccination programs as opposed to regionally administered programs invite the evolution of resistant strains. Effective vaccine administration requires coordination between countries. At the moment such coordination does not exist.

The FDA has approved a bird flu vaccine but the vaccine is not being mass produced and there appears to be no huge stores.

Government operated is an excellent resource for anyone seeking information on H5N1.

First responders are encouraged to review the IAFF Pandemic Flu resource pages. The IAFF has been proactive in providing information on H5N1 from the start.

Very little of the vaccine is on hand should H5N1, Avian flu, Bird flu visit North America. The vaccine on hand would likely go to hospital and first responders. How fast could the vaccine manufacturer roll out product? Is there enough Vaccine on hand for first responder family members? How fast would anti-viral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza disappear from pharmacies?

The case of this young lady in Beijing serves as a reminder the subject is still very much alive. Pandemic is an ugly word no one likes to talk about. As long as the potential for one exists the discussion must be kept alive.

*This post first appeared on Firefighter Blog on 1/6.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Inauguration day fire truck

Just off Canadian News out of Calgary Alberta Canada: a local costume designer stitched together 30 uniforms depecting World War 1 American Servicemen. They will be marching with the red fire truck which in past years has had firefighters marching with it on other inauguration day celebrations. So....does that mean that the military now recognizes the history of firefighterveterans as "Rubber Boot Warriors" who have served these many years on the "homeland front?'

Perhaps this is the beginning of a shift towards the understanding that those in government need to have made clear to them....we too serve our nation and in that capacity especially since 911 when the "homeland was attacked".......something to consider when the big day of the presidential change comes to for the fire truck in the parade...the Canadian gal who did the work on the uniforms will be riding in the truck with her family.....

in the meantime......developing from the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation is the California meeting this month number 2 . The first one on stress in the fire services was held in Boston in order to address section 13 of the firefighter life safety initiatives.....I hope to track the information flow and post it here when they publish the results. The "best practises" model is being worked on for issues around the "mental health and wellness" portion.....

stay safe....and lets all enjoy a good parade....we have been
waiting a long time for change....this looks like it will be a good one...
time will tell...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Continuing Chronicles of the FNG(irl): The Interview

Today I'm revisiting part of my initiation into the fire service -- the interview. My purpose is to share my experience being inducted into the fire service, which began exactly one year ago yesterday.

Tell you what, I'll save all of you the trouble and say it myself....

I'm a jackass.

There. Everyone happy?

I spent the better part of the day yesterday semi-obsessing, stressing and second-guessing about my fire department interview. I changed clothes twice after work (I didn't want to come across as too business-like, but I didn't want to be sloppy or look too girly) and spent ten minutes alternately putting my hair up and then taking it back down again (who does this??? Oh.... only me???) and then took the short walk down the street to the station.

I had spent some time thinking about how I wanted to respond to what I thought would be a variety of questions, and while I wasn't rehearsing my answers, I had certainly dedicated a good chunk of time thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to portray myself and how best to be true to myself and not sound like a moron.

I met with two of the past chiefs, and they conducted my interview in the apparatus bay, leaning up against the rig. I thought it was a bit unconventional, but it actually served to put me at ease.

After we completed all of my paperwork and talked about the whole "what happens after you're voted on" and what to expect in terms of time commitment, not only for FF1 class, but also time for drills, community events and responding, I heard a little history about the department....and then my interviewers took deep breaths and I thought to it comes.....the big important questions...

Well, no.....not exactly; here's how it really went down... (Past Chief #1) "So, do you have any questions for us? (Me) "I think you covered all the basics, will they be voting on me tonight?" (Past Chief#2) "Yup, the business meeting starts in about half an hour and we'll vote on you then, then you'll get a letter from the secretary telling you when and where you should report for your physical" (Me) "Would you like me to talk about my background and why I'm here?" (Past Chief #2) "Nah, I think we got enough to present to the membership....basically, as long as you're not the village idiot, you're most likely voted in, and you don't seem like the village idiot".

And THAT was my interview. I'm feeling sheepish for all the hours I spent fretting, and the mental gymnastics, and the response inventory rehearsals, and the outfit changes, and the hair nonsense....but I also know in my gut that if I had sashayed in there with NO preparation, the interview would have rivalled the Spanish Inquisition ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"--a little Pythonesque humor), because that's just the funny way that life works.

So now I can start stalking the mailman and wearing a groove in the pavement in front of the mailbox.

On a positive note, I lost three pounds stressing over the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The FNG(irl): First Steps

I wrote this piece one year ago when I first joined the fire department. It's a good road map for those who may have difficulty following the labrynthian twists and turns that my brain takes.

For those of you who don't know me, actually, even for those who do, my blog area will articulate my latest and hopefully greatest adventure.....finally volunteering for the fire service.I currently serve as the state-wide Training and Education Planner for the Firemen's Association of the State of New York...better known as FASNY (not FANCY, as it's sometimes erroneously referred to). My name is Mary Ellen, but I answer more quickly to "Mel".

My position entails working with the T & E committee to offer educational programming to the Fire and Emergency Services. Our constituency is volunteer, but the attendees at our seminars are vollies, paid, local and state police and educators. I like what I do. Yes, there are some headaches involved...any time a committee is running the show there are inherent challenges. An attorney friend of mine had a semi-famous quote framed in his office "A committee is a cul-de-sac down which great ideas are lured and then quietly strangled" (Sir Barnett Cocks --yes, that's his real name, unfortunate, isn't it? ....imagine being married to that guy). I think that sums it up nicely.

My favorite part of my job is being out on the road with the training programs, meeting our members, participating in lively discourse about all matters safety related, and, let's face it...getting out of the cubicle for a couple of days. I'm not a 9-5 kind of girl.So that said, I've spent four years chatting with Fire and Emergency workers, and inevitably the conversation will turn to ..."So, Mary Ellen, what department do you volunteer with?" --cue the discomfort---"Well, actually, I'm not a firefighter; I haven't signed up to volunteer yet"---cue the blank stares and open mouths--"Well what the hell are you waiting for?" which is usually followed by..."You know, life isn't a dress rehearsal".

After three years I'd had enough of feeling like a sham. I'm a strong girl, I run, I lift weights, I eat right and am focused on fitness and safety. I have no good reason not to walk the walk.So I'm putting my money where my mouth is, and have a meeting tomorrow night with the chief at my local department to officially get the ball rolling. If all goes well, I may have my interview on January 7 (and being the type A+ anal-retentive perfectionist that I am, of course I'm already nervous) and then the saga will begin.Stay tuned...this might get interesting...

Bus Fire - Over Aggressive Attacks On Vehicle Fires

I am by no means an un-aggressive [if that is a word] firefighter, but I have been lucky enough in my career to have enough manpower, tools, and plenty of water behind me. There was little information provided with this video, but it touches on what we all have been discussing here lately...Being Safe.

One of my articles and an all time most read article in firerescue1 is over-aggressive attacks on car fires. Unfortunately I did not have this video when I wrote the article or I would have added it.

Why be aggressive on a bus fire when you are alone, poorly equipped, low water pressure, and with no life hazard?

Check out more of my close call videos here.
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Courage and Pain: Dr. John Pryor

It happened on Christmas day. A single mortar fired randomly into the Mosul Air Base killed combat trauma surgeon Major John Paul Pryor, MD, age 42. Dr. Pryor was serving with the Army's 1st Medical Detachment, based in Fort Totten, New York. He served in 2006 as a trauma surgeon for the 344th Combat Support Hospital in Abu Ghraib. He volunteered to go. He leaves behind a wife, Dr. Carmella V. Calvo, and three children, Danielle, 10, Frank, 8, and John Jr., 4, his parents, Richard C. and Victoria Pryor of Florida, and his brother, Dr. Richard J. Pryor of Albany, New York. John was the trauma program director at the University of Pennsylvania, affectionately known as HUP (Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania) in Philadelphia. His family, colleagues, friends, and neighbors are devastated.

I feel somewhat responsible. Around 1991, John Pryor, at the age of 17 joined the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Ambulance Corps in the small upstate New York community where I lived. He worked with myself and a cadre of other medics who shared a lifelong passion for EMS. To say that John developed an interest in medicine would be a gross understatement. Truth be told, the bug bit him and became his lifelong passion. I taught John in his first EMT course, precepted him as a medic, wrote countless medical college references for him, and remained friends with him until he died on December 25th, 2008.

I've said this countless times over the past weeks: the story of John Pryor is one that needs to be told. Why would a successful trauma surgeon with a lovely wife and three young children volunteer to serve in Iraq? I'll tell you why in John's own words. The way John viewed the world changed while in medical school in Grenada. John realized that he was privileged. After September 11th, 2001, he found it very difficult to, "sit around and drink a beer knowing that there were soldiers in Iraq who needed surgeons." He had a special skill and there was a need. The risks were enormous. Every soldier, surgeon, and medic knows why John Pryor was in Iraq on Christmas day. He needed to be there. "He was there so that we can be here," said Lt. General Eric Schoonmaker, surgeon general of the Army who spoke to family and friends at John's burial.

John was not only a talented surgeon, he was a loving father, wonderful friend, and very personable human being. All the years I knew him, he was upbeat and happy. John had a knack for being able to put people at ease. He was humorous and playful. He lived life with passion. He missed his family whenever he was away from them. Surgeons who trained under John often described him as a gentleman, a word rarely seen in the same sentence with the word 'surgeon'. He shared his knowledge and expertise with anyone who asked, speaking at EMS conferences, teaching nurses and medics, and mentoring others. His family has established a website to honor John's memory at

The life of John P. Pryor was extraordinary. His loss is felt profoundly. His memory calls upon each of us to examine how we live our own lives.

Baptism By Fire Or Death By Diversity?

We use the term “baptism by fire” in the fire service to measure that milestone that we achieve with our first big fire; our first true test as a firefighter. The “baptism” welcomes us into a world where ranks are closed very tightly and bonds are never to be broken. And when one dies, the aggrieved mourns the loss, but it is the fire department that captures all of the attention.

I recently wrote a blog on Firefighter Nation with respect to and in honor of Fire Paramedic Apprentice (FPA) Rachel Wilson of the Baltimore City Fire Department, who died during a training exercise on February 9, 2007.

The intent of the blog was to examine pre-incident issues, post-incident issues, recommendations that were made post-incident and corrective measures taken to date. Comments are welcome, but they will be respectful, thoughtful and most of all, civil. I expect there to be differences of opinions, but again; they will be respectful replies.

Because of the many issues involved, I believe that it is important that a dissection of available information takes place and we intake them as lessons learned. I have posted the links to all documents reviewed for the article.

I know very little about the “inner” workings of one of our storied fire departments in this country; Balitmore City Fire Department. After all, they were the backdrop for the feature film “Ladder 49”.

However; though I may not know how BCFD fulfills their mission statement, I know how it should work at ANY fire department, because firefighters are NOT supposed to die during their training.

They are supposed to be learning the skills that will keep them alive!

I will tell you that, based on the information circulated after the death of FPA Rachel Wilson and since, it appears that this tragic incident has become a political football and though inappropriate, also became the exclamation point to a series of decisions that may have been made for the wrong reasons that culminated in the death of a 29 year old mother of two small children.

NIOSH issued ten (10) recommendations. The internal report identified fifty (50) violations of NFPA 1403. Three (3) terminations resulted from the incident and a chief resigned for unspecified reasons.

My conclusions and opinions are based solely upon the documents that I reviewed and no disrespect is intended towards any of the fine men and women of the BCFD and it is noted that many of the recommended changes have been made.

To read my blog in its entirety, go to

These are the links to the documents reviewed:

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Smoragsboard of Safety

First off, I think everyone is familiar with what a smorgasboard is (For my whole life I thought it to be exclusively a Pennsylvania thing, but it's apparent everyone knows what one is), but I'd call it more of a plethora of safety issues. You know, plethora, like a "large amount, to the point of being undesirable.

In my search for a safety message for my crew this morning, I found plenty to discuss, all at, all of them posted within the last few days.

What are our choices today in getting injured or killed? Let's look and see; would it be the continued reluctance of some in our profession to use their seat belts? Or would it be the problems associated with maintaining a safe perimeter while working in traffic? Of course, you could work at this department where staying out of the emergency room seems to be a serious challenge.

Other than the seat belt issue (which I can't understand how a firefighter on this planet hasn't had this beat into them by now), there is likely more to the story and I certainly don't insinuate that anyone screwed up without having the facts. But what I am pointing out is, it doesn't just always happen "somewhere else".

What things do you see around your department that can get you injured or killed? In this New Year, I challenge you to look at the possibilities and make the right choices, that is, the choice to be safe.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stress at Work Linked to Heart Disease, U.K.

A long term study of Stress in Civil Servants in the United Kingdom explains how stress at work is linked to heart disease.

This comes from a long running Whitehall study which has been following 10,306 London based civil servants since 1985 and which is led by Sir Michael Marmot, professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London U.K. The entire document on this subject is available on line: or

Of note for firefighters: "Adjusting for health behaviours did not change the association between work stress and low heart rate variablitity, suggesting a direct effect on the ANS (autonomic nervous system which regulates involuntary actions, such as actions of the heart by the vagus nerve, telling it how to work and controlling the variability of the heart rate)....and neuroendocrine functions, rather than indirect effects through health behaviours" as a quote by Dr. Tarani Chandola, a senior lecturer in UCL Deptartment of Epidermiology.

For firefighterveterans this means that even if you get "heart healthy" and are 100 percent fit...the outcome of the stress impact on your coronary arteries is going to be significant if you do not adjust for stress from the work we are doing... The effect of long term stress without lifestyle changes inclusive of not just physical health but re hab from the stress with breaks that include family and friends can affect your health outcome.

From the report comes the following:

"The effect on the ANS and neuroendocrine function in turn affecting the signals to the heart, leading to cardiac instability"

Getting connected to stress information by reading this report as well as connecting to lifestyle changes will make a difference in our firefighter population. Additonal stress information is available from the web site as well as section 13 of the everyone goes home life safety initatives located at
Stay safe

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Years Day Thoughts on Safety

Thinking and reviewing the last few months, looking forward into 2009 I thought that this quote from Teddy Roosevelt from another time long long ago and far far away would be of some insight and reflection that we can learn from:

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of good deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great entusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat"...

As we look back and then forward in our fire history, our culture, and the changes we have seen and the changes that are to come, let us remember the wisdom of the losses and celebrate the victory in the gains as "Rubber Boot Warriors" who serve on the front lines of the wisdom of our past comes the hope for our future....remembering that history allows us to not be doomed to repeat it.....too, let us pledge to never rest in bringing home the lessons learned and improving the safety in a service that all too often forgets to practise it at all levels of the profession......

In Memoriam - SC-TF1 Search Canine "Dixie"

Regrettably, our task force suffered a great loss this week, as Dixie, a dedicated search canine and part of our SC-TF1 family passed away. The information provided was that Dixie died from an intestinal problem. Please keep Canine Search Specialist Duane Brock and his family in your prayers.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Deadly Bangkok Nightclub Fire Rescue Video - RAW

Check out firefighter spot for more raw videos from the fire and updates...HERE
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