Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some e-mail courtesy rules

The popularity of e-mail has officially exploded. If you’re like me, you receive no less than 50… sometimes upwards to a 100 (or more) e-mails a day. Go a few days without accessing your e-mail account and you could have a full day’s work in just reading and responding to e-mails. As I sit here… buried in unread mail, a couple of suggestions for improving e-mail efficiency and courtesy come to mind.

Reply to all: If someone sends an e-mail to a group of people, it is not the license for anyone who has anything to say about the e-mail to hit the “Reply to all” button. For example, the organizer of a fundraiser for little Billy’s soccer team wants to know if there is a parent who can sell candy bars at Thursday night’s game so they send out an e-mail asking if someone can help out. A parent who cannot help out has two choices. First, ignore the e-mail (more on that in a moment). Second, reply to the sender and tell them if you are, or are not, available to help out. Finally, hit the “Reply to all” and send an e-mail to 30 recipients informing them you are not able to help out. If you choose to hit the “Reply to all” button, you are assuming that anyone, other than the person who needs the help and sent the inquiry, cares to know you’re busy that night. Guess what? We don’t care!

E-mail etiquette rule: Stop hitting “Reply to all” unless the message is important for everyone on the sender’s list… and this would be a rare occurrence.

Ignoring an e-mail: We are all busy people. We all get lots of e-mail. If someone sends you an e-mail asking you a question or requesting some information or implying that a reply is expected. Reply! You would think this is a simple one – the proverbial low hanging fruit. It’s not.
On occasion I’ve had to send two, three, even four e-mails asking someone for information that would have taken them less time to provide than it took them to read four e-mails. Flat-out ignoring an e-mail is the equivalent of having a face-to-face conversation and ignoring the person who is talking to you. It’s not very polite. I had a boss once that I sent a request to. No reply. Sent it again. No reply. When I asked him about it in person he said "My not replying to your e-mail was my way of telling you NO." I should have told him I failed my mind-reading class.

E-mail etiquette rule: If someone sends you an email that should have a response, respond. If you’re busy, tell them you received their e-mail and you’ll send them a longer response when time allows. Then flag the e-mail for a follow-up.

Expectation of no reply: Sometimes you send an e-mail to someone and you are just sharing information. In other words, no only is there not an expectation of no reply, you prefer no reply. Getting an e-mail that simply says “Thanks for the information” is a waste of time for the recipient to read. If you send information to someone and you do not want a reply, put the acronym “NNTR” in the subject line. NNTR stands for “No Need to Reply” and is a polite way of telling the recipient you don’t expect to hear anything back from them. You may have to educate your e-mail recipients as to what that means.

E-mail etiquette rule: If you don’t want a reply, put NNTR on the subject line.

Short message format: If you are the kind of person who can be short and sweet with e-mail messages or replies, put your entire message on the subject line and follow it with “NNTO.” NNTO stands for “No Need To Open” and tells the recipient that everything you have to say is in the subject line. For example, “Thanks for the info NNTO.” This saves the recipient from having to actually open the e-mail to receive your message.

E-mail etiquette rule: If your message is going to be short, put the message on the subject line, followed by NNTO.

If you like these tips, NNTR. Just use them… and pass them on to others.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Picking up the Plug, maybe....

There’s been some recent issues that have centered on adequacy of existing water supply systems and pre-fire planning information that should be available to incident commanders and company officers to assist in the identification of appropriate or alternate water sources and systems to support the fire suppression demands of incident operations and strategic and tactical Incident Actions Plans.

Check out the central issues affecting one agency at Statter911 HERE, HERE and HERE and at, HERE.

When ever there is an incident requiring Fire Department intervention that in turn requires water for application or in support of operational demands; incident command needs and requires timely, accurate and accessible information that can be retrieved for; water supply source(s), availability, reliability, sustainability, capacity, flow rates, gallons-per minute, location, limitations, etc. Pre-fire planning and coordination with other local agencies responsible for the area water systems must be instituted and maintained.

Here’s some useful information for you to look at further and assess your capabilities and limitations;

· NFPA 1720, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments, 2010 Edition
· NFPA 1142, Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Fire Fighting, 2007 edition.
· Fire departments, when conducting pre-fire planning, should use NFPA 1620, Recommended Practice for Pre-Incident Planning, 2003 Edition for fires and other related emergencies.
· NFPA 1620, Recommended Practice for Pre-Incident Planning, 2003 Edition
· Fire protection systems and water supplies should be determined in the development of, and specifically noted in, the pre-incident plan.
· Adequacy of Water for Fire Fighting. The adequacy of available water for sprinkler systems, inside and outside hose streams, and any other special requirements or needs should be considered when evaluating a site for its fire loss potential.
· Required Fire Flow. The required fire flow should be determined by evaluating the site in terms of size of the building (e.g., height, number of floors, and area), construction type, occupancy, exposures, fire protection systems, and any other features that could affect the amount of water needed to control or extinguish the fire.
· A water supply test should be conducted in accordance with NFPA 291, Recommended Practice for Fire Flow Testing and Marking of Hydrants, 2010 Edition
· NFPA 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, 2010 Edition
· Initial Full Alarm Assignment Capability. The fire department shall have the capability to deploy an initial full alarm assignment within a 480-second travel time to 90 percent of the incidents. The initial full alarm assignment to a structure fire in a typical 2000 ft2 (186 m2), two-story single-family dwelling without basement and with no exposures shall provide for the following:
· Establishment of an uninterrupted water supply of a minimum of 400 gpm (1520 L/min) for 30 minutes with supply line(s) maintained by an operator.
· Establishment of an effective water flow application rate of 300 gpm (1140 L/min) from two handlines, each of which has a minimum flow rate of 100 gpm (380 L/min) with each handline operated by a minimum of two individuals to effectively and safely maintain the line.

Also, check out this informational web site on Fire Hydrants and Water Supply issues, HERE.

NFA Alternative Water Supply: Planning and Implementing Programs (Q217) free On-line course on alternative water supply that is designed to assist fire chiefs, water authorities, public policy officials, and others whose responsibility it is to plan for and implement programs that allow for the use of alternative water sources during structural firefighting operations. HERE

NFA Testing and Evaluation of Water Supplies for Fire Protection (Q218)This course offers the opportunity to understand the testing and evaluation of water supplies, and also provides reference resources and several printable graph forms. The course covers the following areas: testing and evaluation of available water supplies for water supply systems; on-site storage systems; and rural areas not served by a water supply; determining water supply for automatic sprinklers, standpipe systems, and for fire suppression activities. HERE

Bottom line: You need to understand your buildings, occupancies, fire load and fire demand; coupled with knowing the charactoristics of your water system(s), it's capabilities and limitations, and your district or response area's risk and operational needs.

Maybe it's the right time to plan for some much needed training in this operational area? Do you have any "gaps" that need to be addressed?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

USFA 2008 LODD Report

You should make time this weekend and slide on over to the United States Fire Administration (USFA) web site HERE. Report HERE

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) released the report Firefighter Fatalities in the United States in 2008. The report continues a series of annual studies by the USFA of on-duty firefighter fatalities. The USFA is the single public agency source of information for all on-duty firefighter fatalities in the United States each year.
An overview of the 118 firefighters that died while on duty in 2008:

The total breakdown included 66 volunteer, 34 career, and 18 Wildland agency firefighters.

There were 5 firefighter fatality incidents where 2 or more firefighters were killed, claiming a total of 18 firefighters' lives.

26 firefighters were killed during activities involving brush, grass or Wildland firefighting, more than twice the number killed the previous year.
  • Activities related to emergency incidents resulted in the deaths of 75 firefighters.
  • 28 firefighters died while engaging in activities at the scene of a fire.
  • 21 firefighters died while responding to, and 3 while returning from, emergency incidents.
  • 12 firefighters died while they were engaged in training activities.
  • 13 firefighters died after the conclusion of their on-duty activity.
  • Heart attacks were the most frequent cause of death for 2008 with 45 firefighter deaths

Take a look at the issues, the factors and the causes. Take the time to think about what you can personally do to make a change, and what your company or agency must do, to support LODD reduction. Especially for those situations that are in OUR control.

Don’t forget about the resources at the Everyone Goes Home Program, HERE.

The Near Miss Reporting System, HERE

Friday, September 25, 2009

Collapse Zone - Don't forget your collapse Zone

Collapse not only injures it kills.

Porch Deck Dangers

Don't always count on porch and deck construction

Spokane, Smoke Reading

Great training video for smoke reading and fire progression. After posting this, I found out this is raw video from the 2008 3rd Alarm Joel Building fire in which a Spokane firefighter fell through a hole in the floor. Sean Poolse was carried out of the buiilding during the fire, and later was found to have a collapsed lung.

Take a Good Look Around

Have you stopped for a minute today and taken a good look around? Whether you’re sitting in the front seat at the stop light of an intersection or as you’re peering out the side cab window coming back from an alarm or while running errands in your POV; have you taken a good look around? As the Springsteen song goes; “this is your town”.
There’s a lot that can be gleaned from your surroundings on any given day. We sometimes take for granted the subtle changes that are happening all around us as we take care of business on our rounds, runs and calls. We tend to focus in on the immediacy of the events that are happening in front of us that demand our attention but fail to take a look around to pick up on information, data and insights that can help us on that next run or down the road in the future.

Take a look at the construction that might be going up in your areas. I’m certain you’re paying close attention to what’s happening in your first-due, but what about that third-due area, that neighboring jurisdiction or the mutual-aid area that you occasionally run in to? When you’re on that next EMS run or an investigation of an odor or alarm bells service call, take a few extra minutes to walk through the occupancy. Conduct your own mini company level pre-plan. Look at the layout, features, access and construction features. If you have a chance, verify the structural support systems employed by the building for the floor and roof systems. If you have time, take the company on a quick site visit to that building that’s under construction or the renovations that are again underway in that commercial or business occupancy around the corner from quarters.

These continuing challenging economic times places a great deal of influence on what’s being built, how it might be constructed, the manner in which a building may be operational one day, vacant the other and under renovation the next. Sometimes these transformations occur literally overnight. Take a good look around, this is your town…your district, your response area. Know your buildings, understand their performance profiles, and assess the predictability of performance. Remember; Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yvorra Leadership Development Foundation

Yvorra Leadership Development Foundation

I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Chief Yvorra back in the early 1980's when I bunked in and rode with PGFD Station 14 in Berwyn Heights, Maryland during my many trips to the MFRI and the UofM at College Park. Here's an exceptional opportunity that continues to honor the memory of an exceptional fire service leader.

YLD is accepting applications for the 2009 scholarship award competition. The application deadline has been extended to October 5, 2009. The organization was founded in 1988 in memory of Deputy Fire Chief James G. Yvorra, who was killed in the line of duty. Since that time, YLD has awarded $88,000 in scholarships to members of the fire and emergency medical services.

YLD'S Goals and Objectives
The primary goal of YLD is to promote the importance of leadership as a key element in developing and improving emergency services in the United States. The Foundation works toward this goal by pursuing two basic objectives.

The first objective is to provide limited financial support to qualified applicants to pursue advanced leadership development training and education. YLD achieves this objective primarily through its scholarship program. Since its inception in 1988, the Foundation has awarded $88,000 in scholarships to members of the emergency response community. Recipients represent a wide range of emergency service organizations including volunteer, part-paid, and career personnel from fire departments, rescue squads, and emergency medical services.

The second objective of the Foundation is to promote a general awareness of the need for leadership development and training programs in the fire and emergency medical communities. YLD achieves these objectives through its press releases and by promoting and supporting special studies which improve leadership development.

Web Site HERE

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ninety-Nine days of Opportunity

The fire service is beginning to fully recognize the merits in adjusting, altering, and changing our strategic and tactical ways of doing business in the streets. The traditional attitudes and beliefs of equating aggressive firefighting operations in all occupancy types coupled with the correlating, established and pragmatic operational strategies and tactics MUST not only be questioned, they need to be adjusted and modified; risk assessment, risk-benefit analysis, safety and survivability profiling, operational value and firefighter injury and LODD reduction must be further institutionalized to become a recognized part of modern firefighting operations.

Fire suppression tactics must be adjusted for the rapidly changing methods and materials impacting all forms of building construction, occupancies and structures.

The need to redefine the art and science of firefighting is nearly upon us. Some things do stand the test of time, others need to adjust, evolve and change. Not for the sake of change only, but for the emerging and evolving buildings, structures and occupancies being built, developed or renovated in our communities.It's no longer just brute force and sheer physical determination that define structural fire suppression operations.

Aggressive firefighting must be redefined and aligned to the built environment and associated with goal oriented tactical operations that are defined by risk assessed and analyzed tasks that are executed under battle plans that promote the best in safety practices and survivability within know hostile structural fire environments, while maintaining the values and tradition that defines the fire service.There are clearly defined areas for the fire service to draw its attention and efforts for firefighter safety.

The 16 Firefight Life Safety Initiatives provides that clarity, unity and purpose. The responsibility is thrust upon each and every one of us to recognize, we have a duty and obligation to work collectively towards these mutual goals and objectives of fire service and firefighter safety, health and survivability.

There are no days of rest; there is no waiting for “next year’s” Fire/EMS Safety Week. There is only the recognition and realization that we still have a long road ahead of us, and yes we may be running against the wind, but we know we can institute the cultural safety changes necessary to have the wind at our backs.

There are 99 days of opportunity remaining in 2009. There are approximately 258 days of opportunity until the 2010 Fire/EMS Safety, Health and Survival Week. Don't miss these opportunities to make a difference or to influence and change destiny; You have that ability.

Going Forward in the remainder of 2009 and Beyond-Protecting Yourself: Your Safety, Health and Survival Are Your Responsibility. Take that responsibility and run with it…even if you're running against the wind.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It's Not Always Business as Usual...

How much thought and efforts do you place on looking beyond the routiness of our response operations? You know, the redundancy, routiness and frequency of typical calls you run, the types of fire you engage in and the manner in which your company interfaces with the balance of the alarm response when working a good job or multiple alarm operations. When things go wrong, they can go wrong at an escalating rate that may at times not be apparent.

Think about the issues that affect Errors, Omissions, Unknown or Unrecognized Building Profile or Construction, Wrong Tactics, Lack of Resources, Dysfunctional Command, Inadequate skills, High Risk-No Value, Situational Awareness, Tactical Entertainment…

From a company level, what are your concerns related to the routiness of your operations? How would you relate to the fact that: "It's NOT always business as usual".

Look HERE for a NIOSH LODD report that was recently published

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A small act... A huge message...

I recently had the opportunity to visit with the Salisbury (NC) Fire Department on an invitation from Chief Bob Parnell to present to his staff on command decision making and situation awareness. This was one of the most challenging and rewarding presentations I’ve ever give. On March 7, 2008, the Salisbury Fire Department suffered the tragic loss of two fiefighters, Victor Isler and Justin Monroe. These incredibly dedicated firefighters had lost two of their brothers and they invited me into help them, in some small way, make sense of the challenges of situation awareness on emergency scenes.

During the visit, Chief Parnell took me to Station 1 where a countywide recruit firefighter training class was being held. There were about 60 recruits from all over the county on the drill ground. The day’s topic was ground ladders. They were busy performing various evolutions with the ladders – carrying, raising, climbing and advancing equipment up and down them. When the chief and I arrived we approached the drill site on foot. When we reached the periphery of the training grounds someone (I was not able to figure out who it was) loudly announced there were chief officers on the training ground and with that, the entire activity on the drill ground stopped… it was completely silent… and everyone (and I do mean everyone, including the instructors) came to attention and faced the chief and they maintained that posture until Chief Parnell told them to carry on with the drill.

Wow! What an incredible act of respect for the fire chief. I have had the opportunity to visit hundreds of fire departments in my 20+ years of teaching classes and I have never witnessed such an act of respect and professionalism. It sends a huge message to each of the recruits and, in this case, to the visitors.

Hat’s off to the Salisbury Fire Department for setting high standards in your training and professionalism. I was impressed. Very impressed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Understanding the New Building-Occupancy Relationships

Without understanding the building-occupancy relationships and integrating;construction, occupancies, fire dynamics and fire behavior, risk, analysis, the art and science of firefighting, safety conscious work environment concepts and effective and well-informed incident command management, company level supervision and task level competencies…You are derelict and negligent and “not "everyone may be going home".

How much knowledge and formal training have you had as a Commanding Officer or Company Officer on Building Construction?

Have any clue on the performance of Engineered Structural Systems....? Are your strategic plans and tactics aligned with Occupancy Risk and Building Performance Profiles AND the projected fire load/heat release rate? If you think these factors are not important OR you dismiss them as being non-material-think again; They are Mission Critical for firefighter safety and incident mitigation.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Honor and Remembrance

For many of us, the events of September 11th, 2001 will forever be etching into our minds and hearts. The magnitude and severity of the sacrifices made that day by the FDNY as well as the NYPD, EMS and PANY/NJ uphold the tradition, beliefs, values and ideals that the Fire, Rescue, EMS and Law Enforcement professions embrace. The tragic loss of lives, the promise of the future; the unfulfilled opportunities and contributions that were yet to be recognized or made by many of those killed and the subsequent loss of completing life’s journey with their families, loved ones and comrades further magnifies the senseless and grief many of us share to this day.

FDNY Assistant Chief Gerard Barbara , the Citywide Tour Commander on the morning of September 11th (Remembrance HERE) whose image was profoundly captured standing in the street within the shadow of the twin towers moments before the first collapse provides a poignant reminder of our sworn duty, obligation and responsibilities as firefighters.

As I was preparing to capture some thoughts that reflected upon this, the eighth anniversary of 911, I came across an article that I had written within the subsequent days of September 11th that was published shortly thereafter.

As I began rereading the narrative, the vivid emotions and sentiments that were present in such a raw manner on that day and in the days and weeks that followed came rushing back to the surface. I reflected on the thought that sharing this narrative once again would echo upon some of what we all shared that day and give rise to where we’ve been in our own personal journeys. This is why we must remember, this is why we must never forget.
Continue Reading Honor and Remembrance

The First Steps of Our Journey (originally written and published September, 2001)

Tuesday September 11th began unremarkably like many others. I began my instructional delivery of a course of instruction on Incident Command Management for Structural Collapse Rescue Operations as part of the National Fire Academy’s field delivery programs in Ft. Myers, Florida. The class was comprised of Special Operations Battalion Chiefs, Command and Line Officers from throughout the region. As we began our discussion on the needs for urban search and rescue preparedness and its relationship to strategic incident command management and tactical company level capabilities, the Ft. Myers Chief of Department came into the classroom and directed us immediately to the station day room. The time was 08:55 hours, and so began our journey.

The class immediately became transfixed upon the televised images streaming before us. The live coverage of the evolving sequence of events, the fire and emergency services responses and the devastation inflicted both in New York City and later in Washington, D.C., and the realization that this was a terrorist attack. For the next three hours we watched in disbelief the unfolding events in New York City at the World Trade Center, each of us fully realizing the magnitude and severity of the incident and the impact inflicted upon the fire, rescue, ems and law enforcement personnel operating at the scene. The transmission of Manhattan Box 55-8087 to the World Trade Center Towers brought New York City’s Bravest and Finest. We witnessed the evolving events of the initial high-rise fires in WTC Tower #1, the vivid images of the second aircraft impacting WTC Tower #2 and shortly thereafter, the horrendous collapse of both towers. We watched in silence, fully cognizant of the potential toll the resulting collapses could have on the operating personnel and civilians alike.

Following numerous telephone calls home and to my fire station, with the impending arrangements and planning being undertaken for our fire department’s possible deployment to NYC, I began a twenty-two hour trek back home. The journey back was consumed with the constant reports filtering through the radio speakers of the ever increasing descriptions of the magnitude and levels of destruction at what has become known as Ground Zero. The turnpikes I traveled were filled with the passing images of the initial public outpouring of emotions to the day’s tragic events. Lone individuals on overpasses and bridges, waving our nation’s flag. The flags drawn to half staff throughout the communities I passed through and the electronic message boards along the highway, with words of condolence and encouragement in this time of national grief.

Still in my Fire Academy shirt with the embroidered words of the NFA and Structural Collapse, I was recognized as a firefighter and approached by numerous people along my route back who questioned the events of the day, who were seeking some sense of understanding for what was becoming recognized as a significant loss of life to unaccounted for fire, rescue, law enforcement and civilians. There were the unsolicited words of thanks expressed by people at gas pumps and rest areas up the entire east coast, who acknowledged my fire service affiliation and connected to what they may have seen or heard in terms of the of the missing F.D.N.Y. firefighters and N.Y.P.D. law enforcement officers. This level of acknowledgement, seemed so strange, when any other time, we seem to blend into the back round of everyday life. All for having a fire service emblem on.

During my travel back to Syracuse, New York I listened to every report, every update and the ever increasing numbers of potential missing on the radio. Well after midnight I ran into a colleague of mine at a gas station, an Assistant Fire Chief from the Metro Dade Fire & Rescue Department, Florida who, along with four other urban search and rescue specialists were making their way to Washington, D.C. as part of the deployed FEMA USAR Task Force Team from South Florida. We shared in our grief over the immediate notification at a mayoral press briefing that our close friend FDNY Battalion Chief Ray Downey was identified as one of three chief FDNY Officers who died during the tower collapses.

We also shared in our grief in the initial reports of the over forty FDNY fire, rescue and support companies unaccounted for as a result of the fire suppression, rescue and collapse efforts. The continuing ride gave way to the thoughts and concerns of many of my friends within the FDNY. Were they on shift, are they accounted for, are they safe? I thought about everything that we have tried to prepare for, the years of developing our national urban search and rescue task force system, collapse-rescue training, terrorism preparedness and the images of the WTC events of the morning. I thought deeply of my twenty-six years of fire service involvement, my brother & sister firefighters, and again- the fate of my FDNY brothers and sisters in New York City.

Subsequently in the days that followed, I became glued to the live televised images from Ground Zero and ever increasing reports of the search and rescue efforts deployed at the incident scene. As I watched alone into the early morning hours the images pouring across my television screen or at the fire station with my brother and sister firefighters, I began to contemplate the journey that lay ahead for our nation’s fire and emergency services. We will be forever changed by the events of 9-11. The most recent accounts have identified over three hundred thirty seven confirmed or unaccounted for firefighters, twenty-three law enforcement officers and over five thousand four hundred missing civilians. Rescue efforts remain the focus, with the realization that the probability of live rescues diminishes with each passing hour as the first week of Herculean efforts draws to a close.

The fabric that binds us within the fire and emergency services, the true bonds of brother and sisterhood in this proudest of professions can not be more poignantly depicted than the image of the three brother FDNY firefighters raising the American flag amidst the mountains of rubble and debris where once stood the World Trade Center. Each and every one of us understands the undertakings during the initial stages of operations at the WTC. We, the fire and emergency service providers protect the heart and soul of our respective communities. We understand the risks and challenges affecting our commitment to protect life and property and to meet those challenges armed with our training, preparedness and tools of our trade. We are the first ones in and the last ones out. The challenges ahead will be immense as the rescue efforts at Ground Zero evolve into the recovery mode of operation, and the continued efforts to bring home- back to quarters these missing firefighters.

In the days, weeks and months ahead, we will be witness to ever changing events in this continuing journey. We will share in the pain, grief and emotions that have become so deeply rooted inside of all of us in the course of these events in NYC and in our nations’ capital. For those who provided direct or support service to the events at the WTC, and those who may yet be called upon to render aide in the weeks and months ahead, each of us understands the calling and we also understand the pain. For each and everyone firefighter, rescue and ems provider would, if they could, would be side by side with those working at Ground Zero.

We must remain vigilant to our own community’s risk potential for future events and incidents and must strive to reduce the gap between our capabilities and those identified deficiencies. We must plan and train for the worst, for it’s not a matter of IF , it’s just a matter of WHEN. Our nation’s fire and emergency services have begun a journey, one that no one could have imagined, yet one that each will meet head- on. Remain safe, stay strong, and meet the challenges of your next alarm, with faith and the foundation of principles that have made our fire services what they are. We are all part of a brotherhood, we share a common belief and mission-we know our duty, we are firefighters, and will answere the call.

Remember and honor the sacrifices of 09.11.01 and the continuing sacrifices that are being made today by those fire and emergency services workers, support personnel and civilians that worked the recovery efforts at Ground Zero in the weeks and months afterwards who are dying or are afflicted by the lingering effects of exposure at the site. Remember the surviving families of those lost, remember the firefighters-who they were and remember who we are.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Brother/Sisterhood: Illusion or Elusive?

Author’s Note: This article was published in April at FirefighterNation. I believe it complements Jason’s piece on FireRescue1.

First of all, I am not going to the dictionary to define “brother/sisterhood.

For one thing, it would not adequately capture the essence of the deep feelings for what is the core of brother/sisterhood as it applies to the fire service and I believe that, as a nation of firefighters, we are still defining it.

For over a quarter of a century, I have been studying what exactly it means to be in the brother/sisterhood.

Dylan Thomas, the renowned Welsh poet, wrote an amusing piece about brotherhood. He stated that he built a snowman, his brother knocked it down, he knocked his brother down and then they had tea! A simple but workable description of brotherhood, but I believe that it goes deeper.

Does brother/sisterhood only exist in the fire service? If not, then why don’t we hear doctors, nurses, teachers, business executives, politicians or electricians talk about their professions in such terms?

Wait; there IS the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), but is our brother/sisterhood on the same plane as the electricians?

One only has to look at the funerals to know that they are NOT the same.

Yes; the funerals! When we see the videos and photos of the apparatus, the flags, honor guards, the sea of dress uniforms and the bagpipers, it is this congress of comrades that is the epitome of what is the brother/sisterhood. As we struggle to bury one of our own, we are one and the same.
And it would seem that we gather our strength from this very emotional moment in our lives and take it to heart and make it a part of our every day lives.

People who are unfamiliar with this phenomenon will often ask why so many of us come from all over the country to say good-bye to a fallen brother/sister that we didn’t even know.

Our answer? Because THAT’S the brother/sisterhood!

How is it, then, that we don’t hear the same pronouncement when a brother/sister “knocks down the snowman”, so to speak? Are we picking and choosing when we invoke it?

Granted; a firefighter funeral and a malicious act committed by a firefighter are on completely opposite ends of the spectrum-that is quite obvious. In fact; some would argue that the two examples don’t even belong in the same sentence, but when we talk of brother/sisterhood, is it humanly possible to feel our compassion for someone who has committed a malicious and selfish act and not a selfless act?

In our country, everyone is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, but in the case of a public servant; once the headline is plastered all over the news outlets, we are guilty until proven innocent in the court of public opinion.

Our outpouring from the brother/sisterhood will be split between those who believe that we should remain silent until we know all of the facts and those who feel compelled to state their opinion based upon what we know at the moment.

Often, “brother/sisterhood” will be invoked like the hard swing of a hammer in an effort to suppress discussion. It is said with an air of indignant exclamation. Is it because the brother/sisterhood only wants to recognize and acknowledge whatever produces a positive image? Some might think so.

I have heard, How can you judge a brother/sister when you don’t know all the facts? Some brother/sisterhood!

When the discussions fire up, it is often triggered by a news report. Firefighters weigh in and many will preface their remarks with “if”, “alleged” or “in giving them the benefit of the doubt”. I do it in that manner, because we ARE innocent until proven guilty, I am giving the brother/sister the benefit of the doubt and in the end, I am showing respect for the brother/sisterhood.

But others will reply in a tone and manner that has the brother/sister as already guilty. However; they are also entitled to their opinion, however misguided or premature, because they are of the brother/sisterhood.

The brother/sisterhood of the nation’s fire service is not a nation of lemmings. We do not have one leader leading us all in the same direction with the same principles and goals. Many cultures diverge into one, common cause that calls for us to act, but we don’t all take the same path and we don’t all get the same results.

There are departments that are better than others; no question about it, but does “better” define who is and who isn’t in the brother/sisterhood? If the under-manned and under-funded departments are moving forward in the face of adversity to provide their services, guided by the principles in our call to duty, are they any less worthy?

Is the brother/sister who gets straight A’s in school kept in the family and the one who struggles to barely pass kicked out or as a family-as a brother/sisterhood-do we work with and help the ones who struggle so that they can become stronger, which will build a stronger brother/sisterhood? I would like to think so.

So; what defines our brother/sisterhood?

Edwin Markham wrote: There is a destiny that makes us brothers: None goes his way alone: All that we send into the lives of others Comes back onto our own.

Is it our willingness to help our friends, neighbors and total strangers?

Is it the way that we think?

Is it the way that we dress?

Is it strengthening our bodies and battle plans or letting complacency weaken our purpose and preparedness?

Is it what we agree on or is it that we can bridge the differences?

Is it the good and the bad, but accepting neither as the best that we can do?

Is it trusting your life to someone else or trusting your judgment that you can?

Is it treating everyone with some respect until it becomes clear that they deserve more or less or NONE?

Is it basing our conclusions on the here and now without regard for our history and traditions?

Is it searching for a redeeming quality or a reason to give up?

Is it an excuse or a mandate to fix a problem?

Is it overcoming the black eyes caused by lapses in judgment or living with the scars, both physical and emotional, in a society that fixates on perfection?

When we make our decisions, both personal and professional, it must be done with our family of brothers and sisters in mind. When it is not, then we have turned our backs on the brother/sisterhood and have consciously or unconsciously “left” the brother/sisterhood. That separation is necessary to preserve the integrity of the brother/sisterhood and to respect our predecessors’ founding principles.

Regardless, the brother/sisterhood moves forward with the strength of the battle-tested veterans and the promise of a bright future from the new ones.

And the brother/sisterhood will not only survive, but will evolve even further.

Michael Joseph Barry wrote: But whether on the scaffold high or in the battle’s van, the fittest place where Man can die is where he dies for Man.

Defining the brother/sisterhood in a sentence, sound byte or even a single act will remain elusive, but we know that it’s real and that it isn’t an illusion.

I want to thank everyone who reads my meanderings and I hope that I have given you something to think about on this, my 100th article for FirefighterNation.


The article as submitted is published under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella and is the intellectual property of Art Goodrich a.k.a. and ChiefReason. It is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-printed in any form without expressed permission from the author. You may read other works by the author at

First Published 4/10/09
Web Analytics