Thursday, December 31, 2009

A New Year and Decade

As with most media type outlets, whether “traditional” or “new,” the good folks who oversee The Kitchen Table blog asked all of us to compose a quick posting on the year that is about to pass into history and our thoughts. So, I have been racking my brain over the last few days pondering the end of 2009 and what one news story stood out and how it impacted/affected me.

Of course the harder I thought the more I found it even harder to begin to write anything. 2009 has been a year of many ups and downs for me both personally and professionally and I am pretty sure no one really wants to hear (or I guess read) about the good and the bad in the life of Bill. The only tangible impact that readers of TKT would have noticed is that my postings have been few and far between over the last few months. So, it will just suffice to imply that I have been rather pre-occupied on both the personal and professional fronts.

The thing that has really started to stand out is that 2009 is not only the end of a year but it is also the end of a decade! So my feeble brain has really been playing back all the events that have played out since the year 2000. And I am sure many of you will agree that the vast majority of this decade, for a variety of reasons, has not been very kind to most all of us and the fire service family in general. Not to say there has not been a fair share of positives for the fire service – the banding together and getting the residential sprinkler issue passed at the ICC against a powerful foe that usually beats us down stands out.

But, overall, a very challenging decade to say the least. However, I am always a believer that good can rise out of the ashes of bad and in adversity lies opportunity. So as we are heading into a new year and a new decade ask yourself: am I turning any negatives in my life, or department, into positives? Instead of bemoaning your bad circumstance or health issue are you grateful for what you do have and attempting to find new solutions to overcome the adversity?

I have been relatively successful in being positive and finding solutions but still have a few things to work on. Hopefully, I will continue to improve in 2010! As a friend once told me “If you change the way you look at things then things will change.”

A Happy and Safe New Year and Decade to all of you!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blogger Profile

2009: Year of the Swine Fools

On this fine eve of a new decade, it seems prudent to reflect at least on the highlights of 2009. From a medical perspective, the H1N1 pandemic was the headline hog of the year. And what one would think by now, given all the lessons of the decade, would be a smooth and coordinated response turned out to be more of an embarrassment. My end of year column on and provides the highlights of what I consider to have been the year of Swine Fools. Clearly what's coming down from up above is less than we need to respond appropriately to H1N1 or any other big outbreak. You might even have seen examples of Swine Foolery at home if you had health care workers and public safety role models questioning the utility of vaccination. Probably, these are people who don't believe in seat belts either. Let's hope for a better 2010...

Mike McEvoy

Looking Forward Through the Rear View Mirror

As the end of the year fast approaches and in turn the end of the decade, it amazes me how “fast” time seems to have passed. Certainly when looking back and reflecting upon the past year or the previous few years, each of us thinks and contemplates upon those events, milestones, anniversaries, highlights as well as those common everyday occurrences that seem to permeate back and forth in our minds and hang at times like the smoke from a smoldering contents fire. When reflecting, there are the good times as well as those that were not so good. There are those events that were life altering and changing that forever formulate a different view upon each of our respective worlds we live and work within. As well as those events that have provided us with the joys and virtue of what we do everyday as firefighters both on and off the job, at the firehouse and at home.

For each or us, the events that form and shape our worlds; our families at home and our families at the fire station and within the fire department or agencies we volunteer or work for, leave indelible marks upon us that at times formulate and transcend us. My good friend Chief Ben Waller reflected upon a number of issues and insights in his recent post that was right on the mark as did my partner Chief Doug Cline in his perspective of 2009 and for 2010. A lot has happened to this our Fire Service during the past ten years and most certainly in the past twelve months that has shaped and forged a new generation of firefighters and tempered the existing veterans. Stop and think about it.

Looking back at 2009 and in the waning decade, the one certainty that we all share is that we have the ability and look forward to a new year, a new decade and to new challenges. Prior to this week, the 2009 Firefighter LODD events that sadly have occurred seemed like it would pause and we’d end the year with no further events. Tragically, in the past few days, five additional line-of-duty deaths have been reported through the USFA. From the events of 9-11, to the seeds that were planted in Tampa and the crusade that was embarked upon to ensure everyone [has] the opportunity to go home, through the tragedy, wake-up call and the lessons-learned from Charleston. A lot has happened, many tears have been shed, alot was learned, with so much more work still remaining.

As of this posting, the United States Fire Service has borne ninety-three (93) LODDs this year. In comparison to previous years, this may finally indicate a turning point in the previous escalating trends in LODD we’ve experienced during the past decade. Take a moment to look through the USFA postings and the narratives of each of the firefighters who made the supreme sacrifice in 2009 and reflect upon the circumstances and events that lead to their respective LODD incident. Take the time to spend an evening reading through some of the recent or past reports published on the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program web site. Look the History Repeating Events (HRE) and think about what you can do to champion changes in your organization, department or company to eliminate or reduce the likelihood for a similar event from occurring to you or your organization.

The formulative and diligent efforts of the NFFF and the Everyone Goes Home Program and the Sixteen Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives have made their mark in this decade and must continue to be embraced and institutionalized as we move forward to twenty ten. Don't forget about the inroads made by the National Firefigher Near-Miss Reporting System and the knowledge being gained to reduce HRE. We must look at and examine the successes and the failures of our methodologies, processes, culture and perspectives and continue to seek behaviors and practices that make our job safer. When we focus our attention on Building Construction, Command Risk Management and Firefighter Safety and the essence of combat structural fires; Structural firefighting is what it’s all about, is it not? The fundamental nature and reason we have such veneration for firefighting and the fire service and all it entails, has a lot to do with going into burning buildings and fighting fire. But firefighting has its adverse consequences, with all too familiar costs, in the form of injuries, debilitating accidents and line of duty deaths. As a firefighter; to say that we love firefighting would be an understatement, BUT one issue that we need to address is the fact that there are many individual firefighters, companies and organizations that employ fireground operational practices that promote the “enjoyment and entertainment” of working a good job within the occupancy compartment of a structural fire in the building environment.

One of the formulative postings I published this past year focused on working that good job for the shear enjoyment of what and who we are; firefighters. It’s worth repeating again, since this is an opportune time to reflect. Today’s incident scene and structural fires are unlike those in past decades and will continue to challenge us operationally when confronted with structural fire engagement and combat operations. Operationally, we need to be doing the right thing, for the right reason in the right place to increase our safety and incident survivability.

We also can share the belief and understanding that we at times may have found ourselves staying too long in the wrong place, operating tactically in an adverse environment with known hazards that do not have value, for nothing other than the enjoyment of nozzle and operating time in the fire. We have a tendency when working a room and contents, compartment fire or a structural fire in the building environment placing operating companies and personnel in high hazard environments- sometimes at the expense of justifying our own entertainment value in working the job, the assignment or in maintaining the interior operational interface. Think about it.

We need to stop “entertaining” ourselves. Don’t mistake determined, effective and proactive firefighting with that of reckless, baseless and risk-preferring and self-indulging firefighting. There is a difference. The job is dangerous, it has risks, we are not invincible, and we can die; at any alarm, in any fire, at anytime for any number of reasons. But it’s tragic when we die for all the wrong reasons. Think about the definitions; think about how they apply to you, your personnel, your company or your operations; past, present or future. More importantly, think about when and where you’ve found yourself doing any one of these; could the outcome have been different?

TACTICAL AMUSEMENT “tak-ti-kəl ə- myüz-mənt”

1: of or relating to structural fireground tactics: as a (1) a means of amusing or entertaining during fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk

2: the condition of being amused while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations that places personnel at risk

3: pleasurable diversion while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operations: entertainment; that places personnel at risk

TACTICAL DIVERSION “tak-ti-kəl də- vər-zhən”

1: the reckless act or an instance of diverting from an assignment, task, operation or activity while engaging in fire suppression, support tasks or operation for the sake of amusing or entertainment; that places personnel at risk

2: the reckless act of self determined task operations that diverts or amuses from defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk

TACTICAL CIRCUMVENTION “tak-ti-kəl sər-kəm- ven(t)-shən”

1: to deliberately manage to get around especially by ingenuity or approach that diverts for the purpose of amusing; assignment, operations or tasks that countermand or disregard defined risk assessment and incident action plans; that places personnel at risk

The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrate all personnel. We must manage dynamic risks with a balanced approach of effective assessment, analysis and probability within command decision making that results in safety conscious strategies and tactics.

On any given day, at any give alarm, the dynamics around us at times may be in or out of our direct control. We may not be able to see what the cards have in store for us, BUT we must ensure we use every fragment of training, fortitude, knowledge, skills, courage, bravery, insights, luck and sometimes (other divine) intervention to get us through. We must have the fortitude and courage to be both safety conscious and measured in the performance of our sworn duties while maintaining the appropriate balance of risk and bravery.
• The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger.

• As a result, risk management must become fluid and integrate all personnel.

• We must manage dynamic risks with a balanced approach of effective assessment, analysis and probability within command decision making that results in safety conscious strategies and tactics.

• The traditional attitudes and beliefs of equating aggressive firefighting operations in all occupancy types coupled with 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. 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.

Aggressive: Assertive, bold, and energetic, forceful, determined, confident, marked by driving forceful energy or initiative, marked by combative readiness, assured, direct, dominate…

Measured: Calculated; deliberate, careful; restrained, think, considered, confident, alternatives, reasoned actions, in control, self assured, calm…

There is a melting of both pragmatic aggressive firefighting with measured and deliberate tactical approaches. It’s a balance and equilibrium; the question is do you know when to recognize that balance, where it exists and how not to cross that adverse threshold?

Our current generation of buildings, construction and occupancies are not as predictable as past Conventional Construction; Risk assessment, strategies and tactics must change to address these new rules of structural fire engagement. You need to gain the knowledge and insights and to change and adjust your operating profile in order to safe guard your companies, personnel and team compositions.

Looking Forward through the Rear View Mirror; remember the past, recall those history repeating events that seem to manifest themselves time and time again; are we ever going to learn. I truly believe we are starting to finally “get it”-even if it’s on a smaller incremental scale, it’s a starting point. Remember the lessons from those events that have impacted you, your department, your community and the fire service; from close-calls to near-miss events; from minor or debilitating injuries to the tragedy and sorrow of a LODD event.

As we transition into a new year, and as plans begin to take place that frame and outline the year’s activities, foremost in this planning, preparation, scheduling and outlook should be those activities and commitments that training, education and skill development can be implemented and enhanced. Take the initiative to recognize and identify training and operational gaps and distinguish the risk and options available to lessen or eliminate the risk and reduce the gap deficiencies. Take the time to implement effective, accurate and frequent training and skill development drills, training curriculums and programs. Don’t sacrifice or forego on this mission critical area when so much is at stake in the domain of combat structural fire suppression. Understand the predictability of performance in the buildings and occupancies not only in your jurisdiction, first or second-due areas, but also in those areas that you may be called upon to respond to for greater alarms or mutual aid. Understand the structural anatomy of your community. Remember Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety. Understand the fomulative issues affecting engineered structural systems (ESS) and the change in operational deployment and tactics on the fire ground.

Keep an eye in the rear view mirror; learning from the wisdom and knowledge from where you’ve been, what you’ve done and all your past experiences and practice; but at the same time focusing on the road before you with keen attentiveness on situational awareness, anticipating error-likely conditions and balanced risk assessment and operational management in both your strategic and tactical deployments.

We don’t know what’s in the cards on any given day, but the citizens we protect can rest assured, we will do our jobs as firefighters, to the best of our abilities, because of who we are; today, in 2010 and certainly well into the next decade and beyond.

Ensure you're glancing occasionally in your rear view mirror to monitor where you've been, while driving your initiatives, programs, processes and actions forward. Above all, maintain the courage to be safe.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Last Thoughts from 2009 and Hopes for 2010

It is traditional to spend the last week of the year reflecting upon the past year's events and in anticipating the new year. It has indeed been an eventful year. Major fires, mass casualty incidents, new EMS standards, and political changes that affect Fire-Rescue and EMS services have all been in the news. The tragic loss of fellow firefighters and medics has once again been in the headlines. The 800-pound gorilla in the news has been the continuing problems with the national economy, diminished local tax revenues, and the reduction in services that have been forced upon many cities, towns, and counties.

No fire chief or EMS director wants to close stations, disband companies, furlough firefighters or medics, cut staff and/or benefits, or conduct unit brownouts. All of these have been forced on unwilling leaders, generally under protest. In some cases, companies with over a century of tradition have been disbanded.

Cutbacks of this magnitude have only occurred two other times in the past century. The event that caused the first set of cutbacks was the transition from horsedrawn apparatus to motorized apparatus in the early 1900s. Prior to that time, the edges of a company's first-due area was set by the stamina of the horses that pulled the appratus. With equine stamina no longer being a factor, firehouses could be located farther apart, so many companies were disbanded.

The second time this occurred was in the "War Years" that coincided with economic downturn from the late 1960's through the 1970's. Despite urban fire companies running calls in record numbers, fire companies were disbanded, stations closed, and firefighters were laid off. This was the first time that many fire departments realized that they had to position themselves to withstand downturns in the economy. Some responded with innovation, master planning, and other proactive solutions, but many departments remained reactive.

Beginning in the 1970's, the fire service began going through paradigm changes with each paradigm change taking roughly a decade to become widely accepted. The 1970's were the decade of EMS. EMS was a new concept back then, but many fire departments welcomed and embraced it. The Los Angeles area was notable in this respect, as anyone who ever watched an episode of Emergency! will remember. A new job description - that of Paramedic - became part of our vocabulary.

The 1980's were the decade of Hazardous Materials response. Based on several high-profile hazmat incidents in the late 1970's, Hazmat became a key issue for both fire departments and the communities they served. Another new job description - that of Hazardous Materials Technician entered our vocabulary.

The 1990's were the decade of Technical Rescue. Standardized, innovative extrication practices were invented by firefighters who became famous by the way they taught others how to rapidly and safely cut patients free from the wreckage of their vehicles. The Urban Search and Rescue system was expanded and received its first major domestic test at the Oklahoma City bombing incident. Rescue training became a major focus. Other new job descriptions, those of Extrication Technican and Technical Rescue Technician became common.

The first decade of the new century, unfortunately, became the decade of Terrorism. Although the U.S was hit with several terrorist attacks in the 1990s, and foreign terrorism had been common for many years, the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks were a watershed event in our lives, much as the Pearl Harbor attack on 12/07/41 was the watershed event in our parents' lives. Other than the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the other terrorist incidents were conducted by only four domestic terrorists - the Unabomber, the Murrah Building bomber and one accomplice, and the mislabeled Army of God bomber. The 9/11 attacks led to widespread training for response to terrorist events. Firefighters and medics had to start considering terrorism as a potential cause for otherwise innocuous incidents, and learned terms like "nerve agent", "WMD", "WMD Technician", and "USAR Rescue Specialist" entered our vocabulary.

2009 was a momentous year for my department. After over a decade of planning, budgeting, and lobbying, we were able to build a training center. That may not sound like a big deal to some of you, but when your department covers a barrier island surrounded by water, having a place to train is indeed big news. The training center allows us to conduct training in ways that are impossible to replicate in a parking lot or at a fire station. I lived the dual blessing and curse of being the project manager for the training center construction while simultaneously maintaining all of the other Chief of Training responsibilities. That was stressful and challenging, but it also allowed me to add features that might not have otherwise made it into the design. It also allowed me to work closely with other division heads and to strenghten working relationships with my colleagues.

Local revenue downturns led to a year with no pay raises for any of our municipal employees. My department was regretfully and regretably forced to return a SAFER grant award of almost a million dollars to FEMA and to forgo the truck company start-up for which the grant was awarded. Our municipality simply could not raise the required matching funds without cutting other essential services, so we chose to maintain what we had as the least of a range of bad choices.

There was more good news, for us, though. We were able to purchase a standardized pumper fleet for the first time in department history. We also standardized hose loads, nozzles, and initial company operations for all of our engine companies for the first time in our history. We were also able to standardize our nozzle complements and pump operations, also for the first time. Our capital improvements budget was scheduled for two fire station replacements. One of these was delayed, but we have a badly-needed station replacement under construction. Our department became the first in our state to join the CARES registry that tracks cardiac arrest survival to hospital discharge. We also began a STEMI program with local hospitals and two neighboring EMS systems, with two of our officers coordinating these programs and implemented a department-wide electronic patient care reporting system. We also implemented an new SOG and policy system, obtained new turnout gear, and implemented new extrication tools.

2009 was a year of milestones for several of our members. Five of our officers serve on state and national fire service committees. Battalion Chief Mick Mayers became the latest of several of our past and current chief officers to complete the prestigious Executive Fire Officer program at the National fire academy. Four of our officers authored or co-authored fire service training books, field guides, and blogs. Despite some setbacks, 2009 was a successful year for us by any standard.

What will 2010 hold? For my department, we now have to operate the new training center, complete the new fire station project, and hopefully manage the construction of the station that was delayed from 2009. We will be receiving two new quints and training all of our personnel to operate them. The training center will be a busy place.

Nationally, the next decade will be the decade of Interoperability. We are used to "doing our own thing", but with the increasing needs for EMS involvement in fireground and hazmat rehab, the increasing involvement of police departments in force protection and Unified Command, and the continuing ways in which MCI and disaster management continue to involve, interoperability will become increasingly important. This involves the planning and technology necessary to complete the nationwide radio rebanding project, the ability to involve fire, EMS, and law enforcement in joint operations and training, and losing the attitude that we operate in a vacuum, because we don't.

We need to continue to preach - and practice the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives.

We need to continue to make training and operations safer.

We need to focus on getting safely to the scene - every time.

We need to focus on being healthy and fit to do the job.

We need to focus on planning and innovation to survive a continued sluggish economy.

We need to take care of our own and work to maintain what we have.

We need to be honest with our elected officials and citizens - cutbacks can and do hurt our ability to provide services.

We need to realize that operating "the way we've always done it" will result in Russian Roulette at best, and suicide at worst.

We need to be smart enough to stay out of Born Losers.

We need to conduct realistic Master Planning.

We need to educate the public - CPR classes, First Aid classes, car seat installations, Risk Watch programs, and Fire Prevention classes can and do save lives.

Last, but not least, we need to get make our departments missionaries for residential sprinkler programs and the new building code that requires their installation on new construction. It's past time that we use our influence at the state and national level to overcome the contruction industry's misperception that saving a few cents per square foot on new home construction is worth someone's life.

The departments that plan, adapt, innovate, and market themselves will flourish. The ones that do not will become anachronisms, consigned to a never-ending vicious cycle of manpower cuts, station closures, brownouts, and budget cuts.

After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Have a Happy and Safe 2010, everyone.

From All Hazards Contemplations, Ben Waller, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Shaping the Future "Creating Leaders in our Youth" Part III

Knowledge is Power… Share It !!! This statement is often used by many including myself. So what does it truly mean? It means that you will freely give of your knowledge and wisdom to others withholding nothing. It never fails, I will see a leader of an organization trying to hold information and knowledge from the next generation because they are afraid that this up and coming group will end up smarter than they are and as a leader they will loose control.

Well take a reality check…for as long as I can remember each generation has obviously gotten smarter, more technologically advanced and has superseded the generation before them. So what makes that so bad. I thought we were trying to make things better? I am sure this will hurt a few toes but the truth is the truth. The folks doing the withholding are the dumb ones. If you combine knowledge everyone gets better even yourself! (Ouch!!)

That’s right I took a jab at a few of you out there, but if we want to progress and if we are going to make progress we have to share our knowledge both good and bad with our youthful leaders to be. There future depends on it. In sharing this knowledge we have to be dynamic instructors creating engaging learning environments. A leader / instructor profile needs to encompass several areas to be able to meet these challenges and changes that we will face. First, we must find new motivation. Motivation that exceeds all levels previous. We must bring newfound excitement to the leadership programs we deliver. The excitement level that comes with the leader carries over and motivates the student to the same level or higher.

We as leaders must enter the education setting that instruction is to take place with a true teaching attitude not one of just doing the minimum. Leaders need to develop the right attitude about instructing. Attitude starts with evaluating whether you are meeting the mission statement of the fire service, truly developing future leaders and your department through the training that you are performing. Secondly, you must evaluate whether your training is realistic. That is, realistic for your situation, operations, equipment, etc. Higher levels of training are great and have their place, but are we meeting all the basic needs of the future leaders we serve. If not, we need to reevaluate what and how we are teaching / mentoring.

As we begin developing these new leaders we must assure that we are creating level appropriate environments for their mentoring. Nothing can frustrate an individual more than to be placed above there capabilities. (Better known as the Peter Principal). We need to evaluate each person and be brutally honest with them.

I think it can be best said that for use to reach the attitude of "Everyone Goes Home" we must do the right things. Leadership plays the most significant role in this. As future leaders begin to develop they need to address the issues, learn from our mistakes, make educated and calculated risk / benefit analysis assessments and be brutally honest when necessary.

I see this where as I had a discussion with a fellow collegue on seat belt laws as to whether or not firefighters are exempt. Point is who cares if we are exempt or not!!! We know that some things just don’t add up to being good risk benefit analysis decisions. We have witnessed multiple firefighter injuries and deaths from ejections from motor vehicle crashes over the past few years. If they were belted they probably would not have been ejected and would have maybe survived. It has nothing to do with a slogan. The slogan "Everyone Goes Home" is an attitude within a fire department and a leader that boldly says we will do all we can to try and bring all of our firefighters home. It should be everyone’s attitude.

I challenge the young and old alike, if you are a current leader in the fire service…stand up get a backbone, polish your bugles, take a stance and be a true leader. If you are the youth of today, I challenge you to develop yourselves and be the leaders of tomorrow. I personally believe Chief Dennis Compton states it the best, "Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way". Fellow fire service brothers and sisters, tomorrow hinges on what you do today. THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO PREPARE FOR IT! Be a leader who shapes our future by preparing our youth of today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Well 2009 is almost over and as I reflect back over the year I see a lot of similarities in 2009 as in years past. Lets just look at a few on them: we had too many firefighter Line of Duty Deaths; we responded to large disasters, structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, emergency medical calls; we saw civilian loss of life and we still have people saying, "we have always done it that way, why do we need to change...what we are doing is working or that stuff doesn't happen here in Anywhere USA." I am sure you can relate to at least one of these.

So as we look at those items I can say that we have a potentially bright future. We have a great United States Fire Administration working hard to make the fire service better through education and innovation. United States Fire Administrator Chief Kelvin Cochran is a firefighters Chief and is making a difference in a short six (6) months. Doctor Denis Onieal and the staff a the National Fire Academy continue to provide premiere educational courses. We see firefighters and fire officers work tirelessly to make necessary changes and provide street level training. Our new firefighter coming on board are more technologically Savoy than ever before.

Just wanted to take some of the issues and provide a few questions for intro-inspection that you can share with your troops to reflect back on this past year:

1. Have I given the fire service 100% every time I had to perform?
Continue Reading 2009

2. Am I a shiner (one who is always positive working to make things better being a team player), whiner(always having something to complain about and needs some cheese to go with that whine) or recliner (always sitting back waiting for someone else to do something, for some it is ROAD...Retired on Active Duty).

3. Do you believe fire and life safety education, code enforcement and sprinkler iniciatives are proactive firefighting and the right things to focus on?

4. If my time in the fire service is like two dates with a dash in the middle and that dash is my contribution...what would my dash look like?

There is a lot of things that have occurred throughout 2009 much like every other year before it. reflecting back on this year, I see we need to be looking forward to the future. We need to be bridging many gaps that exist in the fire service.

I look forward with great anticipation to 2010 and what it will bring!

What are you going to do to impact the fire service in 2010?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How do you track your training?

Editor's Note: This post comes from Ilya Plotkin, Program Administrator of It is the first ever guest post on TKT, and it fits well with the site's goal of fostering a conversation in the fire service. To help Ilya out, please add your comments below.
In an emergency, one of the most important factors is training and experience. This is particularly true for emergency responders, who must take charge of a situation and turn an emergency into a non-emergency. But how can you tell when your organization, team, or workforce in general is prepared to respond to an emergency? Every single situation is different. Therefore, access to educational records and training, both at a moment’s notice and consistently over time allows emergency managers to track training and identify gaps in training. Ensuring that the right people with the right mix of experience, skills, and training are in the right roles is essential.

But that is not enough. The workforce must have access to courses, trainings, and workshops that allow them to develop their skills and increase their experience both at the request of emergency managers and on their own. In essence, an integrated system is necessary. Today, many organizations use a learning management system (LMS) to manage and track employee training and skills and allow employees to access continuing education courses. There are a variety of LMS options available, from built-to-order systems, to pre-built systems, to free platforms. These LMSs are offered by a number of different providers and each has its advantages and disadvantages, but all are online.

Despite the wide availability of LMSs, some organizations and departments are still using pre-internet methods to track training and promote courses. These include via paper and filing systems or database systems, such as Access or Excel. Compared to internet-based LMSs, these methods can be less user-friendly and less responsive to urgent needs.

The LMS I work with is TRAIN (, which is geared toward public health and safety professionals and free to all users and course providers. TRAIN is a community that utilizes economies of scale and sharing across its 24 affiliates and 315,000 users, of which 31,692 identify their primary job role as “Emergency Responder.” Most importantly, TRAIN allows organizations, health departments, and fire and police departments to become Course Providers and post both classroom-based and web-based courses either to a limited audience or to a wider audience. Any organization can utilize the system to track attendance and progress of a single training or a set of trainings.

So I would like to ask: how does your department track training or publicize offered trainings? Is a LMS used, or another method? What experiences have you had with a LMS or online system in the past that may lead you to either promote or avoid one today? Your comments will help us understand what your community needs.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shaping the Future "Creating Leaders in our Youth" Part II

I ended Part I with a question, “so officers are you shaping the fire service’s future”. I hope this prompted fire officers to intra-inspect themselves to see if they were shaping the fire service’s future. I further hope this generated a lot of discussion in your fire house. Asking this question is the first step, however many may not know exactly how to embark on the efforts of shaping our youth to be the next generation of leaders. The next two parts of shaping the Fire Service’s Future will focus on the how component.

So where do we start this development process? We start by not accepting anything less than the best in everything we do. We further need to teach and share with our youth our experiences, even the ones which were not victories. Albert Einstein never viewed any unsuccessful attempt as a failure, rather a win in knowing one more way that didn’t work. These experiences will carry lifelong lessons learned.

I frequently today find myself referring to situations, problems, successes and lessons learned as it relates to similar issues they are facing, as I mentor to younger fire service members. To make it as simple as I know how my father used to call this the “school of hard knocks education of life”. But today many fire officers never take time to share, mentor and teach our future leaders.
As we begin this process we must create an appealing environment. I always remember Chief Dan Jones of the Chapel Hill, North Carolina Fire Department being positive even when the chips didn’t fall the way he wanted them. He could make any black cloud have a silver lining. As I travel and have the opportunity to spend time with department leaders from across the county it never fails that someone is always negative. Nothing is ever positive. They can’t make a win-win situation out of anything. These folks are destined to make the same type of leaders.

We must present helpful teaching. Making the learning dynamics one of which we constantly learn by utilizing the three learning domains. Fire service leaders can really impact teaching with the affective mode of learning as students or future leaders learn basic concepts but can ultimately apply them to situations and affect outcomes. This is true learning and understanding. This concept is usually accomplished by current leaders sharing knowledge, experiences and allowing for mistakes.

Knowledge is Power… Share It!!! This statement is often used by many fire service people including myself. So what does it truly mean? It means that you will freely give of your knowledge and wisdom to others withholding nothing. It never fails, no matter where I may go, I will see a leader of an organization trying to hold information and knowledge from the next generation because they are afraid, intimidated or upset that this up and coming group will end up smarter than they are and as a leader they will lose control. This is one of the most asinine practices I have ever witnessed. Reality check…if you are in a position you are most likely not going to lose that position. If you have people around you who have a diverse knowledge and strong skills, they will only enhance what you are doing. Thus making you look good. This is a no brainer. My challenge to you is share the knowledge you have and place the nonsense in a box and get rid of it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

A silver lining in a bad economy

By all accounts, 2009 was an amazingly successful year for me. You probably didn’t expect to see an article start with those words. Let me explain. After 30 years in the fire service I hung up my boots. Not being even 50 years old yet, those who did not know me well were confused and bewildered by this move. Those closest to me knew it was all part of a plan I constructed almost 10 years ago.

One component of my plan was to go back to school to earn my PhD. I started that journey in 2004 and completed it in 2008. That was an amazing experience for me. It was time consuming, difficult and expensive for sure. But it was also very rewarding and worthwhile.

It was now time to put my education to use and start sharing my knowledge with the greater fire service community. I have been teaching fire service leadership and safety classes since 1992, so the concept of sharing my knowledge was not new for me. However, the concept of earning my living and supporting my family by teaching, coaching, consulting, and writing certainly was new.

Naysayers told me I should not retire. Not now! Not in this economy! But to say that opportunity was knocking would be a gross understatement and I was anxious to start this new chapter in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed being a fire chief too, but the idea of being able to use my education and experience to help develop future fire service leaders really jazzed me up. But the economy!?!

Turns out, much to my surprise, the bad economy has worked to my advantage. Many departments have been told that out-of-state travel is restricted (or eliminated). But these departments still had training dollars in the budget. They just weren’t allowed to travel out-of-state. This led to some incredible opportunities for me to provide training for these departments. They decided if they could not send their members out-of-state for training, they would bring in the out-of-state instructors and teach their members in-house.

I had no way to anticipate there would be so many opportunities from visionary leaders who found creative ways to continue the professional development of their members. Some departments had me provide three sessions over three days and train their personnel while on-duty, saving overtime costs. This is a creative solution and often times I’m told the cost of the program was less than what the overtime would have run.

Other departments opened up the classes to regional attendees and charged a fee for the program. In many cases, this allowed them to no only recover the entire program costs, but to make money. Instead of using the excuse “we don’t have the money in our budget to train” some used my programs to make money for their training budgets. Again, this was something I would not have anticipated.

I count my blessings every day. I am blessed to have a very supportive and caring family. I am blessed to have spent 30 years serving in a vocation I absolutely loved. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to go to school. And now, I am blessed with so many opportunities to share my knowledge and experience. I am so thankful.

The economic downturn has certainly been challenging for many departments who have seen reductions in budgets and staffing. That is very unfortunate and I am hopeful things will improve in 2010 for our economy and our nation’s fire service. In the meantime, I have employed a personal philosophy to not dwell on all the negative news that’s out there. Rather, I am focused on seeking new opportunities to make a difference in 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Light Weight Construction and ESS

The fire service continues to apply the term “light weight construction” to a wide variety of building construction and systems. This expression has become a miss-application of both term and the correlation of risk and severity related to operational profiling. In other words, we apply and express the use of “light weight construction” for all types of engineered components, systems, designs and assemblies in nearly all types of building construction and occupancy use.

Although the roots of the term can be traced back to the early 1980’s, and its application to the (then) emerging use of trussed roofing systems and the advent of wood I-beam floor supports (sans solid dimensional lumber joists), the use of the terminology in today’s context of risk assessment, strategic and tactical management and deployment models and within the context of incident operational tactics is no longer applicable, valid or suitable. It must be expanded into a more specific and descriptive level of classification and correlation.

For the most part, when discussing buildings and occupancies, aside from classifications related to code type or class as an element of fire resistance; the emphasis has been to differentiate between conventional and engineered construction, and the application of the term “light weight construction”. I continue advocating and promoting through my lectures that it’s much more than this when looking at the spectrum of construction and the structural anatomy of buildings.
Current and past generations of buildings, construction and occupancies can be more accurately differentiated and classified within six (6) expanding categories in the following Building Construction Systems;
The new Terminology of Building Construction Systems & Classifications;
  • Heritage: Pre-1900
  • Legacy:  1900-1949
  • Conventional: 1950-1979
  • Engineered: 1980-2009   (Current into 2010…)
  • Blended Hybrid: 1995-2009  (Current into 2010…)
  • Enigmatic:   2010 - beyond ( This is a developing class I'm still working on-projected)

The term Light weight Construction has transitioned to a more accurate terminology relating to the wider expanse of Engineered Structural Systems (ESS). For a more on this topic,see The New Lexicon and Challenges, HERE


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shaping the Future "Creating Leaders in our Youth" Part I

As we quickly approach a time when much of the fire service leadership will be retiring we are destine to face the loss of great leadership in the fire service. This could prove to be a tragedy for our profession or we can make it a positive bench mark. A lot is going to depend upon several generations working closely together. That is the baby boomers and the generation Y and X coming together and realizing that the future belongs to those who prepare.

For years I would see the slogan, “The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare For It”, posted on the training class room wall of the Henderson North Carolina Fire Department. Chief Danny Wilkerson several times over used to say these same words to many of the young firefighters and officers that walked into that setting. As an instructor and a part-time member of that department it always struck me as an encouragement to continue to push to make a difference. Often times I personally struggled with just what that slogan really was saying. Well, for the first time as I write this article it has become crystal clear. The entire slogan was driven home with just one email blast from a great fire service colleague…Deputy Chief Billy Goldfeder with a recent secret list publication. Below is a small component of what was contained in that blast I would like to share:
“Sometimes....not everyone goes home.

In the discussions, one of the young firefighters who was involved with the rescue told me that he now HATED the term "everyone goes home" because, obviously, Kevin did not. It made me start to think. Was the slogan a problem?

It has nothing to do with a slogan. The slogan "Everyone Goes Home" is an attitude within a fire department that we'll do all we can to try and bring all of our firefighters home. It was and still is an attitude. Some of the younger firefighters understandably, just didn't get it at the time.

-It means that if we don't drive like idiots, we'll probably make it home.

-It means if we follow standards such as NFPA 1403, firefighter trainees will probably make it home.

-It means if we put our seat belts on and we collide on the way to a fire, we'll probably make it home.

-It means if we weigh 100 lbs too much, and we eat more salads, we'll probably make it home.

-It means that if it is obvious the building will collapse and we stay out of the way, we'll probably make it home.

-It means if we have the right amount of trained staffing and good bosses at a fire, we'll probably make it home.

.....and it means that if we drill and train on the stuff we need to do regularly, such as the ability to quickly get water on the fire, we'll probably make it home.”
The above excerpt really drives me to focus on this blog’s topic "Shaping the Future". We as leaders today will face the end of our careers. Many of my mentors are at that point currently. However, the leadership lessons they can still share are countless. Thank God, that these folks took an interest in us the leaders of the current fire service when we were youthful firefighters. As I look over the fire service today and especially after spending time at the Congressional Fire Service Institute recently, I can see that our fields are full of ripe future leaders just waiting to be harvested. Consequently we often scorn at the work ethic or analytical decision making that these individuals use as they make critical decisions. I can see clearly where my first mentors Jerry Green and Rick Rice, both officers with the department I began my fire service career with in Mullens, West Virginia, could see a ripening prospect as they made extra efforts to shape the future through shaping me for the future. As I see it, the old practice of using our youth to accomplish our work is the base preparation needed to make them tomorrow’s leader. So officer’s are you Shaping the Fire Service’s Future?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What Defines You?

It’s not the uniform, rank or helmet color that defines a person; it’s what you do that defines who you are.

We must have the fortitude and courage to be both safety conscious and measured in the performance of our sworn duties while maintaining the appropriate balance of risk and bravery. The demands and requirements of modern firefighting will continue to require the placement of personnel within situations and buildings that carry risk, uncertainty and inherent danger. How and what you do, accept or disregard reflects highly upon you.

What defines you; as a firefighter, an officer or commander? Where and how do you fit in?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Combat Fire Engagement

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.

What are your thoughts and those around the kitchen table?

Has combat fire engagement changed, or are we just saying it does (or doesn't )?

Is the job, what it is?.....

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Worcester Six + Ten: Remembrance

Today, December 3, 2009 marks the 10th anniversary of the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire that resulted in the line of duty death of six courages brother firefighters.

The Worcester Six;
Firefighter Paul Brotherton Rescue 1
Firefighter Jeremiah Lucey Rescue 1
Lieutenant Thomas Spencer Ladder 2
Firefighter Timothy Jackson Ladder 2
Firefighter James Lyons Engine 3
Firefighter Joseph McGuirk Engine 3

On Friday, December 3, 1999, at 1813 hours, the Worcester, Massachusetts Fire Department dispatched Box 1438 for 266 Franklin Street, the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. A motorist had spotted smoke coming from the roof while driving on an adjacent elevated highway. The original building was constructed in 1906, contained another 43,000 square feet. Both were 6 stories above grade. The building was known to be abandoned for over 10 years. Due to these and other factors, the responding District Chief ordered a second alarm within 4 minutes of the initial dispatch.

The first alarm assignment brought 30 firefighters and officers and 7 pieces of apparatus to the scene. The second provided an additional 12 men and 3 trucks as well as a Deputy Chief. Firefighters encountered a light smoke condition throughout the warehouse, and crews found a large fire in the former office area of the second floor. An aggressive interior attack was started within the second floor and ventilation was conducted on the roof. There were no windows or other openings in the warehousing space above the second floor.

Eleven minutes into the fire, the owner of the abutting Kenmore Diner advised fire operations of two homeless people who might be living in the warehouse. The rescue company, having divided into two crews, started a building search. Some 22 minutes later the rescue crew searching down from the roof became lost in the vast dark spaces of the fifth floor. They were running low on air and called for help. Interior conditions were deteriorating rapidly despite efforts to extinguish the blaze, and visibility was nearly lost on the upper floors.

Investigators have placed these two firefighters over 150 feet from the only available exit.

An extensive search was conducted by Worcester Fire crews through the third and fourth alarms. Suppression efforts continued to be ineffective against huge volumes of petroleum based materials, and ultimately two more crews became disoriented on the upper floors and were unable to escape. When the evacuation order was given one hour and forty-five minutes into the event, five firefighters and one officer were missing. None survived.

Take a moment to reflect on the events of December 3, 1999 and what they may mean to you. Consider your knowledge and understanding of buildings and structures within your district and surrounding response areas. Take the time to review the stories behind the names of the Worcester Six and their legacies, HERE

Remember; “Building Knowledge = Firefighter Safety”. For those of you who do not know about this incident, attached are a number of reference links to the USFA Incident Report that provides insights into the event and the lessons learned, as well as other informational sites. Also check out the NIOSH Report and numerous archived articles on the web and within various journals. Learn from the past, apply the lessons that are still valid today as they were ten years ago....

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Getting on the Wall (Part 3)

As a leader you will face opposition on your vision. You must be diligent to carry on and defeat the opposition no matter the efforts. As leaders, when you begin to work, expect opposition because it is coming. Most opposition comes from those who dislike change. Change for these individuals is hard because they first of all don’t want to challenge themselves to a new level and are happy to maintain the status quo. Secondly most of these same individuals don’t have the ability to see the vision. Therefore, it is impossible and a sure failure in their eyes. Thirdly, change is hard and they do not possess the knowledge or ability to manage change. To overcome this opposition you must help them see the vision and manage the transition of change.
Finally leaders must take their vision public. So how do you share your vision publicly?

- State the problem
- Give the solution
- Make the case (why it has to be done)

With true leaders you can not separate the vision from the leader. As leaders who are embarking on a new vision you must be strong to keep that vision true to heart being faithful to the efforts and desire to make that vision come to fruition. Leaders must be diligent in their efforts working tirelessly to accomplish the vision exhausting all means for a successful journey. Never loose faith or lower the vision. Falling short of the vision is better than setting one low and making it. If leaders will follow the vision with heart felt desire you will win!

The wall has fallen and there is a large pile of rubble in front of you. How are you going to view this pile? Will it be a mess or an opportunity? That question can only be answered by the leader within you!
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