Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Errors of Arrogance

I have received several messages from readers who have found themselves re-reading “The Futility of Our Humility” (

Normally, I would be ecstatic that people found my stuff so compelling that they would read it again-a dream come true!

Unfortunately, I think that I have confused the point of my point.

Where I believe that the central issue lies is with the use of “arrogant/arrogance”. Some are reading into the blog that I am pointing the fickle finger directly at THEM.

When I describe a thought or an act that I believe lends itself to what I believe is arrogance, then the only thing that remains is for the reader to decide if it could fit their situation and if so, what has been done about it or what WILL be done about it.

What I did in my previous blog was to describe what I believed were feelings of acts of arrogance. As I have stated on numerous occasions is, “If it applies, then apply it. If not, then disregard”. There is no need to take offense if it is not your situation.

When I write, I want it to entertain, to challenge your thinking and hopefully, to allow you to learn and to offer your perspective.

Often times, I will offer straight-forward opinions that can be agreed or disagreed with or used as a trigger for a discussion point.

In my opinion and in some ways, some in the fire service have been arrogant and in the process, have lost some humility.
Continue Reading The Errors of Arrogance

If that were not the case, then why are we so incensed or surprised that cities are making firefighter staffing cuts?

I never said that I agreed with it and completely understand the many downsides to such kamikaze budgeting, but there is a sense of arrogance in our response back to the city’s, brainless trust and at the expense of other city employees.

Now; this may sound “arrogant”, but I think that we all realize that our self worth and our value as public servants have higher skill sets than, as an example, one who runs the landfill and I am NOT saying that the landfill isn’t important. I am simply saying that, in my jaded opinion, it takes more skill to read smoke and to run HazMat operations.

However; I think that it is wrong to believe that deeper cuts will be made elsewhere to preserve every public safety position.

How can a fire department argue about staffing issues that cannot be seen with the naked eye of the public?

We all know as sports fans what happens to a football team, if they are one man short on defense. The other team will have the advantage, at least for that one play. It could result in a touchdown for one team and spell defeat for the other team.

So; with that example, you have a properly staffed team winning and one that isn’t properly staffed losing.

Another good sports analogy is the hockey power play. The team with more players has the definite advantage.

Now; I am in no way minimizing or trivializing the loss of firefighter staffing with these sports comparisons; I am saying that it is not easy for citizens to know the effects, unless they have been educated on the clear relationship between lower staffing and the safety of fewer firefighters responding.

I am saying that, with these comparisons, the same holds true with fire departments. Unfortunately, the public can’t see it when we are under-staffed. It is not as obvious as the hockey power play.

And simply telling them is no longer effective, but city governments are telling their citizens that they won’t notice a difference and THAT is gaining support, because the public may not know any better.

But, how can this be? If the public thinks that we can get by with less NOW, then they must think that we were over-staffed to begin with.

Well, maybe not according to the NFPA standards, but citizens can’t relate at that level and since it won’t cost anything unless something goes wrong, city managers are willing to roll those dice for the cost savings. This is what I call “uber arrogance” on the part of city governments!

In my opinion, if a fire department allows that very first firefighter to be cut due to budget issues, then another and another will follow. Any chief smart enough to understand manpower requirements would NEVER allow it to happen, because once you lose them; how easy is it going to be to get them back?

A chief worth his weight would not cut firefighter positions to balance a budget. They might instead sweep their various budget funds to the bone, including over-time and maybe re-arrange schedules for staff and administrative positions. HIS humility for where HE came from should weigh heavily on his mind.

But, mayors, city managers and city councils trade their humility for arrogance faster than they can recite their oath of office.

My point is that, either city governments are arrogant to believe that public safety cuts will have little or no effect on service, have little or no effect on the safety of those employees OR are aware of it, but are arrogant enough to believe that the risks are worth the cuts.

My other point is that fire departments may be arrogant to believe that the citizens will side with firefighters based upon our proffered emotional statements rather than accurate examples of increases in accidents, injuries or even death as a result of staffing cuts. Providing information from LODD reports where it was specifically stated that low staffing contributed to the death would be appropriate to use.

It’s hard to be humble when the errors of arrogance are not properly and accurately addressed and it might very well be a failure of our leadership to properly assess the community’s needs and their firefighters’ needs.


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Futility of Our Humility

I have found myself thinking about the term “arrogant” a lot lately. It is what comes to mind as I read some of the stories coming out of our fire service these days. And trust me; what you will read here won’t be a speech that you will hear this year at FDIC.

Yes; I am of the opinion that our humility has been uprooted and replaced with an air of arrogance.

What right do I have to say this?

Well, I was an active firefighter for 22 years. I suffered through under-funding, a lack of leadership, no plan, no mission, little hope, but a desire to help my community. Back then, we would be standing there with a booster line, shooting water into the hole that was once a house and everyone was telling us what a great job we did.

We did everything that we could, we would say. Arrogance!

We appreciate everything that you do, was a typical sentiment that was voiced by one and all. Ah; humility!

You are swept up by this unconditional worship of the fire department when you are new to it (humility with a splash of cynicism), but, after you have been on for awhile, you come to expect to hear it and to feel it each and every time there is a reason to drop the tones (arrogance with a touch of entitlement).

Is it a natural part of the maturation process to lose one’s humility or have we been confusing “humble” with “grateful” for, oh, so many years?

Recently, there have been several, negative stories in the news about firefighters or ex-firefighters. Are we humbled by the fact that we are still regarded very highly by the public, even though recent news has firefighters committing arson, murder, sexploitation, drug sales and embezzlement? Or are we grateful that it isn’t happening where we live? More importantly, are these national headlines chipping away at our “unconditional worshippers”?

I keep hearing complaints from many corners in the fire service about how the pro-firefighter sentiment has eroded since 9/11. Do we want to believe that it took a catastrophe of major proportion to elevate our stature? Or did we think too highly of ourselves to begin with? It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing what we read about us.

I am disturbed by the fact that we use 9/11 as a reference point on the gauge of public opinion as if it were some “side benefit” for firefighters who weren’t even there, who didn’t lose family or aren’t struggling with health issues that may or may not be recognized as linked to the WTC site and covered under insurance or PSOBs. We should not be arrogant enough to believe that we can understand the immense loss that a city and their firefighters felt and continue to feel and instead be humbled by the professionalism exhibited by them.

When I think of some of the incidents that we have undertaken over the years, I take a critical view of the end result and am not humbled by it. If we are approached by a citizen and told we did a good job, I am grateful for their kindness, but no longer feel humbled by it. Why? I believe that it comes from knowing that we could have or should have done things differently for a better outcome.

Part of the reason that I think the public was so quick to heap praise upon their fire departments some years ago was because it was somewhat guilt driven. They didn’t have the time or wouldn’t take the time to join their fire department; yet fully understood the importance of praise as positive reinforcement. This is how they raised their kids and it worked with them and let’s face it; a firefighter is a big kid who, as a young kid, wanted to be a firefighter.

So, it was necessary for leaders in the community to praise their public servants so that they wouldn’t have to do it and then they could sleep better at night. When I think about my early days on the department, I remember that many of the property owners were too involved emotionally in their fully involved house to be thankful that a fire truck or two was there to keep it cool as it collapsed into the basement. As you were getting ready to return to the station, the last image at the fire scene that you saw was a family huddled in the front lawn arm-in-arms and holding on to what was left from the fire-each other.

Somehow; humility isn’t the feeling that comes to mind. But, I must admit; there is a feeling of arrogance from the expectation that there should have been a “thank you” for our efforts.

I think back to how many times we told ourselves that just a “thank you; just a pat on the back” was good enough. But, that was back when we didn’t have a lot of emotion, time and effort invested in ourselves as a member of the fire department. As we increased our skill sets, did our expectations of how we should be perceived grow as well? Once we were neck deep and fully vested; was a simple thank you or pat on the back ever going to be enough again? Was that arrogance settling in?

Then, we must have thought that the community was going to be right there alongside of us every step of the way as we went to school after school, conference after conference and collecting certificate after certificate. We were arrogant enough to believe that taxpayers would buy anything for their fire department; the best training and the best equipment and for awhile they did.

But, the economy turned. We started seeing job losses, eroding tax base, less new development, no new jobs, no new revenue sources, schools eating up most of the taxes and TIF districts got the rest. Our equipment was getting older and so were the firefighters. Even in tough times, we felt that the community would support the purchase of new fire trucks. The older guys didn’t want to attend training and the new ones didn’t have the time, but we were arrogant enough to believe that we could survive on our laurels. We could stir public support with tales of the old days.

And if that didn’t gain us their support, then we were arrogant enough to believe that we could use the old “if we don’t get it, more people will die” Big Lie. It had worked very successfully for years. “Can’t miss; two thumbs up”, you say.

Still; the community didn’t want the debt of a new truck in these uncertain times. They were resigned to the reality that the old trucks might break down when we were in the heat of battle, but that was a chance that they were willing to take. It sounded like a much cheaper alternative than the $300,000 for a new truck.

Our last gasp of arrogance comes with the “we will have to shut down the department and let someone else handle the calls”. We are thinking, “No way will they want to wait for the next town over”, but your citizens are thinking, “What’s the difference? They are going to pour water into the burnt out basement anyway”.

Yes; communities will support their fire departments through the tough times, but it will not be at previously high levels. Our public is more educated and therefore, less inclined to be swayed by emotional arguments. They remember the demonstrations of low pressure/high water volume tactics and its reliance on limited manpower. Let’s not forget the great Quint debates either. A truck designed for understaffing? I’ll take ten.

When you are no longer able to fulfill your mission statement because of a lack of resources, then you must either contract to your current level of resources or risk catastrophic failure in some form. It would be arrogant to think otherwise.

And a community telling their fire department that they cannot support them at their current levels can be very humbling, indeed.


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Personal Accountability with Morality

Many times, we find ourselves complaining about our lack of control over our jobs or with our futures at our jobs.

We are in middle level management and historically, that has been the “crème in the Oreo cookie” of corporate America. That is; we get squeezed from both sides-the employers’ and the employees’.

But, something that we DO have control over is our moral compass. THAT sets the direction down the road to righteous decisions for a bounty of personal, moral and ethical situations.

I receive many on-line versions of magazines. Honestly, I don’t know why companies even bother sending out paper versions anymore. Often times, they go straight to the re-cycle bin unopened.

One of my faves is Fire Chief and articles by author/editor Janet Wilmoth. Janet has had her fingers on the pulse of the fire service for many years and her editorial this month was no exception.

Her topic for this month was “Chiefs Behaving Badly”.

I immediately bristled at the notion and I know that I could provide irrefutable examples that would prove that chiefs had not cornered the market on bad behavior within our fire service.

Why, just in the last few days, Caleb Lacey was found guilty of arson and homicide for a fire that he set in Long Island.

However; Wilmoth did provide some examples of some pretty egregious behavior by chiefs.

First up is Gary Scott, former chief of Campbell County, Wyoming’s fire department.

Apparently, the chief liked to molest his fire cadets; so much so that he pleaded no contest to FOURTEEN counts of sex abuse.

And we wonder why junior/explorer programs are going away!

The kicker is that Scott is already serving a 24-year sentence on TEN felony convictions of taking children across state lines for sexual abuse. (Source: He is either very stupid or very sick (twisted) or both.

Stay tuned to this one. Some of the young boys who were molested have filed a $150 million lawsuit against the fire department. Somehow, I don’t think that Tort Immunity is going to be enough. They might want to start NOW looking for new revenue streams to pay their legal bills.

Next, we have Eric Adam Grueninger, former chief of Locust Creek Volunteer Fire Department in Louisa County, Virginia.

This sick mutt was sentenced to 323 years in prison with 235 years suspended (?) for TWENTY felony sex counts, including rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual battery of a minor, object sexual penetration, taking indecent liberties with a child and possession of child pornography. (Source:

Sorry, folks; no snappy retort for this one. This one leaves me shaking my head and leaves me wondering how a “pillar” in a community can be so depraved and yet; shows no noticeable, outward signs. I can say that deep scars will exist forever with the victims and for a very long time in their respective communities.

Then, there is the curious case of Chief David Peterson of the Plainfield Township, Michigan Fire Department.

According to the article that I read, Chief Peterson and Township Supervisor Robert Homan knew that volunteer firefighter and township assistant clerk Jeffrey Hawkins was a convicted sex offender and they allowed him to continue working for the fire department. Hawkins was first convicted in the mid-90s for a crime involving a boy younger than 13 years of age.

Hawkins was again arrested in September of 2009 for soliciting sex from two, young boys on Facebook. (Source:

Public opinion has been brutal since Hawkins’ arrest. The township fire department has been accused of putting other children at risk, for keeping a convicted pedophile on the fire department and for keeping it “secret”.

So, when we have our discussions about how a chief is promoted (elected or appointed), the cost of doing background checks (or not doing them) and as to how desperate volunteer fire departments are to recruit and retain members; please think about what you have just read, but with this one caveat: $150 million in potential liability to your department and taxpayers.

Anything else pales by comparison!


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

When an employee violates a rule or policy...

One of the challenges you will surely face if you are in a supervisor’s role is dealing with an employee who violates a rule or policy. When this happens it can leave you disappointed, frustrated, or angry. To help talk you off the emotional ledge, answer this question: Do you think they did it on purpose?

In almost every situation the answer will be no. And when it is, then next challenge is to figure out if they didn’t do it on purpose then why did it happen? Here are some possibilities:
1. They did not know the rule or policy existed.
2. They forgot about the rule or policy because they had not reviewed it in a while.
3. They did not understand the rule or policy.
4. They had not received training on the rule or policy.
5. They took a shortcut for some reason.
6. They were complacent.

Or some other reason.

The only way you can know for sure why it happened is to ask them. Following the advice of Steven Covey [author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People], seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Next, ask yourself what role you played in the error. Could you have done anything to help prevent or avoid it? What can you do to help prevent this employee (and all others) from making the same mistake again?

Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP

Why Be Different

Across the world I bet if you sat around the table, on the tailboard of an apparatus or at any conference you would hear some folks that are talking about how “Boogered up” their department is. So what do you do when your department is “Boogered up”? The important component is to look in the mirror first and see if you are part of the problem. That’s right; I put the blame on you. Why? Well you are part of the department and most often we have a contribution to everything that occurs in the department at some level. So are you contributing to the “Boogering up” of the department?

Let the Department clarify our motive
Let each individual in the department examine themselves thoroughly and know their hearts. With that we mean are we following the mission of the department or are we working to meet your personal mission. Remember there is no “I” in team, so if you are more focused on your own mission than the departments, then you are making a major contribution to the “Boogering up” of the department. With this we also need to look at this from both sides especially if you are an officer. I question you folks to look and see if you are servicing both customers; the public and the troops.

Often you will see individuals who make the officer level forget where they came from. It is important that you serve both sets of customers. So bottom line is if we get in tune with what the mission of the department and the strategic plan of the Fire Chief then everyone will have ample opportunity to most often meet both the mission of the department and their own mission. This is possible because most times these have many similar aspirations if you just really look at them.
Continue Reading Why Be Different

Purify our thinking
In getting focused on the mission of the department you will see that the “Boogering” will just blow away. To do this the department needs to have pure thinking for the department and not the individuals in the department. By focusing on the good of the community we will again go back to focus on the mission. This is something that leaders must do every day. As we talk the talk we must also walk the walk. The troops can see past the transparent membranes we try to hide behind as officers. If we focus on being pure of heart we will see the focus from the troops will come in line. Community relations are a big job, too big for a single person to handle. It will require the efforts of every member of your team to make this a successful venture. Of course it starts with you as the leader. As the leader you must sell this concept to the group of people who deal with the community on a daily basis, the emergency responders. During their work delivering emergency services they must execute the plan. I know you are asking 'what plan?'.

The plan is what you want to accomplish in gaining community support. One of the more common theories that I heard recently at a conference made perfect sense. As an emergency services department you must make yourself so desirable that it would be political suicide for the governing agency not to give you what you want because the community would be upset. For this concept to work each individual of the department must buy into this concept of community support.

To think correctly as a leader you have to have to be honest with yourself and everyone else involved.

So why be different from your peers?
• We are the fire service. So we need to be contributing positively rather than negatively.
• Your peers are watching. Your peer are watching you and most likely following your lead.
• Time is short. We only get one opportunity to make a first impression. We may get multiple opportunities to influence your peers daily.

If being different were a crime would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Arrogance and Ignorance Is a Dangerous Combo

This is what came to mind when I read the story of the Long Pine, Nebraska Fire Department ( Apparently, the mayor and city council decided to “dismantle” the fire department over some internal disputes between the mayor and the fire department. See a news piece here:

I call it “arrogant”, because the action was taken by a small group elected to represent their residents.

Are we going to believe that the citizens WANT to be without a local fire department?

If they care about someone showing up at the time of their emergency, then they should NOT be happy at this turn of events in their community.

Citizens of Long Pine; throw out the elected officials who are behind this cavalier attitude towards your community’s safety. They are using YOU to prove a point and a very dangerous one at that.

In fact; have your police chief arrest them for aggravated stupidity!

I also call it “ignorant”, because once again, one city government wants their public safety problems solved at their neighboring community’s expense. Yeah; use their resources paid by their tax money for your emergencies. Call it “redistribution of wealth”.

It is also an ignorant notion because fire will grow for each minute that it takes Ainsworth to get there.

People should go to jail for putting the safety of their communities at risk.

When elected officials fail their oath of office by acts of their own neglect, then they should be arrested, charged, tried and convicted for it.

Go ahead and say it. Say, “But you won’t get anyone to run for public office if they can be arrested for making bad decisions”.

And I will say, “No; a bad decision would be to increase the sales tax because sales are down”.

Shutting down your fire department because a couple of city council members-including one that is ON the volunteer fire department and voted to dismantle it-has an axe to grind isn’t a bad decision; it’s a wrong decision and a very dangerous decision.

When government and its power are abused by the few who are elected, it no longer functions FOR the people.

And if you could go to jail for being arrogant and ignorant in matters of public safety, then new prisons would be popping up all over the nation.

This case in Long Pine is not an example of partisan politics, ladies and gentlemen. It’s elected officials abusing their privilege to serve their citizens. It’s elected officials serving their own self-interests at the expense of their citizens.

So, when they bring the process down to the personal level, replete with acts of revenge, then it is time for them to go.

You cannot justify a public body making private decisions on public safety without public comment and participation. It’s wrong AND illegal.

Is there more to the story?

There had better be.


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
Please visit: and my blog

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Volunteers; Who Is Listening?

Most issues that exist with volunteer fire departments occur at the local level and in many states where you have a state-wide response program; at the state level.

So, where do you turn when assistance is needed?

Where I live, we have a regional organization that meets every other month and naturally, local issues will become a part of the meeting records.

If you are plugged in at the state level, several organizations, such as the state fire chiefs association, an association of fire protection districts and a state firefighters association are there to address state issues.

Beyond that, you may be fortunate enough to have a working relationship with your state representatives.

When you study this political structure, it is easy to feel that a solution to your particular problem is beyond your reach. But, it shouldn’t be.

Where do you go-who do you turn to-to get your issue resolved?

You know; there was a time some years ago when volunteer fire departments had the single, largest voting block in their respective communities. It may feel uncomfortable to some who are reading this, but “old school” also meant “old school politics”, where connections in a community wielded power and fire departments had it.

What happened?

Do you ever ask yourself “why does the smaller demographic in the fire service yield the most power? Career firefighters in this country make up less than 30% of the nation’s firefighters; yet, they pack a powerful voice. It is most likely because of their affiliation with the IAFF.

What do the volunteers have besides the National Volunteer Fire Council?

Will the NVFC come in and arbitrate a local disagreement?


I mean; it took them TEN years to issue a white paper
( on volunteer firefighter training. When I say that it took ten years, I mean that, many of us have been voicing concerns about training, recruitment and retention since at least the year 2000.

It is a very good paper and I don’t want to come off as overly critical. They are very blunt in the paper. They identify three critical areas: Time Constraints, Resource Constraints and Leadership as critical areas of impediment to training objectives. My favorite phrase from the paper is:

Unfortunately, a large number of volunteer fire departments are still operating with personnel who are not trained to a level consistent with national consensus standards for basic firefighting preparedness. This can lead to ineffective and unsafe responses that put lives and property at risk.

Have we not discussed this many times on the many fire website discussion pages? Are any of the organizations “browsing”? Or do they need an email shot right to their inbox?

So, NVFC is calling for volunteer firefighters to be trained to a national consensus standard that is known as NFPA 1001. I have a suggestion for them…

If they want departments trained to this standard-and many of us already are-then they should offer a free membership into NFPA if they are currently using NFIRS.

If the information from NFIRS is so critical to our fire service-and for the record, I believe that it is-then; it should be worth the price of admission into the NFPA.

My fire department is a member of the NFPA, but let’s face it; it’s pay as you go.

Anyone who is willing to meet NFPA standards should be incentified and I don’t mean by the threat of jail for not doing so.

Small, volunteer departments need help and it shouldn’t have to cost them money that they don’t have. They cannot afford consultants, membership fees and training programs at $1500 a pop.

Our national organizations want compliance from volunteer fire departments. Are they willing to fund their mandates?

What about equipment manufacturers? Maybe instead of wining and dining prospective customers, they can cut back there and instead, offer a ten year membership in NFPA if the fire department purchases equipment from them. Or they could offer IFSTA training programs as an alternative.

What about the scholarship programs where only one firefighter benefits from the money? Instead of offering a scholarship, sponsor a fire department for NFPA membership.

Most of us know what the problems are and I understand that, in many cases, simply throwing money at it won’t fix it.

But, like we found out in Illinois, if you take it to the fire departments, they will respond…and in record numbers. Illinois uses up every training program dollar allocated every year.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, then contact Dave Clark, Deputy Director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI).

They have been listening to us for years.

Who is listening to you?


This article is protected by federal copyright laws. It cannot be reproduced in any form without the expressed, written permission of the author, Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason.

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Get Engaged with the Fire Service

Are you truly engaged within the fire service?

This question may have you scratching your head, however it is an extremely important one. In doing some research over the past year focusing on identifying gaps in the fire service, it has come to light that most of the fire service truly isn't engaged. That is they show up do what tasks are at hand and leave whether they are volunteer or career. You may be thinking the big deal is? The big deal is that do you really know what is happening on a local, state or national level that is impacting the fire service. Each day there are major issues that you could have influence over that you never take the opportunity to impact. Most of you may not even know what legislation is being discussed at a local, state or national level, legislation that will impact not only you but the entire fire service.

If you are reading this you are either truly engaged in the fire service or you are at the point you are educating yourself. If you ask 10 other people in your department how many would even know that these type blogs existed and even where to find them. There is the point likely over half would not.

So why get "Engaged"? It is important that you be involved so you have an influence or voice in your fire service.

How do I get "Engaged"? Start by being more involved in your own organization. Then look for groups within your county and state to get started. Join professional organization like; the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI). These organizations have political power on a national level as they have a seat at the table when issues are being discussed. Secondly take time to become well traveled and educated. This is really pretty simple. Get out of your district and see what others are doing, visit and read trade journals and web sites and even take a trip to the National Fire Academy for a course. Lastly find yourself a good mentor and become a mentor to someone else as well.

Our fire service is depending on the current and next generation to carry on the traditions of serving others, protecting lives and making our communities a better place to live, work and play.

Challenge: Get Engaged!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Thyroid cancer

Do I have your attention? Cancer seems to affect so many of us. I am sure you at least know someone that has cancer. Personally, I have had a spouse who has been battling cancer and I have been squeaking by on a variety of medical issues that are cancer related. Today a fine needle biopsy of the thyroid. So why do I bring this up here?

Real simple, if you are reading this you are probably in the fire service, and may have even fought a fire or two. Ok, maybe a few more than that. Here's the deal. We are finding that cancer is very prevalent among firefighters. Thyroid cancer is quickly becoming a concern. Why? Think about wear your Nomex collects all the chemicals, most of which are carcinogens in the toxic environment we call smoke....when was the last time you cleaned your hood?

Your thyroid is located in an area that is closest to the skin. Hence, it is susceptible to the permeation of the carcinogens from the hood. So, what do you do....first be sure to get a medical exam every year....use NFPA sure to read it as it is more comprehensive then you was how I found out that I had nodules in my sure to do this annually....oh and that hood you wear....wash it! BTW - a number of my colleagues from another department in Florida are dealing with this issue it can happen to you!

If you have a medical issue as a result of firefighting, I challenge you to share it and let us all know what we can do to prevent it from happening to others.....we are NOT invincible....the it can't happen to me is the biggest joke we can play on ourselves, the problem is it may cost you your life....let's hear from you.....

Further reading on the subject

Friday, February 5, 2010

To go or not to go? That is the question

I recently facilitated presentation on fireground situation awareness and decision making where we were discussing under what conditions firefighters engage via interior operations versus staying outside the structure. It may be an easier discussion to have when there is not a victim inside though there are many firefighters getting injured and killed inside structures that have no victims.

In this particular discussion, I set up a scenario where there was a victim inside. Then I explained that every fire affords a “window of opportunity” where the victim is savable. Once that window is closed, firefighter efforts may result in a body removal, but not a victim rescue. As much as there is a window of opportunity for victims, there is also be a window of survivability for the would-be rescuers.

If you had a victim inside, under what conditions would attempt a rescue? Under what conditions would you not? Share your tips and guidelines for knowing when the “window of opportunity” for a savable victim has closed and the “window of survivability” for the rescuers has closed. To go... or not to go? That is the question.

Fire Chief (ret.) Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO, MICP

Didn’t You? Didn’t You? I Thought You Did. No? Me Neither!

By my count, this fire department had FIVE chances to get this call right. They didn’t.

Why? Because, according to their internal report, they didn’t follow their own procedures, which led to an interesting discussion.

Last night, after Chris Kaiser, the featured guest of FirefighterNetCast had concluded his portion of the Old School vs. New School program, FireCritic Rhett and FireDaily John went to a discussion format and wanted to discuss the Dekalb County, GA Fire Department response to a fatal fire.

When the story first broke, a discussion thread popped up and naturally, I had some opinions based upon the limited information that was coming out at the time. My initial reaction was that I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I was stunned by it.

Before long though, there was a groundswell under this story fueled by the family of the deceased and from members in the news media wanting some answers. To date, five firefighters have been terminated and the chief has resigned as fallout from the incident at 1687 Houghton Court North, Dunwoody Georgia; home to Ann Bartlett, age 74.

I was in the chat room at the time and someone flashed me to call in, so I did. I weighed in heavy on the discussion of this incident along with Rhett, John and Chris Naum. I was going off of my recollections, but I was up to speed with the exception that I hadn’t read the internal report of the incident from Chief Foster.

While we were concluding the discussion, I got a message from the chat room from a buddy who felt that we were “piling on” this fire department. I pointed out that I didn’t bring the subject up, but was merely offering my opinions; something that I’ve been known to do.

He wanted to know if we were “perfect”. Of course we aren’t, but I also thought that you would have to be drunk or crazy to get an incident THIS WRONG. My buddy thought that we were offering strong opinions based upon speculative journalism and even if the story was barely correct, he was still upset that we were “kicking a department when they were down”.

Well, I initiated some soul searching right there in the chat room and upon reflection, he was right…to a degree. Perhaps on any other day, the good men and women of this department might very well have gotten it right, but one could make a strong argument, based upon the internal report, that it might not have been a different outcome, if complacency and disregard for written protocols were routinely ignored.

In the end, I told my buddy that I had over reacted, but the emotional value of this incident was very high for everyone involved and for those of us who read and analyze incidents for lessons learned. But, I also wanted to read the internal report, re-visit the discussion thread and follow up with local news to make sure that I wasn’t being a total wienie on this one.

Upon further review, I stand by my comments. Everyone involved with that run on that day bear some responsibility and not just the officers who have been terminated or have resigned. The guys riding backwards get some, too and I will be glad to explain.

First of all, the entire time that was spent on the first call was 7 minutes and 22 seconds. Do you think that a thorough search could have been initiated and terminated in this short time frame?

Engine 18 arrived at 1:15:10 in the AM with Truck 18 and Engine 12 arriving shortly thereafter. The scene was cleared at 1:22:32 in the AM with a report of no smoke or fire.

If you read the internal report, you will notice that: captain of Engine 18 arrives first and does not establish incident command and no one exits the vehicle. Truck 18 arrives, but fails to notify dispatch that they are on scene, does not establish command and the captain states for the report that they “looked at the house; no signs of smoke; house was dark”. In other words, no one checked the house. Engine 12 arrives and goes to the hydrant. The captain states for the report that he did not hear anyone establish incident command and watches as Engine 18 and Truck 18 leave the area. Engine 12 leaves without noticing smoke or fire, but no one checked the house. Battalion 1 did not hear command established and did not insure that command was initiated. Battalion 1 never made it to the scene. The shift commander was contacted by the dispatch supervisor who stated that she felt that it was a legitimate call. The shift commander was not monitoring the radio traffic from the call, so he was unaware of the breach in protocols.

Many think that establishing incident command is a royal pain. Some even think that it is over kill. When you examine the missteps in this incident, it appears to be very well suited for command and control, because apparently, establishing incident command would have been the kick to the head that this incident needed to engage the officers into doing their jobs.

But, where were the “guys who ride backwards”. The working stiffs; the rank and file? Does it take a direct order by an officer to activate your common sense? Not one firefighter could say, “Hey, Cap; permission to walk to the house to talk to the owner”? You could even be a little more demanding without risk of discipline, I would think.

Yes; all officers have been terminated and based upon the internal report, it is justified; sadly.

I have a problem with the chief riding out of Dodge at a fast gallop, but the department will heal faster, too.

The family of Ann Bartlett wants an apology from the firefighters who were involved in this incident.

And if I was a resident of this county, I would want some assurances that asses will come out of the seats of the trucks and check my welfare, if needed. And that’s really my biggest beef. Even after not smelling smoke or seeing fire, someone could have, at the very least, checked on this lady’s welfare, just to re-assure her.

But, that would have required someone to get out of the truck.

You know; to make an effort.

I don’t think that this is what we had in mind when we talk about accountability.

Now might be a good time to go back and review policies and read that book on leadership again.


This article is protected by federal copyright laws. No reproduction of any kind is permitted without written permission from the author.

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Errors and Omissions

This past week on the burgeoning internet call-in radio show Firefighter, HERE, a dynamic discussion developed related to the DeKalb County fatal house fire incident and the apparent questionable actions purported by the company and command officers and the repercussions that have lead to FD employment terminations and resignations, HERE.

I discussed recently how Company and Command Officers should be highly accountable and highly responsive to the demands and duties that come with that rank and the inherent responsibilities that are intrinsic, fundamental and vital to our sworn duty HERE. The radio call-in discussions revolved around issues dealing with fire department complacency, expectations, accountability and discipline; fundamental responsibilities and actions that are required by companies, their staff and the company officer; as well as those of the incident commander.

The common theme resonated around the fact that nobody could believed that the entire balance of a structural alarm assignment didn’t conduct a more thorough investigation or have a more robust questioning attitude to further validate the assumptions being made at the scene that the alarm was unfounded. The issued FD report HERE stated that no personnel exited their apparatus to investigate any of the occupancies, other than to spot in backing up the trucks. Protocols and standards implemented in an organization will guide and drive operational actions at an incident scene. The deployment and management of that incident scene is predicated and rests squarely with the company and command officers to perform duties and actions aligned with organizational expectations, accountability and responsiveness.

How do you address the influence of error-likely situations in which complacency may creep into an incident scene when there is nothing readily apparent, however there is an indication that something is wrong? How do you maintain the heightened sense of preparedness, safety and readiness when you’ve responded to an alarm activation at the same address numerous times in the past with no events; but on this run you’re confronted with an escalating situation that calls for immediate and prompt fire suppression and rescue actions-but you’re not prepared?

How would you have addressed a similar call to a reported structure fire at a given neighborhood and building address and find nothing showing or evident upon arrival? What level of rigor does your company (or fire deparment) expect or apply to determine that an incident is unfounded, false or an honest mistake? What are YOUR standards for responsibility and accountably?

Remember this; "Errors and Omissions are VERY unforgiving...."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

HCN Is NOT A Cable TV Channel!

February is American Heart Month.

That’s it; one month and the shortest one at that?

How can we expect to maintain a sustained effort to reduce heart-related deaths in the fire service if we only pull out the PR campaign once a year?

Besides; we will forget about it as quickly as we forget all of those New Years’ resolutions. You know the ones; going to lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more and trim your nose hair more often.

Doing what I just mentioned is taking some personal responsibility in our battle to reduce LODD heart attacks, but what about some of the triggers that come from outside the body; something like hydrogen cyanide (HCN)?

You should know that HCN is peeking over the shoulder of carbon monoxide (CO) at your structural fires.

Think about it; how many times have you read a post-mortem on a firefighter that says, “Recent physical found patient to be in good condition; no family history of heart disease; death from sudden cardiac arrest”?

If I was a betting man and I am, I would bet that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) got to him while he was inside doing salvage and over-haul and at a time when many of you will shed your SCBAs.

Why would we suspect hydrogen cyanide (HCN)?

For one thing, it’s a sneaky bastard.

It is colorless; it doesn’t always give off an odor and is released when products such as wool, silk, cotton, nylon, plastic, polymers, foam, melamine, polyacrylonitriles and synthetic rubber burns.

So, that “smoke” that you smell most likely contains hydrogen cyanide (HCN).

Plus, hydrogen cyanide (HCN) likes to hang out in enclosed areas. It dissipates very quickly outdoors, but inside, it is less dense than air and will rise, but will remain trapped in rooms.

As you breathe it, it will prevent the cells in the body from using oxygen, killing the cells. Since our heart and our brain use more oxygen than the other organs, they will be more greatly affected. It could cause the brain to become confused and send mixed signals to the heart, causing arrhythmia.

Other signs and symptoms of HCN exposure that should not be ignored are rapid breathing, restlessness, dizziness, weakness, headache, nausea/vomiting and rapid heart rate could give way to convulsions, low blood pressure, slow heart rate, loss of consciousness, lung injury and respiratory failure leading to death.

And were it not for the fact that you are a firefighter, these symptoms might be explained by some other medical reasoning.

And let’s be honest; some of the symptoms that I have described have been experienced by many of us at a fire scene, but ignored, because we figured it was from adrenaline, possibly smokeless tobacco or physical exertion. THAT is why we need to go to rehab and THEY have to be familiar with HCN exposure.

If you don’t think that this gas-a gas that is 35 times more toxic than carbon monoxide (CO)-can kill you, then why was it used in Nazi death camps during World War II?

Yeah; I know THAT got your attention!

Here is the most insidious characteristic of hydrogen cyanide (HCN): you may not suffer any short term effects at the time of exposure, but may develop symptoms after two or three weeks. This leads to the LODD question and the linkage to death due quite possibly to HCN exposure and whether it qualifies.

How many of you have gas detectors that test for hydrogen cyanide (HCN)?

How many of you wear full turnout gear, including SCBAs during ALL interior operations and until they are concluded? Dumpster fires? Vehicle fires? You’d better think about it.

How many departments have a rehab unit that is trained in HCN exposure recognition?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several articles on hydrogen cyanide (HCN) that are worth your time to read.

One of the best articles out there right now is an article by Richard Rochford entitled “Hydrogen Cyanide: New Concerns for Firefighting”. It is a must read.

Then, click on Shawn Longerich would love to hear from you.

By recognizing and respecting the dangers of hydrogen cyanide, we may save more lives, including our own.

Being a “smoke eater” is no longer a badge of honor.



Hydrogen Cyanide: New Concerns for Firefighting by Richard Rochford

Facts About Cyanide – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

February is American Heart Month – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
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Officer Responsibility, Accountability, Complacency and Expectations

By now many of you should have seen the reports making their way around the internet circuit relating to the regrettable circumstances in DeKalb County, Georgia and the level of omissions that apparently was exhibited at an alarm response that had tragic repercussions based upon those actions. If you haven’t caught up on the incident particulars then check out these links, HERE, HERE and HERE for starters. In addition, in the immediate days following the incident four fire officers were terminated based upon allegations of negligence and disregard to duty, HERE. This was quickly followed by the resignation of the Fire Chief, HERE.

Company and Command Officers should be highly accountable and highly responsive to the demands and duties that come with that rank and the inherent responsibilities that are intrinsic, fundamental and vital. The Company Officer fulfills a mission critical role within the fire service that directly affects personnel and public safety and community accord. The title carries with it the opportunity to ride the “front seat” and be in charge of a company responsible for addressing incident operations and service demands dictated by the company’s function, responsibility and task assignment. The DeKalb County incident clearly illustrates when those fundamental and inherent responsibilities are allowed to be diminished, neglected or deliberately forsaken; the results can be pronounced with detrimental results on a variety of levels. Read the Report HERE.

However you may have assumed your present rank and title as a Company or Command Officer recognize this; YOU have an immense responsibility, obligation, duty and accountability. There is a fundamental premise for Company and Command Officer’s and that includes; Responsibility, Accountability and the issues affected by Complacency. After reading the DeKalb Report, think about these three functional areas of Responsibility, Accountability and Complacency. There certainly shouldn’t be a need for a long dissertation on the meaning and relationships of these words and their relationship to any Company or Command Officer.

IF, you understand your job, your duties; responsibilities and accountability to your company, your organization and the citizens you protect, THEN Accountability is a natural extension of everything. Oh, one more thing, let’s add Expectations to the basic mix; fundamental towards carrying out our sworn duties. What are your thoughts on Officer Responsibility, Accountability, Complacency and Expectations? Have you found yourself “RACEing” through an incident for all the wrong reasons? Think about the RACE on your next alarm....

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wichita Falls Window Bailout Close Call Video

Dramatic window bailout through the top sash of a double hung window captured on video in Wichita Falls, Texas. Featured on

Monday, February 1, 2010

We The Fire Service…

We the Fire Service have a debt of gratitude. One generation shall praise your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. I know that as a fire service member I have a large debt of gratitude for many people who have paved the way for me and others like me to have the opportunities we currently have. There have been many fine brothers and sisters who have given their hearts and souls to the fire service, working tirelessly to make it better, stronger and safer. For all of you whom have paid this price and contributed “We the Fire Service” of today say, “Thank You!”

I just want to say that these great folks mentioned above were the best of the best when it comes to mentoring. So what is going on today? To cut to the chase “We the Fire Service” have lost the art of mentoring. It only takes one generation to lose all that we know and have learned from our great heritage. Do we really want to do that? I say NO! So what are we going to do about it? Those officers and fire service leaders just hanging out, waiting on retirement or a pay check need to get off your duffs and start being officers or resign your positions. As we quickly approach a time when much of the fire service leadership will be retiring, we are destined to face the loss of great leadership. 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, 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, it is time that we prepare for our future and start paying off that debt of gratitude and start giving back to the next generation or they won’t have anything to praise us about.
Continue Reading We The Fire Service…

We the Fire Service have a heritage of being just that, the fire service. So, where am I going with this? We have got to focus on our heritage in a two facet approach. The first facet is we have got to remember where we came from and what is important about the history of the fire service. We cannot forget the major events like Kingman, Arizona, Hackensack, New Jersey, New York City Fathers Day fire and the events of September 11, 2001. Nor should we forget our recruit academy or our first fire. But we also must focus on a more serious issue: the fact that the fire service has a heritage of not learning or wanting to learn from the fire service mistakes. We know what the causes of line of duty deaths are. There is a lot of effort being placed on programs that address this by folks like Ron Siarnicki from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) to ensure everyone goes home. But when I look at the same repeated mistakes that our fire service makes over and over again and firefighters refuse to read and study why these occurred it appalls me to no end. We have the answers in front of us and when leaders don’t want to address the problems or firefighters fight against these necessary safety changes we have serious issues in our family heritage. As I write this piece just today Baltimore Fire Department adopted the Hot, Warm, Cold response policy. I am proud that they are learning from a tremendously sad event. But hey folks, there are others across the nation in this great business that we call the fire service that think that this type of response or progressive way of thinking is crazy and that we are somehow doing something wrong. This is not an isolated issue; it is embedded in the culture from coast to coast. As officers and fire service leaders we must learn from our mistakes and pass them along to the next generation so we don’t keep repeating history.

We the Fire Service have a burden of responsibility…a responsibility to leave the service better than we inherited it. This means we have to learn from our own and other’s mistakes. We must set a course of direction that has safety as the focus. This will mean that many cultures, values, opinions and beliefs will have to be changed or better yet educated. Leaders must be diligent in their efforts working tirelessly to accomplish the vision exhausting all means for a successful journey. Never lose 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! To sum it all up you must keep the vision and keep from getting distracted.
To keep the vision you must understand that it will require personal sacrifices and risks to be taken. In making sacrifices and taking risks we often feel like we are out on a limb. Well guess what, you are! But if we don’t take chances you most likely will not keep focused on what is important, the vision you have set as a leader. These distractions that come up often pull even the best leaders off of the vision. When we keep our vision, we often receive harsh criticism. But remember, DO NOT compromise for what seems easier nor be discouraged by the criticism. STAY ON THE WALL!

So what is my responsibility you ask?

We the Fire Service have to stay informed. This means that you have to be well traveled. Part of the problem we have in the fire service is that of the old culture. That is folks don’t want to learn what happened elsewhere, they think that it doesn’t apply to them. Well the same problems and issues are across the nation both in rural small volunteer fire departments to large metropolitan departments. Most fire service members have no clue what is going on in the federal, state or local government that will affect them. We are slow as a profession to accept anything from the outside world. The most under used resource in the fire service is the National Fire Academy (NFA). If folks haven’t noticed, most Fire Chief job advertisements require the candidate be a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) program from the NFA. I recently had a chief officer tell me that he had spoken to a few people and they said the NFA was over rated. Well, I guess those folks are like a lot of others…NOT INFORMED!

We the Fire Service must get involved. We must unite the entire fire service for the common goals. To do this we need fire service leaders to step up and take an active role in fire service organizations. One of the best ways to make change to the culture is through training. A great organization to get involved with if you like training is the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). By the way, if you are an officer let me remind you are an instructor, whether certified or not, you still have an obligation to teach! Taking this to another focus, just how many of you are really involved in your department? Leading and making efforts to make change or are you sitting around on your hands looking to see who else is going to do it saying… “That’s not my job!” Well guess what, if you are doing this, it is your job as a fire service member and especially as an officer.

We the Fire Service have to humble ourselves and serve others. Our job is to serve our customers both internal and external any way possible. President Kennedy in his campaign said “Ask not what the country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country”. I think it is time we as fire service leaders and members followed this. I am saying to you, “Ask not what your department or the fire service can do for you, but what you can do for your department and the fire service.”

This really drives me to focus on the topic "What Do These Bugles Really Mean". 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 and officers. The future of the fire service is in your hands. Will you be satisfied with mediocrity and status quo saying, “well this is just the way it is here” or will you take the proactive approach and realize that today’s fire service has changed, change is inevitable and if we don’t change we die on the vine a slow death before we even know it.

We The Fire Service…you are a part of this great profession. What are you going to do to make a difference?

That Last Goodbye

Donald W. McDowell, 71, of Woodhull, died Friday, January 29, 2010, in his home.

Don was my chief and my mentor. He was responsible for unleashing this passion of mine for the fire service. Don served on the department for 16 years and I had the privilege of serving with him for the last half of those years.

By some standards, 16 years might not seem like many, but they were very productive and fruitful for the department during that time.

You see; I can only speculate on what the department meant to Don. He didn’t talk about it. He just went out and did it. I believe that it was simple for Don, in that he was one of those people who felt that any able-bodied man should help their fire department. Only he knows his reasons.

However; I CAN tell you what Don meant to the fire department.

Back then-and I am talking about the 70-80s-firefighting and training for it consisted of learning how to operate the pump and man a hose. Protective clothing was optional. If you look at old pictures, rarely would you see our firefighters in full gear. SCBAs were for sissies and training was done “in house”.

So, Don went about it with little vibrato, but he didn’t do it quietly either. Most of the time, Don spoke as if there was a freight train going through the room. In other words, he yelled a lot. He was one of those gems who thought that by yelling, he could penetrate some very thick skulls.
Continue Reading That Last Goodbye

He was willing to show you how to do something and if you weren’t real sharp like me, he’d show you again. Where Don had little patience was with those who didn’t pay attention. You learned something at his pace; not your’s.

In my eyes, Don was a giant and also very strong. Forcible entry was Don putting his shoulder to the door! His hands were the size of baseball mitts. His temper was legendary; I had heard many of the stories by the time I joined the department. I figured at some point, Don would grind me into worm food, because without too much effort, I could incite guys like him, for some strange reason. Most likely, it was because I didn’t know when to shut up!

But, the craziest thing happened. Don took me under his massive wing. Where he went, I went. If he went in, I went in. I always felt safe with Don. I think that he was more forgiving of me, because he knew that we both wanted a better fire department.

And under his leadership, we became better equipped and better trained.

He took a large group of us to fire school in Sherrard in the early 80s; something unheard of for our department. From there, several of us went on to become state-certified firefighters.

At the same time, his wife Sandy was resurrecting the women’s auxiliary to help raise money for better turnout gear, portable radios and ultimately, our very first set of hydraulic rescue tools. He was chief at the time we took over extrication from the ambulance service.

Simply put, Don raised the bar. He was one of the most unselfish men that I have ever known.

His time with the fire department cannot be measured in years, but in hours; the countless hours that he put in. One only needs to walk into the meeting room to know a little about Don. He designed it and led the effort to build it; all with donated labor.

There is another measure of a good leader and that is leaving it better than you found it.

And if you ask anyone who served with Chief Don McDowell, they will tell you to a man that Don left it much better and that he put it on a path that is still followed today.

I want to thank his family for sharing him with us and for the sacrifices that were made.

I hope that the sorrow for our loss is tempered with feelings of pride from knowing that Don truly made a difference and left an impact upon our fire department, our community, fire district and those around us.

See you later, Don.
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