Saturday, May 29, 2010

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, as does your training and level of skills.

What defines you; as a firefighter, an officer, commander or instructor?

Where and how do you fit in?

From Waldbaum’s to Hackensack- Worcester to Charleston; Legacies for Operational Safety

I still find it surprising during my travels around the country lecturing and presenting programs on building construction, that when the audience was asked, “What do the Walbaum’s Fire and Hackensack fire share in common?”, the response typically were blank stares. The more seasoned and experienced veterans (translation; Older firefighters) when present, were able to convey some information on the subject. But yet, the true essence of the basic incident particulars and the lessons learned fail to be fully conveyed. We’re not remembering the past!

I’ve spoken on numerous occasions about History Repeating Events (HRE), and the common themes related to LODD. Events that resonate with common issues, apparent and contributing causes and operational factors that share legacy issues that the fire service fails to identify, relate to and implement. In other words, we fail a times to learn from the past, or we make a deliberate choice to ignore those lessons due to other internal or external influences, pressures, authority, beliefs, values or viewpoints. We make choices and we determine our direction, path and destiny.

When you look over these LODD events over the years (NIOSH, NFPA, USFA Reports), it doesn’t take long to identify that many LODD events share similarities, and that specific incident events, deficiencies, outcomes and recommendations are identical in every way, except for the fire department name and geographical location. In other words, we have History Repeating Events (HRE).

What have we learned from the past? What is it that we’re passing down to each incoming recruit class and probationary firefighter? What are Company and Commanding Officers recalling and considering in their dynamic risk assessment, size-up and decision-making (IAP) process when looking at a particular building, occupancy and fire? Are mission critical operational elements & HRE factors being recollected? (Naturalistic/ Recognition-Prime Decision-making).

Are the fire service legacies of the past and the lessons learned from those incidents and the sacrifices that were made transcending time? Or are they lost in the immediacy of day to day challenges, issues and operations. Or are these events, lessons and operations issues dismissed and disregarded as a result of their “time and place” not being relevant to “today’s” operations and modern fire service advancements.

The reality is, we, the present generation of veteran firefighters and officers at times neglect or fail to recognize the importance of passing along the lessons of our life’s journey through our fire service careers, the events of our day and the profound tough lessons and sacrifices learned the hard way. We sometimes need a receptive, sympathetic and compassionate audience that is willing to listen, hear and comprehend the messages conveyed. There needs to be a high degree of empathy related to these past History Repeating Events. For each event, each and every line of duty death has a message and a Legacy of Operational Safety.

Throughout the past thirty-three years (1977-2010), over 4,000 firefighters have lost their lives in the course and conduct of their duties as firefighters and officers within the fire service. Although there are numerous LODD fire incidents and events that could be discussed, all distinguished and exemplified by heroism, nobility, cause and fortitude. There are four that stand out when related to the lessons learned and the significance and impact each LODD incident had at the time to the national fire service.

Each of these incidents also have significance as they relate to the building, occupancy, use, construction features, inherent structural systems, fire behavior and fire dynamics; coupled with interrelated elements of strategic and tactical fire suppression operations and incident management .

Again, “Building Knowledge=Firefighter Safety”. Check out the expanded article post HERE at

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Could We Have ‘Dunmore’?

Voters in Dunmore, Pennsylvania have spoken (

With a ‘no’ vote on a referendum to increase taxes to fund the fire department; you would wonder what factors determined the vote outcome and what lies ahead for the future of fire service to the town of Dunmore.

Does it appear that there is a public backlash occurring with the fire department?

What has been the relationship between the town and its firefighters?

Are there concerns by the voters that money earmarked for fire department purchases have not been spent wisely?

Were the voters expecting to see current services maintained with the failure of the referendum?

Was it clearly communicated that, without passage of the referendum, cuts would have to be made?

Did a misconception exist that services would come from other communities in order to maintain current levels of service?

Did the public understand exactly what a mutual aid agreement covers?

When fire departments get involved with referendums for whatever reasons, they are immediately invested at an emotional level. In my opinion the reason is simple; firefighters are passionate about what they do for their community and want their community to be just as passionate as they are.

The reality is that many in the community have no sense for what motivates their firefighters, because those issues are transparent to them.

On a typical day, firefighters won’t show outward or public emotion, believing that it is a sign of weakness and unprofessional. It is for this reason that I feel that the public will reject this uncommon display of emotion as ‘gamesmanship’ by the fire department to instill fear in their citizens and that will detract from any need-real or perceived.

The relationship, if one has been established between a fire department and their community, is very important.

People might see their firefighters in their fire department roles, but they must also see that firefighters share many of the same social and economic morays as they do.

Voters want to see firefighters as productive citizens in their communities, whether it is at sporting events, church or other civic/community events. They don’t want to see their firefighters in trouble with the law or with their mortgage lender.

Some may expect a higher moral code for their firefighters, but not a higher level of entitlement.

In other words; citizens expect firefighters to BE better, but will not treat them as ‘better’. And if firefighters have been given preferential treatment-real or perceived-then backlash will also occur.

Open houses at the fire station are a key to establishing need for equipment and justification for its purchase. Having recently, purchased equipment on display with firefighters ready to answer questions is the best response to questions of spending practices.

The public needs to know that their tax money is going for needed equipment and that fundraiser and donations will be used to raise money for additional equipment and items from a ‘wish list’.

However; holding fundraisers and then showing up in new fire department logo clothing such as polo shirts, coats and hats can send the wrong message, even if members personally paid for the clothing. This is an example of bad timing that gives the appearance of impropriety that could lead to public apathy towards the fire department. In this case, much will be made about it and the department will find itself defending themselves from misguided public perception because of a lack of communication.

Many small departments see very few structural fires and have more than likely expanded services to include vehicle extrication and first response to medical calls, even though taxes have only been collected for fire protection. Unless the fire department is charging non-residents, then more than likely, revenue has not kept pace with expenditures.

Residents will often miss the more subtle calls and will only notice that there aren’t many fires, which in their minds, means that there isn’t as much of a need to fund fire protection beyond current levels or quite possibly, reducing it.

Do we establish a sense of betrayal with our public when they discover the costs that allow firefighters to pursue their dream for the best job in the world?

If firefighters project an uncommon passion for their occupation, does it somehow create an expectation by the public that we would do it for nothing or very little?

Do they take us at our word that we will continue to serve no matter how tough things get?

Getting assistance from neighboring communities in the form of mutual aid has always been the answer in towns where the event grew to larger than local resources could manage. Mutual aid was never intended as a ‘stop gap’ measure for budget constraints.

‘Mutual’ means that there is an expectation that reciprocity of effort is shared by communities and that mutually benefits the area.

In my opinion, you are going to see fire departments offer services on a contract basis to communities who are making cuts in programs.

At the very least, you may see departments voiding MA agreements and in turn, billing for services.

Regardless; neighboring communities will not allow the expense of their services to increase as their neighbors decrease and relying on mutual aid to fill that gap.

It might very well create feelings of protectionism and isolationism that is reminiscent of the 1950s.

A few months ago, Mike Ward asked if the fire service was the next ‘tea party’.

I will ask, “Could we have ‘Dunmore’?”


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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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Building-Occupancy Relationship: Are you In-Tune or in Need of a Tune-Up?

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

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

Have any clue on the performance of Engineered Structural Systems….? Are your strategic plans and tactics aligned with Occupancy Risk and Building Performance Profiles AND the projected fire load/heat release rate? When was the last time you studied up on fire dynamics, extreme fire behavior related to fire suppression theory? Are you in-tune with the most recent theories, practices and reseach or do you need to major tune-up?

If you think these factors are not important OR you dismiss them as being non-material-think again; They are Mission Critical for firefighter safety and incident mitigation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Experience Leadership

Often in my travels and teaching I am asked by young officers and aspiring officers what it takes to be a good leader or how to become a good leader. I usually respond to that question with a question “What do you think it takes to become a good leader?”
Most respond with the typical answers; knowledgeable, fair, hardworking, etc. Well those are good traits, but let’s dig a little deeper into the meat of leadership and where it begins. Let’s start by replacing leadership confusion with leadership courage. This piece of advice was given to me a long time ago by Chief John R. Leahy Jr. (retired). It took me many years and a few more good mentors to figure out exactly what this truly meant. But I finally got it and it was not all that hard. So let’s focus on replacing leadership confusion with leadership courage.

Don’t’ let your fear confuse the Department’s plan.
I can remember a time when my efforts were focused on myself and trying to be the best I could be. Many young officers or aspiring officers get caught up in this drama. They believe that the better they become the better they will be as a leader. There is some truth in this statement, but the meat of being a good officer is much more than having numerous certifications and qualities. You must balance these good components with the courage to believe and support the department and its mission. Finding out the hard way that I could possess many good traits and qualities was not the total answer. In fact it was the smallest portion of the equation. After several years of floundering I finally learned that the most important component in being a leader at any level is being on board and supporting the efforts of the organization. So often I see departments with individuals who are constantly rowing against the Fire Chief, trying to go in other directions rather than the pathway set out by this individual as they try to fulfill the mission. Our fear creates conflict in our lives. The fear is of many things, mostly of change.

The business world is a place of constant change. The fire service is part of the business world whether individuals want to believe it or not. I will guarantee that if you look at any department across the world it is run some what like a business. There are budgets, personnel issues, accounts payable and accounts receivable. If that is not a business I am not real sure what else it could be. So with a fire department being a “business” we should expect constant change. If you look across the United States fire departments are faced with stories of mergers, layoffs and restructuring every day. No matter the scale, when these kinds of changes hit the work place, the literal, situational shifts are often not as difficult for individuals to work through as the psychological transitions that accompany the change. As organizational transitions occur they affect people. These are the individuals who have to embrace a new situation and carry out corresponding change. Leaders find themselves in roles of having to sell these changes.

Don’t let Your Confusion, Cause You to Miss the Department’s Goals and the Mission.
Fire Departments across the United States have Mission Statements and leader philosophies posted throughout the fire stations. But walk in and ask a firefighter, or even better a fire officer, what their mission statement says and I will bet that they can’t tell you, much less live it. As a leader you must follow suit with the philosophies set forth by the fire chief. Generally these goals and philosophies have an end result in mind. However, with our disciplined attention to detail to focus on the mission, the end results all too often fall short of the goals. As a young leader, have the courage to embrace the leadership philosophies. For a while you are guaranteed to receive ridicule and be called a few choice names. However in the long run you will find that you will become well respected for your consistency and diligence by most.

Don’t Let Your Confusion Influence Your Obedience.
With any successful department comes a strong vision. This vision is generally set forth by the fire chief. As a young or aspiring officer you must embrace that vision. Think about it: if the leader has no idea what the organization is to become, he or she cannot expect the people to know. No vision causes misalignment and confusion among the members of the organization. Not supporting that vision is just as detrimental to the organization and your leadership ability.

Vision is in direct proportion to accomplishment. The more you envision, the more that can be accomplished. I know by now you are saying this is not how it works! Well, I used to think that as well. I used to see my vision instead of the department’s vision. End result was a catastrophic failure personally and a drag line slowing the organization down.

Have the courage to obey leadership and the mission. These folks are probably not as stupid as you want to believe. There are many factors that play into the formula that you may not be privileged to know or even understand. Again fighting, questioning or rowing against the forward progression can result in a delayed or failed mission.

If you are beginning to see the light as a young or aspiring officer or you are an officer who is trying desperately to mentor a young counterpart, you may be asking your- self , “What do I do now?” Well it is as simple as 1, 2, 3.

1. Refocus on the department and the mission – Begin by putting the department first. As you do this and the success of the department occurs you will see that your success increases proportionally. By being diligently focused on being a team player in leadership you will see that you will develop good qualities and traits. Most of all you will gain respect as you have the whole at heart rather than you as an individual.

2. Release a Gift – Each individual has a gift to give. It is the desire to share that gift that doesn’t always exist. Start thinking of the department more than yourself. By devoting your talents to the department and others you will reap the rewards. Ask not what the department can do for you, but what you can do for the department is a good philosophy to follow.

3. Reach out to everyone – Your ability to help others supports the true mission of the fire service To Protect and Serve.

By taking responsibility for your actions and taking some of the heat off of the team, the department will be able to excel to great level. Most important you are part of the solution, not part of the problem that leads to failure.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tough Guy Don’t Cry…Yeah, Right!

I made it through a pretty rambunctious childhood, 13 knee surgeries, a major bacterial infection, had my heart broken a time or two and saw plenty of fire, death and destruction in the 22 years that I served as a firefighter and EMT.

I didn’t want to simply “put the fire out”; I wanted to kick its butt-to give some back for the times it kicked mine.

I wanted every medical call to be a “save”. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

But, I was sure that I had developed a mental and physical toughness. I could be compassionate without showing emotion. I was trained to project a calm, outward demeanor by some of the best leaders in the fire service.

I can tell my stories, provide details as deep as you would want to go and do so with boyish enthusiasm. I don’t get emotional, but I am passionate when I talk about it.

There was one accident call that rocked my world!

It was in the summer of 1995. By then, I had led the effort at hundreds of MVAs. Many of them had fatalities-multiple fatalities. I was unfazed. I never suffered nightmares. Maybe I was “programmed” differently. Maybe my “processor” was bigger; I don’t know.

But, that 2-vehicle, head-on collision on Saw Mill Hill in the summer of 1995 put me into a momentary spin after we had cleared the call and I had gone home.

It was a Saturday. I remember that it was mid-afternoon and temperatures were in the 90s.

My pager tones dropped and we were being dispatched for mutual aid to a vehicle accident on a state route west and south of us.

The host fire department was there directing traffic and had removed the passenger from the large, luxury car and two passengers from the compact car.

Drivers-both deceased-were pinned in their vehicles, which is why we were called. We had the equipment to get them out.

First, I looked into the small car. The driver had the car’s engine pressing against him, making for a very tough extrication.

I went to the big car. The elderly male driver was pinned against the steering wheel and his left foot was under the brake pedal. No air bags.

I decided that we would take the big car first.

We cut the seat retractor and the seat could be moved. Without thinking, I told a new guy to grab the left foot and “untangle” it from the brake pedal. As soon as he bent down and saw the protruding ankle bones, he completely freaked out. I put a hand on his shoulder, gave him my clipboard and asked him to collect vehicle information and to assist the police officer with insurance cards and such. I had a veteran take care of the entanglement issue.

Then, we went to the compact car to extricate the young male driver.

His lower body was pinned by dashboard and motor. His legs were bent so far under him that his knee joints snapped, exposing bones and interior views of the joints. Imagine getting hit from behind in the lower legs by someone big and then getting hit in the chest from the front by someone big at the same time. These were the physical forces at play here. Inertia, gravity and mechanical stress points all met at once.

To continue; his upper body was between the front, bucket seats and laying in the back, right floorboard, where his wounds had bled profusely. There was a standing pool of blood in the floorboard that was attracting flies. The smell was one that you never forget and that is all that I will say about that. Needless to say, the smell and the flies were taking their toll on my guys.

We worked for about 40 minutes; pushing, pulling, prying, cutting and cussing. At the peak of the operation, I looked up and an adult male with a young child was trying to get close to take a look. I went towards him like I had been shot from a cannon, but kept my cool.

I said, “Sir; you do NOT want to see this. Go back to your house.”

We wound up taking the victim out the passenger side after removing the passenger seat. To spare the gawkers, we used blankets to shield our activities from public view.

After we loaded the body into the coroner’s van, I got my guys together and told them of the great job that they had done and how very proud I was of them.

After we got back to the station, completed our inventory and equipment checks, I went home.

Instead of going into the house, I walked around to our patio and sat down.

And then I cried…hard.


Because I had a son, who, at the time was the same age as the three in the small car. They had JUST graduated from high school JUST like my son, were enjoying the summer JUST like my son and the driver and one of his friends were dead. I kept thinking about the devastation that this accident would cause to parents, families and friends and how, on any given day, it could be my son and my family struggling with this horrific heartache and it made my heart ache and I cried and cried.

I felt like I had this one shot to drain my being of all of the emotional liability that could cause these moments and I had to get it all out of my system for fear of it returning at a most inopportune time.

I kept thinking about how we had in one car an elderly couple, perhaps pillars in their communities who had the opportunity to build their lives, their families and their communities and to lay a foundation and a legacy for future generations. And then; in the other car, you had three kids, who, at eighteen were just starting a new chapter in their lives, only to have it shattered by a distraction enroot to a terrible vehicle crash. Their potential contributions to human kind were destroyed in a matter of seconds. And I cried.

My wife must have seen my vehicle from the kitchen window, found me on the patio, came out and sat down without saying a word, because she knew that it was better to let me say something first. She knew instinctively of those times and this was one of them.

We talked and we cried together until it got dark.

And that was the last time that I was affected like that.

But, it was also the last time that I wore “tough guy” on my sleeve!

Tell your stories, boys and girls. It’s liberating for you and educational for those who read it.


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

Friday, May 14, 2010

Getting to the “Right” Place

How is it that we have no fear of going into a burning building, entering swift water to rescue a victim, rappel down a 200-foot cliff or go out in bad weather to spot tornadoes and yet; when an opportunity comes along that has life-changing potential, we are too scared to seize the moment?

Did any of you have a master plan for how your life would go?

I know many firefighters who planned on it from when they were very young, so for them; did you plan on becoming an officer?

Was your goal ever to rotate off shift to an administrative position working Monday through Friday?

Or, were you planning to rotate to another station house?

When the decision is made to “stay where you’re at”, is it because you have grown comfortable there?

Is it because there would be too much upheaval to change it?

Are we concerned with how the change would affect the ones around us?

Or, are we looking for an excuse, so that we won’t have to confront our own fear of change?

Many of you who follow my “stuff” know that I don’t ask questions for the sake of discussions. I don’t ask if I already know the answer…most of the time!

No; I ask because I want to know the answer and to learn.

What impediments do we put in front of ourselves that denies us the opportunity to further our success and when we do, is that in effect, failure?

We know that we don’t like failure, but what is it called when we don’t challenge ourselves to reach new heights and simply show up and “do our jobs”.

There isn’t a more challenging occupation than firefighting.

Well-planned pre-plans can quickly turn into ad hoc chaos in a New York minute and we have to rise to the challenge and live to tell about it. We are so focused on our tasks that we don’t have time to be scared and it begs many questions.

When does training become skill?

When does work performance become experience?

When does knowledge become wisdom?

When does student become teacher?

When does craftsmanship become leadership?

When does change become essential to our personal growth?

My spiritual advisor-Baziman-did not pose these questions to me. Rather, he asked me other, more introspective questions and made some personal observations of me that led me to ask those questions.

Not only am I asking them of my readers, but I am also asking them for myself.

Though we may not get together, I want us to get to the same place.

Do you hear me, Baziman?

I HAVE to ask questions to get to my answers.

More specifically, I have to ask the RIGHT questions to get the RIGHT answers.

I have constructed incident pre-plans in meticulous fashion, leaving no doubt and little to chance.

I have lived much of my life in “ad hoc chaos” and though it has made my journey through this life exciting and adventurous, it has lacked a certain fulfillment.

Now, I am on a new mission; a new pathway that has already revealed that I stand in the way of me!

I am not going to go back and take a more cautious route.

No; I am going to remove the obstacles and continue my journey. Hosting FirefighterNetcast isn’t a beginning or an end. It is but a destination along the way.

Baziman will be my wing man, my GPS and co-pilot.

And we will split the gas!


The article is written and submitted by Art Goodrich aka ChiefReason. It is submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form without the expressed and written permission of the author.

Please visit: and my blog

Monday, May 10, 2010

Person of Convictions or Convicted Person?

Allowing convicted felons to serve on a fire department is not a moral/ethical question, but is one of legal liability. Beyond that, it raises serious issues with public trust.

Do we have no more regard for the public that we are sworn to protect that we would knowingly unleash a criminal with a key to the city?

Have we no more respect for the law-abiding members of the fire department that we would force them to act in concert with someone with known criminal tendencies?

Is it worth the potential legal problems from a failed, sociological experiment?

As a trustee for a fire district, I can tell you that the answer to all of the above is a resounding “NO”!

Every fire department should have a “Code of Ethics” that every prospective member should know before they join and would agree to follow if hired.

It goes without saying that current or active members would be guided by the same code of ethics.

If a prospective member has a criminal past, the code has already been violated. There are no second chances. A criminal past cannot be “undone”. Criminals cannot “take it back”, call a “do-over” or pretend that they were young and foolish and made a “mistake”. Breaking the law is not a mistake; it is a crime!

Most reasonable people are driven by the values that were instilled in them by a parent(s), their schools, churches and communities and are re-inforced by the laws of the land.

Though it is not intrusive to a civilized society; for those willing to break laws for personal gain, the laws are designed to discourage any thought of committing a crime by outlining the punishments if you do.

For those who perpetrate a criminal act, it is understood that they need to become gainfully employed once released from prison, but NOT in a public safety position in the public sector.

The private sector is better suited for a criminal assimilating back to Society.

It should be noted that, in my opinion, convicted felons are NOT starting a “new” life. They are resuming their lives with one strike against them.

I realize that you pay for your crime once, but you suffer the cost for the rest of your life-as it should be.

It is the fire department’s “Code of Ethics” that reminds a community that they will be served by the most ethical public servants that can be found and will be uncompromising with this mission.

Codes will not be ignored and rules will not be bent or broken.

Violations of the “Code of Ethics” will result in dismissal with cause.

Following are examples of verbiage often included in a “Code of Ethics” document:

• We will respect ourselves and the public that we represent and serve.
• We recognize that our position as a public servant is a privilege.
• The Public Interest will always be placed before individual, group or special interests.
• We will not discriminate and will work to prevent and to eliminate discrimination where it exists.
• We will accept “thank yous” and gestures of gratitude ONLY and will accept charitable donations in the spirit in which they are given.
• We will not display negative or rude behavior towards the public.
• We will not use our position of trust for personal gain.
• We will always protect the confidentiality of our public’s information.
• No drugs (legal) or alcohol will be consumed while on duty. When off-duty, at least eight (8) hours must pass after drugs (legal) or alcohol has been consumed before a member can respond to a call or callback.
• Statements concerning the fire department will be issued through the Public Information Officer. Personal opinions shall be identified as such.

Keep in mind that it is a “Code of Ethics” and it does not take the place of pre-employment questionnaires, employment applications, criminal background checks or employment contracts. Having members recite a code of ethics may deepen and strengthen their commitment to them.

“Employment” is to be construed as career OR volunteer.

A volunteer fire department can be charged with negligent hiring in the same way a municipality with a full time fire department can.

And I have been advised that “Tort Immunity” will not cover it nor is there insurance for it. You pay cash if negligent hiring can be proven.

If that isn’t enough to discourage you from hiring people who have already proven that they cannot conduct themselves within the confines of the rule of law, then I don’t know what will.

Maybe, some of you weren’t cut out to be trustees.


You probably thought that allowing the fire department to “elect” their members gets you off the hook?

Wrong again!

Under the law, you cannot abdicate any of your legally, sworn duties. Allowing the fire department to choose their members is, in fact, “hiring” them. And trustees “approve”, even if they are not directly involved with the decision.

Here, the fire department personnel committee makes the recommendation for a new member and the trustees approve it. Then, the probationary period starts. Once they make it through probation, they are “retained” and approved by the trustees.

But, be sure to use that argument in court: Well, your Honor; the fire department put him on the department. We had nothing to do with it.

Judge: And that’s exactly why you’re here! Get your checkbook out.

So; you might want to re-think that whole second chance mentality; at least where you claim to have the best interests of the public in mind.


The article written by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella is protected by federal copyright law. It cannot be re-produced in any form with the expressed and written permission of the author.
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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Putting the Trust in Trustee

As some of you know, I became a trustee for our fire district after having a fulfilling, active career as a volunteer firefighter.

I haven’t written many blogs from a trustee’s perspective, because I doubt that there are many trustees in my audience.

Over the years, I have been contacted by many firefighters who were having problems with their governing bodies. I have offered a diverse range of opinions, due to having been on both sides of the fence. I cannot recall a single instance where I was contacted by a trustee for advice.

I am self-effacing as a trustee, because I still have a firefighter’s passion. I still get jacked up when the guys are talking about a recent call.

I go to their training sessions to stay current with the skill sets.

I go to meetings in case they have questions. The “old” trustees didn’t like coming to our meetings and hated answering questions even more than going to meetings.

Though I might look like I am out front; in reality, I don’t get involved unless I am asked or unless there is slow progress towards a resolution.

In other words; I take what they give me.

I had MY time. Now; it’s THEIR time.

I am not, nor will I ever be your typical trustee.

You know the type. The typical trustee has never served on a fire department, but is “good with a check book”.

The typical trustee knows the color of a fire truck, but they know the color of money even better. But, you don’t spend it; you save it.

With the typical trustee, the most often, uttered reply will be, “We don’t have the money for that”. Second on the list will be, “Do you REALLY need that?”

Believe me; I was well-schooled on the “resistance fighters” known as our trustees. The fire department and I, as their leader, was the enemy, because we were always trying to take “their” money.

Though we were constantly denied money for much needed equipment, our trustees wouldn’t apply for grants, they wouldn’t increase the taxing rate, didn’t seek a referendum to increase taxes or look at viable alternative revenue streams, such as charging out-of-district users.

I literally had to take them on in order for our department to respond to calls on the interstate highway that runs through our district. They “got it” once they were told by our attorney that we could be sued and they ALWAYS followed the attorney’s advice-right or wrong.

That was in 1989. In 1990, they finally agreed to out-of-district charges; a flat rate of one hundred dollars.

The acrimony continued until we changed the process appointing them to having them elected.

A new era of hope and change arrived for our department.

Though we still have a dust up from time to time, anyone familiar with the “old days” can tell you how much better it is today.

Dealing with fire district issues as a chief in the “old days” made me better. I became more resourceful, more diplomatic and more determined to improve all aspects of our business; from communication to funding levels.

I did not want the department’s attention diverted from their mission to provide fire protection.

I made them a promise when I became a trustee. It was not an empty promise and I have kept my promise to them and our fire district residents.

When we take a vote, we have enough discussion to have a clear understanding of what we are voting on, so most of the time, the vote is unanimous.

My advice to fire department officers who interact with their fire boards is to remain respectful, diligent, patient and knowledgeable of the laws that govern the fire service.

Yelling only increases the temperature of the room.

You can keep your fire board engaged without them feeling threatened and you can do so without compromising your principles.

Communication is the key and any impediment to good communication must be removed.

There are many legal pitfalls for governing bodies. Fire districts should temper everything that they do with a proper legal review.

Too often, trustees are afraid of legal liabilities and choose to do nothing.

It is just as important for a trustee to continue their education as it is for firefighters.

Trustees who are unwilling to improve their trustee skills are just like firefighters who don’t want to train; NEITHER has any business being a member of their fire department or fire district board of trustees.

In a nutshell; trustees should be leaders too!


The article written by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella is protected by federal copyright law. It cannot be re-produced in any form with the expressed and written permission of the author.
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Monday, May 3, 2010

Speak Well: Make the Right Impression

People have perceptions of organizations. So how do these perceptions get developed? Where do those impressions come from? They are almost entirely formulated from how they are spoken to by the people of that organization. As far as our customers are concerned, the people with whom they interact, usually the fire company, are the organization.

It baffles me that it seems to be such a difficult task for personnel to speak kindly, respectfully, without sarcasm and with a helpful focus. So how can we explain why people get treated in such a negative way? Why would we risk making a bad impression for the organization by choosing the wrong words or by employing the wrong tone?

I have often listened to other fire service colleagues continuously spit out negative verbiage about their fellow brothers and sisters. It goes further to speak negatively about the customers they serve. They even speak badly about the people, the organization and the job! So what is up with this? Do they understand the demising affect they are having?

Individuals are personally accountable for their actions, but the organization plays a role in all this too. As an officer ignoring the issue is ignoring your role as a leader. Many of our people today are making this mistake. It has a detrimental affect on the organization. There are three areas that must be addressed by outstanding organizations if they want to maintain and enhance the public view of them.

1. Set the Standard: Outstanding organizations have standards on how their personnel interact with all customers. This starts internally as managers speak to their staff. The show of respect, kindness to colleagues will carry over to the public. Discourteous, demeaning or dismissive behavior can not be tolerated.

2. Hiring the Right Personnel: We need to stop putting people with poor relationship skills, no manners or total lack of empathy in service positions. Especially if these are individuals whom will be in leadership positions as well. You should recruit, educate and train individuals who make people they come in contact with feel like they are different.

3. Training and Coaching Properly: Speaking to people in the right way is a skill that can be learned. We need to take every teachable moment and capitalize on them.

Now matter how we see ourselves as an organization it is how others see us that really matters. How we speak to them is what tells them whether or not they are important. It further states whether we are outstanding or not. Your words may have a much larger impact than you think.

Here is they challenge...make sure your speak well of the organization, the job and the personnel. Make sure we speak well to all of our customers and make the right impression. Officers this is part of what you should be doing every day!
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