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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Are Your Plans For 2012?

2012 is just around the corner.

If you haven't already made plans for the new year, then you'd better start now.

I am speaking to volunteer fire departments.

Have you made plans to recruit, then retain new members?

There are people in your communities who are sitting on the fence. They want to get involved in their community in some way. Do you know who they are and have you reached out to them?

The days of having potential members walk through the door to proclaim that they want to join appear to be over. What is your plan to go out into your community and actively recruit new members?

What is your plan to keep the older members interested and active?

If you have a department where the older guys step back and watch, then you are a department that is operating no where near full strength. Remember that "complacency kills".

Are you sure that you are an organization that others WANT to join?

Do you have leaders that command and control and follow chain of command? If so, is it so transparent as to be non-existent? An absence of leadership is not transparency of leadership.

Does your community know what you do? If they don't, then how do you expect to fund your fire department?

Do you contact the local press when you have scheduled events, such as training, fundraisers or open houses? A picture accompanied by a thousand words is priceless.

Do you take advantage of nearby training facilities? Are your training officers meeting/exceeding expectations or are they just repeating last year's training schedule?

The majority of communities in this nation rely on volunteers to deliver their fire protection. It is more important than ever to know the buildings in your community and to have pre-plans. If you don't know; small departments do not get a "pass" if they are engaged in tasks that are covered under the national standards.

If you have SOGs, then it is time to review and to update them. If you don't have SOGs, then you need to start writing them. If you ever get questioned on your response protocols, such as in a court of law; your answer had better not be "we don't have SOGs".

Is your equipment up to date? Do you have the equipment for the services that you provide? If not, then why not?

There are no excuses if you haven't been reviewing your tax base or applying for grants. You have to remember that NFPA standards, NIOSH and OSHA  standards will be cited in the aforementioned court of law. And if your equipment is not up to standards, then money that you would use to purchase or upgrade will instead go towards paying a hefty fine!

Career departments are being decimated by budget cuts. Lack of manpower is reaching the "danger zone". Volunteer departments may have to constrict as well, if the taxpayers believe that they are already paying enough.

And when I say “constrict”, I mean partnering with a nearby department and eliminating redundancy of services. For instance; if your department doesn’t have a full complement of trench rescue tools, then consider establishing an area-wide rescue team. Pool your tools and stow them in a trailer at the department that is central to your response area. At the very least, know who has what and call for their assistance when need be. Know your strengths as well as your limitations.

Communities will not be inclined to increase funding, if you do nothing more than to show up and keep exposures wet while the structure on fire collapses into the basement. Fire investigators get very testy when you leave them with nothing to investigate.

That takes me right back to having SOGs that includes automatic mutual aid. You might have to give up your "fiefdom" and get a department nearest to the call rolling first. You have to remember that lives and property are at stake. Don't jeopardize either simply because it is in your fire district and it's "your" call.

If you are already a good department, then plan to get better.

From there you can achieve excellence and THAT will draw new members and it will remind the older guys of the reason that they joined in the first place.

Plan to break out in 2012.

The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas and the Six Year Old

My wife and I were at the mall finishing up our Christmas shopping and taking in the sights of the holiday season.
There were grade schoolers singing Christmas songs or I assumed that they were. I couldn't hear them over the Christmas music blaring over the mall's speakers.
There were dancing sugar plum fairies. Check that; it was mall cops chasing another shoplifter.
Everyone was in the Christmas spirit. Some could be heard complaining about how crowded it was. Others were busy texting and bumping into shoppers; sending out Christmas messages to their entire contact list, I would guess. Older patrons, unable to keep up with the Christmas spirit, were snoozing on the plush, wooden mall benches. Mall housekeeping staff was standing at the ready to swab up any wayward drool.
"Excuse me" was answered with "screw you". Ah; tis the season!
I was done with my shopping and my fake knees were in need of a rest, so I told my wife that I was going to sit at center court, while she continued on. She is one who likes to look at merchandise, obsess over making a poor choice and would then purchase a gift card instead.
Besides; from my vantage point at center court, I could scope out the shoppers decked to the halls in their Christmas sweat pants with matching (?) NFL logo sweatshirt. Some would at least have the decency to accessorize with athletic shoes, while others chose hunting boots.
Yes; it's going to be a Larry the Cable Guy Christmas!
I pulled out my Mp3 player, set it on shuffle, put in my ear buds and cranked up the volume.
My eyes grew heavy from the sights, the sounds and the smells. Ah; the smells! Wait; the old guy sitting next to me just...nevermind.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and when I looked up, there was a pudgy little guy with silver hair and a beard to match looking at me and smiling.
I pulled an ear bud from my ear and said, 'How you doing?'
He replied, 'If you could have ONE wish for Christmas, what would it be?'
Thinking that there was a hidden camera, I answered, 'Peace on Earth.'
He let out a very robust laugh and said, 'No; this wish is for YOU and you alone. What would you like with but one wish?'
I replied, 'OK; just between you and me, I would like to be six years old and celebrating Christmas with Mom, Dad and my sisters again.'
The pudgy little fellow replied, 'That's an excellent wish. Close your eyes and it shall be!'
I said, 'Look; if you're after my wallet, I don't keep money in it.'
'Ho, ho, ho! No kind sir; I wish to grant you your wish!'
I closed my eyes.
It's 6:00 am on Christmas Day.
I run downstairs to the Christmas tree to see several, neatly wrapped presents around the tree. I looked over at the end table and the milk and cookies left for Santa are GONE!
I quietly ran back upstairs and told Connie and Dixie that Santa had been to our house. Donna, Joyce and Judy heard the commotion and yelled for me to get back in bed.
I did, but under protest. I was such a rebel, despite my young age!
The minutes seemed like hours. I couldn't stand it, knowing that Santa had been to MY house.
I'd jump out of bed, run to the stairway and back to bed, to and fro.
Finally, at 7:00 am, we all went downstairs.
Dad came out and said, 'It sounded like cattle coming down the stairs!'
Mom came out of the bedroom and was somewhat disheveled.
No; she was definitely disheveled!
I said, 'Since we are already up, can we open presents? PLLLLLEEEAAASSSEEE?'
Mom said, 'Well, we might as well, I suppose.'
Since Donna was the oldest, she had the honor of passing out the presents. First, Joyce; then, Judy; then, Dixie; then, Connie and finally, ME. Whew; for a minute there, I thought that I had been denied, because of an errant baseball that went through a neighbor's window during the summer. It wasn't exactly naughty, but it certainly wasn't nice!
The sisters were squealing with delight as they opened their presents. Dolls, clothing, costume jewelry and 45 rpm records abound.
Dad had put on a Christmas record by a guy named Glenn Miller to set the mood.
I opened my first present and it was a winter cap and mittens; not exactly something that I could play WITH…more like something to play IN.
OK; let's try another.
Socks and underwear? What the …
Mom and Dad were looking at each other and smiling. Something was going on.
Dad asked me, 'What's the matter?'
I was too busy pouting to hear him.
He said, 'Here; try this one.'
I opened it and couldn't believe my eyes. It was a big, yellow Tonka dump truck!
'Now, THIS was on my list', I proclaimed.
In my next present was a Ny-Lint flatbed trailer and semi-tractor. Sweet baby Jesus!
My last present was a Ny-Lint crane with a clam bucket that really worked! It wasn't on my list, but I didn't care anymore. I was too busy playing with my new toys to notice. Dad was proudly supervising. He knew something about driving trucks and running a crane. Sometimes, I got to sit on his lap when he ran the crane at the scrapyard, where he worked.
Mom was in the kitchen preparing the big Christmas meal; turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and scalloped corn. There were plates of cookies, divinity and fudge. It was in the Christmas candy that she made where she would put the nuts that we would gather every Fall.
The sweet smell of Christmas treats would overpower the smell from the coal furnace on this day!
After we ate, all of us kids would go outside and try unsuccessfully to build a snowman. Heck; we couldn't even make a SNOWBALL, but we didn't care. We got out the sleds and took turns pulling each other around the neighborhood. I guess the whole idea was to get wet and cold before we went back into the house, but I was SIX and impervious to the cold.
By early evening, I could barely keep my eyes open and would fall asleep on the floor, right next to my new toys.
Dad would pick me up and carry me to my bed. He would tuck me in and kiss me on the forehead without saying a word.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and when I looked up, I saw my wife with a curious look on her face.
I said, "How you doing?"
She said, "You were snoring."
"I wasn't asleep. I was...ah, nevermind. You wouldn't believe me anyway," I said rather dejectedly.
"No; you were definitely asleep and probably having one of your weird dreams," she insisted.
"Well, if I was dreaming, then it was sublime!" I exclaimed.
Just then, near the Hallmark store, I saw a pudgy little man with silver hair and a beard to match.
As I got near him, I said, "You probably get this all the time, but you look like"-
"Lyle; my name is Lyle. Excuse me, but I have to take this call," he said contritely.
If I had but one wish, I would wish that we could all be six years old just one more time and celebrating Christmas.
Now, when I think back, I believe that Santa used the "layaway" plan, so that families like mine could afford the gifts that we received.
And I think about how, in return, we MADE our gifts for Mom and Dad, who might not otherwise, had gotten any gifts.
I remember the joy on their faces and the love that was shared on Christmas Day and on all the days of the year.
Carry the joy and love every day of your lives.
And Merry Christmas.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article's author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. This article is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Extreme Makeover; Moline Illinois Edition

After watching the Moline budget talks being covered on local TV, in the local papers and listening on local talk radio, I am convinced that fire departments will NEVER win another battle against manpower cuts, as long as they insist on using the "more people will die" strategy.

And it's not because it isn't true, but it's because it is no longer getting the attention of the majority of their cities' residents. In today's selfish society, people don't care, as long as THEY aren't the ones dying.

It's the ones USING the service that is driving up cost for the rest of us, some will say.

Did you know that there are people in Tennessee who won't pay a lousy 75 bucks a year for fire protection, but will complain to the national news outlets when they don't get FREE service if their domicile catches fire?

It's true.

I thought that the area firefighters, supporters and particularly the firefighter union did a fantastic job of getting the information out. They didn't go overboard with the "more will die" message, but they mentioned it. What struck me was that when many mentioned the additional risk it would put on the firefighters, there was a palpable indifference by some on the city council. It was as if they were sitting there believing that taking such risks was a part of a Moline firefighter's job description and it a point. Cutting manpower and pushing the risk to those who remain is NOT acceptable risk and shame on the Moline city council if this is what they believe.

The city administrator wants the residents to believe that it is about the high cost of firefighter pensions. That's rubbish; something that they are willing to pay more for in regards to its removal.

"Special risk" pension plans were designed for two reasons: firefighters and cops. Benefits were enhanced to balance against a lower wage and it was thought at the time that people who rush into burning buildings and people who are shot at should receive compensation for the risks that they took to provide for the public's safety. To that, I say "AMEN".

The early retirement clauses were inserted, because of the many hazards bombarding public safety employees; both physical and mental.

So; what happened?

Well, from where I sit; the other unions representing non-public safety employees were lobbying the lawmakers in their states to include THEIR union members in the "special risk" plans, causing the pension payments to soar. It comes at a time when we are seeing "special risk" retirees going up and general pensioners' numbers decreasing. Again; this is my observation.

In addition; while the firefighters in my state were dutifully contributing their 9.5 percent into the pension plan, cities were deferring and delaying their share.

I swear; if the city "bosses"-i.e. city councils-ran businesses like they do their cities, they would have been sent packing before they even got their probationary periods served!

The role of government, first and foremost, is to provide for the public's safety. Everything after THAT should be on the table for debate.

As I look at my future retirement in the private sector, I wonder what is a fair retirement for public servants?

Look at Social Security. It has been said that public servants will not get Social Security, but I know of several firefighters who have "side jobs" or "side businesses" and unless it is a strictly cash basis, I would believe that they would be paying into Social Security.

And if they are paying into Social Security, then wouldn't seem likely that they could draw on it at some point? Or maybe, I am wrong.

In my case, when I become eligible for Social Security, it will be approximately at 20 percent of what I now make. But, if they keep raising the eligibility age, I might get ZERO percent, as I might be dead before I ever collect a dime.

My 401K might give me another couple hundred bucks a month, but then, there might be a rule by then, forcing a reduction in my Social Security or it will be taxed down to where I might have enough left to pay for a newspaper subscription.

Public pensions at 85 percent; it that too much and if so, then what IS fair? 80? 70? 50? I really don't know, because I have been raised to get what I can.

We need to keep in mind that the value of a pension in a union contract has been negotiated in a fair collective bargaining process.

Public safety employees did not hold a gun to city government's head nor did they hold communities hostage. They continued to answer the call to every incident in good times and bad.

And yet, in today's climate; firefighters are being blamed for budget shortfalls.

THAT isn't fair!

I don't know what is left to argue. When fire departments have proven their value to the quality of life in their communities; when they have been repeatedly hailed as heroes, you have to wonder why they, along with their communities are being fed this poison pill by city leaders, who find creative ways to waste millions of dollars in order to sacrifice the public's safety and again, I say what is more important than the public's safety?

In a calling that is steeped in grand history and tradition; firefighters will have to look towards non-traditional ways to preserve their jobs and the public's safety in their communities.

It should start NOW!

 The opinions and views expressed are those of the article's author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. This article is protected by federal copyright laws and cannot be re-produced in any form.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Anatomy of a Firefighter

They are questions that are often asked by both those wishing to be a firefighter and by those trying to understand why someone would be a firefighter: what does it take and why do you do it?
I will often reach back into my past and resurrect some of the mental tools that I used during my time as a firefighter. It is a characteristic that is so ingrained into your being that it is yours’ to be used for the rest of your life. You will react to decision-making in a much different manner to all kinds of emergencies and other critical situations.
One of the most interesting phenomenon-or at least to me-is the actions that are taken by firefighters at that moment when they realize that someone’s life hangs in the balance and the only one who can affect that outcome is the firefighter who is there at that place and time.
In other words: what triggers the response in the firefighter that has them risking their life for another?
I believe that it is not because of pension or pay. I don’t believe that a firefighter wants to be a hero. And it certainly isn’t because firefighters believe that it is a safe, stable profession.
I think that this desire to help others-however dangerous-comes from the most important part of the firefighter’s anatomy…the heart!
It is a healthy heart; full of sense of duty, honor, bravery, compassion and community. Traditional values for Humankind and service to communities, as described in our fire services’ glorious history, flows through a firefighter’s veins and at any moment will give them the superhuman energy against a supernatural foe.
It is a heart that is strong enough to engage the repeated assaults from strenuous and stressful events. And though outcomes may not lift the heart, but instead, weight it down; the heart will react with extraordinary resilience and will beat even stronger in the many men and women who wear their uniform.
When you think of the heart of a firefighter, can you think of any other profession where generation upon generation has that desire to join the ranks of their moms, dads, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins? In many cases, children will go completely out of their comfort zone to NOT follow in their parents’ footsteps, but from the first, toy fire truck or peddle car and fueled by the stories of their parent; the child of a firefighter wants to be nothing else. It does not have to be thrust or forced upon them. It has become their dream. It is reinforced by the many fire toys, books, trips to the fire station and culminating in a junior firefighter program.
For most jobs; the heart only needs to beat. The employee needs only to show up. If their heart isn’t in it, they can call off, quit or get fired. If a firefighter discovers too late that they don’t have the heart for the job/a love for the job; it can have catastrophic results for the firefighter or his crew members.
No; the heart of a firefighter has to be there from the beginning. Everything else can be “developed”.
What about a brain? 
From an anatomical point, a firefighter has to have a brain that is wired to make critical decisions very quickly. The right decisions must be made every time that Life is at risk; be it the life of a victim or the life of the firefighter. Some would argue that this situation presents itself every time the tones drop, but it doesn’t.
Firefighters have the expectation that they are going home at the end of their shift. The many tasks that are taught develop conditioned behavior. As an example, ventilation can be done by opening windows, cutting a hole in a roof and using the assistance of a fan. Once it is decided to use either horizontal or vertical ventilation, then it is simply completing the task as we have been repetitiously trained to do.
I use ventilation as an example of a conditioned behavior. What about instinct? Are their situations where firefighters act instinctively?
Instinct is defined as “a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason”.
So; do we attempt the rescue of trapped victims based upon our conditioned behavior reinforced by our training or is it done instinctively and done in spite of what we have been conditioned to do in that situation?
Then, when all is said and done, firefighters must process the mental trauma that is left by the visual trauma and for some, it can be very stressful.
There have been studies done on the effects of mental stress upon firefighters (, but the simple fact is that we all deal with bad things differently. You cannot take a cookie cutter or template and expect it to resolve mental issues in all cases. Mental stress can be every bit as debilitating as injuries from physical exertion and if firefighters attempt to bury it in the deep recesses of their brain, it can present itself when it is least expected. As firefighters, we must recognize the symptoms ( and seek help. As firefighter leaders, we must be vigilant with our post-incident stress monitoring programs.
A firefighter must have ears that can hear the important lessons to be learned in the classroom. They must hear the tones drop, even when they are asleep. They must be able to hear instructions over the noise of the many engines that may populate a scene. Ears that are covered in a Nomex hood must hear valuable communications that come over their portable radios and in spite of the loudness from the roar of a raging fire or the extrication tools at a vehicle accident scene. Their ears must be so sensitive that they can hear the faint/muffled cries for help from a victim who is barely able to speak. They must also have the ability to hear changing conditions in their current surroundings.
The boots that cover the feet of the firefighter creates the solid base from where they must stand firm. For the many who can’t comprehend the “why” in what we do, they cannot “walk a mile in our boots”. Though fire boots that cover the feet of firefighters do not come with a set of brakes, they must hold fast when opposing pressure from a water stream wants to push them back. They are boots that must feel when a floor is weakened by fire. They are boots that must be sure-footed when climbing a ladder or walking along a narrow pathway.  They are boots that are heavily constructed but become much lighter when there is a call for help. They are boots that march in unison and stand at attention for the fallen.
Firefighter must have hands that are strong, nimble and flexible. They must be able to don their life-saving air supply, tie ropes, hook carabiners, wield heavy iron tools, direct a water stream from a hose with the accuracy of a sharpshooter, use cutters or spreaders with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, grab their buddy who is about to fall, search a room completely darkened by smoke to FEEL for the victims who cannot cry out for help and then carry them to safety; ALL done with their protective gloves on.
Firefighters must have eyes with clear vision. They must be able to see what they are doing and to see the effects of their actions. They have to have eyes that can read: read the books, look at the videos but to SEE what is in them, read the building, read the smoke, look for changing conditions, see through the smoke to look for victims and avoid the blinding effects of complacency. It is the eyes that see the destruction, despair, pain, sorrow and the lasting effects upon victims and firefighters alike, but they also see the hope, joy, gratitude and support. They are eyes that will guide the firefighter through their career.
I realize that I have approached the anatomy of the firefighter from a layman’s view, but to be honest; I have read many studies on the psychological search for why firefighters are wired differently. They are very clinical, overly annotated and difficult to follow. Many are opinions and theories not unlike my own.
The two links that I provided are both excellent. Please read them and then share your thoughts.
Here ends the lesson.
The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.