13 ways fire chiefs can kill their careers

Posted on Mon, 7 Apr 2014 23:00:14 UTC

As the most recent International Conference for Fire & Rescue Executives grew near, then Boston Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser asked me to develop a seminar presentation that discussed career-ending behaviors.

At first, I was not interested in targeting negative leadership behaviors. The commissioner wanted a presentation that would help fire executives realize the damage that poor personal behavior and choices could have on a career and reputation. Fraser was very convincing and the topic seemed to need more study.

To develop this material, I interviewed about a dozen chiefs who had been senior chief officers for five years or longer — Chiefs Alan Brunacini and Bruce Varner were among the high-caliber participants. I asked each to name three career-crushing traits, those sure to get someone into major trouble.

13 Career Crushers

  • Revenge
  • Discrimination, harassment and hazing
  • Inattention to details of the organization
  • Troubled personal life
  • Actions not in align with departmental goals and values
  • Declining health
  • Ignoring technology
  • Illegal activity
  • Irreconcilable differences with the boss
  • Lying about background
  • Political suicide
  • Political ambition
  • Incompetence

To add balanced I sought out about two dozen highly regarded folks in fields outside the fire and rescue service. Some were political leaders, medical professionals, airline pilots, private business owners and other public-sector officials.

When I compiled the data and looked for trends and patterns, the two groups' lists of traits mirrored one another. The process was not very scientific, but it yielded some intriguing results as to leadership mistakes and omissions.

And from these data points emerged a list of 13 career crushes.

Crusher 1: Revenge
This crusher seems obvious, however, it is one of the most violated rules of leadership. Further, it is one of the most broken rules of the entire 13 career crushers.

I've observed this time and again; the news media is rife with reports to back that claim. Worse, many leaders are blind to their use of revenge.

There is often a correlation between having significant legitimate power to direct someone's efforts in the workplace and inflicting revenge on that same subordinate. Many bosses think they can get away with revenge behaviors because they are in a ranking position and no one will notice or care.

Some bosses are truly delusional, thinking they never will be discovered.

Never lose sight of the fact that someone is always watching. In fact, on average, Americans have their image captured on closed-circuit television 22 times per day. The corrupt boss will get caught, or at a minimum every subordinate members will eventually figure out the miscarriage of justice.

The same subordinates will withdraw their support of the violating superior. Perhaps starting the process of the embarrassing and a disruptive vote of no confidence directed at the revengeful boss.

Sliding scale of justice
Revenge can come in the form of the superior using the disciplinary process to add an extra burden (as punishment) to those that she or he simply doesn't like. Perhaps the chief was promoted over a long-time nemesis or was at the same rank as the disliked person until the last promotion.

If this situation is case, the potential is there for personal revenge using the department's disciplinary system like an invisible club over the head of the disliked member.

The interesting part about this type of inept behavior is that a comparison of previous punishments by the same superior will tell the tale in full. As an example, the chief gives a friend and supporter a lenient penalty compared to a stiffer penalty for the same infraction to a person that he does not like.

Once a supervisor has a reputation for selectively enforcing the rules and uses a sliding scale of justice to benefit family, friends and other supporter, serious trouble is brewing. If the chief will not be fair to the membership, an internal uprising is immanent.

I have seen the uproar of concern by the department's membership many times. Only a chief who has an equally poor boss (the mayor or the city manager who supports this behavior) can temporarily survive those situations.

Location, location, location
Another reoccurring revenge behavior is using work assignments. Some of the telltale traits of this action by the chief, are that a person leaves an assignment that they have enjoyed without notice or request.

Generally, this type of transfer is to a location that the oppressed person is not interested in being assigned. The harmed member may be attached to the firehouse that is a significant farther distance from home — "take that extra 50-mile commute per day," says the bad chief.

I once learned of an officer who was moved nine times in eight months. Once this person had enough time to synchronize the newly assigned work schedule with the spouse, the chief would re-assign the person somewhere else. With a house full of young children, this was tremendously disruptive and the supervisor was aware of the issue that he was intentionally causing.

One extreme case that happened during my watch involved a station captain (company commander) forging a transfer request for a lieutenant (shift commander) during the lieutenant's vacation. The captain sent a transfer request to the deputy fire chief (shift command) that the deputy honored and the lieutenant moved to another firehouse.

The intriguing part of this story is that the captain thought he would get away with this action. When the lieutenant questioned why he was moved during his vacation and the lie was exposed — the lieutenant was returned to his original assignment. The captain received the standard (from the uniform table of penalties) punishment for forging an official city document.

Classic bullying
In today's society no one likes or supports a bully. One person using his position to inflicting harm using revenge is bullying in its classical (and classless) form. If the boss's boss is onboard with this ridiculous behavior, the charade may go on for a while.

Stay focused on your career and always remember that anything you do will be discovered in detail in time. Only take actions against others that are warranted and use a well-refined discipline system that removes as much subjectivity from the process.

I worked at one place where the members were obligated to hold trial boards with a four-person panel (jury) of the accused member's peers. This removed the fire chief and the top brass from the process.

The fire chief had two choices once the panel issued a ruling: accept the recommendation or lower the punishment. City code prohibited the chief from increasing the penalty. The trial board process did remove the ability to infect revenge by a higher-ranking member.

The struggle will always be to be fair and to remove relationships out of the mix of discipline. Treat people like you want to be treated and that includes accountability for their actions and inactions. Be leery supervisors who proclaim they would rather be feared than respected.

Wearable camera for fire inspections, investigations

Posted on Thu, 20 Sep 2012 17:18:37 UTC

Although originally aimed at the law enforcement industry, Panasonic is bringing its wearable camera to the fire service for inspections and arson investigations.

Designed as a standalone unit or able to be integrated with the Toughbook Arbitrator SafeServe software version 7.4 slated for release in autumn 2012, the Panasonic WVTW310 wearable camera features a recording capacity of up to 32 hours using H.264 compression and a battery life of approximately five hours in pre-event continuous record mode or longer without. Delivering extremely wide-angle views, the camera can be used for both day and night recording.

For the fire service, this device can be used to record fire-code inspections, fire-scene investigation and witness interviews. It also can be used by commanding officers to preserve hard-to-document initial scene images that may come into play during a later investigation, such as bystanders, vehicles, or other evidence that can easily be forgotten in the heat of a fire attack.

Software options
The wearable camera systems includes Agent software, which allows the video image data on the camera to be automatically uploaded to a personal computer via the conversion box, and Viewer software, designed to allow the wide angle original video to be played back with stabilization and image distortion correction all while maintaining the evidence integrity of the original file.

In the United States, the Panasonic WVTW310 wearable camera system has a suggested retail price of about $1,000.

"With the adoption of wearable cameras, public safety agencies can achieve total situational awareness and a comprehensive and seamless digital camera evidence capture solution, from the field to the courtroom," said Greg Peratt, director of digital video products, Panasonic. "This single camera platform will provide agencies with a wide-angle audio and video record of important officer engagements while ensuring the integrity of the chain of custody, delivering significant time and cost savings in the acquisition, management and review of recorded evidence."

Will they remember the 343?

Posted on Wed, 11 Sep 2013 16:45:03 UTC

Sept. 11, 2001 was a life-defining moment and as the events of that day became known, we got a sense of history coming into play. As 9/11 now recedes into history, future generations will come to see that day in different terms and we can only imagine how they will view what happened.

Very little is certain and it is safe only to assume that if history is any guide to the future, events unforeseen will occur and render our inadequate predictions meaningless.

Sept. 11 briefly unified firefighters and increased public respect for firefighters. Recall how frequently you heard, "Thank you for your service."

Now a dozen years past, we don't hear the "thank you for your service" much, perhaps because the event grows more distant in time. Firefighters I talked to in the dark months after 9/11 described an overarching new view of a world where only the polar extremes of black and white existed; any intermediate shading was lost in the collapse of the towers, the destruction at the Pentagon, and the charred hole in the ground in rural Pennsylvania.

Perspective shift
This "black and white" worldview incrementally transformed into an "us versus them" view as the recession cut into municipal fire budgets and angry taxpayers questioned firefighter salaries and pensions.

What I see now of 9/11 comes mostly from the metropolitan New York City and New Jersey area where there remains a steady, reverent and solemn memorializing of the 2,753 civilian victims and the 343.

Something has changed us since 9/11. Years of conflict, economic upheaval, and elected high-officials who place politics above leadership has tired us and almost demoralized us as a country. Cynicism and skepticism cuts a deep vein through public opinion forcing us to identify our tribe or faction, one group demonizing the other, with the fire service no exception.

The unity of 9/11 was fleeting and our collective cynicism seems poised to poison our views of everything, mixing the good with the bad. It is black and white; those not with us are against us.

Forward looking
In 40 or so years, Americans will number about 438 million. Nearly one in five will be an immigrant. In 12 years, the foreign-born share of the population will surpass the total from the last great wave of immigration seen over a century ago.

Latinos, now our largest minority group, will triple in size by 2050 and the non-Hispanic white population will become the minority. Our elderly will more than double by 2050, as the baby-boom generation enters so-called retirement.

The numbers of working-age Americans and their children will grow more slowly than the elderly population, shrinking as a share of total population and finding it more and more difficult to support the aging members of society.

The victims of 9/11 were a diverse group demographically speaking and maybe that will improve the likelihood of future generations sharing at least a small sense of connection to those we lost on 9/11. For it is only a sense of connection that gives us a desire to remember the past.

Realistically though, it is more probable that they will come to see 9/11 solely as a historic event, similar to how we now view Pearl Harbor.

The near things
There will be commemorations and memorials to those who were murdered and those who sacrificed their lives to save others, but the depth of symbolic emotion will fade in time. Let us hope then, that there will always remain at the very least this lesson — that the firefighters of FDNY put their lives at risk for other people and more than 300 paid the ultimate price.

As new significant events capture the thoughts of future generations, life will go on, the memory of the 343 will recede, and that is the point where history takes over. Geographer Waldo Tobler stated that the first law of geography is: "Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related to each other."

I frequently borrow Tobler's Law and use it to think about history, adapting it as: "The nearer people and events are to you in place or time, the more important they are to you all the time."

I am a firefighter and so I care about other firefighters. If you live in or near New York City, you likely care about New York City and 9/11 will always be somewhere within in that frame of reference. All that we can presume is that if you are a firefighter, or you live in proximity to New York City, your world will include 9/11 and the 343, and the memory will not fade with time.

The sacrifice of so many to uphold a commitment to save lives is never easyto understand fully or to forget entirely. History provides the opportunity for future generations to remember the courage and humanity of the 343.

6 ways to defend yourself against verbal abuse

Posted on Mon, 29 Jul 2013 16:08:57 UTC

For years now, I have taught EMS responders to keep in mind that nothing a patient says is personal. While teaching classes on successful verbal interactions with patients, I have frequently emphasized that the patient doesn’t know you. Therefore, nothing that they say can be taken personally. How could it be personal if they don’t know you personally?

I’ve changed my mind. Sometimes, the verbal abuse hurled at us can be personal. And not taking it personally can be remarkably difficult. Verbal abuse is a hostile act and it is intended to cause harm.

Since a verbal attack leaves no physical mark, we often ignore its intent, and we also disregard its potential to harm us. But, I’ve come to believe that these episodes can do harm, if we fail to properly defend ourselves emotionally. To do that, we first have to recognize that a verbal attack on our person is not benign, even though we’ve been taught otherwise.

As children, we learned that "sticks and stones can break our bones but words could never hurt us." I believed it. You probably believed it too. The childhood nursery rhyme is wrong. Words can hurt us. Some words can hurt for a long time. Some words can be carried with us for a lifetime and nobody will ever see the scars.

Our awareness that verbal abuse can be harmful begins with the recognition that some of our patients are remarkably good at verbal abuse. Many of them have been victims of abuse themselves and they learned the language of abuse at a very young age. Some verbal attackers can size us up remarkably fast and pick out our weaknesses and insecurities with great accuracy.

Physical and social targets
The target of the verbal abuser's attack may be physical or social. Any physical imperfection you have may become a target for a verbal attack including your weight, height, the size of your nose, your receding hairline or your visible birthmark. If the verbal abuser suspects that you harbor any insecurity over your appearance he or she will likely take a shot.

If a physical feature can’t easily be exploited, then social attributes may also be tested. Gender, race, religious beliefs and sexual orientation tend to be effective areas of emotional vulnerability. What could be more personal than our gender, our ethnicity, our belief about creation or our choices regarding physical intimacy? These things define us as a person. They are deeply personal and that’s why they are so frequently the subject of verbal attacks.

This recognition that verbal abuse can be extremely personal has left me considering an important question. What should we do to defend ourselves against verbal abuse from our patients?

Here are some of the ideas with which I’ve been experimenting:

1. Recognize that you are being attacked: While a verbal assault may not be as obvious as a punch or a kick, but it is still an attack. The person targeting you with verbal abuse is attempting to hurt you. They want you to feel pain and discomfort. They want to feel that they have control, power and influence over you. They want you to feel hurt, sad or angry and they are probably quite good at instigating these feelings. While you may have been trained to ignore these behaviors, recognizing and defending yourself against a verbal assault is appropriate. Your internal defense against a verbal attack may be as invisible as the words that that the patient spoke, but it should still exist.

2. Check your physical safety: Physical assaults are often preceded by a verbal attack. Use the patient’s verbal aggressiveness as a prompt to reconsider your safety. Is the patient properly restrained? Do you have the resources available to manage the patient’s potential for escalation? Do you know the location of your exits? Do you have a reliable way to call for help? Verbal abuse should immediately prompt you to double check your physical safety. If you aren’t safe, back off until the resources you require are present.

3. Relax your posture: It’s easier to remain calm if you have an open body posture and relaxed muscles. Take a deep breath. Open your hands. Calm your facial expression and think about your words before you speak. Just because the patient is speaking with a rapid cadence doesn’t mean that you need to have a quick response. As long as you are not in physical danger, there is no need to move or speak quickly. You can move the scene forward at your own pace. Have confidence in your own authority. Do your best to keep yourself relaxed, calm and alert.

4. Say to yourself, “How interesting:” The phrase, “How interesting,” places us in a powerful position of analysis. When we make a conscious choice to analyze a situation we change our mindset. The process of analysis reminds us that we always have the ability to choose how we will feel in response to something someone says. Consider why the patient feels that causing others emotional pain is their best course of action. How has this worked for them in the past? This is a behavior that few people witness on a regular basis. The fact that it is rare makes it interesting on at least a cursory level. Choosing fascination over anger can help you see the big picture.

5. Make an honest observation: We’ve been trained to ignore the hurtful things that patients sometimes say, but I’ve been exploring a more reserved confrontational option. Instead of dismissing the remark, try calling the patient’s bluff and identifying the nature of their aggressive statements. Try a response like, “That’s a very hurtful thing for you to say.” or “Those remarks are highly inappropriate.” or “I’m not going to engage in a conversation that’s profane or hateful.” Calling the patient out on their own inappropriateness might be more effective than simply pretending that they aren’t being verbally abusive.

6. Consciously forgive the offense: Forgiveness is a powerful tool. I don’t believe that people are born with hatred inside of them. Hatred is learned and it is something that passes from person to person. The patient’s ability to verbally attack you is something that they learned consciously or not. After the call is over, take a moment and purposefully allow yourself to forgive the patient for every attempt that they made to cause you emotional pain. When you choose to forgive the patient for the words that they spoke, you automatically place yourself in a position of power. You recognize that the words that were spoken did have the power to hurt you and you also have the power to heal, let go and move on.

If you work in EMS, it is almost inevitable that you will be the subject of verbal abuse. What do you do to cope with the hurtful things that patients’ can sometimes say? Do you have any good tips for managing the verbally aggressive patient?

Why not using SCBA will kill firefighters

Posted on Mon, 24 Mar 2014 14:30:16 UTC

One of the greatest innovations in the fire service is the self-contained breathing apparatus. It has allowed firefighters to be more effective while providing a high level of respiratory protection.

We are able to gain deeper access into burning structures to perform rescue functions, locate and suppress the fire and prevent further property damage. It has become a basic piece of our equipment.

Out of everything that we wear, the SCBA provides the highest level of protection. The human body has many systems that work together to keep us functioning and living.

The respiratory system is both the biggest system and the easiest to compromise. One quick breath can make the difference between life and death. What we inhale affects the whole body.

We cannot always see the contaminants that are present within the environment that will harm us. This is why we must always wear of SCBA whenever we are in any kind of immediately dangerous to life and health environment.

No excuses
Yet we still have firefighters responding to different types of calls where an IDLH environment is present who not wearing their SCBA. It is not because of a lack of availability of SCBAs. It is not because of SCBA performance being substandard as far as operation; nor is it because of cost to use it.

Every fire department within the North American continent has access to an adequate amount of SCBAs. There was a time when this wasn't the case — they were either absent or in short supply. But through with health and safety legislation, they have become a common fixture on apparatus.

SCBAs are tested to such rigorous and extreme levels that we would not be able to survive the conditions if we were to be caught in them: the SCBA would still function as it is intended to.

A third-party, NIOSH, conducts SCBA testing to ensure their performance meets or exceeds NFPA and industry standards. Every SCBA unit must meet NIOSH approval and be labeled as such.

Cheap to use
SCBAs are expensive to purchase and maintain, but they are relatively cheap to use. The only commodity used when in full operation is breathing air and refilling the tanks with regular breathing air is very inexpensive.

The units also have personal safety alarms and heads-up displays that require batteries to operate — often AA batteries. These, too, are inexpensive.

This one piece of equipment is so vital that when it is missing or not being used, it compromises firefighter safety and effectiveness. And this creates many dominoes for that firefighter and for the fireground that eventually handicaps both.

Unnoticed door locks increase firefighter risk

Posted on Tue, 17 Sep 2013 16:17:42 UTC

For many departments, the first-due engine is staffed with three to four firefighters, in some cases even fewer. There are five key job functions that must occur: size up, action plan, water supply, the initial stretch and forcible entry. These items will quickly tie up a short-staffed rig.

Luckily, in many parts of the country forcible entry is fairly simple. In many communities key-in-knob locks are the primary, if not the only device keeping the "bad guys" out of peoples homes. A short throw on the locking mechanism combined with wooden doorjambs means a very basic forcible-entry effort is all that's needed.

Recent UL studies — as well as years of studies from overseas, particularly Northern Europe — all point to the importance of door control on fire progression. Smooth forcible entry not only allows us to put the line in the right place, but also provides for better door control.

For many departments, the forcible-entry team will also be on the initial hand line. Quick and easy forcible entry allows for the team to still have the energy needed to make the attack.

Barring the way
It doesn't take more than a stroll through the local big-box home store to see that are several off-the-shelf devices to make door harder to force. These cheap and easy contraptions not only sell to homeowner's fears of invasion, but also require no skill to install.

The most prevalent are bars to buttress inward-swinging doors closed. And because they don't require additional hardware on the door or jamb, you won't necessarily know it is buttressed when sounding the door.

During a recent structure fire at a center hall colonial, after performing my 360 with no visible flame or smoke on the interior, it became clear that the unlocked side door gave the easiest, most direct line of attack for the first-due engine. The homeowners weren't home yet, but luckily the fire remained external due to a lightning strike. While walking through the house we discovered a store-bought device on the locked front door.

As we discussed the event later, some things became clear. Had the fire progressed to the interior, I would likely have placed the initial line through the front door.

The likely outcome
Our first-due engine would have begun forcible entry on that door and would have met with more resistance than seemed appropriate. The front door didn't have sidelights that would have made it possible to view the device from the exterior.

These slow downs would have likely led to a change in tactics, such as heading to the side door, and possible even a change in strategy given my team would have wasted time and energy on the front door.

Worse yet, had they headed in the side door, our truck crew would have begun to soften egress points incase the interior teams had to escape. Naturally the interior teams would consider the front door at the base of the stairs a natural exit, only to find it barricaded.

A quick web search of home door security bars will show the myriad of devices out there for the general public. Don't get me wrong; we can overcome these devices.

However, the standard size up isn't going to see the device and command is likely going to create an action plan that doesn't fit the tougher forcible-entry profile these devices create.

Add that to short staffing and everything slows down except the fire growth.

Rescue is a Thinking Person's Game

Posted on Wed, 8 Aug 2007 19:38:53 UTC

AP/Minnesota Daily, Stacy Bengs
Firefighters size up the scene after the bridge collapse in Minn. last week.

Years ago, when I took my first search and rescue class, the instructor talked about the six-sided review of a building or incident. "Look up, look down, and make sure you look all around before committing yourself," he told us.

Over the years, I have thought of that simple saying on many emergency incidents and have passed it on to thousands of my students during training. The bottom line: Don't get sucked into something before you give it the old once over.

It's easier said than done sometimes, especially when lives hang in the balance and quick action will affect the outcome of an incident. But what about all of those other occasions when you may have the time to do it right?

What is your approach and thought process when you come across a technical rescue or any type of rescue for that matter? Is it a well executed series of steps or a fly by the seat of your pants operation?

Good team members, the right tools and practical training shouldn't be under valued, but that doesn't replace mentally being on your game.

To do that, you have to do something that most people hate or are too lazy to do Rescue is a thinking game you need to play the "what if" game. "What if a car goes over that edge, what if that building falls down, what if that place blows up, what if I have to cut that guy in half to get past him, what if I have to crawl in that hole to get that victim?"

It's not enough to just know how to use the tools, or be well practiced or to have a cohesive team. Rescue is a thinking game, and the people who can plan ahead, see something coming and be ready for it are worth their weight in gold.

Organized chaos
You're always behind before you get there, that's a given. But how far ahead of the incident are you when you arrive? I used to work for a battalion chief who would say, "You don't bring a crisis to an emergency." Sure it's organized chaos at some scenes, but your level of organization and the ability to achieve the required levels under the most impossible circumstances is the real key.

How many of us can say that we are "masters" of our craft and how many want to be? Chances are, if you're reading this column, you're already a student of the trade, which makes you a cut above the rest. But there is a lifetime of learning to be done and every day is a school day in our profession.

If you think that you know it all, have seen it all or have it done it all, we're all in trouble and chances are you're probably a liability at a significant incident. Confidence should never be replaced by arrogance.

Rescue is a thinking game. The best people who have seen a thing or two tend to mostly be humbled by the experience they don't say much, but when the going gets tough they often get going.

I love watching new firefighters, they have so much energy and so much enthusiasm, and they're great to be around. It's also fun to watch them expend all of that energy to no successful end sometimes. But with age and experience comes wisdom!

The veteran firefighter may not always be as enthusiastic, but that tempered approach, years of real world experience and knowledge of the tricks of the trade often carry them through most calls.

But to be in the class above, you have to love it a little more to be really, really good at it. Superstars train harder, practice longer and are very, very focused.

So what does it take to be a master of disaster? Out of the box thinking, the ability to write down your first 20-30 moves on any type of rescue with a twist and a constant desire for perfection. And don't forget the lifetime of learning, listening and talking about the "what ifs" of our job.

How communication centers can aid incident commanders

Posted on Tue, 13 Jul 2010 21:03:09 UTC

By Bob Smith
Director of Strategic Development, APCO International

It's 0300 hours, you're in the front right seat of the first due engine on a multi-story residential structure fire with several exposures. As you climb out of the truck and start your size-up you've got about 10,000 things going through your head.

How many personnel are responding to this fire? Is that enough? What units are responding? Is that enough? Should I call for an additional alarm? Or two? Where should I position the ladder when it gets here? And dozens more. The number and complexity of those things you'll need to consider won't really start to dwindle until the clean-up is over and units are returning to the station.

One of the many things being considered during this process is that of personnel accountability. Who's on the scene, where are they and what are they doing? Another issue is incident development. How long has this fire been burning? How long have we been at this offensive interior attack? Is it time to switch tactics to a defensive exterior attack?

Well let's take a moment to discuss an often overlooked resource that can assist an incident commander with personnel accountability and monitoring incident progress — the communications center. An adequately trained and staffed comm center can assist incident commanders in a multitude of areas beyond the traditional dispatch, information management and resource tracking.

PARs in the fire service
Let's start with accountability. Conducting personnel accountability reports (PAR) during an event of any size has become second nature to the fire service. Effective department accountability programs should incorporate PARs on incidents of any size and of any nature.

A PAR is a tool that allows incident commanders to ensure all personnel on scene are safe and accounted for. This action can easily be carried out by the comm center and many jurisdictions have done just that by training their comm center personnel on how to conduct PARs and how to relay the PAR's findings to the IC. One less action needed to be carried out by the IC.

Another tool that comm centers can provide an IC to assist with personnel safety are regular time checks during an incident. Time checks can be designed so that beginning at a certain point in the incident — say 10 minutes after the first unit arrives on scene or the IC announces that knockdown has begun — the comm center staff will notify the IC every 10 to 20 minutes.

We all know that 10 minutes worth of free burning in a traditional structure fire can make the difference between a successful knockdown and leaving nothing but the foundation. Also, most departments have limits to the amount of time they will allow personnel to remain inside a building during interior attack modes.

This "heads up" from the comm center allows the IC to monitor the passage of time during an incident without having to actually watch a clock themselves. One less action needed to be carried out by the IC.

Emergency evacuations
Another area that allows for comm centers to assist ICs during an incident is playing a role in a department's emergency evacuation process. Many agencies across the country have developed emergency evacuation plans that incorporate steps such as having the comm center make evacuation announcements over primary and tactical channels and even activating pagers and radio alerts on scene.

To accomplish this, the comm center personnel must be trained in the department's evacuation plan and the plan must be tested regularly. In addition, comm centers that serve multiple fire departments should encourage all departments to adopt similar evacuation procedures to prevent confusion should a department need an evacuation announcement made during an incident.

All of these actions combined with routine responder safety actions such as monitoring the radio for Mayday calls or other unexpected traffic can increase the level of service and assistance your local comm center can provide to your department.

To accomplish this though, the comm center must have a highly trained and professional staff equipped with the most current tools and resources available. It is the responsibility of every firefighter and officer to encourage your local comm center to ensure their personnel are trained and equipped to the highest level. Because as the old saying goes, "the life you save may be your own."

How, and why, to buy a flammable liquids storage cabinet

Posted on Thu, 3 Apr 2014 20:42:17 UTC

NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code and other standards bodies advise fire and EMS stations to have the proper equipment installed to store flammable liquids used in the operation and maintenance of fire apparatus and small engine-powered equipment, such as chainsaws, electrical generators, ventilation fans and more.

In order to meet the standard, it is important to learn more about the detailed recommendations for the safe keeping of flammable and combustible liquids. There also are several options available from manufacturers, depending on a station’s storage needs.

The most common approach for compliance in the storage of flammable liquids is the use of an approved flammable liquids storage cabinet. NFPA, OSHA and Uniform Fire Code (UFC) all require flammable cabinets be built to these specifications:

• Bottom, top and sides of cabinet shall be at least No. 18 gauge sheet steel.

• Cabinet must be double-walled with a 1-inch airspace.

• Joints shall be riveted, welded or made tight by some equally effective means.

• Door shall have a three-point latch.

• Door sill shall be raised at least 2 inches above the cabinet bottom to retain spilled liquid within the cabinet.

• Product tested to limit the internal temperature in the cabinet to 325° F for a 10-minute fire test.

• Cabinet shall have a "Flammable — Keep Fire Away" legend.

In addition to these requirements, UFC requires self-closing doors that are connected to a fusible link. When a fire reaches 165°F and the fusible link melts, the cabinet doors close automatically.

Types of storage cabinets

It is important to assess flammable liquids storage needs before purchasing a cabinet. The typical fire and EMS station is probably home to some of many common flammable liquids that require storage, including gasoline for small engines used around station, automotive fluids and lubricants, paint thinners and strippers (for routine station facility maintenance) and oil-based paints.

Flammable liquids storage cabinets are available with both manual and self-closing door configurations; check with the building and fire code requirements for your jurisdiction before making a purchase. They come in two colors: yellow for aerosols, gasoline and flammable liquids and red for paint, inks and Class III combustibles.

Approved flammable liquids storage cabinets with self-closing doors come in sizes ranging from four gallons beginning around $425 to 90 gallons beginning at $1,200. Manual closing door models tend to run about $100 cheaper than self-closing models.

There are cabinets that can accommodate storage of more than 90 gallons. But these mostly are designed for commercial and industrial applications. These cabinets can be purchases from vendors including Durham Manufacturing, Eagle Manufacturing, Edsal, Jamco, Justrite, Sandusky Lee and Sellstrom Manufacturing.

Fire prevention begins in the home. Reduce the potential fire hazards presented by the storage of flammable liquids in the fire station by properly storing them in a listed and approved flammable liquids storage cabinet.

How About a Culture of Prevention?

Posted on Mon, 29 Jun 2009 19:32:56 UTC

By Bill Delaney

Reactions to Lt. Ray McCormack's speech at FDIC were varied, with people picking sides — sometimes very emotionally.

My own take on the speech was somewhere in the middle. He never said do not be safe. I think he was really trying to say he fears we are taking the "be safe" component to an extreme. He has stirred a good debate and I applaud him for having the conviction to stand up for his beliefs.

But the one big thing that was missing from all of the discussion that followed the speech, and seemingly absent from all fire service debates/discussions, is the bastard child of the fire service: the culture of prevention.

You know, that annoying little member of our family who we always try to make sure is relatively unseen and certainly never heard from? After all, most of the debate related to "The Speech" does not happen if the fire, gasp, is prevented and never happens in the first place!

There is much national gnawing and gnashing of the teeth as staffing on trucks are being reduced, stations closed, revolving station closures, etc. amidst the current economic climate.

No doubt we should be screaming from the highest mountain tops about all of that as it does involve the wellbeing of our people and those we serve. We are, however, eerily quiet when it comes to public educators and other "prevention" components of our service when they get cut.

Why is this? Well, for me, it is because we DO have a culture of extinguishment! That is where Lt. McCormack was all wrong in his speech. The culture of extinguishment is more than alive and well and probably always will be in a vast majority of departments in the United States.

Don't believe me? Take a look at your own department's budget priorities. Next, look at the departments around you. In the Washington, D.C.–Metro area, we have two departments that now have no public educators and three that cut staffing by more than 50 percent.

Meanwhile, one that has taken its few remaining educators and trained them as inspectors and let them know that most of their duties will fall under revenue generating inspections. I will admit that the last one at least has a prevention component to it so not all is lost.

The old adage is that you cut what you do not perceive to be the greatest value. Fortunately my chief values our risk reduction efforts (as well as firefighter safety) and let it be known that cutting our public education staff is not even an option for discussion.

But actions speak louder than words and the vast majority of departments across our great land have spoken. The proponents of the speech can rest easy — I firmly believe that the culture of extinguishment is alive and well in our great country!

HAZMAT Response Video Supplement: Personal Protective Equipment

Posted on Mon, 1 Oct 2007 01:28:40 UTC

Sorry, our Department Can't Comply with Rehab Standards

Posted on Mon, 24 Nov 2008 21:19:30 UTC

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1584 Standard on the Rehabilitation Process for Members During Emergency Operations and Training Exercises, attained "standard" status in March of 2008. Emergency services organizations must begin implementing the standard this year. Certainly it is the desire of every fire and EMS administrator to protect their department members in the areas of health and safety. As time proceeds, it will be interesting to monitor the a cceptance and practical application of these standards. Can we expect the "perfect emergency scene" to exist throughout the nation consistently? Where will departments fall short? Are these mandates doable, especially with shrinking budgets and manpower limitations?

Let's look at the nine key components of NFPA 1584, highlighting some practical concerns. I will be taking the "devil's advocate" role in responding to the requirements of the standard. You may note an air of cynicism that is seldom heard in the fire service. This is a very serious topic and my approach is only to show that "If there is a will, there is a way." Organize your team and resources and continue networking in order to achieve success.

Relief from climatic (weather/environmental) conditions:
Firefighting is done in extreme weather conditions. Mother Nature doesn't provide our world with moderate temperatures and working conditions. How can we escape the extreme heat or cold? We just won't respond to calls if it is too hot or cold.

Rest and recovery:
Depending on how many units are in staging, I'd love to take a 30 minute break with every bottle change. We operate two-man engine companies and the closest mutual aid company is twelve minutes out. "Hey chief, I'm tired, can I go lay down?"
We need a 3rd alarm just to get enough bodies to the scene.

Cooling or re-warming:
The only heat source is the inferno we're here to put out. Wearing all this turnout gear causes me to dehydrate before I even get into the structure. City council dinged our request for air conditioned cabs. We're lucky they let us have the air conditioners on at the firehouse. My idea of cooling is sit in the shade of the ladder truck.

Where's the closest vending machine? No one filled the engines water cooler today.
We used to carry bottled water on the rigs but the guys would drink them during truck checks. Hopefully the neighbors will show up with some lemonade to help out America's Bravest. Fire trucks have water in them, don't they? Drink that water.

Calorie and electrolyte replacement:
Hey neighbor, while you're making that lemonade, how about a turkey on rye with extra pickles? No name, free game. The mobile canteen showed up with day old doughnuts and week old bologna sandwiches. Luckily I ate a big lunch because this looks like a long one. That's why we never implemented a physical training program. We like to have our guys with some extra fat on them.

Medical Monitoring:
What do you mean my pulse and blood pressure are too high? That is my NORMAL resting pulse and BP. Maybe these extra few pounds I've been carrying around make it tough. After a couple cups of coffee and some doughnuts, they will go back to normal.
Chief needs three more hand lines stretched and we need all bodies.

EMS Treatment in accordance with local protocol:
Where are the medics? We've got an apartment building roaring and the EMS rigs are two blocks away. Just give me some O2 and I will be fine. It's not bad chest pain. Probably the chili dogs with onion I ate for lunch. I don't want to look soft in front of the young guys.

Member accountability:
I lost my tags. My crew got split up and the captain detailed me to re-fill air bottles.
I don't want to look soft by hanging out in rehab.

Release from rehabilitation:
This will not be a problem. You either get back to work or go to the hospital in the bus.
It feels kinda good here in the air conditioned rehab unit. With all that 5" that needs to be re-loaded, maybe I need to drink another liter of juice.

We all know that changing old habits comes slow for some. Budget constraints do create real challenges in meeting the needs of your department. Truly, for any department to be 100 % compliant in meeting these standards, much planning and focusing will be required. Develop a team of interested staff members to research, develop and implement these life-saving standards. Although it may take months to reach your ultimate goal, it is never too late to make improvements. Best of luck with your efforts to ensure the health and safety of your people. They are worth it!

How to refuel the firefighter machine

Posted on Thu, 27 Mar 2014 14:52:52 UTC

Anytime the human body participates in exercise, it generates heat as a byproduct of metabolism.

This is normal and the body has developed four ways to dissipate this heat to keep its internal temperature within the narrow range required for efficient function: radiation, evaporation, convection and conduction.

Radiation is heat the body gives off to the atmosphere. Evaporation is the loss of heat that occurs when liquid on the body changes to vapor. This liquid is often sweat released by the body during exercise.

Convection is the loss of heat to air or water that is flowing by the body. Conductive heat loss occurs when the body is in direct contact with an object and the heat is transferred to that object.

For a firefighter who wearing full PPE, heat loss is minimized. This is a concern for those of us providing them with medical care, especially on hot days.

Mechanism of heat loss
Sweating is a mechanism of heat loss with unintended consequences that are often improperly managed. Most of us know that the body can become dehydrated during exercise, so we need to maintain hydration by drinking before, during and after the exercise.

But what are the other complications of sweating and what are the best options to prevent them?

Before exercise it is important to maintain proper hydration throughout the day. Once we are thirsty we already have some degree of dehydration and our abilities can suffer.

We need to maintain adequate water intake on any routine day, with additional fluids before exercise. Athletes should have 18 to 20 ounces of water or a sports drink two to three hours before exercise and then 7 to 10 ounces 10 to 20 minutes before the exertional activity.

This sounds great, but most of the time we cannot anticipate when our day of training and station chores will be interrupted by a working structure fire in the summer. Although cover assignments may permit some pre-incident planning, it is reasonable to try to pre-hydrate and pre-fuel while en route to or at a cover assignment, as the chances of being called to the "saddle" are more likely.

Beverage choice
The beverage selected to maintain hydration and performance depends on the anticipated duration of activity, again a challenge for firefighters. If the duration of the activity is anticipated to be less than 1 hour, then water alone before and during the event may be acceptable.

However for longer incidents, it is important to have carbohydrates present as well to make sure there is adequate storage of them for use in the upcoming activity. Electrolytes that are lost in sweat (sodium and potassium in particular) are more difficult to load up on before the exercise because the body does not store extra electrolytes — it will release them in the urine.

During the exercise or activity, 7 to 10 ounces of fluid is needed every 10 to 20 minutes to approximate the sweat and urine losses. Even if we do not urinate, urine accumulates in the bladder and may as well have already left the body.

Again, if the duration of the firefighting activity and post-fire exertion is less than 1 hour, water alone may be acceptable. But longer incidents where only water is ingested, have a unique risk — hyponatremia.

Managing water intoxication
Hyponatremia, or low sodium, is also known as water intoxication, although this term is not very descriptive. The concentration of sodium in the body is fairly narrow, between 135 and 145 mEq/L (Milli-Equivalents per liter).

Sodium and, to a lesser extent, potassium are present to a significant amount in our sweat. So it is critical to make sure these losses are replaced during rehydration.

If they are not, continuing to ingestion only water will cause the body's concentration of sodium to decrease. As these levels fall below 125 mEq/L, an individual can suffer headaches, disorientation, fatigue and vomiting. At levels below 120 mEq/L, seizures, brain damage, coma and death can occur.

Sodium and other electrolytes are present in sport drinks, salty snacks and other fluids. Hyponatremia is unlikely to occur as long as a person does not ingest only plain water for long periods of time. Limit plain water to 12 quarts per day.

Carb loading
The next substance to be concerned about during exercise is the carbohydrate, usually obtained from sugars. Carbohydrates provide us with the energy to do work.

These should definitely be added to any rehydration/rehab regimen when the activity is longer than 1 hour, because glycogen stores in the liver (where extra carbohydrates are initially stored) may be exhausted in this time. The body needs between 30 and 60 grams per hour during exercise.

The carbohydrate in fluids is usually a form of sugar, but the type and concentration is important. Fructose in particular should be limited because it can contribute to gastrointestinal distress, like vomiting and diarrhea.

Foods that can cause this "dumping syndrome" include fruits and sodas. Sodas also have the adverse effect of making one feel more full due to the carbonation, so they really have no place on the fireground. Other sugars such as sucrose and glucose are less likely to cause this, but can if ingested in large amounts.

Sugar limit
Regardless of the type, their concentration should be limited. If there is greater than 8 percent carbohydrate (>8 grams per 100mL of fluid) then the absorption of fluid in the stomach and primarily small intestine can be affected. Popular sports drinks approach this threshold, while having lower concentrations of electrolytes.

Some agencies diluting sports drinks with water to reduce their thickness. This may help with the high-sugar concentration, but can dilute the electrolytes that are already somewhat low.

For short- to moderate-length activities, this should not be a problem. But longer events such as an all-day evolution, the risk of hyponatremia can rise.

A new carbohydrate has recent been showing up in the military literature — rice-based rehydration solutions. These have carbohydrates with a variety of complexity, and in one small study showed that they lead to less dehydration than other types of replacement fluids.

Further research is needed before these can definitely be recommended. But, they do offer an interesting alternative and are available in powder packets that can be added to water. They may also cause less gastrointestinal upset than sugar-based fluids.

Post incident
Once the activity is complete, it continues to be important to replenish water, electrolytes and carbohydrates to return the body to optimum performance. This is even more critical for emergency services, who are unable to anticipate when the next call to duty will occur.

Our bodies are our tools. And the public we serve and our fellow firefighters depend on us to have our tools operating at peak levels.

Proper hydration and nutrition is an important part of this. Take a moment to consider what you are putting in your body at the peak time of vulnerability.

How fire races to the eaves

Posted on Tue, 11 Feb 2014 22:03:17 UTC

Last November I wrote about tactical considerations for managing fires involving vinyl-siding clad structures. Since then, additional information regarding the combustibility of vinyl siding has come to my attention.

As my previous article reflects, many in the fire service have long believed that vinyl siding is very combustible and has been the primary culprit responsible for rapid fire propagation up exteriors.

However, the latest research by both the National Institute of Standards and Technology and UL regarding the combustibility of vinyl-clad structures indicates additional fuels behind the vinyl siding may contribute significantly to rapid exterior fire spread, rather than the vinyl itself.

Vinyl plays a role but not alone according to Steve Kerber, director with UL Fire Safety Research Institute. The combination of vinyl and foam insulation board seems to be the bigger issue as it pertains to having fast-moving vertical fires that become attic fires.

There is also a big difference between the typical vinyl siding and vinyl siding that is meant to look like cedar planking or shake, Kerber said. There is more material and mass in the latter and the fire spread is more powerful.

According to Matthew Dobson, the Vinyl Siding Institute's senior director of code and regulatory, who wrote in his article "Siding with Design" in the October 2007 issue of The Construction Specifier magazine, that vinyl siding is composed mainly of polyvinyl chloride or PVC, which is inherently flame-retardant. PVC resists ignition from another flame until approximately 730 degrees Fahrenheit, will self-ignite at about 850 degrees, and is recognized for approved use by the International Building Code.

Dobson further notes the ignition temperature for vinyl is significantly higher than typical wood framing, which self-ignites at approximately 770 degrees.

Melting vinyl
Fire officials understand very well, however, that fire exposure temperatures to vinyl siding can far exceed those temperatures noted for auto-ignition. Vinyl siding softens and sags and will often drop out of the way when exposed to flame.

The combustible underlayment is then exposed to direct flame contact, which is a significant factor. According to Dan Madrzykowski, a fire-protection researcher with NIST, typically the exposed underlayment consists of weather wrap over oriented strand board, or it could be expanded polystyrene, or poly isocynurate foam board, all of which are very combustible and are not to be installed in an exposed manner as per the labeling on the product.

The vinyl siding is supposed to serve as a fire-resistant barrier to the underlayment materials. However, with direct flame or heat exposure, the vinyl siding will be quickly breached, thus allowing the combustible underlayment material to ignite. Rapid fire extension can then occur upwards into the eave and attic space.

The attached video shows eave fire experiments conducted by UL Firefighter Safety Research Institute as part of the 2011 DHS grant evaluating fire service attic fire dynamics and suppression tactics. A series of three large-scale experiments were conducted that examined exterior fire spread into the eaves and how and the speed at which exterior fires transitioned to attic fires.

Kerber said the results of these UL experiments will be published in the next few months.

To the firefighter on the street it may make little difference exactly which fuels are involved. However, my intent is to put forth only factual information, based on solid fireground experience and current science-based fire research.

From a tactical perspective, the end result on how to effectively manage this type of fire threat remains the same. A rapid developing fire on the exterior of a vinyl-clad structure can pose a serious risk to firefighters and occupants alike if not quickly and properly dealt with.

Greek tragedy for firefighters

Posted on Mon, 12 Jul 2010 21:35:47 UTC

By Jay Lowry

What does the Greek financial crisis that hit the headlines earlier in the summer have to do with fire stations being built?

A great deal. Unlike 20 years ago, we live in a very connected world and the global market is influenced by local events with repercussions felt in cities and towns across the United States.

When Greece received a bailout from the European Union, stocks plummeted in the United States — and didn't stop dropping for a while.

Why should firefighters or EMS care?

There is a steady drum beat for financial reform including pension reform, eliminating deficit spending and reducing salaries. These are local effects of a national and even international problem. NFPA 1710 staffing is being attacked as wasteful and the financial crisis helps those who want to have barebones service.

Some firefighters state this was the worst budget year in history. Not hardly.

In many areas, the big bust will be the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 budget cycles.

The mood of the country coupled with rising debt, deficit spending, massive entitlement programs and loss of investor confidence will combine to make the current situation look tame.

Warren Buffett is known as the "Oracle of Omaha" because of his financial acumen. Testifying before Congress last month, and in subsequent interviews, Buffett discussed rising concerns over municipal bonds.

He has divested, as have others, in muni-bonds because cities and counties are finding it very hard to make payments. This is very bad news.

All is not lost. Fire and EMS will survive but both must plan for tighter budgets while educating the public on the importance of the services performed.

The economy will rebound eventually but don't expect it to happen soon. Even so, the effects will have consequences for years to come.

Truck repair shop: How would you attack this fire?

Posted on Wed, 26 Mar 2014 15:54:20 UTC

The arrival of firefighting forces at a well-involved commercial structure fire is a low-frequency, high-risk operation for many departments for several reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Officers and firefighters do not have much experience managing such incidents.
  • Departmental staffing, even when supplemented by mutual-aid companies, is inadequate.
  • The water supply infrastructure may not be capable of delivering adequate water to the scene.
  • Changes in a building's occupancy, fuel load and fuel arrangement occur over time.

Frequently, the incident commander determines that defensive is the appropriate mode of operations based upon their size-up of the building, the fire, and their available resources. This decision also comes with some unique challenges.

  • Personnel lack experience in the safe, effective and efficient implementation of a defensive strategy.
  • Lack of sufficient types of apparatus and equipment may hinder the ability to deliver sufficient fire flows from the necessary attack points.
  • Large volumes of water flow create a significant run-off of contaminated water from the structure that must be managed.

Watch the following video that involved a truck and trailer repair facility. Use the discussion points to review this incident with your personnel to increase their knowledge of such incidents.

Discussion questions

  • What are the risk to firefighters and the civilian population presented by the smoke from this fire?
  • How would you manage those risks?
  • What are the hazard presented by the contaminated water run-off resulting from the large volume of water being delivered to this fire?
  • How would you manage that risk?
  • What are the key operational and safety aspects of conducting a safe, effective and efficient defensive operation for this fire?

What are the pros and cons of: (1) letting the fire burn to reduce the contaminated water run-off hazard — thereby reducing the risk to the environment or public sewer system, or (2) extinguishing the fire to reduce the production of the contaminated smoke — thereby reducing the downwind population to the hazards of the smoke?

Apparatus Advances in 2007

Posted on Fri, 28 Dec 2007 18:00:00 UTC

Photo Jamie Thompson
Apparatus on display at the FDIC in Indianapolis in April.

At the beginning of the year, the fire apparatus industry really seemed as if it would suffer because of the new 2007 EPA Guidelines for Diesel Engines. While it wasn't all smooth, it didn't turn out as bad as some had imagined. Admittedly, it did require a lot of redesign and engineering of cabs and bodies to have the new engines fit. But it seems that sales have increased in the second half of the year, with many large orders being placed despite the new designs.

This year brought us the PUC from Pierce Manufacturing, which is a new concept that provides ease of maintenance with easier access to the pump, engine and transmission as well as a Pierce Pump. The vehicle also has more compartment space, chest-high cross lays and easier access to the rear hose bed by an angled ladder.

E-One had an extremely busy year, with several new products being launched including a new ARFF Vehicle, the Titan Force 6, with a five-person cab, exterior pump panel, multiple roof and bumper turrets, 3170 gallon poly water tank and a 437 gallon poly foam tank.

Also designed was the urban pumper, with a low ergonomic hose bed and a hybrid energy command vehicle for homeland security use. At FRI in Atlanta, it introduced a new SUV command vehicle — Comms-One — which promotes command interoperability in radio communication.

In more recent months, KME introduced the Challenger pumper line. The Challenger family features 36 different body configurations in steel, aluminum or stainless with 29" deep body compartments for added storage. It has numerous hose bed and compartment configurations including high capacity and low, easy-access hose beds. All can be built on KME Custom or commercial chassis.

Meanwhile, Ferrara's main launch in 2007 was the Heavy Duty 5 section Midmount ladder, which touts a shorter wheelbase and a lower overall height.

In addition, Crimson has built a new pump panel — ControlXT — in conjunction with Fire Research Corporation. It incorporates a more easy-to-read panel with engine information, water and tank level gauges, pressure governing systems and other customer-selected controls and displays. ControlXT will be standard or optional on all Crimson product lines.

Finally, Rosenbauer America debuted the T-Rex in 2007. In conjunction with Metz, the new articulating platform sets up in 25-30 seconds, has an aerial height of 102' equipped with a 2000 gpm pump and room for 115' of ground ladders. It also features a platform collision avoidance feature and a 1400 lb tip capacity.

All of the manufacturers are building and designing with firefighter safety in mind, which in my book is something that should continue in the coming years. More attention is being placed on larger cabs with more room for firefighter comfort and safety, lower hose beds and increased storage space as well as multi-tasking vehicles because we are all trying to do more with less in this day and age.

Just when you think nothing else could be possible, the fire apparatus engineers come out with another new idea that takes the industry by storm. With all of these new innovations that were introduced this year, I can hardly wait for the offerings in 2008. It should prove to be an interesting year. If that is not enough, newer stringent EPA Diesel Engine requirements crop up again in 2010. Oh well!

Fire service leaders: The difference between life and death

Posted on Mon, 24 Feb 2014 22:51:40 UTC

Within the fire service, we constantly grapple with one question: What does it mean to be a leader? Clearly, we're not alone in our search, which is why the leadership training industry brings in more than $100 billion worldwide.

Leadership is a constant subject of research, training, education and discussion — in every field of human endeavor. Depending on the source, there are dozens of recognized theories of leadership in the academic literatures of business administration, public administration and management science.

Go to any bookstore, or online bookseller, and search for the "leadership" section or keyword; there you'll find thousands of books penned by people from all walks of life with their perspectives, tips, and techniques for exercising leadership, or becoming (or staying) a "leader".

Attend almost any fire service conference, or professional development gathering in another industry, and you'll likely find several presentations, tracks or panels on leadership.

You can select from myriad different survey instruments to assess your leadership "style," spend thousands of dollars on leadership development programs, and even hire a leadership coach.

Whatever your favorite (social) media channel, it’s almost impossible to miss researchers, politicians, and pundits talking about leadership.

Life-and-death important
The significance of leaders is obvious — they set the tone and impact core values within an organization, for good or bad.

But in our business, it takes on another dimension. Leadership, at all levels, can make the difference between life and death — not just the lives of those we are sworn to protect, but also the lives of our brother and sister firefighters.

If your experiences are anything like mine, the presence, or absence, of leadership is palpable. It's visceral; you can actually "feel" it when it's there, and you miss it when it's not. While leadership may be hard to define, as witness the many (often competing) theories on the topic, we generally think we "know it when we see it."

From my own work as a firefighter, company officer, chief officer, state agency head, non-profit board member, academic researcher, instructor, consultant and business owner, I have certainly benefited from good leadership, and suffered (or so it felt at the time) through bad leadership. Sometimes the two types were indistinguishable, and even came from the same individual, group or organization at different times, or under different circumstances. Sometimes what I felt was good leadership, was seen by others as bad leadership, and vice versa.

With so much invested each year in leadership research, publishing and training, why haven't we figured it out yet?

No "there" there
All the evidence suggests the worthwhile pursuit of leadership excellence is a never-ending journey. In short, it's because there's no "there" there.

If there was an easy 12-step program to develop leadership capacity throughout organizations, it would have been invented already. In fact, the more we discover about human behavior and interaction — and the more it changes with the diverse environmental, cultural, technical and political influences of an era where we are all connected, all the time — the less we actually know for certain.

We don't need to look far to see some long-held leadership lessons reinforced over and over, while others are relegated to the "it seemed like (and may have been) a good idea at the time" bin of history.

Given the high stakes, all the attention and money directed at researching, defining and teaching leadership seems worthwhile. Still, it can be difficult, and at times frustrating, to sort through the many different perspectives on leadership.

So what can we do?

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I do believe strongly in the ongoing practice of leadership and the value of introspection as we all pursue this never-ending journey, in both our professional and personal lives. If we do our job right, we might end up with more questions than answers, so please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences.

Lead by Example in Vehicle Safety

Posted on Mon, 23 Jun 2008 16:00:07 UTC
How not to drive a fire truck
An emergency response almost leads to a rollover. Full Video
When I was asked to write an article that would address this year's Safety, Health and Survival Week, I was initially struck with writer's block. Unfortunately within a few short days I found myself facing a situation that provided me with ample material to write about.

Last week my fire department was dispatched to assist to a neighboring department with a house fire. I happened to be at the firehouse so I quickly proceeded to don my gear and grab a jump seat — for once I didn't have to drive! The rear of the ladder truck soon filled with four other members and we turned out down the street.

One of the members sitting across from me was a newly promoted lieutenant. As with many volunteer departments, a line officer is often found riding in the back seat when another line officer has already grabbed the front — we can argue that practice at a later time. I noticed that this new lieutenant was not wearing his seat belt. I immediately said "Dude, where's your seat belt?" Motioning at the retracted seat belt as he glared at me, he replied, "Right here."

My response? "How 'bout you put your seat belt on so that if we crash this thing you don't come across the seat and kill me?" Somehow I went from scoring a coveted jump seat en route to a working fire to the middle of a stand-off. Grudgingly, he put his seat belt on and we continued on our way.

As we pulled up to the scene, this newly minted lieutenant snidely plucked at his seat belt strap and said, "Is it all right to take this off now?" At that point, I felt I'd had enough. Having spent several years as a line and chief officer, this lieutenant for me was setting an extremely poor example for the younger and more impressionable members riding in the rig. I then proceeded to explain my feelings to this lieutenant — perhaps a bit harshly — until another senior member put the discussion to rest by simply stating, "At this station, we wear our seat belts." End of story.

Epitomizes problems
So why do I share this story? I do so because this 3-minute episode epitomizes the problems that we face in today’s fire service on many different levels. The title of this year's Safety, Health and Survival Week is "Committed to Long-Term Results." But how can we commit to long-term results if those in positions of leadership and power won't follow the rules themselves? How is it possible that a line officer can not only get away with not wearing a seat belt, but can then argue the issue with someone who tells him to put it on? Have we learned nothing from those who have given their lives before us?

Imagine this scenario: A fire apparatus rolls out the door with two young firefighters and a line officer. One of the young firefighters sees that his officer isn't wearing his seat belt and figures he doesn't need to wear it either. The truck crashes and the young firefighter is ejected and killed. Who is at fault? The reports and the scuttlebutt will all say that if this young firefighter had just put his seat belt on, he would still be here today. People will question his poor judgment and shake their heads at what they believe was a rookie mistake. But was it?

In reality, that same line officer who set a silent example by not wearing his seat belt is largely responsible for this hypothetical fatality. Like it or not, when you pin a fancy gold horn on your collar or put that shiny white front piece on your helmet, you’ve become someone that younger members look up to and follow. Even when you don’t realize it, these members are emulating you and following your example. Senior firefighters, line officers and chiefs all create a culture that younger and more junior firefighters will learn to live by. It is this culture that can save or cost a life.

If the fire service truly wishes to bring about long-term results, it's time to start holding people responsible for their actions. It seems that every time one of us is injured or killed, the rest of us are hesitant to ask questions or pass judgment. As a result, this culture never changes. How do I know? Look at the number of firefighter fatalities over the past 20 years. Does anyone really see a difference?

So how should we hold people accountable? It's time to start wielding a big stick. Fancy posters and cute little stickers telling you to wear your seat belt haven’t worked. Every year there are still numerous line-of-duty deaths that are a direct result of someone not wearing their seat belt. Want to make a difference? Start randomly stopping your rigs and checking to see that everyone has their seat belt on. If someone doesn't, suspend them. More than three infractions, show them the door. Maybe it's time to have the cops start citing people who can't get the message through their heads. After all, not wearing your seat belt is against the law!

Until these types of attitudes change or people are held responsible for their actions, I don’t believe we will ever reduce the number of line–of-duty deaths, especially those that are a direct result of vehicle crashes. Unless those in charge begin to lead by example and create a culture in which reckless driving, poor attitudes and lack of seat belt use are no longer tolerated, the culture will never change and we will be doomed to repeat our mistakes over and over again.

To those who have already begun to move this ship in a positive direction, my hat is off to you. And to those that refuse to help the rest of us reduce the number of firefighter fatalities by continuing this reckless culture ... I say maybe it's time to go.