Browsed by
Month: June 2015

Jack of all trades…

Jack of all trades…

The fire service is a trade that is chock full of fascinating, unusual, and compelling types of work that can keep just about anyone occupied and engaged into it. From firefighting, extrication, heavy rescue, rope rescue, dive rescue, water rescue, confined space, hazardous materials, public safety education, inspections/pre-planning, the list goes on as to what there is. Furthermore we can drill down each one of those into a long list of sub classifications, tasks, and roles that would fill all the whiteboards around your training room. The possibilities are endless for training, and certainly can keep your firehouse busy with ideas for drill night from now through the end of your career.

Too often however, with all these exciting topics we are cranking our newest young men and women through schools and jamming information down their throats and letting them take on the world. As fast as they can finish one class, they are hopping into the next without the ability to fully apply or grasp the knowledge that they have just learned and hone those skills, grow those skills, and be the best at what they do. We train them to be a firefighter and then before they can fully apply and be good at the tasks required of them they move right on. They as firefighters, and more often their officers are failing to make sure that they have a solid base as a line firefighter and fully “get it” before we let them power forward to specializations. We are creating a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none.

A question I hear often with newer firefighters that I run across is, “what should I do next?” I ask them, “what do you mean next,” to which they answer (in a roundabout way, “I want to get on XYZ Fire Department and be a firefighterparamedicroperanglingbadassheavyrescuingglowworm…” the list goes on as they can hardly focus and keep still. Now I will never fault anyone for their excitement about the path we take as firefighters, because it can be a very exciting and enjoyable calling. That’s awesome, bottle up some of that excess energy and save it for the rough day when you’re going on nothing but fumes and settle down for a moment. We all can probably remember what its like to be that new person, that one who just finished their 36, their FFI, or their FFII and can spout textbook, NFPA, and how our instructors from ABC Fire Department do it everyday. We were invincible, unstoppable, and because we just finished the latest fire academy class we are ready to take it all on and do so with a passion that can’t be reckoned with.

I got probably one of the best pieces of advice from my first EMS partner, Jane, years ago that I still hold onto and it is valid not only for the fire service. I remember just finishing up a difficult run and working it with her while another firefighter drove us in.   It looked as if a tornado went through the box and each of us looked like we had just finished running a race. I remember being that firefighter that just finished up EMT-Basic school and asking what should I do next, that run had my adrenaline pumping, I was amped up, full of energy, and I loved doing what I just experienced. She told me that the best thing that I can do is, “learn to be the best basic there is, and then look at advancing.” I thought understood some of what she meant by that statement, but it wasn’t until years later when I fully appreciated it. I saw it in the younger members that would finish their FFII card, run off to Paramedic School and to every school they could find in the first three years, but to be honest struggled for quite some time at very basic roles and tasks. They had certificates that proved they could pass the tests, but they didn’t have the time and put in the effort to work on the skills at being good before trying to move on to something else.

By now, maybe you’re thinking I am saying don’t train, training is bad, and nothing could be further from the truth. By all means I encourage training, but make sure that you have a solid base, understanding, and can act when needed. Learn your job and be a great firefighter before you start worrying about specialization. Know your firehouse, be proficient with your trucks, equipment, your knowledge of first due, the fire ground roles, and be that solid firefighter that can be given a task without hesitation. Stretch lines until you can’t just do it, but until you can do it well. Move water and making working that pump look like you’re playing a beautiful hymn while standing at the organ. The list could go on and on, but master them, and then look to build your list of accomplishments and skills.

There is a reason that many departments require a certain amount of time at a position before moving around to a special unit or looking at specialization. Its an excellent thing to have goals that you desire to be a heavy rescue tech or a rescue diver, keep those goals and work toward them, but work first on being that great firefighter and master it.

Train hard and do work.

Are you “all in” – The PR at the Columbus Arts Festival 5k

Are you “all in” – The PR at the Columbus Arts Festival 5k

18838689552_ebb4852c67_oThe morning of the race didn’t start out right. In fact the events leading up to the race at the Columbus Arts Festival didn’t go quite how I wanted them too. It was a rough week at work, a messed up week of training, and the weather certainly was going to be against me that morning. The alarm clock somehow didn’t quite wake me as early as I wanted, but fortunately I had everything laid out so the rest went smoothly there. I got my food and hydration going so at least I had that altogether, and I’ll be honest the traffic was a breeze.

I pulled into my parking spot, paid my fee and walked toward registration. “We don’t take cards…” Really? Well crapola! Back to the truck and a very fast drive into downtown to hunt for an ATM machine. I don’t frequent downtown as much anymore, but I knew where there were banks. Darting from bank to bank I certainly got my warmup in as I found three machines that were out of order before finding the right one. Back across the river I went and got registered.

Warmed up now and hydrated where I felt like everything was normal, the sun really started to beat down and heat things up. We approached race time as I got stretched out in the shade and tried my best to get in the right mind for the task at hand. The starting line was steps in front of me as we started to fidget with out sports watches, fitness trackers, playlists, and get pumped up. There was no horn start, no countdown, no buzzer, just a go, and we were off. The first mile was a great one, in fact I was shocked as I watched the time tick and calculated in my mind where I was going.

IMG_9244The heat and humidity started to add up on me. The sinus infection I had gotten a little over a week and a half before was reminding me I wasn’t at 100 percent and It was kicking my ass. Mile 2 was really where the crazy stuff was going on and for the first time in awhile the mental game came into play. You can’t finish, just walk, stop, slow down, its hot just back down and finish. “Why are you doing this,” was blaring in the back of my mind to which I had to keep pulling inspiration from to keep going. Why, “because someone needs help, someone can’t do this, because if not who will, because I want to be better, I want to be stronger, and I want to reach my goals.”

“Keep going I’m right behind you,” the words spoken by FDNY Billy Burke, were the next words that hit my mind and I had a boost as I got into a section of the course and began to turn it up. “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,” that Jimmy Valvano spoke years ago was the next thing that hit me like a load of bricks. The same week that Stuart Scott of ESPN SportsCenter spoke the Jimmy V quote again while receiving his ESPY award, I found out that my dad was battling cancer. Don’t give up I told myself. I pulled it together and used those thoughts to push me past the pain, shut out the doubt and make the push the to finish line. Almost in sight I knew the time was going to be close and I put out everything that I had as the tunnel vision started closing in. I had a long stride and laid into it hard as I kicked that foot with the timing chip on it over the line and collapsed in a heap on the concrete.

I can’t change how the morning went, the alarm, the ATM, or anything leading up to it, but what I can do is focus on the things that I can change. I can change my focus, push my mental blocks out, control my mind and tell my body what I want. What if I had stayed focused that entire race, what if I hadn’t lost it there for a short while? Was it a couple seconds, or was it more that it took from me? For me that morning it was a new 5k PR of 23:31 and seconds off my previous best from the fall of 2014, but it could have been better. I could have been all in. What could have happened if I was “all in” that morning, I will never know.

Are you “all in” with whatever the task is? Push hard, set goals, reach goals and then set new ones. Find your inspiration and make a difference!

Family fun days gone bye?

Family fun days gone bye?

PHOTO BY Adam Schierberg Photography
PHOTO BY Adam Schierberg Photography – Jennifer and I on stage two of the couples challenge after she owned this one.  The wall was no challenge for her and a flathead and I with my Halligan.

So, as I’ve said for quite some time, FF4CURES is far more than just about one particular cure, and that “cures” can be for a variety of things and it is important to promote and encourage them all. 

In this post I want to tackle a topic that I see a problem with in many, not all, but many firehouses and how we as firefighters need to get a handle on it. When was the last time you got your spouses, fiancé, girlfriends, children, and families as a whole together for a firehouse event? When did you last have a cookout and some games where they get to toss on some gear and get a little competitive? Perhaps the new guys might not have ever heard of such a thing or even seen it…Waterball? That’s something we’ve seen in those choppy VHS movies laying around, but never seen it done, right? The “cure” so to speak is out there, but I can’t say it’s going to be a comfortable move or something that everyone wants to do. Read a little about a recent experience that is changing lives and going to make a difference in houses everywhere.

The wife and I had the opportunity to be a part of FlameFest 2015 in Glade Springs, WVA, about two weeks ago. Yes, leave all the funny jokes about the name alone, we’ve heard them all and I’m sure came up with a few more amongst the tables when it came up in discussion at the event. Yes, the name is being changed, but I’m not privy to the new name yet…

PHOTO BY Adam Schierberg Photography
PHOTO BY Adam Schierberg Photography – Working through the first stage of the timed couples challenge.  Forcible entry, yes thats right.  They say canoeing is a true test of relationships, whomever came up with that never put the irons to work with their spouse.  Communication, teamwork, trust, and work.  Yes it takes it all, and was fun.

FlameFest is an event by and made possible through many sponsors who did one heck of a job putting it together. Marriage topics, communication topics, bonding, financial planning (from people with fire service background), massage, firefighter behavioral health, fitness, funeral planning, and much more were discussed.

Now keep in mind those were just the planned topics and not what the many couples and small groups were talking about in their free time around the campfire, on the patio, on the porch, and elsewhere.  The entire event was full of communication, fun, and a great time.  Honestly if I were to do a recap of the entire weekend, I would be typing for a few days. Instead what I’m going to do is tackle a few selective topics hopefully over the next month or so and go from there.

She never backed down from a challenge. As a matter of fact, really didn’t see anyone back down that day. It was a day full of encouragement, communication, learning, and building. Jen tackled the drywall and the wood sheeting on the other side with instruction from the help of F.O.O.L.S. members and myself who were around the prop. Every participant had coaching and people there to answer their questions along the way.

One of the exciting and hands-on events at FlameFest was the touch-a-truck event. This had the look and feel of a family fun day, except just with spouses that culminated in an evening cookout and live music. The day event was possible through work by Rhett Fleitz ( with assistance by Willie Wines Jr. (, local F.O.O.L.S. chapters (Appalachian F.O.O.L.S., Valley of the F.O.O.L.S.), Beckley Fire Department, Beaver Fire Department, and Coal City Fire Department. Yeah yeah I know what you’re thinking, why is this any fun for the spouses if the guys are just going to be around fire trucks? The answer is that the event was for the ladies (and could easily be adaptable to families!) The afternoon long event put them in touch with a variety of trucks onsite to work around and check out. Then there were several stations (forcible entry, wall breaching, and hoseline deployment) not to mention the fact that they could do it in gear, masked up, and on air if they chose to. Sound fun, they thought so!?

There was a parking lot full of couples with apparatus setup and obstacles constantly in use. Firefighters constantly in motion as they watched, helped, and talked their spouses through the events. No there wasn’t shouting, no this wasn’t forced, and no this wasn’t an awkward event whatsoever, this was perhaps a phenomenon that you just had to witness to believe. Going on 16 years in the fire service (and everyday learning the trade) I can tell you that these “fire wives” break stereotypes that you hear, as did their fire husbands. I will go as far as saying these wives are the 1-percenters that are out there. Call us whatever you want, (because several of us have already caught crap about attending such an event), but Firefighter Salty McSalterson isn’t the one that’s going to grow old with you. He’s not taking the kids to practice, packing your lunch, handling the birthday party when you leave on a run, nor is he working and contributing financially. The list goes on.

Mr. and Mrs. FF4CURES right before she stretched the 1 3/4" line on another evolution at touch a truck.
Mr. and Mrs. FF4CURES right before she stretched the 1 3/4″ line on another evolution at touch a truck.

We firefighters are quick to order pizza after that run or that training; grab some beers and throw a small party after a job. We are accustomed to celebrate the holidays, celebrate retirements, and celebrate building brotherhood, but even at that we still aren’t ordering those “Big Ass Cakes” to celebrate the moments that we need to cherish. Even more troubling, we aren’t celebrating and involving those who are our biggest support systems or who “allow” us the ability to pursue our calling. We have withdrawn from our support systems at home and the ones that are going to be there long after we hop off the rig.

It doesn’t have to be big or elaborate if you haven’t done this in awhile.  The biggest hurdle might not be getting the food cooked, but rather getting the involvement from your members to have some fun with it. This doesn’t require an “email or memo” to go out, this requires something we suck at…some verbal communication. Don’t text people to break this idea out to the membership, bring it up at a meeting or training. Put a poster up at the firehouse and set a date, maybe even send some invitations out addressed to the family (a piece of letter head signed by the Chief is not what I’m suggesting here…) be creative, because its going to be more meaningful.

The meal doesn’t need to be a steak dinner, it can be as simple as hot dogs, burgers, or some chicken and some sides.  Get your association or auxiliary (theres something the younger guys don’t often know about) and see if they will provide the main dish.  Pass a signup around and get people to bring something and share the load.

These ladies cleaned up pretty well after a long day on the course.  Thank you to Beckley F.D. for use of the tower.
These ladies cleaned up pretty well after a long day on the course. Thank you to Beckley F.D. for use of the tower.

Drag out some corn hole boards and maybe have a kickball game at the park. Have some clean gear around and spray some water. If you have the luxury of a forcible entry simulator, bring it, and make sure you can keep it going for awhile because if you think we firefighters can challenge each other, you haven’t seen anything until the wives start challenging husbands and challenge each other. The important thing is to have something to do before and after the meal to keep people engaged. How many of your kids know what your fire gear is like and get/give the tours around the firehouse (lots of people saying of course)? Now, how many have your spouses, fiancé’s or girlfriends gotten that same tour, tried on the gear, masked up, or maybe even went through the SCBA maze? No hands up? WHY NOT?  Has it even crossed our minds that they even remotely might be interested in what takes you away from them?  No I’m not saying that this is going to be a recruiting event by any means, but some of the comments you will hear from them are priceless and going to be very meaningful.

Just a few of the guys breaking free from the music for a quick photo op with our helmets.
Just a few of the guys breaking free from the music for a quick photo op with our helmets.

What you’re going to see is not only are the couples building better relationships, but you’re going to see wives and families building better relationships with each other, kids knowing each other more, and being a much larger support system that’s going to have each others back when the times are tough.

Bring back the family, bring back traditions, or maybe in some houses you need to start some traditions. These aren’t new concepts or new culture that we need to approve and send up the chain, these are concepts that we are going to find pay huge dividends on those long shifts, long calls, rough nights, ruined holidays, and when your family is in trouble.

We our “our brothers keeper,” and after being a part of the FirefighterWife event, those ladies truly are, “their sisters keeper,” and I am pleased to see exist.  They are making a mark and taking the nation by storm.  Make sure that in your houses that you are providing ways to support this and make it happen.

In brotherhood…