All posts by plamb

Leadership?…….It’s Elementary My Dear Watson

Recently, I got to re-watch a special about a man by the name of Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell lived in Edinburgh in the 1800’s. It is thought by many that he was the actual inspiration for the fictional character Sherlock Holmes.
Dr. Bell’s student A. Canon Doyle wrote about some of the things he learned from Dr. Bell and did so by inventing and writing the Sherlock Holmes Character.
So…what brings me to leadership?
During this presentation I was watching Dr. Bell explained his three basic principles for teaching early scientific methods (forensics) to his students.
His three principles he taught them were these:
Let’s apply those to being a good leader.
My thought here went in a couple of directions (what are the odds?). The first is as an officer, supervisor or leader you should say little and listen a lot. I have been exposed to so many leaders that have no concept of what is really going on in the agencies or companies it is disheartening. They call themselves great managers and leaders but they have no idea what is really going on in their command. Observation is more than a cursory glance it is really looking at things like Sherlock might have through a fine ever present magnifying glass. If we observe those fine, minute details the large problems will take care of themselves.
The second part or thought about observation I had, was how difficult it can really be and how it takes an effort. I am speaking now of the fire chiefs who fancy themselves as administrators only and do not even go to alarms or emergencies any longer. They have not really observed what is going on because they are too busy or they do not want to be perceived as checking on the troops. BULL! Get out from behind your desk, leave your ivory tower and actually observe your operation, you might be surprised (pleasantly or unpleasantly) at what you see.
After you have observed, think about what you have actually seen. Reason with yourself, and revisit any previous experiences you might have had that would have been similar. Research what others have done, spoken, and or written about a similar situation and make a decision. The definition of the word really means to come to some conclusion by reasoning. As this relates to leadership and handling of problems, my advice and analogy is pretty simple. Come to a conclusion and make a decision one way or another. Leaders today have lost their ability to take risks, educated guess, and have suffered analysis paralysis. These people do observe, and then they fail to come to any conclusions.
After you have observed and made some brilliant deductions we hope, you should not rest. You should continue to confirm what you thought and whether or not your proposed solution has positively affected the situation. This fail to follow up is critical. It can lead you to believe that every deduction you have made is perfect and that in fact you know you never have to follow up because after all you were right all along. This failure can compound itself by making and continuing to make horrible decisions in the future. It also ties in with my first comments about observations. Many supervisors today feel that following up and checking on subordinates is a bad thing. It is your job and your responsibility and if you do not have the stomach for it then get a paper route.
In summary I thought that these three simple basic rules as taught to medical students in the 1800’s applied to leadership principles.
In fact I think they have some merit in the tactical operations of firefighting as well for that matter.
Upon arrival make an observation (size-up), make some deduction (fire in a void space or a 2 1/2 story wood frame) and confirm by sending crews to ventilate and attack using standard tactics.
The three principles as stated could have been the basis of the DECIDE method used in hazardous materials by Benner as well.
Oh yeah… and Dr. Bell also always told his medical students the following…The lessons are presented in the classroom, they are learned by the bedside of patients.
How true that is and how well that applies to us in the fire service. Learn and study the educational lessons, but field experience is a must for a safe and effective firefighter or fire officer.
So some of the principles of leadership really are elementary!
Thank you Dr. Bell !
Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Tactical Fire Problem – Mill Building

This week a fire in a mill building. For those that do not have mill construction, think about a multi-story large area commercial building.

1.) What type of construction is this (NFPA Designation) and what are the characteristics of this type of construction?

2.) Have you pre planned the structure and is being used for the same occupancy loading as what it was built for?

3.) What is your strategy for this incident? Not tactical operations but strategy.

4.) What is the maximum flow rate that your department can flow to an upper floor of this type of building? Calculate this by using you apparatus and manpower assigned on a first alarm.

5.) How many aerial devices will be needed and what is the best placement for them?

If you would like feedback on your answers send an email to, or use the send voicemail tab on the right hand side of this page.

Stay safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Measuring Effectiveness

This week I am challenging us to think about what we use as our own measures of success or what really makes us effective either personally or professionally in our career of this fire service.

There are all sorts of things that can serve as our personal yardstick and I am just going to randomly throw out some things so that you can discuss these personally in your own setting, whatever size department or at whatever rank you are.

Do you meet any of the NFPA national standards or doesn’t that matter to you? The certification standards for firefighters are a nationally recognized minimum. To some people these certifications are the measure of effectiveness they use in their career.

Are you well respected by your members below you and your supervisors above you? Being efficient and well respected regardless of any certification might be the measure for some other folks.

Do you have or are you pursuing a higher degree and college education. To some that is the ultimate and the measure of their personal effectiveness?

Does your department as a whole do the right thing and not embarrass the community. Does your department enjoy good positive community support regardless of how busy you are?

Does your department have the best and newest and latest and greatest equipment, and that is your measure of effectiveness?

Do you operate safely and efficiently without a lot of injuries?

Does your department operate cost effectively with low sick time and high enthusiasm?

Are you an average department that does good safe firefighting and aggressive EMS work, and the “customers” actually appreciate the routine everyday things that occur within your community.

Whatever you do yourself within your own department remember that it is really not about what you think is effective it really doesn’t matter at all what you think, it really matters what your community thinks and how other perceive you, that really determines how effective you are or are allowed to be.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Tactical Fire Problem – Refrigeration Leak

Not really a fire problem this week, sort of a Haz mat or medical emergency.
You receive a medical call for your local supermarket for someone feeling weak and dizzy. While EMS is enroute you begin receiving additional calls.

1.) What are your initial actions?

2.) What are the additional resources you would call for?

3.) Do you know what refrigerant is used in these coolers, and what does the system schematic look like?

4.) Is the product toxic? Does it just displace oxygen? Is there any odor to the product? Is it a huge refrigeration system that uses ammonia?These are all things that you might be able to determine through pre planning ahead of time. We often pre plan the building but we should take a look at all systems that introduce products inside of a building through pipes, vents, conduits.

5.) On a crowded Saturday morning, how many people are actually exposed or contaminated, versus the folks that might have “sympathy” sickness from watching this incident. Triage will be a major consideration. Because this is a grocery store, are there any other considerations or agencies to be called after the incident is stabilized?

Stay Safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Firefighter Roundtable Discussion Using Google HANGOUTS

The weekly firefighter Roundtable discussion will be held Sunday June 16, 2013 at 8:00 PM eastern time.

If you have a free gmail account or a google+ account or both you are welcome to join in. A mic and webcam obviously make this very interactive.

Topic is open right now, review of everyone’s organization and ops, one screen sharing fire problem at least and whatever else we get into!

Send an email to if you are interested and I will send a link at 8;01 PM on Sunday evening, click the link to join in.

Hope you can make it. Currently limited to the first nine folks for now, once we are done beta testing the concept we have more in store!

Stay tuned!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013