Tactical Fire Problem – The backyard shed

So it is only a backyard shed, what could happen?

1.) Generally these are pretty small structures that are easily controlled with a single handling. What is the length of the stretch to reach the backyard of a residential that might already have a set back from the front yard?

2.) What really might be in that shed anyway? Make a list.

3.) Which of the following represents the most danger to you? Propane gas grill tank, 5 gallon plastic gasoline jug, 5 gallon gasoline old fashion steel can, lawn mower gasoline tank, lawn tractor with seats, tires and gas tank, acetylene tank with oxygen, or 5 bags of 90% nitrate fertilizer? You decide.

4.) This scenario has the shed a good distance from the residence but you should look around your response district to see them stuck between houses and backed right up to the neighbors fence or even their shed.

5.) Can you do it with tank water or do you need the feeder line?

Stay safe and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Discipline…..some thoughts

This week I am going to comment about discipline on a couple of levels. I am noticing a lack of discipline in many areas of the fire service and I hope we can shed some light upon them here.

I will make a bold statement that the lack of discipline is a significant factor in many of our injuries and deaths.

Discipline is an unpleasant thing for certain, especially when it applies to us!

In speaking to others in person and through e-mail, I am finding that this is not a “city” problem, or a labor management problem, but it in fact applies to the smallest rural volunteer fire departments across America. The situation in the city might be, “If I discipline FF. Smith, then I will get a grievance or have a union issue”, to the rural department that says” You can’t discipline me, “cause I am only a volunteer and I will leave!”

Lets look at some areas of discipline.

Personal Discipline

If we are going to speak about discipline, let’s look at the very root of the issue…..ourselves.

Personal discipline is closely tied to integrity. Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking.

When everyone is sitting down having coffee in the morning, do you get up from the table and check your mask and radio and equipment, or do you just sit with “the rest of the guys”

What about diet and exercise? Can you stay healthy and fit to do your job, or are you just OK doing what you are doing?

What about facing any unpleasant tasks that you may have either on the job or personally? Do you let those slip by because you would rather not deal with them?

What about your personal level of training? Is your training level up to the standard that you want it to be? Do you continue to push and pursue all training opportunities?

Personal discipline is about setting a proper example for others through your own actions. Personal discipline is about accepting your personal responsibility for the consequences that have occurred from your actions. Though, in the fire service there may be many issues beyond our control, let’s not begin by always pointing to something else being the problem, let us take a hard internal look.

Company or Supervisor Discipline

If you are a company officer do you hold your people accountable for their actions or is that too difficult for you to face your personnel? Maybe they will get angry and quit if they are volunteer or on-call, and you can’t afford to lose any more people.

Make people do their job and follow rules and regulations. It is your responsibility to enforce policies and procedures and if you do not or are unwilling then maybe you should not be in that position.

If your personnel have made an error and you have not corrected, coached, trained and disciplined them accordingly, then you should then be disciplined. Be prepared to accept it and not deflect blame onto someone, or something else.

Chief Officer Discipline

If you have departmental Sops and general orders that are currently not being followed and you are aware of it, then you should be disciplined. Don’t be so far removed that you no longer know what is going on in the streets. Many officers have subscribed to the theory that the personnel should not be micro-managed so I should leave them alone. You are about half right…..don’t micro-manage your personnel unless they need it. That’s right, unless they need it. If your personnel are not wearing their gear properly, then you need to correct that behavior, or even discipline your personnel as to why. If there is an order for daily training to be conducted and you know it is a joke and only being done on paper and in reports then you should address that and correct.

Hiding behind your chief’s badge and failing to provide corrective coaching discipline is a failure.

Discipline is about correcting behavior. It is about coaching, corrective actions, and if all else fails some punishing action in last resort cases.

Discipline starts with us.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Firefighter Training Podcast – Episode #9 – Social Media & The Fire Service

This week special Guest Ellen Rossano and I discuss social media use.

Listen to the podcast HERE..

We look at the organization use, interaction with the media, and personal use by members.

This one is not a “tactical” fire service training in any way, but more of an administrative look at this interesting topic.

Contact information for Ellen is Included in the episode. ellen.rossano@gmail.com

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Demonstration versus Declaration (Repost from a few years ago)

How I get to the topics for the week often are a wide and varied path. Folks often ask if it is something I ran into personally or something that someone else has sent in. This week is a variety of both actually.

It actually begins with a simple tip: Don’t believe everything that appears on YOUR own resume!

In a brief look the above statement is a bit bizarre at best but let’s take a closer look at it, and the title of the commentary. If you have to spend a great deal of he time of your professional career telling everyone how much you know, you may be setting up for a problem. How come the people your are talking to, don’t already know that, if you are really so good? A close friend and professional comrade always said, ” If you have to tell someone you are in charge, then you probably aren’t” This directly applies to the above statement. If you are able to demonstrate your fire service proficiencies, then that is probably the best way to demonstrate to folks that you know what you are doing.

Listen, anyone can make mistakes, heck, follow me around for a day and you will see plenty, some personnel related, and some operational. I am not saying that we should all have perfect performance all of the time, but I am saying that any time you spend telling others about your abilities, would probably be better spent on training yourself to make yourself able to demonstrate that to them rather then just telling them about it.

Every fire department has at least one of these folks that will spend an hour telling you how busy they are, even though during the last hour they did nothing except tell you! Every department has a member who has been to every incident that is being discussed at the kitchen table. In fact some of these members have no shame and they will recount stories that occurred prior to them even being on the job, as if they were there!

These members need help from all of us if we are truly a brotherhood. If I am describing someone that sounds like someone you know, then try to help them out a little bit. These folks probably really do have some skill set in the fire service, and someone should try to guide them and gently point this character flaw to them in a private quiet sort of way. (Yeah like that will happen in ANY fire house kitchen!)

There are lots of reasons people do things like these, but my point this week is not really to look at anyone else, but to look inwardly at ourselves and see if we do this from time to time. I am sure that at points in my career I have done this very thing. If you begin to recognize it, then re-focus yourself on demonstrating your proficiency rather than just declaring it!

Make folks believe you have the knowledge skills and abilities to do your job. If we all work on that one statement, by training and gaining experience and education, things will be good in your department and the fire service.

Folks will probably like you better for it anyway!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Tactical Fire Problem – Electrical Substation Fire

A fire at an electrical substation this week, which in some ways might be an easy one!

1.) Why is this an easy one? Simple, we do not belong beyond the fenced area until deemed safe multiple times by the power company. That was no mistake, I did say confirmed multiple times. The modern power grid will attempt to re-route power automatically in some cases when a fault is detected. What is de-energized now may not be in a minute. Get multiple confirmations from multiple levels and sources. Treat it almost like Haz mat identification of a chemical, multiple sources of information are needed.

2.) Consider the fact that extremely high voltage lines can drop and fall. Establish a safety zone for personnel and apparatus.

3.) Learn and pre plan these facilities in your area. Learn about arcing and safe distances. How close do you really have to be to a 60-70 thousand volt transmission line before there is a problem? Does thick black smoke have enough carbon in it to conduct electricity? (SPOILER….ANSWER IS YES!)

4.) As the fire department, what affect will this substation fire have on your community? Did you just lose all of the traffic signals, resulting in accidents, did the power go off to the nursing home, hospital, or supermarket refrigerators? Will home owners begin using candles, stoves inside for heat (carbon monoxide emergencies) will improperly wired generators begin to back feed the electrical distribution system?

The problem of the fire at this substation might actually be the least of your worries.

5.) When do you cut the lock on the gate to go inside and rescue the downed electrical worker in this scenario?

Please go and check out the substation in your communities. Call the power company and they will usually be more than happy to come out and train your folks.

Stay safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

“Lazy bunch of bastards…”

So on a usual saturday morning routine of doing errands I am in a hardware store, and looking for something in the aisles i hear the following conversation between two men….”so we can’t have these where I live because the fire department won’t allow them, the bunch of lazy bastards….”. I don’t know what item he was talking about because I did not see it, and I walked away disgusted.

As I perused the next aisle it was eating me alive, so I walked back an aisle to where the two men were and I said” I couldn’t help but hear you before, I have been a firefighter for 35 years and I have never really thought of myself as a lazy bastard”. He commented that it was none of my business he wasn’t talking to me, and “all firemen do is sit on their ass and wait for an emergency.”

I told him I forgave him for his comment and that I hoped he never ever needed the fire department for a fire or medical emergency because if he did it would mean that something horrible was happening to him, his family or his property, and then I walked away. An old adage came to mind that said never argue with a fool, because nobody will be able to tell which is which.

As I drove home, I could not help but wonder, what toxic thing had angered this man so much against his local fire department? How many other people has he caustically spread his venom to?

Does his local department even know that that could be a public perception about them? Do they care?

We will never please everyone that we serve, and I am clearly aware of that after all these years, but I have not had an encounter like this in a long time.

You see he wasn’t just slandering his own department, he was slandering all of us. Firefighters everywhere.

Take some time this week and make sure you do not give the citizens you serve any reason to think like this man.

Do public education.
Provide home inspection and free smoke detectors to those in need.
Help at the local food bank.
Help disabled veterans, and all veterans.
Help the elderly and children.

…and many other things…

If your community is looking for a positive example, let them be able to find it at the fire department, before they ever dial 911. I know it will be a positive experience after they need our help.

Stay safe, and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013

Define The Issue…..

I hear and see a lot of discussion going on in the fire service about lots of different topical issues, and I think that maybe we as a group, are trying to work on the symptoms rather than the actual problems.

This week lets take a couple of these issues and see if we can get to the root cause. I am not sure that I have the correct actual cause but at least I will offer my two cents worth.

None of us have enough manpower. Career, paid on call or volunteer, I am sure we would hear a common theme that there is not enough help early on at fires. Ok, that’s the issue not enough help. I have heard a bunch of ways we are working on this problem from hiring, more help, to volunteer recruitment and retention.

My first choice would probably be to get more personnel and have the community try to solve this issue by any normal financial means available. Not a bad choice.

A second method would be to get a larger pool of people to deal with as in the call and volunteer sector.

One possible solution is that people should call and use more automatic aid on first alarm struck boxes so that sufficient and adequate help is arriving on the fire scene sooner. Now someone would and could argue that this becomes a burden to other communities. I am certain that is the case, but unless you are in a major city you are probably not having more than 12 working structural mutual aid parties per year anyway!

Your city manager, mayor, council, or selectmen, may all be the root of your financial concerns, but not one of them would accept the responsibility for you acting unsafely at an alarm. You are the professional and it is your job to arrive safely, and do whatever you can safely do to mitigate the problem before you. Maybe you, and your department have dictated that you will assume these risks, and that you can easily blame the city government, but the reality is the decision you make on the fireground as they relate to personal safety are primarily yours.

A very scary and unpopular thought, but we should at least consider it. I am not quite ready to adopt it yet but it certainly does need to be entertained.

I have often heard at many a fire department kitchen table, “…If anything ever happens to me, I will have my family sue this city….”, and maybe that is the rightful and just answer.

I would hate for that to happen and have the city throw some decision or action we take back at us. There are lawyers that would love to do just that.

Sad but true these days.

OK another issue I hear a lot about….”These darn, paramedics just don’t act like we think they should…” Ok, OK, I watered down that sentence a lot, but you get the idea.

If the paramedics on your department feel superior, or act superior, try to find out what the issue is.

Ok we could say it is the way they have been trained, or we could say it is some culture that they don’t understand firefighters or words and phrases like a “different breed”.

Ok so what have YOU done about it. The issue is anyone will behave anyway they are allowed to and that is acceptable to their organization. It is that simple. If the paramedics behavior is not acceptable, then clearly have someone who is their superior sit down, calmly, and professionally advise them, coach, counsel and correct them to follow your department rules and regulations or standard operating procedures.

OH…..you don’t have any of those? Oh, you have some old ones that nobody follows? Oh, that makes the officers uncomfortable and they don’t like to talk to others about performance issues, because after all they are one of the members too?

I get it now, the ISSUE is not really the paramedics behavior, it is that we have not trained counseled and corrected their behavior, so it continues.

Hmmm, what is the REAL issue then?

When trying to solve fire service problems, let’s look at the real root or core ISSUE and try to work on creative different solutions to resolve that.

Ever been asked the promotional or oral board question, what do you do if you suspect your partner has been drinking? I was first asked that question well over 15 years ago and heard it asked just recently at another promotional exam. If we had fixed that problem correctly 15 years ago as a fire service maybe we wouldn’t still have to be asking that question.

If firefighters are getting killed while lost and disoriented, lets not only figure out fancy ways to rescue them, lets figure out how to prevent them from getting lost and disoriented.

Sometimes the issue gets lost in the argument..

Stay safe and stay thinking!

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013