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When you were 15 or 16, did you have a pretty good understanding of your world? Think back to those days, what opinions, views, ideals have changed? What remains? Most likely your world of today is significantly different. Priorities change, most of all you have experienced more of what life has to offer. Failures and success drive your current state of equilibrium with the world. We can anticipate that 5 years from now you will be slightly different?

“We don’t want to focus on the trees (or their leaves) at the expense of the forest.”


The quote is by Dr. Douglas Hofstadter from the book I am a Strange Loop. The statement is profound, at least to me. It has so many connotations that hit home personally. Simply put, do not sweat the small stuff at the risk of missing out on the big picture. For my professional life, aka the fire service, what this means is we are public servants, who swore an oath to protect them from **insert the services you provide here**, with professionalism and respect.

Do we often spend too much of our efforts, attention, and time on the little things that do not matter to the proverbial forest that is public fire protection? The colors of, whatever…trucks, shirts, hats, numbers, etc… and the arguments, “debates” over minor details. This is the QUANDRY of the DEFEATIST. Every time the focus shifts from them to us, we are defeating our purpose.

An example that sparked this post is the current focus on Fire Behavior. It is great, we should have a focus on Fire Behavior as the foreseeable future is our primary mission, making fire behave. But what I disagree with, and I too have used the term, is MODERN. The only time we live in is the present. Fire has not changed, only the context in which it is in. The concept applies to everything, as the present only happens once. This is part of the STRANGE LOOP. We cannot have the mindset, or a defeatist attitude that our present state of knowledge is sufficient. What we know right now is all we can know for right now, and we don’t know what we don’t know. Yet, we will be back in similar situations tomorrow, but armed with new experiences of past events. While they may have happened we only have self-referencing perspective on the events that unfolded, where we were, and what we were doing. This is learning, making connections and bonding self-referencing precepts with outside influences to form the proper conclusion, as long as you allow it to happen (This is how you can vividly remember a situation, yet only had a narrow vantage point. The details from others help to fill in your own memory of events). However, the defeatist is blind on how to appropriately use these details in future situations. The Quandary of the Defeatist is the cd track stuck on loop, stuck in a black hole of the strange loop.  Then suddenly, it is as if everything has changed. The defeatist feels personally attacked as though everything they stand for is under scrutiny. Our work environment becomes hostile, and as man does, takes the low road of starting gossip, ridicule, and distrust.

There is a simple antibody, a countermeasure for the Quandary of the Defeatist, understand that we live in a loop. You will learn, then relearn or should I say adjust your understanding, on almost everything you know. Stay open minded and pay attention to what you know and attempt to see it from another perspective. You may be surprised on how much you know or do not know.

Firefighter,

What separates the fire service from the public? Is it equipment, tools, trucks, courage? Training. You can have the best trucks, the latest tools, the best gadgets, and the mettle of twenty men, but without training and knowledge those items are just everyday objects. Properly trained and educated Firefighters with equipment are what make them lifesaving tools. Without a continuing pursuit of obtaining knowledge, the job we chose to do, the oath we swore, the impact we are supposed to make, cannot be done.

Every person from the newest recruit to the highest ranking Chief has a duty to increase their abilities and knowledge of the task they are expected to perform. No one is above training. No one is saying you do not know what to do. But I do pose this question, what are we supposed to do? We are supposed to be prepared for whatever the community asks of us.

The benefits of training are far greater than simply having an awareness of tool use and how to complete the task. Training instills work ethic, teamwork, and re-enforces how to follow direction, be self-directed and have a culture of self-improvement. Training creates relationships between Firefighters and relationships with Officers. Training allows for mistakes to be made and the opportunity to coach for improvement. This window can also give up-and-coming mentors and Officers the chance they need to step up, to take charge of a situation for later career advancement. Training creates Situational Leaders who engage others and empowers them to strive for excellence. Most importantly training creates muscle memory that drives function and form on the fireground. No matter how many times you think you can practice that one skill, it will never be enough for that one time when it matters most. Every skill set we have, is a matter of life and death.

Training is more than reading a book, donning a pack, or forcing a door; Training is an attitude. Watching the clock until it is over, feeling that one evolution is good enough and skimming through the drill sheet, all only cheat yourself, your fellow Firefighters, and ultimately the community who is counting on you. For those of you who ‘know it all’ already, do not distract those who desire to learn. In fact, I challenge you to step up and share your knowledge with those around you. Help others succeed. “Be Here Now” as a great mentor always says, sums it up to something digestible. When it is time to train, BE HERE NOW!

Moderation and proactive discussion is critical when looking at the online community. Spending hours on social media engaging in the latest frivolous debate does nothing more than take your attention away from something else that matters.  Learn from others, share your experiences, and obtain insight, but most importantly apply it to who you are and where you are from. Just as we say about the tools of the trade, social media is just another tool and you have to know how to use it.

We are in the midst of very exciting times in the Fire Service. Be a part of it. You can either sit idly and watch it pass you by or you can be in the thick of it. Training gives you the keys for Fire Service engagement. You may not run a call every shift, or see a fire but once a year, yet engagement with training allows you interact 24/7. The tools for training are all around you. The only barrier is yourself.

 

Related Link – Culture of Self-Improvement http://engineco22.net/2011blog/?p=215

For some of you it may be hard to believe that I used to be a well behaved, mild-manner young lad. Around 12 or 13…well you get the picture. Having a discussion last week about people and personalities-something hit me, and hit me hard- the following is a ton of bricks.

Remember Paint by Number? A coloring book with a paintbrush and cheap, rock hard paint that had a standard array of colors. Each color was assigned a number and the areas requiring that color was identified by the associated number. I can only speculate that this was to teach young-minds about colors, numbers, shapes, and of course following directions.

Sound familiar? Of course, I am sure you followed those instructions perfectly and every page of that book was a refrigerator masterpiece. My mom mostly likely told me “good job” and maybe even saw some talent in me. Of course, the couple of summers spent attending art classes at the library were also used to help nourish my creativity. However, I can tell you I may have stayed in the lines for the most part, but the colors did not match the numbers. Maybe they wanted the yellow dog to have a blue collar. But I painted the dog black like mine with a red collar. Job was still completed but based upon my conditions.

In the professional field of fire control, suppression, and extinguishment, aka firefighting, we arrive with an array of colors and abilities to stay, for the most part, in the lines. The canvas that we apply our ‘brush strokes’ to is dynamic. To think and act as though we can follow the exact procedure to complete the task in the form of ‘paint by numbers’ we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and ultimately failure. Strict parameters, with tight clearances, taken by exact measurements is…too PAINT BY NUMBERS. Sure, we cannot show up and be abstract artist either, slinging paint, and mud, and…whatever else onto the canvas. We need organization, we cannot color outside the lines all the time.

You certainly have seen the acronym-yelling contest stirring up. Sure acronyms are great. When explaining to those who are needing guidelines (training), and parameters, they set the stage for later successes. However when they, as in the acronym or checklist, make the decisions for you, the chances of missing something increases. Acronyms and Check-box firefighting have a place to some degree but they should not be your PAINT BY NUMBERS.

My engine would be a 3, and yours a 5. Still comes to the same conclusion.

This rant could continue, I could say that we need to focus on creating critical thinking Firefighters, but you know this. So instead, I am going to unveil something that has been rattling around in my noggin for a while, and is part of my 5 Firefighter Fundamentals Course. Here is a sneak preview….

Firefighters of all ranks should have a broad REPERTOIRE of tasks, tactics, and methods that can be accessed during an incident for mitigating the issues at hand. This reserve of abilities should match expected functions and should be well rehearsed by REPETITION. In contrast, too many options makes it difficult to stay proficient and can cause issues on the fire ground if team continuity does not exist. By having an in-depth repertoire and competency level on commensurate duties, RESPONSE shall be appropriate for all calls of service. Repertoire and Repetition creates Responses that are well rehearsed so that when conditions exist, the Firefighter will be in the ready status.

Many of you have seen these principles before, and some of you reading them I may have learned them in part from you. Nevertheless, doesn’t this “paint a picture” of how Firefighters should be? Plenty of ways to get it done, trained on why, how and when to do it, and ready to respond at any time. So why do we get so upset about acronyms, checklist, cheat sheets, and the like? Understand how your fire department expects you to respond, practice those methods, and be ready for whatever the day, the tour, or the shift brings your way. If you are someone who needs to be told what colors to put where, and has to stay within the lines, maybe the fire ground isn’t for you.

The following are my thoughts from Kill the Flashover 2014 at the South Carolina Fire Academy. The event combined with various discussions and the learning curve of past few years on the theories of fire behavior., have only enhanced my love of this profession.   -Huston

The traditionalist seeks to always provide high quality, professional, and timely services to the public we swore an oath to protect. This includes problem solving and mitigating the situation that was presented to us. These fire services traditions shall stand resolute. We will provide essential services with pride, commitment, and a sense of urgency. The fundamentalist mind understands the basics, and knows we should never sway away from those basics. However, the basics, the fundamentals that we provide as Firefighters, change. We must intervene with water to promptly cool the environment, to extinguish the fire. We will perform one of two acts, take the victim away from the hazard or take the hazard away from the victim. We need to separate the fuel, the heat, and the oxygen through some form of extinguishing media. We CAN separate the victim from the hazard by interrupting or impeding the combustion process. Our streams cool the fuels, the gases, and reduce temperatures. We must regulate the amount of air entrainment that the fire needs to grow/die, and prevent fire gas ignition or rapid-fire progression. We can  achieve success by the performance of compartmentalizing, and reducing the temperature.

Therefore, what do we learn from events like KILL THE FLASHOVER? We learn that we still must pull hose lines, flow water, and still provide for life safety. The fundamentals of what we do when, the order or priority, and in the manner they are conducted, need to change! We change these by controlling doors promptly, creating anti-ventilation, managing air intake and exhaust, all as applicable. We can then control the air; so we control the heat. Provide extinguishing media through some means that will the stop off gassing, cool the environment, and cool the gases. After we have the upper hand, we will move into the building for search and final fire extinguishment. This does not take long! High performing crews can intervene in as little time as it takes to don your SCBA face peice.

KILL THE FLASHOVER - photo courtesy of John Buckmann III

Kill the Flashover 2014 has shown that we can still take our traditional tactics, of providing Firefighters to intervene and stopping the combustion process which prevents fire loss. We can be those fundamentalist by pulling hose lines, spraying water and putting out the fire. The fundamentals must evolve and continue to progress as needed, then re-evaluated as the environment in which we are expected to perform in changes. We can still provide a professional, caring, and sympathetic service for those we to an oath to serve. But our oath can still be fulfilled as we stay to true to our mission at all costs, even if that cost goes against what we have been doing for many years. Stop, think, and re-evaluate how we approach firefighting. We have the means to do this with the equipment we have right now. We simply must inject a critical mind to understand the effects of our actions.

Moving forward with the evolution of tactics, we must seek balance. For many years we have heard that no two fires are the same. Yet, at the same time fire is predictable. Having the abilites, skills, and knowledge on the scene will only increase our success. Too much or too little of any tactic, can be deterimental. The culmination of appropriate, scenario based, tactics will yeild unparalleled results.

Our efforts will pay off, when we continue to seek out new information. We must continue to train. KTF 2014 is just one small step for the entire fire service to start re-evaluating how we are going to fight fires, today, tomorrow, and in the future.

 

This winter I have idly sat by as firefighters continue to use the weather as a pathetic excuse to sit inside and table talk issues instead of pushing their limits of comfort and training outside. Weather isn’t something that waits while we have a cup of hot coco in our hands. We respond to calls in every weather imaginable, and we cannot pretend to be prepared if we only train when the sun is out and the snow has stopped falling. It’s common to hear others say, “it’s too cold outside” or “tomorrow is supposed to be warmer lets hold off till then”. What is it that we are really saying when we complain about it being too cold outside? It’s no more than an easy excuse that prevents us from doing the job that we say we love so much. The slight discomfort you’re going to experience is preventing you from becoming fully prepared for that next call in inclement weather. We might as well declare that it’s more important for us to stay warm for the next hour then knowing we will be able to respond in anything mother nature throws our way.

Last month, our crew just finished waxing our extension ladders on the first due rig. The satisfied feeling of a freshly waxed ladder was all the temptation I needed to do some ladder drills. I glance outside at the Colorado flag as it whips violently back and forth and am instantly met with hesitation from the crew as they object due to the wind. “If the ladder falls it could hurt someone” (immediately pull the safety card, there is no argument against firefighter safety) or it could bend the beam and put it out of service (another easy card to pull, first due equipment is our highest priority).

Is this what we are going to say on a real call? Of course not. We’ll go out and do our job as we normally do, but only now, during this real call, I am not proficient at throwing this ladder in the wind. What are my chances of hurting someone now? Would you rather have the ladder fall during training or on a call when someone’s life depends on it? Do we REALLY need to put someone’s life on the line to justify if it was worth taking a few minutes to throw the ladder in the wind?

Even if I never have to throw a ladder in extreme conditions, I can practice and be prepared for anything which only makes throwing the ladder on calm days an easier task. A great example I can give of this is from a class I took by Lt. Ray McCormack with FDNY last month. He said if you constantly train on the 2 ½ how easy will it be to use the 1 ¾ line. Pushing ourselves is part of our job. If that sentence makes you feel nervous, you’re in the wrong profession. Ray made a good point that all of us as professionals need to live by. Make your training hard, make it in all types of weather and all situations, and then when calls do come, you will be more than prepared.

What I’m trying to get at here is, push your limits when given the chance. Test yourself. Experience the worst case scenarios before they happen so when it is real, you’re ready. Pull hose in the snow till your regulator freezes and learn how to trouble shoot it, throw ladders in the wind, practice vertical vent till it’s to hard to run a chain saw because your fingers are so cold. Do you know if the fan moves when the concrete is covered in ice? Next time you’re glad you aren’t outside, go outside and train. You tell me what’s more important, feeling comfortable or knowing you are prepared for anything.

We understand that this is an unjust world, where suffering and loss are inevitable. The glimmer of hope shines in the night, as the red lights bounce of the rain soaked pavement, and the siren’s song wails its imperfect pitch. The sick, the injured, the trapped, and the terrified, should be consoled in the comfort of the fire departments arrival. Moving towards the unknown, towards those who seek solace from this quandary, will you be certain that the challenge you face can be looked at in the eye and scoffed at? Have you made the commitment?

“When you lay your head down at night, and see your reflection from the mirrored ceiling in your mind, will you like what you see, can you fall asleep knowing you have done all you can do?”

The hours, days, & months, which turn into years, were each of them committed to the cause, were they committed to ensuring you are up to the task? All of those training sessions, PowerPoints, and lectures giving you the knowledge of why and what is required. The converse side of the equation demands hours upon hours of uncomfortable positions, heat, cold, and sweat, which should all add up to the few moments of tolerating pure hell to complete the task. “We walk where the devil dances.” Piss off, we need to go up to that devil and kick him in the nuts every training session. You can take that one and all the other quirky and tripe sayings, and shove ‘em where the sun don’t shine. We shall be triumph on the field of battle, through our commitment to the cause, even when there is no war.

“We walk where the devil dances…” piss off, we need to go up to that devil and kick him in the nuts every training session.

I have seen it in the eyes of those with an over abundance of confidence in the classroom shift to total apprehension when tasked with the practical application. It is easy to stay hidden in the cloud of chalkboard dust. Go ahead, remain anonymous in classroom conformity, because you will be exposed on the stage of hands on application when in the spotlight, all alone. Why and how did we get to this point? Where have we failed each other and ourselves? The knowledge comes first, then training for proficiency, all culminating with real time drills that have a sense of urgency attached, as the last line of demarcation between preparation and execution. The passion and desire for excellence should be read on the faces of our brethren. A lifelong commitment to the craft is waged, and we are the only custodians, no one else will do this for us. Throw that ladder one more time, don your SCBA until its second nature, read the SOP until you can recite it front to back, and never be left with the burning question, “could I have done more?” Make the commitment to improve everyday.

As the day ends and you look up at your mirrored ceiling, make the commitment to dedicate yourself to our just cause in this unjust world, by answering the question with “today I did all that I can do and tomorrow will do even more” rather than being faced with the question “had I just?”

The struggle within. A constant battle between conviction and complacency.

The struggle within. Seeking illumination on what is to come, abhorred by the stranger I used to be.

The struggle within. Conscious of how I am perceived, versus how I desire to be seen.

The victory within, for I shall never surrender, to the struggle within.

 

We are all swimming in the same water. Many allow the slow moving current to waft them across waters surface to a destination, easily, and worry free. But they, will never make a splash.

A few will go against the current. Staring in the face of the rapids and enthusiastically welcoming the challenge. We will try. We may fail. Yet we try again. Maintaining determination and perseverance, allowing all apathy to wash away.

Who dared to go against the current succeed, as their will brought them there, even if it places them just out of reach of the goal. The triumph is yours, as all who dared to pull you under are washed away. They lacked the strength to go against the current.

“Be the best you, that you can be!”

No one fire department has all the answers, but all the fire departments may give the best answer to your question.

We can all learn from each other. The smallest rural department to the largest urban. Each of us have strengths and weaknesses. Only our attitudes make us different, when we choose not to learn best practices from all.

Be the best you, so your department can be its best, so we all can give our best to them; the community we each serve.

A civilians guide to saving lives & property.

The newest training module we have put together is a targeted piece for members of the community. This focuses on closing the door! Please share this with friends and family members.

http://firetrainingtoolbox.com/modules/closedoor/index.html

Also,

http://engineco22.net/modules/safety/index.html

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