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They are easy to identify, speaking their own language, filled with me, mine, and I. With the mirrored shield they carry, deflecting not self-reflecting. Blame the tool, blame the Chief, blame the system, never blame the fool; for their own short-comings.

We are out there, we the keepers of the faith. Our passion is what thrives in us, and use your deflections as fuel to drive us. One more set in the gym, lose one more ounce of sweat, the first to pull the line, the last to pack it away, we are out there each and every day.

As you attempt to bring us down to your level, our inertia expands the distance between failure, success, and excellence. The knowledge, the performance, the attitude, and the passion, all used to transfer your deflections into purpose, fulfill our mission. We are here for the long haul, that is why we are the Keepers of the Faith.

"We control our actions, at the end of the day you are responsible for what you have done."

 

Sometimes I ask ‘what is all this worth? Why do I try, why do I even bother?’ The message falls on deaf ears, the hours wasted as they would rather be somewhere else, engagement lacking. Instead of conversations and respectful debates, the sound of one sided monologues of ‘my tactic is better than your tactic’ divide us further when we should be learning from one another. There are other skills I possess, other trades for which I can ‘make a living.’ Then as I gaze around the group of Firefighters congregated for a post-incident brief, I see four men who I would follow to certain perdition, and they I, it is not about making a living it is about making a life!

Through the years I have always stayed in touch whenever we lose one of brethren. This time it hit close to home. It was close, it was real, I was there. Although not directly involved in the situation, myself and another Firefighter from my department were there with our tanker. It was surreal, indescribable, when we first heard the event unfold.

Since then I have reflected, questioned, and analyzed my motives for being in the Fire Service. I called my dad to talk, I talked to friends, Firefighters, and brothers. To add more turmoil to the day a close friend, co-worker, and brother Firefighter lost his father the same day. Something inside me brewed, deep, down, and dark. Life is so very fragile, so very short, nothing can be taken for granted.

Then the answer I was looking for came during a short and casual conversation, “can we train Saturday?” At my part-paid department our Cadet program allows for High School students to train as Firefighters, earn credit, and they do this for free. Our one Cadet asks the most important question, he said 3 words that bring such solace to my ears, CAN WE TRAIN? All the questions, all the doubts, all the apathy washed away from such a monotonous statement. A young man, just 17, understands what this profession is about and he already gives so much to it.

Why do we do what we do? Why do we continue on this mission? Why are we so passionate about this trade that we take every statement that may possibly contradict what we do, so personally? The passion, the drive, the honor we feel are not simple words, but complex feelings that no one until they have seen what we have seen, been where we have been, and experienced what we have experienced will ever feel. Some feel the brotherhood is a right they deserve when they enter our doors the first time. Many feel the brotherhood is lost to the bickering found on social media. Brotherhood. A word that I have heard since a very young age from my father and grandfather. No one definition exist and it is not something that just happens. The brotherhood isn’t something you find, it is something that finds, and defines you! When you need it, when you truly need it, the brotherhood will find you. We will remember our fallen and we will always keep the faith.

What is Leadership? Can it be taught? Can it be learned? Leadership, in my eyes, is relative to the direction you personally want to go. Those who are true Leaders, in the sense they may not hold authority or a position of power, are those you strive to emulate. You will always look to multiple influences and seek many mentors. One single person does not  have all the traits you seek to increase your own abilities or eliminate your weaknesses. To seek just one to look to for Leadership will be near impossible to do.

True Leaders are natural Leaders. Their values, character, traits, and ethos are just who there are. Sure, they may have experienced some events in their lives or even learned some tips from a class, but they were developed  because of a perspicacity to the world around them. Every interaction, every fire run, every time a situation transpired, they took something of value from it. A week long seminar or a 2 hour training does not make you a Leader, putting some best practices to work help you develop your quality.

“Be the kind of Leader that you would follow.”

This entry is not about me telling you how to be a Leader. It is not even to discuss what bad leaders do. I can only put into words what traits and qualities in Leaders that I look up to.

  • Take the time to tell me how I can improve.
  • Do not do the work for me, but advise when needed so I can learn the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat.
  • Give me the tools to be successful until I have tools of my own.
  • Hold me Accountable.
  • Ask me for progress reports. Do not go behind my back when working with others on a task.
  • Give me more responsibility as I show I can handle the work.
  • When we set our goals, stick to our benchmarks.
  • Support our mission by allowing me to do my job.
  • Support me by holding others to the mission.
  • Praise is important but revealing shortcomings will make me better.
  • Be true to your words, I will be true to mine.
  • Support the line and the line will support you.
  • Good Leaders develop Great Leaders!

No matter what profession you are in, many of these traits apply. In fact many of these apply to everyday life. Very few people want to do poor work; Leaders have the ambition to empower those people to do great work.

 

 

Walking out of the firehouse I seldom feel I have done enough. “If I only had tried this, if I had only worked harder, if I only had trained more.” These are often the questions I ask myself. How will I be better tomorrow? I hold myself to a higher standard than others, but I strive to invoke them to ask the same of themselves.

My passion may be off-putting to you, but that is your burden to deal with. Satisfaction has always eluded me, I am always seeking to push myself further. Never pass on an opportunity to make yourself a better Firefighter or a better person, for that matter.

Photo from The Romance of Firefighting

 

“If the fire service is something worth belonging to, are you doing everything possible to ensure you are worthy of belonging to it?”

 

Stay passionate, stay unsatisfied, and always Keep the Faith!

AIM HIGH. FIRE RELENTLESSLY.

Set your goals. Expect challenges. Expect setbacks. Always Aim High, Then Fire Relentlessly. You will never get anywhere unless you move your own two feet.

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.

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