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In the public and political arena, the fire department is an easy target. Our organization is service driven, we pick up those who fall, and seek to make their problem go away. Some view those we serve as customers, but mostly they are friends, family, neighbors, and strangers who become opportunities to help. Yet, when we make mistakes, or for reasons unknown have targets on our backs, we do not get to close up shop, we do not get to provide poor services, and we certainly cannot refer them to another “office,” as we no longer will accept them as clients. We must persevere and stay on course; execute the mission we swore an oath to fulfill.

What can be done? Retribution, revenge, reprisal? Of course not, those are not the characteristics of who we are. We carry on, heads held high. In fact, we work harder to show our mettle-courage and fortitude-as we have honor in our craft. The harder road leaves us apt to endure, to holdfast, and maintain with vigor. The same applies during an operation. Without the countless hours of preparation, a bad day could be worse. When time is spent picking low-lying fruit, how do you expect to rise to the top and take on the tough issues? Mediocre preparation leaves sub-mediocre results.

Where do we go from here? My answer, the one I give for myself as to why I do this; impact. Of all the ways to earn a living wage, all the ways to spend our time here on Earth, it is about making an impact. Maybe you pull a lifeless body from a burning building and they make a full recovery. Maybe you make your way through icy waters, mangled cars, scenes of violence, or any of the assorted incidents we respond to when called upon; to make an impact on a living creature, prized possessions, or livelihoods. We also impact each other. Maybe it is the Officer-Firefighter mentorship, the Firefighter-Firefighter bond, or the Father and the Son, the opportunities to make an impact as endless. If it wasn’t for my grandfather recommending my father to join the fire department, I would not have found my life’s work. Life would be different and I suspect far less worthwhile.

We have chosen the fire service as our medium to make an impact on someone else’s life. To those who have personal agendas, desire only to make waves, and are blind to what our mission truly means, you cannot stop us. We will persevere, we will forge on, and the true believers retain the fortitude to see the mission through.

“The question is not how far, the question is do you possess the constitution, the depth of faith to go as far as is needed?’

 

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.

Just as most of you, I have also been keeping on eye on all the 9/11 tributes, remembrances and memorial ceremonies. To be honest I was not going to write about any of it. What can I say that has not already been said and most certainly more poetic. Late this afternoon a few of us were looking at a new Firefighter Survival prop that was recently build for our in-house training. The new prop is great, it can be configured in a few ways and will be a fantasic training aid. After we left I started thinking to myself how much so many great Firefighters have influenced me, even if I never sat in their class or even was in the Fire Service when they were.

Today, as time is spent reflecting, remembering and ensuring we never forget, please remember to celebrate. Pay tribute to the lives they led, the deeds they performed and most importantly the lessons they taught us. Not just those lost on 9/11 but all those who worked the job, loved the profession and gave all for Honor, Duty and Pride.

Among the 343 FDNY Firefighters that performed their last act of devotion that day were Lt. Andy Fredericks and Chief Ray Downey. Lt. Fredericks was a talented Firefighter and Instructor. The fire attack methodologies he taught changed the way Engine Companies operated. Andy’s quotes have graced the pages of magazines and the web to show the impact of his legacy. “The garbage man doesn’t turn the corner and get excited when he finds garbage. So we shouldn’t turn the corner and get excited when we find fire, Expect Fire!”

Chief Ray Downey, one of the most decorated members of FDNY, revitalized FDNY Squad 1 and could be called the Godfather of USAR. Chief Downey had such a tremendous passion for training and helping the fire service as a whole, improve. Chief Downey, so respected among his peers and beyond, that each year the Ray Downey Award is given to a Firefighter who performed a great act of heroism in the line of duty. 9/11 is the second time Chief Downey responded to acts of terrorism at the WTC.

A side note about Chief Downeys beloved Squad 1, on 9/11 they lost 11 members, one of the most impacted units by the collapse. The foundation, Tunnel to Towers, was formed to “Do Good” in the memory of Squad 1 member Stephen Siller. Learn more by visiting https://tunneltotowersfoundation.org 

Scott Thornton, Captain of Summit Twp. Fire in Michigan, lost his life in the line of duty - doing the job he loved. Scott was the departments Training Officer and he advocated self improvement, safety and  inspired those who were fortunate enough to have worked with him. On January 20th 2005 the fire service lost a brother,while his family lost a father and husband. 

Joe Kail, Firefighter from New Buffalo Michigan, died in the line of duty while responding to a call for assistance. Joe was a volunteer member of this small community fire department and served for many years.  His legacy, of volunteering to help the town where lived is honorable and should also be “never forgotten.”

These two men, just as those who gave their lives on 9/11 took an oath to serve their fellow man. To act in times of need with compassion, honesty and integrity. All members of the American Fire Service have the opportunity to make an impact, to maybe change a life and to leave behind their own legacy. The pride we should feel, the admiration we should have for those we have lost should drive us to be our best every single day and in everything we do.

As a nation we come together on this day to honor those who lost their lives in a horrific event.  As Firefighters every day we should remember through our actions, our passion for this job and learning the lessons from those we have lost. Those that have been around, ensure new Firefighters understand what never forgetting truly is. A 343 sticker on your truck or helmet is just a visual reminder to live your life and work the job with the same commitment that the men listed above, did for so many years.

Remembering, it is about what you do with those memories.

Redefining the Engine Company – Fire Engineering.

A romance for firefighting begins in each one of us, just as unique as those involved. Our stories are diverse, similar, extraordinary or maybe just ours. My love affair with this calling, the Fire Service, is not special or enthralling, it is just mine.

Chief Chris Huston and Firefighter Chris Huston

Sunday is Fathers Day. Some will mark the occasion possibly by serving breakfast in bed or a family cookout. My life has not led me down the path of parenthood in the traditional sense; our puppies are my “kids”, so Fathers Day is strictly about my dad. If yours is like most, they have everything they need. The best gift you can give – is love and appreciation. These words are my way of showing my dad how much he means to me.

In 1979, a young man entered the Fire Service. His father-in-law was a Captain on the local Volunteer Fire Department. As with most young, new Firefighters (at the time Firemen), he found the exhilaration of running to emergencies and the feeling of community pride when the job was done. At this same time, the newly married man had a six-month-old son at home. The family began and embraced what would be many years of Fire Service dedication. Growing up around the Fire Station was just what I did. Playing on the backstep and pretending to drive is what any kid in my shoes would do. When the company came to school for Fire Prevention I did not get excited, I had seen it all before. When the other kids were afraid to participate in the drills they were teaching us, I would not flinch to show how it easy it was. For me it was an everyday situation. Proudly I would say to the children around me, “that’s my dad and that’s my grandpa.”

My dad and my Grandpa

As years passed the child became a teen and the awkward stage of youth took control. We had our differences and life could be both complicated and bitter. Yet time past, life as a young man and his father started to take shape. The event that led to my becoming of a Firefighter is simple and common; I saw in person what my dad did. Seeing this small event occur and the feelings of pride took hold. Within 7 days I started my journey, my romance with firefighting began. My dad was in the Front Seat the first time I drove the engine. My dad was my partner the first time I entered a working fire. My dad was the first to let me lead a training. No matter how much more I learn, my dad will always be my mentor.

Here we are, years later. My dad is now the Chief of the department that he has nobly served for 33 years. His father-in-law, my Grandpa still serves as his Assistant Chief, with nearly 50 years of service. While I, with less then 10,  have only grown fonder of this great profession with every passing day.

Chief Chris Huston serving NBCFD since 1979

Dad – thank you for always allowing me to follow my dreams yet keeping me grounded. Without your support, I would have never found my passion, my calling and my life’s work. On this Fathers Day 2012, I hope you read this and know how much you are appreciated and loved. We are Fathers, we are sons, we are Firefighters.

We are all a little different, like school kids.

There is an argument being made that we cannot have a safe fire ground. This
job, inherently filled with risk, will never see a day where everyone goes
home. Can we find middle ground where safety and our duty receive equal
treatment? Life is overflowing with risk and we perform life altering/ending
actions on a daily basis just as human beings. Life as a Fire Service
professional gives us a different perspective. We have training and education
to handle when those risks of living life catch up to our neighbors. The
question we must pose, do we all see the same way?

A personal perspective on the fire service. Sometimes I look at the fire
service as school. Brand new personnel go through pre-school and kindergarten
to get basics of playing with others and what its like to be here. As time
passes, you move through the levels. Some really enjoy third grade and chose to
stay there. They know enough to get by and decide to learn no more. Some have a
good idea of what is going on, but are nervous about moving on to junior high
and puberty is setting in making them feel awkward. Then their are those that
have the sophomore attitude. They know a few things, are cocky about it and want to
impress the seniors. What they lack however is experience, a
broader perspective and maturity. Then there are the academics that seek higher
education. They not only learn what is required and excel at it but also
include after school activities to be well rounded. As a whole, the Fire Service is
like a bunch of sixth grader. We are chasing girls, rather be playing football
and we get an attitude with our parents.

Look at the public perspective of firefighting. The person watching an
operation on the street may have no idea of what is happening and it may look
like a horrific scene. The seasoned personnel on that same scene look at it as
routine. Add a newly certified Firefighter to that picture, they are excited,
nervous, curious and to some degree scared. Their perspective is completely
different then the public and veteran member. Put that same working fire or
accident into two places, the large metro department then the smallest village.

What are the contrasts in perspectives? The engine company composed of six
professionals that see multiple fires in a shift compared to the nine member
volunteer department that is may see fire once in their life. How can you
justify that each of these perform to the same level, work within the same
parameters and accept the same level of risk?

Several significant goals exist in the fire service. The most notable is
service to our community. We accomplish this goal by being prepared to
undertake any issue they may call us for. A company should show up, offer
solutions in a professional manner then if needed provide a resolution. Highly
trained and experienced people can only accomplish this feat. “When others
can’t, call the Fire Department” we take pride in this notion. Training
and the passing of information and gathering experience is only second to the
service we provide, yet without our qualities what would that service be like.

Once you have committed to providing a level of service, you now must commit
to meet expectations. At the same time, others must not expect to do more than
you are qualified, certified and experienced to perform. The level of service
you are willing to give far out weighs the expectations that others place upon
yourselves.

The world has changed significantly; we have been slow to keep up. Is that
the real issue? We know we have to change, but is it too fast, are we expecting
results to quickly, is this why we see such a divide in the camps? Do some have
experience yet it is not relevant to current conditions? Can experience expire?

Are we resistant to change because it is change? If we are seeking change, too
quickly we fail more often then succeed? Is our perspective blinding us to the
truth? To these questions, I have no solutions, but they need to be asked
nonetheless.

What we see as a norm is high risks maneuver – driving. Millions of people
get behind the wheel of vehicles everyday. This has the potential to be cause
bodily harm and death, yet it is looked upon as routine. Our perspective, more
easily defined as our point of view, sees driving as a normal situation. A
brand new driver may be terrified the first time they are behind the wheel, or
possibly the first time they enter the expressway. Over time that same driver
with practice, training and confidence will not think twice when the ignition
is turned over. Their perspective has now changed. As times change and auto
manufacturers evolve and dictate what our transportation needs are, does our
perspective change? Our course is does. It is evolution, it is necessary. The
cars we drive must take new forms in safety, comfort and features based on
those who are behind the wheel. As new drivers enter the lanes, their needs
differ from their predecessors and their perspectives.

Serve to protect your community to the degree YOU have committed. The fire
service is a global team that plays different games. Our perspective will
dictate what we are willing to do and what we are capable of doing. We can find
our operations satisfy both safety and duty. Risk cannot be legislated away
entirely. A perspective that understands who we have command and control over
must direct operations with the abilities and knowledge of our people on scene.
Our mission, the fire service as a whole, must share best practices. We can
learn from everyone but it must be applied to our game, the way we play it.
Part of our duty, an obligation even, is to seek knowledge and education to
operate at a level that best serves those we swore to protect, including those
we serve with. Before throwing stones try to see the view from their
perspective.

This week’s post is a weblink to my YOUTUBE Channel. Over the weekend I presented the first full pilot of SPEED SMOKE STRESS: Is Killing American Firefighters. Please stop by and take a look. It is just a glimpse, I can’t give to much away. My goal is to have a version of this course on the docket for FDIC 2013. WIth the support of this training community, I believe this will happen.

http://www.youtube.com/user/firefighterco22

Firefighting, obviously, is a very hands on activity. Although you should never put your practical training on the back burner, the fall and winter months are a perfect time to read. Just don’t read the blogs either, grab some good old fashion paper bound together by a cover. For myself I’m enrolled in the local community college. Each semester I have time for one class, which allows me to read one book every 4-5 months. Currently I am taking Fire Investigation and reading two books on the subject. Try not to just read technical sources. Get into a text that talks about the job itself. Pride and Ownership by Rick Lasky is a great pick me up when your down about the job and a energy boost to push even harder when times are good. It doesn’t stop there, pick up something not Fire Related. Looking for a promotion read books about leadership, want to improve your health; grab a health and nutrition guide.

Reading can stimulate your mind, which in turns keeps your body going strong. As much as this profession is physical, our mental capacity is what allows us to do it!

-huston

So far the response has been good. It still has some polishing and getting the case studies in order. If your in the SW Michigan area and would like more info on delivering this presentation to your department, please contact me at huston@engineco22.net

Thanks and keep your heads up…it all gets better!

Huston

You can’t go anywhere these days without hearing discussion about the health of Firefighters. When the largest portion of Firefighter Fatalities is caused by cardiac disease of course it’s important to discuss. Firefighters at ALL levels must be in proper health.

In the UK 122 Firefighter Fatalities have occurred since 1978 (2008 latest report found) 82% were from fire ground duties. In the US we have seen 122 in a single year! 2003-2008 saw number close to their 30 year total! What are we doing so differently?

In the United States obesity and disease are at epidemic levels, this is nothing new. Where we are not linking it together with the LODD issue, is how our families and “off duty” time affect us. We simply need to make the healthy lifestyle a permanent change with our selves and those around us. The way we shop for food and how we cook can have a huge impact on our families health. If we involve our families in the healthy habits, our health will be a permanent change.

A few of the best ways to make positive change: Eat whole foods, fruits and vegetables in their natural state. Buy your meats from local farmers like grass fed beef and free range chicken. Both of those steps are best done by visiting your local farmers market. Not only do you get better food and support local economy you’ll leave a smaller footprint on the planet! Eliminate processed foods, if its in a box or has other ingridents don’t consume it. Finally if nothing else, only shop the the perimeter of the grocery store! If you’ve ever noticed the produce, meat and dairy usually make up the 3 outside walls of any properly laid out grocery store.

As an Advocate for Change in the American Fire Service I can preach all day long about why Firefighters die and how to fix it. YOU as the Firefighter need to make the decision to make the change. Theirs too many reason why we have to be in the best health, Ourselves, Our families and those YOU and I took an OATH to PROTECT!

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