These Sheep Don’t Follow

Sheep

I recently shared a short exchange about the BSRC with a like-minded colleague. He didn’t know exactly who was behind the group, but wanted to voice his support for the movement. I told him that I wasn’t trying to keep my identity a secret, but I wasn’t planning on advertising it, either. I dislike the idea of having a “fearless leader” figure to follow. I see the BSRC movement as a scattering of small, independently operating cells. A person here, a company there. Self-sustaining groups motivated beyond mediocrity and pushing for excellence in themselves and their department. There is no “head of the snake” to take out and kill the movement. I occasionally glimpse a BSRC logo as a profile picture or see a “friend-of-a-friend” post photos of BSRC printed on hats or shirts and I think it’s great. Folks are taking this and making it their own; I support every bit of it.

The Sheep is an indicator of a shared devotion to the trade. A mutual desire to learn a new skill or improve an old one. A sign that we have no problem spending hours throwing ladders behind the station alone if nobody wants to join us. We won’t be ashamed of our enthusiasm for the trade. However, we shouldn’t attempt to reserve it, either. We may me solitary entities now, but our goal is to grow.

When someone asks about the Sheep on your helmet, don’t just point them to the internet. Instead, tell them, “I’ll show you.” Hand them an article by Andy Fredericks, then stretch some lines and flow some water. For the truckie Sheep, force a door or throw some ladders. Grab some neglected tools off the rig, head to the shop, and clean them up. Pass on your pride for the trade. That’s what the Black Sheep Rebel Club is.

In some firehouses, these actions may occur on a daily basis and that’s a good point. This isn’t some new idea that anybody came up with. It’s a centuries-old mindset shared by many across the fire service, but it seems to be diminishing more and more. The realization that this is, and will always be, a blue-collar trade. A craft centered on basic, hands-on skills. The reality that no matter how many flashy titles you apply to the fire service; no diploma, certificate, or textbook will put out a fire. It always comes down to simple, dirty, hard work. Sweat, water, and a strong foundation of basic skills.

This passionate attitude still overflows in some departments, but in others it is nearly extinct. As a young member of the trade, I see this mentality being lost on many of my generation, as well as generations before. I hope to have many more years learning and working this craft and I don’t want my passion for it to be a rarity twenty years from now. The BSRC is just one more way to share and pass on that enthusiasm for the fire service. Some “fire department employees” won’t get it. Explain it to them and encourage them to join in. They may be reluctant, but let every clang of a ladder against the station wall serve as an invitation and a reminder. Join us or ignore us, it makes no difference. We’re moving forward.

These Sheep don’t follow, they lead.

Rule #1

Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #1

Firm, blunt, and to the point because sometimes that’s the only way to get the message across. Not everyone does things the way that you do. Not everyone likes the tools that you do. We come from many regions, departments, and backgrounds. None of us is perfect. That guy may not be the greatest firefighter the world has ever seen, but neither are you. It is perfectly acceptable to engage in a respectful, professional exchange regarding our differences, but don’t cross the line. Take a look in the mirror before you start throwing rocks and play nice.

Rule #24

Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #24

Every repeated action, good or bad, builds our fireground habits. Repeated complacency yields complacent habits and poor performance. Remaining in a constant state of readiness, even when responding to a regular false-alarm address, builds proper habits and automation of basic skills. It’s better to be overdressed for the malfunctioning alarm, than to be unprepared for the working fire.

Who are these Black Sheep and why do they have so many rules?

For the past few months, I’ve been posting a trickle of photo posts, each with a numbered “rule” attributed to the Black Sheep Rebel Club. To this point, no real explanation or context has been given regarding the posts. So, who are these Black Sheep, why do they have so many rules, and why don’t they post them in numerical order?

The Black Sheep Rebel Club (BSRC) is a secret society of like-minded members of the fire service. The only real secret regarding membership is that most Black Sheep simply don’t know that they are members. There is no application, no initiation, no entry fee, and no mandatory meetings. The only requirement is that you must be a motivated student of the trade, dedicated to mastery of this age-old craft, and constantly striving for improvement of yourself, your company, and your department. If those characteristics describe you, then you are already in. There are hard-working individuals across the nation, and world, who are members of their own local chapter without even knowing it.

Why do we call ourselves the Black Sheep Rebel Club? We are made up of an eclectic group of rogues, misfits, and outcasts. Black Sheep would rather be throwing ladders and stretching lines than watching the ballgame. We would rather be in our turnouts than in a recliner. We would rather be hitting the gym than taking a nap. We believe that a certificate from the academy does not guarantee skill retention and constant repetition of those skills is required to maintain them. We realize that, whether volunteer or career, the citizens we serve deserve the best possible performance from us on every run, day or night. We realize that fires on Sunday require the same preparation as those on weekdays. We believe in staying combat ready, being prepared, and expecting fire. We believe that the fireground is better run with common sense, hard work, and simple, flexible, and adaptable plans. We believe that there are many methods to accomplishing fireground tasks, each geared to a different situation, and confining yourself to strict, easy-button, rule-bound tactics will leave you boxed into a corner when confronted with the unexpected. This mindset is not always welcome in departments where firefighters are the minority, outnumbered by “fire department employees”. This can leave the dedicated individuals, companies, or shifts feeling like, well, black sheep. We embrace the shadows and encourage each other to fight the complacent current.

The Rules of the Black Sheep are a set of rules-of-thumb for both fireground operations and general fire service life. The idea was inspired by the Red Team Rules, a set of rules for “Red Teams” which were in turn inspired by the Moscow Rules, a set of rules that are said to have been guidelines for clandestine operatives in the Cold War era. Red Teams are described as “a group of highly skilled professionals that continuously challenge the plans, defensive measures and security concepts of an organization”. Essentially, they are paid by large corporations and government agencies to act as “attackers” and attempt to infiltrate the organization’s physical and cyber infrastructure, exposing security weaknesses in the process. I thought that some of the original rules could work for the fire service, so most of the Black Sheep Rules are taken or adapted from the Red Team/Moscow Rules. I have also added some original rules to the list, most of which were inspired by other Black Sheep. I attribute credit to those individuals/organizations where applicable.

The full list of rules is still a fluid project with some being added or deleted occasionally. The rules that have been posted publicly are those that are firmly set in place and will not be removed. This is why the publicly posted rules jump around in numerical order (also, I think it’s just an interesting way to release them). The rules are also open to amendment by the membership, so feel free to suggest a rule for addition to the list by emailing ELAFFHQ@gmail.com or messaging the ELAFF Facebook page. The current list contains 31 rules. Once all of the rules are posted in their individual artsy-photo format, I will publish the entire finalized list.

How far will the BSRC movement spread? What will we come up with next? It’s anybody’s guess. As ELAFF grows farther away from the original inside-joke that started it, I’ve contemplated converting the whole project over to the BSRC name. I’ve also considered adding separate pages for the BSRC to avoid erasing the “ELAFF Legacy”. Who knows where this will go. Time will tell.

bsrc

Rule #28

Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #28

You can spend twenty years progressively improving or you can repeat your first-year twenty times. The difference depends on your attitude and self-motivation. Make the most of your time on the job. Work to improve yourself daily, regardless of agency requirements. Don’t be content with mediocre performance; push toward mastery of skills.

rule 28

Rule #27

Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #27

Officers must recognize that, at some point, a member of their crew may know more than them in some subject. Good officers recognize the strengths of their crew and allow them to shine. Lead, direct, and focus the various abilities of your crew and they will excel in any situation. Smother them with micro-management and suppress their strengths in fear of revealing your own weaknesses and your entire company will fall short.

rule 27

Rule #2

Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #2

If it is efficient, relatively safe, and effective; then it is the “right” method. So, the “book” only shows one way or your last class only taught you one method? That doesn’t mean it is the end-all, fix-all, works-everytime procedure. There are many “right” methods to solve fireground problems and which one is “best” depends on the circumstances. Learning many solutions to the same problem allows you to quickly adapt, overcome, and succeed when the first-choice, “best” method fails.

Rule #5

Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule # 5

There is more than one way to skin a giraffe and more than one way to approach most situations. There are methods that aren’t listed in the manuals; some may even go against what you were previously taught. Keep your mind open to all options and don’t knock it until you try it. Not everybody does it like you do, but that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong.

rule 5

Rule #22

Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #22

There is no “Rosetta Stone” for advancing hoselines. No seven day plan for mastering forcible entry. No get-rich-quick scheme to perfecting your ground ladder skills.

Progress is the product of long hours, hard work, and dedicated effort. Get out, get dirty, and get better.

Rule #22

That’s Just Your Opinion, Man.

Solving the problems of the world has long been a favorite activity at the firehouse kitchen table. Now that we are in the “Facebook Age”, the discussions have expanded on to a national, online forum. This change has resulted in some great benefits through exposure to new ideas and methods. However, the instant and impersonal communication can also create stubborn stances and impolite responses that would likely be avoided in a face-to-face encounter.

Social media discussions allow one to reply instantly, but anonymously, and without the accountability found during direct conversations. The most obvious consequence of this is the decline or lack of manners between participants. In addition, internet arguers often become staunch and immovable supporters of their positions. The comfort of remote debates makes it too easy for one to dismiss all differing ideas without any consideration. A discussion over the use of radio straps versus a radio pocket turns into a repetitive chorus chanting, “I’m right; you’re wrong!” The most zealous will go beyond just disagreeing and declare all differing methods to be idiotic or deadly. Threads spool on for dozens, or hundreds, of comments with proponents of all sides screaming, “Your way will get you killed!” like two walls talking to each other. The truth of the matter is that ANY way will get you killed if you are unfamiliar with it.

The benefit of the online forum is that we can hear these new ideas, push back from the desk for a minute, and physically try them for ourselves. Rather than arguing perpetually, put the method in question to a real life test. By setting aside your preconceived notions, you might learn something new, or you may just prove your point. Either way, you will accomplish more than if you had continued to angrily slap your keyboard. Regardless of the outcome, remember that just because a method doesn’t work for you and your department, it doesn’t mean that it is automatically a “death trap”. You must accept that it may work very well for another department with different staffing, different equipment, or a different mindset.

In the end, we must often learn to just agree to disagree. Whether you like it or not, there is “more than one way to skin a giraffe”(and some of the best methods aren’t listed in the “red book”). Perhaps it would be best to limit our Facebook activity to clicking “like” and “share”. Leave the big debates to the tailboard, the kitchen table, or a bar in Indianapolis. The next time you find yourself sucked into the vortex of misunderstanding and hate that is a Facebook debate, have an open mind and remember the words of the Dude, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

-Pete

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