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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
A quick post to break the silence on this site. A few weeks ago, firefighters in the ELAFF local area came together to raise money for a Brother fighting cancer. The benefit supper and auction involved the help and support of many individuals, groups, and businesses. I won’t go into too much detail, except to say that it was a great success and example of brotherhood, raising around $30,000. Most of the donations for the auction came from local businesses, but some of the donating companies were out-of-state fire service businesses. Despite having no real connection to the area, all of them jumped at the chance the donate and help out. I wanted to use this platform to thank them for helping.
Box Alarm Leather donated a custom leather radio strap. I wear a Box Alarm Leather strap and it is of exceptional quality. I doubt I will ever have the opportunity to compare it to another custom strap, though. My Box Alarm strap is so well made that I may never need another.
Fire Cam donated two fire helmet cameras. (1) Fire Cam 1080 and (1) Fire Cam Mini HD. Each included a Blackjack mounting bracket and a Class 10 SD card. I have been using a Fire Cam 1080 since spring with the intent of doing a product review. I still haven’t posted a product review, but the Fire Cam crew still stepped up to help out, despite my procrastination. As a preliminary review, I would say that the cameras work exactly as advertised. They DO stand up to repeated soakings by fire hoses and pouring rain. They DO stand up to the heat of actual house fires and the extended heat of training in a concrete burn building. They DO produce excellent video footage. If you are allowed to use a helmet camera and you are looking to buy one, then this is the one to buy. They can even provide an example “Helmet Camera S.O.G.” if your department needs one. I’ll have a full post with example footage in the near future…really…I mean it.
Liberty Art Works donated a very nice, bronze parade axe. Everyone at the auction had their eyes on it. When it came up for bid, the price shot up quickly. It ended up going for around $1000 to a group of firefighters on the same shift as the Brother for whom the benefit was for. They immediately handed the axe to him as a gift. Brotherhood.
Ride Backwards was eager to donate items for the auction. Unfortunately, I dropped the ball in the chain of communication and it was too late by the time I picked it up. I wanted to be sure to give them mention, since it was my fault alone that they were not involved. They are good people. Check them out if you aren’t familiar.
Black Helmet Apparel donated some shirts. Check them out, too.
Most of the donation gathering was done locally, since most of the auction attendees were community members who weren’t as interested in fire service items. Had more out-of-state contacts been made, I’m sure more companies would have donated. There are some very generous individuals in the fire service community, especially when it comes to helping a Brother in need. Thanks again to everyone that helped out!
Here’s the extra long list to make up for a couple of weeks without posting:
- The Battle Can – Gary Lane, Fire Service Warrior
“Let’s examine one of the most seemingly disliked and “low fun factor” duties we have… Carrying the 2 1/2 gallon pressurized water extinguisher, or ‘The Can.'”
- My Favorite Street Photographer Is A Fireman From Camden – Chris Nieratko, VICE Magazine
“New Jersey’s own Gabe Angemi is a skateboarder with a cellphone. Gabe is a second-generation fireman in one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in America: Camden, New Jersey. The photos he posts on his Instagram are an unflinching look at the human (and often inhumane) conditions that exist in the once great city that Walt Whitman called home and often wrote so romantically about.”
- Interior Fire Attack, Advancing the 1 3/4″ With Door Control - LA County FD
A video published by LACoFD for internal training on their new door control SOP. A good look at how one large department has adapted to developments in fire behavior research. You don’t have to implement these exact procedures in your department, but it is worth watching for consideration.
- Options for Stretching a Triple-layer/Triple-fold Crosslay in Tight Spaces - streetsmart firefighter
“Here is an option for pulling a 200′ triple fold rackline in a confined space. This is used when you have to pull the line parallel to the engine.”
- Shining Examples of “REAL” Brotherhood – Ryan Royal, IronsandLadders.com
“…I am here to say I have been recharged and my outlook on the current level of brotherhood around my department has been lifted into a very positive perspective. Its NOT dead yet…not if we have anything to say about it.”
- Execution of Excellence – Dave LeBlanc, Backstep Firefighter
“The execution of excellence should be a goal for every Fire Department. Every time we hit the street, we should be doing so with the knowledge and training to allow us to operate at the top of our game.”
- Do Not Post Unless You Would Publish in the Paper – Frank Ricci, Fire Engineering
“Social media is a great tool to get your message out and share thoughts and ideas, just ensure you use it responsibly.”
- Blame it on the Stars – Pete Sulzer, Fire Service Warrior
My latest full-length article, hosted on Fire Service Warrior.
- Ground Ladder Tips – Matt Hinkle, MS Fire Net (Youtube)