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.
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.”
“Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”
There were many excellent classes presented at FDIC 2013. Some presented new, ground-breaking information, while others taught the good-old (but oft forgotten) basics. The following three classes, which feature both new and old information, were recorded and posted online. They all center around UL and NIST research and they all contain valuable information. I was able to attend the live presentation of “Why ‘That’s the Way We’ve Always Done it’ is NOT Good Enough.” These videos have been circulating around Facebook for a while, but there are still those without Facebook accounts, so I’m posting all three here. Bookmark this post and watch them at your own pace, but please watch them. The information presented may reveal misconceptions held by you or your department, or it may be simply be a refresher of common knowledge. Either way, it is worth your time.
“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”
These words caught my eye in a recent blog post, one of a few which struck me deeply in the past 24 hours, stirring a period of serious reflection. Reflection on myself, my ideas, my actions, and my writing. Reflection on this site and ELAFF as a whole. It has been nearly one year since I moved the ELAFF movement to this standalone site. I used to hesitate to call it a “blog”, as I tried to steer away from the personal posts commonly associated with that term. This was due in part to the anonymous nature of the posts, but it was also an attempt to maintain the universal, ambiguous nature of the topics which any agency or individual could relate to. As you well know, the anonymity is no more. So, the occasional “personal” post can be expected…and this is the first. Stay with me, though. I might stumble on something of use to you.
The removal of the “anonymous” barrier brought a question to my mind. If he isn’t the mythical “Fire God”, who hand-carves door chocks out of oak trees using his Leatherman multi-tool, then who IS Lt. Lemon? Who AM I? I found that it was much easier to answer the inverse question. Who am I NOT?
I am not anyone special. I am not an expert. I am not an instructor, trainer, teacher, nor professor. I am not a philosopher. I am not the definitive voice of reason on all or any topics.
Who am I? I am a guy with a keyboard and an interest in stringing words together into sentences. That’s all any of us(bloggers/writers) are. I am simply sharing opinions and ideas, not undebatable facts. So, how does this relate to you?
This serves as a simple reminder to take everything with a grain of salt. Don’t automatically believe anything you read online or see on t.v. This is not a training site, but a forum for discussion. Read critically and question the material presented. If you disagree, feel free to rebut with your own opinion. If you agree, add your own thoughts to the discussion. I never fully cover any subject which I write on and there is always room to elaborate. I’m sure most other fire service writers would ask that you do the same and I am striving to become more involved in the posts which influence me.
My status as a member of this forum, rather than a teacher, affects me even more. This site isn’t really about spreading my ideas, but more about gathering the ideas of others. ELAFF has allowed me to network with firemen from beyond the county, state, and regional boundaries which usually inhibit growth in the fire service. It exposes me to varying ideas, tactics, theories, and equipment which I might have missed if I remained isolated within the comfort of my home department.
Some don’t realize the potential of these differing ideas and tactics. They immediately jump to bash and scrutinize others for their differences, falsely perceived to be mistakes. They react with the same fear as the townspeople to Frankenstein’s monster. Frankenstein’s “turtleshell” wearing, fireground sprinting, roof cutting monster. However, they are not fearful of the literal differences which they see, but of the theoretical change which those ideas could bring to their department. Oh, “change”. That double-edged sword that we’re all SO scared of..even positive change(a.k.a IMPROVEMENT). Perhaps what scares us most about improvement is that , in order to improve, we must expose our weaknesses. Admitting the need for improvement is admitting that you are doing something wrong or, at the least, not as well as you potentially could.
I try to take a different approach to these “differences”. I’m intrigued by them. I see them as a chance to learn, grow, and improve…and that’s a good thing. Obviously, new tactics must be evaluated, just like online articles. Will it be useful in OUR first due? If not, can we modify it until it IS useful? In this same manner, we should also evaluate our CURRENT tactics, ideas, and equipment to see if there’s a need for improvement.
This is the benefit of the site, and the network it provides, for me. A chance to discover new ideas and re-evaluate my current ones. I get more out of this experience than any of the readers will…and that’s the point. This is an experiment in self-improvement. The cycle of discovery, evaluation, and improvement is both humbling and enlightening. Expanding my knowledge, while shrinking my personal pride.
As much as I enjoy the satire of ELAFF’s roots, I require more accountability in my material. I long wrote as “Lt. Lemon”. Since the “Big Reveal” I’ve simply added my first name, in parentheses, clinging to that alter-ego. However, it’s time to separate that persona from myself and set it on the back-burner. I’m Pete Sulzer…this is my “blog”…and these are my words. Thanks for reading them.
-Pete Sulzer (Lt. Lemon)
I was driven to write this after reading a number of articles, namely the following:
Go read them now…
It’s time for another Weekend Update(still looking for a better name for these posts)…two weeks in a row, I’m on a roll.
“A COMMITTEE OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT of Transportation has voted this morning (Wednesday) to overrule a policy and recommend that a highway bridge be named in honor of Ashville Fire Captain Jeffrey Bowen who died tragically last June while fighting a fire in a mid-rise office building.” – from FireGeezer.com
A viral photo began making the rounds of social media this week. Much like the “What Do You Make?” status, it promoted an exaggerated sense of bravado by adding a cliché “Motivational Poster” scheme. Many questioned the photo’s source, and P.J. Norwood posted the truth behind it. Jason Jefferies subsequently wrote about it HERE.
Jonah Smith of The Hose Jockey posted about an on scene video. He avoids the vortex of futile tactical debates and focuses on something we can all agree on. Use your chin strap, SCBA waist belt, and hood properly. They are there for a reason, and those little details could make a huge difference when things go wrong.
“So please my plea to all of you fix these issues if you see them, because the last thing I want to see is someone get hurt because of something they could easily fix on their own. Control all the things you can all of the time, and have a plan for those things you can’t control. Be safe out there.”
That’s all that made it on the ELAFF FB page this week, but there are plenty of other great sites to check out. Click the links on the right sidebar and check them out.
– Lt. Lemon (Pete)
This weekend, Captain Chaos joined me on an expedition. We were invited down to Roanoke, Virginia to visit the King of Blogs himself, Captain Willie Wines Jr. We loaded up the ELAFF-mobile and hit the road to Roanoke. Captain Wines was kind enough to set us up with a place to stay at a local family’s home. I never met his parents, but the kid who lived there was a huge fan of Willie’s…I think his name was Rhett-something. Apparently, he likes to ride his bike down to Willie’s station to hang out with the firemen, plus he’s a follower of our blog, as well. When he heard that Lt. Lemon and Cpt. Chaos would be in town, he begged his folks to let us spend the night. Rhett tagged along with us as we stopped by the Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial and were given an exclusive tour of Roanoke’s Historic Firehouse #1.
As Chaos and I marveled at the rich history in that house, Rhett spent the time constantly following Willie around and talking about something called the “Fire Critic” and telling us about “deals”. Frankly, I had no idea what he was referring to.
Meanwhile, as the kid kept talking, I remained silent, soaking in the wealth of knowledge shared by Captain Wines about everything from Roanoke Fire history, to general firefighting, to blogging and web design. I may be anonymous, but I will say that Captain Wines has much more experience than me, and I was taught early on to stay quiet and listen when good advice is offered from the senior men. After supper, we returned to Rhett’s house, where Rhett rambled on about “Va Fire News” and how much he loves Dave Statter. I think the only person Rhett admires more than Captain Wines is Statter. He could name every recent post on Statter911.com and he had an enormous Statter911 logo on his bedroom wall. It was sort of strange…
The following day, Chaos and I headed to Station 13 for a ride-along with Captain Wines and his crew. They greeted us with a feast of a breakfast, followed by a tour of the beautiful scenery in the surrounding area. We brought the ride-along curse with us, only catching one run…a medical. Still, we enjoyed the day, as the firefighters of Roanoke are extremely friendly and hospitable. Even as Chaos and I barged in on a Sunday, we never felt un-welcome. Rhett rode his bike down to the firehouse, bringing some BBQ for supper. I’m not sure where his Mom bought it, but it wasn’t too bad. After supper, Chaos and I decided to finally get out of their hair and head back to HQ. We handed off a couple of Lemon Wedges, snapped some photos, and rode off…better for making the trip.
Thanks again to Willie and Rhett.
Next time I’ll bring my voice with me…and maybe my face, too.
Over the past few months at ELAFF HQ, we’ve grown incredibly. Our number of readers and fans has increased rapidly, and apparently some of the newcomers are not clear on the way things work here. This is understandable, as we operate a bit differently than other fire service blogs. This post is my attempt to clear things up and make the ELAFF experience less confusing.
The ELAFF Story (abridged version)
The first thing every ELAFF reader should do is check out the “About ELAFF” page. That should go without saying, but I said it anyway…just to be sure. That page gives the VERY basic version of the ELAFF story. Simply put, I started a Facebook page named “Excessive Leather Accessories for Firefighters” on February 11, 2010. It was an inside joke about an “ELAFF Local” (that’s the term we use for firefighters at ELAFF HQ). I began by posting funny videos about firefighters, but soon realized that my audience encompassed a large percentage of “Locals”. I started posting more meaningful articles and videos, sometimes adding a quick, 420 character or less piece of my mind. In August 2010, the Lt. Lemon picture showed up and Da’ Lemon Wedge was invented (all part of the original joke). Skip ahead to early 2011. Though ELAFF posts often spoke of “we”, the Facebook page had always been a solo effort by me…Lt. Lemon. I wanted to start a fully functioning, standalone blog. I thought that perhaps my thoughts and rants would be more widely accepted at ELAFF HQ (where everyone knows my true identity) if I wrote them online. Typically, only the favored few are chosen and allowed to let their voice be heard at ELAFF HQ…the rest are treated like rookies and children, regardless of knowledge, experience, seniority, or rank. Moving on. I knew that I would have trouble writing substantial posts between my inevitable rants, so I recruited help…and on May 5, 2011, I launched the blog.
Yes, ELAFFHQ.com has more than one author. There are currently three writers involved in the ELAFF project. They are not separate pseudonyms for one person, although that appears to be a common misconception. Each article on this site is written ENTIRELY by ONE author. The author is identified by the signature at the end of the post. I am working on a more clear way to display a post’s author. The current writing staff consists of:
Lt. Lemon – Your’s truly. I am the founder and administrator of all things ELAFF. I am responsible for everything posted on the Facebook page and the @ELAFFHQ Twitter account. My comments on most sites are accompanied by the infamous Lt. Lemon photo-avatar. Everyone at ELAFF HQ knows (or should know) my true identity. Many bloggers and readers also know who I am. I continue to post anonymously because:
- Lt. Lemon isn’t only an alias, but an alter-ego, occasionally exaggerating my opinions for the sake of shock, awe, and satire.
- Revealing my identity, and therefore my location, could jeopardize the identities of my contributing authors, who wish to retain their anonymity.
- People enjoy mystery.
Captain Chaos – The Captain is…a unique individual. He is an ELAFF Local, but does not serve at ELAFF HQ. He writes in his own style, not always using the grammar and prose which I prefer, but he shares the ELAFF mindset. He currently wants to keep his identity quiet
Lt. Nobody – Nobody is our newest contributor. His motto is, “When something needs to be said or done, who does it? Nobody.” Like Chaos, he is an ELAFF Local, but he does not serve at ELAFF HQ. He wishes to remain anonymous, as well.
ELAFF – (e-laugh) An acronym for Excessive Leather Accessories for Firefighters. It is easier to write and read. It is used to refer to the title of the Facebook page, the blog, or the writers as an organization. It is not the name of any of the individual writers.
ELAFF HQ – Refers to the department that inspired ELAFF. Also refers to the general area where I reside.
ELAFF Local – Someone who serves at, or near, ELAFF HQ and knows me personally.
Da’ Lemon Wedge – A yellow, wooden door chock with a specific design. Replicas can be made easily, but OFFICIAL Lemon Wedges are handmade at ELAFF HQ. So far, all Lemon Wedges have been made by me.
My first planned improvement is to create a custom banner for each author, like those on Firegeezer.com, to be shown on each article. This would remove much of the confusion related to post authors. I also hope to drastically escalate the posting frequency, but things are busy at ELAFF HQ right now. We’ll have more on that, soon.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or complaints, email me at ELAFFHQ@gmail.com or use the “Contact ELAFF” page.
Thanks for reading,