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.”
It’s been a while since I wrote a legitimate article here. I’ve been focusing more on self-improvement and handling local business and have slightly neglected this site. Those of you that follow ELAFF on Facebook know that I continue to share the good works of other minds on a regular basis, and that’s the point. There are an overwhelming number of brilliant minds writing and teaching in the fire service today. With this in mind, I raised the level of scrutiny regarding what I deemed worth posting for the world to see. I’ve never even written a “training” article, anyway. I’ve simply scribbled down the random musings and odd opinions of my mind. Rest assured, I will continue to write, however it may not always be hosted here and I can’t guarantee the frequency.
So with that in mind, I’d like to try something new here…by ADDING to the many voices out there. Sort of hypocritical, but stick with me.
I will be posting a guest post from a Local in the near future. He sent me a draft to look over and I told him that I would just post whatever he wanted to say right here on ELAFFHQ.com. So, perhaps YOU have a few words to say, but you don’t want to create “Fire Blog #1,957,372” just for a single post. Maybe you’d like to rant about transitional ventilation, the 7-9-8 attack line, or retail packaging that’s too hard to open. Maybe you have some witty satire piece that will leave sarcasm-blind readers in a stupor. Maybe you have a piece of motivational messaging that you’d like to share, or some pseudo-hipster slam poetry on budget cuts and plastic helmets. One paragraph or 10, 200 words or 2,000, it doesn’t matter. I’ll take it if you meet the requirements:
- You must include your real name, and preferably an email address, too. You may write whatever you want, but you’ll have to stand by it when the wolves come running…or the adoring fans, whichever.
- I reserve the right to omit submissions as I please, for any and all reasons. I may also refer to various colleagues for their opinion on your submission prior to posting. The standards won’t be too stringent, though.
- Despite the context of #2, I do not have to AGREE with what you write. I asked Matt to write whatever he wanted as Captain Chaos, regardless of my opinion. In fact, I don’t even completely agree with everything that I’ve previously written. Still, my previous posts remain accessible, as will your future posts.
This may become a forum for the fire service “everyman” to share his thoughts. Then again, it may deteriorate into an utter mess of chaotic chest-thumping, the likes of which has never been seen…not even in the comments section of Statter911.com (in which case I will delete everything and we will pretend that this never happened.) Maybe nobody will submit anything. We shall see…
Let the madness ensue…
Send submissions to email@example.com with the subject “Post Submission”.
I haven’t posted an article in a while and I’ve slowed down the posting on the Facebook page…and this post isn’t going to be anything extensive, either. Lately, I’ve refocused my attention into improving myself, and doing more to help improve my department (though it is already great, even “great” can be improved upon). Rest assured, I have a couple of articles in the works, but they aren’t quite ready to be posted for various reasons. When they are ready…and at least half-way worth the time it takes to read them…I will post them.
I was able to procure a prize in a recent contest. Box Alarm Leather ran a short notice give-away of a custom leather glove strap (if you aren’t familiar with their work, click the link above or below and check them out). I was the first to correctly answer the question, and therefore won the contest. However, I decided to pass the prize on to a “leather-freak”, instead. So, after receiving the o.k. from Box Alarm Leather, it is up for grabs. This contest is open to EVERYONE…including ELAFF locals. The rules are simple:
- Leave a comment on this post (e.g. “I’m in!”, “Show me the leather”, “Shut up and give me free stuff”, etc.)
- Use a VALID EMAIL ADDRESS or I won’t be able to contact you and you will not get the prize.
- Use your real name…I’m going to post it anyway, if you win, so there’s no need to hide it.
- One entry per person
- Only entries posted prior to 7pm EST will be eligible.
- Check back after 7pm EST on Friday to see if you won.
It is that simple. I will assign each unique entrant a number. I will use a random number generator to pick the winner. The winner gets to order whatever they want on the strap.
If nobody enters, then I get a shiny new glove strap. The End.
You may begin…
Pete (Lt. Lemon)
“The garbage man doesn’t get excited when he turns the corner and sees trash, because he’s expecting it. Likewise, you should be expecting fire on every run.” – Lt. Andy Fredericks
The above quote by Andy Fredericks is one which permeates the fire service from coast to coast. It is spoken in many a firehouse, usually by an elder fireman to one with less experience, even if the speaker doesn’t know where the quote originated. If you aren’t familiar with the late Andy Fredericks, click the link above for a brief bio.
What Andy was getting at is obvious. The garbageman isn’t reduced to a hyper-ventilating, giddy, screaming maniac at the sight of trash because that’s his job, that’s what he trains for, that’s what he expects when he mounts his rig in the morning. In the same respect, firemen should expect fire. That’s often why people call us. They usually mention something about it in the dispatch. We shouldn’t be surprised, screaming the size-up and jumping around in the front yard, when we roll up and visually confirm the reported fire. Burning property is simply part of this job. Take a breath, make a plan, and execute it. Simple enough, so how else can the garbageman be related to the fireman?
I was recently reminded of this quote as I read an article in a magazine published for government workers. It discussed a 2010 NIOSH study on Solid Waste Collection workers, mainly the occurrence of fatal traumatic injuries in the industry. NIOSH investigates on-duty fatalities in almost every industry, just as they do for the fire service. This report was intriguing as it stated that, on average from 2003-2009, there were 85 on-duty traumatic fatalities per year in the solid waste collection industry. The fire service typically states an average of 100 LODD’s per year, which isn’t far off in itself, but the past three years have seen a decrease in those numbers. In 2010, the USFA counted 87 LODD’s. This number includes 15 post-duty deaths (which must be removed as those deaths are not counted in the solid waste report). Subtracting those incidents leaves us with 72 LODD’s, which was the number reported by the NFPA. This number is meaningful, but not accurately comparative. Taking the average number of NFPA recorded on-duty LODD’s from 2003-2009 gives us a useful result of 97. Just over 10 more LODD’s than trash collectors for the same time period. So, trash collectors experience almost the same number of on-duty deaths per year on average.
These numbers are still not in proper context, so let’s dissect them a bit further. In 2010, the NIOSH listed 478,000 waste collection employees nationwide. The NFPA listed 1,103,300 firefighters in the nation for the same year. This means that there was a 0.018% fatality rate for the waste collection industry, and a 0.008% fatality rate for the fire service, on average.
Refuse collection is not the safest occupation by any account. They spend nearly their entire shift in traffic. They work around compactors, grinders, shredders, and all sorts of other nasty, destructive equipment. In addition, most areas still allow trash collectors to ride the tailboard. They are “in the hot zone” everyday, where many firefighters hardly see fire on a weekly or monthly basis. However, most in the fire service, and public, would still consider our profession to be more hazardous. The fact remains that the numbers show trash collection to be more dangerous than firefighting in the U.S.
So, what’s the point of all of this? I really don’t know. The numbers and similarities simply caught my eye and I thought that I would share. I’m not pushing an agenda or taking sides. I’m simply passing on some interesting information. It’s worth a thought. We can still cut those numbers down. Wear your seatbelt, maintain your equipment, stay in shape and eat right. Be prepared. Too many of these fatalities were potentially preventable. On the other hand, some of them just weren’t. Plain and simple. If we do the job that we are supposed to, somebody inevitably won’t come home. The garbageman faces the same odds as he collects the trash. We simply can’t eliminate the risk. All that we can do is minimize it, but not by taking shortcuts or making excuses. As of now, we may be better off than we thought…it just depends on your perspective.
I could have cut the post off there, but the topic of perspective stuck with me. Let’s continue with the summertime example of a swimming pool. You’re standing poolside, nice and warm in the sunshine, when someone in the pool encourages you to jump in. “The water’s fine!”, they shout. Of course, you know better. That water feels pleasant to them, but to your sun-warmed skin it will likely feel like diving into the North Atlantic in January. However, once the initial shock wears off, the water begins to lose its frozen bite. Your body begins to acclimate to the new environment and before long you find yourself wondering why you spent so much time allowing the UV rays to cook you on the deck.
The same issue arises when we discover new tactics for the fire service. We hear someone mention “transitional this” or “single-person that” and we wither up in fear. “No way, I’m not jumping in THAT pool. It’s freezing and cannot possibly be capable of sustaining life. It’s not what I’m used to.” At this point we must decide. We can remain outside the pool doing the same old thing as we burn up in the sun’s radiation, applying sunscreen to prolong the effects, but eventually succumbing to the scorching rays; or we can jump in and test the water. We may find that it is much more comfortable than our previous methods, leaving us questioning why we didn’t make the jump earlier.
There will likely be cases where this is not true. You will jump in to find that the few swimmers calling to you are absurd, and the water is truly unbearable (at least to your department). Don’t let this possibility stop you, though. In those cases, the solution is as simple as climbing back onto the deck of your old, tried-and-true methods and carrying on. A lesson learned and no harm done. That’s why we test new tactics during drill time first.
The message here, if there is one at all, is simple. Don’t let your perspective fool you. Take a look at the job from a different angle from time to time, you may be surprised at what you see.
– Pete (Lt. Lemon)
NIOSH Solid Waste Collection Data – http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2012-140/pdfs/2012-140.pdf
Further reading on change of perspective – http://www.fireservicewarrior.com/2012/04/i-have-a-theory/
I recently had the pleasure of sitting through a wonderful, city-mandated, OSHA compliant safety class. I’m not going to discuss the frivolity of teaching identical blanket courses to every city employee (including chainsaw safety to receptionists). In fact, this post has nothing to do with that class, directly. Rather, it stems from a side comment by the instructor.
He started speaking on the subject of recognizing trends in workplace injuries and acting to prevent them. He mentioned another municipality which had recognized a trend in fire service injuries during training, mostly heart-related problems to be more specific. Some of these incidents occurred at their department, however most occurred at other agencies. This led the municipality’s administrators and safety gurus (as far as I know this was done above the fire department level) to investigate the cause of these incidents. Their investigation led them to determine that many of the cardiac and respiratory issues, which resulted in treatment and/or hospitalization, occurred while training in full turnouts, and that the extra stress from training in full gear was a direct cause of these injuries.
Fair enough. Donning full PPE brings added weight, restricted movement, and limited vision. Its hindrance IS stressful if you aren’t used to wearing it and working in it. So, naturally, the safety gurus brainstormed how they could decrease employee injuries due to the stresses of TRAINING. Their answer was simple. Stop wearing full gear while training, unless absolutely necessary. That’s right. Training in turnouts is stressful, so we shouldn’t do it.
Now, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that this is ridiculous, but I’m going to break it down anyway. The stress and anxiety of working in full gear, whether during training or on the fireground, is mostly due to our being unaccustomed to working in such conditions. Our brains don’t like it when our senses are restricted. The limited movement, vision, and hearing cause anxiety on their own, which elevates pulse and respiratory rates. Add in the sheer physical exertion of WORKING in full gear, and we’re putting a decent strain on our hearts in training alone. Training without gear on will most definitely alleviate the occurrence of training injuries, but it won’t do a thing to help us remain calm while working in full gear. When we do don that gear on the fireground, the stress, the anxiety, and the panic will still be there and it will be elevated because of an even lower frequency of training. The difference is that on the fireground things are real (increasing stress), lives are in danger (increasing stress), and there is no pause button when a Brother falls out because he hasn’t worked in his gear since the last fire. The only impact this policy will have is to move those injuries from the training ground to the fireground.
What needs to be done? I don’t know any members of this department, but PT is always a good idea. If your body is weak, make it stronger. If your body is strong…make it stronger. Secondly, instead of doing less training in full gear, try doing it MORE often. The only way to reduce the anxiety of wearing gear is to become accustomed to it, as though it is the only clothing you ever wear. The more often you suit up and move around, the stronger your mind and body get. Once you take care of the minor stresses of wearing and working in gear (which really shouldn’t be an issue if you are off probation), take it to the next level.
That is the famous “Impact This” video from Ric Jorge, aka Glass Guy. Here’s a link to a longer, but un-embeddable, Facebook video of the training exercise “Impact This…AGAIN!” Watch it, then keep reading.
Intense, but the only way to be prepared for a stressful event (disorientation, collapse, low air, etc.) is to work through it during training. Mind you, the “Impact This” scenario is not one to simply jump in to for your next training. That drill was preceded by hours of lectures on stress-management techniques, followed by hands on training, slowly progressing to the full-blown drill in the video. The drill involved a lot of preparation, and that is what our entire profession is about…being prepared.
Prepared for the worst, prepared for the struggles, prepared for the circumstances that we’ve never encountered before, so that we may overcome, do our job, and survive.
– Lt. Lemon (Pete)
February 11th, 2012
Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the creation of the ELAFF Facebook page.
Two years ago, an inside joke at the firehouse led to the creation of Excessive Leather Accessories for Firefighters. What started out as a place to post funny videos for ELAFF locals soon became a tool to spread USEFUL posts, articles, and ideas. Somehow, random firefighters from across the nation began to stumble upon this little “gag page”, and our following began growing rapidly. My posts on Facebook began to get lengthier and last year, after much prodding, ELAFFHQ.com became a reality. Captain Chaos joined in the venture and we’ve been tweaking things ever since. We now have over 800 Facebook “likes”, along with a small amount of Twitter followers and email subscribers. Through this endeavor, we’ve had the opportunity to network with some great names in the fire service, of whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and would never have expected to come in contact with otherwise.
Lt. Lemon and Capt. Chaos at a recent mutual training event.
Alas, as the movement grows, we must grow with it.
We have a big overhaul to make here on the site, but this is ELAFF and Lt. Lemon and Capt. Chaos don’t do anything subtly.
We don’t want this big change to be simply about ELAFF. We want community involvement in our posts and ELAFF in general, so MN8 Products has stepped up and offered some awesome, glowing, Foxfire accessories to give away as part of a “blog overhaul” contest. We’ll also be offering up a few, special ELAFF prizes.
Here’s the catch…
As part of getting these freebies to give away, we have to reach a large enough audience. We’ve never begged for followers before, and we really aren’t begging now, but before we can start the contest and “overhaul” we have to reach 1,500 Facebook “likes”. This will be the one and only instance where we grovel for “likes”. I promise.
We gained nearly 200 “likes” in a 48 hour period this past week…getting less than 700 more should be no problem.
Thus begins ELAFF’s one and only “pledge drive”. We’ll have more details on the prizes, contest, and overhaul once we reach 1,500.
Share, comment, and complain away…
Thanks for reading,