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)
That’s right. The title is referring to the Fire Service Brotherhood. Before you amass a posse and begin an assault on ELAFF HQ, I ask that you read this post to the last word. After that, please share your opinions…positive or negative.
I’ve been working on this post for a few months now. Until recently, it was merely a set of scattered ideas, floating around in my mind without a central focus to tether them all together. This week, I found my focus. A group of firefighters in Georgia uploaded a video to Youtube, showing an outrageous “rookie prank” which they carried out.
Here is the video:
My immediate thought after viewing this video was,”Wow…these guys are crazy!”
I planned on leaving it at that, with no further comment. As usual, I continued to follow the chatter on Statter911. I enjoy observing the varying opinions of Statter’s readers, and their reactions towards one another. The comments began to follow two, distinct paths.
The overwhelming majority of comments voiced disgust and disapproval. Those are the comments I agree with. The small number of opposing comments accosted the dissenters with accusations of overreaction and over-sensitivity.
I fail to see the supposed “innocence” of this “prank”. Ask any ELAFF Local and they will tell you that I am a supporter of firehouse fun and harmless tom-foolery. This prank, however, crossed the line. It may have caused mental trauma to the recipient, and even more likely, it could have resulted in serious injury or death. Don’t believe it? I’ll explain…
What if an off-duty member, carrying a legal and permitted concealed weapon, stopped by the station for a visit? How about a local law enforcement officer seeking a cup of coffee and some small talk. The city that this department protects has seen an increase in violent crime in recent years. If an armed firefighter or law officer entered the station to find his comrades being forced to the floor by a masked gunman, they would most likely react quickly. If they had entered the room as the firecrackers exploded, sounding like gunfire and adding to the realism of the mock execution, I’m sure they would have reacted aggressively. The ironic tragedy of a mock gunman being shot by an uninformed hero would have changed the tone of those supportive comments, and silenced any laughter.
Now, back to the Brotherhood and the focus of this post. There was one comment that veered to the extreme end of the supportive spectrum. It immediately struck a nerve and spurred me to tie those scattered ideas into a solid post. Here it is verbatim:
“You guys are such negative nancy’s. What happened to the brotherhood in the fire department? You are all too busy trying to throw them under the bus. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? As far as the prank being dangerous? I hate to tell you but F.D. Doesn’t mean fire department, but rather freaking dangerous.”
What happened to brotherhood? It doesn’t exist…it is a lie. At least, the “brotherhood” of which this comment speaks is a lie. It seems to be increasingly common for newer members of the fire service to EXPECT the brotherhood. They believe that as soon as they get some bunker gear, they are a solid link in the chain of fire service brethren…and that this link can never be severed. Nope. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. The TRUE brotherhood between firefighters must be earned, and to keep it, you must stay true to the profession. You can get your issued t-shirt, or pager, or union decal for your truck…but that doesn’t make you a Brother. Don’t get me wrong. Senior firefighters should be there for the rookies. They should answer their questions, mentor them, even give them a little razzing when they get too cocky. Don’t shun the new guys, but make sure they know that they still have something to prove before they fully become a Brother.
Earning a place in the Brotherhood doesn’t require a working fire and an act of heroism, either. I recall a firehouse visit by a German fireman(feuerwehrmann). He spoke little English and had never stepped foot in our house before. We began to tour the station and apparatus; through broken English, hand signals, and my very basic understanding of German (thanks to my German roots) we began to communicate. His “detailed” questions about hose lays, pump rate, equipment, and tactics shone brightly through the language barrier. This was a Brother. He knew firefighting. He lived it. He didn’t leave it behind like a businessman on vacation. He didn’t ask lame questions about flashing lights and sirens. With less than 50 actual, spoken words…he EARNED my trust…and proved his status as a Brother. I assume that by gladly sharing our house and rigs, and by answering his questions with enthusiasm, pride, and knowledge…we earned HIS trust, as well.
Being a member of the Brotherhood goes beyond joining the department and wearing a t-shirt. It is more complex than simply wearing a pager and has no correlation to the amount of lights on your P.O.V. Being a member of the Brotherhood is about looking out for your Brothers. Putting them, and the civilians you protect, before yourself…and not just on the fireground. Being a Brother requires constant training. Brothers drop the remote and pick up the weights, so that they’ll be prepared for the next call. They take a break from talking about football at the kitchen table, so that they can run through a scenario or critique a previous call. Brothers take part in as much training as possible, even the courses that AREN’T required by the department. They spend spare time going over the rigs, looking for subtle changes which could make the next run flow a bit smoother. To Brothers, the fire service is more than a way to earn a paycheck, or a way to pick up chicks. It takes dedication and commitment to be a Brother. For that reason, not EVERY fire department member is a TRUE Brother Firefighter.
Too often these days, when news of a misbehaving firefighter hits the internet, some whacker-troll jumps out of the shadows screaming about the “brotherhood”. The idiots in Georgia may have been Brothers last week. Then, they pulled this “prank” and posted it on Youtube. They endangered themselves and made their department (and therefore the ENTIRE American fire service) a joke. They disgraced the Brotherhood, and thereby forfeited their privilege as a member. Yes, “privilege”. Not “right”. IF they are allowed to remain in this profession, they will have to EARN that privilege again.
To simply defend their actions because of the “brotherhood” is ridiculous. If a rogue firefighter decides to light a random house on fire for kicks, would you stand behind his actions because he’s a “brother”? What if he inadvertently killed somebody; would you support his act of arson under the veil of “brotherhood”? What if the victim was ALSO a “brother” firefighter?
I’ll stand by my Brothers through a lot, but when they start breaking laws and endangering lives, they go against the very morals that hold the Brotherhood together. I can’t consider someone like that a Brother, and I doubt they were ever one to begin with. If they had time to plan an elaborate stunt like the one above, then they also had time to train or hit the gym. They chose not to, and therefore chose to avoid the Brotherhood.
I have no problem with somebody supporting the “gunman pranksters” above. If you think it was a harmless prank, fair enough. If you think that no harm was done, fine.
Just don’t use the Brotherhood as your default defense. To some of us, it has a meaning which runs deeper than your superficial understanding.
(Credit to the following blogs for extra motivation and inspiration on this post: Jason Jefferies’ Working the Job, Chris Brennan’s Fire Service Warrior, and Taj Meyers’ QueenCityBurns. Read those posts.)
Finally, I’ve gotten it together. Over three weeks ago, I announced that I was working on a new post. Unfortunately, I became side tracked by, what I have dubbed, “parasitic blogging”. Rather than express my views through an article on THIS site, I’ve been leaving a multitude of comments on various other blogs. Among those are Statter911, the Raleigh/Wake Fire Blog by Mike Legeros, and the Fire Critic. The added benefit of this is that my comments usually link back to this site. Free advertising…cha-ching! There are links in the right sidebar to the blogs which I read most frequently. So, if I stop posting for a while, you can most likely find me (and join the discussion) on one of those sites.
Moving on, this post is a light-hearted take on a most controversial topic…radio traffic. More specifically, the redundant phrases which infect agencies nationwide, wasting airtime and precious oxygen. I will begin by stating that I do not like “ten codes”. Period. They are useless and often confusing. If you would like to argue that, feel free to leave a comment below. You’ll still be wrong, but feel free to comment.
The first viral phrase of futility is a favorite of Mike Legeros. “Be advised…” is often heard preceding any important radio transmission. It sounds like an interjection designed to grab one’s attention before the announcement of pertinent data. In reality, it is usually utilized as a “filler” phrase, much like saying “uh” or “ah” when you aren’t sure what to say next. It gives the speaker an extra second (or two in the slow-speaking south) to gather their thoughts before speaking further. If it were necessary, then one should ignore any transmissions not preceded by “be advised”. If they don’t tell you to listen, then don’t. The fact is, listeners naturally know to listen and “be advised”, whether or not they are told to.
The second phrase up for discussion is similar. Have you ever heard command declare that the fire is under control, “at this time”? This phrase is used over and over, following almost any type of transmission. The question here is, would you ever transmit information which is not presently accurate? Would one ever advise that the fire was under control “five minutes ago”, or that the fire will be under control “in ten minutes”? Listeners automatically assume that your information is current, so it is ridiculous and redundant to state this. Taking this deeper, we can void this phrase using basic rules of grammar. When stating that “the fire is under control”, the word “is” signifies present tense, thus leaving no need for the additional “at this time”. Why waste the air time?
My final radio pet peeve runs rampant throughout the fire service. “Engine 50 on scene; two-story, ordinary construction, nothing showing from the exterior“. When is the last time anyone gave an initial size-up from the interior? The fact that you are describing the scene upon arrival clearly communicates that you are outside. So, why say it? Captain Chaos and I have often joked about giving a second size-up declaring, “Nothing visible from the interior, either”. We have yet to execute this, but I have not ruled out the idea. Don’t get me started on size-ups. Just for your information, “masonry” and “block” are NOT building types…there are five (and ONLY five) of those. You should have learned them in a basic building construction class. No other construction types should be used in a size-up. End of story.
I believe this is enough kindling to start a good fire of discussion. I’ll leave the redundancy of “RIT Team” alone. Actually, that one speaks for itself. I’ve always wanted to reply to command as the “Rapid Intervention Team Team” after hearing that. The same goes for “IC Command”…I’ve heard that one, too. They are ACRONYMS, people! I digress; leave your comments below and tell your friends to check this out. Use the buttons below to share via Facebook, Twitter, email, and now…Google +. You can also print a copy and post it at the firehouse.
– Lt. Lemon
That is indeed a caustic title. However, it isn’t my opinion, rather it seems to be a common sentiment throughout the fire service. Granted, the fact that you are reading this on your own volition shows that you are probably not the target of this post. When discussing an article in a trade publication or other fire service literature, how often have you heard comments like, “I’m a firefighter; I don’t read”? The idea that firefighting is simple, physical labor involving only brute strength and requiring little education is outdated. How can we continue to develop our skills if we refuse to push our limits? Most firehouses are equipped with weight rooms; which allow us to continually improve our physical fitness because we rely on strong bodies to perform our jobs. Making split-second decisions during intense situations requires an extremely sharp mind. So, why are we not equally concerned with our mental fitness? We must be willing to exercise and build our minds, just as we do our muscles.
Why do we promote our purported stupidity? I believe it’s all due to our deep-rooted history and traditions. We cling to the old school, the past. This is a wonderful ideal for building esprit de corps, but there are some traditions for which it is long time to abandon. Organized firefighting in America grew out of the poor, slum-dwelling populations in large cities like Boston and New York City. The ranks were filled with Irish and Italian immigrants who were unable to acquire more conventional employment, and they performed amazingly well considering their circumstances. Those were the days of bucket brigades and horse-drawn steam engines; when PPE consisted of wool clothing, large mustaches, and an iron constitution. Times changed, technology improved, and the fire service developed strategies and tactics beyond the half-improvised attempt to simply limit destruction to a few buildings. The science of modern chemistry grew from the archaic meddlings of metallurgy and alchemy, yet chemists have earned a distinction as reputable scientists by yielding the backroom wizardry of their past to newer, constantly advancing techniques. It is time for the American fire service, as a whole, to remove the “dumb guy” attitude from our collective mindset and allow our profession to grow.
Many would ask, “Why does it matter as long as we do the job?” We fight the beast, we slay the dragon, we save the day. Sure, but what about the other 85% of the time, when we’re watching t.v. and drinking coffee? What about when we aren’t being heroes? The perception of the public, and city officials, acts on the premise of “out of sight, out of mind”. Smothering infernos and rescuing babies gets us in the headlines, but the next day we are back to being lazy, pension-padding, tax-dollar wasting jerks. We continue to promote ourselves as blue-collar, single-skilled laborers, yet we are amazed when the city council wants to close stations and layoff firefighters. They see us as single-use tools, only needed in case of emergency; a reactive force to be called upon only after things go awry. In order to change their perception of us, we must change our perception of ourselves.
We must truly accept, encourage, and even require higher education within the ranks. The members of today’s fire service must evolve, and market ourselves as educated, intelligent, and highly skilled specialists. We must move beyond the idea of being mindless brutes who break things and spray water on fire. Yes, there is still a need for effective, aggressive firefighting and we must continue to do our job, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read a book every once and awhile. Our’s is a profession which requires brains, as well as brawn, for long-term success.
– Lt. Lemon