Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #9
Use the words “always” and “never” sparingly.
Declare that you will “always attack a fire X way” or “never enter a structure under Y conditions” and fate will undoubtedly present you with an exception to your rule. Don’t paint your agency into a corner with overly specific protocol and policies. The fireground is dynamic and your tactics must be, too. A well-rehearsed general strategy is necessary, but leave room for skilled, experienced company officers to call an audible when the circumstances warrant it.
(Photo by Ron Burgess Jr.)
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #3
Do Good Work
No matter what, always do good work. You may have no control over administrative power-plays, departmental politics, or experimental policies. Don’t spend your time worrying about issues that are out of your hands. Focus on the things in your control. Keep your mind, body, equipment, and crew in a state of readiness. Let others worry about what shirt you’re supposed to wear today. When the tones drop, it really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you have a seat on the rig, your tools are ready for work, and that, at the end of the day, you did your job.
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #20
Coffee, hot and black. The catalyst for starting a productive shift and the fuel for making it through a busy night. Some of the greatest lessons in the fire service begin with a fresh pot and a circle of firemen. Whether you gather around the front bumper, the kitchen table, or on the back ramp, it’s all the same. Seniors, pass down your knowledge; probies, open your ears. Fill your mug and your mind. These lessons won’t be found in a classroom or textbook.
(Contributed by Erik Heath)
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #7
Sometimes things don’t go your way. Your big idea may be shot down. Someone may disagree with your opinion. Occasionally, you may even be flat-out wrong. It doesn’t mean that the world is out to get you. Admit to your errors, negotiate around life’s obstacles, and move on.
(Contributed by Brian Brush of Fire by Trade)
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #16
“I’ll remember when it’s the real deal” is a weak and tired fallacy. Building muscle memory through repetition occurs regardless of whether you are building proper or poor technique. Skip the step of donning your hood or grabbing a tool on ninety-nine false alarms and you can guarantee that you will arrive to that one working fire with a naked neck and empty hands. Do your job; do it right, every time.
“We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus
(Contributed by Dave LeBlanc)
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #15
Change doesn’t always equal progress. Change to tactics and equipment that results in a marked improvement should be tried and tested under the scrutiny of experience. However, implementing new tactics simply because they’re new is a faulty course to follow. Innovation is wonderful, but efficiency and success should be the measure of our methods. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
A recent article on this subject from the military blog-world:
Black Sheep Rebel Club Rule #4
Maintain an open, but skeptical mind. Learn not just how to perform a skill, but why it is performed that way. Do not accept a method as “the only way” simply because it is written in a textbook. Realize that all educational information is susceptible to inaccuracies, whether from in-house sources, outside instructors, or even accredited curriculum. Even the best resources may teach some methods that simply cannot be applied to your department’s specific circumstances. Continually analyze your own operations for shortcomings, be humble enough to acknowledge the need for improvement, and be willing to make changes when necessary.
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.
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.
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.