~visionWhen you are in a leadership position, having a vision for your organization is more important than the words that you say.

As leaders, sometimes we don’t realize how closely we are being watched by our administrative staff, our line officers and firefighters, and by our superiors. Many organizations publish information on their mission, vision, and values – perhaps on the web, perhaps in other published materials. These tenets drive the organizations culture and put forth expectations.

The leader’s job is to set the organization’s vision. In other words, it is the leader’s job to put the coordinates in the organizations GPS so that everyone will know where they are going and that there is a map to get them there. So, how important is an organizational vision?

When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, he was immediately faced with the crisis of southern states wanting to leave the union. From the beginning, Lincoln’s vision was simple; Preserve the United States as one Country. From his inauguration speech to the last speech he made, and every person he talked to in-between, he explained why his vision was important, and how he believed we as a nation could achieve the goal of preserving what had been laid out almost a hundred years earlier.

When George McClellan won the day at Antietam, He was quoted as saying he had driven Bobby Lee back to Virginia and out of the Union. President Lincoln was furious that McClellan just didn’t get it. We were all one union, one country, and to preserve it the southern armies had to be defeated, not just merely driven back to Virginia. In the End, Lincoln found Grant and the southern armies were defeated and the United States remained as one.

How important was Lincoln’s vision? Most historians would say that President Lincoln’s vision of preserving the Union is why we still have a United States today.

One of the first things I developed when I became the Chief in Haines City Florida was to develop a vision statement to give the department a goal to work towards.

It was a pretty simple one: “Haines City Fire Department will be widely recognized as one that demonstrates best practices in the delivery of fire and emergency medical services to our community”.

It doesn’t seem like much, but for a department of 31 personnel with a previous five year 60% turnover rate, it really was a bold statement. So the question would be how did we make the department stand out with so many other departments in the county?

First we developed a strategic plan for the department. We did this at no cost (except overtime for 15 people for eight hours) by getting the assistance of a professor from Polk State College. We accomplished this at a time when other departments pay upwards of $10,000 for the same service. We completed the plan in a four month period. It was the first one the department ever had, and the first one any department in the city had. I think you could count on one hand the number of departments in that county that have one today.

A second project involved one of our firefighters who is an avid (50 – 70 miles a day on days off) bicyclist. He asked about the possibility of starting an EMS bike team, as no one else in the county had one. After a few phone calls, we acquired the use of two EMS bikes from another department in another county and tried them out at one of the city’s popular lake side events. They worked like a charm. From there the firefighter did his research, recommended two bikes, and found all of the other accessories needed. We found some money in the budget, made the purchases and in no time at all had the first EMS Bile Team in the county. It was a BLS team, but they carried AED’s and other BLS supplies. Today there are at least two other teams in the county and they came to our department to get information and all take part in training together. We were being recognized for our “Best Practices”.

These two examples were just the start. As the firefighters took more pride in their job and their work, the turnover rate dropped until it was 0% in my last year there. I believe it was all about the vision I had for the department and getting the personnel involved enough until they started coming up with ideas to make the department better. After that it’s a cycle that feeds on itself.

Vision – Does your department have one? Do you as a leader or one of the line personnel know what the goals for the department are? Someone once said “if you don’t know where you are going, you just might get there”.

“Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” Jon Madonna Vision is like a snapshot of the future for which your personnel are willing to work.

Take the blinders off.

Remember to Stay Safe. Everyone Goes Home.

Hardly a week goes by when a story doesn’t pop up on my Facebook news feed or show up on some news agency page talking about the shortages of volunteer firefighter, EMS or rescue personnel.  All these news agencies report the one thing we all know, volunteer firefighters are a dying breed, but very few reporters print any solutions. It seems the burden of finding new recruits always seems to fall on the shoulders of the department. We’ve all heard the reasons people don’t volunteer: It takes to much training…. I can’t afford to take INEWS106-Volunteer_Firefighters-PHOTO-700x350time from work…My employer won’t let me respond…. I live to far from the station.  Many of these reasons are valid and understandable. While I don’t think that lowering the training requirements is the answer, working together we can find solutions to the other reasons.  It is well known that 69% of all Firefighters nationwide are volunteer and save taxpayers $140 billion annually. Many if not most communities cannot afford to provide fulltime paid responders. While the emergency services providers need to ensure that they do their part to provide professional and well trained responders they are not the only ones responsible for recruiting. I feel that the local community, state and federal government can all do their part to help fill those empty lockers.

There are things that local municipalities can do help give incentive for volunteering. While most department do not have the budget to pay responders the local government can things to show their gratitude to those that give up their time. Developing a property tax credit is one way they can help…. most everyone you talk to complains about paying taxes. Local municipalities can provide a tax credit to property owners who volunteer, after all those volunteers are saving the rest of the local taxpayers’ money.

 

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The State government can do things to help provide incentives as well. They can reduce or eliminate vehicle registration fees for volunteers. In my state, they charge a higher registration fee for having firefighter, EMT or rescue plates. Lowering the registration fee will have a small impact on the State fund but will significantly help the volunteer. Providing tax credits to employers who allow their employees respond to emergencies during the work day is another way to help with department recruitment. It used to be a source of pride for Firefighter License Platecompanies to have their workers on the fire department but due to economic changes it is harder for those companies to be productive when being shorthanded. A tax credit could help soften that and encourage volunteering. Another potential idea to help volunteer departments is having the state set up retirement programs for long term volunteer responders. Wisconsin has a program where the state matches department contributions. Then after a predetermined number of years of service the volunteer becomes vested and upon reaching retirement age them money is played out.

I think the Federal government can step up and help the volunteer responder as well. A program like the GI bill could help provide incentive to volunteer serving the community. If a person dedicates a minimum number of years to the community the federal government could help pay for college via grants, interest free loans, etc.  It would encourage young people to serve their local community and give them real life perspective.  The federal government could also provide tax credits to people who buy homes in areas that have been identified as needing responders. I know there are already urban revitalization programs in existence but very few apply to areas protected by volunteers. Tax credits could also go to employers who encourage and allow employees respond to emergencies. The federal government already funds departments thru grants and other staffing programs but once again many volunteer organizations don’t qualify for staffing grants. Instead of funding the department to hire people we could encourage companies to have their employees volunteer.

I feel our society would be better off with a renewed sense of community and patriotism. I think you become more compassionate when you help someone from a different walk of life. Bringing more people into the fire services family will make for stronger, more understanding, healthier communities.  Perhaps if we encourage young people to serve the community some of our countries other issues will work themselves out. I think that by the government investing in these ways it would be a win/win…. volunteer emergency services will be able to secure people and society would be better.

 

Stay Safe,

Travis

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The title may be a bit ambitious but at this point in history, it is pretty widely accepted that Ohio has at least three cities with the highest rates of Heroin related overdoses and deaths. I happen to work in one of them.

What we have also experienced, as in most drug trends, is the repeat customer. Reviving the same patient several times in the same month before they finally die from the drug, get locked up or disappear. We know them by name or address and we say the same things to them when they wake up that we always do. In turn, they say the same things to us that they always do.

We have come across “Narcan Parties” where the addicts get together with a stock of Narcan and revive each other when they overdose. We arrive to find several patients that have already been given Narcan by someone. Usually that someone is long gone so we are left to finish what they started.

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Our tactics for an overdose used to be a cruel joke. We used to wake the overdose patient up quickly so they would vomit. Then we would use the experience as an attempt to “teach them a lesson”. Then we started only giving them enough Narcan to keep them breathing and deliver them to the ED so they could get the supportive care they needed while they were slowly awakened, in the comfy ED bed surrounded by friends and loved ones. We also used to take their shoes before we transported them. That way if or when they signed out AMA and left the ED they would have to wait for the bus in their socks. All in a misguided attempt to “teach them a lesson”. All of that is gone now. (I sound nostalgic and I am just a little bit. Not about being mean to people but for a time when getting dispatched on an overdose was thrilling). We have so many overdoses now, the thrill is gone and we start hoping for a shortness of breath or a chest pain, simply to have some variety. It’s a sad day when the crew sits around the kitchen table and tries to remember when they last had a shooting or a stabbing. Those things are pretty common where I work.

This plague makes up almost 70% of your EMS workload on many days. It has rewired our brains to think that every unresponsive patient that us under 40 or 50 years old is an overdose. We have gotten very good at spotting an overdose patient but the saturation of this social disaster has lead to us, on occasion, to not recognize some other causes of cardiac arrest and causing us to play “catch up” during the resuscitation. You holier than thou types will be looking down your noses at this point and saying “I wouldn’t let that happen to me or I wouldn’t miss that”. Well I can assure you, even if you fancy yourself as an EMS king or queen with your Star of Life tattoo, the 14ga needles in your pocket for that random chest decompression on the way home from work and the bulging pocket of para-medicine quick information guides, you will find yourself wondering how you missed the hypoglycemia or other cause of this unresponsive father of 2 in the parking lot of the TGI McFunsters restaurant. We are creatures of habit. Drug overdoses are our new habit. Our drug of choice right now is Narcan and our new favorite activity is atomizing it on  everyone. It’s moved up the algorithm to be a front line drug in every cardiac arrest.

No one is immune. I have given Narcan next to dumpsters in alleys, in the upstairs bathroom of a suburban home, on the patio at the gulf club, in the high school parking lot and to an elderly patient at a nursing home. It is all around us.  No one is that far from it and everyone is affected.

In our area, we have the option for the patient to refuse transport after Narcan if they are awake and alert and have a “friend” to watch for a relapse for a few hours. I know some of you out there are probably yelling at you computer or phone saying that it is a bad idea leaving those patients and not transporting them for evaluation. The problem that we have discovered is that the “patient” would sign themselves out AMA before we even got the cot made and the report finished. The hospitals don’t want them if they don’t want to be there. We don’t want to take them if they don’t want to go. It was a reluctant compromise that we have made to relieve the burden on the Emergency Departments and kept us from being tied up on a patient that did not want to be treated. Contrary to the belief of some of you, some of them don’t want the help; some of them can’t be saved.

In our area, we also have an EMS protocol system that has a “drug bag” exchange built in. If you use a “drug bag” on a run, you can exchange it for a freshly stocked one at the receiving hospital. It has been a system that has worked very well for our region as it spreads the cost of drug purchases over a larger area. We pay an annual fee to the protocol system which, in part, helps lower the cost for everyone. That being said, it is still easier for us to run to the ED and make a drug bag exchange instead of having to do a patient drop off. As good as the system is, we have run out of Narcan in our area a few times.

Back to the plague, the situation has affected every aspect of our business. The dispatchers have gotten so used to saying “respond on an overdose” that they frequently have to correct themselves when announcing a different call type. The addicts have gotten better at phoning in the overdoses. They use terms like seizure and trouble breathing because they know if they say overdose, the cops will come. Once our brothers in blue show up, they run everyone for warrants and someone usually gets hooked up and taken to jail. They are not worried about going to jail for the drugs because the jail won’t take them anymore. That’s how big the problem is, the jail and the courts don’t even want them. At least the cops have quit saying “go with EMS or go to jail”. We’ve got that going for us I guess.

I guess the real question is, how do we manage our role is in this public health crisis? Do we handle it as business as usual like we do most things and hope that it goes away? Do we try to give these lost souls the information they need to make a change in their lives? Do we use our political muscle to put pressure on the physicians groups to stop passing out opioid pain meds like they are Sweet Tarts on Halloween? Do we formulate a whole new strategy to fight this lion? For now, we each need to make a choice as an individual EMS provider to try to help each addict the best we can in hopes that it will make a difference.

We are fighting against a force that none of us saw coming. We have witnessed drug trends come through our area in the past but realized, only after the demon was unleashed, that we were in over our heads but we managed. I think this time is a bit different. It doesn’t help that the Mexican drug Cartels are very active in our area. It also doesn’t help that we have some of the highest rates of human trafficking in our area either because the two go hand in hand. Law enforcement has their hands full with all of this so we try to support each other as much as we can.

We are tired, frustrated, angry, annoyed, sad and weary but we will keep fighting because who else is going to do it?

Our area is getting some federal attention so I hope that will help. We are trying to get this lion back in the cage but it has proven to be a very fierce enemy. We will continue to fight and do the best we can until the next demon comes along.

Stay safe out there and watch each others backs!!

NEW YORK — Seven FDNY firefighters were disciplined for violating the FDNY’s “zero tolerance” hazing policy following a hazing incident of an African-American firefighter. Although the department withheld the identities of those involved, the New York Post (see this article for full story) reported that the incident involved a prank in which “they put the guy’s locker in the bathroom.”

Okay, so we all know where FDNY stands on “hazing”. Except that it seems to be a very vague rule. The word potential kind of is the catch all. Potential to demean a member? That could be anything if you didn’t like someone.

When I was in Boy Scouts, admittedly a long time ago, we always played harmless pranks on the new guys in the troop. Like sending them out at night for an imaginary snipe hunt or having them do all the dishes. I grew up with two older brothers so I had some experience in dealing with this type of chicanery. But I guess persons without older siblings never get a chance to experience this sort of thing.

So what is the right course? The “insider” who talked about the culture in the firehouse is right. But what harm is there in changing that culture? We certainly have changed as a fire service over the years. There was a time when you weren’t tough if you wore your SCBA into a fire. Now you belong in the dark ages if you don’t. So yes, fire service culture does change. Again, what’s the harm in changing the culture of hazing? I know some members just won’t be happy if they can’t play tricks on others. So we have to deal with those individuals. As a first step, we as fire service leaders have to let all personnel know where we stand on the issue and that violations will not be tolerated.

I can take a joke as much as anyone, but I had experience from an early age. Sometimes, however, some guys just go too far. And these are the ones the rules are made for. Much like in school where the teacher teaches at the lowest level so everyone can keep up. I think there are harmless pranks, but if we allow those (and how would you define them), then you have the guy or gal that goes too far. We are our own worst enemy more often than not. So we make a rule that seems vague (FDNY) but is actually there to protect everyone.

Just to be clear, I am not in favor of creating “safe places” within the fire house (like some educational institutions) where members can go and have quite time or just feel safe. If you are that sensitive then maybe the fire service isn’t for you. I don’t think anyone has suggested that, yet, but at some point I feel confident someone will.

The fire service is a great job, or institution, full of traditions and heritage. We also have a record of being flexible and recognizing the need for change. I think it is time to change the “hazing” culture and respect each other equally.

Remember, that guy or gal you are playing a prank on or hazing may be the one that has to pull You out.

Remember, Stay Safe, Everyone Goes Home, and a

Merry Christmas from Florida

TRANSITIONAL FIRE ATTACK – ARE YOU AN INNY OR AN OUTYI recall a house fire I responded to many years ago. A gas leak in the garage got to the gas water heater pilot light and before long the garage was well involved. The owner opened the garage door to try to get his car out but couldn’t. Going from the back of the house (on the main road) to the front, the sequence of rooms was;

Oversize two car garage

A breezeway (same width as garage, all windows, doors on either side, a door into the garage which the owner closed before exiting, and an open doorway into the kitchen,)

The Kitchen

A Hallway with stairs to the second floor

The breezeway and the kitchen ceilings were tongue and groove wood and varnished.

The first engine on scene was directed (by the battalion chief) to pull two 1 ¾” lines and attack from the open garage side using straight streams. My engine arrived two minutes later and it looked as though the two lines in use were not making any headway. From the officer seat and where we were parked, I could see the side door to the breezeway. I directed my firefighter to pull our 1 ¾” line and we proceeded to the breezeway door to find the fire had come through the door to the garage and the breezeway was now involved. We got low, opened the door, and hit the upper area of the room with a wide angle fog for about 10 seconds. Perfect, the fire blacked out. The two lines from the outside were causing the flames in the garage to “Push” into the breezeway. We stayed low, put the nozzle through the door into the garage and again hit the fire with a wide angle fog. Thirty seconds later the fire in the garage was knocked down. After ventilation cleared the smoke, we got the hot spots.

Now I have read that you can’t push the fire into another room, however, after all the work was done, we went into the kitchen, the hall way and stairs and noticed that wherever there was varnished wood, the heat from the garage had caused the finish to bubble. Probably within a minute flashover would have occurred and into the second floor. I can’t say 100% sure that the exterior lines directed into the garage pushed the fire into the house, but it sure looked like it.

So, was this a transitional attack? Not in the traditional sense. My point is that directing lines into a room that’s involved appears to push the fire through any opening. I’m not a science guy, but I am observant. So for this article, we will define a transitional attack as one that starts with a hose line(s) being directed through exterior windows/doors/openings into an involved room(s) before making entry to extinguish the fire from the interior.

There are a lot of articles already on the subject. On one side are those that espouse a transitional attack on all fires and on the other side are those that still cling to using an interior attack to effect extinguishment. Both arguments are good and one can believe both as being effective means of extinguishing fires. So if they are both good and effective extinguishing techniques, why the argument?

Three reasons. Firefighters, fire officers, fire departments. All contribute to the debate. From personnel experience, I witnessed a presentation on the use of straight streams in lieu of fog in some instances. Another tool to use in some cases. What happened? Every officer switched to pulling the solid or straight stream nozzle first at all fires (Recall the 3 reasons). This is what firefighters typically do. Something new comes out and we have to use it on everything, forgetting what has worked so well in the past. Remember when the halligan tool came out so long ago? Do we still use it on every door? No, because we remembered that the axe and or pry bar worked just as well.

As I said, I am no science guy, and I don’t know all the formulas that make a straight/solid stream directed from the exterior seem to work. I do know that the wet stuff on the red stuff works, and that is probably why this method works. Effective? I am sure it is. But if we are going interior any way to complete the transitional attack, why not just start there. And I accept that water streams do not push a fire into another room or other parts of the building. But it sure looks that way when you are watching it.

At the end of the day, if you are an officer who believes that a transitional attack works, then you will probably use it more often, or always, than one who does not. I believe it is another tool in our bag that we can use in certain situations. Defining or recognizing those situations is something else again. If you like it a lot, use it a lot. If you don’t think it works, use it when you think it will.

I am not a believer in one method to fight all fires, except for the safe method.

Be safe – Everyone Goes Home

dont-fail-to-planIn January of 2006, I was deployed with one other officer from pour department to Hancock County Mississippi to manage the planning section of the emergency operations center (EOC) for ten days. Although Hurricane Katrina had made landfall four months earlier on August 29, 2014, Hancock County was so severely damaged that the EOC was still operating out of necessity. Certainly volumes could be written on the damage Katrina inflicted on Hancock County, this is more about the Planning section of the EOC. Two days into deployment there, we were asked to develop a 30/60/90 day plan to present to the Emergency Manager before we left.

For those of you unfamiliar with this term, as I was in 2006, A 30/60/90 day plan simply provides a timeline and breakdown of actions and objectives that should be achieved within 90 days. It is a fluid plan, and flexible enough to be altered as needed.

For Hancock County I needed to provide objectives that should be reached within 90 days. These areas included;

  • Medical Facilities
  • What is and what will be the bed capacity
  • Ambulance Service
  • What are current and predicted response times
  • Temporary Housing
  • Work to get families from emergency housing (trailers) to temporary housing
  • Businesses: Retail, Grocery, Fuel
  • Department stores, groceries, gas stations
  • Transportation
  • Debris removal from roads, restoring traffic lights
  • Debris Removal
  • From roads, driveways, parking lots
  • Hazardous Materials Removal
  • Provide emergency response to Hazardous Materials issues
  • Government Services: Staff, Offices, Equipment
  • Provide computerized access to county records, plan for long term recovery of county complex

These are only the highlights of what the report included. For the plan to be useful, I visited almost all of the places mentioned above, met with FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers, County ambulance personnel, and the county sheriff.

In the end the plan turned out well and the Emergency Manage felt he had a better idea of what to expect within 90 days. I am sure at the end of the first 30 days, he had another 30/60/90 day plan developed.

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What can this type of plan do for you in your current capacity? It can be adapted to any process. If you are just starting budget preparation, do a quick 30/60/90 day plan to put your objectives on paper that others in the organization can follow and they will also know what needs to be done by when and by whom. If you have a big event in your community, you can use this plan along with the Incident Command System to make your event go as smooth as possible.

I have used this concept on a job interview. After researching the community and the department, I developed a 30/60/90 day plan to graphically show what my plans would be for the first 90 days. This usually makes an impression on the interviewer and you will also leave a good first impression.

You don’t have to be the chief to use this tool. Anyone can use it to set goals and objectives. And it can be altered to fit changes as needed. Give it a try if you haven’t already used one.

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

The Fire Asylum Movie

Many of you may have recalled an article I wrote earlier last year about the Fire Asylum training. Well some great news has occurred this week, The Fire Asylum Movie was released on Amazon. If you really want to understand more about this unique training, you really should watch the movie! 

Fire Asylum Chief Marty Mayes, his crew of instructors, and the students in the class take you on a compelling adventure into The Fire Asylum.  You get to see the student’s journey through this unique training as they share personal stories of their lives in and out of the fire service. By the time you finish this documentary, you feel a very personal connection with these students and are truly committed to The Fire Asylum.

The movie is available on for purchase for $9.99 and rent for $4.99 on Amazon. Just click on the movie poster to be directed to purchase. One more awesome thing about this movie is that all proceeds from the movie will go to help pay for students to attend this training or substantially recused the cost of the training. The more people who purchase the low costs there will be for future students!

Below is the movie trailer for the film. Check it out!!

employee-and-organizational-morale-1As leaders, we should constantly monitor our organizations morale and make adjustments as necessary. What are some of the steps, policies, mannerisms, or lead by example tips we as leaders can do to help build and maintain morale?

Professionalism 

It is always important to look professional. Personnel should not be showing up at emergency scenes with shirts that are torn, without names, patches missing or other unacceptable issues. Once I made lieutenant, I started taking my shirts to the dry cleaners so I always had clean and pressed shirts on. There were times when less than 15 minutes into a shift we responded to a fire and my shirt would get soaked and dirty. After returning to quarters and showering, I always had a clean and pressed shirt to change into. Can this be done 100% of the time? Probably not. But if you make the effort others (including your crew) will notice. And then there is the pants. I have seen the navy blue pants that have been washed so many times that they are a light blue. Make sure your replacement program includes inspections and recommendations for new uniforms when necessary. Just as important to looking professional is to act professional. It’s ok to cut up once in a while at the station. I think that’s one way we stay sane in this business. However, when there is company in the station, from family and public to other officials, it is that time we need to be the professionals we always claim we are. Act professional and be professional in the station and out in the public whether at an emergency scene, public education program, or some other venue. As the Company Officer, make sure your crew looks and acts the part. As the leader, you should always emphasize that we are here to do whatever the public wants whenever they want it. It is never an inconvenience, it is our job.

Building Your Team 

It is important for the company officer to build morale within the station. I have been at some stations where there is always one or two guys who want to be alone all the time. They bring their own food eat alone, watch television alone, and stay away from group conversation. It is hard for the company officer to bring these people into the group, but it is always worth trying. Make sure everyone trains together, meet in the morning to discuss the activities for the day or the latest news and weather and try to find something that these guys and gals have in common with everyone else. It takes time and you have to keep these activities up, eventually most of these loners will become part of the group and you will have your team. Remember to be nice, be positive, be friendly, and be a friend. Not everyone has the best days every day at the firehouse.

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Build Company Pride

I was a lieutenant when the movie Backdraft came out. Immediately many of us wanted to have our own company logo and flag for our apparatus. At the time, top officials would not allow it. We still designed our own t shirts with our own mascot and wore them at night. It was a start and a source of pride for those of us at that station. Now all the stations have their own mascot and flags for the apparatus. In today’s world many stations have their own Facebook page, Twitter account or Instagram (or all of them). If you decide to go this route, ensure it is in line with your department and or city policies on these types of social media. In some areas it is still not allowed.  If you do use these make sure you as the leader monitor the site and ensure the postings are appropriate. Once a year a week before Fire Prevention week, we have a department wide open house at all stations and invite the public in to see their stations and fire apparatus. In most cases this will be the only opportunity for the citizens to see a fire truck up close. And the adults like getting in the seats as much as the kids. As the firefighters are giving tours they show their pride in their job and their knowledge and the citizens will see that we do more than sit around all day. This is always important as it builds trust between the fire department and the citizens. These types of events always bring the personnel closer together.

Lead by Example

As the leader of an organization, you have to always have a positive attitude. If you are in this position, you learned a long time ago to leave any other issues at the front door. If you sense the morale is low in your organization, then the best way to start building morale is to show up; at the station, emergency scenes, public education, and other venues. Congratulate the new dads or moms and acknowledge any off duty accomplishments. Someone once said that your employees don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Show them that you do care. Lead by example. Ask questions to really understand why morale is low. If you get some suggestions, implement those you can and acknowledge whose idea it was. Everyone likes a pat on the back once in a while. As a leader, whether a company officer or the chief, you can’t fix morale problems just like that. But we always have to keep trying. That’s what we get paid for, to never give up and never stop trying.

employee-and-organizational-morale-2

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

residential-fire-sprinklersIn January of this year, a family of six died in a fire in a relatively new home (built in 2005). Investigation showed it was electrical in nature and a dry Christmas tree contributed to the fast building and spreading fire.  All six were determined to have died from smoke inhalation. There were smoke alarms in the house and no indication they did not work. The home was built four years before the county began requiring sprinkler systems in new homes.

In 2011 there were 386,000 residential fires; these caused 3,005 civilian fire deaths, 17,500 civilian fire injuries, and $11.7billion in property damage. And this was an average year. Studies by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s United States Fire Administration indicate that the installation of residential fire sprinkler systems could have saved thousands of lives; prevented a large portion of those injuries; and eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in property losses.

To date, there are no reported deaths in any single family residence that has a sprinkler system installed.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study found that homes equipped with smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system experienced 100-percent fewer civilian fatalities and 57-percent fewer civilian injuries than homes equipped with only smoke alarms.

In a home with sprinklers the average property loss per fire is cut by about 70% (compared to fires where sprinklers are not present). The cost of installing home fire sprinklers averages $1.35 per sprinklered square foot.

The question is, why are residential fire sprinklers not required in all cities, or all states? Opposition starts with home builders associations who complain that the cost is too high (have you priced a house lately, it is all too high), sprinklers are unsightly, they go off accidentally, they cause unnecessary damage when they are activated, and my favorite, there just aren’t that many fires in homes. Tell that to the family of six and all the others who perish because there are too many excuses.

Seven years ago at a statewide fire marshals meeting, the then president of the fire chiefs association stated that in the next legislative session that association was going to lobby the legislature hard for residential sprinklers in all new one and two family homes. The fire marshals never heard anything and seven years later there still is no law.

But it has to start there. The fire chiefs associations (local, state and national) have to push hard for this kind of legislation. The international firefighters should be on board also. The fire marshals associations can push hard for the chiefs to do the right thing, but, it’s still up to the chiefs. If all else fails, each municipality can enact requirements for sprinklers in their city or county, much like Anne Arundel County did, albeit too late for that family of six.

For a list of States with home fire sprinkler requirements;

http://firesprinklerinitiative.org/legislation/sprinkler-requirements-by-state.aspx

For a list of States that prohibit Anti-sprinkler legislation:

http://firesprinklerinitiative.org/legislation/anti-sprinkler-legislation.aspx

One more fact. If the fire is out on arrival due to a residential fire sprinkler, how much risk remains for the firefighter?

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

women-in-the-fire-serviceRecently there was an article in the local newspaper regarding harassment charges brought forward by several women that work for a local and large, fire department. Some of those charges included the fact that there were not separate sleeping arrangements for men and women at a majority of the stations. The department I worked for has had women for over 35 years and while the going was rough at first, we now have dormitories with separate sleeping cubicles at all of the stations. There are no doors, only curtains, but I think you can see the increased privacy for each person.

When the first female was hired on my department, sliding locks were installed on the bathroom doors and on the dormitory doors. If individuals used the bathroom, shower, or the dorm for changing, the door was to be locked. All personnel were to adhere to this policy. Yes, we made some mistakes at first. In any new endeavor there are sure to be some. We learned from them, corrected them, made adjustments where necessary, and budgeted for station changes to accommodate the females we were hiring. When a station was refurbished, or a new one built, sleeping cubicles that included space for lockers were included in the original design. In some stations only the dorm was restructured to give all personnel a sleeping cubicle. But it worked and it did take time. More importantly, it took a commitment from fire administration with the city administrations support to accomplish this task.

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We continued to have education on harassment of any kind and the city has a zero tolerance policy to address issues that may arise. Okay, here is where I come clean.  Since the beginning of time, if there are male and females working in the same environment, things are going to happen between them regardless of the policies. No one can stop it, but we as leaders can address it. We must make it known that this type of behavior, if uncovered (no pun) is not tolerated and then if something is brought to our attention, we have to deal with it appropriately. In any case, if there are any harassment charges, we as leaders must respect the person or persons bringing the charges forward. In the article I spoke of earlier, the mayor actually stated that he didn’t believe there were any problems on the fire department and there are always going to be whiners in any job. So, if you are a female and work for that department and believe you are being harassed then the mayor has already labeled you as a whiner and complainer if you bring those issues forward. How likely is anyone to speak out with that kind of attitude at the top? It is unfortunate that we still elect and appoint leaders who would fit better in the 1950’s than in today’s world.

While the mayor doesn’t believe there are any problems, he is making dollars available to address the sleeping quarters issue. Something the last three fire chiefs should have fought for many times. Do we as leaders need a wakeup call like a newspaper expose to force us to make changes? I hope this is an isolated incident. I believe women are as important to the fire service as men. We just ignored them for too long. They work just as hard, pass the same tests, get the same education, and are as intelligent as the next guy. Why wouldn’t we want them on the job and respect their needs?

As I said before, it all starts at the top.

Stay Safe, Everyone Goes Home

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