There is a recent story out of Florida that’s has generated a lot of discussion. According to WFTS-TV’s I-Team, two fire captains, from two different departments, are chapter presidents of two different motorcycle gangs. One is with the Pagans and the other with the Outlaws. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) defines “outlaw motorcycle gangs” (OMG) as “organizations whose members use their motorcycle clubs as conduits for criminal enterprises”. Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Criminal Intelligence Service Canada have designated four MCs as “outlaw motorcycle gangs”: the Hells Angels, the Pagans, the Outlaws, and the Bandidos, known as the “Big Four”.
While neither captain has been charged with a crime, one question I have (among many) is whether or not they should be working for a public department. The fact is, public employees have been terminated (or not hired) because of questionable comments on their face book page. So why would you allow someone to work for you who belongs to what the government lists as an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG)?
According to law enforcement, there are two distinct groups within OMG’s. There is the 99 percent, who believe in following and respecting the law. Then there are the one percenters. These 1% proudly display a patch that signifies an anti-law abiding lifestyle. Local ATF Agent Keary Hundt says when you’re a 1 percenter, “You consider yourself not subject to society’s rules and laws.” These 1 percenters are involved in “Drug trafficking, weapons trafficking, extortion, arson, bombings, you name it.” One of the fire captains named in the story proudly displays the 1% logo on his shirt and on a necklace.
Having summarized the news story which you can read at;
http://www.statter911.com/2016/05/04/can-fire-captain-leader-motorcycle-gang/ , let’s start at the beginning.
If I were any part of a government administration, I would not want an employee to belong to any group known for its criminal activity, especially ones that are named by the DOJ. A first step would be to have hiring policies that ask the question on whether or not the applicant belongs to any association or subversive group. That’s a broad question but I think it best not to get too specific. Then if a person checks the “No” box and later is found to belong to one of these groups all along, then you have cause to terminate. The city policies could also prohibit membership in these types of organizations. So if someone is “clean” when you hire them they know upfront they can’t later join one these clubs. Or, once again, there is cause to terminate.
Apparently in the organizations named in the article, these types of policies are not in place or there would not be a news story about it.
If your organization does not have a government or department policy prohibiting this type of activity, it is probably because it has not been needed. I have heard the statement many times that “firefighters are their own worst enemy”. This seems to be the case here.
As a fire chief, should you be concerned about your employees belonging to one of these groups? Absolutely. As a chief, if my department or city did not have a policy against membership in these organizations, I would work to get them implemented. I know there will be many who ask why it is any ones business what an employee does on his/her own time. The answer I think is simple. You work for an organization who works every day to secure and retain the public trust. The public trusts us to come to their aid, to be polite, to know the job, and to respect their property. Having an employee belonging to one of these organizations, not to mention being the chapter president, just doesn’t pass the newspaper test. No matter how you write it, it will not make the department look good.
I have nothing against motorcycles or motorcycle clubs. There are certainly many clubs that are recognized by the American Motorcycle Association that a person could choose to be a member of. These clubs can be a fun organization and do a lot of community work. In my opinion if you belong to an OMG, then it just a bad thing waiting to happen. And that can’t be good for your organization. Personally, if you are a member of a 1 percenter club, why would you want to work for a public entity in the first place?
Just my opinion. What do you think?
Stay Safe, Everyone Goes Home!
In April of 2015, I wrote an article on my perspective of women in the fire service. In the article I spoke regarding a local department that recently had harassment charges brought forward by several women. Some of those charges included the fact that there were not separate sleeping arrangements for men and women at a majority of the stations.
In your department, if there is any harassment charges brought forward, 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?
One year later one of those original females had the,(well you know), to actually file a harassment lawsuit against the department (read the article here – http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/tampa-firefighter-fired-after-filing-harassment-suit/2272213) and a very short time later she was fired. I guess the mayor stuck to his guns and again labeled her as a “whiner.”
The Chief of the department stated in his memo to the female firefighter that she “violated the city personnel manual, specifically: “falsification, misrepresentation, or material omission of statements, testimony, or any document or record completed in the course of employment or in obtaining employment, including group insurance claims.”
The department spokesman declined to comment. No need. The Mayor and the Chief said it all.
We all know that if there are male and females working in the same environment things are going to happen between them regardless of the policies. That doesn’t make it harassment, but it can provide an opportunity for it. No one can stop it, but we as leaders can address it. We must make it known that this type of behavior is not tolerated and if something is brought to our attention, we have to deal with it appropriately.
As I stated in the article a year ago, the mayor made dollars available to address the privacy issue. Curtains. That’s the solution for now. How many stations have been built in the last thirty years? I am betting it’s more than the number that have privacy cubicles.
It is unfortunate that we still elect and appoint leaders who would fit better in the 1950’s than in today’s world. For those leaders (term used loosely) it is time to wake up, woman in the fire service is not a trend, it’s been here for a long time. Things like privacy issues should have been addressed a long time ago. And certainly termination is not the answer to any of the aforementioned issues. Communication, education, and understanding are what we need from our leaders today.
As I said before, it all starts at the top.
Stay Safe, Everyone Goes Home
Have you ever sat at a red light and in your side view mirror you see someone coming up too fast to stop at the light, and then you realize they have no intention to stop. Immediately you look at traffic coming through the green light and at that moment, what we like to call the pucker factor kicks in, and you cringe as the speeding car barely gets through the intersection without incident thanks to the well timed braking of the oncoming traffic.
If you are first to arrive at a house fire and have a fire showing in one or two rooms, you handle this fairly easy. Establish command, assign an attack crew, assign a vent crew, and have backups in place and as the attack crew makes entry, the vent crew breaks the window out in the room involved just as the attack crew fills the involved room with a fog stream, knocks the fire out and waits for the smoke to clear. Fast, easy, effective and somewhat routine.
Take the same scenario and as you pull up to the scene a woman runs up to you and frantically tells you her baby is in the crib in the back bedroom. You begin a size up and see fire in the room inside the open front door and also in what is probably the front bedroom. Remember that car running the red light? I’m certain you now have the same feeling. While it is never a good time to have some type of failure on the fire ground, even at routine calls, when life is at risk it is really not a good time. So, what do we do to minimize the opportunity for failure?
As the first arriving officer on the scenario above, establishing command at the onset becomes paramount. Establishing command lets other units know someone is on scene, someone is in charge, and that someone is the person all other companies need to get information to and from. The Incident Commander’s (IC) next steps should include size-up, verifying the location and ETA of incoming units, assigning a crew for rapid entry and search once a backup crew is in place, communicate with the mother to verify location of the child and if there are any obstacles or other things you should be aware of before entry.
Other items to consider include ventilation, fire suppression, EMS and transport, water supply if needed, power company, law enforcement and fire investigation to name a few.
So far we have;
This should all be accomplished within the first one or two minutes. As the entry team prepares to enter, the backup crew may need to perform some horizontal ventilation to relieve some of the smoke conditions inside. Notify dispatch when the entry team goes in and also give updates as the entry team reports back. This type of radio documentation could become extremely important at a later date.
If all goes according to the IC’s plan of attack, the search and rescue will be successful without injuries and will be uneventful.
Certainly in this scenario, the search and successful rescue of the child is all important. However, just as I consider fire prevention to be most important in the fight against fires, I also believe the first one or two minutes that the first arriving unit is on scene and assumes command is the most important two minutes to a successful outcome of any fire or emergency incident. Not only do we as fire service leaders want to have successful rescues, we also want incidents without injury to the citizens or our personnel.
We know that our firefighters do effective and exceptional jobs at emergency incidents. And we know it is because of the training everyone gets all the time. How much of that time is spent on training our officers about incident command and all of the things that go with it? I’m guessing it is a lot less. Certainly incident command training can be improved in almost every department. If possible, try some scenario-based training using buildings in your town. Another way is to have an officer bring in a pre-fire plan of a target hazard to your officer meeting, have them make a presentation on the building and why it is a target hazard, then create a scenario about that building. This gives each officer an opportunity to show their skills in public speaking, planning and command. I think you just might be surprised.
Remember, stay safe, Everyone Goes Home.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD
PTSD develops differently from person to person. While the symptoms of PTSD most commonly develop very soon after or even days following the traumatic event, it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear. PTSD is commonly associated with the trauma suffered after serious injury to oneself or another, another’s death, or witnessing traumatic events.
A new study reveals that 90% of firefighters are living and working with PTSD. The study, conducted by Dr. Marc Lougassi, himself a firefighter, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, found 90% of their professional firefighters showed full or partial symptoms of the mental health condition. Dr Lougassi explains: “Professional firefighters are frequently exposed to extreme stress during their work in emergency situations. In addition to the physical challenges of firefighting they must evacuate burned and injured victims or bodies. Their involvement in traumatic events exposes them not only to the pressures stemming from the traumatic event itself, but also to post-traumatic emotional expressions that result in secondary traumatization. As far as Israeli firefighters are concerned, there has been no documented evidence of PTSD prevalence, despite the fact that they are exposed to everyday Fire and EMS events, but the additional trauma such as war and terror strikes.”
Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms of PTSD can be quite extensive, but will fall into one of three categories: intrusive memories, avoidance or emotional numbing and anxiety and increased emotional arousal.
Intrusive memory symptoms include reliving the traumatic event through flashbacks or nightmares.
The second group is avoidance or emotional numbing. These symptoms are exhibited when the individual consciously avoids trying to think or talk about the event, discontinues activities/hobbies that were previously enjoyed, easily forgets things, has trouble concentrating and cannot maintain a close relationship with others.
Anxiety and increased emotional arousal symptoms involve the person being highly irritable, displaying outbursts of anger or other self-destructive behavior, suffering insomnia and hearing or seeing things that are not present.
All of these symptoms of PTSD can come and go, but can be triggered by any reminders of the stressful event that the person experienced.
There are three main types of symptoms (From Helpguide.org) and they can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time:
Other common symptoms of PTSD include:
Professional treatment for PTSD relieves symptoms by helping you deal with the trauma you’ve experienced. Rather than avoiding the trauma and any reminder of it, a doctor or therapist will encourage you to recall and process the emotions you felt during the original event in order to reduce the powerful hold the memory has on your life.
You will also:
Normally the articles I write are from a lot of experience and opinions from those experiences. This article is different because I cited some expert opinions on PTSD, something that I am not. I do believe I suffer from, as Dr. Marc Lougassi would say, partial symptoms of PTSD. For the most part they aren’t serious. There are three or four other firefighters and myself who have breakfast three times a week and there we re-hash a lot of calls we have had and how they made us feel. I believe that helps all of us a lot. I cannot, however, imagine how someone with full PTSD symptoms feels or what they go through day and night. To believe that firefighters and ems providers are unaffected by what they encounter every day is like believing someone can walk thru water without getting wet.
So when someone comes to you as their leader with a problem they are having, don’t let the first thing you say be “I know how you feel,” because you don’t. After that, I only hear about 10% of what the other person has to say. Just listen to what they have to say. Offer the appropriate avenues for help if you have them. And if your department or city doesn’t, then start the process of creating a pathway for these personnel to follow to get help.
I don’t know how those with full PTSD feel. I only know it is real – and fire departments and cities across the country need to start rethinking what can actually injure our firefighters, physically and mentally.
There is hope. Recently Winnipeg announced new legislation that will make it easier for emergency personnel with potential for PTSD to get help faster. Ontario has passed legislation that will create a presumption that PTSD diagnosed in first responders is work-related, leading to faster access to resources and treatment. Unfortunately it is slow in coming to the United States, but we are getting there.
I put my heart and soul into my work and have lost my mind in the process. – Van Gogh
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes home
When presented with the question of what does Brotherhood (specifically in the fire service) mean to me, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how difficult it was to describe. I attempted to define it but found that also was difficult to do. A good analogy for me goes something like this; What is air? I can’t see it, but I can’t live without it. If I am under water, I can’t breathe it without SCUBA gear. If I’m in a fire, I need SCBA to breathe it. For something that is so vital to my existence, it really is very transparent. I have come to appreciate cold weather because at least then I can see my breath, if only for a moment. Brotherhood is like that. You can’t see it, but you can experience it, and in the fire service we definitely need it.
Antoine De Saint-Exupery said this about brotherhood, “One can be a brother only in something. Where there is no tie that binds men, men are not united but merely lined up.” Globally we are all in a brotherhood. We all breathe the same air, we all see the same stars, and we are all warmed by the same sun. So we are in a brotherhood, a brotherhood of man, if you will. But what about the firefighter Brotherhood? I have researched the term and find that we are very good at having tattoo’s and t-shirts espousing “Our Brotherhood” and some very nice designs to go along, but we really aren’t very good at describing it. “I’ve got your back?” It has to mean more than that.
I did find this quote which comes closer to the meaning I was looking for. “You cannot see brotherhood; neither can you hear it nor taste it. But you can feel it a hundred times a day. It is the pat on the back when things look gloomy. It is the smile of encouragement when the way seems hard. It is the helping hand when the burden becomes unbearable.” Peter E. Terzick Regardless of what we say, we really do appreciate the pat on the back, especially if it comes from one our fellow firefighters. And sometimes it is just a smile or a nod. But we know it and feel it when we see it. And sometimes, because of a family death, a divorce, serious injury to a loved one, or any number of events that bring us down, yes sometimes we all need that helping hand. That’s the brotherhood I’m trying to describe. Our Brotherhood is like the air we breathe. We can’t see it, but we know when we’ve got the good stuff going on.
There were many times when I would go outside the firehouse, sit on the bench facing the street, and just have a big grin on my face. Maybe it was the great job we just got finished with, or a really good extrication, or a cardiac arrest we brought back. But just thinking of how we all worked together as one and performed so well, it was like a breath of fresh air that brought a smile to my face.
For sure there were bad times. The children who did not make it, the person we could not extricate fast enough to save, or the 21 year old female who overdosed and we just could not get a heartbeat. But we still all worked as one. We did our best.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, Charles Dickens. For my career, it was the best job I could have ever had. Even the worst day on the job was still a good day. But I didn’t do it alone. I had my Brothers at the firehouse, as I am sure all of you do.
That’s how we make it through. Because we care about each other. We help each other. We become concerned for each other. We spend time with each other.
That’s brotherhood for me. Like a family away from home, or better still a family at my second home. As a family, We are not separated by our differences but are united by our passion. It can’t really be defined, it can only be experienced.
We Lucky Few, We Band of Brothers, William Shakespeare
By the way – In my book, female and male firefighters are all my brothers!
Stay Safe – Remember, all of our Brothers go home.
Just mention staffing or manpower in a room of firefighters of any rank and heads will turn. It is something we are all concerned with and that very few departments are happy with. If you were at a firefighters conference and asked for a show of hands how many were satisfied with their staffing on engines and truck companies, very few if any hands would go up. If you asked the same question at a fire chief’s conference the answer would be close to the same with a few more hands going up. So yes, it is a concern for all firefighters. For this article I will concentrate on engine company staffing although the same principles could be applied to the truck companies.
So what is the ideal number of firefighters that should be on an engine for fire responses? I am not sure anyone can state without argument what the ideal number is, but I’m pretty close to certain that a two person engine company is not it. I can only speak for paid departments although I would think there is not much two people can do as a first arriving unit. If the department always has two engines responding from the same station on every fire call with two personnel on each unit would put four personnel on the fire scene until more help arrives. But if a department had that set up, why not put all four on the same engine? And I am sure there are reasons why you would keep two engines responding, but I can’t think of any. So a two man engine crew can stop at the plug, wrap the hydrant, lay a line and wait for the next unit to connect to the hydrant, but once on the scene entry should not be made except in extreme lifesaving circumstances. But who would go in? Okay I beat that dead horse. A two man crew will get a unit on scene and can take command and perform size up and a quick walk around. But confine, control, extinguish, and maybe rescue will have to wait for another unit.
A three man crew is a little better and is what I am accustomed to in the department I worked for. We also had a EMS unit with firefighters responding so that for the most part, there were five personnel on scene with an average response time of about four and a half minutes. And of course there were two more engines and a truck company responding. Within the first eight to ten minutes from alarm time there were usually 14-16 personnel on scene. Yes, it is a good system for three man engine crews. You can leave a man at the hydrant who can then charge the line when ready, walk to the scene and usually arrive at about the same time as the second or third engine. Plenty of personnel to perform the basic firefighting operations required. Did I mention this is in a mostly residential city, and most were single story. So the system worked very well. I certainly can see where that same three man engine crew would not be ideal depending on the demographics of the community. One size does not fit all. With three people you can grab the hydrant and charge it, but you still only have two people at the scene. I feel comfortable in saying that a three person engine crew works well dependent upon the demographics and needs of the individual department or municipality.
Four personnel on an engine? All the time? Now that would be great. In my work experience with an EMS unit responding at the same time, you could catch the hydrant, the officer could take command without going in, and still have enough personnel to comply with the two in two out rule. Ideal? As I said, an argument can be made for any number one may think is ideal, but it does make some sense that the more personnel on an engine translates to getting more of the important stuff done when you get on scene. So we can agree at least in concept that four is better than three and three is better than two.
A five person crew as minimum staffing? I am sure there are some out there but I don’t know where. It would be interesting if there are any to know the demographics of the community, the size of the department, and how the department came to have five on the engine.
At the end of the day, I would submit that ideal staffing on an engine company would depend on your community, the size of the department, response times of other units, and the risks your community leaders are willing to take. These risks certainly should be explained by the fire chief along with his recommendations so that the community leaders can make an informed decision, whether we think it is right or not. When it is all said and done, they make the decision.
As firefighters we all believe we know what would be ideal staffing for our engines. As leaders, and as fire chiefs, we probably have the same number in mind but have to weigh that number with what we know the budget will pay for and what we know the community leaders will be comfortable with. Rarely do the numbers match, but as firefighters, we make it work and for the most part done in a safe manner.
I have really only touched the surface on this somewhat sensitive subject. But maybe it will start some people thinking.
Remember to stay safe – Everyone Goes Home
Ventilation could be defined as the removal of smoke and hot fire gases from a burning structure. There are several situations where ventilation should be used and include fire attack, fire control, search and rescue and overhaul. As officers we have a choice of basic ventilation techniques to remedy each of these situations. This paper will be discussing vertical ventilation and its pros and cons, the resources needed to carry it out, and the best application to use.
Vertical ventilation allows heat and smoke to travel upwards and out of a structure. In a single family residence of one story the effects are noticed immediately. The vent crew (usually two men on the roof for a residence) begins by removing any existing vents or chimneys that may already exist. If this is not enough, then cutting a hole is needed. Fully protected, these firefighters also need cutting equipment, ladders, a charged hose line, and two means of escape. Firefighters should make cuts as close to the seat of the fire as possible. Once the cutting is done and venting has begun, it’s time to vacate the roof and get back to the ground and safety.
Vertical ventilation works because as we all know, heat rises. This is a natural movement and as the heat rises, it will take the smoke and hot gases with it out of the vent hole. It could be said that this is the most effective type of ventilation because it speeds the natural process along. When done properly, vertical ventilation reduces, prevents, or stops the mushrooming of gases and smoke and makes interior conditions clearer and safer.
There are, of course, drawbacks to using vertical ventilation. As the officer, you are placing at least two firefighters in a dangerous spot to accomplish a needed task. There is the risk of structure or roof collapse, disorientation from heavy smoke conditions, and or stepping off the roof by accident. Vertical ventilation is time consuming and many times impractical. If it is a multi-story structure and the fire is on the first floor, it may be better to use a different type of ventilation. Some roofs are extremely difficult to open up, which takes a long time and exposes your men to more risk. Not only having at least two men on the roof is required, others are needed for ladder placement, hose line work, and extra tool retrieval if needed. So it is easy to see that vertical ventilation takes extra resources. By comparison, breaking windows from the outside to effect horizontal ventilation takes one firefighter.
With adequate personnel, a department can perform vertical ventilation and other operations at the same time. Fire containment and extinguishment is most effectively accomplished with vertical ventilation. Search, rescue, and overhaul have other ventilation options that departments with limited personnel can perform. The goal in controlling the fire is to stop the horizontal and or vertical spread of the fire and vertical ventilation is best at doing this.
Stay Safe – Everyone goes Home
There are probably no more terrifying words at an emergency scene than these three. Firefighters immediately look around, or feel around, to see if everyone is there that’s supposed to be. Company officers check to see if their entire crew is present and where they are supposed to be. After the initial shock of hearing the call, the Safety Officer and Accountability Officer begin going through mental checklists to make sure they have everything covered. The assigned Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), (you do have one assigned right?), begins checking equipment and prepares to enter the structure. The Incident Commander (IC) knows from the second he hears the call that he has to remain calm, cool, and maintain a good command presence as this shows confidence in his actions. After acknowledging the MAYDAY, the IC will begin to follow the departments SOG’s and begin to manage the MAYDAY call..
After the initial actions, the IC should request a Personnel Accountability Report (PAR) to ensure everyone is accounted for. It is a good idea to get another alarm responding to the scene. If it’s not included in the next alarm, request another EMS unit also. We all know it’s better to turn units around than to call for them. It is also a good idea to assemble a second RIT to back up the first. The IC has to also maintain operational continuity. Fire suppression operations must continue as those very actions may be keeping the troubled firefighter alive. One important step for the IC is to delegate the RIT functions to another command officer. There are those who believe they can perform both operations, but in this type of emergency, one should not attempt to serve two masters.
History shows that MAYDAYs normally occur in the first ten minutes of fire scene operations. What this shows is that it is typically (not always) a firefighter(s) from the first arriving units on the scene or one of the first crews to enter a structure. This illustrates the importance to listen and maintain radio communications at the scene or while enroute to the scene.
The IC should perform a face to face with the command officer in charge of the RIT. Make sure all of the information that is needed by the RIT is transferred to the RIT command officer. If possible designate a separate radio channel just for the RIT and have someone at the Command Post monitor that channel while the IC continues suppression operations. Hopefully, in the end, the RIT will communicate good news and everything will return to normal chaos.
The single most important step in the MAYDAY process is training and planning before a MAYDAY happens. It should always be taken seriously and the importance of a RIT should be reinforced at every opportunity. Because of the training you have had, if a MAYDAY call comes across your radio, your first thought should be, “We can handle this”!
Remember to stay safe and “Everyone Goes Home”.
Someone once said that a person’s perspective is their reality. That is true to a point because that perspective, or reality, in some instances can be changed. For example, if you ask anyone which way a hurricane rotates, the first answer you will get is “Counterclockwise, of course”.
And that is true. But only if you look at the formation from above, which is where we see it from, a satellites perspective. However, if we were able to look at that same hurricane rotation from below, from ground level, the perspective changes. Now it is rotating clockwise. A simple lesson on perspective and how your viewpoint can change how you see the same thing.
As leaders, we have learned that to be effective we have to be good listeners. How many times have we listened to someone with an idea or a complaint, no matter how sincere it is, and somewhere in the listening phase we begin to form a viewpoint and start listening from our perspective. If we are honest, it probably has happened more than we want to remember. This is not really listening, this is what I call selective hearing.
A better and more effective way of listening is to first clear the mind and atmosphere of all clutter. When someone comes to my office to talk about an issue or an idea I do two things first.
First, I close the laptop or turn away from the computer screen. If you don’t have one at your desk, then go to step two.
I make a point of taking my phone out and turning it off. Let the other person see you do it. Then I put it in a drawer.
With those two things out of the way you no longer have to think about an email popping up or your phone ringing. Now you are ready to listen and listen good. Take notes so you can go back to important points and bring them up again. Don’t interrupt, keep eye contact, don’t look at your watch or the clock on the wall, listen like you mean it. Whoever is sitting at your desk expects you to listen to them and respect their viewpoint. Remember that you are trying to gain insight as to where the person is coming from, what is driving them to bring the subject up in the first place. If we can do that, then it helps us to see the issue or idea from their perspective. And if we can do that, then it is a win-win situation for you and the person sitting in front of you.
Sometimes, when the dance floor is crowded and it’s hard to move, you have get on the balcony to get a good view of what is happening. It is still the same dance, but certainly a different perspective. See the big picture and remember that your view is not the only view and it is not always right. Even in group settings try to see where others are coming from. It makes for better meetings, better classes, and certainly more interesting and meaningful communication.
How do you see it?
Remember, Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home
Franklin and four friends founded the Union Fire Company on December 7, 1736. There were 26 members of this first brigade. Each member agreed to bring six leather buckets to carry water (1st Engine?) and two stout linen bags (1st Salvage Covers?) to rescue endangered property to every fire upon first being alerted of the emergency. In addition, members had pre-assigned roles;
Water management (Driver Engineer?)
Property protection (Truck Duties?)
Putting lights in neighboring windows to ensure an organized and prompt reaction
The Union Fire Company was immediately popular and they soon had more volunteers than they needed. When they reached 30 members, they refused new volunteers and instead told them to organize a new brigade. The more brigades, the more city could be covered. It worked.. Philadelphia has never had one of those massively destructive fires like the Chicago Fire of 1871.
Since that time and up to now, neighbors, farmers, local merchants, and the general public handled firefighting duties because their communities could not afford a paid firefighting force. If you lived in a big city then there were the necessary larger paid departments.
In the last 20 or so years the number of volunteers in each volunteer department has dwindled or recruitment and retention has become extremely difficult. This has forced fire department leaders to find creative ways to meet their missions while balancing increased demands, diminishing rosters and inadequate funding.
The reasons for the diminishing volunteers are many and include;
These are just a few reasons and each town most certainly has other issues because of demographics.
Many volunteers come to the job with a strong sense of community dedication, but they often burn out. Yesterday’s volunteers learned on the job. Today, they’re required to meet minimum training requirements. It’s a matter of personal safety for the volunteers.
In addition, they’re asked to deal with so much more than a burning building. Today’s volunteer is proficient in first aid, chemical spills, house fires and wildland fires. The bottom line – it’s a lot to ask of a volunteer.
The U.S. Fire Administration has seen the decline since the 1970s. That’s when economic pressures brought a surge in dual income families. Wage earners became hard pressed to find time for work, families and household chores. Volunteer firefighters began leaving. In 2007, The Fire Administration commissioned a study to define the problem and search for a remedy. Lack of time ranked right at the top of the reason why volunteers are falling away. The study’s conclusion: “From a management perspective, there’s not much the organization can do to address this issue.”
Really? That’s the best conclusion they could reach? Wow! And they get paid. Where do I sign up to make these brilliant statements for money?
I was never a volunteer. Okay, I said it. But I have always respected the largest firefighting force in the United States. In 2011, there were 1,100,000 firefighters serving in 30,145 fire departments nationwide and responding to emergencies from 55,400 fire stations. Of those firefighters, 31% or 344,000 were career firefighters and 69% or 756,000 were volunteers – over twice as many volunteers. Somewhere along the way paid departments began calling themselves professionals. I agree with that, but the same people looked down on volunteers as if they were something less. With the required training and certifications and expectations from the citizens they serve, I believe every firefighter in the U.S. is a professional. So the question remains, how do we turn around the decline?
Volunteer chiefs need to refer to their men and women as professionals’ everytime they get a chance, and then say it again. If they say it enough and explain the reasons why, people will begin to believe it. Probably harder is to get with local paid departments and offer to take part in training exercises. This allows more firefighters to be in the training exercise. As the paid firefighters realize the volunteers are just as good as they are, respect should follow.
Physical fitness – In Haines City, there was a physical fitness policy before I got there. And it showed. When we trained with other departments we were always out-performing them and lasting longer because we were in shape. This only helps in building mutual respect.
As I said, I was not a volunteer and do not claim to know all the reasons for the decline in recruits. But as a firefighter, I wanted to be respected and appreciated. I believe that is a great starting point to begin to turn things around. 756,000 firefighters can’t be all wrong, and there has got to be a lot of good ideas out there.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home