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?


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.


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

Recently a neighboring department had a fire that involved 2 structures. The department called for mutual aid from 2 neighboring departments and together made a great stop with no one getting hurt. Later, after the situation was mitigated the Chief used social media to express how proud he was of the team for their aggressive stop.  Well as happens many times on the internet it lead to a discussion about why must we be aggressive…..aggressive gets people hurt…….its irresponsible to risk firefighter lives.  It led me to consider is being aggressive reckless? In a time when we fight fewer structure fires and have faster burning buildings is it wrong to be aggressive?

As I delved into this topic I feel like we must first understand the meanings of “aggressive” and “reckless”.  The Webster Meriam Dictionary defines Aggressive as:
1a: tending toward or exhibiting aggression
aggressive behavior

b: marked by combative readiness
aggressive fighter

2a: marked by obtrusive energy and self-assertiveness rude, aggressive personality

b: marked by driving forceful energy or initiative : ENTERPRISING an aggressive salesman

Webster also defines reckless as:
1: marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences

2: IRRESPONSIBLE reckless charges

Notice these two words are not synonyms, neither word is in the definition of the other. They in fact have no where near the same meaning.

So can we be aggressive without being reckless? First what is an aggressive fire department? In my mind an aggressive department is a culture. The upper level command staff has empowered line officers to be decisive, supports their decisions, and provides them the training to make sound decisions. This “aggressive” department trains their firefighters from day one to be prepared. they spend time on topics like building construction, fire flow path,  pump operations, scene size-up, and understanding engine and truck company ops. You won’t hear phases like ” That won’t happen here” ……” I took that class years ago”….. or my personal favorite” We’ve done it this way for 25 years.” They are always striving for perfection knowing its unattainable.  When these firefighters pull up on scene he come off the truck, dressed out, tool in hand, ready to go to work. The officer makes a size-up, The engine guys stretch the line to the door, the truck company prepares for the search and ventilation.  Decisions are made and everyone is working off the same sheet of music. How many time have you been on a scene that was like a grade school band concert? You know what I mean, yeah, all the kids are playing their instrument and the notes on the sheet but the timing is off and it doesn’t sound right. Well, an aggressive department works and trains so the timing is right and everyone knows their job and when it needs to be done.

What is a reckless department? I don’t think there are many intentionally reckless departments out there. I think most departments are well intentioned. I do feel like a department that doesn’t spend time on the previously mentioned topics may end up making reckless decisions.  Without understanding building construction or flow path how can IC make the determination whether and interior offensive attack is appropriate,  whether to send a vent crew to the roof,  or are there tenable spaces for potential victims.  Not having skilled firefighters who are well trained and having set procedures regardless of conditions is reckless, not having well trained officers is reckless,  having to wait for Chief, Assistant Chief, or Battalion Chief to start identifying strategic objectives is reckless. I was standing with a group of firefighters one afternoon at an event. A longtime firefighter whom had been an officer was telling me of an incident where they rolled the engine with himself, a 6 month probie, and a guy who was issued gear 3 days earlier. They arrived on scene and made an interior, offensive attack. When I asked why his response was that that’s the way they fight fire and you need to be aggressive with your attack…….That’s not aggressive, its RECKLESS!

I will go to battle with an aggressive firefighter who comes off the truck, tools ready and is smart enough to recognize potential hazard. A passive, unconfident firefighter make me nervous. Many time we see a professional athlete injured when the outcome has been decided and the effort is not where it should be. I want my crew to be giving 100% effort 100% of the time.  I want them to be knowledgeable, physically fit, and confident. I want them to be AGGRESSIVE.

trust-honesty-respectTrust. Only a five letter word, yet it carries so much weight.

When we leave home in our own vehicle for work or travel, we automatically are trusting of the other drivers on the highway. On a two-lane road we trust that the driver coming towards us will stay in his lane. On a larger highway or interstate, we trust that the other drivers that we pass or the ones passing us, will stay in their lane and not pull into our lane. Of course in both instances it certainly is not blind trust. We watch the other guy for signs that he can’t be trusted. But for the most part, other drivers get our OK.

When we take our vehicle in for servicing, we trust that when they bring our vehicle back everything they say they did, they actually did. Sure, I check under the hood just to be sure, not that I know what I’m looking for. But it makes me feel good. For the most part, I trust the guy to do his job.

Yes, we place our trust in strangers’ every day, expecting that others will do what we expect them to, just as we are doing what they expect.

Why then is it so hard for many leaders to trust those that work for us. People that we know far better than the driver that is going the other way, someone we likely will never see again. A division chief told me he trusted those that worked for him. In the next sentence he explained how he had GPS devices installed in all of his divisions’ cars. Trust? It just went out the window. Of course any department head will tell you that these devices help to track mileage and shortest routes, all in the name of saving money. Now don’t laugh. This is what leaders are supposed to tell their personnel to get their buy in. I have found that in many cases, those that work for us know a lot more than we do. They can read too, and reason, and understand and they know when someone doesn’t trust them, just as we do.

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So do you as a leader have the trust of your subordinates? It can only happen if you really trust them. How can you tell? I find that when personnel that work for me trust me, either as a Company officer or as a Fire Chief, they will open up to me, share family stories, come to me with problems, share ideas about a better department, and really act like you’re not just a boss, but a friend too.

Trust encompasses other things such as honesty and integrity. Be honest with your personnel, all of them. Show others that you have the integrity that your rank demands.

Be a leader of value, practice what you preach, never make promises you know you can’t keep, and whatever you do, don’t say one thing and do another.

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home.

Motivation can be defined as a term used to explain behavior. Motivation drives people’s actions, desires, and needs. A motive is what prompts the person to act in a certain way, or have a tendency to exhibit a specific behavior. So, how can we, as leaders, motivate our people? Here are two schools of thought.

One, the leader will manage to get their personnel to do the things they want by motivating them to do it. President Eisenhower stated, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”Eisenhower was right about the leadership part. But that is also motivation as described above.

For those of us who are faced with the prospect of motivating out personnel, usually on a daily basis, I subscribe to the idea that we cannot motivate anyone. What we as leaders can do is tocreate an environment where our personnel see the benefits of a program or process to the organization and make up their minds to get the job done. That, I think, more closely mirrors what Eisenhower said. But how do we do it?

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Recently at a theme park while we were walking down Main Street, the strong aroma of fresh baked goods hit us in the face like a tidal wave. Without a second thought we were in the bakery looking at all the food we shouldn’t be eating. I noticed what appeared to be a manager type standing to one side, greeting people and making pleasant conversation. I asked her how they manage to get the smells of all those baked goods out onto the street with the doors closed. Simple, was the answer. The store has huge fans that blow the smells from the oven area out onto the street. After that, we just wait for the aroma to do its job. Simple and effective. No one suggested to people on the street to enter the store, no signs directing anyone, they just use one of the human senses to convince people to go in. They created an environment in which those of us on the street let our nose lead us into the bakery.

Sounds simple but it’s not always that easy, which is why Eisenhower said that it is an art. How do you get your people motivated?

I have found that if you create an atmosphere where personnel are rewarded and recognized for the work they do, if you show them their ideas are valued and they are respected, if you take an interest in their personal lives, if you as the leader take responsibility for mistakes that are made, and if you create programs that let them show off their talents, then you will have a created what I call a motivational environment. You will find that it is easier to get programs moving because personnel will see the benefit to the organization that they feel they are a valuable part of. In the end, you will find that you actually can get others to do what you want because they want to, not because you told them to.

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

So I have really never considered I have had PTSD, but some of the symptoms have been coming more evident as the years go by. I had started to notice I was a different person that what I can remember of myself before the start in public safety. I have always been a champion of mental health services, but have never really taken advantage of them myself. That all changed this week.

As my fiance and I go through pre-marriage counselling, I noticed our counselor had several books on EMDR. For those who aren’t familiar, EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. I had heard of it through a chance meeting of another firefighter in Upstate New York.

I met Scott Geiselhart, a firefighter from Minnesota, was the Keynote Speaker for the New York State Fire Chief’s Association Conference. He spoke to us about who and what we do. He explained his story and how EMDR changed his life. At the moment, I didn’t really think about it at the time.

So as my fiance and I were sitting in the counselor’s office, I asked him about his EMDR books. He went on to explain how EMDR works and the studies on the benefits. I then proceed to explain some of my symptoms I have noticed and my fiance have noticed. Our counsel thought it would be pretty beneficial to try the EMDR treatment.

So, this week I started my first EMDR treatment. It was quite an experience and I really was nervous on how this was going to work. So we started out talking about what I wanted to get out of our therapy. I said I’d like to become less stressed and anxious would be nice. We then start to talk about some of the calls and incidents that had left a lasting image in my mind. We finally start to narrow down what we would work on during this first session. One incident that had left a heavy burden on my mind was a suicide we had when a juvenile shot himself in the head with a large caliber rifle. I will spare you the details, since this article really isn’t about the war stories. I go on to explain how the incident made me feel about and how I felt about myself afterwards.

My counselor makes some notes and we take a break as he gets the EMDR light bar set up. So, the way this treatment works is you are placed in front of a light bar that goes back and forth while listening to an audio que. The goal is to just follow the light with your eyes and that movement helps bring the brain into a RIM sleep like cycle. During RIM sleep your brain is able to process and file memories, so this treatment help process previously unprocessed memories. Now I will say that this treatment doesn’t make the incident go away, but puts you in peace of what happened.

So my treatment starts, my counselor reads me a statement “I feel like I have no compassion for others and I am cold to others”. I head to rate the statement on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 was untrue and 10 was true. To be honest, as I started to bring up these memories, I really felt like that was 100% true. He marks down the score and he starts the light bar. I can remember thinking, “Is this going to work” and “Am I doing this right”?

As I continue my treatment, after a few minute my counselor asks me what I am feeling in a couple words. As I give him my responses, he writes them down. Then he asks the previous statement and want me to re-rate it. This go around, I feel better and rate it a 6-7. We continue on and as we continue a sense of clam comes across me. I feel more relaxed and at peace with the feeling I had with the incident. 

The he asks a final time fro me to re-rate the previous statement, and to be truthfully honest I felt it wasn’t as true as I felt in the beginning of the session. I felt better about the whole incident. I did have other memories come up, but I really felt much better about how this incident went and there was a relief from what had been bothering me. I can’t say that this has cured all my PTSD symptoms, but it has definitely helped.

I can say this about PTSD, don’t think that you are alone in this. Just because you only have a few symptoms doesn’t mean you have to fight this alone. I encourage anyone who is having problems to seek help. It’s ok to not be ok. Reach out to someone especially if you feel like hurting yourself. We are all in this together and we are each other’s keepers. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone close to you or anyone, even me. I hope that if you read this you found it interesting or helpful. I will continue to update as my treatment continues. Until then, take care of yourself and your fellow brothers/sisters. We don’t want to lose you or anyone else to suicide.

My PTSD Journey - Part 2

So I have to be honest with you, I’ve had thoughts of suicide. Now, I haven’t talked much about because I was embarrassed about it, frankly. Now this hasn’t been all the time and it usually comes up when I haven’t had the best sleep or during points of boredom.

So, as many of you who have read my previous article, My PTSD Journey, I have been undergoing EMDR treatment. I have had my second session a couple of weeks ago and it definitely brought up some different emotions than the first session I had. We spoke mainly about the loss of friends and co-workers I have had during my adult life. These losses in my life had definitely some impact on my life. 

Obviously this organization came from one of these losses and helps me cope with that loss, but there had been some unresolved feelings from theses losses.

Now, I don’t think I have that many PTSD symptoms as many others face and my results aren’t typical, but I can’t believe how well these treatments have helped me. I am proud to say that I haven’t had a suicidal thought since my last treatment. I mean, I can’t even conceive one which I personally think is great! 

I cannot recommend EMDR treatment for any first responder having symptoms of PTSD any more! This has truly been monumental in my life and changed my life for the better. I will say this about EMDR, others who I know who have tried the treatment haven’t had the quick success I have had, but keep with the treatment! I really believe it is worth staying with it and trying to process those unprocessed thoughts.

If you feel that maybe you’re in too deep or need someone to talk with, don’t hesitate to reach out. Reach out to the first responder help line, your family, heck even me! Don’t think that suicide is the only way out, it isn’t! There are many way to get help and deal with these thoughts.

As always, stay safe out there and take care of one another. We are each other’s keepers.

There has been a lot of talk lately of privatization of either fire service, EMS, or both in some communities. The thing about this choice to do so is that communities will suffer if the choose to do so. Why, do you ask? Because firefighting and even EMS is not a sustainable business model. There is no money to be made from firefighting and really pretty little money to be made from EMS.

The problem I see with privatization of these crucial services within our communities is that they will hire people at a lower cost and what are you going to get? These people who will work for these companies and won’t make enough to support their family. Then they will have to pick up a side job or two to make ends meet. Do you see a problem with that?

It may not be a big deal to you, and yes many firefighters have second jobs, but they usually do so to have extra money. They can support their families without that side job. So theoretically these firefighters will focus on their full time job and be ready for that big call. Do you want an exhausted firefighter or paramedic showing up to your call?

Privatization can be helpful in other aspects of government, but not critical services. There is no profit to be made from critical services. We need public safety services to be a government function. You won’t hire a private eye or security guard to investigate your minor crimes, would you? Why should we allow our government representation do this to our communities?

Sometime our city counsel or trustees forget they work for the people and we the people can make sure they won’t have a job after election day. Let’s make sure we let our government know we don’t want privatization of critical services! We are turning back the clock on this issue and it’s not beneficial to our communities. In the 1700s people would pay private companies to protect their homes during a fire, we have evolved from then, right?

Next time you hear someone in your community talking about how privatizing your public safety services, make sure you think long and hard what your community will be giving up to save a few bucks on taxes.

This week I was given the privilege of observing The Fire Asylum’s Masters of Mayhem training program. The Fire Asylum is the brain child of Marty Mayes, a retired veteran police officer and firefighter from Texas. I have known Marty for quite sometime and this training program has been building for many years before this moment in time. This was Marty’s second class being ran at the former West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia. The students brought to this class did not know one another and were essentially six strangers.


The prison itself is a daunting structure and really foreshadows what each student is in for during the training. At the beginning of the day of training each student lines up at the front entrance of the prison. Each student is brought into the prison, just as the inmates were when this prison started. The Moundsville State Penitentiary had one of two revolving entrances in the world, and each student goes though this process when they start their day. The students are lead to the cells of the maximum security wing of the prison, the North Hall Block, where they are put into the very location that some of the most notorious prisoners of this penitentiary stayed.

The students are given the expectations of the program and given their uniform shirt for the 25 hour training they are about to endure. Yes, you read right. This training is 25 hours long. The students will train for 25 hours in a row with a few breaks thrown in, but we will get back to this part of the program soon. The students are led to a classroom where they are introduced to their instructors and go over the objectives of the training.

Students are lead back to the lock down recreation yard in the prison complex and introduced to the “Grinder”.  The Grinder is where the students are going to spend a good part of their day. The Grinder is a make shift Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) confidence course designed to stress the students and bring them to a point of exhaustion. Students will go through the Grinder over and over again, until they have mastered the skills in the Grinder. This part of the training goes well into the night. The students are tired, but morale is good.

As someone who has never seen or experienced this type of training before, it was amazing to see how the students bonded with one another fairly quickly. These relative strangers had become a cohesive unit working together for a unified goal. It was very inspiring to see these students come to this point in their training.

The students were taken to the second floor of the prison and introduced to the “Snowcone”. The Snowcone is a three level SCBA confidence course, similar to the Grinder, but this is all enclosed and in almost complete darkness. The Snowcone only has one way in and one way out. This is where the students will be put to the test and will find enlightenment.

As I started to observe the students go one by one into the Snowcone, emotions started to bubble up from the students. Some of the students thrived in the Snowcone and some needed encouragement to complete the tasks. It was powerful each instructor of the program took the time necessary to encourage the students to discover their shortcomings and discover new skills sets to complete the tasks before them. It was powerful to see the interactions between the instructors and students. I personally have never seen this type of instruction given to students. If one had a particular problem within the Snowcone, the instructor would go right in with them to help guide them past what was holding them back.

I recall a particular incident where a student left the Snowcone complaining of chest pain. After a medical evaluation, one of the instructors sat down one on one with the student to help guide him to the root of the issue.  The student was then allowed to return to the Snowcone, but this time the prop was surrounded by all the instructors. The instructors ensured that the student was able to successfully complete the drill without complications. This indeed happened and the student learned from his incident. The student grew and became more mentally resilient.

The second incident that I observed during the training was a student who found the limits of his body. The student had just exited the Snowcone and was visibly overwhelmed. The instructors brought him to the side and started to medically evaluate him. The student had reached a point of complete exhaustion and was sidelined for the time being until he could be rehabbed. Unfortunately, the student had reached his physical limit and wasn’t able to complete anymore drills, but once he started to feel better you could perceive it was bothered him to not be with the crew. It really showed how much this group had bonded with one another. Eventually he did return to observe his fellow students. It was a true inspiration to see his dedication to the group effort.

As the night progressed, each student learned more about themselves from each drill. They may not have been able to receive these enlightenments without this high-stress training. For me it was a humbling experience to observe this group of relative strangers grow and become a strong unit of brother firefighters. I was truly blown away with the skill, patience, and love the instructors had for this group of students and truly the fire service as a whole. Even though I didn’t participate in the training, I too couldn’t help to feel bonded with these students and instructors. I consider myself truly lucky to be able to observe this training and hope to take it myself at the next offering.

Before I finish this article, I wanted to highlight the most inspiring story of this experience. One of the students I met during this experience was Matt Wander. Matt is an Army Veteran and has worked in the fire service for several years. He was someone who latched on the The Fire Asylum’s mission from the first time he saw it.

In 2013, after serving our country and becoming a firefighter and paramedic, Matt had started to get sick. Matt was found to have a tumor in his abdominal region. In December of 2013, Matt started his chemotherapy treatment, but had to discontinue. Matt was given a medication alternative. In the beginning of 2014, Matt was hospitalized and given one to four weeks to live. After four weeks had passed, Matt was still alive and given another month to live. Matt surpassed that expectation as well and was given a few more months to live. Then, it seemed as if he was beating the odds. However, it was discovered Matt’s cancer had become inoperable and terminal.

Matt reached out to Marty and told him his story that he had always wanted to take the Masters of Mayhem class. Marty obviously found this story heart wrenching, and he felt the need to give Matt his wish. Marty was able to raise the funds to bring Matt and his caregiver girlfriend Emily to Moundsville.

Matt was allowed to participate in the training as he felt up to it. He was monitored the whole time by Marty and Emily, making sure he didn’t over commit himself. Obviously, watching Matt go through the Grinder and participate in other activities in the training was a true inspiration to not only myself, but also to the other students and the instructors.

Matt was able to give it his all during his time in The Fire Asylum, and it was truly amazing to meet him and see him operate on the training grounds. Matt is what firefighting is all about. Despite what is going on with him, he left it behind to accomplish the task at hand. Many can learn from Matt’s example, and it was truly a gift to be able to meet him. I hope Matt is able to defy the odds again and beats his cancer to live a long and healthy life. I am truly honored to call him a friend and brother.

As I conclude this article, I can’t talk more highly of this experience and hope that as you read this it ignites something with you. I cannot recommend this class more highly for any firefighter at any level of their career. If you wants to learn more about yourself or learn your limitations, this is the class for you. The Fire Asylum is a safe place where a firefighter can go to learn about themselves without fear of being chastised or belittled. As Marty says, The Fire Asylum is an asylum for a firefighter to discover him or herself. If you truly are interested in becoming a better firefighter, then you need to enroll in this class. You won’t regret it! I have included links to The Fire Asylum website and Facebook page. Dip your toe into the asylum and see if you can’t find what you are seeking. It’s worth the time and consideration.

The Fire Asylum Website

The Fire Asylum Facebook Page

Emergency scene size up can be defined as “A rapid mental evaluation of various factors related to an emergency incident”, or “An initial on-scene report by the first arriving unit that is clear, concise and relevant”.


The fire service loves acronyms and of course we have some for scene size-up. Some of these acronyms are long and difficult to remember. This one for example, COAL WAS WEALTH, may be easy to remember until you try to recall what all the letters stand for. Here they are;

Construction, Occupancy, Apparatus (and staffing), Life hazard, Water supply, Auxiliary appliances, Street conditions, Weather, Exposures, Area (including height), Location of fire within the structure, Time, and Hazards/Hazardous materials. While it is good practice to consider all of these during an initial scene size up, practice and experience are needed to become efficient at using it.


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Another easier acronym is “A-B-C-D Size-up”. This is an easy one to remember and can especially be used by any firefighter or officer who is first on the scene. The letters stand for;

A-        Address- Sometimes the address you receive is not the address of the incident

B-        Building Description- Includes construction, floors, and occupancy

C-        Conditions- Smoke and or fire conditions, location of fire, weather conditions

D-        Deployment and directives- Which operational mode, (investigating, rescue, offensive or defensive). Provide additional instructions to specific units or to dispatch.


There have been thousands (I’m guessing) of articles, books, and training sessions devoted to scene size up. As humans, we all do size up every day. When we meet someone new, look at new apparatus, read an article, or sit in training, we are performing a mental size up of what we think about any of those particular items. And there are a ton of size ups we do in our everyday off duty life. It really is not that hard and is certainly something we shouldn’t be intimidated by. Take the first example above, COAL WAS WEALTH, and once you see what the letters stand for, you realize that you don’t really need to memorize each word in the acronym. Most of what you do in your initial size up is included in the first two words, COAL and WAS.


A sample size up could be something like this;

Engine X on scene of a one story, wood frame residential structure with smoke showing from side B. There is no apparent life hazard, the street is clear for placement, have Engine W secure a water supply.  The only letter missed was A for Apparatus, and we should know how our units are staffed before we leave the station. I would include exposures in the initial size up, if there are any, we know what the weather is, and fire is close to or at Side B. So we hit all the letters without mentally checking them off. As a last item and after taking command, the officer should report the mode he is in (fire attack, rescue, protect exposures, passing command to another unit on scene, etc).


We must remember there usually is not a lot of time to identify these points, develop a plan of action, communicate that plan to incoming units, and start whatever action you have decided on. Most of the time putting the fire out is the plan and may be done before other units arrive. However, we cannot fail to mentally develop a plan and communicate it so others, including whatever ranking officer is responding, will know what you are doing.

The objective is to implement a structured size-up process in your department, then educating your officers and firefighters in your department’s size-up policy.

Remember to stay safe – “Everyone Goes Home”

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