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
I know there are many of you out there that may not agree with this position, but I feel this is something firefighters and more importantly fire chiefs need to hear. A little background on this article is needed. I was promoted to an officer role early in my career as a firefighter. The captain who later on became our fire chief handed me a red lieutenant’s helmet and boom, I was now sitting in that right front seat.
Now don’t get me wrong I wanted to be promoted, but boy I had no clue what to do. I was that dog chasing a car who really didn’t know what to do with it now that I had it. I felt comfortable as a firefighter and really wasn’t sure what was expected from me or what responsibilities I was in fact responsible for. I thought there was some sort of training or at least some type of guidance to help me be an officer, but there wasn’t.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in this kind of situation, but it can be scary to think about. YOU are responsible for the safety of your crew. YOU are responsible for the tactics of battling a structure fire. YOU are expected to train new firefighters. YOU are being looked up to as a leader in your department. It’s a lot to think about and a lot to process.
So, since I didn’t feel comfortable with my role what so ever, I figured I should study up on what I got myself into. I was googling like crazy trying to find any training or advice I could. I took the National Fire Academy Managing Company Tactics Operations and felt it had given me a good tactical foundation but felt there was more to be learned. I stumbled upon the Command Officer Boot Camp (COBC) in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Now this was a training I could get behind, at the time it was just starting and was only $125 for the three day class and was on the beach. It was a win win!
I go to this training and I am blown away with some of the information! The participation from the local fire departments and people from as far as Massachusetts and more. This was some of the greatest information I had received in my early career. I wrote an entire notebook worth of notes and the classes invigorated me. I was so happy to have taken the chance on the conference and gone.
One of the instructors was a Battalion Chief with the city of Atlanta and he told us in his class that Atlanta requires all their firefighters to attend at least one outside of the state training a year. Now they are obviously a big department and can afford sending people to outside of Georgia to go to training, but felt this was such an interesting policy to have. The more and more I thought about it, the more I thought this was such a great idea.
The US is such a large country and what works in Ohio may not work in Maine or Florida, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from one another. So I’ve been taking trainings as I could in different parts of the country ever since. If you can afford it and make it work for you and your family. Do yourself a favor and invest in yourself and your career! It’s well worth the time, money, and effort, it makes you just that much more of a valuable firefighter to your department.
As always stay safe out there and remember, we are and always have been each other’s keeper. Let’s make sure we make it to retirement.
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
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 time 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.
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 companies 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.
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
In 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;
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.
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