Disaster Management for the Company Officer

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Disaster management can be extremely challenging for the company officer. Unfortunately I have seen my share of disasters while deploying on 5 different tornadoes responses. Early on I realized that middle management becomes a very difficult place to work because of the sheer magnitude of many of these disasters. I learned a tip awhile back that really helps with lining out the responsibilities of each crew member so that we fall in line with the National Incident Management System. When you find yourself in a disaster management situation ask yourself these questions.

What's my job?

This is the first question you should ask in order to define your role in the response.

Who do I work for?

It is very important to define who you work for or who you should report to throughout the operation. This will help disseminate information through the proper channels and reduce the duplication of effort.

Who works for me?

Things will move quickly during the initial stages of a disaster operation. Find out who will be working under you to make sure you have the ability to perform personnel accountability reports and can effectively manage those assigned to work with you.

Where do I get my stuff?

Your assignment can vary greatly and each response may require equipment that is not readily available. You need to find out where to retrieve specialized equipment and how to request additional equipment.

How long do I have?

Defining your operational period will help you understand the time incident command staff believe you should be finished with your assignment. You need to report your status through the proper chain of command and if additional time is needed let your supervisor know what is going on.

In the video below I discuss these topics and how to use the above 5 questions to help you get organized during a disaster response.

https://youtu.be/qyOOCtWqvn0

Why are we here?

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Pierce TruckAs “one of those firefighter Social Media pages” I feel like I should share with all of you why Box Alarm Training even exists. It is pretty amazing to see the sheer volume of Facebook pages now dedicated to firefighting, training, and overall firemanship. I know things can become very cloudy and hard to sort through with this infinitely larger network of firefighter social media. Let me start by saying I believe the vast majority of the members in this network are doing amazing things. They are creating so many opportunities and opening the line of communication to share ideas, research and tradition. So, why are we here? I know it sounds cliche but I grew up with a desire to become a firefighter. You can ask anyone that knew me when I was a kid, my dream never grew out of me. When I graduated high school I knew I wanted to join a volunteer department and I found an incredible department in Oxford, MS while attending Ole Miss “THE University of Mississippi”. I was a member of the Ole Miss Rebel football team and had some incredible opportunities to meet with amazing athletes and leaders including; Eli Manning, David Cutcliffe, Hugh Freeze, Robert Kayat, Jason Cook, Mike Espy, Michael Oher and many more. I learned a lot of life lessons while at Ole Miss and one simple phrase that Head Coach David Cutcliffe used to say on a daily basis was “leave this place better than you found it”. I continue to believe that our mission in the fire service is to leave this place better than we found it.

Leather Fire HelmetIn 2010 I created a YouTube channel with the idea of shooting some simple training videos to help out some local volunteer departments that needed more training resources and couldn’t afford some $1,000 dvd package… So, I shot a few videos and before I knew it I was receiving messages from all over the world asking for more. It completely blew my mind and to this day I am amazed at the ability for some form of technology to change the way generations learn about firemanship. The absolute number one goal of Box Alarm Training is to provide training resources to all firefighters regardless of their budget, level of experience, or whether they are career or volunteer. After running the YouTube channel for awhile I decided to expand the channel to an actual training company so that we could grow. We have added a new website with more resources, a Facebook Page, and have several guys that have helped contribute on the site. In no way, shape or form do we claim to be the experts in all things fire and rescue. However, I firmly believe we can find the guys that are. I have been working hard at finding some other guys to contribute with more material and I believe I have some really good ones lined up. I thank you for all of the support you have given us. Every time you like, share or comment not only gives us confirmation that we are doing the right things but also allows us to reach more firefighters and that makes a difference. I thank you for the support and feel free to shoot us a message or recommend a new training video. We are always open to new ideas. Let’s leave this place better than we found it.

This is My Nozzle

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This is my nozzle. There are many like it but this one is mine.

Elkhart NozzleMany of you have heard the "Rifleman's Creed". A creed made famous by the United States Marine Corps. A creed that instills in Marines the sense of purpose and commitment to know your weapon and master it. As firefighters we should have the same sense of pride when identifying with our nozzle. In the truest sense it is all that stands between us and the fire."My nozzle, without me, is useless. Without my nozzle, I am useless."

All too often, during training sessions or courses, I ask firefighters what type of nozzle they are using and they cannot tell me any specifics. If I posed the same question to a law enforcement officer about his weapon, he would most likely respond with not only the caliber of his weapon but also all of the ballistics associated with his weapon and the situations it is best suited for.

"My nozzle and I know that what counts in war is not the water we flow, the noise of our bail, nor the pattern we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit..."

 

Akron NozzlesI am not asking for firefighters to simply tell me the make and model of their nozzle... I am asking them to tell me the characteristics of their nozzles; what is the reach and penetration of your nozzle, what does the nozzle reaction feel like, and what happens to your nozzle if it becomes clogged with debris?

"I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its flow and its reach. I will keep my nozzle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will..."

We all know that your nozzle selection may not be entirely within your control but knowing your issued nozzle is just as important. I encourage you all to spend time learning your nozzles and teaching others how to properly use the nozzles. Learn the flows, learn the pressures and learn what the nozzle reaction feels like. Over the next month we will be releasing a nozzle video series on our YouTube channel going over nozzle types and their characteristics. Until then get out and flow some water!

 

 

 

 

Dead Ringer

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Dead Ringer - a person or thing that seems exactly like someone or something else.


 

Jackson, MS Truck 28Have you ever heard a statement in the firehouse that strikes a chord with you, one that makes you cringe, frustrated or even motivates you? Today's fire service is a well connected network of some of the most driven and strong personalities you will ever meet. While many of us push to move forward many others look for reasons to justify their inability to perform. With that being said let's look at a statement you have probably heard before:

 "WE" don't do it like that because "WE" are not like "THEM"... 

 I want you to really evaluate if "WE" are actually that different from one another.

Last time I checked the vast majority of fire departments in the United States perform the exact same functions at every single fire. Whether you pull up to a single story residential structure fire or a high-rise with fire on the 20th floor you must perform the same functions. Will you need more equipment and more manpower? Absolutely, but the same functions must be performed regardless of the size of the fire or complexity of the fire. The "functions" I am speaking of are Fire Attack, Water Supply, Ventilation, Search and Rescue and Overhaul.

Chris CarreraI often reference other departments when teaching and discussing tactics because we have so much to learn from each other. For example: When the FDNY arrives on scene of a residential structure fire they perform Fire Attack nearly the exact same way as every single fire department in the country. They stretch a hose line with an engine company and they put water on the fire. Do they use 47 firefighters to move the hose? Nope. They use the firefighters on the engine to take the initial attack line to the fire. However, while many of us work with limited staffing to complete the other complimentary functions (ventilation, search and rescue, etc.) the FDNY has the ability to perform these functions much more quickly or even simultaneously because of their response size. If you are on a smaller department you still have to perform the same functions as the big guys you just have to prioritize when and how you are going to accomplish those functions.

Hose lines get stretched at every fire! Ventilation takes place at every fire! Water Supply is a priority at every fire! Search and Rescue is of utmost importance at every single fire! Get out and practice these functions!

Do not try to justify your inability to execute by trying to distance yourself from other fire departments or tactics. We are much more alike than we are different. Learn from each other and move forward together. We all need the practice regardless of where our current competency levels are.

I am learning more and more about many skills that I once believed to be simple and automatic. I used to stretch hoses without evaluation, throw ladders without purpose and even search without confidence. Study the craft of firefighting, learn about yourself, your crew and your responsibilities to the ones we serve.

Do not Train to Learn, Drill to Master!

Generation Why? - Part 1

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I have heard people in fire and rescue refer to Generation Y, as “generation why?” Sometimes these statements would come down in condescending ways from senior officers on the department.  It was usually in reference to the Generation Yer’s asking why a job needed to be done.  At least in my case, the senior guys typically misunderstood my intentions. What I was actually doing, instead of complaining or being insubordinate, is trying to understand the end goals and purpose of a job-so as to maximize the outcome and efficiency.  We are the generation that changes their email passwords on Outlook, help insert functions into Excel, and a host of other daily tech solutions- so maybe we can come up with a better way, faster way, or more positive outcome. –But not necessarily by blindly following orders. In other words- asking why is not a bad thing. In fact, its what I contend rescuers should do more often.

Generation Why Firefighters

Generation Y is generally considered to be those born during the 1980’s and early 90’s. Stereotypes for Generation Y include laziness, a sense of entitlement, and requiring praise. In actuality this demographic is very “tech savvy” (think gear), ambitious, family oriented, and are team players with good communication skills. The latter are desirable characteristics, but the “why” and the questioning is a characteristic that should transcend all generations on the job. So let’s set the stage for this reasoning. . .

Question Everything! Consider that an order. Not at the wrong time. Not during an emergency. Not in an insubordinate or disrespectful way. Remember your station in the department and be always humble. Asking why we do something is the first step in understanding SOP/SOGs, our history and the mechanics of the problem. I have little patience or regard for statements like “Because we have always done it that way,” “Just because I said so,” The words “always” and “never” used too liberally in rescue. And finally the perpetual get-out-of-jail-free words. . . “for safety” -without due explanation.

Meaningful questioning elevates rescuers to a world of critical thinking. Critical thinking is defined as "the process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion" and also "disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence"(dictionary.com). Our end goal is to improve the mission to save those that others cannot, all-the-while keeping our rescuers as safe as is prudent. To accomplish this we must continually evaluate and ask “why do we do the things we do?” and “how can we improve our mission?”

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There are answers out there. Rescuers must seek them out.  One might start at the station or home front. The next source may be on the web, in books, or videos.  Let’s also focus on the instructors:  if your instructor cannot satisfactorily answer “why,” then you need to find a new one or seek knowledge elsewhere. There are allot of hacks and parrots out there that are mass-produced and label themselves instructors.  Instructors aren’t supposed to know everything, but a good one will admit that, and know how to find the answer to your question.

In the next article, we will examine some rescue "why's?" that will generate some spirited debate around the day room. We won't cover each topic exhaustively, but we will open the door to some research and critical thinking.

You can download or print a PDF copy of this article by clicking here.

Denver Fire Department: Leadership So Everyone Goes Home

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The National Fallen Firefighter's Foundation has just released it's newest Everyone Goes Home video with the Denver Fire Department. Take the time to watch this and share it with your crews. The National Fallen Firefighter's Foundation has produced some great content to help other departments learn from one another.

Everyone Goes Home LogoI am currently the Lead State Advocate for Everyone Goes Home in the State of Mississippi. If you are unfamiliar with Everyone Goes Home check out the links I have provided that will send you to your own Advocates. They can help you get training material and resources to use at your own fire department. You will find a tremendous amount of resources on the website www.EveryoneGoesHome.com

Here is the link to the Learning Media Center

Here is the link to the Firefighter Life Safety Toolbox Resources

Here is the link to the Video Resources

Here is the link to find your Local State Advocates

Here is a final video message from Chief Billy Goldfeder:

Where did you come from?

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How many times have you heard a firefighter say that "he" forgot where "he" came from?  My question is, do we all know where we actually come from?  In our fast paced world many new firefighters have absolutely no knowledge of their own fire department's history.  I am not sure if this is due to a lack of interest in fire service history or a lack of mentoring from the veteran members of the department.  If you have never read "Pride and Ownership" by ret. Chief Rick Lasky, I highly recommend purchasing a copy.  Chief Lasky discusses several points about how we enable firefighters to take pride in what they do and to own a piece of the department.

I can remember growing up in Jackson, MS and every time a Q-siren would wind up I would listen for the other firehouses.  I could identify them from the house, first Engine 19 and Truck 19, then Rescue 17 followed by Engine 7 and 16.  I loved the sounds of Q-sirens throughout the city and when I was younger I remember watching many working fires. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy hearing the stories from the past and learning about the history of where we all come from.  I recently saw one of these iconic Jackson, MS pumpers in what appears to be it's final resting place and can't help but think of all the stories that rig was a part of.

One of the greatest qualities of our fire service is the deep rooted traditions established from our history. Unfortunately, I have noticed a trend in many departments moving away from these traditions.  For some reason we have begun this idea that you only wear a Class A uniform for a funeral.  If we constantly walk around in BDU's and t-shirts with dirty duty boots do you think we deserve the same respect our ancestors had?  I am not saying that we shouldn't adjust our tactics to correspond with the challenges we face today.  I am saying that our fire department's desperately need respectable traditions brought back.  If the members of the firehouse are wearing dirty uniforms and riding on a pumper cluttered with disorganized equipment then the new hire will follow that same "tradition".  It is extremely hard for new members to take pride in what they are doing if they are embarrassed by what they see.  I played football in the SEC, one of the most challenging conferences in the country, and I was fortunate to play for Coach David Cutcliffe.  Coach Cutcliffe would always tell us "Leave this place better than you found it."  We need this mindset in the firehouse.

If you are a young firefighter take the time to ask questions to the veterans, they will appreciate your interest.  If you are a veteran it is your responsibility to instill this interest into your crews.  You owe it to the ones who came before you.  If your department still performs ceremonies and traditions, I applaud you.  If your department does not, then be the firefighter that helps bring them back.

 

 

 

 

What is Your Definition of Leadership?

Defining Leadership Fireground Leadership

How often do we discuss leadership issues?  In the fire service you will find yourself pulled into conversations about leadership capabilities on a regular basis.  You can read books, take courses, and study well known leaders but until you decide what type of leader you will be then you cannot move forward.

I believe there are many types of leaders each of which have their own personalities.  These leadership types, or styles, provide the leaders with a direction to move forward.  When you are struggling with finding an identity as a leader you must first ask yourself what your own definition of leadership will be.

Many years ago I heard this definition of leadership, "Leadership is taking someone to a place they normally wouldn't go to by themselves".  That message solidified what came to be my own leadership identity.  We become firefighters to serve others and if you follow a servant style leadership path you will serve other firefighters in order to ultimately provide the citizens you protect with the best service possible.  I have chosen a path in my fire service career to emphasize training other firefighters in order to ultimately serve my community as best I can.  I have to continue to remind myself to focus on this definition of leadership I have chosen.  This definition drives me to perform in the classroom, the training grounds and on the fire scene.

Once you identify your leadership definition you will be able to focus on refining your skills as a leader.  There are many lessons I learn everyday that help guide me to become a better leader.  I constantly analyze other firefighter's leadership styles looking for traits that I gravitate toward.  I can only hope that one day in my fire service career someone else will find a leadership trait of mine that they gravitate toward.

KEEP CALM and FOLLOW ME,

Matt