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Mayday Monday- The Radio Call

FullSizeRenderIn reviewing all the procedures and policies related to Mayday incidents, we have to remember the actual call itself from the trapped or lost firefighter. Does your department have a standard information set that needs to be transmitted out to the Incident Commander or the dispatch center. This is a crucial script that needs to be practiced by your crew members during weekly or monthly drills. This skill set must be able to be transmitted quickly and contain all the information desired by your department or company. In most cases of a Mayday call, the firefighter or officer is under extreme conditions and stressors. This may also be the only radio transmission that you will receive from them, so the practiced information should contain the basics to get the RIT moving under direction from command. How you or your department lay this information, and the procedures following the Mayday should fit your department. But basically it should start with:

1- MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY

2- WHO – Who is calling the Mayday?

3- WHAT – What is the problem?

4. WHERE – Where are you located in the structure

After this quick transmission, depending on local radio systems the pressing or activation of the emergency button on the radio could be added. With all the technology that is available to us through the new radios that are being manufactured, we must UNDERSTAND all that technology and ensure it works with our Mayday procedures. After this transmission the IC can then try obtaining further information by using the LUNAR acronym. Location, Unit, Needs, Air and Resources.

We will post a copy of some Mayday procedures at www.traditionstraining.com on the Resources Page. Please remember to DRILL, DRILL and DRILL some more on this procedure.

Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Incident Command, RIT / Survival, technology-communications, Training Resources, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics | Posted on 13-10-2014

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Building Leaders for the Fire Service – Part 2………..By Dan Shaw

Last post we discussed the process of orientation for leadership development, which was essentially relying upon operational manuals or standard operating procedures as the foundation for leadership. While these documents may be necessary for building the knowledge for rank and position (remember leadership is not a given with rank!), it is not a process for developing leaders of people.  This process does more to build effective managers and not leaders who must motivate and cultivate people. Orientation leaves a void in the leadership paradigm but does provide the opportunity to introduce the process of socialization for our budding leaders. Socialization is the process of learning and developing a culture that is aimed toward the common defined purpose. The overriding theme in this process is that it is centered on people and not what is printed on department documents.  Fortunately, we are given opportunities to demonstrate the skills learned from socialization daily in our profession. Examples span from the challenges and adversity faced on the fireground to the relative calmness of the firehouse kitchen table.

Let’s go back to our aspiring lieutenant who has now passed his examination and is freshly promoted. He reports for his first day in his new assignment at a firehouse at which he has never worked. His brand new shift gathers around the firehouse kitchen table to have their shift briefing at 0700 hours.  All 15 sets of eyes turn to the new lieutenant for his first words of wisdom and leadership.

Is this critical moment for our leader outlined in the manuals? Before this moment, he was one of those 15 sets of eyes looking at the “Loo”; Now he is the boss and he must capitalize on this first opportunity to lead. As a fire service, we must be humble enough to ask ourselves if we have prepared our new lieutenant for this initial challenge. The answer is most likely we have not, and this is where our socialization process can assist.

When the new officer has been prepared for his new role through a mixture of the core principles of the orientation and socialization processes, he is ready for this challenge and greets it as an opportunity. At his first shift briefing, he seizes that moment when all fifteen sets of eyes of his new family are staring at him and offers, “What do you expect of me as your lieutenant?”  This is the perfect demonstration of socialization.

The orientation process has taught him what the organization expects of him, but did not address what his new “culture” expects of him. Sure, he could rule with the iron fist and invoke adherence to each and every procedure of the department, but his shift already knows the rules. They may test him by pushing the rules every so often, but if that is consuming all of his time, he is not truly leading, he is just a custodian of the department rules.

His new culture is this group of dedicated firefighters who yearn to be led. They will offer a wide spectrum of skills, personalities, and idiosyncrasies that he must manage and guide to the common goal he sets forth.  If the culture were highly functioning and successful prior his arrival he will be greeted with utter failure if he alters it solely because he thought he supposed to as an assumed part of a requirement of being a new officer. Now that we understand the difference between our orientation process and socialization process, how do we begin the implementation process? It’s not as hard you may think and only takes a few tools properly applied. To explain this process let’s use an example most firefighters who are parents can appreciate.

On a snowy day on the east coast in February, I was with my kids in a trampoline park watching them jump up and down and realizing this is the perfect example of leadership. You, the leader who has the knowledge, skills, and abilities coupled with the socialization skills to understand you lead people who have norms, values and expectations of you, are like this trampoline park.

This indoor park is covered with a massive roof that shields us from the 10-degree temperatures outside. As a leader, you provide this shelter for your people, offering that haven to them while they hone their leadership skills. For example, when you face a crisis – a house on fire with black smoke belching out of the front door, reported people trapped, and the heat keeping you inches off of the floor, do your people follow you without doubt or do they question their willingness to follow you? It is natural human chemical reaction of our brain that people want to feel safe and that is provided by having confidence in the person providing this feeling. As a leader, you should be demonstrating this long before this fire ever occurs. You’re investing in your people; teaching, training, and giving your time to them. This does not mean any person can simply seek haven under your leadership. Only those who are accountable to their actions, compliant to the established parameters (rules, order, S.O.P.’s), and aspire for greatness will have that shelter. If you don’t follow the rules of the trampoline park, you can’t come in and seek shelter and the same is true under your leadership. This is the essence of that shared relationship that must exist between the leader and his followers.

trampoline-backflip

Have a purpose, set the boundaries, and watch your people soar.

Going back to our leadership example of the trampoline house we can see the second part of leadership being demonstrated. Now that my kids have a feeling of safety and know the basics rules of the facility, they can now jump! Is this jumping 5’, 10’, 15’ in the air safe? Nope, but they are doing it anyway because they have faith in arena they are operating, faith in their skills and are striving for greater heights. They have been given the rules of the park and now are free to demonstrate their autonomy. The feeling of safety has led them to not operate under fear of failure but rather eager to seek an opportunity to achieve new heights.

We, as leaders, must create an environment where our people feel free to seek greater heights. They must know the boundaries of the job and then they must be fostered to strive for greater heights without fear of failure. Sure failure will come, in the trampoline park it is usually a misplaced fall or failed attempt at a flip, which culminates with a laugh, and an attempt to do it again successfully. In our world, we will surely fail but wouldn’t we want that to occur in the training and not on the fireground where lives are dependant upon our precise performance? Our people must feel a level of autonomy in completing the mission along with encouraging that constant craving to achieve mastery.

As you can see there is no mention of me soaring through the air with my kids, rather me just marveling at their prudent risk-taking. I don’t do it because my knee surgeon has convinced me that it is not a prudent idea so I leave my risk taking to other arenas. Is what they are doing ‘safe’? Is what we do in our job ‘safe’? Absolutely not, and the term safe is used too arbitrarily and without attention to it’s true meaning. The Webster dictionary defines safe as free from harm. There is not one aspect of charging into a house on fire that is the least bit “safe” regardless of the level of PPE, staffing, etc. you may have with you.  As leaders, we should strive for teaching our people to learn and exercise prudent risk taking. When we literally interpret and falsely attempt to portray a safe fireground, it can appear more like risk aversion than being safe. If we are leading correctly, than we have already laid the groundwork and are teaching our people how to exercise prudent risk taking and not being handcuffed by misplaced terms. This begins with the leader knowing both the orientation process and the socialization process.

The weight on a leader is immense because he or she must be a daily learner in addition to being a dedicated teacher. If we are not learning every day, then we are not leading. Take a moment and analyze YOUR leadership style, not what your organization expects of you (orientation). What do you expect of yourself as the leader, and what do your people expect of you (socialization)? Leadership is not about the number of people you leave in your wake on your ascension up the ranks, but the number of people you have brought with you cutting through the waves.

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Incident Command, news | Posted on 10-10-2014

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Building Leaders for the Fire Service – Part 1………..By Dan Shaw

Leadership is a quality we seek and desire in every level of our trade. Most of us are fortunate to be exposed daily to leadership models through our mentors, books we read of leaders from all walks of life (military, religion, politics, etc.), and the challenges we face in our own lives. Inherently, the more inspired, driven, and dedicated individuals are, they typically seek and find more opportunities to reap the rewards of leadership lessons than their more passive counterparts. This does not mean that individuals who are more passive or who may not have access to mentorship should be admonished from leadership positions. Additionally, we cannot limit individuals who are unsure of how to seek out a mentor and now may feel unqualified to take on a leadership role. Lastly, individuals who may work with a micromanager who stifles his co-workers’ autonomy should not be denied entry to the leadership club because of their boss’s shortcomings.

As an aspiring leader, when you look at your organization, firehouse, shift, company, etc., what kind of leadership development do you see? Does your department reward only the hard workers and dedicated individuals with their time? Time is that one irreplaceable gift that cannot be taken back and has an endless value. If you give someone your time in the form of mentoring and teaching, that is eternal and will never be forgotten. On the other hand, perhaps you have timid & passive individuals, or those who have been conditioned that low performance is the standard, and are most likely given less time and opportunities to learn leadership lessons. Your department may operate as one of those listed, a combination of both, or just lacking a plan all together. The solution to this problem is the crux of the leadership question: Do you breed your leaders through an orientation process or a socialization process?

When I attended the West Point Leadership Course for public safety a few years ago we analyzed the foundation of this question. The orientation process is what we see occur most every day in the modern day fire service. An individual has the desire to move ahead in their career and advance to the next rank. The firefighter submits for the lieutenant’s exam and will receive a list of approved texts that will compose the forthcoming promotional exam. The list will most likely encompass all of his organizations’ personnel and operational manuals covering all of the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to achieve the next level of “leadership” to become an officer.

While it is necessary to evaluate one’s ability to recite proper handling of personnel issues and proper application of strategies and tactics, it is not the sole means of leadership development! I would liken this process to a person who reads a cookbook minutes before walking in to teach a cooking class. They can recite the proper ingredients and may even sound confident, but they do not know the trade as well as the seasoned chef. The level of mastery they will exhibit will be limited to their short-term memory of reciting what they just read. In the orientation process, we have provided the manuals that outline the skills and define the expectation that the individual will go execute them perfectly. This approach may work for some, but for most, it is a recipe for disaster given we have an expectation that this execution will occur in the toxic and chaotic environment known as our fireground.

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A brand new fire officer will not arrive at his first house fire, stop in the front yard, retrieve his “house fire” manual from his pocket, review the correct tactics, and then communicate his orders (or at least we hope not!). The testing process and the development and implementation of manuals are all necessary tools to aid and evaluate our leaders. These documents are the infrastructure that builds the figurative out-of-bounds lines for our operations leaving the field of play yet they leave out one vitally important part of the leadership equation. WE LEAD PEOPLE! Not apparatus, hoselines, ladders, etc., etc. People must apply the strategies and tactics outlined and they are the most important assets we deploy on any fireground. They are irreplaceable and yearn to be led. So, how do we make this change in leadership development that can blend the needed foundation of knowledge with teaching how to lead people and exercise sound judgment? And what is that change called? In our next post, we will discuss the Socialization process for leadership development.

Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, firefighting-operations, Incident Command, Uncategorized | Posted on 01-08-2014

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Double LODD Report from Bryan, Texas

As with every class we teach, we urge all our students to read and study Line of Duty Death Reports. Please click on the link below to go to the report from the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office.

http://www.tdi.texas.gov/reports/fire/documents/fmloddbryan.pdf

Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, in-the-line-of-duty, Incident Command, line-of-duty, rescues, RIT / Survival, Testimonials, Training Resources, training-development, Uncategorized | Posted on 21-05-2014

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ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5th GRADER?

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By Larry Schultz

I will start of with a brief recap of my last blog. I began with a contemplative question that challenged the value of our thoughts and trends, as they relate to risk assessment on the fireground. I opined, that we might be defaulting to a “risk avoidance” strategy because we were falling to acknowledge the other causes that make firegrounds go bad.

I then suggested that the fire service as a whole has done a poor job of offering a subjective and systematic way of assessing risk on the fireground. In every class I teach, I ask the students to raise their hands if they have ever taken a four-hour class on how to conduct a proper risk assessment. As expected, very few hands ever appear.

I ended with a caution to all in the fire service, that we must never fall prey to intellectual laziness. I offered that the only way we will ever be able to achieve maximum fireground effectiveness, which includes safe operations, is through the use of critical thought, inspired by dialogue, discussion and yes debate on the topic.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve spent countless hours, teaching to a broad base population of fire service members. This never gets old; the relationships, the fraternal environment and the ability to engage in meaningful discussions about fireground management. Whether you are the instructor or the student, if you show up for class with an open mind, a willingness to learn and a commitment to exercise your brain, you are sure to walk away, better informed and better prepared to execute your job on the fireground. I challenge my students to never except what I say as gospel and to verify for themselves what works best for their system. My goal is to challenge the students to think for themselves.

From San Diego CA to Lancaster County PA, from Daytona Beach FL to Rochester NY, the most common topic I encountered was the discussion of modern fire behavior and the associated results of the comprehensive studies conducted on the topic. Over countless hours of discussion on this issue, I found, that these discussions leave most people in one of three camps. The first (Group 1), vehemently oppose the study, the results and the discussion on how to improve our strategy and tactics. The second (Group 2) selectively takes pieces of information and a portion of the conclusion’s, with far reaching assumptions, issuing an edict on the value and safety of interior firefighting. The last camp (Group 3) has chosen to educate themselves on the study, value the science and findings, understands the value as a “piece” of critical operational information and then use this information as a catalyst to assess things such as: current operating systems i.e. SOG’s/Sop’s, command and control, risk assessment process, accountability systems, resource needs, employee competency and training to name a few.

To those in Group 1, who choose intellectual ignorance, there is a LODD(s) or serious injury(s) knocking on your door. If you are in a position of leadership at any level, shame on you. You owe your members and Department better. For those not yet in a position of leadership, I am thankful and hope you never will be as long as you remain ignorant on the topic. My guess is, your attitude is based on opposition to Group 2 (see below). In doing so, you are as intellectually arrogant as Group 2 and twice as dangerous. My challenge to you, is don’t focus on Group 2, but allow yourself to study the information as presented, understand that the findings are factual and use that information as an ingredient in the entire formula for high performance fireground management.

To those in Group 2, don’t give me three thumbs up just yet. Let me reinforce what I stated above, you are as intellectually arrogant as Group 1, which leads to you being academically dishonest with your far-reaching assumptions and opinions. It’s my opinion (my blog my opinion) that if you are using this study in the absence of it’s context and complexity, your problems are far greater then your characterization that interior fire attack is both taboo and outdated. You sell yourself and your department short on providing the best possible service to the community as it relates to fire suppression activities.

Let me offer this consideration. The members under your command, are far more educated (not talking degrees) then ever before. Their access to fire service information, training and education is unlimited. The greatest numbers of them are extremely passionate about the service and consume countless hours of information. They are also great at spotting a phony. They will not succumb to intellectual bullying or far reaching assumptions as a way of achieving “best practice”.

While this is not inclusive of all groups, I have observed another common theme amongst this group. They are elated over some of the tactical suggestions that accompany these studies (transitional attack). They are also willfully overlooking the fact that most if not all of these findings (coordinated ventilation, speed of fire progression, proper fire-flows and the importance of getting water on the fire quickly) are timely truths that we have known about for some time. Instead, they see this as an opportunity, to gain control of an underperforming, undisciplined and unstructured department, by manipulating the spirit of the studies in order to rein in the chaos.

My common observations with this group is: they lack SOP’s/SOG’s or lack holding people accountable for following them, they fail to regularly train officers and firefighters on core basic skills, they fail to invest in officer development, they fail to hold anyone accountable for their lack of performance on the fireground and they promote people who cant or wont do their jobs. If you are in this category and have chosen to blindly create a default policy based on a transitional attack (hit the fire from the outside and then transition to the inside) this alone will not solve your fire ground problems. It’s a lot like having a zero dollar balance in your checking account, depositing a $25.00 check and assuming that because you have money in the bank, the rent will get paid.
Let may say this for purpose of clarity. In many cases, based on resource limitations and response time constraints due to standards of coverage challenges, this may very well be the best policy to have. That is very different then saying this is a one-size model that all departments must adopt if they are serious about safety.

My advice is, don’t try to pull the wool over the eyes of your people. Don’t use science as an crutch simply because you lack the knowledge, courage and capability to engage in a comprehensives discussion and debate. If there is a true need to change your operations, then look at every aspect of it and honestly assess your department’s shortcomings. Work on all identified areas of weakness, which will inevitably result in safer fireground management. Recognize and prepare for the fact that these changes will not only take courageous leadership, it will also take relentless follow-up to insure compliance and requires swift and aggressive action for those who willfully choose to violate the policy.

To Group 3, you are on the right tract. You are using this great information much in the way that Doctors use findings from new medical experiments. The findings are used in conjunction with your previous experiences, education and training and done so as a means to enhance quality care not replace it.

You understand the context in which the experiments were conducted and the focus of the research. You also engaged your mind in the complexities of fire behavior, building construction and fireground management, working to make sense of it all. You understand that the findings verify exactly what many have understood for sometime and you value the time, energy, funding and the precision that went in to this study.

You also understand that this information must be part of our continuous quality improvement processes for high performance fireground management. However we must move from simply “understanding” the information to “incorporating” the information in to our operations.

Here are some quick takeaways from those findings that must be considered moving forward.

1. Todays household furnishing are largely made of synthetic fuels. These fuels burn rapidly, reach greater temperatures quicker and the byproducts of these burning materials (smoke) are toxic, highly flammable and have a wide explosive range.
2. Today’s homes have building features, which, disguise (initially) the presence of fire, quickly denies the fire of needed oxygen (until we get there) enhances the spread of fire, conceals the presence of hidden fire and losses structural integrity quickly when exposed to fire.
3. Fires will often be oxygen starved when we arrive. Any opening that either we make (forcible entry/ventilation) or the occupant makes (leaving a door or window open) will provide the fire with the oxygen it needs to rapidly grow beyond our control.
4. This means that our discretionary time on the fireground, to gain control of the fire before it gains control of the structure and us is drastically reduced. In addition the time we have to recognize that conditions are deteriorating until flashover occurs can be as little as 10 seconds.
5. This means that our training must be rigorous and constant. It must focus on core basic skills and must be measured against timed benchmarks. Our goal must be to reach the “expert” level of competency on basic fireground tasks
6. This means that if you don’t have the resources (people and apparatus) or the resources cannot arrive in a timely manner, then you must consider these findings when evaluating your SOG’s. If you do not have the people or apparatus to simultaneously place in-service at least two handlines, perform search and rescue with a team of two (minimum) and be able to properly ventilate the structure within a defined period of time, then you need to adjust your operational procedures accordingly.
7. This means you must have a strong incident management component in- place on every fireground. This includes a competent Incident Commander, supported by a competent Command Team (sorry folks, no way of escaping the competency part)
8. This means that we as leaders, must have the courage to honestly asses the current state of our departments operations, identify our shortfalls, develop a team to find best solutions and then have the professional will and courage to take the journey.

In my next blog, we will discuss critical engine company benchmarks in order to perform a self-evaluation of time constraints and resource requirements for your department. This will be followed by truck company (support work) and incident command benchmarks.

Be Safe & Be Smart

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, Incident Command, Tips & Skills, Uncategorized | Posted on 21-05-2013

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Taking a lesson from “Realty TV”

While I was watching the show Surviving the Cut the other night that highlighted the rigors of the training that the Nightstalkers (160th Special Aviation Regiment) go through, I had an epiphany, or at least I drew a corollary principle for what we should learn from this training in the fire service.160th SOAR

The show portrayed the completion of a hellish, multiple-hours long training session that spanned from mental and physically demanding tasks to ultimate culmination in a nighttime march in full gear. The stress and rigors of their training would be our snot-slinging working fire that demands every ounce of your physical strength and mental focus.

Once the finish line was crossed, in this case their barracks, the candidates were lined up and asked the simple question: “Is every one of the members of your class present?” This would be the equivalent of the accountability report we must give when we reach certain time benchmarks in an incident, change strategies (i.e- offensive to defensive), or reach our finish line, which is when we exhaust our air supply and must exit the IDLH. The depleted and drained Nightstalker candidates responded back “Affirmative”, hoping that the answer would lead to a break and some well-deserved rest. With “Affirmative” spoken, they were then told to turn around and face the memorial located behind their formation that had been constructed to honor all the fallen members of the regiment.

There, standing with hoods over their heads and grasping the P.O.W. / M.I.A. flag, was the class leader and the second in command of their unit. As if in unison, all of the candidates’ heads dropped forward, grasping the reality of their failure to account for their brothers in battle. Their failure was marked by the fact that the two who had been unaccounted for were what you would envision as the most obvious, the class leaders.

This gut-wrenching feeling of inferiority was followed by a thorough verbal reminder by the C.O. of the failure to complete the most basic and fundamental rule to ‘never leave anyone behind.’ Even in the face of exhaustion or simple complacency you must be your brother’s keeper. You must not lose your mental focus in the face of depleted physical strength or the mere taste of completion.

The punishment for their gaff?  They were required to assume a squatting sitting position, grasp an imaginary letter in their hands, and repeat verbatim the letter the C.O. had prepared. The letter he wrote was to the family of the now dead fellow soldiers. In it, he explained that there would be no husband coming home, no father to watch the children grow up, and no son whom the parents could hug proudly. Lastly, the letter explained they would not even have their loved one’s body to bid farewell, providing at least some measure of closure. Instead they could only grasp a memory. The exercise led these hardened men to break down in tears, surely questioning their commitment and ability to carry the name of the unit.

So, where is the parallel to our fire service?  It is Everywhere! A factor in almost all line of duty death reports is the lack of “Accountability”. While this can be from a hardware issue, such as the absence of an accountability system, it also covers lack of accounting for your fellow firefighters in harm’s way. On paper it seems senseless that a causative factor for the death of one of us could be that we did not account for each member of the crew during the heat of our battle – fighting fires. If we remove the hardware issue and look at the ‘human’ side of this issue, one can surmise quickly that the linchpin for us is the Officer (Engine Company, the Truck, Rescue or the Incident Commander.)

How often do we see firefighters promoted to an Officer’s position because they have a wanton desire to be able to adorn themselves with the prestige of the gold badge and not because they want accept the entire breadth of the Officer’s responsibility. Or we see Officers who confuse proper aggressive firefighting with poor tactics applied in a rapid and uneducated manner, demonstrating they really only wanted to be the first in so they can walk out with a charred helmet. The aggressive officer is one who moves with purpose, that purpose being to always ensure his brothers and sisters are measuring their risk (i.e., not safe but prudent risk-taking based upon competence and mastery) to complete the job they took an oath to do. The question that each firefighter who crawls down a hallway belching black smoke, or the Company officer who makes the decision to enter the basement fire with his crew, or the Incident Commander who decides to go “offensive” is this: “Have you prepared yourself and your members for the firefight?”

This preparation is not merely how to pull a line or conduct a primary search; have you also:

  • Made clear your expectations on the fireground?
  • What is your measure of success?
  • Have you provided the training and shared the knowledge to accomplish these expectations?
  • Do you demonstrate these traits every day yourself?

If not, then you have demonstrated that your commitment to “no man left behind” is skewed and you do not mind writing the letter like the candidates in Surviving the Cut. Every officer is charged with responsibility of making a decision on the fireground, a decision that not only mitigates an emergency but has a direct impact on their firefighters. While General Powell was referring to military operations, his doctrine applies in our trade, “Do not put your people in harm’s way for unclear purposes.”

Officers must consider the time when they may have to pen that letter to their fallen firefighters family or look the family in the eye and deliver the heart breaking news. If that unfortunate situation occurred, would you feel as though you had done everything in your power and ability to prepare and train your firefighters? Have you prepared yourself each and every day to recognize hazardous situations and mitigate them correctly, or do you rest on the reputation of your rank that was chiseled by your predecessors?

The clearest sign of true servant leadership is selflessly exhausting yourself to teach, train, and lead those under your command. While our job is inherently dangerous, no measure of this danger excuses leaders from preparing themselves and those under their command to adequately face that danger.  If you need a reminder, consider what you would do and what you would say when you have to face the family of one of your own on the day of their greatest loss.

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, Incident Command, line-of-duty, news, Testimonials, Tips & Skills, Uncategorized | Posted on 21-02-2013

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Dealing With the Issue of Risk in the Fire Service

dcfire3Dealing With the Issue of Risk In the Fire Service

There are few jobs, which expose it’s employees (career or volunteer) to risk more then the fire service. The risks we face have caused line-of-duty deaths exceeding 100 per year and injury rates that exceed 38,000 per year. Todays fire service expectations are unmatched in the types of service we are expected to deliver. Along with that increased expectation, comes a correlating increase in the complexity of the risk we face.

Webster’s dictionary defines risk as someone or something that creates or suggests hazard. By nature, the very work we do is and will continue to expose us to high levels of risk. The fact that we perform a dangerous job should not equate to acceptable levels of death or injuries, unfortunately death and injuries are likely to be a part of our profession.

Reducing fireground deaths and injuries must be one of the highest priority of all fire service leaders. Unfortunately, while serving as a firefighter and in several positions of leadership in the District of Columbia Fire Department, I experienced far to many of these incidents. Rarely a day goes by, that I do not think about those whom we have lost. I have spent countless hours with injured firefighters and their families in the local Burn Center, sitting- watch during the long and painful process that accompanies these injuries. I have and will continue to focus on making the fireground as safe as we can feasibly make it, while keeping my efforts on building strong company officers and stronger incident commanders

Let me put out a disclaimer. Some will view my posts as controversial, some as thought provoking, and some as out right blasphemy. My intentions will always be to inspire critical thought on the very important topic of fireground management and firefighter safety. Critical thinking is being disciplined and thoughtful in how we apply, process, analyze and synthesize information as a guide to, belief (personal truths/values) and action (how we as leaders identify problems and resolve them). The fire service by nature is filled with highly emotional, Type A personalities. While this has long been considered one of the greatest strengths, it would stand to reason that it has also become one of our greatest weaknesses.

Todays fire service is facing countless challenges. Navigating these challenges will take courageous leadership and a strong ability to become critical in thought. “Emotional” thought is one of the single biggest pitfalls we face today. Generally speaking, emotional thought is weak in substance, lacks credibility and rarely provides real solutions to significant problems. Because it is based on emotion, it requires little consideration and produces more of a reactionary response then a well thought out idea.

As fire service leaders we must all start off by acknowledging that regardless of our education, background, and experience, our thought processes can be flawed by reasoning, emotion, prejudices, and laziness to name a few. These influences often cause us to think far too simplistically about very complicated and complex issues such as risk. As fire service leaders we must hold ourselves accountable to self-improvement. That’s what others expect of us and what we should expect of ourselves.

If we, as fire service leaders, are to be successful at navigating the complexity of challenges facing us, there will be a requirement to do so by quality of thought. Failing to resolve perplexing fire service issues, through debate, dialogue and discussion based on critical thought, respect and open mindedness, will continue to have us wallow in the plethora of problems, offering little or no real solutions.

There are those in the fire service, who insist that firefighters “become more tolerant” and “open minded” to new ideas, new thought, new culture and new science. Those statements are then followed by a proclamation that the service must change to fit their ideology. This is where they lose many. This form of messaging results in little to no buy-in from the ranks, censors free (conflicting) thought, and puts us at odds with each other, in spite of the fact that we both want the same things, safe and effective firegrounds. The only chance we have of resolving many of these issues is through real tolerance of free thought, followed by dialogue, discussion and debate in a manner of professional decorum.

My experiences have been, that when the only acceptable solution to proper fireground management and the reduction of deaths and injuries is through the ideology of total risk avoidance, the door to discussion is immediately shut. I have seen valuable science, case studies and lessons learned, thrown in the trashcan or immediately deleted from emails, without a moment of contemplative thought due to this one approach fits all mentality. Taking a complex issue such as risk and minimizing risk management techniques to simple risk avoidance policies, is viewed by many as being intellectually arrogant and unattractive. It is my opinion, that much of this valuable information is quickly discarded and devalued simply do to poor messaging.

Risk avoidance becomes a default strategy when our focus, efforts and attention is placed on what we “don’t want ” (death/injuries) as opposed to what we “do want” (high performance/safe firegrounds). By taking this approach, are we attempting to deal with the bigger issues of inexperience, ineffective or incompetent decision-making on the fireground? By simply abandoning the idea that individuals must meet required levels of performance? Instead of having the discussion, on how we can effectively increase risk management on the fireground through, building individual competencies in our chiefs and officers, strengthening our system of command and control, achieving consistency in operational performance and improving our communications habits; it has become politically popular to join the risk avoidance club as our default solution.

Let me be perfectly clear, there are times when risk avoidance will be the appropriate fireground strategy, but that can not be our long term default strategy in fireground management. My efforts will be as they always have been, inspiring critical thought on problem management. I hope to do this buy providing a forum focused on, building competency, inspiring better decision making capability, and identifying and challenging poor command habits. The value of discussion becomes more significant when other thoughts, ideas and opinions and experiences are shared.

What are your thoughts on managing risk on the fireground?

Please engage in the discussion

Please be critical in your thoughts

No Emotional arguments

Be respectful of others opinion

Be Safe & Be Competentatticfirepd11

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, Incident Command, training-development, Uncategorized | Posted on 18-02-2013

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Traditions Training is headed to Pittsburgh, PA

November 3rd and 4th of 2012 , Traditions Training will be in Pittsburgh, PA. to deliver our Officer Development School for the Pittsburgh METRO FOOLS Chapter. Download the flyer for all the class information and contacts to register. We hope to see you there…

Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, firefighting-operations, Incident Command, training-development, Uncategorized, Upcoming Classes | Posted on 23-07-2012

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Check out the Resources Page

In the last couple of weeks we at Traditions Training have been adding to our Resources page on the website. Go there to find LODD reports, NIOSH reports, Command Sheets, and manuals that we reference during our classes. Download them and use them to make you and your department “Combat Ready”
Send us any cheat sheets, command charts or after action fire reports that you feel would help our fellow firefighters and Officers. And we will put them in the Resources section…

As Always Stay Combat Ready

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, fires, Incident Command, line-of-duty, Training Resources, training-development, Uncategorized | Posted on 16-07-2012

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Officer School in San Marcos, Texas

Traditions Training is bringing our 16-hour “Officer School” to San Marcos, Texas. October 11th and 12th, 2012 we have been invited to teach by the San Marcos Professional Firefighters Association. Our program brings a review of leadership challenges and principles along with a review of breaking down incidents into manageable parts for the company officer and the command officer. By reviewing incidents we look at failures and successes of different departments and personnel. We then provide plans for both officers to develop good habits and practices for their own department incidents. This interactive and engaging program will hopefully make you and your department better when faced with the challenges of todays fireground.

You can go to the San Marcos Professional Firefighters website to register
https://secure.unasecure.net/activestore/index.cfm?start=yes&siteID=smpffa

San Marcos, TX Officer School Download the brochure…

Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, firefighting-operations, Incident Command, news, Uncategorized, Upcoming Classes | Posted on 07-06-2012