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What’s your standard? The firehouse just got a new puppy…

In my Department’s “Rookie Book” process, probationary firefighters have a 6-month series of monthly tests.  These tests consist of written questions & knowledge and skill-based material.  The goal of course is to insure and guide their growth after the fire academy, so that when they come off probation they are well versed in “fire department life” and well capable on the fireground.

The 1st month evaluation is conducted by the rookie’s battalion chief. There are 18 questions and 8 skill categories, with several skills per category. The rookie must be able to answer any questions and demonstrate any skills that the battalion selects.  The BNC selects a minimum of 5 questions and 3 skills, but has the discretion to select as many more as he likes.

Yesterday I watched 4 of our rookies be evaluated, but I got to watch one rookie’s eval from start to end. This battalion chief decided he would ask every question and cover every skill. He challenged his probie and made him work for it. And when the rookie did well, he had earned it.

The Chief did not do this because the rookie had been doing poorly, quite the opposite. Though it might not have been directly said, I could tell that the Chief did this because that was his standard.

When a firehouse receives a new rookie, probie, whatever you call it – it is as if that firehouse has just adopted a new puppy.  As those of you who have raised a puppy know, the puppy is not just the responsibility of dad (captain), mom (engineer), or big brother (senior man).  The entire crew must chip in to watch the puppy, raise the puppy, and train the puppy to the house’s standard.

So let me ask you this – if 6 months after you get him, your new puppy (rookie) walks in and craps on the carpet, who’s fault is that?

It’s not the puppy’s.

In watching the growth of a rookie, and their evaluation, the standard of that company, battalion and shift is clear and evident. Is mediocrity accepted? Is meeting the “minimum” the goal? The training and performance of a company’s rookie is just another clear indicator of what can be expected on the fireground.  I can tell you that yesterday I watched the faces of this rookie’s crew just as much as I watched the rookie.  And what I saw was pride, investment, and family.  These guys were pulling for their new man, proud of him, but unwavering in their expectation to uphold the family (company) name. When I saw that, I thought “bingo”. So I can’t pinpoint which part I’m more proud to see.

So for those of you raising a new puppy, remember – that puppy’s performance is a direct reflection of your family, and your family’s standards.  Raise the puppy right.

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Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership | Posted on 16-09-2015

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Keeping Track

These log books vaguely capture what the company did. Who captures the how you performed at an individual level?

We all love going to fires.  We’d all agree we learn something at every fire we go to.  So how do we track what we’ve experienced and what we’ve learned?  If we don’t track this, how can we know where to focus for improvement?  As a company, most of us keep log books, Firehouse Software reports, NFIRS reports, or other official documents.  These track the official details of how our organization deployed at an incident.  But what about you personally?  Where is what you’ve done and how you’ve evolved tracked?

About a year ago, I began informally tracking the incidents to which I responded.  Using Evernote, a simple piece of free software that I can access on any computer or my phone, I began quickly keeping some personal notes after any significant incident I went to.  As the training chief for my Department, my initial goal was to have a system to track incident actions and trends and to over time be able to identify any recurring gaps between our expectations and performance so that we could address them through training or guidelines.  

It worked, but I also began to find that I also tracked what I had done personally.  Since on the scene I function as any other battalion chief would, where was I falling short personally? If I was the IC did I manage the scene well? Communicate well?   Did I miss something important in my size-up?  Did I have a mis-step with my PPE?  Was there an SOG I wasn’t fully up to date on?  In addition to tracking performance at the Department level, I quickly found that I was identifying gaps in my own actions.

What to track?  As much as you can I suppose…  As soon as the incident is over, I brain dump my thoughts into a note in a bulleted list – you can always come back later and add to it, or clean it up.  The nice thing about Evernote is that I can easily access it on my phone, so I can often start this brain dump while still on scene.  I’ll add a picture of the scene or any important action areas so I can recall the situation later.  If I was the IC, I’ll scan in a copy of my tactical worksheet.  Later I can attach parts of the incident audio.  

Seeing this information all in one place makes it easy to reflect on later.  As you build up a list of incidents, you can look back on them and see what keeps popping up.  Maybe your companies need to work on deploying more ground ladders.  Maybe YOU need to work on how to speak on the radio more clearly when wearing an SCBA.  One of the benefits of this system is that it’s private.  We’ll all naturally be a little more candid when we know it’s private – we’ll particularly be more honest about our own shortcomings.  And even that private acknowledgement that we have an issue will help drive us to fix it.

 The benchmark for a good job is not “the fire went out and everyone went home” – that’ll happen even if we don’t show up.  The details are what matter.  By tracking those details we can see where we need to improve.  Whether you are a backstep firefighter, company or chief officer, keeping track of your performance on incidents over time will help you identify where you can improve.  

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready | Posted on 18-11-2013

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Learning Moments & A Forcible Entry Challenge

One of the things we always talk about regarding staying “combat ready” is using every opportunity as a learning/teaching moment.  We have an opportunity on every routine run to look at the buildings in our response area and size-up their challenges.  This allows us to think about solutions in advance.  The more of these ideas (tools) you have in your brain (toolbox) makes it more likely you’ll have the “right sized wrench” to fit the problem when you encounter it in stressful conditions during a fire.

During a medical run on the engine is exactly when we noticed these doors in an apartment building.  Neither the gate or the door is atypical for our area, but the combination of the two inside the building is unusual for us.  These gates are typically found on either the front or rear doors of many of our residences, but to find them inside an apartment building with enclosed stairs is unusual.  The gates themselves are not difficult to force, they are secured by a standard deadbolt with about a 1 throw.  Under normal circumstances, setting the adze above or below the lock and first crushing up and down then pulling the fork end out toward the lock side generally opens these fairly quickly.  However many firefighters still like to approach these with a saw, which obviously would not work well inside the building under fire conditions.


 What adds to the further uniqueness/challenge of this combination is the swing of the gates.  You can see in the pictures that in two of the apartments the lock side of the gate is against a right-angle wall.  Think for a moment about how this would impair your ability to force the door… You may think you would still be able to set the adze appropriately and crush/gap, however these gates have a strip of metal that covers the gap between the gate and the frame when closed.  This can be see in the picture below with the deadbolt extended.  That strip of metal is as wide as the throw of the deadbolt.  It’s a weak piece of metal, but to defeat it you would need to slide the adze in from the far side of the lock side of the gate, and in this scenario the wall would stop you from being successful.  Further, even if you got the adze into place, when you went to pull the fork end toward the lock side the Halligan would quickly contact the wall, reducing your leverage and drastically increasing the amount of force it would take to open the door (as a result of moving the fulcrum).

So what would you do?  My approach would be the hinges.  I’ve found the hinges on these types of doors to consistently be a weak point.  There is usually enough space between the frame and gate to just place the adze enough without even striking the Halligan so that a gapping (up/down) force can be applied to the hinge.  This typically breaks the welds and maybe with a little outward pull on the fork the hinge is done.  Work from top to bottom, see the video below.


Rocket science?  Absolutely not.  When you see this in plain daylight and have a clear moment to think about the challenges and solutions, the door’s weaknesses are easily found.  But this is the importance of taking the time after routine runs, during on-the-air inspections, or otherwise to have a teaching/learning moment.  Talk these ideas out with yourself, your crew.  The more time you spend preparing for the fire, the better you’ll perform at the fire.


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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Tips & Skills, Truck Company, videos | Posted on 12-12-2012

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Check your Dance Card… Part 2 “getting closer”

Dance with me?


In part one of “Check your Dance Card” we discussed a few items to take a look at before we enter the fire building and start our dance with the “beauty of fire.”  In part 2, we will discuss a few more specifics that we should note as we enter the structure.  Make no mistake, a constant review of this Dance Card is a must for all members… take mental notes of what you see.  You’re going to want to come home from your latest “dance” and tell all your friends all about this “beauty.”

“Ok, let’s move” the boss said, after what seemed like an eternity to you.  The reality, it was only mere seconds.  We all know that reality is often suspended when you are out on the dimly lit dance floor.  You, you’re an eager beaver, and chomping at the bit to get on with this next .  Your Officer is more cautious; he’s been burned by this “beauty” before.  He remembers the sting of her touch, especially if you are caught moving too quickly on the dance floor.  He is trying to show you the patience required, but you are still rather wet behind the ears and excitable…

This “beauty of fire” doesn’t make it easy; she beckons you closer with her dancing flames and warm lustrous glow.  Again, the Officer reels you back in…one more review before we hit the dance floor.

As you enter the fire building…


Generally we have 2 types of tread design (on the staircase steps) and 2 types of staircases. They are either “Open” (having no sides, walls or doors at the top or bottom) or “Enclosed” (having sides, walls and doors at the top and bottom).  Open tread and open staircases allow the passage of smoke, heat and fire to the floors above and are not friendly to our operation.  Enclosed steps and enclosed staircases reduce the chances of fire spread in the building (if the doors are to remain in the closed position).  It may be wise to announce the style and type of stairs to other units as they arrive, so that they know what to expect.  This is of particular importance when in larger multiple dwellings or garden apartments and there are isolated, wing, or multiple staircases that serve specific lines of apartments (i.e. do not transverse the entire building).  “Ladder X to Command; we have enclosed wing stairs, we will be using the A wing stairs to reach the fire apartment.”



The presence of a “Well Hole” the space created between the landing section of the stairs and the run of the steps themselves can be utilized for quick hoseline advancement.  It must be rehearsed prior with the Engine Co. to achieve maximum effect.  It reduces the amount of hose needed to be humped up the treads of the steps and around each newel post (i.e. 1-50’ length can travel vertically 5 floors in the well versus 1 length per floor if going up and around each set of steps, newel posts and associated landings).  “Engine 22 to members, there is a well” should be enough to let the members know.



A quick stop on the floor below can get you a lay of the land.  If you bypassed the lobby and forgot to count mailboxes, count the number and note location of the apartments that you see.  Remember that depending of the way the stairs run (scissor, return etc), they may be slight variations in the layout when you get on the fire floor.



What may have appeared to be a fire on the 3rd floor from the street may turn out to on the second floor depending on the buildings configuration as it relates to the street level. Some buildings have lobby entrances that are raised above street level, which may change your initial fire floor notifications.  Verify the fire floor and announce the apartment number or letter over the air, so that those who may be going above can pinpoint the direction they need to head.

Open Tread and Open Stairs

Well Hole

Enclosed Stairs

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Company News, Engine Company, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics, Truck Company, Uncategorized | Posted on 22-02-2012

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FDIC 2012: 25 TO SURVIVE (Lecture)

**This week we are featuring a short run-down of each of the programs that our staff will be presenting at this year’s FDIC in Indianapolis**

Tuesday (Pre-Conf Workshop, 130p-530p) – 25 to Survive

25 to Survive

TT’s Lt. Mitchell and Capt. Shaw will co-present thier flagship program, 25 to Survive:  The Residential Building Fire.  This program highlights 25 critical areas that present themselves to operating forces at the number one fireground killer of civilians and firefighters alike.  They will present this engaging, interactive presentation will focus on pre-incident, operations and post incident operations.  They will give you street smart tips and take home drills to make yourself and your fire company better prepared at the next residential fire you respond to.  

Lieutenant Douglas J.Mitchell Jr., Fire Department of New York and Captain Daniel D. Shaw, Fairfax County Fire & Rescue:

Course Summary:  More firefighters are seriously injured and killed while operating at residential building fires than at any other fire we encounter. This dynamic and interactive lecture program will address 25 critical firefighting errors and issues common to the residential building. Learn sound tips and take home practical drills to address and correct errors at residential fires. Topics include combat-ready attitude, leadership techniques, SCBA confidence, overcoming building construction features (setbacks, long stretches), communication failures on the fireground, developing and delivering sound and accurate on-scene reports, coordinated ventilation, and more.


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Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Company News, Engine Company, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, Incident Command, line-of-duty, RIT / Survival, technology-communications, Tips & Skills, Truck Company, Upcoming Classes | Posted on 08-02-2012

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**This week we are featuring a short run-down of each of the programs that our staff will be presenting at this year’s FDIC in Indianapolis**


Join Dan & Doug as they present an engaging and interactive presentation on the most influential unit on the fireground – The Engine Company! As firefighters, we must be able to adapt to the environment we operate in which is changing every day. Some of the practices we employed years, weeks, or days ago may not apply to the fire you encounter tomorrow. Dan & Doug will provide a review of time tested and proven strategies and tactics along with new tips, tools, tactics for the modern firefighting environment.

Modern Engine Company Essentials

Captain Dan Shaw, Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue Department & Lieutenant Douglas Mitchell, Jr., Fire Department of New York (FDNY)

While the ultimate job of getting water to the fire has not changed, building construction, fire behavior, staffing levels, and much of our equipment have. This class will teach sound tactics and techniques for preparing and operating the modern day engine company. Factual hose and nozzle data will enhance the student’s knowledge of the new tools available for the firefighting arsenal. The instructor will provide a comprehensive and definitive blueprint to hoseline/nozzle selection and deployment and discuss the tools, tips, and drills that will work best in your fire department.


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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Company News, Engine Company, fire-rescue-topics, fires, news, Training Resources, Uncategorized, Upcoming Classes, Upcoming Classes | Posted on 06-02-2012

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Basement Fires and Training on Tactical Scenarios

Just search our blog here at Traditions Training and you’ll see how passionate we are about the hazards of basement fires. Basement fires are one of the top contributors to operations line of duty injury and deaths and like most things, we need to talk about our plan before we can expect to successfully execute it.

I was happy to get these pics from a friend this morning, a backstop firemen in Baltimore. Happy first because the topic of a battalion wide drill in the Baltimore City Fire Department was basement fire tactics. Also, this battalion training featured some of the training material from TT’s Nick Martin, as presented in several articles and at FDIC workshops.

Baltimore is no slouch on fire duty and to see them taking initiative to talk shop on basement fires with the crews on the street is both impressive and progressive. It also leaves little excuse as to why we all aren’t taking time to plan for tactical scenarios not just with the Chiefs, but also with the men on the streets. When we all know and understand the plan, we can understand better how we fit into it and ultimately execute our role more effectively.

Does your department pre plan operations for various tactical scenarios? Just another way to contribute to that “slide carousel” you may have heard us talk about….



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Posted by | Posted in Blog | Posted on 28-07-2011

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T-Shirt Give Away – Show us your COMBAT READY!

“COMBAT READY” is the cornerstone concept and belief behind our mission here at Traditions Training, and we want to see how YOU are taking it to the streets.  You’ve got till next Wednesday to show us a picture with explanation or a video of your best “COMBAT READY” concept.  We’ll send the top pick from each category a free Traditions Training t-shirt.  Here’s the deal:

  • Categories are Engine Company, Truck Company, Rapid Intervention, Personal Equipment, and Incident Command.
    • Personal equipment is anything carried on you individually, such as in your PPE.  The rest would be on the rig, policies, mounted tools, etc.
  • To participate you must “Like” our Facebook page, and sign-up for our mailing list below.
  • Post your pic with description or your video directly on the Traditions Training Facebook wall.

On Wednesday we will judge the submissions, choose the winners, and send you your swag!


Sign-Up for updates from Traditions Training!
* indicates required

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Posted by | Posted in Blog | Posted on 26-05-2011

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Traditions Training, LLC had another great month in February 2011.  We conducted several extremely successful hands on and lecture programs.  We had instructors write articles in this months editions of Urban Firefighter and Fire Engineering Magazines.  All the while, we continued to publish new tips/tricks on our blogs and Facebook pages…

March is now upon us and Fire Engineering’s FDIC (Fire Departments Instructor Conference) is less than 3 weeks away.  Our instructors have been tirelessly polishing their presentations and the Traditions Training, LLC staff is set to be entrenched there for most of the week!   If you are going to be at FDIC, come out to take a listen to what you have been reading here on our FB page and Blog, you will not be disappointed!  We are certainly privileged to be presenting several times throughout the week on various fireground topics.

Keep up with TT’s facebook page, as we will be trying to attend various social events throughout the week!  Let us know where you are going to be, we would love to join in sharing the great Tradition’s of our profession at FDIC!


Monday, March 21, 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

4-Hour Workshop:

Basement Fires
Firefighter Nicholas A. Martin, District of Columbia Fire Department
Basement fires are among the most hazardous incidents that you respond to, primarily because of delayed recognition and limited access. This workshop will discuss techniques for size-up and attack of basement fires, including considerations for the truck company, engine company, and incident commander. Learn about the hazards, size-up techniques to improve early recognition of the fire’s actual location, various methods of fire attack, the construction and contents of typical basements with the corresponding effects on fire behavior, structural stability, and tactical options.


Monday, March 21, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

8-Hour Workshops:

25 to Survive: Residential Building Fires
Captain Daniel D. Shaw, Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue; and Lieutenant Douglas J. Mitchell Jr., Fire Department of New York
More firefighters are seriously injured and killed while operating at residential building fires than at other building fires. This dynamic and interactive program will address 25 critical firefighting issues common to the residential building. The program will discuss the areas of preparation, response, and operations, all vital to successfully mitigating the event. Students will learn “street-smart” tips, tactics, and practical company drills to remedy the common errors encountered and allow the student to bring back more than just what they heard.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011
10:30 AM-12:15 PM

Modern Engine Company Essentials
Captain Dan Shaw, Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue & Lieutenant Douglas J. Mitchell Jr., Fire Department of New York
This interactive program discusses the most vital unit on the fireground, the engine company. Learn how changes in building construction, staffing levels, and new equipment have affected the job of getting water to the fire. Students will learn sound tactics and techniques for preparing and operating the modern-day engine company.
Room 134-135


Friday, March 25, 2011
8:30 AM-10:15 AM

Effective Use of Tower Ladders in Tactical Operations
Firefighter Nicholas A. Martin, District of Columbia Fire Department
Proper use of tower ladders in various fireground scenarios is presented. Topics include proper placement and deployment of aerial apparatus; integrating the aerial into the fireground effectively; and using the aerial in various scenarios such as gaining access, rescues, using elevated master streams, and performing technical rescue. Rear-mount and midmount devices and “ladder tower” vs. “tower ladder” are also discussed.
Room 238-239


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Posted by | Posted in administration-leadership, Blog, Combat Ready, command-leadership, Commentary, Company News, Engine Company, fire-rescue-topics, firefighting-operations, fires, In the News, in-the-line-of-duty, Tips & Skills, Training Resources, training-development, Truck Company, Uncategorized, Upcoming Classes | Posted on 01-03-2011

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Challenges of Building Height Differences

Most firemen are familiar with the concept that buildings may be of different heights in the rear than in the front – for example the 2 story house that is 3 stories in the rear because of the walk out basement.  This is an important operational issue.  It can effect what floor firefighters think they are operating on.  Confusion about this and miscommunication can lead to hoseline placement or ventilation in the wrong spot.  Many of us have only thought about this situation in terms of the building that is taller in the REAR and shorter in the FRONT.  But what about the opposite?  A fire the other night highlighted some of these challenges…

A “triple-local” (3E, 1T, BFC) were dispatched to investigate a report of smoke in the area.  The first in truck found heavy smoke coming from the 1st floor of a 3 story middle-of-the-row building.  The first floor was a church and it appeared that apartments/offices were the upper two floors.  Exposure’s B and D were both attached 2 story rowhouses (residential).  The box alarm was filled and as the 2nd due truck’s barman (forcible entry FF) my job was to insure that access was available for the 2nd due engine to access the basement from side C.  On the way to the fire I had heard the first engine report fire on the first floor of a church.  Coming down the rear alley I observed a decent amount of smoke coming up the stairwell (about 10 steps) to the basement.  From side C it was 2 stories and all looked like residential rowhouses to me.  After donning my mask and forcing the door, I made my way into what I believed was the basement.  Smoke was to the floor.  I assumed I was in the basement and with that level of smoke that there must be fire in the basement.  Then I encountered the officer from the 1st in engine who was looking for the basement.  We had some miscommunication because I thought we were IN the basement, which he was still looking for.  So now we had to search around and make sure that there wasn’t a basement, so we could verify that the fire had not come from below.

It took a few minutes to establish that we were both on the first floor.  What I had descended 10 steps to access from side C had been entered via the street-level on side A – we were all on the first floor, but from the rear it appeared to be the basement.  The B & D exposures were both 2 story row’s that sat up on grassy hills.  For the fire building, the grassy hill had been dug out and a full extra story built in. 

Nothing bad happened, so I apologize if this is all anti-climatic.  But it highlighted an important point – height discrepancies can be on either side.  Most of the time it seems like the rear is taller than the front, but in this case it was the opposite.  Had the fire not been more serious, this miscommunication could have resulted in some operational hiccups at least, or much worse…

Get out in your area and look at your buildings.  When, like this fire, you encounter something unique – SHARE IT.   If you find yourself in a similar situation, make sure that the reality of the situation is CLEARLY RELAYED TO ALL COMPANIES ON THE FIREGROUND.  And a great job to those on the box, good stop.

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Posted by | Posted in Blog, Combat Ready, Commentary, Company News, Engine Company, fire-rescue-topics, firefighter-safety-health, firefighting-operations, fires, Tips & Skills, training-development, training-fire-rescue-topics | Posted on 15-12-2010