Hook and Irons
History of the Term Fire Plug & Plug Ugly April 27 2016, 1 Comment
The term 'fire plug' dates back to the early 1800s, when water mains were made from wood. The fire department (usually volunteers) would head out to the fire, dig up the cobbles down to the main, then chop into the main so that they could secure the hoses from their pumpers. When finished fighting the fire, they'd seal the main with -- you guessed it -- a "fire plug." The next time there was a fire in the neighborhood, they'd dig up the plug and not have to cut into the main. Hence the term fire plug.
The first firefighters to put water on the fire were paid by the insurance companies. The competing local fire departments would often fight, coming to blows, over the privilege and the payout afterward. Engine crews, knowing that whoever controlled the water would extinguish the fire, would send the meanest, toughest, goons they had ahead of the pumper to guard the plug. Anyone from another crew who came near it would have to fight him. This is where the term plug ugly comes from.
Now-a-days firefighters have automatic and mutual aid. But we've never seemed to shake the competition and the rivalry created by our forefathers. And sometimes, I think, a little competition is a good thing.
New design for the old-school bent-nose brawlers
Report From Engine Co. 82 -- Rembering A Classic November 17 2015, 1 Comment
In 1972 Dennis Smith penned what has become the best-loved and most honest description of the American Fire Service. Written during the peak of the 'War Years', it shows the struggles, camaraderie, and the soul of the FDNY. The book is written honestly and plainly from a soldier in the trenches. It is approachable and engrossing. And 40+ years after its publication it is still relatable to every new firefighter that reads it. "Report from Engine Co. 82" captures that rare and unique time in the American Fire Service where a few men found themselves in between fire, violence, fiscal calamity and torrents of people in need. You can grab a copy here.
In early September, after reading the book (for the 2nd time), I contacted Dennis Smith to see if he would be interested in collaborating on a Signature t-shirt to commemorate 'Engine Co. 82'. I had never met Dennis and didn't know if he'd even write me back. To my surprise, he did and after a few conversations, he gave me the go ahead.
Dennis Smith stayed with FDNY for an additional 19 years after publishing "Engine Co. 82". In all, he has published 11 books and also founded Firehouse magazine. His career is storied and prolific. He is a spokesman and advocate for firefighters worldwide and a genuinely nice guy.
Currently, Dennis Smith is working on his biggest project yet. He is the founder of wavepeg.com. Simply put it is a community where emergency professionals can come together and share and find nearly anything in their field. Want to share a walk through of your firehouse? Post it here. Want to know about current events and issues affecting the fire service? Check here. If you have a moment, check out wavepeg and give it a look.
On a personal note, it has been a wild, great ride running Hook and Irons. Mostly though, it has been extremely rewarding finding like-minded firefighters who love 'the job'. But by far, meeting and talking with some of the people who have shaped the modern fire service has been the best. Thanks Dennis.
How To Lose Good Firefighters In 10 Simple Steps September 06 2015, 18 Comments
During my time as a firefighter, I have enjoyed the best and suffered the worst a firehouse has to offer. I have met some of my best friends and endured months with people I wouldn't trust out of my sight. With that in mind, I thought I would compile a list--an easy to follow guide for the dirtbag, to ensure that any good firefighters that bid your station or who are placed in your house will not want to stay. Just follow these 10 easy steps and you'll be sure to send those valuable employees packing and looking for greener pastures.
1. Don't eat dinner together. Crawl into the dark nooks of your firehouse and only come out to eat alone. Bring your own special vegan-soy-protein infused meals, separated into individual tupperware containers and stored in one huge collapsible cooler that takes up half of a refrigerator--and make sure to never share. Take turns in the kitchen, one at a time, cooking and preparing your own personal meal and eat by yourself while you scan your Facebook page dreaming of other places you'd rather be at that moment.
Eating dinner--breaking bread with your co-workers is sometimes the only chance busy houses have to sit and converse and to strengthen the bonds that good friends and firefighters have. Many of the problems I've had, have been put into perspective right there while we joked and laughed and took comfort in each others lives and stories.
Side note: If you have a special diet because you just have to get on that firefighter calender or you realized that gluten makes you weepy, then you can still sit and eat together. You can eat the part of the meal that is acceptable to you and supplement it with your own. The important part is that you make the effort and you see the value of a shared meal with some of the most important people in your life.
2. Do exactly what is expected of you and nothing more. Look and see who is doing less and who is getting more than you. See who drives the truck more than you. See who sits in the better seat at the dinner table. Make sure you show up right before shift change and whatever you do, make sure to never hold over.
These people are personal behavior accountants, bean-counting the actions and in-actions of all their peers. They can recall with absolute clarity what each person has or has not done. The problem with these types is they never put the magnifying glass on themselves.
Good firefighters understand that cameraderie comes when you are doing more than is asked, when you are helping your brother with the most mundane tasks and when you suffer, execute and surmount obstacles together. Trust comes after that.
3. Stop Training. Complain at drill time. Make excuses. Drag your feet. Whine and roll your eyes when you do the same drill again that you've been doing for the last fifteen years.
There will come a point in everyone's career when they get comfortable--when they feel like they've got a good handle on their job. And that is all well and good, but a good firefighter is always looking to be a little uncomfortable. He wants to be challenged. He wants to learn something new, even the smallest bit of information that may make his job a little easier and a little safer.
Training provides discovery. Training provides purpose. Training provides growth. You should always try to remain a student of the fire service. The day you finally graduate from the school of fire should be your first day of retirement.
4. No Recognition. No matter what happens. No matter what the new guy does, do not compliment him. Do not recognize the effort. He's just doing his job, right?
Verbal recognition is one of the only ways we as officers and we as peers can reward firefighters. We can't offer them monetary incentives or days off from work. We can't sweeten their retirement package, but we can tell them they did a great job on the nozzle, or that they blasted through that security door like lightning. A compliment from someone you respect satisfies more personal needs than we would care to admit.
In this line of work we often fail even when our efforts are outstanding. The house burns, the person dies, and there is no effort that could have changed the course of what happened. Sometimes the only way we can make it better is by recognizing the efforts of others (even in failure) and giving them hope that the outcome won't always be negative.
5. Micro-manage. One of my friends and one of the best drivers on our department was once told by his new chief not just to catch a hydrant, but 'how' to catch a hydrant at a fire. After the fire, the order that was given and the way it undermined his knowledge and his skill, bothered him so much that he gave up his bid a week later, citing that, 'if he is going to tell me how to do my job at a hydrant, then he can get someone without a brain to do it for him.' At the time, I thought the move was extreme, but later I realized that he knew that particular Chief would never trust his efforts and he would never feel happy with his work. That Chief has only needed two or three of these steps to lose almost all his good firefighters.
Good firefighters want to be given orders, but they also want to do it themselves. They don't want you to hold their hand while they do it. They want the opportunity to show you, 'I got this. Don't worry.'
6. Ignore Feedback. You're the senior man, right? You're the officer, right? If you wanted feedback from the junior guy, you'd ask for it.
When a firefighter notices something is wrong, don't just ignore him. When he tries to show you a different way to do something, don't just blow him off. If they want to try something new on an evolution or deployment try it out, let him discover what you may already know. Who knows, he might even be on to something and you may not only improve the evolution, but improve the cohesion of the crew. Sometimes the best you can do here is to provide a framework for them to try out their theory or suggestion. And if you do shoot down the idea, at least you took the time to consider it and try it out.
Side note: Regularly ignoring feedback is a great way to keep firefighters from speaking up on emergency scenes. If their opinions are not valued in the station, then why would they be considered during a time of danger? There are firefighters who will follow you knowingly into a bad situation because it's their only way of saying, 'he doesn't listen to me anyway, so I might as well let him f*** up.'
7. Be dishonest. Say one thing and do another. This is a fantastic way to lose a good firefighter. If you can't be trusted, there really isn't much more to say.
8. Do not support growth. Belittle your firefighter. Use training time to show how terrible they are when they make a mistake. Do not work to make them better. Don't let them act as officers and don't support outside education.
9. Sabotage the efforts of others. If someone takes on a project to improve the truck or the station, tell them 'they are all ate up,' or tell them to chill out, the department is not paying for that. Better yet, tell them they're wasting their time by going to off-duty training.
Photo Courtesy of Bill Noonan
The best firefighters are supporters. They are team players. Remember you're not always going to be 1st in. You're are not always going to be the guy carrying the baby from the burning building. Every football team only has one quarterback, but it is the effort and the support of the whole squad that brings the victory. The great firefighters are often the unsung heroes, the never-mentioned guys that made the fire go so smoothly. Take pride in that.
If you drag your feet when you're third due. If you belittle the efforts of the young officer putting on his first drill, then you're well on your way to getting rid of that great firefighter.
10. Disrespect yourself, your crew and your firehouse. When you're off duty, act like an idiot. Be selfish. Make the same mistake over and over again. Do something stupid and when you come back to work be stubborn and arrogant. Whatever you do, don't apologize.
Humility seems to be one of the most difficult things for a firefighter to cultivate. Maybe because we have to be confident to do what we do, but eating a slice of humble pie after your blow-up the shift before earns a lot more respect than pretending it didn't happen at all.
If you're looking to ruin your station, if you're dying to get rid of that motivated guy, and if you'd rather hide in your cube the whole day, follow these simple steps and you'll be well on your way to finding more people that are just like you.
A Fireman Gives Thanks November 26 2014, 1 Comment
This holiday, I've compiled a short list of things I am thankful for. Some I've taken for granted in the past and some I hold dear to me every day. These are in no particular order of importance:
1. The Halligan: Sixteen years into this career and I'm still amazed all the time at how Hugh Halligan created a nearly perfect tool. It's a step, a pry bar, a striking tool and I'm pretty sure if you're very careful you can use it to play vinyl records and remove splinters.
2. My Crew: I've been the bid-in Captain at Aerial 11 for a year and have been blessed to fall in with the best group of guys an officer could ask for. My crew is mature. They are seasoned and they are true professionals. They are the perfect mix of everything a fire truck needs. I've got a car buff, a grease monkey, a joker, a common sense guy, a straight talker, and a bulldog. Truth is, neither one is any of those by himself, but together they are all those things and more.
3. Coffee: This is my life-blood and is as part of my daily routine as waking, sleeping and eating. I am thankful for coffee. I am thankful for the Bunn coffee maker in the station and I'm thankful of the never-ending supply that is on hand. I'm also thankful that it's so good for you, because truthfully, how can anything this good be bad.
4. The Chief: This is something I had always taken for granted until this year. Truthfully, you can't appreciate a truly great chief until you've experienced a truly terrible one. Unfortunately, our battalion is on it's fifth Chief in 12 months. Most have been mediocre, one has been terrible and all of them have not hidden the fact that they would rather be somewhere else. So, to Chief Indy Morgado, Chief Mike Simon, Chief Danny Gonzalez, I say thank you. To the others, I say that you truly have done a disservice to the rank. I've got more to say about this, but I'll save it for a future blog.
5. The Federal 'Q': Really is there a sweeter sound to a firefighter?
6. The Kitty Burger: Many an afternoon, morning, and evening and late morning and early evening hunger pains have been cured with the kitty burger. Also known as peanut butter and jelly, it is the official power bar of the fire service. It is the protein powder for the guys that don't shave their arms and it is the perfect snack for firemen, because it can be prepared in under forty-five seconds and consumed on the way to a call. If you're looking for a light version of this sandwich, take one piece of bread--pb on the upper half, jelly on the lower, then fold. Kitty taco.
7. Youtube: This is a constant source of entertainment and education in the fire station. Youtube has done more to bring the fire service together than any other thing I can think of. It still amazes me that I can watch a fire from LA County, click a few more times and watch the brothers in Houston tackle some serious business. Then click a few more times and watch the Crazy Hot Matrix. Youtube has proven to me that firefighters across the country are largely the same--a little crazy (bout half a bubble off center), damn funny, and sometimes heroic.
8. Modern Fire Boots: When I started, we were issued the yellow martian moon boots--the rubber, guaranteed to slide off a roof, unable to leg lock a ladder boots. I thought that was as good as it got until I tried on my friend's Haix. Wow! I will never go back and I'm happy to tell anyone that it will be the best money you ever spend in the fire service.
9. The Firehouse Dinner Table: It has been said before in many places, but the dinner table is where stories are told, friendships are forged, lessons are learned, and the brotherhood is born. I am thankful for dinner with the guys. On some days, it is the only time we all get to be together. It is the place where I have had the most laughs and felt most at peace these last sixteen years.
10. My Family: I know, this one goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. You should feel just as sad to go to work as you are excited and you should be just as ready to leave in the morning as you are ready to hang for one more cup of coffee. You should know that while you're away, your spouses are juggling everyday problems that are much more frustrating, long lasting and difficult than any fire you'll ever fight. You are able to be who you are because of them and your success depends on their support.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I wish you all success, laughter, and fire. The ones you have to put out and the ones that drive you to be better than you are in 2014.
Tools Of The Trade - Birth of 'The Hook' November 25 2014, 1 Comment
Earlier this year while visiting a neighboring firehouse, I saw that they had displayed a very cool shadow box with all of the different knots used in our fire department. I really liked the idea and all of the other 'knot boards' I've seen. I thought that it would be nice to see a board with many of the different types of hooks used in the fire service around the country laid out in a 'knot board' style so the viewer would be able to see all the different variations next to each other. As far as I knew, I had never seen anything like this before.
The first problem was finding the right designer who would be willing to research and sketch the different hook variations and lay them out in an interesting manner. I chose Adam Weaver for this project because not only is he a very talented hand-letterer, he is also extremely talented at creating authentic and original illustrations. The only problem was that Adam is not a firefighter. He did not know how important this tool is to us or it's many uses. How could he feel as passionately as I do about our tools and our history?
Fortunately, I've learned that Adam is a life-long student of many subjects and after the Keys To The City project, I know that he relishes learning the finer details of a subject rather than the broad strokes.
First, we set out choosing which hooks to use. I tried to pick not only the most popular hooks, but ones that are unique to certain parts of the country. After we settled on the subjects, Adam got to sketching. We tried to never stray too far from the 'knot board' feel. I wanted the design to be educational as well as visually interesting.
In the end, I feel Adam created a design that is truly original and unique--a design that I hope most firefighters would be proud to own.
I want to thank Adam for being so patient and taking the time over these past months to learn so much about our world. We have become fast friends and I hope Hook and Irons can tempt him into creating more designs for us in the future.
As for me. . . Well I hope you guys dig all the care, dedication and time that went into this one. And, as I always say, 'Wear it with pride.' And this time, since we're offering a limited edition print, you can 'display it with pride' as well.
True Grit - Texas Born November 20 2014, 2 Comments
Being an indie brand and trying to survive out in the real world with the big fish has its own challenges. There is no way that Hook & Irons can compete with big apparel companies. We don't have the budget for advertising and we don't have the staff to do all of the things I'd like to do. My idea from the very beginning has been to reach out to other indie brands that I respect and admire, offer up a collaboration and see what comes of it. This way the little fish can swim together.
One of Paulvilles Great Tees
I have been a fan of Paul McCreery for about a year now. I found Paulville Goods in the same way most good things happen on the internet--as you're randomly reading and learning about something else. I checked out his site, read his story and ordered a couple tees. All hand-drawn by Paul, and all hand printed by Paul, one at a time in Austin, Texas.
Around the same period, I started to notice what a great following we have in Texas and I wanted to do a design that is Texas inspired. I reached out to Paul. We brainstormed for a while on some imagery and phrasing. A few days later he turned over the 'True Grit' design. Simple, bold and perfect for Hook & Irons, this is the first design in a series collaboration for us.
Pic of Paul inking the design
We chose 'True Grit' for two reasons. First is the obvious cowboy reference. Second is, I'm not sure there are two words that better describe the American Firefighter. We hope you like the design, and if you're looking for some other killer designs and unique gifts for this holiday season, swing by Paulville and pick up a couple of his tees. You won't regret it.
One of Paulville's latest tees
Birth of the Aerial Tee November 16 2014, 1 Comment
While scouring the internet and reading a historical essay on the San Diego Fire Department, I found a few photos that caught my eye. The first was a patent drawing By Chief A.B. Cairnes for an Aerial firefighting apparatus:
The second was a photo taken a few years later of the Aerial after it was constructed:
The aerial stayed in service with the San Diego Fire Department for the next fifteen years, and it's inventor, Chief Cairnes served as San Diego's first fire Chief.
Reading through this portion of San Diego's Fire History inspired me to make a design out of the patent drawing. The first obstacle was finding the right person at the San Diego History Museum to propose the collaboration. Next was finding the right graphic designer to make the patent drawing fit a t-shirt but still keep the heart of the original drawing in tact.
The final design is simple and bold. We printed it on three different colored shirts to give them each their own feel.
As with every Hook and Irons design, the purpose is to celebrate the history of the American Fire Service; the achievements and the legacies of those who have come before us with designs that are humble and clean. Much thanks to the San Diego History Museum for being such a great partner on this collaboration and to Chief A.B. Cairnes for his contributions to the American Fire Service.
A Brief History of the Pompier Ladder May 18 2014, 10 Comments
We're All Zombies, And the Assholes Are Winning May 01 2014, 7 Comments
I've been a little jaded lately--confused and distressed. I haven't been able to put a finger on the pulse of it. It's everywhere and nowhere. It doesn't feel like pressure or anxiety, or doom, or fear--just sadness really. But I'll hold off on that for a minute.
There are things I love with a passion. I'm no different than most of you and the older I get, the more I realize how similar I am to most of my peers. So my list is probably a lot like yours.
In order: I love my family to pieces. My wife and my children are my reason and my life. There is no stronger statement. Next, I love the fire service and my department. The feeling is not the same as the ones I have for my family, it's more like the feeling of possessing a valuable but hidden gift. Maybe like finding ten dollars in the gutter and putting it in your pocket--that feeling like you've got something lucky and special that chance and good fortune brought you. The only difference is the ten spot is always there. Every morning when you put your work pants on, and shove your hands in your pockets, there it is again, the feeling of it--the luck of it. It never goes away for me. I'm lucky to love my work, my job and my craft.
I love other things as well, but this is the core of it. Everything else depends on these two things for me.
So why do I feel the way I do today? Why do others tell me they feel the same in different ways? There is something, maybe an up-welling you could call it. Maybe a shift. There is definitely a change. Everyone feels it and no one can quite put their finger on it. I know this because I see good people all around me grasping desperately for it, trying their best to keep tradition, goodness, and the brotherhood alive. You can find them and their followers on outposts at the busiest and best firehouses and all throughout the internet, but it doesn't seem as if we're winning, what it feels more like is comfort knowing you're not alone, like maybe you've found some other souls that realize the ship is adrift.
This is the difference.
One of the many things that Dads can do for their sons is point out who the assholes are. I know my Dad did. We'd get cut-off by a driver with road rage and my Dad would go, "Look at that asshole." Or we'd be at a job site and he'd point to the lazy guy sitting by the cooler and he'd say to me, "See that asshole, sitting down while everyone else is working." Or I'd hear the stories about shitty officers at the firehouse, self-serving 'assholes' who didn't care about the guys or the job, and it was all very clear. You could see the jerk, you could compare him to the others and you had a viable example of somehow or some way that you shouldn't be. And as best you could, you learned to avoid these types and not become one yourself.
Now, with the internet, texts, e-mails, tweets, Facebook posts, audio and video recordings and every other immediate thing out there, the assholes are lining up, wreaking havoc, hiding behind their curtain and are never accountable to the face or name of the person they're slamming. They line up as virtual vampire armies to weigh their 'very important' opinions and suck the life out of someone. They get all the feeling of power without ever risking looking someone in the eye and witnessing the pain they cause. No, they get to sit with their crooked spines and downcast eyes and type the thoughts that mostly would be better locked up.
I was lucky enough to be hired before computers took over the fire service. I knew who the assholes were. It didn't mean I didn't respect them, hell, sometimes I respected them more because sometimes you have to respect the assholes that tell it 'like it is,' and are not afraid to hurt your feelings. Because the next time you work with them you wanted to be able to look them in the eye and say, 'yeah, I got it.'
The fire service was clear and it was easy. I loved the directness--the black and white of it. Do this. Don't do that. Do it this way. See that guy, he's a real POS, but he is the guy you want next to you on the fire ground. And the Chief, well he was the boss and he fixed things with just a few words and he stayed out of the guys way and when he asked for something, you jumped on it.
After e-mail and the introduction of electronic communication the fire service changed. I've learned and still learn alot to this day about it, but I've settled on some personal truths.
- Firefighters (at least the ones you respect) are the types of people who like to be told, face to face what you want--what you like and what you don't like. They want to be treated like adults and spoken to face to face, even if the news is tough. I'm not sure how they do it in the private sector, but I believe we are the last breed of an older generation that values actions and handshakes, slaps on the back and an atta' boy every now and again.
- Firefighters are generally terrible writers, that's why they carry axes and not pens. With that truth established it is safe to say that most firefighters should save writing e-mails and texts for those dire circumstances when they are unavoidable. I have found the e-mail to any one person to be almost completely avoidable and after learning a few hard lessons I now only write e-mails to groups to deliver a message.
- When a firefighter receives an e-mail directed at him and only him, he automatically gets defensive. We learn early in the fire service that anything written can be used against you later. So, a seemingly innocent e-mail is often interpreted quite differently.
- Leadership or management by electronic communication is a fallacy, it is often a joke and it is the laziest way to lead. Furthermore, it is almost always a recipe for failure.
It is easy to get sucked into the computer. It is easy to get drawn into the black and white of numbers and so-called 'accountability tracking'. It's easy to click the mouse and pass judgement, make assumptions and learn 'everything you need to know' instantly, but you're missing so much.
The reasons for the numbers and the numbers themselves all come from people that are still out there sweating and trying their best to make it work. They're out there struggling, making the best of the situation. Get out there with them, talk to them, ride with them, empathize with them, then be tough, be a jerk, be nice, be funny. Just don't be the asshole behind the curtain with the crooked spine and the downcast eyes.
Those guys have yet to fix anything.
101 Rules For The New Fire Officer April 18 2014, 18 Comments
I've gotten such a great response for the 101 Rules for the New Firefighter, that I've written a list for the newly promoted officer. I've compiled the list from personal experience and through reading and conversations with respected peers. Feel free to add to the list in the comments section.
1. Be calm. You are now the person who is in charge of keeping your crew safe. Your nervousness and excitement will never cause a positive response in those that are following.
2. Never ask a firefighter to do something you are not willing to do yourself.
3. A promotion is not a reason to stop cooking. You have not attained royal status yet.
4. Have your driver slow the truck down 2-3 blocks before arriving at a fire. This allows you to look for hydrants, visualize the scene, and slow your mind down enough to process what you're about to see and do.
5. A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. —Lao Tzu
6. Arrive to work at least a half an hour early. If your firefighters arrive before you, then show up earlier.
7. Make your drills meaningful with achievable goals.
8. Participate in your drills. You are not a general. You are a fire officer.
9. Admit your mistakes to your crew. They know you're not perfect. Don't pretend to be.
10. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way. — General George Patton
11. You will see evil. You will see senseless tragedy. It is your responsibility to help your crew cope and understand it. It will also be your responsibility to recognize when they are not coping well.
12. When mistakes are made, take the blame. You are, after all, their leader. Their shortcomings are yours.
13. When good things happen, give credit.
14. Always have money in your wallet. No one wants to wait for the guy making the most money to go to the ATM.
15. Only pick the fights you know you can win. Be decisive.
16. Don't be afraid to bend the rules to serve a greater good.
17. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. —Sam Walton
18. Empower your driver. He is your strong arm, your life line, your enforcer, and your confidant.
19. It's easy to say yes. A good leader knows how and when to say no.
20. Don't take the tools from your guys. Give your firefighters the chance to be successful. Guide them and make sure they are acting safely. They will be insulted if you take the tool and their chance to complete the task away from them.
21. Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems. —Brian Tracy
22. You are going to be criticized. Do what you know in your heart is the right thing and you will be fine.
23. Always work for the better good of the whole, not what is best for you.
24. Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers. They are people who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand. —General Colin Powell
25. Don't take shortcuts.
26. Don't be offended if you are part of a practical joke. Be worried if the guys don't joke with you at all.
27. Be approachable.
28. Remember birthdays, the names of spouses and the children of your co-workers--take an interest in their personal lives.
29. When knocking on a door for routine calls (EMS or otherwise) step to the side of the door. Many firefighters have been shot through the door by startled or scared occupants.
30. Learn to gauge the emergency effectiveness of your crew. Not all crews can perform at the same level.
31. Don't be afraid to ask a firefighter what they are bringing to the table.
32. It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership. —Nelson Mandela
33. Seek out the busiest trucks.
34. Leaders aren’t born; they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal. —Vince Lombardi
35. Empower your firefighters.
36. Observe your crew, their moods and their actions. It's not your job to make their bad day worse, but to show them a way out of it.
37. It's okay to joke and play jokes. It's not okay when those jokes are exclusionary or make the member feel like an outcast.
38. Have your own coffee mug, make it a big one and don't let anyone else touch it.
39. Don't get mad when they freeze that same coffee mug in a block of ice.
40. Just because you're behind the nozzle man on the fire, does not mean you are feeling what he's feeling. Trust his words and his actions. Sometimes he needs your confidence to make that final push and sometimes he needs you to recognize a change in tactics is needed.
41. Give your plan a chance to work.
42. Time becomes compressed on a fire scene. It's your job to mark time accurately.
43. The driver does not need you to hit the air horn and the Federal. He only needs you as a second set of eyes and as an occasional navigator.
44. Do not tell the driver how to get to an address. Do counsel your driver if he gets lost and does not ask for help prior.
45. The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it. --Theodore Roosevelt
46. Never underestimate the power of common sense.
47. Sometimes the smartest thing to do is man up, and muscle through it.
48. We don't work with calipers, rulers and levels. We work with hooks, pry bars and axes. Fast, efficient and effective is more important than exact and perfect.
49. Stay hydrated.
50. One of the most important jobs you will do on scene is control the tempo of the work that is being done. No one mentions it, but everyone feels it.
51. Wear your seat belt and make sure the guys are wearing theirs.
52. If you have pride in your truck and your station, you will attract like-minded people.
53. It's fine to talk smack as long as it's with your neighboring station. They need to know who the best crew in the battalion is.
54. Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be. --Ralph Waldo Emerson
55. Take a structural collapse class and read Brannigan's Building Construction for the Fire Service.
56. In this order; you take care of your crew, your station, then your department.
57. Every EMS call is a chance to study building construction and layout. It is also a chance to recognize hazards from the inside out.
58. Your job is to remove doubt and build confidence.
59. Attend at least one fire conference a year. It will help you stay current on the latest tactics and techniques.
60. For as hard as it may be, you can not let the failures of management, union, or contract outwardly affect your demeanor. Firefighters take a cue from their officers. If you are negative. Your firefighters will be too.
61. If time permits, take a power nap. You'll be thankful you did at 3am when the crew is expecting your best.
62. If your budget permits, buy leather boots and a personal flashlight.
63. If you are on shift for the holidays, it is your job to make that day special for your second family. Coordinate the holiday meal, gift exchange, family time and/or whatever the station needs to make that day the best it can be.
64. You are not expected to know everything, you are expected to be able to find the answer or solution for almost everything.
65. Do not undermine the chief, even if you disagree with his decision or action. Tell the guys that you will talk to him and try to find out why he acted the way he did.
66. Small disagreements should be handled quickly and decisively even if it makes you the bad guy for the moment. Small unchecked problems become larger ones without intervention.
67. Before you commit your crew to a dangerous situation, be sure you've done your best to set yourself up for a successful conclusion.
68. Never write a correction, counsel, or shortcoming in an e-mail, particularly if you can deliver the message personally. The most misinterpreted communications are electronic in nature. Body language, tone of voice, and the necessity of looking the person in the eye are lost.
69. Don't be afraid to write an e-mail to your crew commending them on a job well done and cc'ing your supervisor with the message. This is an e-mail that is always well-received.
70. Do whatever you have to do to stay on the good side of the mechanic. Bring him water and coffee, offer him lunch or anything else that shows him that you appreciate the effort he's putting into your rig. They will work miracles for you if they think you're worth the effort.
71. You should not do personal business on truck time. If you do, don't say no when the firefighters ask you to take them somewhere for personal business.
72. Don't be afraid to give the fire a dash from the outside if there is something delaying your stretch into the interior. It may allow you the extra time you need to get the job done.
73. In a word, the best quality a leader can have is integrity.
74. A good plan executed in the moment of truth, is better than a perfect plan executed too late.
75. A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. —John Maxwell
76. Always leave room for the aerial pieces.
77. Always talk to the police that spotted their vehicle in front of the fire scene. It's not their fault God didn't give them common sense.
78. Now you're in charge. The time for complaining is over. Fix the problem or do your best to explain why it's FUBAR.
79. Complaints go up, not down. Additionally, not every complaint from your firefighters is worth your time or effort. Sometimes they just want to vent or be heard. In those cases, just listen. Sometimes the complaints are personal in nature. Don't be afraid to tell them so. If you try to fix everything, you won't fix anything.
80. In the morning, look at the roster of the neighboring units, judge who is effective and who is not. Knowledge of that on a fire scene may help keep you safe or affect a decision you are trying to make.
81. Buy yourself a custom shield. You studied your ass off. You deserve it.
82. Sometimes great command is quiet command. There is no need to use precious air time on the radio just to hear yourself talk.
83. Make all radio communications clear and concise.
84. Watch fire videos. All kinds. There are lessons everywhere.
85. A new rookie in the station is a great excuse to go back to basics with everyone. Most firefighting skills are perishable and training the new guy or gal is a great chance for everyone to knock the rust off.
86. The rookie should never be drilling alone. You and the crew should be geared up doing whatever it is you are asking them to do.
87. The best leaders create a 'shared vision' that followers can rally around and share in the work to complete the goal.
88. It should be the officer's habit to place themselves at the most volatile point in whatever task they are undertaking; just behind the nozzle, on the roof next to the guy venting, or in the house doing the search.
89. If you are not automatically dispatched with the ambulance to shootings, stabbings, or gang fights, put yourself additional. They may need your help and by the time you get there it may be too late.
90. Strong book knowledge does not translate into strong leadership.
91. Read, Firefighting Operations in High-Rise and Standpipe Equipped Buildings by Dave McGrail. It is, in my opinion, one of the best textbooks for the fire service.
92. When developing your drill, never make more than one large thing that your firefighters have to imagine. For instance, if they have to imagine that the house is on fire and you are going to practice advancing hose, then you will lose them if you make them imagine a lost firefighter. You must actually have a lost firefighter in a structure to make the drill practical.
93. Repetition of one or two skills during a drill is much more effective than practicing multiple skills one time only.
94. Become proficient at communicating on your radio and with your crews while on air.
95. Make sure your firefighters know that on a fire scene you want to hear their observations. You also want those observations to be stated quickly and succinctly.
96. Whenever extending above grade or below grade, you should always have a back-up line in place.
97. Carry webbing.
98. The TIC is a tool, don't forget to listen to the fire, feel for changes in heat and to look past the TIC.
99. Be humble. It will allow your peers to cut you some slack when you make a mistake.
100. One of the most dangerous things you will do in the fire service is work a multiple vehicle collision on the highway. Spot your apparatus appropriately and always maintain scene awareness.
101. Don't spend too much time on the computer, there is usually a much more productive way to spend your day.
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Random Thoughts and Four Parallel Lines - By Leatherhead 109 March 13 2014, 0 Comments
I’ll allow I’ve been busy lately. Going back to school. Self-improvement, …or maybe self-destruction, …not sure yet. But I’ve had this topic on my mind for months and wanted to get it out to you. Pour a cup and sit yourself down…
Its been that time of year for us. Twice a year our department is afflicted with the new and uninitiated, officially referred to as recruits or “probationary firefighter.” I say afflicted, maybe I should say blessed. But the desire to drink the amber liquid is certainly strong during these times.
The process renews itself again and you are constantly bumping into the inexperience and confusion of the newly assigned probies on the shift. There is that temptation to growl and take a good size chunk the minute you lock eyes with them. Come to think of it, even looking directly at you, eye to eye irritates you, something in you wants them to just get out of the way. They get the picture quickly and give a wide berth. Some of that comes from our exhaustion of having to constantly deal with the new and uninitiated. And some of it comes from a belief that the new folks can never live up to those who have moved on. So, with a sigh perhaps, we pour a strong cup of the good brew and attempt to bring them up to par.
Lovin’ the job! I take every opportunity I can to keep them learning. Improving character is on them, but giving them the opportunities is on us. Photo by Author.
Where do we start? They of course go through the check offs and probie do’s and don’ts. But there is so much more than that. Especially nowadays. Sometimes we get those golden ones, those hell bent leatherhead’s that are on the move and practically were born with a fire helmet on. But that is getting rare. Most of them arrive having no idea what is expected. We need a vision to guide us in guiding them, a set of principles if you will. I speak this way because with all of the things that are bombarding the company officer on a daily basis, paying attention to the new jake on the rig is frequently becoming a lower and lower priority, whether the officer wants it that way or not. Time seems to be slipping through our fingers always.
Our rig slides to a stop in the icy lot, the air brakes hiss, with minimal verbage from me, the driver has placed the rig very well. Black smoke boils up in the air. I order a line pulled and make my way to the burning vehicle. Its got a good head of steam up, assisted by plenty of engine oil and a tire. “Bam!” The tire goes and now the exposure vehicle is beginning to suffer. Looking back, probie has the line on the ground, but only just so..Sighing, I patiently wait for the snarl to get worked out..I feel impatient. The pop and crackle ahead of me makes me think of the wall of spectators in the neighboring eight story building and that now-burning exposure. I feel a flicker of temper. Constantly having to start at square one with these people. Probie calls for water and the line goes to work. I direct the effort to save the exposure, the fireman on the irons does his job well and we quickly get results. All in all, not bad. We’ll spend more time on making the stretch in confined areas. The exposure has some paint damage and a melted bumper. Could have been worse.
Looking over at probie, he’s feeling the heat. Elated at having gotten his first fire, he’s also keenly aware that he made a disaster out of the his first-ever stretch. A dark thought dwells in my mind and the urge to lash out simmers inside me. In the past I might have torn him up over it, but I’ve grown old or something. I just look at him and smile a crooked grin. “Need to work on that..”
Its not that I’ve grown soft. And not that I am learning to control my knife hand or my drill instructor intensity. Nothing so noble as that. I think the difference is that I have become ever more convinced that it is ultimately my duty to not only see to their skills, but his or her whole being. If there is an issue there, it is my issue every bit as much as it may be theirs. But hidden in me, at times is a tired longing to just go kick back and say the hell with it. I could easily just adopt a different mode of operation: pull the lines myself, break the windows myself, force entry myself, put the wet stuff on the red stuff….myself..then go find the lazy boy and call it a day.
Some do so.
Sometimes I think it would be easier. I have certainly known more than one officer that preferred to do it that way and often they would just leave the crew at the door and take care of business themselves. After all, we are there to get the job done. I think this issue is as old as the hills. But that is exactly how my generation of firefighters found themselves without answers. Nobody took the time to show us. Some say that in the ’80s and ’90s they just lost interest in teaching the arts and reduced it instead to “Essentials” and certificates. ”If you didn’t learn it there kid, you sure as hell won’t learn it here…” I tend to think that there is some truth in that. The new generations truly seem to have general traits or lack them, so did the ones that went before us. That buck stops with these pinned bugles, brothers! But I digress.
Refining skills is a constant. Its is up to the company officer to foster an environment where they can be developed…”gain character”..Photo by author.
The probie. He’ll get it. Repetition, coaching, demonstration…”no, it needs to be done like this, not like that..its important, let me explain why..” Keeping to the basics. “Son, …you’re efforts at making coffee are lacking…you really thought I’d drink this?”. (I need to find that coffee check sheet that LeBlanc sent me). Demonstrating and communicating what we want to see is not one of our finer points as firefighters. We like them to learn by some sort of osmosis. But like I said earlier, just because this was done to us doesn’t make it a successful tactic when leading those behind us. We have this nasty habit of pointing out the poorer aspects of our new people’s skill and lack of craft, but how many of us are quick to don the gear and gloves, demonstrating our own prowess and skill? Sometimes I’m not the best at a basic skill. Either the bones hurt or I don’t perform it often enough. So along with the will to demonstrate, needs to be the willingness to be humbled from time to time. Especially as you get older. There’s that slip and fall technique on the ice, where you brush the snow off your knees and backside and say, “humpf…, yeah, I figured that’d be as good a place to lie down as any..” Its’ all in the presentation. And so the winter days go up here in the north.
But here is another nugget. The modern leader is also respected if he demonstrates that he or she is teachable and can absorb information and new ideas from the environment and from those they are leading. Today, studies of leadership in combat and other highly dangerous situations reveal that what causes respect for a leader, like other things in this fast-paced world, is changing. Specifically in how the leader is perceived by those being led. I’ll say more on this over other cups of Joe, but for now it is simply important to point out that of all the things that are important among those facing death or injury in combat, police work or even in the fire service, the leader’s ability to learn and adapt quickly to the changing environment is paramount. To put it another way, if you are entrenched in the methodology of your past and rigidly adhere to that knowledge base, you will grow stagnant in this fast changing world. And those you lead will not only fear your lack of ability to change and learn, but will not be as likely to follow you if they are given a choice.
Keeping yourself in a place where you can learn and be teachable is important. Uncomfortable at times, but important. Bob Pressler at FDTN. Photo by Author
Let me put it a third way. Talk all the talk you want. Bully and push, growl and mock. Once they begin to see that you don’t know what is going on, that you have failed to keep current in your own profession, this generation will lose faith in your ability to lead them and you will be left behind. They are dazzled by your sooted helmet and your bent bugles for a bit, yes. Eventually though, like we were at one point, they need you to present them with something of more substance. This is the failing point for so many of us.
If you’re reading this, you’re maybe getting a little tired of my rant and looking for my point. Top off your cup..
Maybe training isn’t the issue, but understanding what they need is..May I recommend adopting a stance of the Four Parallel Lines. Shall I explain?
Four Parallel Lines. They define who we are and what we do, and we lay them down continually. They are invisible, but very tangible. They are our heart beat, our knowledge, our craft. They are our heritage and tradition and our survival. They are there but we give them little thought. The recruit’s ability to see these lines and learn them makes the difference between a fire service with a well defined mission and vision, and one that is lost and wandering. Our job as company officers is to illuminate them…so to speak.
The first line is the body. Throughout our career, our body’s health and continual maintenance is essential. Without it, even for a short time, we are not ridin’ the red rig. The new folks have a much better foundation for physical health than we did at their age, but they lack application and temperance. With them its all out, all the time. Find ways to demonstrate and teach them pacing and moderation. Brute strength is not always best, I would much rather rely on someone who can go the long haul on a job and endure the job. The pounding our system takes just pulling a tour at the station is physically wearing. It may not show now, but it definitely shows as we age.
The second line is the brain. Constantly in need of growth and challenge. There is so much to learn, they really cannot afford to kick back and coast along. So even if you are time limited, fire something at them. How is that building constructed? What are the three priorities for hose placement? Explain to me what the UL/NIST studies are doing to fire tactics right now? What killed the Wooster Six, how about SFD in the Pang Fire? “What? You don’t know about the Wooster Six?” And …let them see you working your brain! If they don’t see you learning, if they don’t see you seeking answers, they will not have a model to go by. Teach them to seek out knowledge and understanding. Require much of them here.
The third line is character. New firefighters are constantly being taught skills and advanced or more experienced firefighters are constantly in need of refreshing these skills. Our skills, while dictated by our profession are really no different from other professions, they are essential steps in order to accomplish the task before us. If we were linemen or mechanics, would it be any different? But along with the skills, we are hopefully or should be learning character. Character is an intangible, which shows itself as we mature. Our character guides us in applying our skills. Another word for it might be assembling experience, which lends itself to helping us choose the right sets of skills for a given situation. This used to be taught on the job in the busy fire years of decades ago, but those days are fast disappearing and this character must be developed in training and daily fire house life. Character is largely developed over time and at ones own pace, absorbed from this firefighter and that officer. A continual process.
The Spirit of the fire service is lying a little here and a little there, all you have to do is pick it up and breathe it in. ©Michael Dick http://www.fdnysbravest.com/ Used by permission.
The fourth line, is the spirit. Spirit is loosely used to define the personality or consciousness of a being. A metaphysical concept. No doubt you realize I’m referring to the “Spirit” of the company, the house, the department, the fire service itself. You really cannot teach this. It has to be found, lying amidst the tossed and forgotten boots on the bay floor, the helmets on the hook, the tools in the compartment, the sound of the laughter and banter in the beanery and bunk rooms. A quiet cup of joe and a cigar out back on a summer night. The wail of the “Q” as your company leads in. This last line is the greatest gift that can be given to a new fireman. Its to be found lying about for anyone who has the ability to sense it, the discernment to take it in and the wisdom to use it to further the mission. It is who we have been, who we are now and most importantly, where we are going. Without it, this is just another job and sometimes they need us to help them become aware of it. Once again, the best way is to model it yourself.
Firewire 10/1 - 10/9 October 09 2013, 0 Comments
The Video to Show at the Station When the Guys Complain This is a video highlighting the struggles of the Highland Park Fire Department, which is located in the heart of Detroit. When you're guys complain about the station, or the rig, or running too many calls, show them this and realize that your situation is not as bad as some and is often better than most.
In case running Into Burning Buildings is not enough excitement for you. Here is a clip of a girl who thinks it's cool to swim with great white sharks. Great video, just a little thrown off by the mousy voice and the gutsy action. Either way, worth a watch.
Talking about gutsy, this is a pucker factor of 10 in my book.
Tesla Takes A Cue From the Politicians and blames firefighters for a recent auto fire which occurred after an MVC and originated in the battery compartment. Sometimes I get a little tired of being everyone's whipping post. Either way, electric cars are here, you better start preparing for them. Here's the article:
Stonework on Rochester Fire Dept. Headquarters.....Just cool.
That's all for now. Keep it safe, keep your eyes open, and try to have a little fun in the process.
Firewire 09/11-09/18 September 12 2013, 0 CommentsFor the Kids
I don't know if its because my oldest just started kindergarten, but I thought it an appropriate time to remind everyone who our biggest fans are. As long as they are on our side, the fire service will be alright. These are some hard, fast rules in my station:
- Unless we're about to run a call, we will stop whatever we're doing to show a child the truck, give them a tour or do just about whatever they want.
- Always wave. You just made their day.
- Always stop to talk to the curious child, remember that was you xx years ago.
Never underestimate the effectiveness of a smooth bore nozzle.
FDNY 9/11 2nd Alarm
Great footage and tactics of FDNY 2nd alarm. It's nice to see fire companies working and anticipating what the fire might do and not playing catch-up. Here is a good example of that.
As firefighters, movember and having the best damned mustache on the planet has become a near requirement. If we don't hold the standards high who will? So, unless you're hairy like an ape and you have 5 o'clock shadow by 10:00 am, now is a good time to start growing. Here's some inspiration.
Escape the Cold; Learn Highrise Firefighting
Of the many conferences that happen all over the country, the high rise conference hosted by CF Tactics is one of the few that seems like it will be an unforgettable experience. The instructors, the venue, and the location are all outstanding. And for you Northerners, escaping the cold for a weekend in P-Cola would be worth the price. Click here to read more about the conference.
In the Shop
We've restocked the iphone cases and in the key fobs are back and better than ever. Now, you can choose between four types of leather and brass or silver hardware. Check em' out.
Fireman Jim Flynn September 08 2013, 4 Comments
On February 13, 1917 Fireman Jim Flynn entered the ring with a young up-and-comer Jack Dempsey. Jim Flynn who had passed the height of his career charged to the center of the ring and quickly sent the Manassa Mauler to ground with a devastating right. Twenty seconds later, Dempsey was still trying to find his feet. Here is an account of the knockout.
'With Dempsey still bent over and walking toward Flynn, both forearms and gloves covering his face, Flynn rushed again. The Pueblo battler gave Dempsey's head a quick shove toward his right and sent a short right hand hook through Dempsey's guard and straight to the point of the chin. (Salt Lake Telegram)
Dempsey was down 10 seconds in to the bout.'
That quick, embarrassing loss was the only time in Jack Dempsey's storied career (66-6-11) that the future champion was ever knocked out and it was the highlight of Jim Flynn's career, a fighter who 'fought them all' but never earned the heavyweight title. For a time, Fireman Jim Flynn was the best hope of defeating the feared Jack Johnson but was never able to best the 'Galveston Giant' in three tries. Jim Flynn was famous however for knocking out aspiring contenders with such neatness that he became known as the 'Destroyer of Hopes.' Jim Flynn ended his career with 47 wins, 41 losses, and 17 draws.
Jim Flynn was born in Hoboken, NJ with name Andrew Chiariglione. He was actually of Irish-Italian descent, but took the name Jim Flynn for professional purposes as the Irish were some of the most devoted boxing fans at the time. When Flynn was a young man, the family moved to Pueblo, CO where he took up railroading and became a fireman for the Pueblo Fire Department and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Jim Flynn remained with the fire service throughout most of his boxing career.
While researching ideas, the legendary knockout of Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler combined with the workman-like boxing career of the underdog Jim Flynn inspired us to create a design honoring Flynn for Hook & Irons. Choosing the the designer was easy for this one. Steve Wolf specializes in hand-drawn art and works frequently with different sports topics. Additionally, he is a collector of vintage boxing artifacts and he seemed as excited, if not more, to bring this idea to life. As there is no poster for this event that we know of that still exists, we asked Steve to imagine a poster for the bout using the style of lettering and drawing that was popular at the time. We also asked him to draw his best rendition of Jim Flynn. The final design couldn't be more striking than the photo he worked from. We hope you enjoy the design and the small piece of history where the workman--the fireman--the boxer--the constant fighter--won one for the underdog.
The Last Great Fire of New York City - 1845 September 04 2013, 0 Comments
Before dawn on July 19, 1845 a fire broke out on the third floor of a whale oil store on New Street (located in lower Manhattan). An influx of early morning business and mild summertime temperatures might have aided in putting a quick stop to the blaze, but a warehouse located just a block away from the oil store was filled with a new shipment of salt peter (which is used in the manufacture of gunpowder). Fire spreading from the oil store extended through the warehouses iron shutters and caused, 'a series of cannon-like bursts of smoke and fire, almost like a volcano, smashing into buildings across the street. It culminated in a terrible final explosion completely engulfing the city block.' The blast was heard as far away as Sandy Hook, NJ.
The fire killed 4 firefighters (volunteers as the FDNY was not a paid department for another 20 years) and 26 citizens. Before the fire was contained and extinguished it destroyed 345 buildings and caused nearly 7 million dollars in damage. With all that devastation, the fire could have been worse. The Last Great Fire of NY was the the third in a series of horrific blazes. The first and second of which occurred in 1776 and 1835. The result of the first two fires was a change in building codes. All new buildings built in New York City had to be made of brick and mortar. This code and the newer stone buildings helped to slow the spread of the blaze and aid in its containment. The other significant aid to extinguishing the blaze was the recent completion of the Croton Resevoir which provided a steady supply of water throughout the conflagration.
Here is an excerpt from a witness account of the blaze.
". . .an immense body of flame... it instantly penetrated at least seven buildings, blew in the fronts of the opposite houses on Broad Street, wrenched shutters and doors from buildings at some distance from the immediate scene of the explosion, propelled bricks and other missiles through the air, threw down many individuals who had gone as far as Beaver Street, spread the fire far and wide, so that the whole neighborhood was at once in a blaze, and most unfortunately covered up the [fire company's] hose.... After this the firemen could with difficulty obtain any control over the conflagration."
When we contacted Ryan Brown from the Pursuit of NY, we gave him very simple instructions. We wanted him to create a design that was historically significant to New York's history. We wanted it to be a fresh, new look for a t-shirt. The rest was up to him. We knew the problem wouldn't be coming up with an idea, more honing in on one great idea. The Last Great Fire tee is the result of all his research. The whale represents the whale oil store that was responsible for the blaze. The whale is also drawn into a rough shape of Manhattan and the blaze escaping from his mouth is roughly where the fire started. Located on the top and bottom of the whale are map icons for the East and North River with an anchor showing north and south and the date of the fire.
The Last Great Fire of New York City encompasses everything we look for when we make a shirt--a design that stands alone on its own merit and becomes more interesting once you learn the story behind the design. Ryan Brown is one of the great talents we've come across since starting H&I and if you're looking for cutting edge designs from one of the hippest indie labels out there, you should check him out at Pursuit of NY.
While researching The Last Great Fire, I came across a mystery novel that takes place in 1845 New York and includes the The Last Great Fire in the novel. The Gods of Gotham written by Lyndsay Faye was one of Publishers Weeklys top ten Mystery/Thriller novels of the year. Lyndsay spent over a year researching the book before writing it and by all accounts is very historically accurate. Beyond that, I would recommend it as a very easy read.
The Last Great Fire of New York City changed the building codes in New York City and eventually played a part in unifying the fire service into what would become FDNY as we know it today. We're proud to release this shirt and recognize that from the ashes we rise and continue the mission of making the fire service better than it was before we found it.
Firewire 8/22-8/29 August 22 2013, 0 Comments
A mostly fire related, semi-occasional, mining of web type stuff.
This week we released 'The Bronx is Burning' tee and so far it seems as if you guys like the shirt as much as we do. If you're interested in learning more about The War Years in the Bronx, here are all four parts of the BBC documentary Man on Fire. Each part is about 12 minutes long and give a true perspective of the time period.
Doing all the research for 'The Bronx is Burning' tee, I've found so many great videos and pictures from the time period. Here are a few more that didn't make the cut from the original blog.
George Steinbrenner, left, gives manager Billy Martin a bearhug and congratulations after the Yankees defeated the Kansas City Royals to take the 1977 AL championship
And the last New York thing I found (I promise) is a very cool before and after comparison to places in NYC.
This is a very interesting photo essay. You can see more by clicking here.
Collab with Ryan Brown from Pursuit of NY
Our new Bronx is Burning tee was designed by Pursuit of NY. They are, about the coolest indie label I've seen in a while. Check em out.
Cool Stuff, you'll Probably Never Need
A homemade adjustable wrench for all you doomsday preppers who are always preparing.
Parting Thought That Pertains To My Frame of Mind During Most EMS Calls
Enjoy your Thursday.
The Bronx is Burning August 18 2013, 0 Comments
The San Francisco Ladder Shop July 17 2013, 6 Comments
As time passes, it seems to me that there are less and less of those things that signify what is great about the fire service. Technology, increased safety, innovation, and time chip away at some of our most beloved symbols. Some changes are for the best and some are not. It's hard to argue the effectiveness of a well placed and expertly thrown aluminum ladder. It's also an easy pill to swallow when they break and can be replaced quickly and cheaply.
But they're not the best for everyone. San Francisco Fire Department has stuck with the wooden ladder for many reasons. First and foremost, there isn't a city in the world that has more high voltage lines running overhead. The city is made up of very steep and very narrow streets that make ladder truck access very difficult. And finally, the wind that whips off the bay is nothing to laugh at. With all that said, San Francisco Fire Department relies heavily on their ground ladders. They need to be heavy and stable. They need to be non-conductive.
They need to be made of wood. And while they are not the only department to use wooden ladders, they are the only department the builds their own ladders.
Since 1917 the San Francisco Ladder Shop has been building, designing and maintaining all the ladders for SFFD. They are the only ladder shop of its kind left in existence--a true testament to how strongly San Francisco feels about its ground ladders. At about $100 a linear foot, the ladders are not cheap, but when they break, these carpenters and craftsmen just repair the broken pieces and put the ladder back in service. SFFD has ladders in service that are over fifty years old and work just as good as the first day they were put into service.
We chose The San Francisco Ladder Shop as our latest Signature Design because of everything they signify--craftsmanship, quality and tradition. SFFD. is rich in tradition and everyone knows them by their helmet markings and their wooden ladders. In my estimation, they protect some of the most difficult urban geography and the most challenging building construction in the country. They don't continue to use wooden ladders out of stubbornness. They use them because they are the right tool for the right place.
When we called up Tom Lane and asked him if he would be interested in designing a shirt that would honor the craftsmen of the shop, he jumped all over it. He knew that he would have to create something that was organic, natural and created by hand. When we saw the finished design we were so happy that we wanted to do something special with it. So we called a small local print shop that deals in fine art and had them make a limited run of 150 prints.
This has been a great project to work on. My favorite yet. We hope you guys like this design as much as we do.
Through the Lock June 02 2013, 0 Comments
Occasionally, we get inquiries about designs, custom orders, etc. We also get suggestions, and at-a-boys. We take all of these things seriously as we love hearing from all of you. Recently though, we were contacted by Brandon Link, a designer out of Pittsburgh who caught our attention with some pretty incredible ideas. What makes Brandon unique is that he is also a firefighter who works for Berkley Hills Fire Co. on Tower Ladder 247.
What was immediately apparent was that Brandon had obviously spent a great deal of time considering our brand, our style and our commitment to celebrating our great history. He offered up some great sketches and shortly after we had a great design that gives the K-Tool its due justice.
Link ventilating the second floor windows and opening the soffit for the hose team inside
Those that have used the K-Tool know that the ‘finesse’ approach, through the lock, is something that takes skill and confidence. Its usefulness is obvious when forcing commercial plate glass doors and when minimizing damage upon entry is a priority. The K-Tool was invented and patented by Lieutenant William McLaughlin (FDNY). McLaughlin was also a registered locksmith. Additionally, he worked in the South Bronx on 19 Truck. And later he became the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st Fire Commissioner at FDNY. His contributions to the fire service cannot be understated. Decades old, the K-Tool is still the most popular lock puller sold today.
From inception to final design
Example of K-Tool at work (ignore crappy hooligan)
Highlighting the K-Tool and showcasing the work of firefighter/designer Brandon Link is the type of project we’re always looking for.
Wear it with pride. Hook & Irons K-Tool shirt.
The Flynn Effect April 22 2013, 5 Comments
Much has been written in the journals and periodicals about the new generation of firefighters and how they are different from previous generations--not as worthy, not as smart, and more self-centered. We bemoan how they 'should be' and don't spend enough time getting them where they need to be. Certainly, at MDFR we have seen our share of questionable employees pass through our house. But I won't categorize the younger firefighters by their worst examples as each generation has its share of 'less than motivated' employees. Instead, I find most of the probies to be intelligent in ways that often surprise and sometimes humble me. And I have no doubts that tomorrows firefighters will be smarter than I am. But I do occasionally find them to be lacking and disappointing in ways that I've come to understand is a result of today's society.
But first let's talk about how they're smarter:
James Flynn is a researcher from New Zealand who discovered and coined The Flynn Effect. The Flynn effect is an explanation for the steady rise in IQ scores from generation to generation. He contends that the rise in IQ scores proves that this generation is more intelligent than the generation before and so on and so on. The effect is caused by each generation growing up with the increased benefit of looking at the world with 'post-scientific' spectacles. We classify, we analyze and we think more abstractly. In general, according to Flynn the rise in IQ scores is largely due to increased reasoning skills. Those increased reasoning skills allow us to solve more complicated problems than the previous generations. Additionally, more time is spent on mental pursuits than ever before. Proof is in the internet, the video games, the tv, the fantasy leagues and so forth.
And I can buy all of this. I believe James Flynn and hope he is right. I want my son to be smarter than me and I want him to benefit from the research and work of my generation. In the station, what I observe from my young guys allows me to generally agree with the Flynn Effect although as a good Captain, I will never admit that any of them are smarter than I was at their age. I can say I honestly spend very little time explaining the ideas of fire growth or the incident command system. These concepts and the importance of understanding them seem clear to most of the young guys. In fact, these are the things that most of the young guys cling to and quickly understand. I can also say that most of them can reason through tactics and strategy scenarios as well as most of our experienced chiefs. These are the areas that truly impress me.
The problem in the fire service right now is something I'll call the 'Y Gap'. I call it the 'Y Gap' because this is the generation that seems to suffer the most from this problem. The 'Y Gap' is, the distance between intelligence and physical skills. If the distance is short, you probably have a good firefighter on your truck. The good firefighter is intelligent, shows good foresight and has good hands-on skills. They can swing an axe, work a saw and don't buckle with the fear of heights. Additionally, they know when to put these skills to use. The 'gap' that I see is an increase in intelligence and a decrease in physical ability. Many of our recruits have never mowed a lawn, changed their own oil, worked a chainsaw, or swung a hammer. Instead, they pay someone to mow their lawn, change their oil and if they need to nail something they use a nail gun instead. We receive these guys without the base knowledge of mechanics and form used to do so many things on the fire ground. This is the area that most of the new guys suffer and the area that the academies do not focus on. So we get guys who can tell us the phases of fire, but have no idea what a two stroke motor is.
The answer is to go back to the beginning--take your probie to the saws and teach them why it's a two stroke engine and how it works. Then, let them cut scrap metal until they look like their not scared of the saw anymore. After that, challenge them to make cuts of increasing skill and so on until they know the saw well enough to cut any material in any fashion you ask. None of this takes intelligence. None of it takes reasoning or analytical skills. What it takes is form and practice and with enough of it you gain muscle memory--and with muscle memory you gain skill. And that is why I will always respect the old guys like my dad, who, while driving to a fire years ago felt the truck die to an idle at his feet. He popped the cab, saw that the throttle spring was gone and replaced it with a piece of the elastic chinstrap on his helmet. He made it to the fire (was last in) but he made it. And he made it there because he has common sense and grew up working on cars and performing a lifetime worth of manual labor.
So, if you are one of these new guys, I suggest you start changing your oil, mowing your own lawn, digging out your own stumps even though your intelligence and reasoning skills might tell you that there is an easier way to get it done. You never know, it just might save your life one day.
101 Rules for the New Firefighter April 10 2013, 90 Comments
1. When working at a new house for the first time, shut-up, work hard, and pay attention. I can promise you that everyone is paying attention to you.
2. The young firefighter knows the rules, but the old one knows the exceptions.
3. Let the tool do the work.
4. Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.
5. "Twenty-five years from now you will be more disappointed by the the things that you didn't do than the ones you did."
6. Don't make a scene and never disrespect your brother.
7. Never take the seat that faces the television when sitting at the dinner table.
8. When in doubt, take a halligan.
9. Two hands. Two tools.
10. Never claim to be what you're not. Time reveals all things.
11. If you don't know what you're doing, say so.
12. When approaching a fire scene, it is imperative to slow down three blocks before arrival.
13. Suck it up.
14. You shouldn't worry when the guys make fun of you. You should worry when they don't say anything at all.
15. Give Credit. Take the blame.
16. Never turn your back on the fire.
17. When things go wrong, don't go with them.
18. Always show up to work at least a half-hour early. There is no better gift you can give to guy or gal your relieving.
19. Never trust the hand lights on the truck. Buy your own.
20. Don't gloat. Don't brag. The guys will do it for you.
21. Take pictures often.
22. Seek out the busiest units and the best officers.
23. Drink coffee.
24. Don't tell war stories to non-firefighters. No one thinks its as exciting as you do.
25. Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.
26. Don't be so eager to get off probation. The time you spend riding backwards will be the most fun you have in your career.
27. Never be the last one to the truck, or the sink.
28. Be the last one to bed.
29. Don't be afraid to fail
30. Drill. Drill. Drill
31. Never respond to criticism in an e-mail.
32. Surround yourself with smart people.
33. Maintain a healthy fear of this job.
34. Stay committed to being a life-long student of the fire service
35. Share your ideas and observations. You never know it could save someones life.
"I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow."
36. Learn to cook at least two great meals.
37. Read John Norman's book, Fire Officers Handbook of Tactics
38. One fire sticker on your car is more than enough.
39. Don't complain about how many calls you had last night. No one cares. Least of all, the people that are working 9 to 5 jobs while you're napping.
40. Have pride in your department, but more for your station.
41. Be precise.
42. One of the best ways to learn is to teach--even if its teaching what you just learned.
43. Don't panic.
44. Befriend the driver. You won't get anywhere without him.
45. Go down fighting.
46. If you're carrying more than one knife, you're a moron.
47. Be careful what you put on paper or e-mails. You can't take it back.
48. Don't scribble in the logbook.
49. Learn how to swim. You don't want to be the guy that can't go near the water.
50. When you're a guest at a house (on overtime or just there for the day), follow their rules.
51. Offer to help before you are asked.
52. The phone and the doorbell are always for you.
53. Just because you have the uniform, that doesn't make you a firefighter. . .It just makes you a city, county, or government employee. Your peers will let you know if you're a firefighter or not.
54. When spending money, good quality leather boots are always worth the investment.
55. Never call out sick on a drill day.
56. If you don't have kids, Christmas is not as important to you. You should not be asking for the day off.
57. The one true measure of a successful shift is returning home safely.
58. Don't date a co-worker.
59. Carry two wedges and 20' of webbing.
60. You will find no better camaraderie than in a firehouse
61. Don't talk about the other department you worked for. No one cares.
62. Participate in a good practical joke.
63. Introduce yourself. Don't be offended when you're not remembered. You're not memorable--yet.
64. Treat your body well. You'll be glad you did.
65. Always have $20 in your wallet. No one wants to take you to the ATM.
66. Learn your territory. Know it like the back of your hand.
67. When you are out in public, never criticize your own department. You can make up for lost time on your next shift.
68. Take the stairs.
69. Don't show off. Impress.
70. When using a power saw, patience, form--not strength are needed to make the cut.
71. Choose the right blade.
72. Fire is always changing and you cannot be stationary in your attitude to something that is always changing.
73. Never criticize a fire or a call unless you were there yourself.
74. Don't wear your fire t-shirt to the gym unless you plan on giving mouth to mouth. Trust me, its never going to be the 18 year old co-ed with sweatpants that read, 'juicy' across her butt.
75. Be patient with the ER staff. They can't help that they chose such a miserable career.
76. Dorms are for sleeping. Turn the tv off and hang up the phone.
77. Don't go cheap on the ice cream and the coffee should be from Dunkin Donuts.
78. Courage is not the lack of fear, it is acting in spite of it.
79. You are what you do. Not what you say.
80. One of the most difficult and dangerous things to do on a fire scene is backing a truck up.
81. Pace yourself.
82. A fellow firefighter who is not willing to share their knowledge is suspect.
83. Avoid gossip
84. The common sense approach is usually the best way.
84. Stick to the plan. You haven't been at it as long as you think you have.
85. Follow instructions.
86. Read John Mittendorf's book Truck Company Operations.
87. Attend fire conferences. You'll see that your department is not the center of the universe and there are other guys that are already doing it smarter and better than you are.
88. Be the guy that everyone has to say, " take a break. You're making us look bad."
89. If your department allows it, invest in a leather helmet.
90. Always look up and around and read Brannigans book Building Construction For the Fire Service. If you can't make an educated guess as to how a building will perform under fire conditions, you are putting yourself in danger.
91. Demand more from your officer.
92. It is a good idea to carry a multi-tool.
93. Never defend the liar, the cheat, or the thief.
94. When your officer tells you to take a nap, it's not a joke or a trick. He wants you to be worth a damn at 3am.
95. You don't clean a seasoned cast iron skillet with soap and water.
96. Shaving your arms is not cool. It's a good way to contract MRSA.
97. I'll take the chubby firefighter that can work all day over Mr. February who has to eat six meals, drink three protein shakes, and is no good to me after one tank.
98. Always eat dinner with your crew. Your diet is not as important as family.
99. Never ask the guys to lie to your spouse when he or she calls the station.
100. When it's your time to drive, always remember that you're now responsible for all the lives in the truck.
101. The day you show up to work hungover, or sleep deprived is the day everyone is going to need you.
I've actually got more than 101, but I thought I'd like to see if anyone has anymore. That's all for now.
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The Decisive Moment April 05 2013, 2 Comments
To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.
In photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson used to speak of the decisive moment. The moment when all things come together within the frame of a viewfinder to make the perfect photo. That same moment, if not acted upon that passes and is gone. Afterwards, the geometry, the expressions, the light never come together in the same way again. The decisive moment refers to the single critical split second in which an event or experience culminates. The term also seems to define photography itself as a medium. It is the pause button to life around us. One frame equals one moment.
In the fire service, every fireman throughout their career will receive at least one chance to act--one chance to make a life changing difference in someone's life. The decisive moment will come and no one will be able to say when or where that moment will come. You can work the slowest truck and pray to be left alone, but over the course of twenty-five years rest assured the decisive moment will find you.
After the moment passes, you will remember it in one of three ways:
First, that you captured the moment because you had spent your whole career preparing for it--that there was nothing more you could have done. The concepts and the skills required to act in that moment had been rehearsed so many times that you didn't even have to think on that day.
The second way you will remember the decisive moment is to feel fortunate that you were able to guess and choose the appropriate thing to do and luckily everything turned out alright. Perhaps you were fortunate to be with someone who knew how to act during that moment.
Finally, the way I hope none of you remember their 'decisive moment' is with shame and regret, pushing it to the farthest confines of your mind hoping to forget it because you had not done all you could to prepare for that day. You dreaded drill time. You hid from the busy houses and chose to bid the slowest trucks regardless of who the officer was.
Our Lady of Angels School Fire
In the end though, we can't always control the outcome and sometimes our best preparations and efforts go unrewarded and unnoticed. But when the decisive moment comes and your mind captures that one image that will live with you forever, what will you think when you look back on it?
I hope you will say, 'I was there, I was present and I did all I could have done to prepare for that day.'
Chris Dilley, Airman, Photographer, Firefighter March 25 2013, 2 Comments
I'm constantly trying to find the positives in our, 'have it now', 'everything is news,' electronic world that we all live in. The negatives of our virtual world are glaringly obvious. Posts of the dinner you shared with your girlfriend and the endless recounts of the daily workouts are certainly the most mundane and negative outgrowths of Facebook and Instagram. The electronic monitoring of our friends and acquaintances seems excessive and at times obsessive, but there are positives and here is one opportunity I would never have had without Facebook.
Shortly, after Brian and I launched our company, we got a shout out from Chris Dilley, a Florida firefighter and a veteran who was deployed with the 165th Airlift Wing out of Savannah, GA--working overseas in support of the troops. Being friends with Chris on Facebook, I was able to see his occasional status updates and his stunning photos. I've still never met Chris in person, but those posts helped me to feel and see, even if only partially, what he was doing overseas. We kept in touch and when he returned I asked him if he would share a few photos with Hook & Irons Co. documenting his time there. The attached photo essay is a revealing glimpse at one of the cogs that make the military machine run. Chris, thank you for the photos.
I am assigned to the 165th Airlift Wing in Savannah Ga, part of the Georgia Air Guard, but we were there with Reno, Nevada Air Guard and active duty & Air Force reserve from Wyoming & Colorado.
Maintenance. Fixing an issue as troops board the aircraft to move around the war zone.
A very low shot of a Reno C-130.
Myself & MSgt Tim Kraus flying to Iraq.
Tim and I, Baghdad airport control tower in the background.
Baghdad International Airport, Iraq.
Destroyed armored vehicle. We believe that this was a Iraqi BMP vehicle that was destroyed during the first Gulf War circa 1991.
Shop photo of the electricians.
Photo of me inside one of our C-130's. I volunteer with the Orange Park Fire Dept (they are a 1 station dept in the middle of Clay County). The fellas sent me some stuff while I was deployed and a few dept stickers, which I placed in random places. If you look on the overhead you can see the dept sticker.
The USO tour brought the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders out for a visit before Christmas.
This is what a empty cargo bay of a C-130 looks like. I took this one at night with a long shutter exposure.
What its all about. Loading supplies for the war effort. This is a typical day for us, a few pallets of gear and some passengers to move into & around the war zone.
This is a shot of some night maintenance on the #4 engine. Portable light carts used everywhere for night lighting. The guy in the far left of the image is MSgt Tim Kraus, a full time guardsman and a volunteer firefighter buddy of mine. He volunteers with Bulloch County, Ga.
This C-130 is from Wyoming. It's one of the MAFFS modified Hercules that is tasked in the summer with aerial firefighting out west. This aircraft was airborne on 9-11 and flew blood and other medical supplies from the west coast to NY after the terrorist attacks. It's nose art is slightly weathered, but it's still pretty moving.
A rare creative moment that I shot of a worn prop with the state markings in the background.
I bummed some USAF bunker gear and went into the burn building for a round of interior fire photos during a training burn. Felt like a baked potato. The photo next to it is not a typical sky. I had to capture that rarity.
On the Importance of Following March 03 2013, 4 Comments
"Every hour spent on the Caine was a great hour in all our lives-if you don't think so now you will later on, more and more."
-Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny
On New Years Eve when my wife asked me what I resolved to do in 2013, I could only reply with a shrug of my shoulders and silence. You see, any statement made to my wife would be remembered. She is that uncommon person who actually keeps her resolutions, working at them doggedly until she succeeds at them--all of them. So, when she asked me, I knew I would be held accountable. She would remind me later, if only in a joke, how quickly I had forgotten my resolution.
So the New Year came and went and I hadn't resolved to do a damn thing. Sure, I want to lose weight, work on my fitness level, strive to be a better Captain, but I do that constantly (not always successfully). I thought about leadership and my constant struggle with it. When you become an officer in the fire service, you are constantly judged, but if you care about the job, there is no harsher critic than yourself. Without fail, I spend most of my first day off analyzing the previous shift and questioning where and how I could have done better.
Leadership is key. There have been volumes written on the subject. There are thousands of inspiring quotes and there are hundreds of pages in the fire journals written by men that are masters of their craft and there are examples everywhere of heroes who have led men under the most trying circumstances.
I thought about this on my drive to work throughout January and into February (still no resolution). 'Maybe I'll truly focus on my leadership skills.' I thought about this as I listened to The Caine Mutiny, an audio book Christmas gift from my family. The book is gripping and powerful. It is no wonder that it is considered one of the best novels of the twentieth century. The Caine Mutiny is the story of four Captains of the USS Caine as they steam through WWII sweeping for mines and protecting larger, more important and newer ships in the fleet.
To be certain, as the title suggests, there is a mutiny. But by the end of the book it seemed to me that this was not simply a book on leadership styles—it’s key qualities and it’s shortcomings, it was a book about following. It was a book about lack of faith and lack of discipline.
The book and some uninspiring events and fires in the recent months have led me to think about this idea—the discipline to follow, that most unglamorous trait that seems to be endangered and near extinction in our society. The discipline to follow even when you don’t agree is dying and nearly dead. In the past we could subvert our disagreements because we believed in the greater good and we believed in the machine that kept us safe and prospering. This discipline is what wins wars and builds businesses and empires.
Firemen are filled with ideas, better ways of doing a job, and we are fantastic critics with the hindsight of prophets and the logic and common sense of arm chair quarterbacks.
I am no less guilty.
I have muttered curses and gone on tirades that are worse than the ones I have witnessed by my peers. I have thought, ‘we should’ve done it this way,’ or, ‘this would have made more sense,' but at the end of the day I am not in the Chief’s position. I do not have the view from the mountain top and I am not aware of all the things that led to the decision they made at any particular moment.
Therefore, the best I can do in moments like these, is simply, shut-up. Close my mouth and do my job. Trust that even if the mechanics of the thing, and even if the outcome are not as I would have done it, that our bosses are working with the same goal that I am. And that is, to help as many as possible and to bring home safely those for whom I’m responsible.
So, going into March, a whole three months late on my resolution, I resolve to have more faith in those that are charged with my care. Even if I believe they are misguided. Even if they are unmotivated and they display all the traits of Captain Queeg. I resolve to do that most difficult of things: I will have faith that even if they may not be the ‘right man for the job,’ they are in that position now and at the root of it all we both share the same goal. And that is to keep each other safe and to bring a successful conclusion to each and every tour.
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