Hook and Irons
The Original New Yorker - The Birth Of The Modern Fire Helmet April 22 2019, 0 CommentsThe modern fire helmet as we know it was invented by H.T. Gratacap, a luggage maker from New York City.
Dear Chief, A Letter From the Guys July 05 2018, 12 Comments
This is a letter from the guys. It is full of suggestions and reminders of things you may have forgotten or things you don't think we notice. It is written with the knowledge that we are not supposed to know more than you. We are not supposed to be presumptuous enough to tell you what to do. And we are not supposed to remember how you were when you were one of us. But, before we dive into this, it is written with the hope that you realize that all great leaders lead with the knowledge that those who follow are watching everything. You may preach what you want, but we follow the highest example, and that is supposed to be you.
You were not always a chief. We know who you were when you were one of us. And this can work in one of two ways--some people transition to chief very smoothly because they have spent their careers searching for the busiest houses, training when no one wanted to, but also training when everyone knew it was good for them. More importantly, these chiefs have already earned reputations as officers who take care of the guys on their truck, and in their station.
The other chief is the one who uses his badge to legitimize his power and pretends that the badge should be good enough regardless of the reputation they had earned prior to promotion.
Some people are thrust into positions of leadership. Most ask for it. For those that are thrust into these positions a certain amount of forgiveness and empathy is expected from those that follow. But we are not at war in the fire service and the majority of chiefs choose their career path. Very few receive field promotions.
Photo Credit: Michael Dick
The place you can make comparisons to the military is how you performed in battle during your career. Did you lead from the front? Were you aggressive? Or were you timid? Whatever you were, you will have a hard time demanding something different from your firefighters and still maintaining their respect.
Your Current State
Do you still put your gear on? Do you risk the embarrassment of being rusty in front of your firefighters to retain the knowledge of what it feels like to be the firefighter you are commanding? Performing one of the evolutions on a drill as a firefighter is just as symbolic as it is educational. It says without saying a word that the drill is informative, not punitive. It says that you are willing to work with and get dirty with them.
At the dinner table, do you demand to be treated as royalty, or do you set aside your privilege? I had a chief once who was difficult to work for. He was demanding and direct. He lacked tact and was quick to snap you back in line. He was a great strategist and tactician on the fireground and was absolutely unforgiving of those who were not prepared. He was, as my wife would say, 'a pill.' But once a month, without fail, he would cook for us, and when dinner was ready, would make us sit and serve us our meals as if he was our waiter. Then he wouldn't sit until we were all served and eating. And he wouldn't take a dime from us for the meal. That simple gesture still affects me whenever I think about it. The symbolism of it and the statement--the act of selflessness was his way of showing us how much he respected our hard work. Even though, in many respects, he was 'A Pill,' he turned us into a great battalion and I still miss working for him.
Conversely, after that chief retired, I was cursed for a short time with a chief who stayed in his office all day, never attended any company drills, would not eat with us, and would only communicate with us via e-mail directives. He was lazy and a coward. He acted as if "The Fire" would never come and was the definition of a 'copy' chief on the fireground. What's a copy chief, you ask? A copy chief is an IC who does not drive the action on the fireground but simply says 'copy' to every units self-directed action and suggestion. He was, in short, the next worse thing to freelancing on a fire scene. When, after two months, the battalion turned on him, the mutiny was quick, painful and ended with him leaving the battalion that everyone but him loved.
Photo Credit: Michael Dick
Your Future/Your Legacy
There will come a point in your career where you will think more about what you will leave behind rather than what you hope to do. On our department, it is a tradition to do a last alarm for every member's last shift before retirement. The recall is sounded at every station. The dispatcher then reads a canned thank you message and the air is cleared for members to wish you well in retirement. To me, there is no greater statement on ones career, then the air being filled with well wishers--coworkers, friends and peers, sending you off to retirement with kind words. Some thank yous have gone on so long that they interrupt emergency calls that are pending. And yet, there are a few that are followed with a terrible silence or an off colored joke. Afterwards, the fire alarm office gives you the recording as a gift and what an awful gift it must be to those self-serving people who have put themselves above others for 25 years.
As a chief, I ask you, how do you want to be remembered? Will you be remembered as the tyrant, the lazy S.O.B., or the miserable selfish chief who everyone loathed? Will they tell stories of how they survived your incompetence on a fire scene and your hatred of the fire service? Or will the firefighters who worked for you, pass on the highest compliment that can be bestowed: "He was great. He took care of us." And, "He was for the guys. Always."
The Damn Few May 09 2018, 3 Comments
The following is a guest blog by Capt. Mike Yetter, currently a USAR member, he is a training Capt with MDFR and former Captain of 'The Meat Grinder,' Aerial 29.
“The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”
“Here’s to us and those like us. The Few. . .The Damn Few.”
The above lines are paraphrased, but in its entirety were made famous in the Book “Damn Few” by US Navy SEAL Rorke Denver and the movie in which he was also a part of, “Act of Valor." As with many inspirations that originate from the military, the concept of the few who make the difference resonates so true within the fire service.
Recently, it's become apparent to me that there are only a few who give a damn about the ethos, logos and pathos in cultivating true Firemanship. It seems there are too damn few people who earn their paycheck compared to those that collect them. It appears more people are willing to get this job and damn few of them care enough to be good at it. There are too many recliners that shows signs of wear and tear when damn few are wearing out their gear on the training grounds.
The “Damn Few” are just that--the minority. If you could group people into categories based on their work ethic, these would probably be the following categories as I observe them:
20% would consist of the “Aggressively Disengaged.” These are the people who arrive in body (not necessarily in spirit) just to collect a paycheck. They are barely average, yet complain when no one goes above and beyond to meet their needs. This doesn’t make them bad people, this just makes them useless. They are a liability to the department in terms of their lack of KSA’s and their potential influence to others.
60% are the “Average/ Status Quo”. As the group that represents the majority, these individuals are neither good or bad. They hang in the proverbial purgatory. Many who occupy this position have the capacity to rise above the status quo to either accomplish and be more, or sink to the level of the bottom feeders. The only thing that separates the direction they go is the influence that guides them. These individuals have a choice. They are inclined by nature to be receptive to the influence that suits them.
Those categorized above are usually referred to as “Nice” when someone inquires about them. Be careful! If someone asks about a firefighter and the response is a shoulder shrug that coincides with an answer of, “He/She is a nice person…” This is the tell, or politically correct way of implying that other than being a pleasant person, they typically don’t provide any benefit other than companionship.
20% are the “Damn Few." This designation is not self-imposed. These are the individuals who were either born to operate at a higher level or were so receptive to guidance it almost feels natural. These individuals are stubborn, somewhat idealistic, and have a strong disdain for anything less than the pursuit of perfection. Typically viewed as being “righteous”, they are seen as overachievers by their peers. Subordinates and supervisors (unless they are like minded) honestly don’t much care for them. However, when the impossible is presented because the many can’t accomplish it, it’s "The Few" that get it done.
These thoughts transcribed are not done so from a pedestal. They are not intended to create inflated egos. These are merely observations from the trenches in admiration to the specific rare breed of individual who are rarely recognized for their dedication.
Tonight, I raise my pint to you. . .The Damn Few.
Do you have a friend or coworker that you consider to be one of The Damn Few? Write their name in the comment section below.-->
On The Importance Of Independent Fire Instruction February 07 2018, 4 Comments
A few years ago members of Firehouse 2 were sitting at the dinner table talking excitedly about attending the upcoming Orlando Fire Conference when the Battalion Chief walked out and after listening for a few moments to our conversation said, "I don't know why you guys would go to Orlando for training. You belong to one of the largest fire departments in the country. You have everything you need right here."
Photo Credit: Dennis Walus
The comment by the Chief killed the conversation, but didn't curb our enthusiasm. A few weeks later we were in Orlando taking forcible entry classes with Mike Ciampo, Truck Co. classes with the always aggressive Orlando guys, and a grueling RIC class with Jim McCormack. The classes were intense and fun. We returned home with a few bruises but had learned more in three days in Orlando than we had learned in three years of 'official training' from our own Department.
Why is that the case? Why hadn't we been exposed to this and many other things from our own department?
Many years and many conferences attended have allowed a few observations and conclusions about the independent fire instructors that teach throughout the country and why they are vital to the growth and advancement of the fire service.
Existing in a vacuum
Independent instructors do not live in the vacuum that you and I and the members of our own departments do. Many of these instructors travel extensively teaching students from departments across the country. As they teach, they share their information, but they also pick up tidbits of knowledge from different departments and incorporate the most valuable parts into their future lectures and drills. They also glimpse into other departments operations and develop ideas on what works and what doesn't.
They are often the spark that creates groundswell change around the country. It is their global perspective that allows departments to change decades of tradition for a more progressive approach. Often it is their knowledge and perspective that allows a return to common sense. I cite the return of the smooth bore nozzle as one of many sweeping changes that instructors have ushered forth. Another incredible and simple change that swept the fire service is the "Seattle Shuffle". It seems crazy, that when I was going through the academy many moons ago it was an offense akin to murder if you ever straddled the attack hose, yet crawling on your hands and knees while looking down was accepted and common practice.
New and varied tip ranges in response to smoothbore resurgence
While the word is loaded, there isn't a more appropriate term for what the instructors of the American Fire Service do every day. They spread their message and they provide fine examples of firemanship with their attitude and their love of the fire service. As a combined force, they are more powerful than NFPA standards and have arguably saved more firefighters lives in the process because they give you tools you can use when you need them most.
Ambassadors of the fire service should not be confused with preaching. Many of the best instructors do preach, but it is always grounded in knowledge, sound tactics, and instruction. In terms of the person I should be whether at work or home--well I'll just leave the preaching to my priest. Everyone else who preaches should be able to deliver 'the goods'.
No single instructor owns the methods or the tactics they teach, but they do own the intellectual capital they have earned with their blood and sweat from years of teaching. They teach for you to learn and share amongst your peers. They do not teach so that you can steal their lecture and start teaching outside your own department. If you're not sure if you're stealing or just sharing, just ask yourself if you are in it for personal gain. In the end, I've found that most instructors are extremely generous sharing slides and information. They want you to spread the word, they just want to be acknowledged for their work and effort. Your students should know that you've taken the time to validate and practice the methods you are teaching as well as their source.
Photo Credit: Dennis Walus
I can't think of an instructor who has become wealthy traveling and teaching the 'good word.' Often their dedication to the fire service causes problems in other parts of their lives. They are wealthy in other ways though. They have friends all over the world and a place to rest their head wherever they are. But more importantly, these few, have etched their names into the fire service by molding it and spreading a message that guides not only our performance but how we can be 'smartly aggressive' by arming us with their knowledge and wisdom. If they keep at it and devote their careers to it, maybe they'll be remembered among the likes of Andy Fredricks and others like him. When your name lives on beyond your career, that is a wealth money cannot buy.
For years I've been to conferences all over the country and I still think of that Chief's comment, the error of his logic and the idiocy of his blind confidence. I thank God that I didn't let him influence me.
A Grateful Student Of The Craft
Gratitude November 01 2017, 4 Comments
Guest blog written by Capt. Mike Yetter of MDFR
“The heaviest debt is that of gratitude; When ‘tis not in our power to repay it.”
A few years ago I was at our annual firehouse holiday party when I was approached by the mother of one the guys on my crew. After the introduction, the fireman walked away leaving his mother and I alone. As I worried for a moment about what we would talk about, she jumped right in, capitalizing on the opportunity to talk to me.
She said, “It's about time we finally met.” She had heard so much about me.
Paranoid that the, ‘what happens on the truck, stays on the truck’ doctrine had been compromised,’ I worried over the uncountable things I could be explaining to her in the next few moments.
Mom quickly diffused my fear with what she said next. “I want to thank you for taking care of my baby.” Looking at me directly, she said. “He speaks very highly of you and it’s very comforting to know that he is being looked after.” After a moment she must have realized that I was incapable of a response. She smiled up at me and gave me a hug. I had been left both humbled and speechless.
The moment passed and we shared small talk for a few minutes more before we went our separate ways. Afterwards, when I had time to reflect, I realized the thank you and that hug was recognition of an officer’s most sacred responsibility—taking care of a mother’s child. That moment has meant more to me than any accolade or medal I’ve ever received.
Do you know what it's like to be thanked by one of your crew’s family members?
Have you considered the weight of that gratitude?
Until you have, I don't think it is possible to fully comprehend the true responsibility placed upon you. Simply put, you are entrusted by the families of your crew to make sure that each member comes home safe after every tour.
Even if you haven’t considered this, you should know that this very presumption is always there.
Just as responsibility precedes privilege; the debt of gratitude obligates each and every one of us to earn it. We earn it by remaining vigilant and by being proactive with our methods and understanding of our profession.
Josiah Charles Stamp (1880-1941), an English Economist once said, “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”
One can only wonder how many LODD’s could be attributed to, in some part, to someone whose complacency assisted in the catastrophic chain of events leading up to the loss of a brother or sister. Have you grown sluggish in something as simple as stretching a line smoothly, forcing a door efficiently, or timely weighing the risk/benefits as you step off the rig on a fire scene? Any delays in attacking the fire are inversely proportional to the integrity of the structure being attacked by the fire. Will complacency in your day to day actions open the door to tragedy when your moment comes?
On scene, we have all assumed the responsibility for not only each other's lives, but for maintaining the expectations of our members’ families as well. That responsibility is fulfilled daily with competence in executing our respective tasks on an emergency scene. Through training we can maintain situational awareness in reading the fire ground and achieve precision in completing our tasks and objectives appropriately. Performing our individual duties in concert enables the greatest chance of success. And our greatest chance of success lies in constant training and vigilance.
If you are assumed to be worthy enough to earn a ‘thank you’ from your crew member’s mother, then you must be equally diligent enough to earn that thank you each and every day.
-Capt. Mike Yetter MDFR
5 Year Anniversary - H&I Evolution September 17 2017, 0 Comments
5 years ago Hook & Irons was born on the back porch of our firehouse. I had been frustrated with my own department and felt I didn't have a productive outlet for my own motivation. I wanted to create something that didn't exist yet--something that would help fill the void.
It was a simple idea--to celebrate the history and brotherhood of the American Fire Service. I wanted to tell stories with simple hand drawn graphics and I wanted to write blog posts that highlight our rich history and traditions. The execution of the idea was not as simple. First and foremost, I had never started a business before and to make things more difficult, I wanted to make shirts that didn't advertise that you're a firefighter. Meaning, there weren't going to be maltese crosses and flaming dragons. Creating designs with depth and meaning that you want to wear--well this is easier said than done.
One of our very first designs
We focused on stories. We focused on history, and somewhere along the way people who love the fire service as much as we do jumped on board. We've travelled the country and collaborated with countless people and organizations including the NYC Fire Museum.
By the beginning of 2017 I felt satisfied with the direction of the company but I struggled with what we could do next. I wasn't sure how the company was going to evolve. The answer took me a while but it was in front of me all along. Keep telling stories. Keep sharing history.
And so, on our 5th year anniversary, I'm proud to introduce the first episode of 'Hook & Irons Presents.' These are stories of American Firefighters who inspire me and who exemplify the best of who we are. I for one, have never been more proud of the brand Hook & Irons than I am today.
I hope you enjoy--and if you do, I promise to make more.
7 Lessons Seniority Has Taught Me June 08 2017, 8 Comments
A firefighter's worst critic, in all cases, should be himself. No matter the error or the accolade, constant self-evaluation and a global reflection of actions and inactions after the fire should direct your thoughts on what you missed or what you could do better next time. What follows are a few truths I have experienced in my own career.
1. Losing track of time on a fire ground is a dangerous thing.
For me, this is the single most difficult thing to maintain. Personally, I have lost time in both ways--compression and elongation. I can remember a time where I watched my firefighters struggle to force a steel door and made them abandon a perfectly good plan, only to move on to a plan that was not as good. In the end, after I had calmed down and when I listened to the tapes, I realized that an unreasonable amount of time had not passed and I had let my anxiety amplify the passage of time. Lack of experience had caused me to doubt the tactic.
Conversely, I have begged the Chief for a 'few more minutes' during a firefight when afterwards I realized that I was so focused and wanted my tactic to work so badly that I let time get away from me.
So what is the answer? We can't keep glancing at our watch while we're working, but we can fight to stay calm--fight to control our breathing and fight to stay in control and aware of the time. Experience brings calm. Calmness brings clarity. And clarity allows you to know if a plan is working or if it should be abandoned. This goal is even more difficult and sometimes impossible for the many short-staffed crews around the country whose officers have to work performing two and three jobs in addition to managing the safety and efficiency of their crews.
2. When things are going wrong, don't go with them.
If you have been in the fire service for any length of time, you are guilty of this. Usually, it's stubbornness or timidity that is the culprit. Admittedly, I have been guilty of this as well. As a new Captain I operated on a fire in an apartment building with an enclosed hallway where I watched the attack crew with a junior officer try and deploy their hotel roll on the fire floor in a dirty hallway with zero visibility. I knew this was wrong. I knew it was more than likely doomed to fail and I did not stop it because I did not want to step on the officer's toes. At that moment, I became just as guilty as they were for choosing a tactic that would more than likely fail and was dangerous to boot. The fire, which could have been extinguished in under 15 minutes, took over 45 minutes to put under control. I learned a lesson that day that I will take with me to retirement.
3. Manipulating the word 'Safety' to validate inaction is inexcusable.
There is an epidemic in the fire service right now and there are instructors across this country railing against the safety officers and various studies. They are causing firefighters to second guess cautious aggression in the name of safety. The hallmarks of these officers are:
Using the benefit of hindsight and complete information afterwards to demonize an action that was taken with incomplete information.
They use studies and articles to validate their points, but they have never actually tried to replicate the studies, either on the fireground or in the training tower. They operate on the faith of the author and the study and treat it as gospel. Well, I have faith in God, but the rest of it, I will trust after I verify.
More importantly, these 'safety officers' are high enough in the administration to effectively change the fighting posture of your department. This may be good or bad based on many variables, but to continue the analogy, I would want to be on the department that trains for the 1st or 2nd round knockout, rather then a victory at the end of a fight by decision.
4. Festina Lente.
The latin phrase translates to, hurry slowly. I have found no other phrase that better captures the attitude that firefighters should strive for on the fireground. The term 'hurry slowly' allows firefighter to manage time and allow the countless clues and signs to be internalized before decisions are made. 'Hurry slowly' allows the experience of bread and butter fires to be tempered with a cautious check to see if anything has occurred that would make this fire different from the others.
Here are some great examples of 'Festina Lente' in action:
- Conducting thorough 360.
- Having a good look at smoke production and volume.
- Making a concerted effort from the exterior to locate the fire inside.
- Asking a quick question or two to an escaped occupant on location of fire, other victims, and hazards.
- Slowing your apparatus as you approach the fire to study the building and set up proper placement. This might even mean exiting the apparatus and guiding the apparatus through smoke and other hazards.
- Maintaining accountability of your crew at each new compartment you enter inside the house.
Festina lente and fireground discipline go hand in hand. For me, it is the frame of mind that I'm always trying to achieve and the two words "Hurry Slowly" which singularly are opposites are what marry the mind and body on the fireground--move with a sense of purpose, but keep your mind able to constantly evaluate and analyze the situation.
5. Computers and technology have taken us away from the critical aspects of the job.
By now, I'm not sure there is a fire department in this country that hasn't embraced online training. The stronger departments use it to supplement hands on training. The weaker departments use it as a check box to show all the work that is being done and to maintain certifications that take a department's limited manpower away from meaningful training.
The danger in online training is that the computer creates a disconnect between a department and their firefighters and it standardizes a job that is anything but standard.
Additionally, anyone with half a brain should question the validity of computer training meant to teach hands-on skills unless the hands-on skill is 'how to click a mouse'.
Great athletes are not created by reading play books. They are created with hard work and repetition which creates muscle memory and confidence. Is the fire service so different?
6. Lead your firefighters in. Follow them out.
Their are many adages that accompany leadership and good leaders, but for the fire service this term is both metaphorical and real. As an officer, it was always my job to show them that I wouldn't make them do anything I wouldn't do myself. In a dark and hot house when we couldn't find the fire I would occasionally, if the situations dictated, put myself slightly in front of the nozzleman feeling through the smoke for that hallway or door--sounding the floor and guaranteeing safe passage for my guys. It is vital to be a good detective, find the fire, and take the burden off of your firefighters shoulders. Additionally, good officers lead and direct the search. They send their firefighters to search rooms, but never so far away that they can't be reached by voice, sight or touch. And when the task is complete, they follow them out. We have lost firefighters on my own department and on many others around the country because the officer of the crew did not follow this adage.
7. Firefighters may respect the badge, but they trust experience.
The fire department ladder is only three or four rungs depending on the department you work for. It is a much shorter climb than employees who are clawing their way to the top of corporate America. Ascending through the ranks of the fire service can be done on many career departments in less than fifteen years and with only three tests. In some departments a motivated employee can become a Chief in as little as twelve years. What that means is these employees have reached their terminal rank before they've reached the midpoint in their career. The question begs to be asked: Can a Chief who has more of a career ahead of him than behind be experienced enough to command the respect of the men and women who are in the trenches everyday? The answer is maybe, but I would say it's doubtful. Have they been on busy units their entire career? Have they packed as much valuable experience into their time as possible? Or have they used that same system in which they catapulted to the top to hide away from Operations and keep from running calls and gaining that daily experience that is so necessary?
Firefighters know. And they will let you know the first time you command them to do something that you learned in a book that contradicts and conflicts with the realities that they have faced.
Conversely, there is no better feeling than getting a 'thank you' from a senior firefighter whom you have guided correctly and allowed them to operate in a way that parallels their experience and knowledge and acknowledges and utilizes their capabilities. That 'thank you' from a respected peer is the only accolade I've ever hoped for in the fire service.
***All photos were generously shared by Captain Brian Bastinelli of the Harrisburg Bureau of Fire.
#jobtown - Baltimore City's 8x10 March 23 2017, 1 Comment
Hook & Irons is always looking and digging for historical aspects that portray the best of the American Fire Service. For awhile now I have been following @bcfd8x10 on Instagram. I was blown away by not only the number of fires they were responding to on a daily basis, but the manner in which they operate. I was impressed by their aggressiveness and their consistent application of sound tactics. I also love the bits of history they drop into their feed. After a little reading about their history, I decided I wanted to try and collaborate on a piece with their members. I reached out to their house and they allowed us to create a design that represents the hard-nosed, gritty firefighting they are famous for.
Jobtown (Baltimore City) is one of the most active areas in the country for fire and the members of Engine 8 and Truck 10 have been working together for over a century.
Engine 8 was organized on March 8, 1871 and Truck 10 (formerly Hook & Ladder 10) was organized on March 1, 1895. On December 5, 1912 Engine 8 moved in with Ladder 10 after the horse hospital was removed and the department moved to full mechanization. The two units have worked together since then in the same location on the south side of Lafayette Ave. between Stricker and Gilmore St. The only change being a new station built in 1967, which is the same house they operate out of today with BC3 and Medic 15.
During the 70's, 80's, and 90's BCFD 8x10 was consistently one of the busiest houses in the city. Below are their current apparatus.
Truck 10 - The Wicked Stick of West - Pierce 100' TDA
Engine 8 - Pierce Enforcer
1916 Christie Tractor w 85' Hayes Aerial
1888 Hayes Horse Drawn
1957 Peter Pirsch 100'TDA
1974 Seagrave 100'TDA
1954 Peter Pirsch
1973 Ward LaFrance
Members of Truck 10 operating at a recent fire
Highlight reel of 2016
The word #jobtown doesn't just represent all the 'jobs' the 8x10 works, but the blue-collar attitude they take with them as well as the history and the tradition they represent. Support their history. Support their tradition. Wear with pride.
Be Safe Out There January 30 2017, 5 Comments
One of the great benefits Hook & Irons has afforded me has been the chance to travel and meet firefighters from all over the country. I've enjoyed tremendous hospitality and unrivaled brotherhood. I've met firefighters that work on farms all day and volunteer on their days off to firefighters that work multiple fires a day. I've learned that one is not necessarily a better firefighter than the other. I've expanded my view and gained a new appreciation for my own department. I've discussed methods, problems and tactics with firefighters from all over the world. There are some differences, but largely we share more similarities than anything else.
What has been most striking though, is the universal parting phrase of firefighters everywhere I go.
"Be safe out there."
It doesn't matter where you go.
"Be safe out there."
The phrase accompanies the handshake, from California to New York and everywhere in between.
I've thought about the phrase for some time now and wondered why it's so pervasive. Shouldn't it go without saying, 'be safe.' Isn't it the most obvious thing? Hey Tom, "Eat some food today. And while you're at it, drink some water too." It seems so anyway.
But it's not.
We are reminded daily by LODD's, a barrage of youtube videos, and the actions of our own members that a lapse of vigilance, a pause in awareness, the temptation of short cuts and laziness can have dire consequences.
"Be safe out there," is a quiet, friendly reminder to stay vigilant--to keep your eyes open and not let your guard down.
"Be safe out there," is an acknowledgement of the unknowable danger that lies in wait--a danger that takes good men and women even when they have done everything to the best of their ability.
"Be safe out there," is the hope that your awareness will protect you.
"Be safe out there," is the only way we, who can not be with you in your time of trial, hope that the words resonate with you in your time of need.
Heroism and heroic acts subvert safety for the benefit of others particularly those who cannot help themselves. Can you be brave or act in a heroic way without some risk? The answer most certainly is, 'no.' Can you take a risk without setting aside your own safety, even in the most moderate degree? The answer again is, 'no.' Firefighters, police officers and members of the military understand and accept this fact. Ultimately we are guided by our training, our experience and our team when making a decision to act. Those decisions make heroes, cowards or fools out of us all.
I know that there is nothing I can do for you or you can do for me when we are called to act at that decisive moment--the moment where your training and your experience will guide your decisions. All we can say as your friend, your peer and your brother is, "Be safe out there."
Brooklyn Engine Co. 17 July 30 2016, 0 Comments
Last year, I had the honor of donating to the NYC Fire Museum in the name of Dennis Smith (author of 'Report From Engine Co. 82). At that time, after meeting with some of the staff, we decided to make a NYC Fire Museum tee based on their archives and designed by Hook & Irons. The result of our first effort is Brooklyn Engine Co. 17.
The design is based on a banner that is displayed in the museum. It shows the active roll of all the members of Engine 17. The banner is beautifully drawn. We wanted to take elements of the banner and use them to capture the spirt of the company and its story. Below is a picture of the main part of the banner.
After reading more about the history of the company, we decided to focus on the engine's logo--a grasshopper.
The grasshopper was unique and the story behind the 'hopper club' was very interesting to me.
In 1849, Engine Co. 17 purchased a Philadelphia patterned 'piano box' style engine which quickly earned the name 'haywagon' because of its long and flat appearance. The brake and the pump levers were located on top of the engine and the men who climbed up and down it so skillfully were said to look like grasshoppers. Even after they purchased a newer engine the name stuck. 'The Hoppers' kept their name for the rest of the company's existence. At its high point, Engine Co. 17 boasted 75 members and their firehouse was regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country.
The resulting design is our best effort to create a station logo and design as if the company were still operating today. We wanted everything to be hand-drawn and we wanted to bring the story of the 'hoppers' back to life.
It has been an amazing experience to be able to access the museum. If you're visiting the city, you should stop by and support them. You can even pick up a Hook and Irons shirt in their gift shop, our first retail location.
If you'd like to purchase Brooklyn Engine Co. 17, you can click here.
You can read more about the history of the Brooklyn Fire Department by following this link.
Celebrate Your History - H&I Co. and the NYC Fire Museum July 25 2016, 2 Comments
In 2012 I was battling some frustrations with my own department regarding training and training programs. Having hit dead end after dead end, I started looking for a place to focus my energy and my ideas. The idea for Hook & Irons came shortly after that. I wanted to start a brand that 'celebrated the fire service' without advertising it. I didn't want to create a brand that mimicked or copied what was already being done and I didn't want to make designs that screamed 'I'm a firefighter! Look at me!' I wanted to share stories and images from our collective pasts that make me proud of my profession and make me proud of my craft. I wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the firefighters I admire--past and present and I wanted to know if there was anyone else out there who felt the same way I did.
Almost four years later, I've made friends all over the globe who share the same passion and love for our work. I've met people who find our history as interesting as I do and I've made friends with folks who have hearts as big as houses and bleed for the fire service in ways I could never imagine--friends who have let me stay in their homes, helped me pack and unpack gear and allowed me to attend free training. I've made friends with people who share ideas with me and get more happy over Hook & Irons success than even I do. And I've made friends with guys that have reposted my blogs all over the country.
The best though, has been the collaborations. These joint efforts; whether its Art of Firemanship, vententersearch.com, or Leatherhead Concepts have always pushed forward the concept of 'Legacy Built' construction--building a brand the old way. The slow way.
These collaborations that celebrate our history and our craft are carefully chosen and now with the NYC Fire Museum we can explore even more stories from our past from FDNY, the most storied and most recognized fire department in the world.
Over the next few months we will be releasing new designs inspired by the NYC Fire Museum archive. Stay tuned and thank you for supporting H&I Co.
I Will Leave the Light On For You - A Message For Police Everywhere July 18 2016, 7 Comments
Inspired by @rfdtruckie I have placed a blue light in front of my house.
Tonight when you patrol the streets in the dark of this lonely night, blind to where the next danger lies in silent wait, I will leave the light on for you.
Tonight as the world and even our own president passes judgement on your profession, know that I understand your frustration as you must and do wait patiently for vindication. I will leave the light on.
Tonight when you rush to help those who don't appreciate you, who don't understand you, and who will be the first to condemn you, I will leave the light on for you.
Tonight as you take the world's misdirected anger and bear it time and again on your shoulders, I will leave the light on for you.
Tonight in your darkest hour, when you drive past my home, keeping watch over my family and my neighbors, I want you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I will leave the light on for you.
Tonight, as your own family sleeps peacefully in their bed, I know it is for them which you risk life and body. And as you wonder time and again if the job is worth it, I will leave the light on for you.
Tonight as you question why you do what you do, look at my light. The light is on for you and know you are not alone. Know that the people who appreciate you the most will probably never need you. The people who understand your plight will most likely never call for your service. Good people everywhere are pulling for you and want you to know that the light is on for you.
You are not alone.
When I wear my uniform, I witness the anger pointed toward you. I have stood by your side as you mediated conflict after conflict in case after case where there are no winners only degrees of loss. I have watched as you arrested sons and daughters, husbands and wives and countless others in order to stop violence and restore order--and I have seen the unjust anger toward you from those you are protecting.
I have tended to your wounds, cleaned the bite marks, washed the spit from your face, and covered bullet holes in your body. I have driven you to the hospital on more occasions than I care to remember. As a firefighter, I stand in solidarity with you. I understand you. And when you pass the firehouse in the darkest hours of night, know that our light shines for you.
You are not alone.
I will leave the light on for you.
You are not alone.
History of the Term Fire Plug & Plug Ugly April 27 2016, 3 Comments
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, 2 Comments
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, 24 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, 2 Comments
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, 18 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, 19 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.
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