Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It Is Just Not About You

At Traditions Training we consistently state at every program we teach... we must to be "Combat Ready" as firefighters. For some "Combat Ready" might just be taken as a "slogan" or a "buzz -word" of the week. Other's see it as something they have to do personally, a facet of readiness that may just save a life: be it your own, your brother or sister firefighters, or a civilian.

In our recent programs, we have started to hammer home personal, company and departmental accountability. This accountability is not just about having a "system"; a tag, a velcro passport or a magnet with your name on it. It is the responsibility of every person to make themselves ready for the battle ahead.

Recently I have seen a trend of "being overly comfortable" with some members and companies. The attitude of we can "just get by" and "if it had been a real fire I would have been ready" has started to take hold. They say: "nothing ever happens here, why go through all the work of being Combat Ready?" Recently, I personally have heard and seen some examples of this, such as:

- The homeowner says the fire is out, why should we lay out?
- Choosing to not have all PPE on and in place for a call for smoke in a house.
- Leaving the thermal imager on the rig on a house fire.
- Showing up to training with dead flashlights, dead portable batteries and already low air supply in their SCBA on in service units.

Now, did every company at that drill or on that house fire fail all these simple tasks also? The answer is no, they did not. It may have been one individual, one company or one department, who let this occur. But where does the responsibility lie with these failures to be "Combat Ready"?
We can break it down on several levels, we must strive to have every member, company and department on the same page.

Let's start at the first level, it all starts with personal accountability. These examples above demonstrate a firefighter or officer not having the right mindset or was not trained and developed/mentored correctly. We have to work to change the downward spiral they are in, correct their bad habits and lack of personal accountability in being Combat Ready. This can hurt not only themselves, but others on the fireground... including the delay and possible failure to save and protect citizens and trapped occupants. Someone has to modify this behavior, so now we move to the second level, the company.

Whether this is particular unit is in a multi-unit fire station or you own company, someone must be responsible. You, as the company officer, must take steps to correct this behavior. Now trust me, this is not going to make you popular. You might actually have to earn your "extra pay" by being an officer and/or use the "trumpets" given to you by your volunteer department. Dealing with this issue at the second level does not mean that you can go around with blinders on pretending to not recognize the problem, or to let your company pride/ego get in the way of the big picture. Good company officers will not only work and train with their own unit or company members, but will not turn a blind eye to bad habits or deficiencies across the floor or across the department. We all know about excuses... A common excuse for sub-par performance at a personal or company level is: "well my guys/gals did a good job, but the xyz-truck, I don't know what they were doing". It is the company officer's job to see that the whole department and all the units are working at a high level of Combat Readiness.

You and your personnel are in the fight, in one of the most dangerous areas on earth at that very second. You have to not just be out there looking out for yourself, but for all the units on the fireground. If you see other members not dressed properly and not carrying the right equipment, you can't just ignore it and look the other way. Notify the other company officer, make the point to him/her, we are all in this fight together! Make sure that other unit officer is aware that his or her member are not ready for the fight. Remember it is just not about you...

The third level is the department level. As a department in whole you have to develop a "Combat Ready" attitude. Even if this means that the Xbox, Play station, TV or recliner will have to wait another 15 minutes. By embracing this attitude the department bosses will not only have to talk the talk, but walk the walk. They certainly cannot turn just their heads, look the other way, and steer away from conflict. Recently a chief officer with over 40 years of commanding fires in a busy department told me "When we get sent to a fire, we have to plan for it being a catastrophe and then work backwards."

All three levels require a certain amount personal accountability, a sense to do the right thing and a dedication to all your members regardless of their position within the organization. You cannot be the only "Combat Ready" firefighter on your unit, all of you have to be ready. You cannot be the only unit that is "Combat Ready" in your department. You cannot be the only department in your municipality or county/city to be ready. You have to spread the attitude across the members, regardless of ranks and boundaries. It starts by having good personal accountability and a dedication to doing the right thing. As we have said before, this will take courage and a strength. The fire service cannot be just about you... it has to be about all of us.

Stay safe and always be COMBAT READY.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

When is Enough Training, Enough?

When is Enough Training, Enough?

Traditions Training presented a lecture program in a Washington D.C. suburb this past weekend. The class focused on “Incident Command” and “Company Officer Development”. As I looked across the room, scanning the crowd to see who was in attendance, I was rather stunned. Sitting in the program were two of the most veteran and seasoned Chief Officers in the whole department!These two Chief Officers each have over 50 years in the fire service and have been fireground commanders for 30 plus years. I was baffled as to why they were spending their time, on a beautiful spring like Saturday, attending our class.

My inner voice started to get the best of me as I thought that I was going to be “heckled and harassed” for my new age view of command from these gentlemen. My skills pale in comparison to these veterans… whom have been commanding fires, and I mean ALOT of fires. since before I even started my time in the fire service. I started the lecture, perhaps a little on the defensive side, waiting for them to pounce on my program. As we went through the slides I came to a realization, these guys were here to listen to what we had to say. They were there to impart their many years of experience to all that were in attendance.

With their past experiences, they didn’t “need” to be sitting in the class… but yet, there they were. They wanted to make sure they were staying current as to what is happening in today’s fire service and pick up tips they could potentially use on their next fireground. I can tell you, I learned as much from these Chief’s as the students I was there to instruct did. Every comment and question they added re-enforced the lessons that we were teaching. They relayed these lessons learned thru personal stories, verifying our information as valid and useful. Now this is not to say that they didn’t get their shots in on me, who served as a probie firefighter on firegrounds, under their command, on numerous occasions. But they did it in a way enriched the learning experience for all those in attendance.

As I sat down that night after the class, I hoped that the competitive and learning desire that was found in both these Chiefs, I could find in myself. I always tell myself and our students that we can never stop learning. We must never stop striving to be the best and never stop wanting to be the best, in the position that we are in. Well, this weekend I remembered where I got that “never stop learning” mentality and that “failure is not an option”attitude. The members that instilled that in me were sitting right in front of me. They were in the front row while I was teaching class.

If after 50 years they are both still learning, I know there is hope for all of us to continue learning in the fire service. It is in you, never stop learning about your craft.