Back On Track

Well enough of my belly aching. Lets get this float in the broken people parade back on track!ROOF

I promised (twice) that we would talk about the next point of the 6R system. That point is RESPONSE. So lets get into it.

When I talk about response, I am referring to the actual emergency response. I could paint this subject with a broad brush and get into lofty discussions about how we respond to everything. Complaints, compliments, grievances, political aspirations of neutered city councilmen, contracts; the list goes on and on. I want to narrow the focus on the actual response. The turnout to an alarm. The “boots on the ground” if you will.

I have always been a firm believer in putting the response before the politics. The citizens in our or your district(s) deserve the very best from you on every run. There should never be anything that hinders you “getting out the door” either physically or metaphorically. That is how some of us (those that bill for EMS and/or fire services) make our living. If you are not taking runs, you are not making money. Even if you do not bill for services, you are still taking the taxpayers money for a service they expect. If you don’t think that is true, you need to rethink how the money ends up in your bank account every 2 weeks.

So what do I mean about things getting in the way of the response? Well, it comes down to a few very basic things:

  • Are you in a ready state to take the alarm (physically or mentally)?
  • Is your station and equipment ready for the alarm?
  • Are your department leaders ready for you to take the alarm?
  • Are there rifts over issues in the department that cause you to drag your tail getting out the door?

The mental and physical –

There has been a lot of focus lately on responder mental wellness. I have seen and felt first hand the effects of this job on people. I was fortunate enough to have a member of the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance in my department and was very interested in the effects of what we do on us. Mainly to try to understand how I felt about the job at this point in my career. The information and services they have are top notch and well worth a look.

So is your head in the game? Do you have the Big 4 in mind as Mark Vonappen would say? What do you bring to the team? Will your contribution to this response make it better or are you the weak link? The absence of your brain would certainly affect the response, I am sure we all agree on that! If you are “not there” when you are making your way to the rig, you could be the weak link. I have had many instances lately where I felt burnt out and really just went through the motions to process the call. Where I run, we do fire and EMS so the greatest portion of our workload ends up being EMS. I like to say that we are an EMS department that fights fire on occasion. That being said,  if your entire crew is not on board with the response, then you are all in trouble. I have seen time and time again the toxic thinking of some crew leaders. It starts at the kitchen table when they bash the other crews for doing training, making the station environment better and spewing their disgust for their own career. It is a toxic mix that creeps into the minds of their subordinates and, in turn, hinders the response by breeding the
“tail dragging” type of thinking when the alarm sounds. The crew gets bitter and it effects their work all the way around. To me, it all looks like laziness but I know that is only part of the problem. You signed up for this job. It didn’t come to you. It is your choice to be motivated. That shouldn’t be affected by anyone or anything else. Don’t let that thinking get in the way of your duty to serve.
I remember when I first got into this business. I couldn’t wait for the pager to go off. That feeling is still in me but it has been worn down by time, attitudes and the pace of this work. I still get those butterflies when I hear smoke showing but I have learned from some great men how to take that feeling and turn it into a laser focus on the tasks that we need to completed. I still get that rush when there is a wicked trauma. Taking that patient into the medic and working through what is going to kill them now with an eye on what can kill them later. It is what I have always liked about the job. I have struggled to share that enthusiasm with others because I always felt that I would be ridiculed for it. I instead tried to demonstrate that excitement by being quick to the rig and ready to go. Again, my speed has slowed over the years as the weight of this job has worm me down a bit and my brain tells me that maybe we don’t need to see something horrible right now. I try to gravitate to the young guys to feed off of their energy. Lately, some of the kids coming in have always been given a ribbon just for wiping their own butt so they don’t have the fire inside. They think everything should be handed to them or they are expecting to be spoon fed. They slow the response so it is up to the older guys to motivate. I will talk more about them at a later date.

As far as the physical part of this job, that can be what slows down the team the most. Anyone that knows me will say I am in no position to talk about being physically well. I am in pretty good health but I am overweight like most Americans. Once I got into administration, I spent most of my days in the office telling myself that I will do something about my health as soon as I get this project done. It was project after project so I never got out of that cycle. Now that I am out of the top spot, I have a plan to get better. I know I am a weak link and I don’t want to be. We will see how it goes. The firehouse is a bit like high school. The jocks are looked up to and those of us that lean toward the nerdy side are viewed as less capable. I find the gym boring so I try to do other things to be ready. I can tell you this (the guys that work with me will laugh and shake their heads) our shift has a mix of young and old. Thick and thin. Muscle and mental. We get the job done and we do it well. At one time, we were the biggest (and I don’t mean muscle) shift in the department. We liked fried foods and would try whatever we could from the Man VS Food menu. We battled fires with the best of them and still do. Our under control times are good. We process EMS calls quickly. We do our job. Granted, our personnel make up is a bit different now. I heard the name Clydesdales being thrown around to describe our shift as we have some big boys now. They spend time in the workout room and the whole building shakes when they drop the weights. But the fact remains that we work as a team under a strong set of leaders to get the job done. We get to the rigs and get out of the door quickly. Don’t let your physical condition get in the way of the response. Try to be healthy and stay active so you can roll out when the bell rings.

Station and equipment-

Does your building and equipment make it hard to respond or does everything work like it is supposed to? I know it doesn’t sound like that big of an issue but it will be if your bay door gets stuck half way up, or the lights don’t come on to alert the crews of a run or the truck won’t start. It should be everyone’s responsibility to make sure things are ready. You don’t have to be a carpenter or electrician. You simply need to know how things are supposed to work so you know when they are not working properly. Encourage you leaders to put money into the building and equipment. Both of those things need constant attention so if there isn’t someone dedicated to repairs, try to be the one who keeps on top of things.I am not reinventing the wheel here folks. Readiness is everyones responsibility.

Are your rigs ready to go? Do you have the supplies you need? Is the right equipment on the right rig? Can you plug each member of your crew in every spot and get close to the same results with the same equipment? Will you be able to get to the rig quickly and get it out the door in a timely manner? In this day and age of building huge firehouses, is your rig placement inside laid out in a manner that is the most efficient for your crews to get to the rigs? All things that need to be considered to make the best of what you have. Again, I am not here to reinvent the wheel. Some of this stuff sounds very basic but in the era of science and technology in this business, some of the simple stuff gets overlooked.


A good leader can do amazing things with his crew. Conversely, a toxic leader can destroy the team. Are your leaders ready for the alarm? Do they know what you do and know what they do? When I was promoted to Fire Chief, the actual job title was Fire Administrator. The Chief before me told me he pushed away from the Administrator title to focus on being called the Fire Chief because that is what the Division needed. It need a strong leader to get the operational aspects of the Division back on course. He did mountains of administrative work, as did I, but felt strongly that the title off Fire Chief needed to be brought in and respected. I tried to follow the same logic. I wanted the Division to get better on the operations side. The leaders of your department need to come from the “business”. They need to have real world experience doing the work. They don’t necessarily have to come from your organization. An outside perspective is usually a good thing. Anyway, if the leaders don’t understand the work they may offer ideas that will slow down the response.

Beefing is for chumps-

Are there beefs between the shifts in your department? I have heard countless stories about the off going shift leaving the oncoming shift in a less than ready state. That, in my opinion, is beyond ridiculous! It jeopardizes the crew and has the immense potential to delay the response. We lose sight of what our goal is in this job sometimes. Protecting life and property is what we signed up to do. If you ever think to yourself, they will figure it out when they check the rigs or they still have a few of those whatevers left so they will get through their first run and restock, you are basically saying that you don’t care enough about the people who PAY YOUR SALARY to make sure the rigs are ready for the other crews and for the people you serve. That is selfish and should be something that you recognize as being a character flaw that needs corrected. You wouldn’t leave a wheel off of the truck and expect the next crew to try to take runs without it would you? Then why would you not make sure the rig is ready to roll out the door after each run? A less than ready state slows the response!

Making a timely, skilled, well coordinated response with highly trained and highly motivated responders is what we should be providing. The people we serve don’t care what your problem is. They only care that when they dial the phone, someone on the other end tells them that help is on the way. They expect you to show up ready. They expect you to be nice and have compassion. They expect you to be knowledgeable and well trained. They don’t care that you are on your 14th call. They don’t care that you have to work the weekend. They don’t care that you have a problem with another person in the department. All they want is for you to help them. It is that simple. It doesn’t matter what they need help with. They called you for help! Be the help that they need. Turn out quickly. Get there quickly. Be the hero that they expect! The customer is always right. When they call the office to complain about you, they are right. When they call the office to compliment you, they are right.

What would your customers say about you if you had them fill out a comment card before you left the scene? Is the answer what you want it to be? Think about it…..

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