In the Beginning…..

Many who choose this service for one reason or another has their “story” about how they came down this road.  A moment, an experience, a memory, a family tradition, all are examples of individual’s stories.  While I have told this story many times in voice, I don’t recall a time where I have put my “story” to print.  So I have a few minutes and well,  “here it goes”.

Believe it or not, my “story” begins in kindergarten.  During a field trip, we visited the local fire house in Houghton, MI.  On the day we visited, much of the class had the regular tour which spent equal amounts of time with the station, the truck (yes only one), the gear, and so on.  I remember vividly that the truck had a bell that each of us in class took time to ring.  While the rest of the class continued on with the tour, a firefighter stayed with the truck and realized my fascination with it.  So, he stayed behind the tour with me, and showed me everything on the truck.  What was behind every door, what every tool was and what it was for and so on.  Yes for those of you who are asking it was just the firefighter and I.  Today people would raise an eyebrow and wonder if it was ok.  Back then it was totally ok.  Trust wasn’t an issue and it was just pure appreciation for the trade of being a firefighter and someone taking the time to show “a future firefighter” the job that he obviously was very proud of.  I am thankful that he did because it set me on a course of interest in the job.  I was so impressed that for weeks later I would only draw the fire truck.  There is also a funny connection here…..The fire truck was lime green!

Fast forward a few years and I was now in Elementary School and Rockford Michigan.  My Mom had purchased a subscription to “Ranger Rick” magazine.  There on the front cover one month was this picture of a motor vehicle accident with firefighters, police officers, EMT’s and Paramedics, and even a Medical Helicopter working the scene.  I can still see the image to this day and I was fixated on that image and how great it must feel to know how to help when people are hurt.  Also during this time, we had a family friend from our church who worked for the local ambulance company.  I always wanted to ask him about the types of calls he had experienced but my parents strongly discouraged this because they told me he didn’t “like to talk about that stuff” with kids.  None, the less, I always liked talking with him and even got the chance to see him in his ambulance transporting a patient to the hospital.  The call must have been pretty serious because they had a police escort to the hospital blocking intersections so no one would slow down the drive.  Pretty cool to me!  Dad also had a friend who was a Michigan State Trooper and one day he came by the house and showed me his patrol car.  One would figure that I might have chosen that path because my Dad had planned on being a Trooper after his tour in the Navy had he not been extended past the test date for the academy.  A huge influence was this brand new TV show called EMERGENCY!  About these two guys who were firefighter paramedics in Los Angeles County California.  It was pretty cool!  I was already finding my heart very fond of Red Paint and Shiny Chrome.  A path had begun to form.

Fast forward again a few years and I was now living in Minnetonka Minnesota.  Again a family friend from church was a volunteer firefighter in Eden Prarie Minnesota.  He realized early that I had an interest in being a firefighter and his fire department staffed a rescue on Friday and Saturday nights and asked if I would like to ride along.  I said I would and so my parents dropped me off at firehouse with the Rescue on a Saturday night and the ride began.  It started slow.  One hour then two went by without a call.  We stopped at the local Perkins Restaurant for supper.  I was reminded that sometimes they just didn’t get calls but before the sentence was finished, the first call came in. A hockey player was injured at a local rink.  Kind of comical thinking back to all of us walking out on the ice with the crew and sliding around just to get to the player.  He was hurt for sure but not too badly.  I helped load him on a stretcher, into the ambulance and on to the hospital.  One call down.  Then it was absolutely non-stop!  A car crash, another medical call, a dumpster fire, a car fire, and next thing I knew it was time to quit for the night.  I was so terribly disappointed that it wouldn’t continue and wanting to do it again as soon as possible.  Unfortunately I would have to wait almost four years for me to be able to ride again.

Fast forward a few more years to Madison Wisconsin.  A year or so after moving to Wisconsin from Minnesota I had the chance to ride along again in Eden Prairie.  As before, we started slow but then things picked up and had another awesome night!  About this point in my life the hook of being a firefigher was firmly set!  Now as a freshman in High School one day I noticed these hand made picture collages in the hallways at school which said “if you think this is cool, come to the fire house on Monday night”.  So, I arrived to find out the local fire department was starting this thing called an Explorer Post.  It was going to not only be about firefighting, but also about law enforcement and EMS and would be called a public safety post.  They discussed meeting nights, uniforms, and this thing called a ride along.  They would be with the local PD and EMS for our area.  Fire was all volunteer so no ride along but if the fire whistle blew then we could come to the station and stand-by in case extra help was needed.  So I went to meetings, was issued a uniform and began riding with the PD first.  Don’t get me wrong, I did some pretty cool stuff.  Run radar, rode through 3 high speed chases (First time I ever was over 100 in a car!) and many other activities.  But I really found a love for riding on the ambulance.  Friday or Saturday nights it didn’t matter.  12 hours 8pm to 8am usually.  Most of the time didn’t sleep a wink at the station just hoping for a call and was usually disappointed but not always.  Football games meant EMS standby with a crew and when a player was hurt, I was right there with the crew tending to the injury and transporting people to the hospital.  I learned how to take vital signs, administer oxygen, spike an IV Bag, backboard people and many other skills I still use to this day.  I absolutely loved it!  In fact, I loved the fire stuff so much, I actually had my senior pictures taken with the pride and joy of the fire department.  Engine 1 was a beautiful Emergency One pumper that I was very proud off and loved to ride on every chance I got.  I received valuable training from the Fire Department and even learned enough to teach other Explorers about what we were to do on scenes.  (Yes, I started this training thing early!)  Plus, I was able to document everything that I learned in training with the fire department so well that those experiences would prove invaluable for the next part of this story.

However, that will have to continue for another post.

Be Safe!

Firedog

Respect?

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Respect?

Many times we see uniforms with bars, stars, and bugles and we wonder what it means?  Those who are ex-military usually get it but what about the rest of us?

What it should mean to all of us it that you do not have to respect the individual wearing the rank, but regardless of the individual, the rank demands a certain degree of respect.  For most, the sooner we recognize this, the easier it is for the organization to function.

Just a thought

So what does it mean “Volunteer Firefighter”?

As many of you are already aware, I work full time for an organization that is technically a combination fire organization.  But, the heart and soul of the organization is the volunteer firefighters.  From the rank of Battalion Chief on down, these dedicated men and women answer the calls for service each day and are as professional as any other firefighter in this line of work.

Lately, I am beginning to ask the question, “What does it mean to be a Volunteer Firefighter”?  It seems that what it meant in the 1980’s when I began calling myself a firefighter and today are different.  Maybe it is, maybe it’s not.  But this question began making me ask this question myself and I thought I would take a little time to answer the question with a few thoughts.

When I began my career in the fire service back in the mid 80’s, I knew what it meant to me.  I had been bitten by the firefighter bug.  I couldn’t wait for the next training class, or until the pager went off.  I would hang around the fire station for hours cleaning trucks, working on bunker drills, practicing search techniques, whatever I could just waiting for the next call.  When the tones did go off, It didn’t matter what time of the day or night, Hot or Cold, Snow, Sleet, Rain, Christmas morning, my birthday, sleepy, tired, sick, hungry….It didn’t matter, I was going.

Some would read this and probably think I am way more crazy than you thought!  You are probably right.  But, I wasn’t the only one like this.  Back then it seemed EVERYONE was that way.  You see, I wasn’t alone hanging out at the station waiting for something to happen.  The whole department would routinely show up just just hang out.  We would have impromptu BBQ’s, Super Bowl Parties, and yes, even would train on whatever the mood struck us to train on.  We all just wanted to do whatever we decided to do at the fire station so that when the tones went off, we were quick out the door and quick to arrive to whatever the need was.

Some people like my dad would ask me all the time, “You know that people get paid to do what you do for free don’t you”?  He was absolutely right but I didn’t care.  I loved being a firefighter and still do today.  Paid, volunteer, part time, paid on call, whatever you call it, I was a firefighter and I LOVE IT.  I knew my stuff and I was good at it.  More than anything I was in the business of helping people on their worst day ever.  That is what it was all about.

So, what does it mean to you to be a volunteer firefighter?  Here are some of my observations and opinions on the subject.

First of all, it means that you take pride in the service you provide.  Retired Fire Chief Rick Lasky has said that being a firefighter is not a job, but it’s a calling.  He is absolutely right!  Many of us have dreamed about being a firefighter since we were small children.  Riding on the fire truck, wearing the gear, and helping your neighbor in their greatest time of need.  You must be dedicated which means that you answer every call for service not because you feel obligated to, not because you need to meet an organizational quota or requirement, but simply because you want to.  Because you cannot imagine doing anything else.

Second, it means that nobody motivates you to be the best firefighter other than you.  To be able to dress out on your PPE faster, advance that attack line better, throw ladders better, and doing every job or task in this business better than the last time you did it and constantly working to make it better still.  We all know that there are regulations and standards that state what the expectations are for our performance as firefighters and those standards are very important!  However, more than anything your ability to perform your job with the highest degree of confidence and safety so that you can make a difference is what counts the most. It’s all about the basics!

Third, it means that you do all of these things because they are important and the right thing to do.  Being a firefighter is not about “what’s in it for me”!  The gratification that we get by receiving an award at a banquet or a thank you from the public for a job well done is always an honor and is an indication of how we are doing.  But what should drive everyone in this business is standing up for what’s right, doing the right thing, and helping people who need our help.

What does it mean to be a volunteer firefighter?  It means answering the call.  Not because of the pay or because of what it may do for you.  But, because it is what you have been called to do and you want to do it more than anything.   It means knowing your tasks so well that you do not even have to think about doing the tasks, they just happen because you know what needs to be done.  It means knowing the basics because no matter how difficult or technical a call is, the basics will pull you through.  It means doing it because you care.  It means doing it because you love what you do so you do what you love.

A volunteer firefighter is no different then those who get paid to do this job.  In fact, when you think about those who work in the paid fire services, they too are technically a “volunteer” because nobody held a gun to their head and told them they have to do that job.  Every firefighter must remember that the NFPA standards do not differentiate between paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters in relation to who has to comply with what standards.  Every firefighter is expected to do the job safely, quickly, and efficiently so that lives can be saved, property can be salvaged, and our communities are protected.  It means that YOU are doing the very best job possible and doing so gives you the greatest feeling in the world.  Pay or not.

Once you know the job and the responsibilities, you have to be dedicated to answer the calls whenever they come in.  Day, Night, Winter, Summer, Christmas, Thanksgiving, always.  Not because you have to, but because YOU WANT TO! Because you take pride in being a firefighter and you are dedicated to the service.

So I challenge each of you who read this.  Ask yourself why I am a firefighter?  It doesn’t matter paid or volunteer.    Be honest with yourself.  If you truly are honest about your answer, maybe you have the right answer.  Maybe you have the drive, the pride to be the best because you want to be.  If not, start looking for ways to find that motivation. Take a class, teach some new recruits, spend some time at the station making something better.  If you still can’t find that motivation, find another occupation, hobby, or whatever you call it.  The fire service and your community doesn’t need people like you.  Nothing personal, just business.

If you are not currently a firefighter, does doing the things that I am talking about here make sense to you?  Do the things I describe here excite you and make you think about becoming a firefighter?  If so, your community needs you.  Your neighbors need you.  Firefighters in the volunteer fire forces are struggling to answer calls and keep the community protected.  Is there sacrifice in being a firefighter?  Absolutely.  There will be much time away from family and friends as you learn this craft, and become proficient at your tasks. You will miss baseball games, birthday parties, Christmas morning.  Not every one… but certainly some of them.  However, there is no greater reward than helping your neighbor and having the honor of  them giving you a simple “thank you”.  No amount of money can buy how that feels. If you want to learn more, stop by your local fire house and find out how you can become one of us.  It will be the best decision of your life.

Many times, I have heard the comment “They’re just a bunch of volunteers” as if that is some excuse for substandard performance.  NO WAY!  Volunteers do things because they want to.  Not because they have to.  Therefore, be a volunteer. a firefighter!  Take pride in what you do.  Be the best you can be everyday.

Be Safe,

Firedog

"Flipping" for training

So about a month ago, I attended the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis.  During the HOT Classes, and other training sessions, there seemed to be a common theme which was floating around all the classes and instructors.  It was an emphasis on how fire service instructors must embrace technology, find new ways to teach firefighters, and do something called “flipping the classroom”.  It seems that someone has suggested that there is a better way to teach firefighters other than “Death by Powerpoint”.  REALLY???  Say it isn’t so!!!

I find the concept of flipping the classroom very interesting.  The concept is really a common sense approach of how to make the instructor led sessions of training more efficient.  The basic idea is that an instructor will provide student materials via a web portal, blackboard, online learning service, or other method before the actual classroom/practical sessions begin.  It is the student’s responsibility to study this material, and be prepared to participate in training based on the ideas and concepts presented in the material prior to class.  When the actual “class” begins, the instructor has less teaching to do because students already have knowledge of the material and simply assists students as they complete the classroom segment.  In some cases, this concept may eliminate a classroom segment altogether and will simply begin with practical training.  Sound good to you?  Here are some pitfalls that must be overcome:

First, How to motivate students to do the coursework prior to training.  This can be done several ways. A test will gauge the knowledge of the student and make sure they have the minimum required knowledge to  continue with the next segment of the course.  Student participation can also be monitored using a variety of computer based learning tools (CBT).  Currently, programs such as Target Solutions (formerly Target Safety), Centrelearn, and others allow the instructor to track student progress and only allow students to continue within the curriculum when they successfully complete certain sections of material/end of course quizzes.  If you are dealing with a career organization, the motivation is quite simple.  Do it or else.  There is always that “do you want to work here?” card you can pull.  Probably not the most effective method however.

Second, The instructor(s) must re-tool their courses to accommodate this delivery method.  Having the knowledge to convert standard powerpoint into a movie format which can be uploaded to the various delivery mediums discussed in the last paragraph.  Making the presentation engaging to where the students will not loose their drive to breath and their pulse as they continue through the material.  There are many new ideas/methods of how to improve today’s presentations.  Any of which can greatly improve the student experience when using standardized curriculum from a vendor or institution.

Third, Instructors are going to have to be ready for intense training and be sure to make good use of the students time.  The students have already spent time and effort to learn the concepts on their own.  As instructors, we must encourage the students to engage and make the training fun and to train like it’s real.  Of course, there is logic which says that the instructor must also verify the knowledge level of the students is adequate and if any relearning must occur, try to be efficient in this effort.

So, the real question is does it work?  I think the overall answer is yes.  This concept has come from educators in our school systems and in that application the concept has been very successful.  Anyone who has been a fire service instructor has come to realize that adult learners are a different breed from our primary and secondary education counterparts.  The other issue here is that students must embrace technology.  Students who in their daily lives are plugged into the world using smart phones, IPads, notebooks and other devices are communicating through Facebook, Twitter, and other ways.  These students will easily adapt and embrace this method.  For the “old dogs”, this will certainly be a stretch and most likely will not work for this group.  Who are the “old dogs”? They know who they are.  Those who still have a “dumb phone”, still pay for an AOL account, just to name a few qualifying items.  So where does that leave the fire service?

CHANGE!  It may be slow at times but it must continue at a steady pace.  At this point in our profession, I do not see that all training courses and topics will qualify for this approach.  However, basic, entry level topics such as Vehicle Rescue, Ventilation Techniques, fire streams, foam application, and other courses that have a few basic concepts will lend itself to this type of delivery.  Student will learn concepts and then receive a solid, hands on training evolution to apply the concepts they learned online.  With practice and fine tuning courses for this delivery concept, more classes can be transitioned into this training format.  At the same time, the students who will learn from this delivery technique will also change and will adapt to this method.  However, no mater how cool the latest gizmo is, how much chrome you put on it, how bright it flashes, training concepts just like everything in the fire service has to be deliberately changed but at a pace where ideas are embraced, new techniques are employed, and the safety and well being of today’s firefighters is always the primary focus of training.

In the coming months, the regional training association which I am a part of has agreed to “Flip the Classroom” for a delivery of a basic firefighter topic.  In the meantime, we will continue to work on transitioning the curriculum to a format where students will access the information in an online delivery prior to classroom/practical skills training.

If you are interested in participating in a pilot of this delivery format, be watching the media outlets for the Greene County Regional Fire Training Association.  The outlets are:

Website:  www.greenecountyfiretraining.com

Facebook:  Greene County Regional Fire Training.

I will be interested to see how this concept works and if we can make it work in “The Show Me State”.  I think it will.  For the sake of those students who are half my age and will continue to out perform me in my ability to embrace technology, I will have to change and keep training interesting, and valid for tomorrow’s fire service.  Do this or my ability to share my knowledge and experience will be left in the dark ages.  This simply cannot happen.  I will not allow it.

So for now, be thinking about “Flipping the Classroom”.  Google it.  Get more information on it.  Once you start looking at what it is and how it works,  you too may begin to think, “I wonder if we could do that here?”  Many are doing exactly that.  As we struggle for volunteer and career firefighters, if we expect to have people ready to respond, we are going to have to find new ways to engage our new firefighters and give them the same rookie spark we all had early in our careers.

Hope to see you soon when we flip the classroom locally.

Be Safe!

Firedog