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Identifying Morals, Values, and Principles – How To Become The Best Version of YOU!

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There are plenty leaders standing alone on the proverbial organizational island. It has been said time and time again “the higher up the food chain we ascend, the lonelier we may become.” Why is this so? Perhaps we may have lost sight of how vital our values and principles transcend any leadership style. Let’s identify a few of what may be many examples of the values and principles that are exemplified by outstanding leaders in the fire and emergency services.

The subjectivity of the human condition when discussing values is evident and absolutely normal. The ideology behind our value systems has been cultivated in the timeless debate of nature versus nurture. The environment that we have been raised within as young children most certainly cultivates our lives as we evolve and grow into adulthood. This is where and when our values were cultivated. The roots and foundation are grown and poured to help us build our own unique personal values. There is a cumulative effect of exposure albeit either positively or negatively as we further develop our own values into principles.

Once we can identify what true morals, principles, and values are, we can place the purpose of them into the context of personal, organizational, and community environments. Let’s start with the definition of morals.

Morals – A standard of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable, relating to principles or teaching a concept of right or wrong.

Morals can be equally thought of as character. It can be further defined as the “what” we do when no one is watching us. Our moral compasses and character is what we hold self-evident and display which speaks volumes about our morals. Why do we make the decisions we do? How do we know what is right and what is wrong? We can all agree that lying is wrong yet many of us do this with ease in many different situations. The most egregious lie of all may be to ourselves. By not following our intuitive moral compass we may find ourselves lost and on the wrong path of self-righteousness.

Once we can truly identify what our individual morals are, such as honesty, kindness, and empathy we can build a solid foundation upon leadership principles and styles. “Style refers to the manner and methods that a leader uses to interact with other people, especially those whom they lead and especially when making decisions” (Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R., 2012, p. 196). The morals that we exemplify directly correlates as to the “why” behind our decisions.

So now that we understand the “why” let’s translate the “what and how” into our leadership style. These principles will affect how we practice personal and organizational leadership.

Principles – Rules or laws that one has identified and accepted which governs one’s personal behavior.

Once we can identify the foundational norms, values, and beliefs that represent what is desirable and positive for a person, group, and organization; we can communicate these principles into leadership actions. Such principles as: integrity, tact, bearing, knowledge, and judgement just to name a few of the many; are the “how” we will come to a decision crossroads intertwined with our morals. Hopefully, we can start to see a pattern, a continuum. It is at this crucial intersection that we use our moral compass to guide us and help us find the “true North” of leadership.

As leaders we can begin to outline personal and organizational principles which in turn will develop a system of values to follow. Many people are searching for the Holy Grail of leadership. There is no singular method or equation for quantifying personal or organizational success. There is no magic formula. This is where developing a values/vision statement will help to guide us on the right path. The path of continuous improvement!

Values – Important and lasting beliefs or ideals, shared by the members of a culture, about what is “good or bad” and “desirable or undesirable.”

Values have a major influence upon a person’s behavior and attitude. They serve as broad guidelines in all situations. Such values as: altruism, compassion, diversity, and generosity to simply name a few. This is one part of the aforementioned leadership continuum. This is a non-linear process. Our decisions are not meant to go from East to West or North to South. We as leaders must analyze the impact of our decisions as they pertain to our unique morals, values, and principles. These decisions will not only impact ourselves but will most assuredly impact the organization as a whole.

Often times we may hear that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Many people will opine that it’s either non-existent or extremely low. One way to inspect this challenge is to re-examine the core values within an organization. Do the organizational values align with the values of the people who reside within it? Are the shareholders in concert with the organizational mission statement? If the answer is anything other than yes, it’s time to break out our moral compasses to find our true North, go back to the map to find our original starting point, and retrace our steps.

In closing, I firmly believe that analyzing our morals, principles, and values will help frame and build us as leaders in order to construct our mission statement. Otherwise, how will we know how to make the best decisions? Hopefully, if you have been following me you will have seen my Personal Mission Statement:

“Together WE can lead, encourage, and motivate each other towards seeking continuous improvement while promoting emergency service excellence within ourselves and others one day at a time.”

This mission statement was not developed over night. The morals, principles, and values that were, and continue to be engrained within me are geared towards seeking continuous improvement in all aspects my personal and professional goals.

I offer you this challenge. Take some time to self-evaluate your own set of morals, principles, and values. Be absolutely honest with yourself. Try to understand who you truly are and the goals you wish to accomplish personally and professionally. Jot these goals down. After sometime, you will recognize that you have plotted the coordinates on the path to success. Guess what.... If you don’t already have a personal mission statement, you’ve just created the scaffolding or blueprints to build one.

I would be humbled and honored to read and or help anyone in this process. If you have a personal mission statement completed already, please send it to me. Post it on social media! Be proud. If you don’t have one, what are you waiting for? There is greatness within you. Simply identify the best version of you and then execute the plan.

 

Cover Photo Courtesy: Chris Baker

References
Thiel, A. K., & Jennings, C. R. (2012). Managing fire and emergency services. Washington, D.C.: International City/County Management Association.

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Empowerment

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To better define empowerment and truly understand what this action is, we must fully understand what it is not. Stopping unsafe acts is directly impacted by our abilities to empower others to act; therefore we must also become empowered ourselves.

Empowerment is a very strong word. It can be said that this action is often met with great resistance because it allows for the transfer of power. “To empower is to enable, or to equip or supply with an ability” (Ford, 2012, p. 81). This action of giving authority to others is sometimes misunderstood. The American fire service has become much better in recent years allowing its members to step up and assume more responsibilities.

The very opposite of empowerment is micromanagement. This will cause many people and organizations to become stagnant. In order for empowerment to be embraced, we as a service organization must think along the lines of investment. Investing in our people is the best way to empower them. A great way of accomplishing a positive culture change is to employ the ABC’s.

Attitudes

We must expect and demand as a professional service the utmost in our people’s attitudes. A positive mindset can only be fostered by empowering others with positive surroundings such as access to quality training, formal education, and progressiveness. We are all in direct control of our attitudes but we are also greatly influenced by the level of empowerment we receive from our superiors. The trickledown effect of a positive culture will be a huge return of investment.

Behaviors

Our behaviors are a direct result of our attitudes. It is impossible to have positive outcomes with our behaviors if our mindset is not cultivated. This is where a divide within the fire service can be seen. The behaviors of the older generations of firefighters differ in many ways than the newer generations. The introduction of Crew Resource Management into the fire service is seen as a direct challenge of authority.

While the younger generation has been indoctrinated to ask questions, the older generation understands this to be a lack of a willingness to comply thus the appearance of entitlement is born.

Culture

The ability for empowerment to help stop unsafe acts is dependent upon our knowledge, skills and abilities. The development of KSA’s is directly impacted by the culture within our organization. “The foundation of the future lies in the concept of empowerment” (Ford, 2012. P. 82). Some may say that the fire service culture is doomed. These are specifically the people that would say empowering others is a mistake. They lack the understanding of evolution.

As an Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, it is my humble duty to pontificate the sixteen Life Safety Initiatives. The number one initiative is in fact calling for a cultural change.

Life Safety Initiative #1

Define and advocate the need for a cultural change within the fire service relating to safety; incorporating leadership, management, supervision, accountability and personal responsibility.


“It is important to understand that culture is either by design or default. Deviant behavior and actions are a result of learning the norms, values and beliefs of the organization as a whole” (Dixon, 2015).


In closing, many focus simply on kinesthetic actions in order to stop unsafe acts. In hindsight, many of the tragic outcomes could have been prevented. It is far easier to prevent a drift into failure than it is to correct. The development of our ABC’s is paramount in setting the trend of empowerment.

It does no one any good to keep correcting ourselves on the fireground from negative outcomes when we cannot control our own attitudes, behaviors and ultimately develop a more positive culture while we are back in the station.

References

Ford, T. (2012). Fire and emergency services safety and survival. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Dixon, J. (2015). The Normalization of Deviance. Firehouse Magazine, Vol. 40, N.10. p.49.

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Dichotomy of Attitudes, Behaviors, and Culture

Dichotomy of Attitudes, Behaviors, and Culture

The great dichotomy within today’s fire service is all about perceived culture. The improvement of our culture as a whole within the emergency services is relative to our specific paradigms. Much can be done as has been implemented already but there is so much more work to do. It's the whole nature vs. nurture argument. As leaders we have a burden of command. We have to balance young aggressive firefighters to ensure that specific tasks are completed in the safest manner possible while battling their perception of what is heroic or cowardice!

There are varying definitions or understandings of fire service culture. Some would lead us to believe that culture is not very important within an emergency organization because it only effects the “what” of our actions. I would like to argue that culture is a vital component of the “why” within every aspect of our decision making processes. Our culture by default becomes our identities. Fire service culture varies throughout the country and depending on where or how old the organization is, will determine how entrenched a specific culture has become. This deep rooted belief system will impact operations, both strategically and tactically.

In the Northeast where I have been raised in the fire service, the culture is very rooted in tradition. Many of the strategies are based upon the “what” we have always done in the past with various levels of successes or failures. We hold these traditions so close to our beliefs that they often define our values. “Cultural responsibility at the department level is probably the most difficult to infuse in today’s society.” (Ford, T., 2012, pg. 21).

Steps that can be taken to improve upon our culture include attitudes, behaviors, and education. Our personal attitude is synonymous to our personal accountability. We must become better at accepting our roles within the organization as vital ones. The times of simply acting as a drone or a good foot soldier must come to an end. We have become increasingly better at this because of our changes in behaviors.

In order for our attitudes to improve, we must also redirect our behaviors to support those within our organizations who are seeking to build upon a newer culture or sets of values and beliefs. “In order for cultural change to take place, leadership has to have a mind-set that supports open communication and an open-minded approach to change.” (Ford, T., 2012, pg. 24). Such behaviors as attending conferences, outside training opportunities, and formal education are great ways to help support the paradigm shift we need.

It has been my experience that organizations that embrace a formal educational process have a better understanding of the importance of shaping the future. Critical thinking that is developed by higher learning institutions is exactly what will help our profession achieve future success. The ability to step back and institute the APIE process (analyze, plan, implement, and evaluate) will most assuredly help our future leaders develop other future leaders and create that ripple effect. This is extreme ownership at its best.

In closing, many people have pontificated on how to change a culture within the fire service. I am one of those people. I’m blessed to travel the globe teaching my programs at conferences. I have been published in trade magazines and websites. I also happen to be an Advocate for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation here in NJ.

With that said, the best way that I can think of to help spread the message of culture change is in fact to be the change that I would like and hope to see. Setting the example for others to see and follow is a rare opportunity and one I do not take lightly. It’s a trickledown effect. Seek continuous improvement in myself and help others along the way. This is how we improve culture!

How will you help?

 

References
Ford, T. (2012). Fire and emergency services safety and survival, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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Legacy vs. Modern Fire Environment

Legacy vs. Modern Fire Environment

Brief Analysis

There has been and continues to be great work performed in comparing and contrasting the differences between fires in today’s modern fire environment versus those that were seen in the past decades referred to as the legacy environment. It can be said that the fire itself does not behave any different than it’s supposed to. The fire does not think therefore it is extrememly predictable!  

The chemistry and physics of fire remain the same yet the environment or the compartments that these fires are burning in have significantly changed, thus changing the dynamic in which we chose to measure fire severity. The basic mechanism in which fires spread have increased solely because of the products that are within our environment therefore we must improve our understanding of our surroundings as it relates to fire propagation.

The Legacy Fire Environment

The time period of structures built between 1900 and 1949 can be labeled as legacy construction. The use of true dimensional lumber was the norm for the frame of residential structures. In taking a look back to the products that made up the environment, the all-natural wood, cloth, and organic fibers were the mainstays of these furnishings. These materials were the prevalent resource used in the construction of the contents that were inside compartments. In legacy fires, the fire initiation was slower because the breakdown in the chemical bonds of the materials burning did not create a high exothermic condition.

Gann and Friedman state (2015) “Smoldering is the most common initial stage of combustion in fires that lead to injury or death” (p.83). In legacy fires the smoldering stage lasted much longer in duration because of the natural chemical bonds of the furnishings and surrounding environment. In legacy fires, combustion is impacted directly upon the pyrolysis of the aforementioned environment. It can be argued that the basic mechanism of fire spread in legacy fires is through conduction.

The direct heating of one material because it is in contact with another burning or flaming material. The unburned fuel particles did not generate enough enthalpy to spread flaming combustion via convective currents as fast as they do now in modern fires. This delay of rapid combustion allowed firefighters to over ventilate to create lift and sparingly use water for extinguishment.

The Modern Fire Environment

The current construction environment that we find ourselves in is extremely dangerous. The use of cheaper more factory made structural components which are constructed with glues and frozen hydrocarbons directly increase enthalpy whereas the natural stick built home does not. The process of pyrolysis is significantly increased thus lowering the amount of time we as firefighters have to initiate the break in the chemical chain reaction. “Pyrolysis is different from smoldering in that pyrolysis stops when the heat source is removed, while smoldering generates sufficient heat to continue without external heat input” (Gann & Friedman, 2015, p. 83).

The external heat output of modern day fires within the compartment are constantly generating enough enthalpy to continue the smoldering process even without a direct smoldering source. The basic mechanism of fire spread in this environment can be seen through all three heat transfer processes. The noticeable difference of conduction as seen within legacy heat transfer is now magnified with convection and the movement of superheated smoke which is unburned frozen hydrocarbons at the molecular level.

In legacy fires the main extinguishment process was to surface cool. Now with the addition of what I call fluid combustion; gas cooling and the efficacy of water placement is now the order of the day. Until we, as educators can improve upon how we train the US Fire Service at the street level in the laws of thermodynamics I fear that the civil war will continue among us and continue to grow.

In Sum

One of the many reasons of fire propagation we see today in modern day fires is because we the fire department, have failed to embrace science as a tool. I cannot remember the last time I myself have gone to a fire as we made the fire bigger, hotter, and move faster because of our actions. I’m certain that we can improve upon this chain of events. Our attitudes, behaviors, and cultures have not evolved as quickly as the built environment. We are still fighting modern day fires with a legacy mindset!

References 

Gann, R., & Friedman, R. (2015). Principles of fire behavior and combustion (4th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Photo Credit: Brett M. Dzadik

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3 Simple Ways to Improve Personal Accountability

3 Simple Ways to Improve Personal Accountability

We in the fire service should be very familiar with the term accountability. On the fire ground it’s referred to as performing a P.A.R. (personal accountability report) or roll call; and usually this report whether it’s communicated via the radio or through a face to face is to ensure that our crews are safe, where they are supposed to be, and that conditions are improving.

The textbooks all say to some varying degree the time interval as to when these reports shall be performed; usually it happens when there is a drastic change in conditions or the incident action plan. I would like to offer up a different perspective on this truly life saving tactic. Let’s take this vital action and bring it over into our personal lives. We all have goals that we are working hard to accomplish. We all have a desired outcome of some sort either personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Let’s all become better at holding ourselves accountable as well as those that are around us, those we can influence, and those within our circle of trusted friends and family. Let’s create a network of accountability partners.

Here are 3 steps to create an accountability network.

Step #1 - Take an inventory of your goals.

Sit down and write them out. I have written my goals on index cards and placed them in my direct line of sight in my office. It’s often easy to set aside a tough goal due to the fact that we may choose to pile on more and more goals losing sight of our original personal game plan. I find what works for me is to write them down and constantly look at them. This helps me to remain focused on the tasks at hand and not take on more work than I can handle effectively.

Step #2 – Create the network.

Select a group of trusted friends, colleagues, or family members. Communicate your goals to them and describe how you plan on achieving them. In the digital age that we all live in these days, there is no excuse for not being able to communicate. There are many ways for all of us to stay in touch. We have email, text messages, and social media outlets. I don’t care if you have to send smoke signals, but it’s imperative to create the network.

Step #3- Perform the accountability check.

Once we have a clear understanding of our desired goals and set up the network, the next step is to hold everyone accountable. Take 20 minutes on a selected day of the week by all in the network and call each other. Ask if the actions we have taken during the week have moved us further to accomplishing the goals we strive for. Ask if there is anything you can do to help those within the network to get them closer to the goal. We are all stronger together. Develop the teamwork mentality.

Ladies and gentlemen, in my opinion the only way we can become better is to seek continuous improvement. Build upon your successes brick by brick. Create that solid foundation so you may build a life of happiness. Do not let the negative insurgency in your thoughts. Defeat them at all costs. Your network will help you.

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What Is Fire Service Culture

What Is Fire Service Culture

This is a profound question and it’s very similar to asking, what is the meaning of life? Culture has been defined by many different people under many different paradigms. Simply stated, culture is the customs and beliefs of a particular group of people during a specific frame of time. In the fire service we often hear “we need to change our culture” and that our “culture is changing for the worse.” In order to truly understand fire service culture we must first define what our collective culture actually is.


According to history the first attempt at an organized fire suppression group was ordered by Augustus the Emperor of Rome and promulgated by Marcus Licinius Crassus. There’s also evidence to support that fire pumps were created long before Roman rule dating back to Egyptian times therefore proving that a culture of fire safety was prudent and recognized. It would be interesting indeed to have seen the strategies and tactics of extinguishment during this time.


Fast forward to the early American Fire Service during the times of Ben Franklin who has been credited with establishing the first volunteer fire department. What was the recognized culture during this time period? It can be said the beliefs of the early colonists were that fire protection was incumbent upon the property owner themselves and not a vital concern for the general public. That is until fire loss became an epidemic due to building construction methods which made it rather easy for fire conflagrations.


It was customary for neighbors and fellow business owners to help one another but it was very unorganized to say the least. So what changed? If it was an early belief to not become involved in fire protection unless it was your property meanwhile fire loss was rising and our actions for helping one another were on the rise, can it be assumed that our culture of others before self was born?


Here in lies the difference between the two time frames. During Roman times the property belonged to the government whereas during colonial times property was individually owned and operated. I would like to describe this paradigm shift as a culture of necessity. It was absolutely necessary for our early founders to take ownership of their customs and actions by changing their belief of how fire suppression should be delivered. Can we change our beliefs on how the fire service today delivers our service? This is the 64 million dollar question.


Modern fire service culture has been for some time now gravitating towards the organization itself rather than the citizens we are sworn to protect. We are trying to remain relevant to our mission of life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation all at the same time as we are fighting one another on how to actually provide that service. We are creating an entirely new culture of self above others.


This new paradigm of self above others would suggest that our emotions are still in control of our behaviors therefore furthering the argument that our culture shapes our actions. Which is why it is imperative to take caution in how we shape the future of the fire service.

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Why Professional Credentialing Is Important

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It is with great humility and honor to share with you that I have earned the Fire Officer (FO) professional credential from the Center for Public Safety Excellence. Throughout this process I have been asked by many of my peers and fire service friends what this credential actually means. The very next question was how can they can start the process to earn a credential of their own. Allow me to first describe what the Center for Public Safety Excellence is.


What is the Center for Public Safety Excellence?

The Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. The primary resource for the fire and emergency profession to continuously improve services resulting in a higher quality of life for communities. CPSE has successfully helped public safety agencies around the world streamline and improve the services they provide their communities through its numerous programs and services.

CPSE provides the only accreditation program for fire service organizations in the world. The CPSE offers nationally-recognized designations for fire and emergency services officers. CPSE has over 200 accredited agencies and over 1700 designated officers throughout the world. The process of obtaining a credential is set by the Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC). This commission is promulgated by rules and regulations set forth by the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). There is an Internationally accepted model which recognizes professional accomplishments and competence in fire and emergency services. CPSE offers fire and emergency service personnel career guidance and planning via many in-house programs and classes. 
(Click here for CPSE website)


Why Seeking Continuous Improvement is Important

As we progress in the fire service it is vital to perform internal checks and balances. These “gut checks” as I like to call them provide an unbiased outside evaluation of ourselves. Whether we serve as a career, volunteer, combination, paid on call, or what have you; we must pause from time to time and take stock in what and how we are moving forward personally and professionally. This is a prime example of operating outside of our comfort zones because the in-depth application process is reviewed by peers in the fire service with whom we have no connections with and forces us to reflect inward to look outward.

The balance of training and experience which is the holy grail in today’s fire service and highly coveted by all is part of the CPSE mission. Some will opine that simply placing a few letters after our names is not an indication of how salty of a firefighter/fire officer we are but I would challenge that sentiment with this question. “Have you allowed yourself to open up to an unbiased and critical evaluation of your professional pedigree?”

It is easy to continuously operate inside our comfort zones, surround ourselves only with likeminded peers, therefore never offering ourselves up for constructive criticism. This a disservice to those that we have sworn to protect.
I would be lying to all of you if I said that I wasn’t nervous and had second thoughts about submitting my application. Having said that, the process forced me to take an in depth look at my commitment to the fire service along with a ton of questions. Did I have enough education? Did I have enough experience? How will I explain this to the panel of peer reviewers? What if they say I’m not good enough?

In answering these questions, I realized that I was seeking continuous improvement and simply had to learn to itemize it! Think back to all those academy classes, individual self-study courses, countless hours of drills and many hours of reading publications. The college courses we felt would never end all the time questioning if this has any bearing whatsoever in performing our duties. I will tell you that it most certainly does! Everything that we do makes us better. We simply need to pause from time to time and take a personal inventory. This is what I call the process of seeking continuous improvement.

If you have been following me, you will know that I have a personal mission statement. This mission statement drives all of my decisions. It allows me to stay open and transparent with all of you and most importantly myself. If you have a mission statement of your own great! If not, I highly recommend that you start to develop one.
(I’m sensing another blog post on this)

The Process

This is a very brief overview of the application process. I have included the link to the CPSE website which will outline the process in greater detail once you obtain the application. There is no cost to obtain the application. Just go to the site, create a profile, and download the paperwork.

Be prepared to:
Write essays
Describe your position in the fire service such as job title functions
Create a table of organization showing where you fit in
Obtain letters of recommendation
Make copies of National, State, and local certifications
Chronologically list training, formal education, and continuing education
List professional affiliations to other organizations
List community service involvement
Speaking/Teaching engagements in conferences and such

All of this information will help in describing how you will measure up to the commissions core competencies. There are different competencies for each of the credentials. For the Fire Officer (FO) credential there are at least 12 that need to be satisfied. It would also be beneficial to review NFPA 1021 – The Professional Qualifications of Fire Officer. Each of the core competencies will need a signed attestation statement from a superior. So as you can see, this is not a walk in the park and there is a considerable amount of time that you will need to invest to complete this process. It took me about 4 months to complete. I can assure you though, once you complete the process you will have a 30,000-foot view of yourself and will see the path of continuous improvement before you in which self-reflection is a vital component.

In Closing

Again, I would like to thank all of my fire service peers and friends who have supported me throughout this process and encouraged me to fulfill my own personal mission as I strive for excellence. The brotherhood is alive and well!
If obtaining your professional credentials is something you are interested in, please feel free to reach out to me. I would be eager to tell you all about the process and be more than happy to help you complete the application. Please visit the CPSE website and see what credential is right for you. Be proud of who you are and what you have achieved. It’s a matter of personal pride and a sign of your continued dedication to the fire service.

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How I Transition To/From Home

How I Transition To/From Home


As a fire officer I value my responsibilities very seriously. What would be great for families and loved ones to understand is that the level of preparation before our shifts does not begin the moment we walk into the fire station. There is a level of anxiety, routine, and mental preparedness that must be addressed. This is where my hour long commute to work may at times seem as a pain but I have made the conscious decision to use this time wisely. Let’s discuss what actions we can take to best maximize and prepare for the transition to work.

Shift Planning

Currently my platoon assignment is the roving officer and I’m stationed at headquarters. This brings a level of anxiety onto itself. I have very little idea of what station I will be assigned to for the next twenty four hours. This is sometimes troubling to plan my day as I have to wonder about what meal arraignments have been made or do I pack three meals for myself and be that guy! Of course there will be company training which may or may not be scheduled from the department training officer so we as a company will have to decide what to do. Often times as I read through the trade magazines and websites, I will use current events to dictate the content of our company drills. Often times, we as a company decide what to do as a team so there is buy-in from the entire crew.

Podcasts

A great resource that I utilize during the commute are podcasts. There is no shortage of fire service podcasts to listen to during a commute. Some episodes are better than others and most will discuss training and how to become better at our profession which can even become audio drills for the company. I have found great content with the help of podcasts. There are also great podcasts that are not fire serviced centered that can prepare me for the next twenty four hours of unknown chaos or relative boredom.

Audio Books

Most firefighters spend a bunch of time in our mobile offices. This leaves a considerable amount of time to audibly read. Whether it may be promotional materials, college course work, or leisurely reading. The hour can be spent wisely listening to books that we would otherwise not read because we are too busy on the home front.
There is a considerable amount of preparation for us to go to work. Physically and most importantly mentally. The commute for me is a way that I can set aside issues that are at home such as family schedules, soccer or basketball practices and games, and even the honey do list. This is a major part of how I prepare for my home life to my fire officer transition. 

Transition Home

Now on the opposite hand is the ride home. This is where we can utilize our commutes as a decompression time. We are faced with major decisions, personalities, and stressors while we are at work and are now driving home for the same set of circumstances just with our families instead of coworkers. This is extremely vital for me to unwind and prepare for my home life.


Sounds crazy right? Having to prepare to go home. The place of respite and comfort. Consider this, how many times while we were on shift has a broken water pipe pushed our significant others over the edge? How many double booked athletic events wreaked havoc on the family taxi? Most assuredly, there were phone calls and texts from our loved ones reaching out for comfort while we try to hold the line from far away.


The transition for me begins the moment I step foot off of the fire station grounds. Like a switch, I take off my fire officer hat off and begin the process of becoming the husband and father that my family needs and expects. Thank God that I have an hour. Sometimes I feel that I may need more time!


During the week my two girls are off to school before I get home which means that my wife is home. One way to decompress is to stop at the bagel store and bring peace offerings. The honey do list items seem to grow exponentially bigger overnight, and maybe I can check off a few during my ride home by stopping at the home improvement store. Often times a “good morning beautiful” text or encouraging words to “get some” as my wife heads to her workout session sets the tone for the rest of the day.


The commute home for me is a way to stop thinking about the fire service and start thinking of how I can better serve my family. Just as in hazardous materials responses where time, distance, and shielding are ways to keep safe so too will they work for the transition home. The better that we can learn to compartmentalize our work lives from our home lives will most certainly help with stress management.

Make The Time

One way that I have found to be extremely helpful for our marriage is to have regular lunch dates. There is so little time devoted to just the two of us that we find at least an hour or so to go and grab a bite together. This time together has proven to become a must for us every day. This allows us to be selfish with our time and not take away time from the children once they get home from school and athletics. I find that this is the best decompression method. My wife and I stop what we are doing, get in the truck and simply enjoy our alone time. It makes a significant difference!

In closing, our significant others may not see the need for us to prepare for work much less having to prepare to return home but this is a staple to a healthy and happy home life. Utilizing the time, distance, and shielding method has helped me and my family to stay happy and strong. I hope that a small glimpse into my daily life will help some of you as you read this very valuable resource that I wish was available when I first started out in my fire service career. From my family to you and yours, stay safe out there, love one another selfishly and may God continue to bless you and your families.

***This article contribution is featured in Lori Mercer's book titled:
Honor & Commitment: Standard Life Operating Guidelines for Firefighters & Their Families
24-7 Commitment Website: 247commitment.org

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We Are On The Same Team…Right?

We Are On The Same Team…Right?

The Fire Service is changing.  Yet, some would argue that it isn’t and we still hold true to our cultures, traditions, and mission.  I would like to offer up a different perspective – a view of which I’m certain that will receive ridicule from those who do not like change.  For the purposes of this discussion, let’s rephrase the word change and use a positive and powerful word: Improvement.

Civil War

There appears to be a civil war brewing among us.  The thoughts, actions, and communications between us seem to be nothing more than ideological rhetoric that gains traction only within specific factions – in defense of a particular facet of culture or ideology rather than for the sake of honest and respectful discussion.   There are lines being drawn and foxholes being dug, on whatever side of the proverbial line in the sand that we happen to be standing.  One of the root causes (of which there were many) of the American Civil War was the act of Sectionalism.  This can be further defined as a divide between economies, social structures, customs, and political values. The South perceived the encroachment of the industrialized and urbanized North as a danger to their culture and way of life.  The same can be said of our beloved fire service.

An encroachment of fire service improvement may be perceived as a threat to those of us who hold a staunch belief that no improvement is necessary to how we operate.  Those of us who hold on so tightly to our set of values, culture structures, and beliefs would lead us to believe that improvement is merely change and therefore, is dangerous.

We must fight the urge to dive into a territorial crisis.  There is no north or south in the American fire service.  There is simply one fire service nation, and we must not become divided. Imagining the alternative is simply unthinkable.  We must seek continuous improvement, and if that means we must change the way we operate, interact, and learn, then so be it.  Change for the sake of saying we changed something is neither constructive nor positive.  Improvement on the other hand, is always warranted and desperately needed.  So let’s all stop saying we need to change.  Let’s focus on improvement instead.

Social Media

The Fire Service Civil War is alive and active throughout all the social media platforms.  We don’t need to look very hard to see daggers being thrown at one another from our keyboards.  There are those who say that social media is a necessary evil and has created a genre of “light weight instruction”.  In many cases however, these are the same people that use the same platform to drive the wedge deeper – thus further propagating a “civil war” simply because we may not agree.

Where we get our information is just as important as who we are allowing to occupy our valuable brain time.  Social media is a change agent that is sometimes perceived to be bad.  The reality is, it has improved our communication.  The burden of “checking the resume” now falls on the reader instead of formal institutions such as academies, universities, and conference organizers that vet instructors on many different levels to ensure a quality delivery.

Who we choose to follow, like, and associate with says a lot about the type of firefighter we are.  Many of us have fallen into the social media “trap”, (myself included), but I didn’t let that change me.  Instead, I learned to improve my communication style.

The Oath

I, (your name), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of (Name of state) against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, and I will faithfully and impartially discharge my duties as firefighter of the (name of department, city, township, etc.) under the appointment of the department according to the laws of the (State, township, county) to the best of my skills and abilities, so help me God.

There have been great debates on what the oath actually means.  While the wording is very straightforward, it is also somewhat subjective in nature.  Many of us have read or heard that it’s our duty to die for our citizens, that it’s our job to do so.  I challenge all of you to explain to me where in the oath that it’s expected of me to trade my life for that of someone else. If I should happen to die in the line of duty, it’s for a damn good reason and the circumstances were far outside of my control.  Yes, firefighting is inherently dangerous.  I accept that fact, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to trade my life for that of John Q Public under the auspices of tradition.

I have had the honor of taking one of the best oaths around.  When I raised my right hand and swore to protect a nation as a US Marine, that wasn’t a promise or an expectation that I would die in service to my country.  Rather, it was an expectation that I was going to make others die for theirs!  Again, I challenge anyone to show me where it says I’m willing to trade my life under the auspices of tradition.

The public demands that we are trained to the best of our abilities.  This is how we must interpret the oath. This is how we improve.

Same Team

We have brother and sister firefighters committing suicide at alarming rates, and we keep arguing about how to effectively apply water to a fire.  Heart disease and cancer rates are climbing, yet we argue about who or what agencies are receiving research funding.  We must remember that we are all on the same team; we all took the same oath!  It’s okay to have a difference in our passionate opinions.  But, we must rise above the rhetoric and improve upon how we talk and interact with one another.  

We must keep things in perspective with an objective to seek improvement.  I for one will be passionate about remaining positive and helping others to realize their full potential as firefighters and leaders.

Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. – Desmond Tutu

Choose to improve and lift others up instead of tearing them down.

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Are You A Seeker?

Are You A Seeker?

On the road of life there are many positive courses of action that can be taken. As we all have come to understand, there are positive outcomes as well as negative ones. The choices we all make each and every day play a huge part in where the road takes us. What thoughts, actions, and decisions are we making to ensure that we will arrive at our desired destination? What do you seek in life?

The title of this article asks a very profound question.


Let's examine how we can become better at becoming a seeker rather than a peeker.

Seek Knowledge & Wisdom

Some may say that the fire service is heading down the wrong road. There appears to be a line in the sand in terms of where the destination must be. The us versus them mentality. Why?

We should all become better at listening to others points of view. We should all become better at listening with the intent to understand rather than the intent to reply. Merely peeking into a portion of a message, training tactic or thoughts of action is a disservice to all. It's counterproductive and damaging to the end game, the destination.

How will you seek knowledge and wisdom?

Seek Mental & Physical Fitness

There is a growing epidemic within the fire service. Our mental and physical fitness levels are declining. Why are we allowing this to happen to ourselves? We preach brotherhood but fail to live up to the actions of what is expected of a brotherhood.

Suicide and substance abuse are climbing at alarming rates. Are we truly our brother's keepers or are we just peeking into the problem and hiding within the shadows.

90 Percent of what we do as firefighters and first responders occurs off of the fire ground or emergency scene but we focus solely on the 10 percent of the actions we perform the least.

Gordon Graham says it best. We are focusing on the high frequency /low risk events when we should be focusing on the high risk/ low frequency events.

When was the last time you went to the gym? When was the last time you did a push up or got your heart rate up to improve your cardio profile? Our fitness levels are a direct result of recent LODD.
In NJ alone there were 9 firefighter line of duty deaths and 8 of them were due to health reasons. This is unacceptable.

How will you seek to improve your mental and physical health? What are you prepared to do?

Seek Technical & Tactical Proficiency

This is where we must focus on our fire ground strategy and tactics. The 10 percent of what we do. The opportunities to train are out there but many refuse to take advantage. There are great people within the fire service that take much of their free time and money to research not only the "new" and exciting techniques but the very basics of firefighting as well.

When was the last time you took in a training class that wasn't mandatory? When was the last time you decided to learn something new or reinforce what you already know?

My fire service brother Mike Daley recently published an article on Firehouse.com titled: Are you good enough? If our answer to this question is anything other than a resounding "no", I fear that complacency has shown its ugly head yet again.

Are we seeking continuous improvement or are we peeking at our computer screens honing our skills as armchair snipers. Choose to become technically and tactically proficient with learning how to do our jobs safer not tearing others apart because they might have a different perspective of where the destination might be.

How will you seek continuous improvement? What is your destination?

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Apologetic Passion

Apologetic Passion

Let's examine why it may be beneficial to be apologetic for having passion.

Many leadership guru's, foward thinkers, and thought provokers will say "never be apologetic" for having passion for whatever it is that you choose to pursue in life. Whether it's your career, hobbies, and even your personal beliefs, our passions may fall under intense scrutiny by those who do not share it with us.

I would like to offer up a different perspective. Let's call it "Apologetic Passion."

Let me be as clear as I can be; I will never be one to apologize for my passion but I will apologize to others because they have chosen not to embrace it. I have learned to become sorry for them. You see, we all have a choice each and every morning when we rise from our beds. It may sound cliché but the choice we must choose is to be better than we were yesterday.

Continuously seeking out improvement no matter how big or small it may be. This is known as the "Kaizen" way of life.

Complacency and low morale are like bacteria growing within the body. It's going to take like minded individuals who band together like white blood cells attacking the bacteria. Those who have been vaccinated against positive leadership either don't know it because they are trapped by a culture of default rather than a culture by design or they have made a choice not to seek help and are looking to infect others.

Those who choose the attitude of "talking the talk" will soon have their motives uncovered, while those who have chosen to "walk the walk" will continue to do so. Whether it it's behind the scenes or out in the open. Our passion will shine through and become contagious.

Eventually natural selection will take over. Those who make the choice to become better will do so and those who choose not to will hopefully be eradicated. Attitudes, behaviors, and passion are contagious.

Let's ensure that our attitudes, passion, and most importantly our actions are qualities worth catching.

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Voices In Your Head

Voices In Your Head

While driving home this morning from a 38 hour moderately busy tour of duty in the station I started to hear a few voices that were whispering in my head. After turning off the radio to make sure I wasn't crazy or hallucinating the voices became louder. I would like to share with you what these voices were saying to me.

Let me first set the stage and explain why I think this was happening to me.

There was a recent LODD in NJ. The Firefighter was only 44 years young with a wife and family. He had worked a Christmas tour in his Fire Department and was called home by God.

This got me thinking as we all do when we learn of a LODD. Wow, only 44 and gone! This is when the first voice started to chime in. The voice said "John, this could have been you." I chalked this up to my inner subconscious trying to keep me on a path to ensuring that this doesn't happen to me, at least to the best of my ability.

I started to realize that I'm extremely tired and couldn't wait to get home to get some rest. Call it a day at 0930 hours and just be thankful that my ticket wasn't punched. This is when another voice started to whisper in my brain.

The voice said "Hey you. Yes you there. Go home, go to sleep. Waste the day!" "There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening to you!" This, my friends was the demon I call "Complacency!"

It would be very easy to pack it in for the day, take the easy way out and allow the "Negative Insurgency" to control me. As I drove closer to home and passed the gym the voice then said to me "Nah, you don't have the energy to work out today, just go home!" "There is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening to you!"

As I continued to drive I looked down at a picture of my beautiful daughters on my dashboard and this is when the third and final voice spoke to me. "Don't do it for you, do it for them!" This is when my grip became a little bit tighter, my knuckles turning white on my steering wheel. I started to become angry with myself. Why was I allowing the negative insurgency to speak to me? Why was I even listening?

The moral of the story here folks is we all struggle with the voices in our heads. Its ok, we are not crazy. These voices are sometimes good for us to hear. This is what allows us to make the decisions to become better. To not let the negative insurgency take control of us. This is what I like to call motivation. It comes in all shapes, sizes and voices.

In times such as these I remember all the conversations I have had with my close friends and mentors or as my good friend Andy Starnes likes to say, "The Board of Directors", helping me on my journey towards becoming better. Lifting me up when I'm down.

Upon reflection when I finally arrived home from my hour long commute, I hugged my wife and children a little tighter this day. Looked at the couch and shouted out "NO!" Got changed to go to the gym and made a decision that I will not let complacency win. The negative insurgency has no place in my head. Seek continuous improvement, don't ever give up!

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Welcome

Welcome

Welcome

Welcome and thank you for making the decision to seek continuous improvement. It is my goal to help you take your training and skills to the next level with relevant, current, and passionate instruction on all topics fire service related.

This website is dedicated to all those who will not be apologetic for having passion for their service. The "brotherhood" is alive and well, together all we have to do is live within it and share our passion with others.

This website is for informational purposes only and in no way is the information considered to be gospel. I encourage all of you to get involved, pass on knowledge, and leave the fire service in better condition than we found it. Our motivation and attitudes are contagious. We must ensure that ours are worth catching!

If you should have any questions or would like to just talk, please reach out to me. I have an open door to listen, large shoulders to lean on, and thick skin so the negative insurgency has no way in!

Be safe! 

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