Firehouse Magazine

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Instructor John Dixon

Passionate, Relevant, and Current Knowledge Sharing For Your Department

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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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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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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