Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wisdom from Old Guys Part III

If you've been around since the beginning, you have read my 2 previous Wisdom posts ( Part I & Part II).  It's been a while since I visited this subject, but the other day something showed up in my e-mail inbox and I cannot pass up on the opportunity to share it with you.

The voice of the senior man is something that is not heard as much these days.  Often it gets drowned out by everything that comes our way in this job.  It seems to me that these days, the voice of youthful entitlement often overshadows the voice of seniority.  I'm not advocating throwing around seniority by any stretch of the imagination, however there is a wealth of knowledge that can be taken from some of these senior men if you listen carefully.  It's easy to hear, you just have to open your ears; sometimes it's a loud shout of reprimand over a dispute, sometimes it's in quiet reassurance to a new guy, and sometimes it's in an e-mail to the entire fire department.

The following is Sleepy's last e-mail to the fire department.  For those of you that don't know him, he's that guy,  the senior man, not afraid to speak up for what he believes in, not afraid to call someone's bluff, and not afraid to go against the grain to get his point across.  For those that do know him, like him or not, you cannot argue with the following words.  Folks, this is the voice of seniority.  Enjoy.

Sleepy's Final E-mail to the Department

I’d like to start off by saying it has been a great honor to serve as a firefighter for the Charlotte Fire Dept. for 28 years.  The proudest moment in my life was when I got my badge pinned at recruit graduation.  I was very fortunate to come into this department at the tail end of an era that will only be remembered by the tales around the firehouse table.  We rode on the tailboard of the truck and on the top of the hose beds to dress out in air-packs.  This was, of course, on the long nose Seagrave fire engines that were reserve trucks.  We stood up in the jump seats, we sat on the “dog house”, wind blowing in your face, and when you rode through the streets of downtown with the sirens and air horns blowing and people staring, you knew you were the envy of the town.  I’M A CHARLOTTE FIREMAN!  What a rush!  You know, funny thing is, I still get that feeling today only from behind the wheel.  What a great career it has been and will be cherished for ever!

I would like to take this opportunity to say, over the past few years, I have been somewhat outspoken.  Some have even mistakenly gone as far as to say I have been disgruntled or a grumpy “ole bastard”.  If that’s how you describe standing up for the rights of firefighters, then that’s what I am.  The way I see it, you can’t be farther from the truth.  Let me give you a little explanation. I love this job, always have.  I believe in the Brotherhood of the fire service, I believe in taking care of our own even when it comes to standing strong against the super powers.   Let me mention one in particular.  The City does a market study on how much they should pay employees per position. Then they decide to pay 80-105% of that market value for non-public safety employees.  The Public Safety Pay Plan was designed to save the City money by allowing them to hire firefighters at around 60% of market value and then “stepped” up to somewhere around 90 % of market value where ALL OTHER city employee’s are hired at.  So when the steps are not funded, somebody is walking on the backs of firefighters.  Why do I speak out so strongly?  Because today I start to enjoy a retirement that several firemen created long before I came around.  A system that failed in its first attempt, but they didn’t give up.  They also didn’t get to share the same benefits as we do today, mainly because the system has strengthened over time.  Point is, they built something for the guys that were to come after them, us.  We have to stand together, defend our benefits, our pay, and protect what they built for us years ago.   Look what we have already lost in the last several years.

I would like to say to Administration, my friends; we have fought fire together, worked shootings together, we’ve been in some situations that the police were calling for help, and it has been great to serve under you guys.  I hope I have not been too much of a headache.  I know you guys know my heart and my passion; I am a fireman, plain and simple. I have loved the job and always will.  I ask that you support the guys that make you look good and make you proud.  I know an issue has surfaced concerning off duty training.  Please know that the stance that some will take, is not personal, it is to protect the firefighters.  The promotional requirement that’s put on our guys is not so much the issue. We all realize the desire to have fully trained firefighters at the time of promotion is highly desirable but if a firefighter gets hurt, especially career ending, they will lose everything.  They will not even be eligible for line of duty retirement.  If you have their best interest at hand, why continue to put them in harms way?  For the sake of what?  What is the benefit?  Is it worth the risk?  Find a solution and protect our guys, you have an obligation.  And to say “they don’t have to get promoted” is not good enough.  Do you expect a person to come into this job and not try to get promoted?  Do you want a person to come into this job and not get promoted?  I think no one would expect that. 

To all senior firefighters, keep watch over the young guys.  Work as a team, it’s not me or I, it’s us.  You’re a group of highly skilled, highly trained firefighters that function as a crew.  Shame your Captains when they say “show me enroute”, or “show me on the scene” over the radio, that does not represent the crew, that’s what he/she’s there for.  You’ve heard the old saying, “if you fail me with the small things, you’ll fail me with the important things”.

Teach the new firefighters how to clean, take out the trash, mop floors, and for crying out loud how to wash dishes.  You know how many food caked on dishes I have pulled out of the cabinet since they put dish washers in the firehouse? It's the worst thing I believe I’ve seen in my career that was thought to be an upgrade.  I’ll give them (youngsters) the benefit of the doubt; nobody has ever taught them how to use one.  LOL!

Have fun in your career. Keep as much tradition as possible in the fire service.  Keep the pranks alive, not over board, but alive.  Take care of each other, protect each other, protect you careers, and be proud of who and what you are, ….A CHARLOTTE FIREFIGHTER!!!

Best of luck to you all and God speed,

Clay “Sleepy” Morris
Engine 1-C retired

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It will never fail you

Anyone subscribing to "The Secret List" has seen quite a bit of communication from Chief Billy G in their inbox this week.  There have been 3 widely covered Maydays this week, most notably the one that occurred at the fire in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. 

I'm not here to dissect that incident or any other.  Furthermore, the only reason I am posting it is so that it may be a stark reminder that it can happen to any of us at any time.   I just wanted to throw out a short post with a few thoughts I've gleaned from listening to the audio and reading articles shedding light on these situations.

There are days we put our gear on the truck that will test our mettle.  We had damned sure better be prepared.  Technology will fail you.  Turnout gear will fail you.  Your radio may not get out.  Your flashlight will die.  When the chips are down, what is the only thing aside from your crew members that you can rely on?  Your training.  Don't pay lip service to it.  Train like your life depends on it, because it does.

If we are not well versed in self-survival procedures, we are setting ourselves, our crew, and our department up for failure.  Train, and train hard.  You owe that to the people waiting on you to return home safely from your shift.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


This post comes to you by way of Clark Mackey.  I know it's a little different from what we usually put out however he brings up some excellent points.  Enjoy.

Benefits: Do you know yours?
Fire service blogs can take many directions and cover multiple topics, I’m taking this one in a slightly different direction – yeah I’m special or that’s what I have been told! Like most of the readers of this blog, I have several roles in the fire service. I’m a career fireman for a paid fire department and I serve as the Fire Chief of a combination fire department. About a month ago I had the opportunity to spend the weekend with Fire Chiefs, line officers, and aspiring officers in the fire service. I took part in a Chief 101 course that was put on by our state’s Fire Marshal’s Office that enlightened its participants in state policy, benefits, and other important information. I took special interest in the benefits portion of the class and found it very informative. While I normally enjoy talking strategies and tactics (Jason and I think alike), my eyes had been opened to another very important topic in the fire service that involves taking care of our own.
As firemen and officers we don’t like to talk about death, especially line of duty deaths (LODD’s). It is just one of those topics that we hope we never have any dealings with, but unfortunately around 100 firemen die annually in the United States. Do you know what benefits will be provided to your family or your beneficiary? Most firemen are aware of the federal death benefit, but what other benefits are available. Each state is different, our state’s firemen’s association and state rescue association has its own death benefit. If you are a member of the instructor’s association, they also provide a benefit. Look into what your state offers and be aware of what is out there for yourself and your members.
In the class it was brought to my attention that many members and officers do not keep adequate records on their members’ beneficiaries. You owe it to yourself and your family to make sure that changes are made as needed, so that if something happens to you or a member of your fire department the people that matter the most get these benefits. One idea that came up in class is to keep the members beneficiary information in a manila envelope in each member’s folder and to review the information at least annually. This gives the members a chance to sit down and look over the documents once a year and make sure that nothing has changed or needs to be changed.
As officers, a line of duty death is not the time to have to try and figure out what documents will be needed for the benefits or what benefits the member qualifies for. Take the time and prepare a booklet with any information that pertains to LODD’s and make it readily available to other members and officers. If a LODD occurs, all you have to do is pull the booklet out and you have the information in one spot. This may include a list of documents that will be needed, contact information for the various associations, local/state/federal resources, and any other information that you feel will be needed during this stressful time. As an officer, DON’T be afraid to ask for help from these resources. For many of these resources it will not be their first LODD and they will be able to assist you and your department during this time of need.
I hope that this information will put some ideas in your head of how to prepare your department so that you can make sure your members and their families are taken care of. I would like to thank Ryan Cole and Rick Davis for a very informative weekend; ya’ll have opened my eyes! If you have any questions please feel free to contact me – Stay Safe!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Throwing Rocks

This will be a short one, maybe.  I've been cruising the various blogs and facebook pages recently, and it's apparent that the keyboard quarterbacks are never going to give up their nonsenseical diatribes about how great they are and how bad everyone they see is at fighting fire.  It's amazing at the amount of training material we can access with just a few keystrokes.  Out there in internet land are literally millions of videos that can be utilized for size-up training, fire behavior training, or simple roundtable discussion of what we see and what we *might* do if faced with a similar scenario.  On the flip side of the coin lives the ugly part of this accessibility to information:  The part of the coin where any jake with a keyboard can throw in their 2 cents worth about what they see and how they would handle to situation in their perfect world.  This ugly side seems to have no sense of decency because it's not hard to find bashing that revolves around a LODD of a firefighter.  I've already gone off half cocked about this same subject when I wrote the Asheville LODD post.  Instead of taking a lesson from what they see, we have self-proclaimed firehouse geniuses spouting their beliefs into what should have been done to prevent the death or injury to those in question.  It kills me and I can't understand how anyone could piss on the names of a fallen firefighter by anonymously dragging it through the mud.  Just look at some of the coverage of the tragedy which occured in Worcester, MA last week and you'll see it continuing to this moment.

Here's my thoughts I felt I should give to all potential video commentors.  Just because you learned to fight fire a particular way does not make you the all knowing guru about this profession.  Most of these pedantic comments are made from the far reaches of the internet under a clever but cliched screen name that hides your true identity.  I know how you work. You are either inexperienced, just an idiot, or you simply want to stir the pot, yet you have a recipe for command and control that you attempt to apply to every fire you view from the comfort of your home.  If you see something that challenges your cut and dry method of how fire departments should operate, you throw out logic and spill your ingnorance all over the screen. Your Easy Bake Recipe for Firefighting is as follows: 2 parts attack line, a cup of ventilation, 3 tablespoons of primary search and a pinch of VES.  Set at 350 for an hour and out comes your newly baked, rancid, steaming pile of what the heck happened. 

This does not nor ever will work.  There is no ulitimate authority on "How to Do the Job."  There is not set standard of orders to comply by that will extinguish every single fire known to man in any building imaginable.  This job is situational.  Haven't you ever heard the adage, "No two fires are the same."  That's no bull corn, sure some have many similarities, but we can't put ourselves on auto-pilot and go forth into the fray every time the bell rings.  Each fire presents it's own challenges that must be addressed and if you don't that's where your check box firefighting is shown to be questionable.

Without knowing staffing, available resources on the scene, mutual aid agreements, or the skill level of the members on the scene in the video, it is impossible for me, you, or anyone else for that matter to truly rip apart a department's actions without full knowledge of the incident.  We are only viewing a narrow window of time.  Also, there is no cut and dry method of doing our job.  Each situation is different, each department is different and each building is different.  There is no way to apply your recipe to everything you see, but if you choose to do so, at least have the stones to be you.  Don't hide behind a clever name and criticize people you don't know for doing what most of us would consider a good job, all the while thanking God while you are typing that there is no video out there of you.

Sure, I'm throwing rocks from a glass house.  There are several posts on this site critiquing videos I've posted before, but be mindful, each thing I've pointed out is a grevious safety error (see links Spongeroof Burntpants and MORONS!) that anyone with any sense could see coming, and there are thousands more however the time to find them does not exist. 

None of us are perfect.  I screw up every day I put my boots on the truck and the day I don't, I'll quit.  I also see things that I post and throw in my 2 cents about.  By the way, I know I've linked 3 previous posts. It's simply for the sake of being transparent.  Yes, I critique, but I don't anonymously throw rocks.  With that said, you'll never see me hiding behind the veil of anonymity.  I'll stand right here on my own 2 feet and stand by my observations.  You should do the same.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Network

I've been away for a while.  Well, not actually away away, just away from the blog.  Are you still with me?  The last post I made was back in November and since I've been ultra busy, both professionally and personally, hence no new posts.  While I have not been posting here, in my spare time (what little there is) I've written for 2 different sites.  One has been published on Hallway Sledge's site Backwards and Stupid and another is yet to be put out there to the masses. 

As usual, I'm brutally honest with you.  When I started writing this blog I wanted to voice my frustrations to the masses, and that selfish, little, egotistical, and prideful part of my psyche thrived on looking at the number of pageviews that the site got.  Sure, I'm not all about numbers or flaunting them, but a small part of me wanted to see thousands of people visiting and responding to my words.  Fast-forward to now and honestly , I could give a crap less.  I reached a benchmark goal a long time ago and since then, the number of people visiting this site has not seemed important. Not that the fact that you are reading isn't valued, just that it's more than numbers for me.  If nobody ever read anything I wrote, I'd be just as happy as if 2000 read it daily.  Whatever, popularity is not what I'm looking for, because I've found something better.

Brian Brush called it "The Network". (Sorry dude, I'm not a huge name dropper but you need the credit for this!)  We had a long conversation one afternoon and he basically took words from my thoughts and spoke them to me, so let's put it into context.  There are hundreds of fire service websites and blogs at the tip of your fingers.  All you have to do is Google the words "Fire Blog"  and you get 1.7 billion results.  There are some good ones, some bad ones, and some great ones, rank this one where ever you please.  Before I started writing, I lived in a bubble.  Sure I'd met firemen from all around the nation in my travels, but meeting a guy who's firehouse you are visiting and swapping a patch tells you nothing about him.  Talking to someone at length or reading a post they put their heart and soul into will give you a pretty good assessment of a person's character and what type of fireman they are, maybe not so much in skill or ability, but in mindset.  When I started writing, I found myself in a world of people I never knew were out there.  Folks like me, with ambitious views, twisted senses of humor, and a mutual longing for the fire service to continually improve.

Before long, I discovered this core group of people outside of my little part of the world that are just like me.  I found a collection of folks that I could bounce an idea off of or guys that I could ask a question without worrying about ridicule. Hell, I even found people willing to proofread course assignments for me.  Weekly, I  make several phone calls, exchange text messages, or e-mail people who I would never have met without this site.  Believe me, the conversations are outstanding and I'm still up for taking over a fledgling fire department in a bankrupt run down city in the Midwest and staffing it with only people from "The Network."  I only pick the midwest because it's centrally located, so don't get your panties in a wad, but seriously, I'm riding the irons position on the truck!   This network of people has helped me exponentially, and I cannot express my thanks. Even if there are only 30 of us reading each other's stuff, who gives a rip? 

What have they helped with, you ask?  Not the site, if that's what you are referring to, I don't need any more help with this foolishness.  If I have a need for information all it takes is a few phone calls and e-mails.  Before long I'm overwhelmed with info from around the country.  For example, I'm looking for SOG's from departments that send 2 truck companies to a working fire.  This info will hopefully be used to make a change at work for us, we'll see..  I put that out 2 weeks ago and I've gotten info from all corners of this nation.  We made a change in saw blades recently.  Part of that process was greatly assisted be a member of Brotherhood Instructors (I can't name drop twice in one post.  Sorry buddy, I'll get you next time) A lot of the time I don't call anyone in this network but for one reason, to glean some motivation, to voice a frustration, or to simply talk with someone I feel has the same mindset I do. 

There have been multiple people in the past few months that have e-mailed me about various things.  Please feel free to do so, I whole heartedly welcome it.  I know how I felt when I first sent an e-mail to one of the big dogs in this network.  I never expected to hear anything back from him.  Now not a day goes by that I don't talk to him or get an e-mail from him. (I definitely can't name drop 3 times...) What I learned was this, and you should too:  Most guys with a site are not arrogant elitists.  They are firemen just like you and me, and more often than not they are overly helpful with anything you ask of them.  Everything except for their daughter's phone number!  Thanks for reading y'all!