Monday, January 21, 2013

Is it really our job?

This blog posting is one I wrote last summer. In this new year, I think this article should once again surface as it is important to evaluate “what is your job” for the new year. Only after you establish a mind set for success in 2013 will success and progression occur. Make no mistake, if you remain the same from 2012, you will repeat the year prior with no change. Be safe.

Your brother, Justin

Is it really our job?

Every house in this country runs calls for service that may or may not have anything significant to them. As firefighters, we often categorize these runs that amount to nothing as, well you know…. But are running these calls that are not kicking in doors and fighting fire or doing CPR after cutting someone out of a car, our job? We as firefighters need to take a long look in the mirror and decide, what is our job?

Scenario: It is nearing the end of your tour of duty and the phone rings. The citizen on the other end sounds to be in a slight panic and explains that her dog is stuck in a drainage pipe at the end of her driveway.

With the given scenario, what would you do? I am sure some of you would say, “call animal control,” or “call me when he catches on fire”. This is a common response I heard when giving the scenario to some of the guys around the kitchen table. Granted we were all joking around, but for those of you that “get it”, you may have a different response when you seriously think it over.

As a firefighter, you signed on to save lives. Never in any oath, promotional ceremony, or job description have I ever seen where we save “human” lives. I have only seen “save lives.” When the dog from the scenario entered the drainage pipe, he was living, thus it is a life. To many and possibly even you, a family dog is just that, family. Granted, I would inject some caution with the situation at hand for safety’s sake, but our job is to get in there, figure it out, make the rescue, and go home. Our job is to save lives.

Our main job, despite what anyone says is to fight fires and save lives. We run the Haz-Mats, the EMS runs, the auto accidents, and the service calls. All of these things have 1 major thing in common. They are all jobs we do to serve. We are here to serve. This job is a privilege that your community allows you to maintain. Thank them by giving it your all and being a community steward.

Any job that the fire department can do to better the lives of the community served, should be looked into and if feasible, implemented. For example:

Hazardous Materials response
Emergency Medical Services
Fire Prevention and Public Education
Community service opportunities for the court system
Food drive support
Elderly support networks

The dog in a drainage pipe scenario is just one that I have encountered in my career. There are many other examples of these types of calls, you know the 2am smoke detector chirping or the leg pain that has an onset of a year ago and they call at 4 am. We all have ran them, we all have moaned and groaned, and we all should suck it up. This is our job.

Take these calls as an opportunity to sharpen your skills, practice, drill, and most importantly, reach out to the community you protect. For example, Ladder Company 1 in Wake Forest will take the time to ladder a building and set the aerial up on occasion, on scene of the normal automatic fire alarm to maintain skills and train. I know that Captain Chris Wilson of the City of Raleigh Fire Department will from time to time call on his guys to stretch lines on an automatic fire alarm where nothing is going on. Do these situations scream overkill? Absolutely not. Every call should be treated like it is the “big one”. Every call should be an opportunity for the crew to train. At the end of the day, these proactive companies are ready because of their progressive attitudes.

You may have noticed above that I hit on “elderly support networks.” This is an important opportunity for the fire department. A few years ago, the former Falls Fire Department that I was blessed to have been apart of, started a program called, “Operation Care Bear”. The program was started by firefighters who saw that there was a need to provide a life saving prevention service to the elderly of their community during adverse weather. Local citizens and churches could have residents placed on the “care bear” list. Anytime that certain weather parameters were met, firefighters would hit the streets and visit the citizens on the list. Firefighters would take the time to visit with the citizens, ensure that their medication and food supply was adequate to safely face the adverse weather condition as well as ensuring that the citizen had adequate heating or cooling of their home. Firefighters would also look around the home for any hazards to the citizen, help to fix the hazards, and would help with anything around the house that the citizen couldn’t get accomplished. If the firefighters could not make it right. They called someone who could. Visits would last around 15 minutes and the impact of these visits may never be known, which is fine by me. I know that a positive impact was made on these citizens that we treated like we would our own family. Through this program, firefighters knew their community, rallied support, and created a community bond. In March of 2012, Falls Fire Department merged with Wake Forest Fire Department. The program has continued for the citizens of the Falls community with outstanding leadership of the program. The program has met some “this isn’t our job” controversy since it’s development. So is this type of service our job? You decide. Did this program potentially save lives? Did this program allow firefighters to serve their community? Did this program allow for the strengthening of the community?

So I ask you again, what is and isn’t our job? Make a change in 2013 for the better of not only yourselves, but your community.

For more information on Falls’ Operation Care Bear Service, shoot me an email at and I will put you in touch with the program coordinator. This program is near and dear to me as I have family on the care bear list. This program makes a difference. Could your department use this? I hope to see this program form into an elderly care program for firefighters nationwide.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The importance of a well written incident report

Composing an incident report is most likely your least favorite part of running calls. I know it is for me. Even though this is not a favorite part of the job for firefighters, it is important that you give it your all. I have been to court two times in my career, both of which I was a nervous wreck. I was very luck that in both cases, the case was settled with some interviews with lawyers and prosecutors, which kept me from having to take the witness stand. Had I taken the stand, I may have been made to look like a fool since my report documentation was not anything to be proud of.

Every report that you compose must tell the whole story. You need to write what would almost be called a story. You need to document everything you can think of from each incident. If you use an incident reporting software, make sure you fill in as many fields as possible. You want to ensure that when you are called to court in two years, you can refresh yourself and have information to assist you, as you likely will have forgotten much of the incident details.

- Avoid making statements that as a firefighter you cannot determine:

Statements such as the patient was “drunk” or diagnosing a medical condition is not wise. Unless you carry a breath test device in your med bag, and you are trained to administer those tests, you cannot determine without a shadow of a doubt that the patient was intoxicated, even if common sense would tell you different. Doctors diagnose medical conditions. As EMTs, Paramedics, First Responders, etc.… we treat symptoms. You may know exactly the problem that a patient is encountering, but in a court, we are not in the business of making a diagnosis.

- Avoid making statements about what others did on scene, unless it directly pertains to the decisions and tactics you and your company employed:

Your incident report is about what your company did on scene. Each company, police unit, EMS unit, etc.… has to do their report. Unless the actions of another unit affected an action your company made, limit its entry into your report.

- Stick to the facts, no matter how small they seem right now:

Include what you and your company did, what you and your company members saw, and give the details of those areas. Something that may seem like a small item now, may be something huge if you end up in a courtroom. No information is too small to include.

- Ensure your grammar and spelling is correct and that the content is educated and easy for anyone to interpret:

Misspellings and grammatical errors can hurt your credibility in a courtroom. Steer clear of using fire service slang terminology

For example:

Firefighter Donny grabbed the can and hit the fire.

A better way of wording that in a report would be:

Firefighter Donny used a water extinguisher and extinguished the fire.

Avoid using codes and stick to plain text when composing your report.

- Enter reports in a timely manner:

You may run several incidents in a tour of duty. Take the time to enter your reports in a timely manner. It doesn’t take long for call specifics to mesh together over the course of running several calls. If at all possible, enter them as quickly as possible when you return to the firehouse to ensure their validity and accuracy.

Incident reporting is very important. Take the time to ensure your report is the best it can be. If you are a company officer, include your crew in the reporting process. They might have some vital information that you need to include in the report. After some time goes by, your well-written incident report may be all you have to guide you when something comes up about the call. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Why not make a CHANGE?

To start off 2013, I figured discussing the dreaded “change” battle in the firehouse would be appropriate. In my last blog entry, I challenged everyone to do a firefighter reflection for 2012. If you took the time to meet the challenge, you likely identified several areas that you will be “changing” or “upgrading”. Change is not a bad thing, but often as firefighters, we fear change and the unknown that surrounds it. Why?

Changing just for the sake of change is foolish. Change should only occur in the firehouse if it is for the purpose of improving the company, the service provided, or improving firefighters. You can try to get buy in from everyone in the company, but more times than not, you will have 1-3 people that will fight it, no matter how smart the change is.

So why is change fought so tough?

1. “I do not like ideas I did not come up with.”
I also call this “manager syndrome”. Managers like to have full control typically. They focus their time on “managing” others and delegating work. When it comes to decision-making or suggestions of change, these “managers” will often become offended, argumentative, and withdrawn, as they do not like “subordinates” thinking. It threatens them and their position, and shakes their psyche to think that someone else is potentially receiving credit and able to think without them telling you what to think. The opposite of the “manager syndrome” is a leader. A leader promotes new ideas and concepts and promotes using your head in the firehouse. A leader will allow his guys to think on their own and explore new ideas and concepts.

2. “We have always done it this way. Why change it if it is not broken?”
This statement screams, “I hate change.” Making a change in an area of the way we do business does not mean that the old way was “broken”. It simply means that you are progressive in the job, and intelligent enough to seek improved methods to the job. If you are a firefighter that “Gets It”, you constantly seek ways to improve your craft and the craft of the company. You don’t forget your old way of doing it; you just put it in the toolbox as plan B. If the new plan doesn’t work out, pull out plan B. If you don’t have a plan B, you don’t “Get It”.

3. “I don’t like the guy that came up with this, so I am not giving it a chance.”
Are you serious? Since when did we become a high school with cliques shaping how we make decisions? I don’t care if I cannot stand “Firefighter A”, we have a job to do and anything that relates to the job, our performance, and ultimately our survival will require me to work with “Firefighter A.”  Get it or get out.

4. “I will have to learn something new if we change that.”
If you fall into this category, you need to take a long look in the mirror and decide if this is the job for you. Training and sharpening of concepts is continuous.

5. “This is not <Insert any other fire department name here>.”
Have you ever thought that maybe someone else has thought of something that works a little better? Networking has become huge in social media. Why are we not networking our ideas throughout the country?  Your company might have figured out a method that will help a company on the other side of the country.

After over 10 years in the service, these are the top 5 reasons and mentalities that I have seen that cause resistance to change. All of these 5 have one thing in common……….fear.

The main reason for a resistance to change is FEAR. FEAR that someone will look better than you, FEAR you will have to train on something new, FEAR that you will look stupid, FEAR that giving into this change will create a situation where more change will occur, and FEAR that someone else is right.

“Fear can be more crippling than any physically debilitating disease”
–Dr.Richard Gasaway

So what do we do to combat the anti-change movement? 

We stand our ground and continue to do what is right. If you are a firefighter that “Gets It”, you will continue to ignore these mutts, stand your ground when you propose new concepts and ideas, and do not let these people dampen your drive to progress in the job.  Always promote the company before yourself.

Stay safe out there; train hard, and Happy New Year. Shoot me an email and let me know what changes you want to make this year at your company. I am interested to hear it.  Email me at

Dr.Richard Gasaway who is quoted in this article is with Situational Awareness Matters. Check out his website at He is a pretty smart guy with a good message.

Some social media connections to make for 2013:
Follow me on twitter: @justingraney
Connect with me on LinkedIn: Justin Graney
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