Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"Living The Dream"

The experience of being a live-in firefighter is one that most who have ever done it would not trade for anything.  “Living the dream,” it is called by many, particularly those who never had the opportunity, and they are not wrong. 
A few things do change, arguably for the better, after you move out and on.  Language is one.  Fire stations are not kind to the vocabulary.  The F-word is not only a noun, verb, and adjective, but in skilled firehouse hands, can be used as punctuation.  I remember having to consciously restrict myself when outside the station in “normal” company to avoid saying things like “pass the f@^*ing potatoes.”   As time passes, so does the propensity to use the F-word in every sentence.  Once or twice a paragraph suffices. 
Sleep improves as well.  When living in the station, I think I slept eight straight hours once a week, maybe.  Between calls, staying up late bullshitting, and calls, three to five hours was a normal night’s sleep.  This experience is excellent practice for the period following the birth of your first and subsequent children.  That amount of sleep would now leave me on a continuous coffee intravenous. 
The live-in opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thankfully, it is one you only get to do when you’re young. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Chief's Philosophy--From the Archives

It's November again and election time in many fire departments.  Invariably, some first time chief's will take office come January.  If these thoughts help even one of those folks, I've been successful. There are rules, and then there are rules. Here are some I've tried, not always successfully, to follow.

Ryman’s Rules: A Volunteer Chief’s Philosophy

1. You are responsible. You are responsible 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. If you are there or 3,000 miles away. You are responsible. You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.

2. The chief is always right. Invite input, debate, etc. from the officers. However, once the decision is made, that’s it. In public, the officers must show solidarity.

3. The officers are always right. If an officer makes a decision you disagree with, in public or with the other firefighters, that decision was right. You talk about what you would have done differently in private.

4. Delegate, delegate, and delegate. You can’t be involved in every activity, nor should you be. Give the junior officers responsibilities and hold them accountable. If they follow through, give them more and more. If they don’t, let them know about it and don’t give them any additional work.

5. Try to develop a command presence. Your presence at an emergency should send a message to the firefighters that everything is going to be okay. Regardless of how badly something is going, try to maintain a calm exterior. Motivate your people. This is done differently for each individual. If you give an order or tell them to get into a building, they should totally believe that you believe they can do it. Never tell a firefighter to do something you wouldn’t or couldn’t do yourself. Chiefs give orders on incomplete information regularly. Even if you have doubts about it, give the order as if you are 100% confident about it. Your confidence is a force multiplier.

6. Let them have fun. Nobody is getting paid for this. The younger guys have to enjoy themselves. At the same time, know when to pull in the reins, and when you do, jerk them hard. They still have to be professionals. You can’t be their buddy anymore. You are the man, and they have to recognize it as such.

7. Pace of change. Keep them sullen but not mutinous. The pace of change has to be fast enough that the young guys see progress, but not so fast that the dinosaurs get riled up. As long as both groups are slightly unhappy, you’re doing fine.

8. Don’t be afraid to piss somebody off. If you’re not pissing somebody off once in a while, you’re not doing your job.

9. Encourage training certifications. Push the guys to get their Firefighter 1 and other certificates. The time is fast coming when what you are able to do, and what positions you can hold in a fire department virtually anywhere will be determined by these certificates. At the same time, work to keep things in perspective. Firefighter 1 or 2 does not equal “super firefighter”.

10. Develop junior officers. The greatest legacy a chief can have is by the officers he leaves behind.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My Top Ten

Lists of the top ten this or that have been the rage for years, and fodder for great fun and debate.   I decided to add to the noise with a selection of my Top Ten Fire Service reads.  This is totally subjective and personal, and is my list today.  It could change tomorrow.  Everyone out there can and probably would come up with a different list.   

My list is hopelessly prejudiced because of two selections I would automatically make.  The books below are not in any particular order. 

·         Report From Engine Company 82—Dennis Smith

·         Fireground Tactics—Emanuel Fried

·         Firefight:  Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11—Patrick Creed and Rick Newman

·         D.C. Fire—Dennis Rubin

·         Last Men Out:  Life on the Edge at Rescue 2 Firehouse—Tom Downey

·         Population 485-Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time—Michael Perry

·         Thirty Years on the Line—Leo Stapleton

·         B-Shifter:  A Firefighter’s Memoir—Nick Brunacini 

·         Mayday! Firefighter Down—Gary Ryman

·         Fire Men:  Stories From Three Generations of a Firefighting Family—Gary Ryman

This is an eclectic list and includes some works that many may have never heard of, much less read.  Some haven’t been in print for a while (but may be available on the used market).  Only one is a true “tactics and strategy” book—introduced to me by my Dad over 30 years ago.  It was good then and is still relevant now.  There’s not a book on this list I haven’t read multiple times.   

I hope to see other lists and hopefully at least one of mine will make it! 
Here are some links to a few of the above. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Speaking at Grey Towers

What a great time speaking last evening at Grey Towers on Gifford Pinchot's two terms as Governor. The Heritage Association there put on an incredible reception afterwards. Couldn't ask for a better turnout and evening.

Getting ready to speak

The Reception

The Finger Bowl

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Editing Continues.....

The revisions and edits on the second draft of Fire In His Bones (the working title) are done. Now onto further polishing and improvements and the hunt for dreaded typos in the third! 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Writing Update

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing.  To the contrary, in the last few months I’ve completed the first draft of Fire In His Bones, which is the working title for the sequel to Mayday! Firefighter Down.  Editing and a second draft is well underway on this manuscript and I’m jotting down ideas for the third and final book in the series.  In Fire In His Bones, Dave Michaels fans can follow him with his promotion to Captain and assignment as the company commander of the elite Squad 1.  It will be an exciting ride…

At the same time, I’ve finished the first draft of another novel on a non-fire topic, which allowed me to creatively stretch a bit.  This book, entitled The Education of Stuart McGrath, is political satire set in the satirical gold mine which is Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Stuart is a young grad school political junkie who by the force of sheer competence, an unusual commodity in Scranton electoral politics, and a cheap salary, rises to the illustrious if deceiving position of Chief of Staff to the mayor.  This manuscript is fermenting in the bottom drawer of my desk for another few weeks before I begin the revision process, but I’m excited to take a fresh pass at what I hope will be a fun book. 
Time to fire up the coffee and get back to work….

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It Won’t Happen to us…Our Treasurer is Honest Harry

Treasurer arrested, fire company president accused, chief steals funds; the newspaper headlines scream and the citizens of multiple communities sadly shake their heads on a daily basis.  Why do these otherwise civic minded individuals do this?  The answer, unfortunately, is easy.  They’re dishonest; it’s as simple as that.  Maybe they had personal financial problems, gambling issues, or thought they could just get away with it.  Those rationalizations are excuses but don’t change the central fact that those who steal from fire departments are criminals.  Unfortunately, there’s no surefire method to keep them out, at least completely.   Think about the CIA and FBI agents who are vetted more carefully than any firefighter; go through regular polygraphs, and we still end up with the occasional bad apple which we hear about on the 6:30 PM national news.   

There are ways, though you can reduce the chances of your department being on the front page of the newspaper with a photo of your company president doing a perp walk in hand cuffs.  With some basic business controls, procedures, and processes, you can make it harder for these individuals, less tempting, and hopefully discover nefarious activities before they become bank account busting.   

This isn’t about trusting good old Harry who’s as honest as the day is long.  Honest Harry and others like him will welcome financial controls because it removes trust from the equation and the opportunity for questionable activities.  If the opportunity exists, somebody, eventually, will take it.  Maybe not Harry, but who knows about the gambling problem his brother-in-law, the company president has.   

The basics have a lot of common sense components.  You don’t need an MBA to put these in place. 

·         Establish rules.  They need to apply to everyone—no exceptions. 

·         If it involves cash, more than one person needs to be involved.  This can’t be repeated too often, and as the teacher said before the test, you will see this material again. 

·         Have a line item budget.  The treasurer should monitor receipts and revenue versus that projected.  Likewise, the expenditures for each line item should be noted.  A monthly report with this data provides a transparent picture to the organization and helps the leadership with their management responsibilities. 

·         Reconcile bank accounts on a monthly basis.  Another job for the treasurer, right?  Wrong.  Someone other than the treasurer or anyone else handling funds or writing checks should have this job.  This provides an independent verification and removes one obvious opportunity for someone to cook the books. 

·         Periodic audits.  Annual is best, but at least every couple of years, an audit should be completed.  When treasurers change is also another good time to ensure a clean bill of financial health.  Accountants are expensive, you say, and you’re right.  If the funds are hard to come by to pay for an audit, consider asking a local CPA who lives or works in your first due if they would consider doing it as a donation.  Wait until after tax season, though.  Ask if they see any opportunities to improve financial management, procedures or record keeping.  Use their expertise to your advantage. 

·         The two (or more) person rule.  Multiple signatures on checks, counting cash, opening mail, are all times to have more than one person involved.  Cash is not your friend when it comes to financial safeguards.  Minimize it where possible and always, always have more than one person involved. 

This isn’t a comprehensive list but just these few items will go a long way in limiting the opportunity for financial funny business.   

So it’s all about the money, right?  Wrong; the money is important but the main issue is trust.   Not Honest Harry, the long term treasurer.  The trust of the citizens we’ve sworn to protect is what we need to ensure.  It is easily damaged and difficult to repair.  We’re the stewards of that trust, measured by how we take care of their money—whether raised by taxes or chicken barbecues and pancake breakfasts.  These folks have the right to know that it’s being spent carefully and honestly. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

An End of Winter Teaser.

It’s been an interminable winter, good only for one thing, writing.  Work on the sequel to Mayday: Firefighter Down! is coming along, up to around 69,000 words so far.  Predicting when a project will be complete is an act of futility, but a “teaser” may be in order.  No plot or story hints right now, but here is a scene I recently finished. 

Mickey was on kelly day Monday, the next day Dave’s shift worked.  Firefighter Mark Perry, a five year man, was detailed in to cover the shift.  On overtime from the fifth battalion, none of the truck crew had worked with him before. 
            The morning routine proceeded normally until Dave walked into the kitchen around 8:15 for a caffeine refill and found the detail man sitting at the table reading the newspaper.  Before he could say anything, Pizza walked in. 
            “Have you finished your equipment check out, kid?” 
            Dave knew Pizza wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t already know the answer. 
            Perry answered without looking up from the paper.
            “I’ll get to it.” 
            Joe balled up his fists and started for the detail man until Dave raised his hand. 
            “Perry, my office, now.” 
            “Come on, Captain; don’t tell me you’re one of those rule book pukes.  I heard you were a straight shooter.” 
            Dave looked over at Pizza.  He used every ounce of restraint in his body not to grab the kid by the throat.  
            “Perry, either walk out the door and go on sick leave or get your ass in my fucking office now.” 
            The young firefighter rose, and faced Michaels.
            “Sure Captain, let’s go have a chat.” 
            In the office, Dave leaned against his desk while Perry slouched in one of the extra chairs.  The engine officer was out on a run. 
            “What’s your problem?” Dave asked.
            “My problem?  I’m here on an overtime shift, not to kill myself.  You want to give me that rule book shit, no problem.  I’ll be filing a grievance by lunch time.” 
            “Kid, let me explain something to you.  On this company, firefighting isn’t something we do, it’s who we are.  You just want to collect a check, go back to the fifth.  I don’t want you here.” 
            “Gladly, I feel like I’ve got a fever coming on anyway,” Perry said, rising from the chair.  Michaels walked past him and opened the office door, motioning him out.  As he hit the threshold, Dave said, “he’s all yours, Pizza.” 
            Outside the office, Pizza waited.  Perry walked out and Dave shut the door behind him.  Pizza grabbed Perry by the throat with one hand and lifted him from the ground, pinning him against the wall. 
            “You listen to me, fuck-wad.  You’re not going to file a grievance; you’re not going to file shit.  I know everybody in this department and I’ll make sure the rest of your short career will be a living hell.  You want to learn to be a fireman, stay; we’ll teach you.  You want to leave, be my guest.  I don’t give a shit which.  Now nod you understand.” 
            Perry’s face was red, verging on purple from lack of oxygen.  Pizza flexed his wrist to make the young man’s head bob like a puppet.  He dropped him to the floor, turned, and walked away.  Perry sank to his knees, gasping for breath, bruises starting to form on his neck. 
            Within minutes, Perry gathered his gear and exited the rear door, driving away without another word.  Dave walked across the apparatus floor to the battalion chief’s office. 
            “My detailed firefighter went home sick,” he told the chief.  The older man looked up from his desk and Dave, lifting one eyebrow. 
“Anything I need to know, Dave?”
“You may not want to take him in the battalion on any more details; seems prone to…illness.” 
            “Got it, Dave; you okay running understaffed until I can call somebody in?” 
            “Yeah, we’re fine.  Give Mickey a call.  I don’t think he had anything special planned today; might make it easier.”  Dave knew Mickey might appreciate the overtime he’d get paid for coming in on his day off.
            “Okay Dave, I’ll let you know.” 



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

2014: Year in Review

A great video from the Station in which Generation 3 is a live-in Lieutenant.