Fire Service Warrior Training

The domain of Fire Service Warrior Training offers resources on techniques and skills to develop your abilities to thrive on the fireground.

The Battle Can

By: Gary Lane

securedownloadMost firefighters have a favorite “go to” tool and/or job assignment. I know I do. Hearing my name in the same sentence as “catch the hydrant” immediately elicits a soft sigh of self pity and thoughts of how much I hate my life at that exact moment. Oh well, Que Sera Sera. We don’t typically have the luxury of playing favorites on the fireground. The different jobs that need to be done are all important to the overall outcome, regardless of their “fun factor.”

Let’s examine one of the most seemingly disliked and “low fun factor” duties we have… Carrying the 2 1/2 gallon pressurized water extinguisher, or “The Can.” This 22-pound lead weight, which feels at least twice that, is at the bottom of the list for many of us due to its awkward, off-balance nature and its annoying propensity for digging into the shoulder as you climb four flights of stairs for another “smells and bells” run. I used to feel the same way. But I have a confession to make: I freakin’ love the can. Love it. I don’t know exactly when it happened or why, but one day I just came to the conclusion that the can is just plain awesome. Let me share some thoughts on why and how you might be able to make the can your “go to” piece.

securedownload-1First and foremost, and I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but our responsibility as the fire department is still to put out fires. Carrying the can with you on every fire run that doesn’t have you stretching a line demonstrates your resolve to that priority. Being the guy who quite literally shoulders that burden is a big responsibility. Even after 15 years in the fire service, I feel absolutely humbled and honored to know that my officers have put their faith in me to carry out that duty and I fully intend on making sure they don’t regret that choice. Now I know that in some departments SOGs, staffing, and riding seat assignments dictate who does what, and I know all too well that the can position is many times reserved for the junior man or probie. I don’t have a problem with that; I only ask that the value of the position and the important role it plays be taken to heart. Never underestimate this invaluable asset and the member lugging it down the hallway. While some may feel that “any monkey can spray water,” keep in mind that the high-energy characteristics of modern day fire behavior demand that the chosen monkey be smart!

So getting into the can itself, there are some modifications we can make so it’s a little more enjoyable to tote around. The best thing you can add is a carrying strap. Having the ability to carry the can on your shoulder and free up your hands is an absolute necessity. There are several options for making a shoulder strap. Commercially made ones seem pretty nice, but at 30-40 bucks each they may not be affordable in today’s economy and shrinking budgets. I’ve personally had great success with old seatbelts acquired from extrication training, and I’m sure your fire chief will appreciate the cost- saving efforts. A Do-It-Yourself (DIY) strap can usually be made for less than five dollars with just a few items purchased from the local hardware store. Depending on what method you choose, you may spend as little as two dollars on a single 7” hose clamp (assuming you have the seatbelt already) to hold the bottom portion of the strap and use the “wall hanger” bracket to loop the top of the strap through. Some of the wall hanger brackets can be weak and eventually break, so just be aware. Going cheap and DIY can have its disadvantages sometimes.


securedownloadAnother good habit to get into is carrying the can up front instead of on your back. By up front, I mean having access to the handle and the nozzle at all times without having to drop it off your shoulder and reposition. It is about the same comfort wise but does seem to offer slightly better balance while carrying it and maneuvering through a house around furniture and tight spaces. The main benefit is that you’re able to keep the handle, gauge, and nozzle right were you need them and minimize how much stuff you bump into or get snagged on as you move. Remember the can needs to be used in a relatively vertical position, especially as you get to the last couple inches of water in the bottom. Dropping to a knee allows for a quick transition in setting the can on the ground as needed.

Another thing you can add to the can is a rubber strap and some door chocks. Many of us are already using a rubber strap on our helmets with a door chock or two held in place. Why not throw one on the can as well? As a matter of fact, an extra flashlight is always handy to have around, so try keeping one on the can instead of trying to dig it out of your pocket. For the guys that leave the can at the door while searching a room, the light can act as a beacon to aid in our orientation. RIT/FAST crews might also want to consider trying this.

securedownloadMany times we find ourselves using the can for a very minor fire. A couple of squirts with maybe half the extinguisher used, and we’re back in service. Back at the firehouse we need to top off the water level. DO NOT just add some air so the gauge is in the green! Instead of spending time spraying out the rest of the water, simply turn the can upside down and spray out the rest of the air, relieving all of the pressure. It is much quicker and you should be able to unthread the cap afterwards for filling without issue.

For those that are using the can on an initial attack, a truck or rescue company with no water for example, or during an investigation that turns out to be a legitimate fire, keep in mind the limitations of your chosen weapon. The can puts out quite a bit of fire, but it is no replacement for a working hoseline. Recognize the need for the hoseline, call for it and then do whatever you can to make the situation better prior to its arrival. Remember to take advantage of everything in your attempts at extinguishing or confining the fire. If you have a room on fire and you can shut the door to it, focus your efforts on keeping the door intact by wetting the top edge and sides of it. This will generally do more good and buy more time than if you blow through the whole two and a half gallons of water trying to knock down a fire that is beyond the control capabilities of the can. As a bonus, controlling the door aids in limiting oxygen to the fire, reducing its growth rate and keeping the flowpath, at least temporarily, from including your particular spot of floor space.

Another possibility that can be beneficial is removing materials from the fire’s path. Curtains, small dressers, clothes, and other combustible items near the fire can be quickly moved to reduce extension without having to use any water on them. Moving light and fast to gain an edge means being aggressive, smart and taking advantage of everything at your disposal. If you can smother part of a fire by throwing a blanket on it and then simply wetting the blanket, do it!

I hope this article has either reinforced your conviction to carrying the can, given you a few tips to help make it battle ready, or at the very least shed some light on ways to make it more appealing and useful in the day-to-day operations.

…and as far as carrying all that weight goes… It’s fun, so harden the heck up.

Around Here

1000388_148720805325725_213952444_nBy Mark vonAppen

We had a great auto extrication drill the other night and we did it all by ourselves. Nobody asked permission, we simply called a tow company and had a few cars delivered. As we passed the hat around the table to help defer some of the $200 out-of-pocket cost to the firefighter who set up the drill I thought; who determines our safety levels; a statistician who sits in a cubicle in cool disconnect and crunches numbers, weighing the cost of anonymous human life versus the cost of training or a safety measure? Who determines what is an acceptable level of risk?

The number of times that I have donned my mourning badge and lowered the colors at the firehouse has me thinking, and it has me angry.

Do we need to ask permission to be experts in our field? Not around here.

Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth. Our professional plan – when the dollars flowed freely and operations mattered – used to include slack in the system to absorb the unforeseen and unthinkable. As we forge ahead with creative staffing models, measurables, resume building, and ladder climbing, the slack has been removed and the entire system is stretched tight. Do we have a plan for a fight gone bad? At the company level we have to because often the organization does not. We have to create our own plan because no one else will. Is operating without a plan and hoping things will work out for the best any way to do business? Not around here. We won’t accept average and we will not ask for permission to do as we see fit to carve time from our day to make ourselves better and safer.


Aggressive, educated, proactive firefighting that starts with the mindset that every structure is occupied and that we will extend risk (our lives) to effect the rescue of our neighbors is the foundation of a movement to put the fight back in firefighter and bring strong leadership back to the fireground and firehouse. We must seek out our own education and create our own motivation because help is not on the way. Our best insurance policy is a strong base of education and the ability to practically apply knowledge to the appropriate situation. We have to be functionally intelligent and possess the ability to think on our feet. Cuts to training budgets can no longer be an excuse. We have to invest in ourselves. In order to win the fight, we have to be in the fight. Being in the fight means doing it on your own and leading from everywhere.

Do we want to go home at the end of our shift?


Are we afraid to do our job?  Not around here.  Around here we train hard in order to fight smart.

Will we let office dwellers pushing statistics determine how we fight? Not around here. We won’t sit around and wait for greatness to arrive, around here we go get it. Around here we believe in each other. Around here we set the bar high and we hold each other accountable to that standard.

Around here we do it on our own together.

Conventional Methods for Defeating Window Bars

By: Brian Brush

windows4In most settings window bars are more deterrent than actual fortification.  There are places where window bars and coverings can be substantially built and designed as an obstacle, for example commercial occupancies or vacant property systems.  For the most part window bars and coverings on occupied residential and multi-family dwellings are designed to intimidate criminals from an attempt.  We are not criminals and we should not be intimidated.

I hesitated with this post for two reasons; the first is that window bars have been covered in detail by several others recently.  The second is that when it comes to window bars and coverings the styles and attachment types are endless and any effort to cover it is simply the tip of the iceberg.

Ultimately the purpose here is to bring together some of those other references for you to access beyond this basic review. Additionally I aim to provide a little closer look at the window bars so you can see beyond the intimidation factor and the immediate call for the saw.  The more we learn about how the bars are built and attached to the structure the more we know about how to take them out.


I am a fortunate because my first alarm resources include proactive RIT crews, truck companies and a heavy rescue with a variety of tools, saws and task/equipment familiar firefighters for forcible entry duties.  The presence of window bars on arrival is not much of a curve ball for our operations. I say I am fortunate because this is not the case in every department. 

For a lightly staffed or volunteer department that only runs and equips engine companies the presence of window bars at a working fire may be seen as a significant problem. This holds especially true if training and lack of education has programmed them to believe that saws are the primary method for defeating them.

Even with a well-equipped and staffed response there is the potential that the first arriving engine finds an immediate rescue behind the window bars and no time to wait for a saw.


Gresham Oregon on November 29th 2012 – Photo: Greg Muhr

Please see the link to the downloadable PDF as an introduction to widow bar and covering types.  This is not all inclusive! The document covers some types and some methods.  Due to the variety of window bars and coverings, I highly recommend you use this document as a template for you to size up and discuss methods for your area not as the resource for your area.

As the foundational message of forcible entry is “try before you pry” I hope you take from this “try before you cut”.  When you encounter window bars and coverings it is a good idea to bring a forcible entry saw with you or call for one. In the meantime or in the absence of a saw, a quick size up may reveal to you that conventional methods and standard tools can defeat them.

Click here for full PDF: Conventional Methods for Defeating Window Bars

Throwing Ladders

By: Jason Jefferies

Of our many passions we consistently discuss at Fire Service Warrior, proficiency with our ground ladders is certainly one we have constantly explored.  In numerous posts and videos on the FSW YouTube channel, we have discussed and demonstrated in detail the single person high shoulder ladder throw, the ladder flip, the ladder clean, marrying the hook with the ladder, dragging the ladder as a sled, and the list continues to go on.  While this is something that appeals to the vast majority of our audience, there are always a handful out there with whom the message just does not seem to resonate.

I’ve seen everything in the comments from statements such as, “This is simply a party trick without tools” to “This is unsafe.”  To this, I agree and disagree.  Single-person ladder throws are only unsafe to those who are not in a physical condition to perform the task; and of course without tools we are useless.  Even those statements from me will not drive the point home to all.  What about those who are not equipped with the right type of ladders?

This viewpoint comes primarily from that fact that my department is not outfitted with 2 section extension ladders that can be deployed by a single firefighter from the high shoulder carry.  Well, not all firefighters at least.  In the FSW videos, each ladder used is a Duo Safety 24’ 2-section extension ladder.  These ladders weigh 72 pounds each.  Unfortunately for me, the ladders that I use are much different.  

Duo AlcolitePhoto credit: Pete Sulzer

Each company on my fire department is outfitted with an Alco-Lite 28’ 2-section extension ladder.  The Alco-Lite 28’ weighs in at a whopping 114 pounds.  Quite a difference, right?  So I’m outfitted with a ladder that is 42 pounds heavier.  Don’t make the mistake and think the added length adds substantially to the weight; it’s not the length of the ladder so much as the difference in construction between the two manufacturers.  Worth noting is that the Duo-Safety 28’ 2 section extension ladder weighs only 87 pounds, so it’s still 27 pounds lighter than its counterpart manufactured by Alco-Lite.  Only a handful of members of my fire department are able to perform the single person high shoulder carry and throw it with ease.  It is a matter of balance and strength, with gravity constantly pulling against you.  Think about it:  The ladder weighs 114 pounds.  Add in approximately 75 pounds for gear, a 25 pound chainsaw or 18 pounds of tools and you can see that the gravitational pull against us is adding up quickly to the tune of approximately 207 pounds…  Add in my body weight plus the gear, tools, and ladder and you’ll see that we are dealing with 400 pounds of frustration.

And old adage states, “A good carpenter does not blame his tools.”  Well, instead of pissing and moaning about not having a lightweight Duo Safety ladder, I stopped blaming my tools and began working on my skill level with the tools I was afforded the opportunity to work with, i.e. train, train, and train.  Now I can perform this task alone, but it isn’t pretty at all.  I don’t say that bragging because the road to success was ugly, very ugly.  I dropped the ladder more times that I can count.  Hell, it weighs more than two of my kids put together.  But I tried over and over because I’m stubborn.  And I eventually won.  With all that said I know the road I travelled to success was very difficult and marked with many moments of frustrated swearing.  But enough math and enough braggadocio…

For those out there with Alco-Lite ladders which weigh substantially more, for those few who are outfitted with fiberglass or wooden ladders which are even heavier, for those unable to perform the ladder flip or ladder clean, and for those out there who are simply not sold on the single person high shoulder throw, this article is intended to give you more options to increase your efficiency when working with your ground ladders.  I don’t use the ladder flip or the ladder clean.  Even though I am well versed in the technique and have practiced it many times, every time I’ve carried and thrown a ground ladder on working fires, it has come from the ladder rack on the apparatus from which I was riding. With that stated, there is a place for the ladder clean.  If a ground ladder is lying beside the rig because it was placed there to get access to a ladder behind it (think about the 24’ or 28’ extension and 16’ roof on an engine’s ladder rack), I may need the ability to clean it up so that I can carry it.  Although I do not intend on covering every single method, I will offer you a few that can be utilized by all firefighters, no matter what type of ladders or ladder mounts you are equipped with. 

Set-Up for the High Shoulder Carry

The high shoulder carry is once again a common point of debate.  For traveling long distances, dealing with heavier ladders, or lack of comfort with positioning the low shoulder carry is just fine.  Most of us at FSW prefer the high shoulder carry for a more seamless transition to the throw and also for clearance on the approach if you need to carry between parked cars, through gates or yard fences, and traveling up grades or short sections of steps along the sides or rears of structures.  Ultimately the choice is yours however here is a little more detail on the high shoulder carry for a single firefighter.

The set-up for shoulder loading the extension ladder depends primarily on what type of apparatus you are assigned to and where the ladders are stored.  On our company, like many of you, we have a hydraulic ladder rack that lowers so that the beam of the ladder is just under the level of my shoulder.  It is easy for me to place my hook in between the rungs, step under the ladder and lift it into position on my shoulder.  If I am carrying the ladder alone, say I’m setting up for a VES operation, I’ll place my Halligan bar beneath the waist belt on my SCBA so that it is held stationary and is hands-free.  That gives me two hands to place on the ladder to keep it stable when it is loaded on my shoulder. To get set up, clear the ladder and step beneath the balance point of the ladder and stand up with it.


Beneath the ladder rack are two 16’ roof ladders.  Our ladders are married on racks with the 28’ extension on the inside (bottom) of the rack and the 16’ roof ladders on the outside (top). It is important to remove them and place them far enough under the ladder rack so that they do not block your feet from getting directly under the 28’ extension ladder to lift it.  Also, by sliding the 28’ extension ladder out a few inches, you can ensure that it does not hit the hard suction on the way up, potentially causing the ladder to tip over.


Note in the picture the location of the hook; it is on my right shoulder hooked to the bed section of the ladder.  Once I prepare to throw the ladder, my hand keeps it in place by firmly gripping the beam of the ladder and the shaft of the hook.  If it is hooked properly into the bed section of the ladder, it will remain stationary while I extend and place the ground ladder.


The ladder company in our firehouse has the ground ladders stored in an interior compartment, lying flat on their bed section. The set-up for this takes a few more steps, but ensuring you take the time to get it right pays off large dividends in the outcome.  To set up for the high shoulder carry, pull the ladder out of the compartment until the beams can clear the rack.  Set the butt spurs on the ground, and then tilt the ladder onto its beam.  From this point, grab the ladder a few rungs back from the tip and raise it overhead until the tip can be placed on the turntable of the aerial.  Leave a hand on the beam of the ladder to keep it from tipping over until you are prepared to shoulder load it.  By raising the tip of the ladder so that it rests on the turntable of the aerial, the firefighter does not have to squat as low to get the ladder onto his shoulder.


Place your hook on the rungs, step beneath the balance point and stand up, balancing the ladder on your shoulder.


Once the ladder is shoulder loaded in the High Shoulder position, it can be carried to your objective and thrown to the building.



Again, no unsafe party trick, just a simple step-by-step process.

2 Firefighter High-Low Carry

This is an exceptionally fast method for deploying an extension ladder with 2 people, and believe me it is a seamless operation, provided the firefighters throwing the ladder are well trained with the piece of equipment; but isn’t that important with everything we use?

From the ladder rack on the engine both firefighters remove the ladder.  Both firefighters step directly beneath the ladder and lift it from its position on the rack.


The firefighter carrying the butt spur end will carry the ladder by the beam with a straight arm by his side, like carrying a suitcase.  The firefighter carrying the tip end carries the ladder in the high shoulder position.  Note that both firefighters have a free hand that can carry tools.  In this following photo, the firefighter carrying the tip has placed the hook on the beam of the ladder so that it can both hands can be placed on the ladder to stabilize it.  Once at our objective, the hook can be dropped to the ground prior to raising the ladder.


Setting up the High Low Carry from a ladder compartment is accomplished in the same manner as the single firefighter High Shoulder carry.  The butt spurs are pulled until the ladder clears the compartment and then the tip is raised so that the beam rests on the turntable of the aerial.  By placing the tip in this position, it is easy for the tip firefighter to get in position for the high shoulder carry.


Once the ladder is ready to be carried, the firefighters proceed towards the objective with tools in hand.  The firefighter carrying the butt spur end has placed the hook on the bottom beam of the ladder with it hooking the bed section, freeing his other hand for the vent saw.  The tip firefighter is hooking the ladder beam with his right hand and carrying the Irons with his left hand.


Throwing the ladder from the High Low Carry is accomplished quite easily.  The butt spurs are placed at the objective and the ladder is heeled by the firefighter at the spurs.  Furthermore, the firefighter at the spurs can reach down and pull upwards on the beam, assisting the tip firefighter to raise the ladder into place.


Once the ladder is heeled, the tip firefighter performs a beam raise to put the ladder into position.


As soon as the ladder is vertical, the heel man can either assist with putting the ladder into place, or mask up and prepare to go to work.

There are several points about the High-Low Carry that have sold me on its effectiveness.  First, we have two firefighters carrying and raising a heavy ladder.  This reduces the chance of the ladder being dropped by a single person attempting to throw it alone—again, it weighs 114 pounds.  Secondly, this allows the two firefighters to have  free hands for tools.  Note that the firefighters in the photo are equipped with a vent saw, a hook, and a set of Irons.  Third, for the firefighter carrying the tip and raising the ladder, half of the work is already done.  Instead of having to move the ladder from the low shoulder carry (arm through the rungs) to raise it, or worse, having to lay the ladder down and then raise it, he or she can drop their tools and raise the ladder directly from their shoulder with no wasted movement or time. Lastly, and most importantly, this method can be used if you carry it directly to the building with no obstacles as well as in situations where you have limited room to work and you have to raise the ladder close to and parallel to the fire building.  Think about obstructions such as power lines, tree limbs, or alleys.

Every task we performIMG_0280 on the fireground is time-sensitive, so any time we are afforded the chance to train ourselves to maximize the effectiveness of our work while minimizing the time it takes to complete, we are bound by duty to do such.  For the record, several of the pictures in this piece show firefighters throwing ladders without tools.  A good training program should consist of progressive learning so that as a task is learned and then mastered, the difficulty is increased.  We cannot expect a firefighter to see a technique that is new to them and expect perfection in performance right out of the gate.

If someone has never thrown an extension ladder alone, how can they be expected to be proficient at it if their first attempt is to do it in full gear with a full complement of tools?  A more successful approach to a new task may require the firefighter(s) to get proficient with the skill in a helmet and gloves, then in gear, then in gear and an SCBA; and once that’s accomplished, begin carrying and throwing with tools and the rest of the shooting match.  Some may find the techniques demonstrated to be out of their comfort level, and that is okay.  I know that the vast majority of us were initially trained based upon the regimented form of ladder carries and ladder raises out of books like the Essentials manual.  In fact, the words ladder and throw are never paired together anywhere in the book to my knowledge.  These are advanced tasks and should be viewed not as “The Way,” but simply as another way. The most important piece of the entire puzzle is this: Get out, grab your ladders, and learn your abilities.


The Deadload Isn’t Dead

By: Brian Brush

If look at the pages trade magazines adorned with ads from apparatus manufactures or hear the preachers of “being progressive” you might think that today’s fires can only be fought with a preconnected, properly stowed, color coded attack line.  If you believe your local dealer, the back of an engine is just for supply hose now days and it is perfectly fine to have it 6 feet off the ground.  Across the country static hose beds are being written off as outdated on new builds. 


On hundreds of engine companies from coast to coast thousands of feet of perfectly good 2 ½” hose is just sitting in beds.  Per policy, ISO requirement, or sheer laziness the 2 ½” is loaded for supply yet unused, next to the “modern” large diameter bed.  


twobedI personally find beauty in the 2 ½” hose.  The simplicity and efficiency of the line is second to none. A 2 ½” flat loaded, in a static bed is a work of art to a fire nerd like me.  If you are the one other guy out there who agrees then this was easy. If you are the other 99.999% and you need a little more convincing before you flip your 2 ½” hose bed around, put a nozzle on it and toss a double female in your hydrant bag, here we go.

A few problems with preconnects


Preconnects aren’t entirely to blame; good training, understanding and loading can make them as versatile as the mind is using it.  With that said, manufactures continue to stuff them in places which force certain loading styles and push us towards deploying the entire load. 

·         Problem number one: Preconnects are almost always deployed the full preconnected length.  Let us use a common suburban area of 1 to 2 story single family dwellings. Typically the first arriving engine isn’t more than 50’ from the front door and you typically won’t use more than 50’ per floor. Most attacks won’t go beyond 150’ of hose. If the preconnect is loaded to 250’ like it is at my department you now have the challenge of managing an excess of 100’ of hose on most fires.

·        preconnectProblem number two: Even open and flat loaded preconnects can be difficult to pull especially in the 2 ½” attack line. A tightly loaded tray has friction on the bottom and both sides. If exposed to elements of rain, snow or a recent fire or training where the hose is also wet and the deployment from the apparatus can be a bear.

·         Problem number three: Midmount cross lays are designed by a manufacture to line the preconnect up with the front door.  The problem is rigs then line the preconnect up with the front door failing to pull past for a three sided view and to allow for aerial or apparatus to have the front.  If you do pull past the fire building as we should when we can, you now have to deploy your hose down the side of the rig. This usually crosses or is right at the pump panel or exhaust pipe in any number of fashions to get in the way or have a large diameter supply line run over the top before it gets connected to the intake.

The deadload isn’t dead

I will not claim to be an expert here, I just prefer the simple and versatile. The deadload isn’t dead, in many parts of this country it never went anywhere, and in some places it is seeing a major resurgence.  Unfortunately, I have seen enough and spoken with enough to know that in many places the firefighters are not in control of their fire engines and salesmenship and vendors win out over simplicity and versatility. So, here are a few points to ponder and a quick video to demonstrate the benefits of the deadload and give you the tools to take back your rig, or at least flip a hose bed and stick a nozzle on it. One final note is the deadload does not need a “finish”.  If you have to put a horseshoe, flying dutchman or reverse cowboy on it to make it right with you or your department then go ahead.  In the name of simplicity though, a nozzle on a hose on top of hose works just fine too.

E-1 two and a half flat load

The Deadload

·         Continuous length allows for versatility in deployment at the time of deployment to meet the estimated stretch presented

·         Known hose bed depth makes hose bundling estimation simple

·         Rear of apparatus deployment and connection keeps sides of apparatus clear for panel operations and compartment access.

·         Apartment / Courtyard / Exterior / Extended reach stretches are easily established from a deadload with the male coupling out and low friction loss coefficient of the 2 ½” hose.

8 Pounds

By:  Ric Jorge

I recently saw a rerun of the movie “Jerry Maguire,” where the kid in the movie says, “Did you know the human head weighs 8 pounds?” When I first saw that movie in the theatre I laughed that such a small kid would know such an odd fact. Hearing it this time made me think of what I have learned about what’s in that “head” and how it affects firemen.

I’ve learned that our brains are wired to see patterns in almost every object we see; that smells can trigger increased blood pressure (like the smell of a fire as you enter the neighborhood of the reported structure you are responding to).

In my research, I found that the brain does some things that are pretty cool, like being able to distinguish some smells such as rotting food at birth (again with the smell). I think we can all agree that the brain is a very complex organ, but even the most complex of things, when understood, can display a simple order. Take the brain’s ability to recognize only 5 basic tastes:  sweet, sour, butter, salty, and umami (beefy flavor) … I wonder which one of that soot falls into.

I believe the brain is the greatest tool any fireman can have, yet it’s the least understood.  How ironic is it that we preach “Know the enemy” or “Train as if your life depends on it,” and we talk about developing “Muscle Memory” in training, or even “EGH” … but mention the cerebral cortex in a training lecture and it would soon be followed by snoring. The cerebral cortex is important because it processes information about the world so that we may survive through recognition of what works and what doesn’t, what hurts and what feels good, and it does it two ways.

1. Sensory: Includes Touch (including pressure, pain, and temperature), Sight, Smell, Hearing, and Taste. Information that enters our brain through the senses powerfully influences our thoughts, emotions, and personality. It’s why as instructors we should involve as many of the sense as possible to make a lesson “sink in,” and make it personal through the emotions released using the senses.

2.  Cognition: These are the function that have proven successful over the evolution of humans—the abilities of the brain-based skills we need to carry out any task, from the simplest to the most complex. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention rather than with any actual knowledge. All that gobble-d-goop means is that cognition is our wiring, our mental processing.

tiresldegeMotor Memory (often called Muscle Memory) provides fine motor control for our practiced actions, like control over vocal cords to produce speech, or walking without losing your balance (unless it’s St Patrick’s Day). Motor memory is tied to the learning of skills, and it occurs in 2 stages:

1. Developing the neural network (your electrical wiring) that best represents the motions required for a skill.

  • Swinging an axe with your shoulders vs. swinging an axe using inertia with precision
  • Cutting with a gas saw vs. knowing how best to hold the saw for cutting
  • Donning and Doffing turn outs or an air-pack
  • Arrival reports
  • Hose management
  • SAR
  • Climbing an aerial or ground ladder
  • Mask confidence

2. After the basic motions are mastered and implicitly memorized, then and only then will the brain recruit additional neurons to refine the motions (kind of like adding another wiring harness to handle the new electric activity … like juggling several girlfriends at once; getting good at that doesn’t just “happen”). This is the difference between an adequate fireman and an exceptional fireman.

This is why PPT (psychologically progressive training) is so important. You cannot rush exceptional performance, it is learned through training.

Why is PPT so important? Because it takes 300 to 500 times to develop the Motor Memory. You can’t rush training; and if you take short cuts, allow for “little mistakes,” or accept sloppy technique, when it finally bites you in the ass (and it will sooner or later), and now you want/have to “fix” it, it will seem infinitely harder because it is. To relearn screwed-up learning you’re upwards of 3000 to 5000 repetitive times of learning the technique the “new way” to create new neural pathways to do this again from Motor Memory (doing something without even thinking, making it look like it comes natural).

So, training year after year, responding to fires year after year becomes almost automatic … but what about the different circumstances? Not every fire is the same, right? They are to an extent, but they all have their unique side too. This “knowing” that we pick out of our brain is called RPDM (Recognition Primed Decision Making). The ability to see where the smoke is issuing from, the layout of the house based on the neighborhood, the weather conditions, the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood, and the number of times all these circumstances have presented themselves to us on fires, or in training, is what we draw our split-second decision making from. This, of course, is an oversimplified explanation of what RPDM is.

In classes I teach, people will often comment about my passion and the emotion that I use. This is partly by design. Anyone that knows me will tell you that I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but my passion for the Fire Service is genuine—I love our job. So I combine the two and make the message personal. I try and appeal to each individual’s sense of emotion, or the group’s emotion (sometimes they are all from the same department). I will strategically attempt to put them in situations where they must rely on each other, where they need the other’s help to be successful. Or maybe dig into a “traumatic” event that occurred to them or their department … anything to illicit an emotional connection. Why? Because memories are more likely to “stick” when you combine information and emotion. The goal of a good instructor is to create a pathway for recall; this is why you “connect” with some instructors. Brennan, vonAppen, Brush … these men illicit that sense of connection from students; it is a genuine ability derived from a true love of something, and a greater understanding of what it means to make others experience it for themselves.

_IMAGE_3_FULLGEAR_NOTAJOBNOTACAREERACALLING_True leaders, good leaders, do not want to lead men; they want men to lead with them. So the next time you’re in a lecture and the instructor mentions something like “neural circuitry,” I hope your eyes pop out of your head with interest. Know why? Because now you will understand that neural circuitry that carries out action is different from neural circuitry that explains action …which would explain why sometimes it is easier to act than explain why … and if you don’t get it, please don’t snore in the class.

Thoughts on Leadership from the Back Step

By: Christopher Bauchle

Over the past 7 years, I have had the opportunity and privilege to work for a number of different fire service leaders in both civilian and military settings. During this time, I have made a conscious effort to be attentive to the various leadership strategies I have encountered as well as their outcomes. My aim is to apply these lessons learned with the intent of being the best leader I can be. This is not intended to be a list of gripes directed at past or present leadership, simply a collection of observations that I hope to retain once my helmet begins to change colors.

 Consider your decision making from the firefighter’s perspective.

While the ability to make quick decisions and effectively communicate orders is certainly a premier attribute of a top-notch leader; away from the fire ground, it is imperative to take into consideration how the decisions you make appear to those below you. For instance, if another shift complains about trucks being dirty and you remedy this by deciding that each apparatus gets washed regardless if it has left the station, you may leave your firefighters doubting your ability to implement sound, logical decision making. Although not always practical, taking a minute to communicate the reasoning behind a particular decision can be the difference between having your firefighters champion an idea and having them simply follow orders with an “I just work here” attitude.

Don’t be a tough guy.

Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated, “You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.” While a rite of passage is certainly an integral aspect of firehouse culture, a leader should never attempt to intimidate his or her subordinates. It is crucial to maintain a balance between being assertive and accessible. A good leader is the first to teach his or her firefighters something new, the first to answer questions, the first to jump down someone’s throat when correction is needed, and the first to re-demonstrate whatever was deficient. The newest generation of firefighters entering the fire service is well educated and has a lot to offer our beloved blue-collar profession. Setting out to intimidate them will only leave them thinking that you’re compensating for something.

Avoid gossip.

If one of your firefighters is a screw-up, chances are the rest of the crew already knows. It is never appropriate for a leader to comment on a particular individual to his or her peers in this type of setting. Doing so will only make the rest of your firefighters wonder if you say the same things about them when they’re not around. Similarly, spreading information before you know facts is hearsay and is equally as detrimental. Your crew must be able to unconditionally trust the words that come out of your mouth. Few things can destroy this trust and, subsequently, the influence and integrity of a leader quicker than gossip.

Hold yourself to the same standard you hold your firefighters.

There is nothing more entertaining than hearing a 400-pound officer lecture about the importance of pride and protecting our heritage in the fire service. We do not need another million-dollar study to drive home the fact that physical fitness (or a lack there of) is one of the greatest contributing factors to the 100 LODDs the fire service mourns annually. Although that 400-pound officer may be in an 8-hour flower desk job, one of the core concepts of leading is to practice what is preached. We must never forget where we came from and how we viewed the fire service when we first fell in love with this job. Although you may have put your time in on the frontlines, the name of the game is servant leadership. Holding yourself to this standard or doing something as simple as helping your firefighters clean the kitchen after dinner says volumes about your heart and character.

Let your existence speak for itself.

If you have to tell someone how great of a leader you are, you probably are not that great of a leader. There are few instance when saying “I” is more appropriate than saying “we.” For example, hearing a chief say, “when I built station 4″ sounds starkly different than, “when we built station 4.” Even if that chief is entirely responsible for the new firehouse, credit should be passed along and any kudos used to market the fire department’s mission. Firefighters are some of the best judges of an individual’s nature and motives. As a leader, name dropping and bragging are important – but only when it’s about your firefighters and for the good of the department.

Attitude is everything.

Your attitude is infectious. Although it may not always be apparent, you set the pace for your crew. If a young firefighter sees you scoff at a gas odor run, he’s not going to take it seriously – potentially ever. This creates a dangerous ripple effect where that individual influences another individual, who influences another, and so on… all because of you. This ripple effect, however, works both ways. A leader who demonstrates a hardiness of spirit despite, inconvenience and adversity can leave a lasting impact on those around him or her. The best leaders live by this ethos and feel a moral obligation to motivate and inspire those around them by setting an example. Every day that you walk into the firehouse is part of your legacy and is an opportunity to leave the fire service a better place than when you found it.


IMAGE_1_BAUCHLEBIO_THOUGHTSONLEADERSHIP (2) BIO: Christopher Bauchle is a career fireman with the Indianapolis Int’l Airport Fire Department and works part-time for the city of Greenwood, IN. Bauchle’s fire service career began in 2006 as an Air Force firefighter. He currently holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Safety Management and is certified as a Rescue Technician, HazMat Technician, and IFSAC Instructor II.



Running threads throughout many of the posts I have involve trust. Faith in the leader, the team, the person next to you, and ultimately in yourself are what I feel are keystones of successful operations. The words we choose and the style of teaching we employ can make or break learning sessions.

Getting people to trust themselves involves building them up, and teaching in a positive manner in order to get the most out of them. Most learners, no matter their age, do not respond well to negative reinforcement.

In my opinion, a bullying style never works for very long. Short-term results may be realized but the long-term yield will be a disenfranchised student base. The way that we treat people in training can build unity in the team or it can drive the group away – far away. Once they are driven away, good luck capturing their attention again. Even when all other means have failed I’m not a fan of belittling firefighters – ever. Standing over a trainee with your arms folded, shaking your head disapprovingly as they struggle to grasp a concept or skill, only proves that you hunger for others to fail so you can assert your knowledge and authority. This in no uncertain terms is bullying, which leads to resentment and flies in the face of creating a positive learning environment. If you want to lose your audience immediately, act like a pretentious-know-it-all on the drill ground.

Students must be allowed to make mistakes in training. Doers make mistakes. If a trainee fails to perform an evolution correctly at the first attempt, train them on the desired behavior. Allow for the opportunity to perform the skill correctly as many times as is necessary. In doing so, you open their eyes to a flaw in their game and by giving them the opportunity to correct it, they will be stronger performers.

The classroom and the drill grounds serve essentially the same purpose – they are for explanation, demonstration, correction, and repetition. The training ground is the place for failure, and it is the place where we must conquer the fear of failure in order to succeed.
We cannot coach at people in the same way we do not talk at people. To reach them we must coach to them, just as our efforts in teaching should speak to the pupil. A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment. Cultivating trust in the training environment is a must have if we seek an elite level of performance. Leadership is about owning your responsibility to the future. Coach your people up and give them the tools to survive even after you have moved on.

Trust in the instructor and faith in the training mission allows for trainees to stretch themselves- to go to places outside their established comfort zones. The results are trainees who seek greater depths of knowledge because they feel comfortable trying new things. Build trust by caring for the person as an individual – shower them with genuine interest. Place people in positions where they have the best chance of success. The student must feel that the mentor will not quit on them – even when they fail. The deal breaker is when the trainee does not put forth effort, they have to want it too. The obligation of the student is to make every effort to absorb the coaching and try to improve. Each person must feel that the leader is speaking to them personally even as the leader is addressing the group.

How do you develop trust?
-Establish plans together – students must be honest self-evaluators
-Execute the plan
-Mutual exchange – have expectations for the student and allow for the students to have expectations of you
-Be patient
-Work overtime: Hold some coaching in reserve – speak to people individually about specific areas of improvement after training sessions – this shows interest by spending time outside of the classroom or drill ground
-Don’t single out individuals in the group setting – people know how they performed
-Don’t set people up for failure
-Allow for failure – use setbacks as a learning tool
-Celebrate success
-Have a sense of humor

The instructors who made the biggest impression on my life are the ones who displayed the greatest amount of patience and empathy for me as I struggled to comprehend what they were trying to drive home.

I’m somewhat of a dullard and I have never gotten good at anything by not doing it – a lot. I’m the type of person who has to practice a skill over and over again to get it right. Once I do get it, I still have to practice tirelessly to make sure I stay sharp. It’s exhausting, I am extremely envious (and rather skeptical) of anyone that can observe a skill once and believe they have mastered it. I want to know their secret. It might just be that they were coached the right way from the very beginning.

Debunking the “Heavy Irons”

By: Jason Jefferies



Striking tools comeIrons in various sizes, shapes, and configurations and deciding upon which type to marry to the Halligan Bar in your set of “Irons” for forcible entry depends largely upon the types of buildings in your response area.  Sounds conceivable, right?  Truthfully, there are multiple types of striking tools; however the best implement to marry to the Halligan Bar for forcible entry is the flat head axe.  I am not a big proponent of the “Heavy Irons,” an 8lb or 10lb sledgehammer in a married set.

Over the years I have heard every argument for doing such: “It gives me a heavier tool with which to strike, it is better for breaching masonry walls, the sledge is more durable,” and the list continues.  The logic of a heavier striking tool in our irons set is easy to buy into and it is even something that I believed for a long time, but the fact remains that the sledgehammer leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the flat head axe in the realm of conventional forcible entry.

Setting the Halligan Bar in a doorjamb properly is one of the critical benchmarks of forcible entry.  We must have the ability to strike the tool with enough force to overcome friction and resistance of the door and its construction.  A mixture of technique and applied force primarily accomplishes this, with technique being the driving factor in our success.  A firefighter who has poor technique will sometimes reach success with brute force, but there are times that even brute force will leave you exasperated, out of breath, and still standing outside the fire building with a  locked door laughing in your face.  When this occurs the poorly trained firefighter will resort to more laughable tactics to force the door, such as attempting to batter and beat the door open with strikes from a heavy tool or with feeble chops from flailing body parts.  Knowing your tools, your abilities, and their combined strengths and limitations is crucial in determining what you can and cannot force.

Deciding against using the sledgehammer with the Halligan Bar is something that I wrestled with for a long time.  At face value, it would seem that a heavier and harder tool (the sledge) should win out when put up against a flat headed axe as a striking tool.  Nevertheless, when you look a bit deeper into each tool’s abilities, you will see that the sledge leaves a little to be desired during conventional forcible entry operations.  The sledgehammer is much harder and does more damage to the Pro-Bar, the striking surface area is smaller than that of a flat head axe, and the sledgehammer is a single purpose tool therefore it cannot be used as a wedge to hold a gap while forcing the door.

Success in a forcible entry scenario is largely based upon the firefighter’s ability to use technique and leverage to overcome what is locking the door.  Most people focus on the Halligan, and little thought is given to the actual horsepower behind the entire operation, that horsepower being the strikes that set the tool.  At face value, it would seem that a heavier tool would be more appropriate, but weight of the tool is only a portion of the equation.  The force needed to deliver effective strikes is more of need for speed than weight.  That’s where the 8lb Flat Head Axe shines.  It is heavy enough so that it have some backbone, yet not so heavy that speed cannot be be generated over a short distance-think short swings, from the knees, at the end of a hallway or in an alley.  If you hamper yourself with a 10lb or even 12lb sledgehammer, only the biggest bull on your company will have the strength to deliver effective and quick strikes in a confined area.

The Pro-Bar and Sledgehammer are made from much different steel.  The steel used to forge a sledgehammer is much harder than the steel the Pro-Bar is forged out of, and in turn, this causes significant mushrooming of the softer tool when the two are struck together.  Multiple attempts at forcible entry with the sledge and Halligan, either during training or on working jobs, will result in a prying tool in dire need of attention.  Not only does the sledge play Hell on the striking surfaces of the Pro-Bar, it has a greater tendency to shear off to the side when striking.  The reason being is the same concept as a carpenter bending nails; the hammer is harder than the nail head, and a blow to the head of the nail that is off center will send the head of the hammer glancing to the side and the nail will bend.  When framing a house with a hammer and a nail, this may be the cause of a sore thumb, but translate this to forcing a door with a sledgehammer and it could be the cause for a broken wrist.  This begs the question- “Why not make the Halligan of metal that is the same hardness as the sledgehammer?”  Simply put, striking two metal tools together of the same hardness can result in catastrophic shearing forces that will significantly damage the tools and increase the possibility of injury.  Therefore, the Halligan must be softer, yet we can strike it with a tool that is just a bit harder, but not so hard it completely wrecks the bar. The steel in the head of an 8lb Axe is not nearly as hard as the steel used to forge the sledgehammer, and this reduces the chances of the striking tool glancing to the side or shearing off a piece of the Pro-Bar.



The surface area with which we have to strike with is much greater on an 8lb axe.  Not only is the axe taller, its width is close to that of the sledge giving you almost twice the area with which to strike. Having that extra bit of area to strike with can mean all the difference in the world when the blow from the striking firefighter is a little off-center. While all firefighters should be trained (repeatedly) on the nuances of delivering quick, compact, and strong blows to the Halligan as the striking firefighter, there still remains the possibility of a missed strike.  Couple a missed strike with poor placement of the prying firefighter’s body parts, and we are looking at potential injury, or at the least a good bit of swearing by the member that was hit!  The 8lb Flat Head Axe once more shows its superiority in its striking surface area.


Lastly, the Sledgehammer is a singular purpose tool, and it is limited to what striking and breaking.  Don’t get me wrong, when I am in need of a heavy tool for some heavy duty breaching, the sledge is the first tool I reach for, but in the realm on conventional forcible entry, the 8lb Flathead Axe is a much better choice due to its versatility.  The axe blade can be used to pry if needed, can be used to cut through wood, and can even be used to shear off the heads of small bolts.  Most notably, the axe makes an awesome wedge for either holding the gap in a door while cutting the lock plunger with a saw or forcing the door conventionally with a Halligan. An excellent technique for holding a gap in a door is to insert the blade side of the axe into the gap created by the Halligan between the door and the jamb; furthermore, you can increase the size of the gap by driving the axe further inwards with the Pro-Bar.  If you are equipped with a set of “Heavy Irons” you will be unable to use the head of the sledge to hold the gap.  While you may be able to stick a wooden wedge in the gap, you may be unable to drive the wedge farther in to increase the gap if it is a particularly tight door.

The differences between the two tools may seem minute, but when you really take a step back and look at which striking tool offers the best features for forcible entry, it is easy to see why the 8lb axe is a much better match with the Pro-Bar.  Make no mistake; I am not against using the sledgehammer!  After all, when I need a hole in a masonry wall and I need it fast, the sledge is my first pick.  However, when it comes to forcible entry I want the tool that will offer me the most options.  Which setup you outfit your rig with is entirely dependent upon your needs and your jurisdiction.  Do not arbitrarily load yourself with tools on the fireground without taking the time to understand the abilities and limitations of each. It is your duty as a Fire Service Warrior to know not only what you carry into combat, but more importantly why!!!