A Dead German’s View of Courage

I was getting ready to go to bed the other night and didn’t have a book in particular that I wanted to read, so I went trolling the book shelves and pulled out Essays and Aphorisms a Penguin Classics edition of Arthur Schopenhauer’s work.  Schopenhauer was a German (of Dutch decent) philosopher born in 1788.   (I know, I know, German philosophy and a taste for fine wine tends to confuse people when they hear I’m a fireman, but my life is equally filled with Jameson and Irish Rebel Music, get over it.)  Schopenhauer is best know for his work, The World as Will and Representation.

Essays and Aphorisms is a collection of shorter works of philosophy.  So, I grabbed it from the shelf and thumbed through the table of contents to find a piece I had not read before.  I chose, “On Ethics”.  I was enjoying myself when I reached the Eureka! moment (which I seem to find in anything I read).

“Courage however implies that one is willing to face a present evil so as to prevent greater evil in the future, while cowardice does the reverse.”

I suppose that may be a core supporting idea to the Fire Service Warrior concept.  We race into burning buildings because in doing so we prevent a greater evil… that of our neighbors suffering the loss of their lives or property.  Perhaps, even more so is that we prevent them losing their sense of humanity.  We race into those buildings because we have accepted as our duty to protect our neighbors from fire.  Kurt Vonnegut said, “I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to his fellow man than a fire Engine.”  That attitude would not be there if we did not risk of ourselves to protect others.

Maybe it is off topic but firefighters and fire departments across the county have come under attack of late.  We are seen as being a drain on municipal resources.  We cost valuable dollars, but like an insurance policy we are not valued until we are needed.  The result has been lay-offs, and brownouts, and reductions in services across the country.  We saw the City of Camden layoff 70 firefighters, the City of Gary 40, and countless municipalities lay off line firefighters as a means of saving money.

At issue is the perception that we, the firefighters are to blame.  There is an effort on the part of politicians to cast us as overpaid dilettantes.  There is very little understanding about what we do.  There is zero acknowledgment of the risks we face.  I think every politician should watch the video of the Houston Fire Department Mayday from 2007.

The DVD of this MAYDAY is available from the guys over at The Bravest. It is a heck of a thing to listen to the sound of a brother taking what could have been his last breaths.

We must make it clear what we will and will not do.  That is my entire point about the importance of defining missions.

Just a few thoughts.  Cheers.

Blame it on the Stars

By: Pete Sulzer

            “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

            -William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

            The fire service is often greatly influenced by the nation’s largest departments. However, the majority of the American fire service is composed of departments that serve less than 10,000 people. Members of these smaller agencies tend to look to the metropolitan departments for trends in operations, equipment, and staffing. There is nothing wrong with this practice; in fact, it can be beneficial. Larger departments have the resources to test and perfect new concepts. They are typically busy enough to thoroughly try out new equipment. In addition, instructors from larger departments can often be relied on since they have been sifted out from among the ranks of hundreds, if not thousands, of their co-workers. Borrowing “big city” methods and ideas can have a positive outcome, granted that you must analyze and modify those methods to fit your own area, apparatus, and staffing. However, problems can manifest when members of smaller departments become enamored with the bigger, busier, and perceivably “better” agencies.           

            These issues arise if we turn our attention back to our own company in disgust and disappointed. We may wonder, “Why can’t we operate like that? Why aren’t we that efficient?” We curse fate for delivering us to a quiet, suburban department and turn our nose up at last year’s meager run numbers—as if that were the cause of our faults and mistakes. However, as Cassius told Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “the fault…is not in our stars.” On the contrary, our poor fireground performance, lack of company pride, and less-than-stellar equipment condition cannot be blamed on low population density or call volume. “Men at some time are masters of their fates”,[i] and if blame is to be placed, then we must own it and do something to correct it.           

            Part of the Fire Service Warrior Ethos is to own our responsibility to our Brothers and Sisters. Often this means humbly acknowledging our faults and shortcomings so that we may improve and contribute to the greater good of the department. We can’t afford to lean on the crutch of a small department or “slow” company as a justification for poor performance. You may not run many fires in a year, but your performance on those few “workers” means everything to the occupants of those structures. There is no excuse for mediocrity, other than apathy, and preventing it starts with you. Are you performing at your best? Not just on working fires, but on every run and during every drill. Do you step up during training when others show disinterest? If you aren’t providing a positive example and contributing to your department’s improvement, then you are contributing to its demise. This responsibility belongs to every member of the department, regardless of rank. Firefighters with unmotivated officers can find activities to hone their skills alone, but in a conspicuous place so that others may be motivated to join in. An entire company of firefighters drilling is difficult for even the most unenthusiastic officer to ignore. Company officers should not blame peers who ignore attempts at inter-company drills, or Chief officers who dismiss equipment modifications and suggestions as unnecessary. Chief officers need not blame every department inadequacy on the City Council or a lack of funds. Do not pass the buck and blame your peers, superiors, or subordinates. Stop the buck, take the blame, and take the initiative to do what it takes to improve, starting with you and working throughout the department.

            Once you begin to address your personal improvement, direct your attention to your equipment. Hoards of firefighters will quickly “like” a Facebook photo of another department’s rig or tools. Perhaps you should wonder, why are those photos so appealing? Consider how your own rigs look in comparison. Are they clean, fueled, and ready for duty? Now, inspect your tools. Are they clean and sharp? Are your tools readily accessible for crews to grab as they dismount and go to work, or are they hidden away in some awkward compartment because mounting them outside the rig “looks ugly”? Your rig should be set up as a work truck because that’s exactly what it is. Some will argue that mounting tools on the side of the rig is not only unsightly, but that it causes tools to succumb to dirt and corrosion. That argument is only valid in areas with harsh winters and little down time between runs. I have been witness to rusty, un-kept tools that were stored inside dark, dry compartments as well. A tool’s condition has less to do with its storage location and everything to do with its frequency of maintenance. Take pride in YOUR tools. If you find a dirty, dull, or rusted tool during truck checks, take the time and responsibility to clean it up. With regular maintenance, tools can be mounted outside the rig with no ill effects.           

            Our responsibility to the community we serve and their expectation for the level of service that we provide is not scaled down according to department size and local population. We are still expected to KNOW and DO our job, regardless of where we serve. It’s ok to admire and learn from larger departments, but take pride in your own above all else. Own your actions. Own your equipment. Own your department. You don’t have to be the biggest and busiest to be the best; but the gap in experience must be filled with your own initiative and will to improve. When the tones drop for that rare small town “worker,” you must be prepared to perform at your best because you can’t call the cavalry in from the “big city” when you fall short, and you can’t blame it on the stars when things go wrong.

push ups


 BIO: Pete Sulzer has been in the fire service since 2006. He currently serves with a suburban/rural combination department in central North Carolina.

[i]  William Shakespeare. Julius Caesar (I, ii, 139)

We Are Not Cyborgs

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Gea Leigh Haff has worked with Miami Dade Fire Rescue for nine years.  She is a firefighter, paramedic, rescue diver, and a special ops flight medic with Air Rescue.  Currently, she’s bid in on an engine.  She is also a member of IMSURT-S (International Medical Surgical Response Team) and a founder of Triple F- Fabulous Female Firefighters!

She received an A.S. in Emergency Medical Services from Miami Dade College, a B.A. in Humanities from University of Southern California, and an M.A. in Women’s Studies in Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

You can read her blog at gealeighhaff.com

We Are Not Cyborgs

By: Gea Leigh Haff


We are still doing it.  After all the critical incident stress debriefings, suicide prevention workshops, and unacceptably high number of firefighter suicides, (3 in one year on my dept.), we are still shutting people down who try to speak about calls and the sorrow they bring.

In the past two weeks I have heard the phrases, “Do not get emotionally involved,” and “This is the job.  You’ve got to deal with it,” directed at people who had an emotional response to a call.  This sort of reaction closes the conversation down.  It implies that if you are feeling upset or disturbed about a call, then you are not cut out for this profession.  This is a misguided response from a male- dominated culture based on misunderstanding and it doesn’t work.

Firefighting is traditionally a male endeavor and I suspect this tendency to repress one’s feelings comes from men’s long tradition with war.  In battle, emotions peak and if they are not contained, chaos will ensue.  Fear and sorrow must be suppressed or morale will erode and all might be lost.   This may work for the length of a battle, or possibly even a deployment, but a 25-year career?

An old Battalion Chief once told me, “They are all there.  Every call you ever run is in your brain.  It takes a toll.”  I sometimes feel like I have a rolodex of cards in my head and if I spin them, flashes of sorrow or death appear.  Most of the time those cards are still, but not always.  Sometimes they linger, waiting for the perfect trigger:  the child that looks just like yours, the mother who is dying in the same way your own did.

Everyone will feel upset or disturbed about a call eventually.  If you haven’t yet, then you haven’t been doing this long enough.  I have responded to children shot by their father, a perfect baby thrown into a dumpster, a woman murdered and cut into pieces, a beautiful girl dead from drowning, and numerous other tragedies and deaths, as we all have or eventually will.  The list goes on and on.  To witness acute suffering and continual death and have no emotional response would mean that we are Cyborgs, a sort of Terminator, devoid of humanity.

Perhaps we are confusing empathy with compassion.  Empathy means  to “share the feelings of another,” in other words, to feel another person’s pain.  Compassion means to have “concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”  To feel empathy while we work can be detrimental to productivity, but to have concern for the suffering of others motivates us to work harder and go the extra mile for someone in need.  Compassion gives us strength.  And when someone expresses sorrow or discomfort over a “bad” call, that is a sign of compassion and strength, not weakness.  Allowing the person to talk about it in a supportive way, gives them room to process their experience.

It is true that in the heat of battle we often need to compartmentalize the suffering we witness in order to get the job done.  But, we must deal with these experiences eventually.  When the dust has cleared and battle is over, we must process our emotions.  If not, they will continue to build upon themselves and post traumatic stress disorder can set in.

Trauma resides not only in our brain, but in our muscles too.  Humans store memories in their bodies.  Often these memories surface as we lay down to sleep, right before we drift off.  Our conscious mind begins to relax and drop its guard.  Our body softens.  In this space, images from our subconscious may rise up like a tapped spring.  There is no burying our traumas.  They will always be there, slumbering, ready to awaken until we process them and lay them to rest.

Humans are verbal, social animals and communicating with each other is a way we process our experiences. Messages have power and often we transmit them inadvertently.  Let us allow people to share their discomfort over the acute suffering they witness without subliminally implying they are weak for feeling something.  They aren’t weak.  They are human.

Women have an advantage in that it is natural for us to talk about our feelings in order to process them.  We are allowed more emotional expression than men.  Even so, we too have internalized this detachment theory from the culture in which we work, but it’s time for that culture to change.  It’s time for the men to learn something from the women.  It’s okay to talk about your feelings, and it doesn’t mean that you are weak.  It means that you are strong and brave enough to face them.

Firefighters have been compared to sheep dogs, but I sometimes feel we are more like wolves—not killers, but hunters, expert at sniffing out soft spots, probing for instability, and toughening one another up with a verbal arrow’s dead- on aim.  We are a pack of Alphas.  But the alpha male and female not only hunt and fight for their pack, they protect them from outside and within.  The alpha is highly attuned to the emotional well being of the pack.  He leads and comforts.  He is fierce and tender.  This is true guardianship.

Navy Seal, Eric Greitens writes in The Heart and The Fist, “Without courage, compassion falters, and without compassion, courage has no direction.”  When compassion and courage are united, the heart with the fist, our strength grows.  Our job is long and arduous, but compassion gives us the resiliency to absorb our wounds without breaking.  Compassion for our patients, and perhaps more importantly for each other, is not something to fear.  It is something to embrace.

When a moment of vulnerability descends upon a brother or sister, let us dispense with tough love, and instead move in and listen with heightened awareness, ready to nurture and protect our pack from within.  Our threats are not only physical, they are emotional and spiritual.  Like a true warrior, we must guard each other’s spirits as fiercely as we guard each other’s lives.

We bear witness to great suffering, and that is not an easy path to walk.  Being emotionally detached can only be maintained for so long.  At some point, when a call hits home for whatever reason, that detachment will crack.  And then we will have a choice:  face our feelings or run.  A spiritual warrior is a person who faces the pain and doesn’t turn away.  A spiritual warrior feels the pain and assimilates it, then goes on as a stronger and wiser human being.  It isn’t easy, but they don’t call it warrior for nothing.

Upcoming Classes


Find Mark on July 26th in Seaside, California with Left Coast Fools. To register email leftcoastfools@gmail.com


Brian and Mark will be in Colorado Springs August 16 – 18 along with Nozzle Forward at the 2nd Annual Firefighters in the Rockies Training Symposium.Find class details and registration information at this link – http://pikespeakfire.org/2013-symposium/

For more information on classes available and quotes contact info@spartan-concepts.com



By: Mark vonAppen

During my travels in March 2013, first to Chicago for FSW Fundamentals, then to Jacksonville, NC, to deliver FULLY INVOLVED Leadership to some 200 fire service brothers and sisters, I learned a few things about finishing the job.

When I arrived in Jacksonville, I had little idea of the types of firefighters I would be addressing in my fledgling class on leadership. I was eager to have an impact on the group by sharing my somewhat unique perspective on the subject, but I had no idea of the fingerprint the group would leave on me. I left North Carolina humbled once again by my interactions with those quality individuals who never stop teaching, those who work overtime to ensure people get it right.

I quickly came to understand that Jacksonville is home to Camp Lejeune, an enormous Marine base, the biggest in the world I am told. Jacksonville Public Safety’s Headquarters is on Marine Boulevard, so it makes sense that a few Marines might find their way to the local fire department for employment after they leave active duty. I have read a lot about the Marines, and military history in general, so the gears in my head began to squeak into motion.

Gulp…I’m going to be addressing a group of former Marines about leadership?

My first day in the Carolinas was an adventure, figuring out where I was, figuring out what to eat (I discovered sweet tea, hush puppies, and that everything is better when fried), adjusting to the time change, rehearsing the timing of the presentation, and riding with the training chief to a working fire (pictured, top and right). What struck me most during my trip was that though I had traveled 3,000 miles to croak in front of the group about leadership, I was once again humbled by the small act of an individual who knows about leadership and about finish.

When the training chief picked me up at my hotel to begin Day 2, she beamed as she handed me a book while I piled my gear in the Suburban. “I was at station 1 and Captain Whitmore asked me to give this to you. He said you might like it.” The book was one I consider to be one of THE leadership books to read in order to be successful as a new leader, “Small Unit Leadership.”

“Real leaders never stop teaching for they realize that passing life experiences and tools for success down the line is their greatest gift to the future.”

I had met Captain Whitmore the day prior, first at the fire (he is pictured at top in the red helmet leading his crew in the firefight) as I switched out his SCBA cylinder, then as he sat dead center in the auditorium, with a tight lipped-skeptical expression etched on his face, his hair high and tight, and his arms folded across his chest. His face and body language communicated in no uncertain terms he wasn’t much interested in hearing what the “tree hugging” captain from California had to tell him about leadership.

He asked some pointed questions of me and I could tell he was probing for a response. He leaned forward as he posed question after question. With each exchange I could see his posture at first stiffen, and then slowly relax. I asked one of his department mates about him at a break. “What’s that captain’s deal? I feel like he thinks I’m a candy-ass.” He chuckled, “No, no. That’s just Gunny.”

Captain Whitmore’s nickname is “Gunny,” carryover from his days as a Marine where he was a gunnery sergeant. Gunny’s are the link between the boots on the ground and the platoon commander, often a lieutenant with a lot of formal education but little combat experience. As a new officer, you must have the support of your gunny or you are in for an uphill battle in your assignments. I knew then that I was the new officer being broken in by the still sharped-edged gunny who’s only job was to make sure the new guy didn’t get everyone killed, or in my case, fill their heads with complete nonsense. He was doing his job of running the soft one off before he could do any real harm.

I believe strongly in the message I preach and I have seen it work over 40 years, realizing only as an adult why I believe as I do. What Gunny grilled me on was my belief system, not something I had merely read and was half-heartedly parroting for my own satisfaction. I stood my ground, in doing so, I displayed some sliver of resolve and delivered a message that must have resonated with Gunny.


A sign hangs above the radio room at Jacksonville station 1 (Captain Whitmores firehouse), it reads, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” As I stood beneath it before teaching the first session I couldn’t help but feel the message was a metaphor for the trip and the maiden voyage of Fully Involved. I gleaned what that bit of foreshadowing meant as I cradled the book that Gunny had given to me in my hands. It reinforced that we are forever students and that those who genuinely take the time to listen will hear the message. The message of Fully Involved is to lead from anywhere, and I find that I learn something new from someone every time I venture out. There are many amazing leaders out there and often we are blind to their abilities and the positive affect they have on the organization. We must continually learn, coach, and lead in our way to make things go. I was reminded that we are aggregate of everything and everyone we have ever known and experienced. Pieces of our every contact in a lifetime of contacts have molded and shaped us into who we are today. Today’s interactions change who we will be tomorrow.

In exchange for passing my experiences forward, Gunny offered me an opportunity to grow. Real leaders never stop teaching for they realize that passing life experiences and tools for success down the line is their greatest gift to the future. I held the book in my hands, thumbing through the dog-eared pages as a wry smile spread across my face. I noted the underlined sentences, and the notations scribbled in the margins. I had read the book a few years before and had highlighted some of the same areas. Something that stuck with me from the book is that a leader must show genuine interest in their people. I recognized immediately that this was the act of a man who most likely doled out praise sparingly, was tough to win over, and this was his way of showing interest in me and finishing the job. He was making me better by sharing something that had helped him on his journey as a leader. Gunny was working overtime investing additional time and interest in me and I’m not even sure he realized he was doing it. It is simply in his nature to lead.

As the crews filtered from the council chambers, Captain Whitmore approached the podium as I packed up my laptop and collected my things. He shook my hand firmly, the way Marines do, as he did, he looked me square in the eyes and said, “Good class. I enjoyed it.” Two simple sentences, a hand shake, and a book from a leader like that are among the highest compliments I have ever received.

Thank you Gunny.



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.

Defining Moments

By:  Christopher S. Johnson

A fellow member of the Fire Service Warrior community recently made a Facebook post congratulating a Brother from Colorado Springs, CO on his company’s successful rescue of an eight-month-old baby.  The rightfully proud first-hand account regarding the incident, quoted from IRONSandLADDERS.com, is as follows:


Tough fire last shift, multiple burn victims outside. Child still stuck inside. Large body of fire upon arrival. Because of the hard hitting, combat ready crew that I have the honor to work with everyday, we were able to rescue an 8 month old from inside. It was each and every one of them, from the first line protecting the interior search, to the outside Truck team setting up for VES and choosing the right window. All the bases were covered. I don’t take for granted coming to work with a fire company that believes in being our best and giving our neighborhood the best chance possible. Every day they commit to fight complacency and mentor others to the finer points of this trade. They still believe that no matter how many other obligations this profession throws at us, we are still responsible to be the professionals at fighting fire. Cheers to them and what they stand for, Engine 8, Truck 8 2012.

The young child will be fine, however keep the adult and other child in your thoughts as they are both in critical condition in burn units. Thank you. [1]


As I sat reflecting on this event, I began thinking about the defining moments that occur over the course of a career in the fire service.  We’ve all heard and embraced the adage that, “You will not rise to the occasion, you will default to the level of your training.”[2]  In this case, thankfully, the firefighters involved in this particular career-defining moment were trained and ready for just such a situation and acted without hesitation, and that will follow them for the rest of their time in the fire service.

But what if these firefighters weren’t properly trained prior to this event?  What if they had failed to act to the level of their training?  What if their equipment wasn’t in operable condition?  What if their department, or at a minimum their company officers, had not prescribed a training regimen that encompassed this predictable event and provided the necessary tools and equipment to act accordingly?

How often have you heard, “Remember when Chief So-and-So burned down the Such-and-Such Apartments?” or, “Remember when Engine 123 pulled that 1 ¾ inch preconnect at the XYZ fire?  Man, if they had just stretched a 2 ½ that place would still be standing!”  Your career may be equally negatively defined by one decision, one act or omission, or one event.

A few years ago, three members of my company found themselves thrust into a career-defining moment.  A kayaker chose to make a run down an extremely rain-swollen local river with unseasonable rapids in a neighboring town.  His kayak became swamped, and he quickly found himself clinging to a tree as his kayak worked to pull him under.

Regionally, we do not have any organized swift-water rescue plans or teams.  In this case, the local fire chief is a very experienced fire officer known to be level headed and realistic.  He immediately recognized that his available members lacked both the training and equipment to effect a rescue.  In a moment that further defined him as a leader with command presence, he did not deploy his people into the water, and called for mutual aid assistance while ropes were deployed across the river to try to catch the man if he did break free from the kayak and tree.

My department has never purported to provide swift water rescue services.  Although we now have several members certified as Swift Water Rescue Technicians, we, as an organization, are not trained, nor are we properly equipped for this rescue discipline.  That did not change the fact that when that kayaker needed to be rescued, we were called and responded.


In this defining moment, our members arrived to find the kayaker in immediate peril.  They collectively recognized that, although they lacked the training and equipment to properly conduct this rescue, no one else was coming who could do anything to save the kayaker who was now being intermittently submerged.  All three members of the engine company knew their inflatable Zodiac boat was insufficient for the situation, and anticipated that the motor would not be strong enough to propel the boat in the existing current.  Nonetheless, the lieutenant, also an extremely experienced and rational officer, made the calculated decision to “go.”

The kayaker was successfully removed from the water into the boat, and was immediately thankful for being rescued.  In another defining moment, the lieutenant advised the victim not to be thankful yet, as they were all still in serious trouble.  The boat was now being folded and pinned by the current, and was incapable of returning to shore.  Members of the ladder company arrived and deployed a rope to the boat crew, physically pulling them to shore.  The boat was heavily damaged in the effort.

Although this would be considered a successful rescue operation, the fact is that, as an organization, we failed these members in their defining moment.  Swift water rescue has long been an area of recognized deficiency for our department, and it had not been addressed; what’s worse yet is that it really still hasn’t.  These members were thrust into a situation where they were the “most trained” and “best equipped” to effect a critical rescue, but “most” and “best” did not equate to “properly trained and equipped,” and they were unnecessarily exposed to an extreme degree of risk.  The members who made this rescue were appropriately decorated by both the department and the state Committee of Merit, but a Medal of Valor would have meant nothing to their families if it was awarded posthumously after a failed rescue attempt.

In contrast, a similar water rescue event took place in the next city south of us about two years later.  In this case, a father and his two young children became stranded hanging from the buoy line cable just above a major hydroelectric dam when their jet ski could not stand up to the run of white water they tried to ride through.  The difference, however, was in the responding department’s preparation.  They have not only recognized that the river bisecting their city is a significant target hazard with predictable rescue problems, but they have responded to that threat.  The department has developed longstanding and solid water rescue policies and preplans coupled with appropriating the right equipment and delivering ongoing training to the members.  The department requires a minimum on-duty staffing of Swift Water Rescue Technicians who are extremely familiar with operations on their waterways.

As the result of this department’s top-to-bottom preparation, three people were pulled from the water as they were reaching exhaustion.  While this was a dramatic rescue recorded and aired by the local television station[3], the reality is that it was almost a non-issue for the members who responded.  They deployed and operated in accordance with their plans and training with a managed degree of risk, and thus the outcome was successful.  While the members involved will be remembered for their actions, they were not defined by having to “improvise, adapt, and overcome” in a critical situation.

The public doesn’t care what our “level of training” is.  Their expectations of us are simple:  They call us when there is a problem, we respond quickly, and we immediately resolve the issue at hand.  Over the past few years, several departments have been very publicly chastised for their failure to act in critical rescue situations, even though they operated to their level of training.  Those situations have been defining moments in the public’s eyes, and the departments involved have lost a degree of public trust and faith.

In most cases, these defining moments are predictable.  History repeats itself, and people rarely invent new emergency situations.  Most scenarios that you read about can be easily re-created for your own training benefit.  It’s just a matter of who will be on duty; how they have prepared as an individual, a company, and a department; and how they will answer the call when a defining moment occurs.

The successful rescue of the baby from the fire in Colorado Springs, CO could have easily mirrored a career-defining moment that occurred in May, 2002 when two Fairborn, OH firefighters were caught on video making a similar rescue of an infant.  Their video has frequently been used in Vent-Enter-Search training, and has inspired others to prepare for their own potential defining moment. [4]  None of that would be possible, though, if they themselv#es had not prepared in advance and were trained to act decisively in their own defining moment.

Defining moments work in both directions, and in a matter of seconds, you, and your crew, will be remembered for the rest of your career.  Will you rise to the occasion because you can default to your level of training?  Think about how you want to be defined…  The rest is up to you.

Author’s Note:  The video of the Fairborn, OH rescue has occasionally been available on Youtube.com by searching “Fairborn Baby Rescue.”  For a training plan based on this scenario, see the author’s article “Realistic Vent-Enter-Search Training” in the August, 2009 edition of Fire Engineering.


Chris Johnson ProfileBIO:  Christopher S. Johnson has been in the fire service since 1993 and a Firefighter in the City of Concord, NH since 2000.  He is a staff instructor at the New Hampshire Fire Academy, teaches for Innovative Fire Training Solutions, and has taught several programs in South America. He serves the Fire Instructors & Officers Association of New Hampshire as Vice President of Training.


[1] Royal, Ryan.  Excerpt from http://ironsandladders.com/2012/12/12/bittersweet/.  Posted December 12, 2012.

[2] Tillman, Barrett.  Excerpt from email posted to:  http://www.ar15.com/archive/topic.html?b=9&f=1&t=227611.  Posted April 21, 2009.

[3] WMUR-TV Channel 9.  News report published on August 29, 2011:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=pFyOuGQlPW8

[4] Johnson, Christopher.  “Realistic Vent-Enter-Search Training”.  Fire Engineering, August, 2009.


The Craft

By: Brian Brush

The following text has been taken directly from Wikipedia – The following pictures have been taken directly from a recent conventional forcible entry class by Irons and Ladders.


“In English, to describe something as a craft is to describe it as lying somewhere between an art (which relies on talent and technique) and a science (which relies on knowledge).”


“This system of a stepwise approach to mastery of a craft, which includes the obtainment of a certain amount of education and the learning of skills, has survived in some countries of the world until today.”


“In the middle ages craftsmen began to form associations based on their trades, confraternities of textile workers, masons, carpenters, carvers, glass workers, each of whom controlled secrets of traditionally imparted technology, the ‘arts’ or ‘mysteries’ of their crafts.”


“The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society.”


“Guilds were groups of self-employed skilled craftsmen with ownership and control over the materials and tools they needed to produce their goods.”


“A lasting legacy of traditional guilds are the guildhalls constructed and used as meeting places.”




“The guilds also maintained funds in order to support infirm or elderly members, as well as widows and orphans of guild members, funeral benefits, and a ‘tramping’ allowance for those needing to travel to find work.”


The first time I worked with Irons and Ladders was to benefit the Terry Farrell Firefighters Fund, the second, as a fundraiser for a firefighter killed in an off duty accident

“Because of industrialization and modernization of the trade and industry, and the rise of powerful nation-states that could directly issue patent and copyright protections — often revealing the trade secrets — the guilds’ power faded. After the French Revolution they fell in most European nations through the 19th century, as the guild system was disbanded and replaced by free trade laws. By that time, many former handicraft workers had been forced to seek employment in the emerging manufacturing industries, using not closely guarded techniques but standardized methods controlled by corporations.”


“Crafts have undergone deep structural changes during and since the era of the Industrial Revolution. The mass production of goods by large-scale industry has limited crafts to market segments in which industry’s modes of functioning or its mass-produced goods would not or cannot satisfy the preferences of potential buyers. Moreover, as an outcome of these changes, craftspeople today increasingly make use of semi-finished components or materials and adapt these to their customers’ requirements or demands and, if necessary, to the environments of their customers.”


This may seem as a departure from our typical posts, some may wonder why a promotion of another company? If these are your questions you need to read this again.

Fire Service Warrior is not a company or a product it is a community which includes like minded craftsmen such as Bryan, Nick, Ryan and Trevor at Irons and Ladders. From coast to coast, communities and guilds with the labels like FSW, CrossFit, FOOLS, Pipes and Drums are preserving our craft. They also cultivate a subculture of respect, work ethic and contribution, thankfully countering the trend of short attention span, do more with less, deny danger, mitigate risk, and overcome with technology which has failed society physically and socially time and time again.

If we believe that “union” in the fire service is a four letter acronym for an organization of career firefighters we are failing to recognize that which has the potential for making the fire service subculture the fire service culture.

What unites us, (maybe not all) is our craft. Regardless of the props or tools used, LLC title, or department they are coming from connect at the common denominator first which is our craft. Letting the superficial differences prevent progress of our craft allows the “Industrial Revolution” of mass production and management to pick off our guilds one by one.

I for one am thankful for and look to find other craftsmen near and far at times when it feels that my craft is on the brink of destruction by the pressures of the times and or state of affairs at my organization. This was the exact place I was before I loaded my gear into my truck on Sunday morning. Without them I would be missing out and eventually fall into a past tense definition or historical reference on the pages of the American Fire Services Wikipedia.

Cultivate community and preserve our craft, you never know who you may be saving.

Our Leadership Determines Our Fate

A heart starved of leadership leaves a mind and body malnourished and our progress in a smoldering state

A heart led by passion is a fire that grows at a compounding rate

Finding fuel for the soul, a mind with keen focus and body with great might

This fire consumes all obstacles and challenges. Burning down barriers, leaping to a new height

Our oath, to fight the fires of others

Our responsibility, to stoke these fires within our Brothers

Looking to and waiting on someone takes a famines toll

Taking action to forge the “Greatest Generation” of our craft is the new goal

Incinerate the stereo-type of needing what’s next and living ungrateful

Through our actions turn elder critics, optimistic and faithful

Look back at, give back to and take back this trade to which we are sworn

Make this our life’s work, something into which it seems we were born

Our history is rich, its traditions we honor

However there is no more time to ponder

The past behind, today upon us and tomorrow will not wait

As the firefighters of present we must exemplify our future

Our leadership determines our fate



It’s Not a Job, It’s Not a Career…It’s a Calling

By: David Harms

Members of the American Fire Service should consider themselves blessed to be alive and to have the opportunity to show up to work and serve their citizens. Without a doubt in my mind, this is an absolute honor. It’s not concerning whether you’re a volunteer, a part-time back stepper, or a career member sitting in the front two or all four seats; as for the importance of the job, is all the same in my eyes.

Did I just call it a job? I’ll go into more depth on that in just a bit, but first I’d like to share with you who I’ve climbed for on 9/11 in my career. For those of you who haven’t participated in a memorial stair climb, do yourself the favor and get involved.

Introducing whom I’ve had the honor to climb for in the past (left to right):

Fire Department of New York Firefighter Carl Asaro, Battalion 9

Fire Department of New York Firefighter David Fontana, Squad 1

Fire Department of New York Firefighter Mark P Whitford, E23


Let’s get back on topic and look at how Merriam-Webster defines a “job,” a “career,” and a “calling”:

  • Job, noun, something done for private advantage.
  • Career, noun, a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life.
  • Calling, noun, a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.

As firefighters, co-workers who fall into one of these categories relentlessly surround us: job, career, or calling. For many of us, this is a job, a task that needs to be completed each day. For most of us, it is a career, a way to make ends meet and pay our bills. But for so few, it seems, this is a calling—a calling that absolutely consumes us every minute, every hour, every day, both on and off duty.

We are the ones who live by the Fire Service Warrior Ethos. We spread the word on duty and off, in any means that we can.  Whether it is social media, extracurricular reading, or a simple phone call. We are a breed of firefighters striving to become Warriors who are on the verge of extinction. For those who call this profession a calling, you are not alone. Look around. Who is wearing the appropriate color each Friday? Who is constantly spending their hard-earned money on a new fire service book or subscription instead of going out for a night on the town? Who is pushing themselves both mentally and physically in the classroom and in the gym? We are.

Know that we are alive in each and every fire department in the United States, and we don’t have all the answers, but we will strive to learn, even when we are off duty on our four-day. When we come back to our calling with the information, we pay it forward to other members. It is the expectation that each member continue to pay it forward to another who is willing to learn that same information. With these steps and this determination and motivation we are breeding new Warriors.

Gaining new knowledge is one thing, but applying it is another.  Not only in a classroom, but also out in the field in full PPE; no more forcing doors in just bunker pants, helmets and gloves. We must practice as we play! Full PPE, every time, every day. Let us become comfortable wearing our gear, so comfortable that when we train without it we feel uncomfortable.

Underperformance is not fair to us, our co-workers, or the citizens that demand we perform when they call us on their very worst of days. Remaining comfortable and performing competently in our full PPE is an unconditional necessity. Our citizens, brothers, sisters, and our calling continuously demand that we remain persistent in order to protect ourselves and our citizens from unrestrained fire and property loss.

What type of fire service would you like to leave behind? The choice is always yours; it’s never someone else’s. If you have a lazy company officer that refuses to train or just squeaks by with the minimum, go train by yourself. That alone will send a message—a message that you all deserve more. Or would you favor a day of television on the couch instead of progressing your company with exceptional training? Is this fire service model something you can live with after you retire? Every one of us will someday retire. As much as we would love to serve this calling indefinitely, we will eventually have to hang it up. Retirement may be hard to fathom for some, but should be a sobering reality for all of us.

Today is our day, this is our fire service and we have one chance to enhance it for the members emerging after us. So what is it, a job, a career, or a calling? It’s time to ask yourself these questions. I know what my fire service is; what will yours be?


BIO: David Harms is a career Lieutenant in the Denver Metro area. He is currently assigned to an engine company and has been active in the fire service since 2004. He is an administrator for Colorado Firefighter and has instructed simulation-based training classes at both FDIC and FRI, and was awarded a Life Saving Medal in 2011 for his efforts in a MAYDAY activation.




Brennan, C. (2011). The Combat Position: Achieving Firefighter Readiness. Tulsa, OK: PennWell Corporation.