‘Tear it Apart’, Sharing the Wealth

My contribution to the First Due Blog Carnival 3rd edition.

The latest edition of the First Due Blog Carnival asks contributors to share that one or two nuggets of information that changed the way you personally operate as a firefighter. My experience ranges from a rural setting to a Washington, D.C. suburb. What can be said that could help someone else? I could tell you ‘don’t stand directly in front of apartment doors when knocking’; ‘kneel on the nozzle when you go to put your facepiece on’ so no one can take it from you; ‘stretch from your own engine for your own water’; it is all a moot point as far as I am concerned. Having been in a widely known department, sometimes too well known, I’ve read and heard all kinds of unsolicited advice and have been asked to give advice based on department reputation. In the end, the one thing I have learned is this:

At the end of the day, when the alarm comes in, you’ll do your thing and I’ll do mine.


Well, you may ask, where is the gem in that? It seems so neutral, so ‘white bread’. The gem is that if you’re going to look into reasoning to help make you a better firefighter or fire officer, you must maintain some form of grounding. You should have what I prefer to call moral barometers, reminders in the back of your head that keep you from getting ahead of yourself. The man in the photo to the left is my barometer. Charles Bailey is a former volunteer chief officer in Prince George’s County and a career officer in Montgomery County. He’s probably known outside of my area for his site Tinhelmet.com and contributions to FireRescue1. Inside my county, he’s one of a small handful of chief officers whom I have hardly heard a negative word said. I owe my start in writing to Charles, or ‘Bailey’ as he’s known here. He writes about subjects I have interest in using a style I understand. When I felt I had something worth reading and using, I passed it on to him, knowing full well he would be bluntly honest. That has been five years ago and I am fortunate to have not been rejected.

Bailey has the knack of leaving you questioning not only the subject of what you read, but more of what you do on the fireground. He has one article however that I seem to always recall nearly every month. In “Don’t Believe Everything You Read“, Bailey stresses the point that despite all the ‘wealth’ of information around us, you have to see if it translates to your world.

I write from the perspective of my past. I was a volunteer chief officer for many years. I went to some fires. Before that I rode the seat as the engine captain on a lot of fires. I have put out a few in my day, but does that make me an expert? What if I have been making the same dumb mistakes over and over and have yet to get caught? I personally don’t think so but I admit that it’s possible. I have also been a career firefighter, medic and officer, but still that does not mean much.

I spent the vast majority of my time in the same two departments. While I have traveled, my intimate experience is limited to these two departments. It just so happens that they both go to a good number of fires. It so happens that the science behind fires is the same everywhere. It so happens that no matter where you go, you have to get the right rate of water being applied to the burning surfaces before the fire goes out. The rest is up for discussion. So it goes.

Finally, don’t be automatically impressed by titles and organization names. Who cares if I am a captain here or there, who cares if I am from the Chicago FD, FDNY, or a small rural town in Idaho that runs 43 calls per year? It does not matter if FDNY uses a 2.5″ attack line on their fires if you don’t have the staffing to stretch one or the training to use it. What does it matter that my volunteer department uses 1.5 hose in their standpipe pack if you dont understand why?

In the fire service, opinions are plentiful and I am no exception. For almost any circumstance I have some notion about how I think it should go. You can listen to me if you want, but after I am done talking or you are done reading the real work begins. Ask yourself how what I offer would work in your system. Ask yourself if my science makes sense. Read some of the references that I offer. I sometimes spend an entire afternoon chasing references from articles. Ask yourself if what I say is repeatable in your world.

So, the wealth I share with you is take what you read in the magazines, see on YouTube, and learn from FDIC and question it, test it, tear it apart, see if it fits your world. It even applies to what you read here and on the rest of FireEMSBlogs. It doesn’t matter that I am a fan of Andy Fredericks, or that Ray McCormack likes me on Facebook. It doesn’t matter that I’m from Prince George’s County and have fought a few garden apartment fires. What matters is if you can make it work in your world, because…

…at the end of the day, when the alarm comes in, you’ll do your thing and I’ll do mine.

“Rogers Rangers and the Mentality of the Modern Firefighter, Part I”, Carey, Tinhelmet.com 2005
“Don’t Believe Everything You Read”, Bailey, FireRescue1.com, 2009
Linked on Backstep, Tinhelmet and Charles Bailey
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Bases in Tropicana field nice and clean after a good sweeping…

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Backstep Firefighter

“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”

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