The Future Firefighter Podcast
Listen to this episode of the Code 3 Podcast with Host Scott Orr.
If you want to become a firefighter, the first thing to understand is that it isn’t easy. There’s a lot of school required nowadays, and it can take several years to get there. But there are some things to know that’ll make the process easier. Here to talk about them is Chris Baker.
Chris has over thirteen years of experience in volunteer, combination, and career fire departments in California. He instructs on fire and EMS topics in college classes. You can hear him on his own podcast, The Future Firefighter, where he’s a co-host.
And he runs the webpage, Instructor Chris Baker, which provides training on techniques and career planning.
“The ultimate role of a firefighter is to leave a mark on the system, not just a memory.” - Chief Ronny J. Coleman
On Monday, October 8th, 2018, I had the privilege of walking the aisles of the National Fire Heritage Center archives with Archivist Frank Schmersal and, I captured a glimpse of the rich history contained in this American fire service archive. From aisle to aisle, I listened to the oral history through the various stories from Archivist Schmersal. The National Fire Heritage Center archives contain more than 15,000 items of media, newspapers, magazines, textbooks, photographs, and what I consider treasures of the American fire service.
My journey through these archives was a journey through the history of the American fire service, and I thoroughly appreciate the rich history of our beloved fire service. After a few minutes with Archivist Schmersal, I realized that someone had to preserve these relics of the American fire service. After further reflection, I began to understand that it was a whole team of curators from the National Fire Heritage Center that contributed an immense amount of time and labor to this incredible archive.
During the Annual Meeting, I was appointed as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Fire Heritage Center. The appointment to the Board of Directors comes with the responsibility to carry on and preserve the rich history of the American fire service. Chief Ronny J. Coleman, the founding President of the National Fire Heritage Center, remarked that the creation of the National Fire Heritage Center is what he considers a highlight from his sixty-year career in the fire service. As I was listening to Chief Coleman eloquently describe this highlight of his career, the appointment to the Board of Directors for me is a highlight of my career.
(Photo Credits: Craig Clements)
Before the Carr Fire event occurred in Shasta County on July 26, 2018, another significant event occurred on the Eiler Fire on August 2, 2014. Both of these events happened late in the afternoon-evening hours approximately (1700 - 2000). Both of these significant events in Shasta County had similar extreme fire behavior and rapid-fire growth. The year of 2017 was California's most destructive fire season on record, according to CAL FIRE. Now 2018 appears to be no different with a total acreage burned at an estimated 460,000 acres. California has endured an unprecedented and catastrophic few years during what some consider our new normal. Historically, our fire season is during the summer months, however with this extreme fire behavior so early, maybe we should recognize that California no longer has a fire season.
As of today, August 4, 2018, the Carr Fire is the sixth most destructive wildland fire in California history based on acres burned and structures destroyed. Update: As of November 25, 2018, the Carr Fire is the eighth most destructive wildland fire in California history according to the CAL FIRE website. A cataclysmic firestorm is also occurring in Northern California off Highway 20 near Potter Valley, northeast of Ukiah started on July 27, 2018. The Ranch Fire and River Fire, both part of the Mendocino Complex, has engulfed over 229,006 acres and destroyed over 55 residences with 3,529 fire personnel assigned. Update: As of November 7, 2018, the Mendocino Complex has engulfed 410,203 acres and destroyed 246 structures per the CAL FIRE website. The Ferguson Fire started on July 13, 2018, on the Sierra National Forest near Yosemite National Park, which has consumed over 81,699 acres with 2,792 fire personnel assigned. An unfathomable 460,000 acres have burned in California between these campaign fires, and fire season has just started.
Due to the multiple wildland fires burning across the entire State of California, resources are stretched extremely thin, and now our master mutual aid system has requested additional resources from Australia and New Zealand. On Monday, August 6, 150 international firefighters will arrive to assist the State of California with the firestorm of 2018. The California National Guard has mobilized over 800 soldiers and the 146th Airlift Wing to help with the firefight. At least 17 States have answered the call and have deployed resources to California, including as far as New Jersey. Over 14,000 firefighters currently deployed across California on 17 massive wildfires.
(Photo Credits: Author)
“The best tool for fire attack is your brain. The only limits to maximizing its effectiveness are the barriers you put in place. Be as aggressive in obtaining knowledge as you are in advancing an attack line.” – Chief John Tippett
This quote sparked my interest recently on twitter. I wholeheartedly agree with Chief Tippett regarding the importance of utilizing your mind to increase your maximum effectiveness on the fire ground. As an educator, I share with my students, “the most important Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you have is between your ears." With some humor, I also emphasize the importance of wearing your fire helmet is to protect this important tool as well.
Aggressively Thinking Firefighters (ATF), another acronym for the fire service, we can add this to the list of approximately hundreds if not thousands of already fire service related acronyms in existence. After all, we utilize acronyms just to remember all the other acronyms. I am patiently waiting for the Field Operations Guide (FOG) manual on just fire service related acronyms, however, I have digressed.
I recently watched an online webinar regarding hiring firefighter applicants and the main Subject Matter Expert (SME) remarked that overall the fire service is not the place for candidates that have higher levels of intelligence during the testing process. I was immediately taken back and stunned by this professional and his statement. I continued watching the video and I listened with an open mind to why this psychologist asserted his opinion on why hiring panels should not hire for intelligence.
(Photo Credits: Author)
If you truly know your why, you will also without a doubt unequivocally comprehend your what, where, when and how for your life. In order to be a leader at home in your personal life or at work in your professional life; you must clearly establish your own strategic mission and vision statements. Your core values will support your mission statement based upon your own unique morals, ethics, and beliefs. Everything starts and ends with your why. Your own personal leadership qualities are rooted in these very specific core values and they are established on the firm foundation of your personal mission statement. I encourage you to consider these words and make the commitment to apply these principles to your own personal and professional pursuits.
I was previously challenged by my valued mentors with this same exact question. Based on those challenging discussions with these integral mentors, it was critically important for me to clearly identify my priorities. Ultimately, the reason why I exist is rooted in having a clearly established mission statement for my life. Allow your passion to lead you to your purpose.
I am extremely thankful to each of these mentors for encouraging me to layout my own specific strategic blueprint for my life both personally and professionally. My mentors have made all the difference in my life. I would not be where I am at today without their continued support and words of encouragement. Truly mentors make all the difference in our lives.
I recently attended a train-the-trainer class for a new Everyone Goes Home® program course titled ‘Attributes of Leading’ created by Dr. Brian Crandell of the Crandell Research Group, Battalion Chief Kevin Conant (Retired) of Command Coaching, and videographer/editor Captain Jake Pelk, of FD Training Solutions. This course was an integral part of the 2018 National Everyone Goes Home® Advocate / Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors workshop.
Weaving together a tapestry of different perspectives, the content of this course showcases fire department members across the country sharing in a discussion of the key attributes of leading, from the foggy San Francisco Bay to the frozen lakes of Minnesota. Volunteer, career, and combination departments participated in this training course from the Boone County Fire District in Columbia, Missouri, to the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Loveland, Ohio. Attributes of Leading focuses on several key attributes of leading including, Developing Competence, Building Grit, Being Well, Exercising Self-Regulation, Demonstrating Humility, and Developing Trust. Notice they are all verbs, action words because leading is an action, not a subject.
From the opening introductions in the ‘Being Well’ segment, I was reminded of the impact and legacy of Chief Alan V. Brunacini as his voice echoes over the audio speakers from the projector.
“We laugh about it, but we say somedays you are a peacock and somedays you are a feather duster. And when you are a peacock, man you are riding high, and when you are a feather duster, you are laying low. And when you are laying low, you will figure out who your friends are.” - Chief Alan V. Brunacini
I was instantly drawn in by a poignant video of the late Chief Alan V. Brunacini discussing the importance of being well. For those in the fire service, the term “Mrs. Smith” is synonymous with “customer” and Chief Bruno reminded us that we need to take care of Mrs. Smith. First, Fire Captain Smith has to take care of their firefighters in order for them to be able to take care of Mrs. Smith. Being Well is an appropriate introduction to this course on the attributes of leading. There is a sense of responsibility for those who lead, to assess their personnel, and to ensure that they are both physically and emotionally well; it’s a holistic responsibility. How can department members, in turn, take care of someone else if their own well is empty and they are truly drained?
The stage is set. In the audience are family members, friends and mentors patiently watching you on stage for your pinning ceremony. There are few milestones in life that are held in such high regard. The moment when you find the one you want to spend the rest of your life with and marry to become your significant other. The birth of a child is also a moment that you will truly treasure and never ever forget. And this day, when your dream career profession came true and you were pinned with the badge of a public servant.
The oath of a public servant is an oath of dedication to a lifetime of customer service. Remember this moment when you made the commitment to serving your community. The work of a public servant is never-ending in the pursuit of service. At the end of every call is an opportunity to positively engage members of our community. There is no greater reward than a lifetime of service.
My challenge is for you to find an inspiring mentor in this profession. Allow yourself the opportunity to become his or her mentee. Develop into the firefighter and leader that you desire to become. Accept constructive criticism in stride and strive to become a better person daily. Respect their wisdom with grace and listen to their feedback with enthusiasm. Leaders lead by effectively developing future leaders from within their ranks.
Last week we discussed two fundamental character traits; those traits were maintaining a strong work ethic and taking the proper initiative. This week we are going to cover two more equally essential character traits that will help you achieve success throughout your fire service career:
- You must maintain a positive attitude, and
- Have the mindset of sharing this with others while on duty.
The academy and the probationary period can be compared to a pressure cooker. You will be pushed beyond your physical and mental limits. However, having a positive attitude with the correct mindset will enable you to overcome this pressure.
There are two-character traits that will help you stand out from the rest throughout the probationary period; those traits are maintaining a strong work ethic and taking the proper initiative. When it is time to go to work, you have to roll up your sleeves, because work is always the answer. Take the initiative when something needs attention around the firehouse. Don’t walk past any job that you can handle, especially the empty toilet paper rolls or the overflowing kitchen garbage can. The moment that you identify something that needs to be taken care of around the firehouse, nominate yourself to accomplish these simple tasks.
While in the probationary period, you must maintain a sense of urgency when you are performing work around the firehouse. When your officer or senior firefighter requests your presence, take the initiative, and move with a sense of purpose. There is a term called fire-ground pace in the fire service. A fire-ground pace is defined by moving with a sense of urgency. Start off probation by maintaining this sense of purpose and urgency in your movement. It is up to you to keep this fire-ground pace throughout the completion of the probationary period and beyond in your fire service career.
During an emergency call, move to the rig with a sense of purpose and wear your appropriate turnout gear. Take the initiative by locating the address on the map board and map out the call to help your fire apparatus engineer. Make sure and wear your ANSI approved traffic safety vest when working near or on the roadway. Always bunker up and buckle in for every call – Period. You are in charge of your own safety. Make sure and mask up if you are in an IDLH environment. Wear your appropriate personal protective equipment for the emergency. You have to lead yourself when selecting what to wear for each specific emergency. Purchase a pair of safety glasses for EMS related calls to protect your eyes from harmful exposures. Have these safety glasses with you at all times during EMS calls. Keep an extra pair of EMS gloves in your duty pants just in case you need an extra pair.
This is a profession where you have to make the commitment to becoming a lifelong learner. The fire academy is over, and now you have found yourself in the Jumpseat. Congratulations, you have arrived; however, the learning doesn’t stop at the completion of the recruit academy! The learning has just begun with the start of the probationary period. The main difference between the academy and the job is that you now have to distance yourself from the textbooks. The classroom is extremely important, and now you have to take what you learned within those four walls, and apply it to the street.
You will be issued a stack of textbooks; a task book sign-off binder and a punch list of everything that you have to complete, by the end of the probationary period. This is the time to lead throughout probation and learn time management, among many other things. In this profession, it is impossible to learn too much. Always keep the mindset of being a student of the fire service. The moment that you think you have learned everything about this profession, you will be humbled with an important lesson on humility.
It takes a perfect balance of education, certifications, time-in-grade as well as experience, to become a seasoned firefighter. The task book is the initial phase of the learning process in order to go from a recruit firefighter to an entry-level firefighter and beyond. It takes many years to receive the experience needed to be successful in this profession. The learning never ends if you want to be the best of the best. Be humble; keep your nose in the textbooks and your physical presence on the training grounds. The only way to successfully pass the probationary period is to learn about the job. This is the opportunity to ask questions from the instructor cadre. Take the initiative, and train like your life depends on it because in this profession it does.
You have survived the first week as a probationary firefighter in the best career in the world. You might need to pinch yourself because you possibly feel like you just won the lottery. The first week undoubtedly went by so fast, that it feels like a blur and you are still in the process of trying to find out how you will “fit-in” to the firehouse culture. The last article covered the roles, responsibilities, and duties of being a probationary firefighter. This article is going to focus on the character traits that are necessary to pass the probationary period and these traits will also make a major contribution in building important relationships in the firehouse.
It is very important to have your own unique morals, values, and ethics prior to gaining entry into the fire service. These traits are the reference point for anyone seeking a career in this field. It is those same traits that you will need to harness and rely upon while leading throughout probation. Always do the right thing. Do not participate in any activity that is illegal, immoral or unethical on or off duty in your fire service career - period. The impact of violating these values will be catastrophic for your fire service career.
The probationary period allows you the opportunity to display your own personal character traits. It is during this time that you will want to listen more than you speak. Let your actions speak for themselves around the firehouse. Everything you touch is an opportunity for you to leave your own unique set of fingerprints. Actions speak louder than words. Keep your head down and your nose to the grindstone while you earn this position. Be effective and efficient with your time while on duty. With every action is an opportunity for you to make an investment into the department and your fire service career. Always remember you were hired as a public servant. Accept this title with enthusiasm and humility.
From our first day in the fire service, we have the opportunity to be a leader and lead throughout probation and well beyond, until long after our retirement. This article is not the perfect recipe or golden ticket to pass probation. It takes more than a list of rules to be successful in passing probation. Ultimately, the responsibility of passing the probationary period rests firmly on the probationary firefighter's shoulders.
On our first day, as we embark upon this prized career in the fire service, it is necessary to show up and arrive early to the fire station. Early is comprised of at least 60 minutes prior to the start of our shift. Several tasks are essential and required to be completed before we can officially start the day on “Big Red” in the Jumpseat. Don’t be late in this profession! You will be left behind at the station if you are late, and more importantly, you don’t get a 2nd chance for a 1st impression!
Someone has to raise the American flag. This is an opportunity for the probationary firefighter to take responsibility for raising Old Glory for the community we have the honor to serve. It takes leadership from the probationary firefighter to raise the flag. No one is going to issue this order because this is our responsibility. It is also our responsibility to lower the flag and properly fold the flag in the evening. Learn proper flag etiquette and take leadership in learning how to honor the American flag.
In my fire service career, I have worked many different shift schedules. When I first started as a volunteer, I signed up for 24-hour shifts on a Kelly Schedule as a paid reserve. About a year later, I received the opportunity to be a wildland firefighter and transitioned to the 72-hour shift schedule. As a wildland firefighter, I soon discovered what strike team deployments were, which involved chasing campaign fires all over the State of California. The next shift assignment I worked was a little different, and it was a rotating 12-hour schedule between day-night shifts. My body never knew what time it was, and I learned that I could sleep just about anytime during the day.
My last shift assignment was more common, called the 48/96 schedule, working two straight days in a row. This assignment is known as the “commuter schedule,” and I was indeed a commuter for three years. My residence was three hours one way from my duty station, and this commute made it extremely difficult working in a very busy system. On this schedule, I drove my personal vehicle three hours to work, and I was driving the fire engine for a total of 24-48 hours at work. There were some nights where you were known as the “Sleepless Knights,” and you didn’t get any rest while on duty. I would drive home after my shift and sleep a full day once I got back home.
I am sharing all of these different shift assignments to paint a picture of all the various work schedules one could have in their Fire Service career. In my earlier years as a seasonal wildland firefighter, I would work a whole 28 days in a pay period. This was known as “Blocking out,” a pay period. If you were fortunate, one could block out two pay periods in a row if you were on a lightning siege or a significant campaign fire in Southern California. I met my soon-to-be bride during this schedule and discovered more to life than just being a firefighter.
Over the last seven years I have been married to my bride, I have struggled with maintaining the work-life balance for various reasons. The demands of a public servant are extreme with overtime, shift trades, mandatory training, off-duty community events, union meetings, and of course, vacation - sick coverage. It is extremely easy to pour yourself into the demanding role of a public servant in the fire service. It is also very easy to let the fire life consume you!
It has been a little over a year since my last blog article. I have faced some challenges this past year and I welcome this opportunity to share how I overcame those hurdles. It is in my own personal opinion; that it is from those trials that is when we truly learn who we are. The motto of the fire service is to improvise, adapt and overcome. However, this last year has taught me a new motto: faith, family, friends and the fire service.
When I think about faith, a bible verse comes to mind. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 New International Version). In my life, I have experienced some near death incidents and for me, it has always been my faith that has pulled me through those experiences. Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith and this past year has been a giant leap of faith for my family. It has strengthened my understanding of faith, that I which now know God is in control and He has an ultimate plan.
Family means everything to me. This past year, I had to put my career in the fire service on hold in order to take care of an immediate family member. I have sacrificed a great deal in the last ten years to pursue my public safety career. The fire service families reading this blog article can appreciate and understand some of those sacrifices. However, I was not going to sacrifice my family for my dream career position in the fire service.
I received a dream opportunity to work for a department that I first applied for in 2009. It took seven long years for my number to be called and for my dream position in the fire service to come true. Unfortunately, my dream was unable to come true due to some events out of my control. My family is my utmost first priority. I made a vow through my faith to take care of my family first.