Sunday, July 14, 2013

Organizational Assessment from the Department Head

On a recent trip, I had the opportunity to provide an organizational assessment for a department. Now there are many standards in our industry that must be met and dependant on the level of service delivery, those requirements may vary dramatically. The one thing that is pretty consistent though, at the most basic level is the foundation of organizational behavior. When you build a beautiful home on a poor foundation, regardless if it is the best house on the block, over time the weakest link in the construction will rear it's ugly head. No different in the fire service. You see the fire chief can buy as many shiny fire trucks as he wants, or all of the techinical rescue equipment in the world, but without a culture that cares about quality training and equipment readiness, the service delivery will certainly faulter. Assessing an organization's behavior (by using the KISS method) can be as easy as looking at the little things. If the attitude and behavior of an organization is healthy (with a lot of positivity) you will not find a lot of little things seen as "petty" by the membership. They have pride and ownership (Chief Laskey) in their actions and make sure they are at the response ready. But when you do find that "little things" are often left unresolved within an organization, it can be a red flag for other issues that may need to be addressed or resolved before someone potentially gets injured or killed in the line of duty.
For example, the small task of replacing the (TP) toilet paper can say a lot in regards to an organization's culture. We all understand that when short cuts happen in this area (though not a life or death situation by any means) it can be an uncomfortable and often embarrassing moment for someone. But when we find this type of mindset in the fire service, it can often point to other areas lacking "operational readiness" that will have a direct correlation to our own life safety. I am talking about making sure things are right and tight out on the apparatus floor for EVERY shift. Are the trucks actually getting checked? Are the SCBA self-contained breathing apparatus full, clean and ready for the next response? Are your tools and equipment in service and at the ready? Or as a culture do we play the adapt and overcome mindset with our safety? By opting to play the blame game with the previous shift, is not what I would call a good answer to why things were not in the ready or available. Our job is the protect the public but more importantly protect each other... they call it a brotherhood for a reason. When we see this type of behavior, it often falls back to a lack of pride in your workmanship, "Hey your lucky he left you a roll on the shelf man" But more importantly from an administrator's standpoint if you do see this issue, honestly it is time to look at your leadership. Quality Assurance (QA) is critical for our own well being. For us to be ready to respond in a moment’s notice, and deliver the best possible service available the leadership needs to assure the "little things" do not come back to haunt us. You can learn a lot about an organization from a simple roll of TP. Stay Alert, Stay Attentive and most importantly... Stay Battle Ready my friends. Lt. Billy Greenwood; FETC Services

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The New Fire Officer - "Getting Up To Speed"

The fire service can move at lightning fast speed one minute and other times the clock can move at a turtle’s pace. This constant change in working environments can be a draw to many who join the fire service to begin with. We must remember though, the public expects us to keep pace with the demands they put upon us. When a firefighter finally decides to make that commitment to become an officer within an organization, that leap at times can seem like it is mentally impossible. The complexity of stepping out from the job as you know it after many years of feeling secure in your position can add to the mental challenge. The thought of now being the supervisor instead of one of the brothers, can equally add to the stress of a new fire officer’s plate. The challenge is how do we get the new officer up the speed with their responsibilities without overwhelming not only their confidence but with the credibility of their crew as well? Years ago, before I was in the fire service I used to professionally race motorcycles as a privateer. I clearly remember my first experiences at the Daytona International Speedway. Being from the northeast and gaining most of my racing experience from little old Loudon… the complexity of "Getting Up to Speed" at a superspeedway was not easy. You see on the front stretch of Loudon we would tap out at about 120 miles per hour for a brief moment, before braking hard for turn one. The first time I ever rode at Daytona it was mentally overwhelming. The front and back stretch of the superspeedway was "full throttle" for what seemed like an eternity. After the first practice session, I thought to myself some of these guys must need a wheel barrel to tote their manhood around. You see running a 250cc GP grand prix motorcycle wide open for long distances on Daytona's 33 degree banking would equate to 166 mph on the radar gun. Upon coming off the track for the first time, my wife (then girlfriend) said to me looks good except you need to stay on that throttle for about another football field longer... The mental challenge I faced with no superspeedway experience was how to get my thought processing and decision making skills up to these new speeds. It was quickly pointed out that I was covering the length of a football field about every second (252’ per second to be exact) In light of these facts, the term predicting the future had a new meaning to me. In between practice sessions, my then Daytona savvy mechanic told me those factory supported riders were faster because of their previous years of experience at Daytona. Thus breaking down the mental challenge, it was quickly acknowledged that we needed more time to not only set-up the bike, but I needed additional “seat time” to get accustomed to the speeds faced in the new setting. In the end, we were able to bridge the gap with an extra focus on additional seat time and tuning our equipment to get the bike into the top 10. The process of getting the new fire officer up to speed in my opinion is no different. The position has many new responsibilities, delivered in a new setting, going to battle leading a company making life or death decisions with little to no discretionary time. The success or failure of the new officer should not fall solely on the shoulders of the new officer but the organization should be big part of the equation as well. "Training to Failure” is a term I coined when instructors allow students to use their current level of training and/or experience to go through an evolution and figure it out on their own. There is usually alot of trial and error in these scenarios. Sometimes they succeed but more often than not they fail. Sometimes they learn from their mistakes but often do not because they lose confidence in their ability to obtain the end goal. But in today's hostile working fire environment, that mindset can injure and kill good people fairly quickly. So to avoid the "Training to Failure" mindset with the new fire officer, we should not pin them and allow them to figure it out on their own. Clear expectations must be established and delivered to all parties involved. It is expected that the candidate must study for the written promotional exam for example. Without investing in solid study time the candidate will likely not run with the lead pack. But how many times have you heard an organization say to a firefighter early in his or her career, “preparation for a promotion” starts today…. long before the process is ever posted. Gaining as much experience as possible from real world incidents and the fireground in general is the responsibility of everyone involved. Some fire departments who have a positive and successful mentoring program in place will fund additional education to brothers who are striving for greater professional development. This is where we come in and provide specifically designed professional development programs as requested like our popular"Personality Based Effective Communications" seminar or our newest class titled "The Art of Dealing with Negativity" . These are just a few that we offer to take professional development to the next level. It is understandable that many fire departments can't afford development programs in these tough economic times. Therefore those opportunities are not as common as they used to be in earlier well funded times. Realistically though, many organizations do not need to develop and fund an expensive in-house training academy to establish a good, professional development program. Most fire departments have what they need already. For example, mentoring starts on the floor... the next time you have a fire alarm activation, have the current officer mentor his or her firefighters to maximize their experience level. Once they have determined that the incident is under control and companies have been placed in-service/on scene, have the company train on the facilities fire alarm system, have them review any pre-engineered fire protection systems in place, and/or tour the facility for the layout and any known hazards? Better yet, how about a quick 10 minute "curbside" after action debrief post incident right there before taking up? Same goes for the administrative side of the job, time management, assigning daily and weekly maintenance, scheduling and delivering company training, and post incident NFIRS report writing, etc. This is just a few examples of a "zero cost" mentoring process I am suggesting for in-house programs. Now to provide the potentially new officers with greater command / control experience, short money buys the department an investment in a command / control simulator package. In theory, using this new software affords the officer the luxury of burning down every target hazard in your community while loss of property or life occurs. I purchased a nice software package at FDIC (about 3 years ago) and you can easily add-in outside stressors to make the virtual training more realistic. One example for company officer training that we provide, is viewing the simulations from the right front seat. We regularly use this training technique to provide a more realistic environment for the new company officer with his or her initial arrival and size-up reports. Projecting the video on the bay wall from the apparatus roof, while a crew is seated inside the apparatus provides background stressors. The dynamics of making decisions at speed, providing a quality size up report over the radio while firefighters are asking for what line do you want to take Loo, etc. goes a long way in preparation for the real deal. As the saying goes, "As the first line goes... so does the fire" In our FETC officer development class titled “Gaining the Leadership Edge”, we spotlight the on-the-job mentoring process as just one way to prepare the next generation of fire service leaders with little or no impact on your annual budget. Now for the reader who's organization does not offer a mentoring program as described, do not fret, may I suggest taking on the challenge yourself. Select a person you look up to in this business, everyone needs a good mentor, speak with him or her about your desire to gain professional growth for future promotion. In the end, your personal commitment in concert with a solid and trusted mentor should better align you for the possibility of future promotion. That way when you are asked, “Why do you feel you better than the other candidates in this promotional process?” The answer should flow easily off of your tongue, with I have committed myself to coming to work each day and preparing to be the next professional leader of this department. Regardless of whether we are preparing a line officer, staff officer or chief officer, how does anyone expect the candidate to hit the ground running if they were not afforded the opportunity to be mentored and brought up to speed for their new role and responsibilities. Most of that should be done before they assume the position… Billy Greenwood is the owner of FETC Services and the host of the Fire Engineering Radio Show called, "Tap the Box" Check out more from FETC Services at the following: or FaceBook:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Thermal Imager - A Tool for the Modern Firefighter

The research and purchase of a thermal imager is not a simple task and is definitely one that should not be taxed upon a single person within your fire department. Whether purchasing a camera through an acquired grant, hard earned fundraiser money or taxpayer's cash from the capital improvement program, the costs associated with this purchase justifies creating a small TIC committee. The committee should steer the process of research, contacting manufacturer representatives and scheduling camera demos for hands-on evaluation. I would also recommend acquiring as much literature as possible on each brand, assigning a committee member to research each product thoroughly before contacting the manufacturer representative. It means once a product demo has been scheduled, the committee will be educated on that specific product and can maximize the demo time with the representative. Once the demonstration is completed, always inquire if the demo camera can be left, so your membership can further review and evaluate the product without time constraints. The committee as a whole should have basic knowledge of how a thermal imager works and understand the different technologies available to us from the industry. Not all TICs are designed the same. For instance, your committee should understand that infrared energy seen by a thermal camera will be focused onto a focal plane array (FPA). The electronics that are connected to the FPA will create what some fire service instructors describe as "the engine." This engine senses energy, calculates the relative differences between objects and then prepares that data for your eyes to view on the display screen. There are three common types of engine technology used in fire service thermal imagers, the first being BST (Barium Strontium Titanate) technology. BST technology is the most common and is known for its past performance within the fire service. The next is VOx (Vanadium Oxide) technology, which is just one type of microbolometer. VOx microbolometers are now very popular in the fire service for their good quality image. The newest technology afforded to us is amorphous silicon (aSi), which is also another type of microbolometer and is well known for its compact size and relatively low cost to the end user. Remember, with each of these different types of technologies you may find advantages to your specific organizational needs as well as a wide difference in the costs associated with each internal technology. When charging a TIC committee to evaluate the potential purchase of a new camera, I suggest they focus on 10 key features to create a solid product evaluation. In my experience, firefighters may at times get hooked on the latest “bells and whistles” that a manufacturer has recently developed. While these can be nice to have, they may be seldom used in the field. Keep the committee focused on buying the right product for your department's specific needs by concentrating on: 1. Size and weight 2 Ease of use, body ergonomics 3 Battery life 4. Ruggedness – Durability – Field proven 5. Display screen: size, resolution, color, advanced options 6. Temperature Reading Sensor vs. Pyrometer 7. Upgradeability 8. Apparatus mountable, apparatus charging capabilities 9. Cost 10. Warranty. Besides the purchasing of the camera itself, there's another important aspect to consider – training your firefighters how to actually use it. Let's think about opening our mindset to not only focus on how many of these cameras we can purchase for (X) amount of money. The thermal imager is only one tool in the firefighter’s toolbox and we all know this can only be an advantage if the end user is fully trained and understands its capabilities and/or limitations. There is so much more to know about the camera beyond the manufacturer’s in-service training. Firefighters deserve real-world image interpretation and a quality sequence for safe operational use, none of which can be completed in just the training room or in the chief's office. I would personally give up purchasing an additional camera in a multi-camera package in lieu of acquiring department-wide training from a professional company specializing in thermal imagers. Remember when a problem arises and a life is on the line, it will be the fully trained and mentally prepared firefighter who will efficiently locate victims faster by being able to properly utilize the thermal imager. Lt. Billy Greenwood is Pro-Board Certified NFPA 1041 Instructor-III, NFPA 1021 Fire Officer-II, NH Certified Firefighter-III, Rapid Intervention Team Instructor, NFPA 1003 & FAA Airport Rescue Firefighter, NREMT-Intermediate; I/C. He is a 19-year veteran of the fire service with experience in various volunteer, paid-call, and career fire departments throughout New Hampshire. He is currently working as a career lieutenant with the City of Keene, NH, Fire Department and owns advanced firefighter training and leadership company called, FETC Services. Billy is also a presenter at FDIC 2013 with his program called "Interior Benchmarking" or you can check out his radio show named "Tap the Box" on Fire Engineering Talk Radio.