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FDIC 2013: The Fireman's Standard

Thu, 25 Apr 2013|

Sometimes good enough just isn't good enough. For Battalion Chief Michael Walker of the Oklahoma City (OK) Fire Department, The Fireman's Standard means performing to a level of quality or excellence that goes above the minimum.

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Transcript

Today's an exceptional treat for all of us. Every now and then, you bump into somebody who just makes us feel immediately right at home. There are few people in life who we meet who have that uncanny ability to connect with just about anyone. Our key notice today is one of those people. I've had the great opportunity to work with Mike at a few live fire training sessions. And to see first hand why he is one of the most respected, admired and loved firefighters in Oklahoma City. Mike is not only a great firefighter, but is a great leader as well. Many of you carry bow rings in your bunker gear. Mike helped those guys get that great product into the market. Many of you've heard about the Bear Claw, that wonderful tool for pulling ceilings, again Mike helped that get into the market. Mike's down to earth wisdom and Mike's strong Mid-Western values make him a kind of role model that the folks from central casting would send us to any movie about fire fighters. Mike is a super guy, a great friend to FDIC and Fire Engineering, and here's a little bit about Mike's background. Mike Walker's been with the Oklahoma City Fire Department since 1990, and is currently a battalion chief. He has been a fire service instructor since 1995. He was the Koanis Firefighter of the Year in 1999. Mike was voted Lieutenant of the Year in 2007 and was selected as the Rotary Club, Rotary Club Firefighter of the Year in 2009. Mike has been recognized for his personal courage and commendations for bravery in 1992, 1995, and 1997. Mike has been one of the department's hazmat officers, a technical rescue officer, a task force leader for Task Force One, as well as an assistant fire coordinator at Eastern Oklahoma Technology Fire Center, and training on his days off. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce to you one of the nicest men in the American fire service, and today's key-noter. Battalion Chief Mike Walker. [MUSIC] Well, good morning, everybody. Wow. I gotta, before I get started, I gotta tell a story about how I met Bobby Halton. We're doing a live burn in Collinsville, Oklahoma and I, I've never met Chief Halton before. And kind of the moral of the story before I get started is once a fire chief, always a fire chief. Anyway, we're I'm in there prepping and Tony or Brian come and get me and say hey Bobby Halton's out here. You gotta, you gotta come in here and say hi to him. And I walk up, and you know, think about Bobby Holden, you heard him give a great speech this morning, you've heard him give great speeches for years. You know, how eloquent is he? Alright, so, you're walking up and you're thinking you're going to hear the, you know, hey, how are you, the usual pleasantries and as I walk up to him, he goes, woo! If you do lose some weight you're going to die! [LAUGH] Okay. I pull the weight, chief, so alright, here we are. Thank you guys so much for being here this morning. I hope that I can encourage you, hope I can challenge you. If I can't do either, just keep part, I'll be done in a little bit, alright, we'll get on with our day. Every personal life lives according to a particular standard that guides him or her along in life... Now when I say standard, what I'm talking about is a level of quality or excellence. In other words, what in a person's own mind is an acceptable way to live? I realize many today are satisfied with living in mediocrity and achieving anything above minimal is a waste of their time. In fact, some could argue that today's society expects that very thing, and any attempt to live according to the fray-, [COUGH] excuse me, or any, any attempts to live according to a code that expects more than marginal, goes against the grain with only a few exceptions. Now, I happen to believe that the fire service is one of those exceptions. The public looks to us. To fill a specific purpose. And they expect us to be competent at what we do. Not only competent, but heroic when necessary. Likewise, within every community there's a group of men and women, paid or volunteer, who've committed and or sworn to serve the needs of the community while protecting them. Now, most of us have raised our right hands. And public stated that we would serve with courage, compassion and integrity. And when we did that, when we took our oaths of office, we committed to take the road less traveled. Whether we realized it or not, we promised to serve according to a standard that, that goes above the norm. We devoted ourself to a standard that realizes that a minimum is one small step above inadequate. When we were sworn in we promised to live up to the firemen standard. Now, before I continue I ask that you please don't get hung up on or offended by the use of the word firemen. If you prefer the term firefighter or something else that's fine. But I purposely use the word fireman. Because as long as there's been a fire service, back when we were all cull firemen, this standard been our foundation. It predates political correctness as we know it, and it's gonna outlive whatever term we choose to call ourselves tomorrow. You see, to me, when a person becomes a fireman, they become more than just a man. Or a woman. But again, more than their gender, their skin color, religious association, or political affiliation, they become firemen. They've chosen to be part of one of society's exceptions, and with that choice comes the responsibility to live above the fray. Now, it'd be impossible for me to discuss every part of the standard this morning. But I do wanna talk about the two most important parts, the citizens and the brotherhood. You see without one, there'd be no reason for the fire service to exist. And without the other, there'd be no way that we could succeed. Let me share some examples. I'd been on the job a few years and had the good fortune of being assigned to station five. Fires is located on the north end of downtown Oklahoma City. It's a great house. The fellas I worked here with made a lifelong impact on me. This story happens to begin my very first shift there. It was a Friday, and Fridays is a big cleaning day, and [UNKNOWN] I'd had a few years on the job, so I thought I knew what was expected. So I'd started cleaning the compartments on HASMAT 5, and had finished a couple of them, and was working my way around, when I noticed the driver, Mark Moman, had started to re-clean and compartment that I'd already done. And I thought first, well, maybe he didn't realize I already done it. And I said, hey, Mark, I already got that one. He's wiping down the tools and he looks up at me, he goes meh, then he goes back to working on the tools. Well, I didn't say anything, you know, I didn't know quite how to take what he was, what he was doing here but so I went back to work. He recleaned every single compartment. But you can probably imagine what I was thinking as he went compartment after compartment after I already cleaned them. But still it was my first shift, so I wasn't gonna say anything about it. Later that evening when everyone was busy doing something else, I went out and looked at those compartments, and though I'd hoped I would've been able to see a difference from whenever I'd cleaned them. Lo, and behold, there in fact was a difference. Instead of the little dust in the compartment, there was none. Instead of the tool just simply being wiped off, they were polished, and organized, and ready for the harshest inspection ever given to a rig. It was easy to see that what I thought was good enough, wasn't gonna cut it with this crew. The proverbial bar had been raised. So as the weeks and months went by I tried to clean the rigs according to the leaderships expectations and became an unspoken joke as well as a challenge to see if I could clean so well that the drivers wouldn't improve on it. Sometimes I even succeeded. Sometimes the compartments got cleaned again. And he wouldn't just clean the rigs either. He was everything. Even the way we looked, the way we trained, which obviously had a positive effect on how we responded. When we trained, we trained until we did it right. If we didn't, we did it again, and again, and if necessary, again. When we got it right, we moved on to something else. I can recall the station officer, John Cruz. He'd have me ladder a building without any warning. I'd be driving along the downtown Oklahoma City with all this traffic, and he'd say ladder the roof of that building, or he'd pick out a window that he wanted me to ladder. Then, I'd hear the beep of his wristwatch as he started the timer. If I did it efficiently,. According to the high standard he had for all of us, he'd nod, smile and we continue on our way. If I didn't we would circle the block, he would let me try it again, it's just how it was. So anyway I don't recall how long i have been [UNKNOWN] we are all sitting around the, the breakfast table solving the world's problems over a cup of coffee. And somehow clean the rigs, made its way into the conversation. I don't recall exactly how the question went, but somebody asked the senior guys. Said, Hey, I've worked at a lot of other stations and they don't work nearly as hard as we do. And the chief passes them on inspection just like he does us. So why do we spend all this extra effort cleaning the rigs, even if we're in an old, rusty reserve which you can't even tell it's been cleaned when we're done? Without hesitation, one of those seniors guys looks at him says, 'cause we aren't cleaning that rig just to pass the chief's inspection. If a citizen walks in, and wants to see the equipment, we wanna be proud of what they see. We want 'em to know we're doing the best we can with what we've been given. Even if we're in an old rusty reserve. You know, for whatever reason, that's when it clicked in my mind. [UNKNOWN] logic was simple. It helped me understand that being a public servant really means being citizen focused. It helped me understand that good enough just simply isn't good enough. It means that when we as firemen say we've done our best it doesn't include the unspoken qualifier of well we've done our best for as little of effort we put into it. It's a standard of excellence that requires us to focus on the details and strive for perfection even in doing the small things. It means that settling for a minimal effort, it's just isn't acceptable. Along with that, it became apparent to me. Then we've gotta view the citizens as more than just something generic. Because of who we are and because of what we're supposed to live up to. We can't afford to view the citizens as just a homogenous clump. We've gotta allow ourselves to see them as our people. It's not just a town or a city that we work in. This is our city, and those are our people. No matter who they are, where they're from, their social status, skin color, religious preference, sexual orientation, it makes no difference. Neither do their views on marriage, abortion. Gun control or any other political hot button topic. And when you get right down to it, [SOUND] and this is tough for some of ya. Whether they like or support us is irrelevant. Those are our people. Every one of them falls within the scope of our duty. When they need us we're there. And it's our duty to protect and serve them to the very best of our abilities. Along with that we have to maintain the confidence that they have in their firemen. We know that many people hold us in high regard. Some go so far as to label us as heroes. Think of those people who call us heroic. How good do they think we are? And sometimes their perception of us isn't realistic, but no matter, it's incumbent upon every one of us to do our dead level best to be as good or perhaps even better than they think we are. And because of their faith and trust in this we've gotta do everything in our power to live up to the firemen standard because our people are not a by-product. They are the mission. It's because of them, we exist. Years later, I was, I'd made promotion, my promotion, my first promotion actually. I was driving ladder one. My officer's name was Terry Scrivner. Called him Big Scriv. US Marine before he got on the job, he's one of those guys that when he walks up to you, you're not real sure if he's going to rip your head off, or give you a hug. I loved driving. And I learned so many things from him while I did. Well anyway, we'd made a fire, and this particular job required a lot of grant letter work. I wasn't very happy with how the firefighter on the back end performed. Kid was awkward with the ladders and unsure of himself. I was frustrated and wanted somebody to hear about it. So as we're going back, I start venting to Scriev, about the performance of the new guy. I start going on, well, as I start going on, and I, of course I had to write by that point cause I'd made my first promotion, so I was and expert, you know. I know it all. And when I start going on about how this kid performed or didn't perform. You know, what in the world are they teaching these guys in the fire academy. As I'm about to go into, my second verse, of my rant. Scrib looks at me and he says, but have you taught him? Have I taught him? He should know how to do this already. In fact if he couldn't do it how'd he get out of recruit school in the first place. Well now I've gotta. I'm on a roll now, alright. So I'm about to launch into verse 3. He says, but have you taught him. My moments of silence answered his question. He continued on by saying, Mike if you weren't willing to train the way it's, the way you want it done. And don't complain. Of course, I had nothing more to say at that point. The master had just taught the expert a very important lesson. I'd like to say that was the only time [INAUDIBLE] had to knock me off my high horse, but it wasn't. And each time that he did, I gained a better understanding of what I was supposed to be of a fire, as a fireman. And of our standard. Funny thing about that young firefighter I complained about. Next shift, we go out and start practicing with the ladders. And it didn't take me long to realize that this kid was good. In fact, he was darned good. He just needed the opportunity. And I'm proud to say that young firefighter's one of the finest men. I've ever had the pleasure of working with. His name is Shawn Hoskinsin. We call him Houchie. Don't ask me why. But you see, that's another pivotal part of the standard. Brotherhood, it means being willing to invest into each other's success. Because if we don't,. We can't succeed. If one of us needs help, or if one of ours needs help, we're there. We don't point fingers and we don't blame, we help bear each others burdens, and we realize that to help as we should, we gotta be there for each other, we gotta rely on each other. We have to invest into each other's success and at times, if necessary, bring an overly inflated ego back down to Earth. My fire chief has a saying. I've heard him use it a few times and I think it applies here. He says, a kick in the pants or a pat on the back comes from the same place. You've heard him say it, haven't you? And as he says it, he's pointin' to his heart. When either's a given, you take 'em for what they're worth. We're supposed to help each other. We're supposed to care. This is why we call each other brothers and sisters. It's the key to our success. Not the term, but the action. [BLANK_AUDIO] Excuse me. As I'm saying all this, I realize many of you know all about what I'm talking about. You have your own examples of how the fireman standard was taught to you and how you try to live up to it. You may not have given it a title, per say,. Perhaps to you, you just call it doing the right thing. But, maybe, you've come to a point where you wonder if it's worth it. I understand that it's not easy to live above social norms. Some of you feel beat up and misunderstood. And, the ironic thing is from where the attacks are being launched. Often the attacks come from those people that we've sworn to serve, or it comes from those who swore the very same oath as you. Some of you feel as if your people, the citizens, they take you for granted. And it's true. Some of them do call 911 for the dumbest things. From the, from the little old lady who called us at three in the morning just to talk, again. To the person who calls us to scrape the ice off their windshields. And let's not forget, oh no, let's not ever forget, the so-called pundits and political opportunists that have turned you into the culprit for the government's budgetary shortfalls. I get it. It isn't easy, Yet for others your battles within your own ranks. And initiated by those that were the same uniform as you. They sneer at your attempts or worse out right attack your logic or your motives. When your just trying to maintain effectiveness or god forbid. May be make it a little better. I get it. It's tough and because it's tough it's worth, it's,it's reasonable to wonder why we even bother. A one-handed would be easier to settle for good enough. We can just chill out, get alone and heard that. I mean it would be a lot easier just to show up, punch the clock, and do your time. Now, wouldn't it? Of course, it would. Many of them have done that very thing, and they seem to get away with it, so why wouldn't it work for you? Maybe, it would. But, think of it like this, and you probably know where I'm going. If it were your family's house who was on fire or it was trapped in that car wreck or having that car, or, or having that heart attack, who would you want helping them? A clock puncher, a nice guy, or a fireman, doing their best to serve according to the standard? If it were your son or daughter who got on the job. Who do you want showin' them the ropes? An employee or a brother? I know it's tough to keep doing the right thing, but think of the consequences if you give up. Don't ever forget your commitment or your oath. Haters are going to hate and mutts are going to bark, that's just what they do. But you can't ever lose sight of the fact that you do serve a higher purpose. Tomorrow, next week, sometime after that they're going to pick up the phone and they're going to call 9-1-1 and when they do, it's not like there's an elite military force that's going to show up and save the day. You're it. You're all they got. Now let me ask you, if it were your family, or rather, when it's your family that makes that 911 call, how good do you want those crews that respond to be? Speaking of elite military forces. I'm sure you're all familiar with Seal Team Six. You know, the guys who took out Bin Laden and within a year, rescued those reporters behind enemy territory. We can all appreciate how hard those guys have to work and train to be as good as they are. And it's because of that hard work that their successes are not an accident. It's a result of extreme dedication and absolute resolve to be the very best at what they do. Accepting a minimal effort is never even an option, and as they do their best to live up to the standard that permits them to be part of the best special operations unit in history, so too must every single one of us do our best to live up to the firemen's standard. Now before anyone thinks I'm trying to say that we've gotta be as good as an elite military force, I'm not. What I'm saying is that every one of us are obligated to be the very best that we can be. It's incumbent upon every one of us to be as good as they, our people, think we are. Because then, and only then. Can we be as good as they need us to be? I know across the countries represented here there are thousands of you doing the best you can with what you got. You don't have unspoken qualifiers for excusing laziness. Doing the right thing is the ony way as far as you're concerned. I know there are keepers of standard here from Stockton. From Wichita. Harwich, Connecticut, I know I shouldn't have looked at you. And every department around. Most of you will never be known outside the confines of your department. But the impact you're making, and you are making one, will affect an entire generation. You may not be able to comprehend the influence you're having because of those aha moments in life. We're typically only recognized after the fact. Because you're so close to it, it's hard to see the day to day successes. But they're there. You keep doing the right thing because you are making a difference. You've gotta hang on. You've got to dig in and you gotta keep going. You keep the faith in the mission. You do whatever it is you gotta do to keep marching. Now I dont' know if you need to laugh, cry, or go howl at the moon but you do what you have to. Because your people need you. Your brothers and sisters need you, because you live it. You live the standard. Next week, when we're all done here at FDIC, I'm grateful for the fact that I don't have to go to work. I don't have to go serve my time to the man. I get the honor, privilege, of being a fireman. When smoke fills the air, when glass litters the road, I get to serve my people. While I serve, I'll be able to look to my left or my right and see a group of men and women who are so much more than coworkers. I'll be able to call out, hey brother, or hey sister. And that same group of people can look me in the eye. And they can be damn proud of who they are. Because they, because we. Are firemen and that's pretty accepted. Thank you very much. [SOUND]. [SOUND] Thank you. [SOUND] You killed it. [SOUND] Wow. Them Oklahoma boys, huh? Still waters run deep. That was awesome. Thank you again, Michael. [NOISE] I have one thing to ask, a really special favor. Would you please all keep Darryl Perkins in your thoughts and prayers today? Darryl is one of our drummers from our indie pipes and drums. He came from Dayton, Ohio, and last night as he, as he was returning from performing, a drunk driver hit him in the intersection. It took 20 minutes to extricate Darryl last night. He's got two broken arms and some pretty serious injuries and he'll be going through surgery today. So he came out. To entertain us and perform with the band, and if you could all just say a prayer for him and hopefully keep him in your thoughts for a speedy recovery, and have him back here again with us next year. Tonight at six o'clock I'll see you all, including you, Lasky. [LAUGH] At the, Courage and Valor 5K Fun Run and Walk. That we're going to be having, and Mike will be walking. We've got 800 folks registered already, it's a lot of fun, it's right along the canal there. So, right behind the JW Marriott, we'll see you all there. It's only $20 and you'll get a T-Shirt, and then we'll go over to Stop Drop Rock n' Roll in the Indiana Ballroom, so I hope to see you all there. Friday night is the union party, please try to make that. The exhibits are going to open up at 1 o'clock. Again, please keep. Darryl and Tom Carr in your thoughts and prayers today. At 3 o'clock, we will be streaming the memorial from West Texas for our fallen firefighters that we, and NDMS workers that we lost this week in Letwin, West West Texas. The call for presentations is open, so all of you instructors please. Thinking about contributing FDIC. Think about being part of that tremendous legacy. Think about presenting your knowledge and sharing your knowledge and wisdom with your fellow firefighters. Be, be like Glen Corbitt. Try and follow in his footsteps and share everything you have with everyone you can. We had a tremendous day. Thank you to Mark Emory for coming down. What a wonderful choice for the. Instructor of the year. Thank you all for all your help. I guess, that's all I have to say, I love you all and we'll see you all next year at FDIC 2014. [MUSIC]

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