This is our time as fire department instructors, training officers, and leaders, regardless of rank, to step up. We have an opportunity in the weeks to come to infuse the American fire service with action! This week, you will meet instructors, fellow students, and jakes from all around our great nation and other parts of the world. Use this opportunity to spring into action! Battalion Chief Anthony Kastros, Sacramento (CA) Metropolitan Fire District, Keynote address
“This is our time to restore hope to America, this is our time to build future leaders, and this is our time to never give up!” Kastros asserted. Quoting Proverbs 27:17: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,’ Kastros said, “We are here to sharpen each other this week. That’s what FDIC is all about–leaving sharper than when you arrived.”
Drawing on examples and scenarios to illustrate and enforce his points, Kastros built a case for the fire service’s need to define itself by the character and conviction that lie within its members. We must define ourselves now! he stressed, adding that the fire service’s “anthem” in this generation will be one of leadership.
The ability to meet challenges is an important characteristic of a successful generation and a successful fire service, Kastros said. He cited the example of the ‘Great Generation,’ defined by World War II. He described how the 6th Ranger Battalion, of which his father was a member, rescued 492 Americans in the Pacific at the Battle of Cabanatuan, a prisoner of war (POW) camp, on January 30, 1945–the greatest American military rescue mission in history to this date. The POWs, many of whom survived the infamous Baton Death March, were abandoned and left starving. The Rangers trekked the 30 miles past enemy lines to perform the rescue at the end of the war, ignoring any risks they may have had to face. They were prepared, ‘forged like iron, sharpening each other.’ They believed in the mission and service to others. “The Great Generation was prepared to answer its challenges, and we are here to meet ours!” Kastros asserted.
Among the challenges for today’s fire service cited by Kastros is facing “a new normal that is redefined daily.” The Baby Boomers are retiring, and our war-hardened veterans are leaving in droves after the war years and 9/11, he explained. One positive aspect Kastros identified in the filling of the leadership gap left by these retirements is the number of military veterans who volunteered to protect our country after the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks and who are now joining the fire service. These members, he explained, “have honed their exceptional leadership skills in the military.” In his department, Kastros said, “many veterans are among our ranks, and they are moving up the chain of command! In many ways, 9/11 has defined us, in this time, as a fire service in America,” Kastros pointed out.
“The public may not know what bugles and helmet colors mean, but they know what leadership looks like!” Kastros said. “It looks like you! Whether career or volunteer, you are a leader if you wear a badge and swore an oath. And, your professionalism is determined by your attitude and behavior, not your paycheck!”
Kastros broke his message down into three points. Following are some of the concepts he presented with each point.
1. This is our time to restore hope to America.
— Our past heroes make us who we are. Heroes don’t just save lives; they shape lives. Heroes still exist. You are today’s heroes.
— This is our time because America needs us. We do not need another 9/11 to make the difference or to define us! This is our designated time, this is our designated calling, and no one is here but us.
— There has been a war going on in America since the dawn of our country. It’s the same battle our forefathers and heroes fought–the battle for the heart and soul of America–the battle for hope! When we pull up in our engine or our truck, we bring hope. We bring a sense of calm in the storm. We fight a domestic enemy, one run at a time. Firefighters’ front lines are their first-due areas.
— Regardless of your budget; company closures; or reductions in staffing, rank, or pay, this is our time to bring hope. We must stick together because without each other, we have no hope. As we travel the streets, going from call to call, we are literally the beacon of hope in the streets of a hopeless America.
Kastros gave an example of the kind of hope and inspiration firefighters can bring. When Metro Fire E109 responded to a call for a young girl who had a medical problem that was terminal, her family was even more distraught than usual. Some of her relatives had flown in from out of town to take her to see the musical Peter Pan. Instead, she had to be transported to the local hospital. On learning of the situation, the E109 captain and crew drove many miles out of their jurisdiction to the theatre and apprehended Cathy Rigby, the famed actress who was playing the lead role of Peter Pan. They convinced her to join them, in costume, and travel across town to the hospital to visit the young girl in her hospital room. The visit changed the girl’s life! These firefighters restored hope. They reminded that little girl’s family that heroes do still exist and that heroes don’t just save lives: They shape lives.
2. This is our time to build leaders for the future.
• Firefighters should live up to the oath they took to save lives. Those who judge the success of their fireground operations solely on the basis that the fire went out and nobody got hurt might want to rethink their career choice. There is a difference between doing your best to be safe and giving the victim every chance of survival. “I’m not talking about being stupid,” he interjected. “I’m talking about being professional, honorable, and courageous and about knowing the enemy, the battlefield, and the tactics of warfare. We honor the past by being better in the future.
• Training and learning have much to do with this component. Firefighters learn by seeing and doing. They must see the end game and how to get there, not just study the different elements in textbooks. Some things are just not good enough. He raised the following questions:
— Why are there only 12 Command Training Centers in America? Why are there almost no Fire Service Leadership Training Centers in America?
— Why don’t fire officers train like paramedics? The latter have a semester of didactic training, weeks of clinical hospital hands-on training, and months of internships with a preceptor. Fire officers are thrown into the hot seat after a one-day testing process. Yet, a poorly trained company officer can kill an entire crew, a poorly trained battalion chief can kill multiple crews, and a dysfunctional fire chief can kill the soul of a department.
–Why don’t new company officers and chief officers have internships with mentors who ride along with them for the first month? Don’t tell me that it’s because we don’t have the money. Where there is a will, there is a way.
–How often do chief officers train with their crews on fireground tactics, communications, command, and size-up?
–More leadership training is needed in a command or tactical simulator (at least four hours); fireground communications; drilling with the battalion chief employing smoke and mannequins in a center hall apartment building with a tactical training channel, water flowing, and everyone on air; counseling exercises with a new or aspiring officer; writing for company officers; and formal mentoring or succession planning. Also, he said training academies for engineers, company officers and battalion chiefs should be established.
–Realistic training builds leadership muscles that provide the courage to act. Without action, leadership is just lip service.
–Future leaders must be developed through mentoring, not just with stories at the kitchen table.
–The fire service’s leadership training should be the envy of other industries, not the other way around.
3. This is our time to never give up!
The challenge for FDIC attendees, Kastros noted, is not leaving FDIC motivated but transferring that motivation into a real difference on the street (in their jurisdictions). Kastros warned that some ‘recliner snipers’ back home may try to discourage additional training or trying something new, or they may come up with excuses for not improving. One favorite excuse may be that ‘the chief doesn’t do his job; so why should I?’ “When you are in a burning building, it does not matter who the chief is or what he is or isn’t doing,” Kastros pointed out. “Training could save members’ lives. Firefighters should do their job and train. Fighting for every inch and every second on the drill ground will pay off on the fireground!”
Kastros related an incident that showed how implementing knowledge gained at FDIC into a training program for his department really made a difference.
On the morning of August 28, 2010, Sacramento Metro Fire was dispatched to an apartment fire with a four-year-old boy trapped. When the engine and truck and he arrived, there was a well-involved fire in a second-story garden apartment. The fire was extending into adjacent units and the attic. Fire was pushing out of multiple windows and doors and was moving down an interior hall toward the bedroom holding the unconscious boy. The door was open.
After conferring, Capt. Kevin Wegener of Engine 106 and Capt. Steve Turner from the truck agreed to employ a vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS) tactic. While the truck went for the rescue through the bedroom window, the engine slowed the fire’s progression with surgical precision to prevent steam and products of combustion from impacting the victim and crew downstream.
The victim was on the gurney four minutes, 32 seconds after the arrival of the first-due company. Little JT Thomas was transported to the nearest emergency room, unconscious and not breathing. He was subsequently moved to the Shriners Hospital, where he was in an induced coma for six days. He left the hospital with no deficits, no memory of the incident, and only a small burn to his arm from the windowsill as he was moved out to the tip of the ladder during the VEIS. None of the firefighters on Engine or Truck 106 had ever attended FDIC. They did not learn VEIS at FDIC, but they had been trained by those who had learned VEIS at FDIC.
“When God serves you a slow ball over the center of the plate, you’d better be ready to hit it out of the park,” Kastros concluded. “Never give up!”