Letters to the Editor: March 2021

Become the Best You Can Be

Being in public safety, as you know, is not a regular job. The commitment and nature of our duty offer challenges and a level of satisfaction difficult to measure. A person develops into someone who sees life in a different way, who values relationships more closely. We see how fragile life is and how perilous this journey can be. We learn to treat people with respect and dignity because we understand folks get in trouble and sometimes need a second chance or just a help ing hand.

To succeed on this path is difficult, if not impossible, on your own. You must be a student and a teacher, a team player and a leader. But, as you succeed, you will form friendships that surpass family and will have the fulfillment of knowing that you run in when others run out.

So, what are the character traits of those who answer the alarm? I have had the great opportunity to work among the finest firefighters/rescuers in the world, under some of the most extreme situations anyone in our trade can be in. Given this, I often get asked by young firefighters, “How do I succeed?” Read on for 10 traits of these talented and dedicated people.

Think on your feet. This is a sign of a seasoned professional. Get the job done even through you got bad information/wrong tool/breakdowns/foul weather, you name it. No excuses. Observe, identify problems, adapt, and form s olutions.

Anticipate. Apply cause-and-effect reasoning to your work, and mentally stay ahead of the job as it progresses, predicting needs and outcomes. Head off actions before they become problems. Don’t put your team in a spot where they say, “Should have known,” or ask, Why are we waiting?”

Learn and improve. The more you learn, the more valuable you are to your team and community. Be technically competent. With each newly acquired skill, your peers will hold you in higher regard. Be a student of your trade and a master in its e xecution.

Have a positive attitude. Maintaining a “can-do” attitude is a direct reflection of you and the team. We’ve been called because something bad happened. It’s likely more things will go wrong. Stay cool and do your job. Treat all patients with empathy and care.

Be a good communicator. Concisely provide information about the assignment, objectives/roadblocks, what is working, and what is not. Have no secrets, and be trustworthy; do this up and down the chain of command. Being a good communicator also means being an attentive listener. A plan is not a plan unless everyone knows about it; otherwise, it’s just one person’s idea. Write accurate, detailed reports so others c an learn.

Have discipline. On time is late; get to your assignment early, ready to work. Have all your gear; support all team members all the time. Look sharp and be sharp. Plan and get organized, and delegate responsibilities; success depends on everyone. Know when to get your game face on and when to relax. Complete the identified objective (already anticipating what’s next) and move to the n ext task.

Be detailed-oriented. Not having the proper adapter/small part can shut a job down. Check your tools. Identify consumables such as fuel, bits/blades, etc. It’s only obvious if you take the time t o see it.

Stay steady. You don’t have to be “liked,” but be approachable and don’t lose your temper. Be counted on to listen, be fair and objective, identify the issues, and work the job in the simplest manner possible.

Be safe. Be aware of your surroundings. Maintain your health, minimize distractions, and stay in the game. Be physically and mentally fit; people are countin g on you.

Use common sense. See things as they are; do what needs to be done with what you’ve got. To attain this, work at it. Put yourself in a position to gain experience from related situations, stay current, study and improve your skills, be open to benefiting from the collective wisdom of the people around you, and be willing to take a chance.

The time to start is now. Go forth a nd serve.

Steve Shupert
Miami Valley (OH) Fire District

Searchable vs. Survivable

In “Searchable vs. Survivable: Educated Decision Making” (September 2020), Sean Duffy writes, “It should never be a firefighter’s mindset to focus on ‘What’s good for us’ but rather to concentrate our efforts on what is best for the civilian.” I believe that we must make a concentrated effort on our own risk management, which includes survivability profiles for the firefighter and civilian, safety controls (i.e., softening the structure, making exits/rapid intervention tactics), and a Plan P.A.C.E. (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Escape/Eme rgency).

In his book Fire Department Special Operations, Fire Department of New York Deputy Assistant Chief (Ret.) John Norman writes, “We are not in the business of trading rescuers’ lives for those of trapped victims or, worse yet, simply joining them in dying.” We risk a lot to save a lot, risk little to save little, risk nothing to save nothing. Our goal is to do search and rescue for viable victims and to expect them at every fire; however, we must do all we can to provide for the safety and survival of our firefighters. A survivability profile for our teammates is paramount during all types of incidents to ensure their safety and for getting our memb ers home.

Dave Norman
USAR TF103C-BN8, East Operations
Los Angeles County, California

The 3 Ps

Even though the fire service is ever changing and ever growing, do you ever feel stuck? Do you ever feel like no matter what you do you just aren’t going anywhere? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. I turned 30 this year and entered my 12th year in the fire service. I have often asked myself, What am I doing? Where am I going? Is this all there is? A guy on my shift and I were finishing up a squad call the other day and started on the subject of our careers and what is next for us. He is the same age and has the same length of service as I do, so it was a great little chat. We talked about when we first started and how we had no clue what we were doing. We talked about being on the fireground; following orders; and accomplishing tasks, not really realizing why we were doing them. We talked about how, finally, after 12 years that we get it, we understand the why now. It made me realize that there are most likely a lot of us out there who have the same thoughts and feelings. That night I tried to sleep, my mind wandering as usual. I thought back to a conversation I had with my chief a few years ago about the fire service and it really got me t hinking.

I remember sitting in the bay, sipping on some coffee and shooting the breeze with the chief. He laid some wisdom on me that day, and it will be something I will never forget. He told me that a successful career in the fire service boils down to the 3 Ps. Of course, my mind started racing trying to figure out what the 3 Ps were. He said, “Tommy, the 3 Ps are patience, persistence, and perseverance.” It clicked for me right then and there. It doesn’t matter who you are, how long you’ve been in the profession, what knowledge you have or don’t have, or who you know. All that matters is that you take the time to acknowledge the existence of the 3 Ps and what each one of them mean s to you.

As humans, it’s inherent that we want what we want right now. PATIENCE is a virtue. When am I going to get hired full time? When am I going to get promoted? When will it be my turn to lead training? If you’ve ever thought about any of those examples, you know that patience isn’t always an easy concept. You will fall, you will struggle, but in the end, you will learn that an important lesson is patience that you will be able to pass down to generations to come.

Remember that firefighter you worked with who just always went above and beyond? Yeah, the one who kind of annoyed you because he was a go-getter? Now, we have a choice to make: Do we want to hate him? Do we want to dismiss him? Or do we want to emulate him in everything we do? The answer is simple: Be a decent human being, and if you want something, go get it! If you want to sit on your rump all day, that’s fine, but you aren’t going to get anywhere in your career by being a passive bump on a log. You and only you control your destiny and where you will end up. That guy, the one who went above and beyond? He’s more than likely your officer now. He chose to be PERSISTENT, and it paid off. He wanted something, and he went out and got it. If you want to be the person who does just enough to get by, that’s fine, but you will miss out on what could ha ve been.

You will get knocked down! Your patience will be tested, your persistence may falter at times, but you will succeed. PERSEVERANCE is hard, but its payoff is huge. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your fire service career. We all start out the exact same: as probies in the firehouse. Some of us wash out after a short time. Some of us struggle but eventually make it. Some of us excel quickly and succeed early in our careers. Which one are you going to be? You have the knowledge, you have the chance. Are you going to take it?

Thomas N. Gross
Central Fire District
Smithville, Ohio

The New American Dream Emerging in the Mountain West

This letter was inspired by Bobby Halton’s “This Virus Has Made Fools of Us All” (Editor’s Opinion, August 2020). America’s biggest problems—health risks, social unrest, and geopolitical threats to freedom and our economy—are being solved in the rural Rocky Mountain West. Social distancing, law and order, and personal responsibility come naturally out here. Despite our vast remoteness, and now because of it, our region is poised at the forefront of a rural economic renaissance. Business are relocating and remote workers are mo ving in.

With COVID-19 ripping the scabs off China’s corruption and big government incompetence, the Mountain West is at the hub of the wheel as Americans begin the great migration out of crime-ridden, pandemic-prone cities. Manufacturing and supply chains will start returning home as well. By learning to pay a little more for American-made and stop buying products that enrich oppressive regimes, we can fight a peaceful Cold War against global tyranny from right here in flyover country.

We have Internet, cellular, satellite, agriculture, and energy capabilities. We have entrepreneurs, affordability, and family values. We have the federal government starting to decentralize power back to the people, setting an example for the rest of Washington by relocating the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to Grand Junction.

I’ve explored the western slope of Colorado for the past half century and thought it would be nice to live out here one day. But the remoteness, the difficulty in earning a living, and the lack of everything from cell coverage to emergency services always dashed the dream. But that’s all changed, and none too soon.

My wife and I cut loose from the urban safety net and moved to the little ranching community of Norwood and have been surprised by how little we’ve had to compromise on almost anything. Where some city folks see a backwater, we see beautiful, wide-open spaces ripe for economic and cultural revival.

We have art, educated workers, libraries, and high-speed Internet. We have diversity—not defined by race but instead by breadth of knowledge, life experience, and points of view. Norwood recently gained national attention as the “little white town” that held a vigil for George Floyd. Shared by neighbors from dramatically different political persuasions, this event was a poignant moment of communal respect between fellow citizens without the demagoguery, intolerance, or violence.

We have the people, the spirit, and the willpower. Next on the list, and mission-critical to making this rural renaissance happen, we need to expand the public safety infrastructure. The secret is for taxpayers to start funding professionalized fire and EMS departments. Hiring more career-focused leaders and specialists will be the key to supporting the hundreds of tiny, all-volunteer fire/EMS districts spread across the West.

Norwood leads by example. Luck, timing, and our fire district’s visionary volunteer board came together in hiring our first full-time fire chief, John Bockrath, who moved his family here from Chicago, bringing along nearly 40 years of big city firefighter/paramedic experience. He’s hired an administrator to free up time for himself and Norwood Fire’s second full-time professional, Wildland Coordinator Mark Garcia, to embark on an ambitious five-year plan to establish Norwood as a strategic Western Slope Wildland Regiona l Center.

The results of Norwood’s professionalized fire/EMS department are felt with better response times and better patient outcomes. New revenues are coming in by contracting Norwood Fire resources on state and federally managed fires, affording taxpayers better service for no more of the ir money.

With the BLM relocated to western Colorado, and a new fire-control air operations center in Colorado Springs, little Norwood Fire is well positioned to help protect public lands and growing populations within an interstate, multiagency public safety net. Norwood’s Chamber of Commerce is also doing its part by promoting the area as a relocation destination that’s well supported with essential services.

People can leave cities for the good life in rural communities, with state-of-the-art public safety resources, less disease and crime, and stronger cultural foundations to raise families with better economic opportunities. E-workers, manufacturers, call centers, and the like can begin to reestablish the U.S. industrial base in the rural heartland and shore up our supply chains. It’s starting here in the Mountain West, where we are reclaiming the self-sufficiency that we lost to globalization and reembracing the culture of freedom and personal responsibility that made America great in the fir st place.

Far from the urban chaos, little Norwood shines a light on what the future can hold for a rural economic revival, the localization of political power, and the next great American ad venture.

John Metzger
Volunteer Firefighter
Norwood (CO) Fire Protection District

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