Merit should matter when hiring

I appreciated and applauded Lt. Frank Ricci’s [New Haven (CT) Fire Department] presentation at this year’s FDIC in Indianapolis. His passionate, yet insightful, speech nearly brought me to my feet. I found myself constantly nodding in agreement with all the points he made, particularly the ideal that merit SHOULD matter.

As a captain in the Newark (NJ) Fire Department, I have personally been on the “wrong” side of hiring and promotional testing practices. If there’s anything that this noble profession of ours desperately needs, it is the “fire-in-the-belly” spirit that Ricci possesses on this subject. Many of us are behind Ricci all the way.

Danny J. Farrell
Newark (NJ) Fire Department

What a powerful and timely keynote presentation by Lt. Frank Ricci! Congratulations to him for his personal triumph and to the FDIC for having the intestinal fortitude to give such an important (and sensitive) topic center stage. Taking this subject all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed everyone to speak openly about a growing problem within the fire service.

Should this be a sensitive subject? No. I want the best firefighters working for me, period. I want the best officers running my emergency incidents. All the other issues surrounding this matter simply create smoke that hides the seat of the fire—which is MERIT.

John P. Young
Elizabeth (NJ) Fire Department

Thanks to Fire Engineering for having Lt. Frank Ricci deliver the keynote address at this year’s FDIC. I viewed it in its entirety on the Web site after hearing all the buzz from my colleagues who attended the conference this year in Indy.

Ricci spoke with a truth, honesty, and passion that I have not seen in some time. His views are spot on and exactly what our fire service has been thirsting for. He is a true patriot of the fire service and is looked up to by many for his courage, knowledge, and devotion to our great profession. I hope to see more of him in the future.

Steve McConlogue
Elizabeth (NJ) Fire Department

To the disappointment of my father, a career firefighter in Camden, New Jersey, I eagerly joined the law enforcement profession in the very same city that he served as a firefighter with pride and dedication. But to my dismay, immediately on patrolling the streets of the community that my family has called home for nearly a century, I was quickly exposed to the reality that is “politics over merit.”

After watching the eloquent speech delivered by Lt. Frank Ricci at the FDIC, my only desire is that his message resonates with my fellow officers. Like the fire profession, we, too, must confront the abandonment of merit and put aside our fears of being labeled bigots. Our success depends on our ability to work together collectively, and I earnestly believe that Ricci and his leadership can be the spark that commences the movement to promote equal opportunity over the flawed concept of equal results.

Jeffrey Frett
Concerned American Police Officers (CAPO)
Camden, New Jersey

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FDIC: “A great job!”

A BIG thumbs-up to Fire Engineeringfor this year’s FDIC. Firefighters will be going home to their families tomorrow because of the work the Fire Engineering staff is doing. It may not be as much fun as making a push down a long hall, but the work you do is just as important. GREAT JOB!

Lance C. Peeples
Firefighter (Ret.)
St. Charles, Missouri

Thank you for another wonderful FDIC. Among many memorable experiences this year’s FDIC provided, the Brotherhood Bash inspired me to write this message.

At the Bash, my fellow brothers and I were able to sit, have a drink, and talk with Capt. Mike Dugan of the Fire Department of New York. He is not only a widely respected fire officer and educator in the American fire service, but he is also considered an icon and a celebrity within our department. It was a thrill and a privilege to be able to talk so casually with him. We told him of our experiences with FDIC and the strides our department has taken because of what we have been able to bring back in the past.

Beginning in 2001, two of our firefighters (a driver and a hoseman) sent themselves to FDIC West in Sacramento. They brought back and shared many truck company basics, from throwing ground ladders to forcible entry techniques, which our truck company did not do at that time. This was so inspiring to me so that that same driver and I returned to FDIC West in 2003. We came home with designs for a forcible entry prop and new search techniques. We were building a true truck company from the ground up. Not only were we learning new techniques and better ways of doing business, but we were also stoking the fire of training.

Firefighters continued to return to FDIC (Indianapolis) and bring back training from fire service luminaries such as John Norman, Mike Dugan, Mike Ciampo, John Salka, John Mittendorf, Rick Lasky, and Riker. Our organization began to take notice and began sending officers and chief officers to FDIC. This year, our department sent six members to FDIC—two drivers, a captain, a battalion chief, a training officer, and our deputy chief of operations.

Because of FDIC, we now operate much more proficiently; have better results; and are, consequently, safer than ever before. FDIC has not only been a great experience for so many of us personally, but it has also played a major role in shaping how we operate and has forever affected our organization’s vision.

Capt. Dugan asked that we write and share our “success story,” as he referred to it. I also wanted to write and thank the FDIC staff for your efforts and your commitment to firefighters like me and my brothers and sisters at the Nampa Fire Department. Thank you for a great FDIC 2010.

Aaron Billingsley
Chauffer, Truck 1, B-shift
Nampa (ID) Fire Department


Accentuate what makes us different!


These thoughts are related to the presentation of International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President Harold A. Schaitberger at FDIC 2010.

I was at an Overlake Hospital (Bellevue, Washington) board meeting recently during which there was an educational presentation on marketing. The speaker said that with all of the hospitals in our area, we cannot outspend our competitors on advertising to capture the market share. She suggested, instead, that Overlake Hospital needed to differentiate itself from its competition. The speaker pointed out that since we cannot win a head-to-head battle with our richest competing hospitals, we should strategize ways to make us different from our competitors.

In the fire service, we really do not have any “competition” per se, but we are starting to look (in the eyes of the elected officials) like the other municipal services providers. Unfortunately, we cost more than other municipal services (with possibly the exception of the police) to provide this service, and the costs continue to escalate because of contract items, union challenges, and just the cost of doing business.

To remain a relevant and vital service to our cities or towns, the fire service needs to differentiate itself from the other services, including police, and to seek ways to emulate a business model that most elected officials understand.

In the rural areas that are mostly volunteer (more than 70 percent of our service), the struggles are different. It’s a matter of recruitment, training, retention, and enough operating equipment. The money, although an issue, doesn’t seem to make a difference in the “attitude” of the volunteers. I get the feeling that they can do more with less because they are forced into that box. They prove that every day. The career and combination departments, however, have pushed the politicians into the box, and the politicians are pushing back by saying, “Do more with less.”

I am seeing a trend with the labor contract awards, salary and benefit increases, and other personnel costs, plus the union challenges to cities and towns over these issues including staffing, where the cities and towns are saying to the fire chiefs and departments, “We have a finite amount of money. Live within your means, even if it includes reducing staffing or closing stations to meet your budget limitations.” That is an unacceptable and untenable position for the fire service for so many reasons.

However, we are not immune to overt scrutiny by our elected officials, and what we are currently doing is not working. I do not believe President Schaitberger’s message at the FDIC of going to WAR over the money issues will work in today’s economically brutal environment. I am not sure of the answer, but we need to strive to seek a solution.

In Nevada, the fire service is under intense pressure from the private sector and the politicians. I hear rumors that the firefighters were getting spat on in the grocery stores. This is unacceptable to me and, I am sure, to my brothers and sisters as well. They are working hard to market and differentiate their services through public service announcements and other media efforts.

We are all in this together, and the IAFF and the International Association of Fire Chiefs need to work hard to differentiate our services and not only at preserving jobs but also at preserving and improving the services we already provide.

We need to continually market and differentiate ourselves to the elected officials and gain those loyalties that are important to our survival. This will be a very hard task, but as they say, “The difficult we can do immediately; the impossible will take a little longer.”

The citizens love us. It’s the politicians we need to convince.

John K. Murphy, JD, PA-C
Deputy Chief (Ret.)
Law Office of John K. Murphy, Inc., PS
Sammamish, Washington


Kudos to Combs


I had the distinct honor of meeting Paul Combs at FDIC 2010 in Indianapolis. I admire his work and have followed it for years. Some of his cartoons have made me smile; some have struck a little closer to home and brought tears to my eyes.

Thanks to Combs for what he brings to the fire service. He regularly smacks us in the face with the issues we all know exist but too often are afraid to speak out against.

John Willgohs
Bernalillo County, New Mexico


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