The Professional Volunteer Fire Department: Take Five Minutes

Part 25

Thomas A. Merrill

By Thomas A. Merrill

It was routine medical call, the type of call to which we respond every day. I was on the crew assisting the patient, and I was asked to reach into the medical bag to retrieve a needed piece of equipment; not the blood pressure cuff, the stethoscope, or something we use at most medical calls, but something completely different.

I knew we carried it, but as I looked at the medical bag and its vast array of zippered compartments, I felt my face get flush. I started asking myself, “Where is it? Which compartment is it in?” I wondered if I would embarrass myself as I clumsily zipped open compartment after compartment looking around for the needed equipment?

I thought about how I would not only embarrass myself but would make my department look bad in the eyes of the patient and the patient’s family, who were in the room with us. And, not only is it clumsy and embarrassing, it is unprofessional. Fortunately, my first “guess” was correct—I handed off the equipment and nobody even knew I had my doubts. But I knew.

As we left the scene, I admitted to myself that I might not be as sharp as I thought I was. I certainly was disappointed in myself because, although I was a chief officer and was not responding to as many calls as I did in the past, I was still a regular responder, and I still went to many training drills. But, I needed to get better.

The next day, I was exercising in my department’s fitness room. The room overlooks our apparatus bay, and as I gazed out the window at all the neatly lined up rigs, I started to quiz myself as to what was carried in the various compartments on all the rigs. After my workout, I went down to open some of the compartments and was surprised to learn that, on several occasions, my answers to my questions were wrong; either I forgot about equipment that was carried or I thought they was located somewhere else.

I then thought back to my near-miss from the day before and walked over to our light rescue, opened up the medical bag, and went through each zippered compartment. I took note of the miscellaneous items that were carried, how they were laid out, and I made mental notes to help me retrieve them quickly when they were called for in the future.

I then zippered the compartments, closed the bag, and placed it back on the rig. It was then that I realized that the time elapsed from taking the bag off the rig, looking it over, and putting it back was roughly five minutes. In five minute’s time I was more familiar with the equipment and made myself a better-prepared responder. Five minutes!

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Five minutes out of all the idle time we spend in the firehouse. We spend hours in the clubroom watching TV; surfing the Internet; and gossiping about who, what, and where. So, why not take five minutes every time you step foot in the firehouse to make yourself a better firefighter?

Now, obviously I am not talking about our regular drill and training nights. I am talking about going above and beyond that. Taking five minutes to become better each time you enter the firehouse to “hang out” will make you a better, more prepared firefighter.

Go open a compartment, a tool kit, or the medical bag. Take off the rig a piece of equipment, a tool, or even a nozzle and reacquaint yourself with it. Look over your gear, start a saw, fire up a generator, or review the pump panel on the engine.

Spend five minutes making yourself better. Then, go to the clubroom and watch TV and hang with the others. Better yet, spend those five minutes with the others. It’s a great way to bounce ideas off each other. Perhaps a senior member will offer some important but lost information about whatever it is you are talking about. Chances are, the conversation will wander from talking about that tool to talking about some personal experiences with that tool or an incident where it was used as well as the lessons learned that are important to pass on to others. It’s a win-win situation.

We all have had THAT member (perhaps it was even us) who was asked to grab a tool, go over to the rig, and open compartment after compartment looking for it. I call it, “The dog chasing the tail.” It’s embarrassing, it’s unprofessional, and it slows down the operation.

Think about how better prepared you would be if you took just a few minutes to look things over when you stop at your firehouse. Think of how much better your entire department would be if all your members did this.

Take five minutes every time you set foot in your firehouse. It will pay huge dividends and make you a better, more professional firefighter.


Thomas A. Merrill is a 30-year fire department veteran in the Snyder Fire Department, which is located in Amherst, New York. He served 26 years as a department officer, including 15 years in the chief officer ranks, and recently completed five years as chief of department. He also is a professional fire dispatcher for the town of Amherst fire alarm office. He can be reached at

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