Sunday, August 30, 2009

Right now

Right now four families are getting a knock on the door.

Right now four families are opening their door to a sight they never wanted to see.

Right now four Chief Officers are saying words they never wanted to say.

Right now four families are hearing words they never wanted to hear.

The world will mourn.

Right now six families are getting a knock on the door.

Right now six families are opening their door to a sight they never wanted to see.

Right now six families are hearing words they never wanted to hear.

Right now six Chief Officers are saying that they don't know how bad it is.

The world will hope and pray.

Right now scores of fire officers are wondering how it could have gone so wrong.

Right now cell-phones are ringing off of the hook.

Right now a tear runs down my cheek.

I hope the rumors are wrong.

Los Angeles County Fire Department announced the passing of Fire Capt. Tedmund "Ted" Hall, 47, of San Bernardino County, and firefighter Specialist Arnaldo "Arnie" Quinones, 35, of Palmdale. They were killed about 2:30 p.m. yesterday when the vehicle they were in went over the side of a road south of Acton, near Mount Gleason, and overturned.

The rumor mill was burning up with snippets of information when I wrote the above words. Thankfully, some of the information was wrong, but the news is no less tragic. I have many friends and a relative that work for LAC, my deepest sympathies to the families and co-workers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Schmoe won't play (probably)

We pull into the parking lot, the crew and I. We note the parking lot has few cars parked in the many spaces, I remember more vehicles parked here the last time we were here. Going up to the door of the first business, we quickly determine that the injection molding business is no longer there, business cards, fliers and other trash is piled up in front of the door; a lock box secured to it.

We go to the back of the building, where the other occupant of this five year old building is located. An open door leads into the lobby, where we are initially greeted by several Dobermans and a German Shepard. Although the dogs can't get to us, they make plenty of noise and announce our presence to the business owner.

After a few moments, the business owner appears. I am surprised how much older he looks since the last time I saw him. Dark bags under his eyes, a multitude of lines on his face and a weary look in his eyes give me the impression of someone who is growing very tired.

I have met the owner twice previously. The first time was when I inspected his business about four years ago. He owns a cabinet installation and finish carpentry company. He is a sub-contractor for numerous builders in our state. The first time I inspected him, his warehouse was full of product, waiting to be installed. The parking lot was filled with cars, a hubub of activity was occurring in the office and on the loading dock.

None of those things are occurring now. No employees are present in the warehouse, only a few women are busy in the office. The dogs make up most of the activity, as our inspection is making them restless. I chat with the business owner as we conduct our inspection. He mentions that three years ago, he had over eighty employees. All but eighteen have been let go. He tells me that he has been in business for years (sorry, I can't remember the figure that he gave me), and that he has never seen it this bad. His nest egg is gone, spent trying to keep his business afloat.

I take all of this in as I inspect his business. I am used to the griping of business owners, I have been doing this a while. In my agency, the operations division conducts fire safety inspections on most commercial occupancies. Many business owners view our prevention efforts as just another intrusion by government into their affairs. I have always understood their plight, I have run a small business and I understand how difficult it is for small business owners.

I know that that is not just a business owner griping. This is a man is is fighting with all he has just to stay in business. If he loses it, he loses everything.

There are a few minor issues that I mention to the business owner. He corrects them on the spot so I don't issue a NCR (non-compliance report). One thing that I don't do is check to make sure he purchased a Business Tax Certificate.

A District Edict came down a few weeks ago, directing us to check for this certificate as we conduct our inspections. In the twenty five years that I have been employed by the Kinda Big F.P.D. I have never been used as a tax collector by proxy, I don't intend to be used as one now.

The collection of this tax has nothing to do with the preservation of life or property. Us checking to insure compliance is an idea hatched by a bean counter in the county finance department and is solely a method to generate additional revenue.

I have no problem enforcing the Fire Code or the County Code as it applies to fire / life safety. I try to develop a rapport with the business owners in my district. I count on them to be prudent when it comes to fire safety. I try to educate them on the various hazards that we come across. A fire in their business is not good for them nor is it good for us.That isn't what this is about. This is about money.

Yesterday, we are again doing inspections. I meet a man named Bill. Bill runs a very small business that buys a product in bulk, repackages it for retail sales and sells it in three states. Bill's wife is in the small warehouse, working along side two employees as they mix product, fill containers and prepare it for shipping.

Bill's product is sold wholesale to beauty supply stores. Back in the day, Bill had several sales reps who went out into the field, took orders and delivered the orders. Bill stayed in the office and ran his business.

I was actually lucky to run into Bill. He had just returned from a sales trip to another state. Now, Bill loads up his van with product and spends four to five days a week on the road. He is the sole rep for his company. He still has to manage the operations of his business, he just has far less time to do it.

Bill now accepts credit cards and is willing to post date the orders so his customers can pay (hopefully) for his product. He has seen many of his customers go out of business and sees that his remaining ones are hurting just as bad as he is.

Bill emigrated to the country from the middle east thirty five years ago and has been in business for twenty nine years. He tells me that he has never seen it this bad and that he thinks we are about half way through the bad times. Like the cabinet maker, Bill has gone through his retirement funds to keep his business going and to invest in some foreclosed properties to use as rentals. Bill also tells me that he has downsized his leased warehouse twice and has outsourced some of the processes in order to save money. He wants to cut his already small warehouse size in half, but his landlord won't let him out of the lease. He will be moving when his lease expires.

Bill has a few fire extinguisher issues and needs to secure a compressed gas cylinder so it won't fall over. I write him an NCR, explaiing to him why and that it won't cost him very much to be in compliance. Although Bill doesn't know it, I am on his side. However, I still need him to be safe. That is what inspections should be about, not generating revenue.

As with the cabinet maker, I don't ask to see Bill's Business Tax Certificate. I have spoke with my union president about this issue. I know that if a big enough issue is made of this I will have to comply and start enforcing the Business Tax Certificate edict. Until then I am just not going to play.

Be safe, I hope all of you are doing ok with this tough economy. I really appreciate your reading my words.

Just another Schmoe, trying to keep the wolves from the door.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tragedy in Buffalo N.Y.

Most of you have probably already heard about this, but two firefighters were killed today in Buffalo. Early reports indicate that the pair were conducting search operations during a structure fire when a partial building collapse occurred. The bodies of the two were recovered later in the day.

Firegeezer has all of the details here:

Shit. It tears me up to read this stuff. Despite all of the PADs, UACs, TICs PPEs RICs and all of the other advancements in tactics and technology, we are still losing people. Out thoughts and prayers go out the the B.F.D. and to the families of the fallen, two Schmoes trying to keep the wolves from the door.

UPDATE - I know this late, but the fallen firefighters have been identified as Lt. Charles McCarthy, 45, of Rescue 1; FF Jonathan Croom, 34, of Ladder 7

R.I.P. Brothers.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

R.I.P. Officer Hamilton

Taking a break, sitting down with a "cold frosty" after doing some chores. I check one of the cop blogs that I like to read and I see this:

He was just another Schmoe, trying to keep the wolves from the door. For his little girls, and for us, he just went to work, hoping to do a good job, put his shift in and go home. Then some dirtbag took him out. This Schmoe was named Jesse Hamilton.

I have responded to fatal officer down shootings. I have had the funeral procession pass beneath my extended ladder, with the huge American Flag waving in the breeze. I have seen the physical carnage done to the fallen officer; the emotional carnage done to his family, to the surviving officers who were part of the incident and to their families. It is an incredible amount of damage caused by one sub-human who can't play by the rules. It makes me sick.

Sorry for the rant. Keep Officer Hamilton's family in your prayers.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

"What the fu&% are they doing?" I ask Joe as we watch the Captain and the Firefighter dismount E31 and walk to the back of the unit. It's 9:30 p.m. and we are staging for a ringing alarm at an old high school that has been converted into a community center. We continue to watch as the rookie firefighter is shown the finer points of taking a hydrant and of removing a manhole from the middle of the street. Richard adds a few comments through the intercom. He is in the tiller box at the back of the truck.

This community center is one of those places whose fire alarm is always going off and, as a county owned facility, we can't really fine them so the false alarms keep rolling in. We know that this is another false and we will be released soon. Sure enough, a few minutes later and all units are cut loose. We take the ladder truck up the street and hang a quick u-turn before heading back down the street.

For those of you who have never seen a tractor-tiller ladder truck flip a u-turn, it is amazing how little space is required to turn one around. They use less space than an engine, despite being twice as long. It is a beautiful thing.

We wait and let E24 and the squad go in front of us, then head back out toward the highway. We pass E31, who is still having a "company drill moment" on the side street. Although I remember this as a cold evening, we stop and watch as the rookie is schooled in the dark. It is a little unusual for this type of activity to occur this time of night, but it's not out of line. We have a few laughs at the rookie's expense and then head back to the warmth of the station. It must also be noted that this is a brand new captain and that this rookie was his first.

A few days or weeks later, we are finishing up dinner at the "Big House of Pain". We are at the huge table laughing it up at the plight of the same poor rookie, who has had the misfortune of ending up with a captain that probably has the highest energy level of anyone in our organization. Frankly, I would rather have a captain that has an overly high energy level rather than an overly low one, but I would likely hate life while I was going through it.

After the kitchen is cleaned, Engine 31 loads up and heads out for a night drill. Our agency requires that each unit participate in two night drills every year. In years that have a lot of probationary personnel, this isn't a problem, as units are clamoring for drill time and will take it whenever they can get it.

It is now one a.m. The company phone rings, its shrill tone sends my stomach through my head as I grope for the receiver.

"This is Betty in radio" a gleeful voice states. "Is the engine in quarters?" she asks, "we can't raise them on the radio".

I can tell she is happy about waking me up. I put her on hold and slide down the pole to the apparatus floor. The vacant spot next to the truck company tells me that the engine is not in quarters. I go to the app-floor phone and give the news to dispatch.

Betty tells me that they last heard from Engine 31 about ten P.M. when they asked for a tactical radio channel to use on their drill. Efforts to raise them had not been successful in the hours since. Radio knows where they are drilling, but are unsure what to do about it. I advise her to contact the District Commander in the area where they are supposed to be, maybe he can run out to take a look. There is nothing I can do about it, so I go back to bed.

I awaken to the sound of the rear app-floor door come up an hour later and stick my head out into the hall when I hear boots coming up the stairs.

"Where the hell were you guys?" I ask the engineer from E31.

It is obvious that he is a very tired man. He has been up for 20 hours, the last six or so were spent training a rookie at a soon to be demolished county facility. He tells me that they had made contact with the deputy that was guarding the place; he allowed them to us this multi-building complex to drill.

It was the ideal drill ground. You could pull hose, ladder buildings, force doors, search and performed salvage operations all day (or night) long. There were still a lot of furnishings in the building which added realism. They weren't really worried about damage as long as building security was maintained and no glass was broken. The whole complex was destroyed a few months later to make way for a shopping mall.

Engine 31 had disappeared into the bowels of the main structure and had performed many evolutions. The thick concrete and masonry walls had prevented radio signals from alerting them that they were being looked for. The highly energetic Captain had opted to continue to drill, despite the extremely late hour.

Radio had sent an engine from the area to check on them. Apparently, it took some time to find the missing crew, even after spotting the parked engine.

The event sparked much discussion within our agency. The merits of extended drills, drilling after midnight and the effects of crew fatigue were discussed, as was whether any benefit from training while exhausted was obtained. I don't think any definitive conclusion from these discussions was ever reached.

Although I think that there is some benefit from these type training sessions, I don't think that they should be a standard practice. As far as I know, no unit within our agency has drilled like this again.

This event came to mind today, I had lunch with the "rookie" that was the subject of this story. He is no longer with our agency. He was forced to retire early a year or so ago after being diagnosed with a serious illness. After finishing probation, he went to another district for a while before ending up on my crew at our old station. We worked together for quite a few years before his retirement. He may in fact read this, I told him about this blog under the condition that he keep it a secret.

I hope he makes a full recovery, time will tell. Regardless, I sure enjoy sharing old times over a nice plate of pasta.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, August 16, 2009


I usually don't link to political blogs, although I read many. That isn't what this blog is about. One of my usual reads has a post today which has nothing to do with politics.

It is a powerful post, one that I had to read twice. It made me call my folks.

It can be found at:

It is titled "One More Good-Bye"

Powerful words

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Random Day of Randomness

0730- I have my full crew here today. No one is at school, on vacation or taking time off for the kids soccer game. There is a little tension in the air, fire season is finally starting to take off again.

The sky yesterday, had the orange tint of drift smoke, coming from a fire hundreds of miles away. For those of you who never have experienced it, it casts an odd sort of orange glow onto anything that reflects light. The closer the fire is, the more pronounced it is. Yesterday's glow was rather faint and was likely missed by most. For a few members of my crew, the ones who picked up on it, it adds a little tension into the psychological mix. There is something afoot.

We also learn that two of our type III (wild land) engines have been dispatched to that fire. They loaded up their strike team bags, fart-sacks and tent and hit the road. They will likely be gone for a week or so, depending on weather. You see, we really don't put these things out until Mother Nature says we can.

Eight overtime positions will be filled tomorrow. As it is summer, school's out and vacations are planned. A lot of people are already out of town or are already working. That means that not a lot of people are signed up to work, so it is likely some folks will be held over for a day or two.

We discuss this, and we also note that we are one of two crews who have three members that have volunteered to be sent out on a strike team. This means that we may get called and be sent out of town. Some of us take some time to get our strike team bags in order.

1000 - We are out surveying buildings for a pre-incident planning project that is due in a few days. Basically, we are going out into our district and checking our pre-plans to make sure that they are still accurate, that the buildings haven't changed and that all of the important details are included. We are also checking to make sure that we have pre-plans for all of the large or complex buildings in our district. As we have had a building boom over the past few years, we find a few buildings that need pre-plans.

We are in the parking lot of a commercial establishment. The crew is on the rig, I stepped off for a few minutes to check the location of a sprinkler valve. I am walking past a parked car when I hear a voice ask "excuse me, what is your last name?"

I look up to see a young lady in the passenger seat of the car. I don't recognize her; the last strange woman who spoke to me, I married, 26 years ago. I tell her my name and she gives me hers. I instantly recognize her name as that of the oldest daughter of a friend and co-worker who tragically passed away a million years ago.

This young lady's father and I were born in the same month in the same year. We met in the fire academy at a local junior college. We got hired by the K.B.F.P.D. at the same time, promoted to engineer and to captain in the same year. We got married within two years of each other and our kids are the same age. Somehow, I am still alive and he is not. He was 37 when he died.

I learned of his passing from our union president. One of those 0400 phone calls that can't be anything good. A group of guys met at the station that day. I didn't go down there till later. I didn't want anyone to see me grieve. When I did go, I saw tough guys, way tougher guys than me, sobbing in pure sorrow. It was more than I could take so I didn't stay long.

I learned some things that week. One was that I have no business speaking at wakes or funerals. My words degenerate into unintelligible sobs after a few lines. Another is that we can't take anything for granted.

I had a nice chat with this young lady. She and her younger sister are doing well, as is her mom. She is in college, studying nursing. She wants to be an O.R. nurse, she is interested in anatomy. Her father would have been proud of his daughter. She is a pretty, charming young lady who appears to have figured it out. I was glad to see that things are going well for her. I wanted to talk to her mom, who was in the store, but we needed to get this project done before noon and had to leave.

1315 - We get a call for a traffic collision on the state highway. Us and Engine 244 respond to the reported location. There, we find a thirty-something woman standing next to her damaged Harley. Two vehicles with minor damage to the sides are parked near by. The ambulance pulls in behind us as we get off of the rig. I check the occupants of the cars for injuries and assess the scene as my medics contact the motorcycle rider.

It turns out that our only pt. is the female motorcyclist, who has a nasty laceration to a "personal area" that is usually covered by Levis. ('nuff said) I cancel E244, the ambulance crew immediately assumes patient care. I work on moving the vehicles off the highway. There is a gas station right next to where we are, we get the vehicles moved over there. I think we are done and are out of there.

As I start to climb onto the rig, which is still on the shoulder of the highway, a driver in a car asks if we have any gas. Apparently, he ran out while he waited for us to clear the traffic lane. We push him to the gas station as well. The engine meets us at the gas station, I obtain a little more information from one of the drivers.

The troopers arrive and I brief them of our actions. As this is completed, another motorist approaches us and asks us if we can open her car, she has locked her keys in it while she was pumping gas.

Our district has an unwritten policy about opening cars. If there is no kid locked in the car, or it doesn't present a hazard, we really aren't supposed to open it. I guess we got sued once for damage caused by the procedure so we don't do it any more. I usually will do it after explaining to them that it may cause a little damage to their door. We have better tools for this procedure than we used to, they are less likely to cause damage.

The crew gets the door open without any damage and now I am itching to get back to the barn. Again, I start to climb into the rig and yet another motorist approaches and asks directions to a local cemetery. The gentleman has mapquest directions in his hand, but still can't figure it out. The firefighter basically reads the mapquest directions to the motorist, this makes him happy. Finally we get back on the rig and head home. We joke about "posting up" at this station and acting as ambassadors of the fire service, as there appears to be a demand for such services.

1820 - We are just sitting down to dinner. Tri-tip salad with Hawaiian bread. The company phone rings; the firefighter answers it. Two seconds later, he hands it to me.

It is the District Commander, who tells me that my engineer has been assigned to drive a neighboring engine to a new wildfire that has taken off in another part of the state. The regular engineer is unable to make a 10 day commitment for the response, so mine is pulled in. The mutual aid request is an "immediate need" request which means we are supposed to get on the road as soon as possible. That seems kind of funny as this fire is about an eleven hour drive from our district. Resources are thin in that part of the state, assets have been pulled to several other major wildfires burning in our state. We help him load his gear into his truck, make a "to go" version of his dinner and send him on his way. That engine will need to meet up with four other engines and a leader before starting on their trip. The district reaches another engineer home and "force hires" him to come in and drive for us.

0230 - We get dispatched to a stabbing victim at a local apartment complex. This is odd for us, the apartment complexes in our district are quite upscale. This arose from some sort of domestic dispute, our victim received a stab wound to his abdomen. His vitals were good, skins were normal. The ambulance takes him to the hospital, we return to quarters.

0650 - We hear through the grapevine that the strike team our engineer is with has been driving since 1930 and still is a couple of hours from the incident. Apparently, no one was able to sleep during the trip.

0730 - Shift is over, I am off to a training session for a disaster response team that I am a member of. We are keeping an eye on some tropical disturbances that are brewing in the Atlantic. Hopefully, they will not become major hurricanes and cause harm to anyone.

Nothing shocking, dangerous or even exciting occurred on this shift. Just a series of random events that made up our day.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


"Tom Here"

"Hey Chief, It's Schmoe. How are you?"

"I'm good. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I'm sorry to bother you at home, but I thought I'd give you a heads up. You will be receiving a memo from me next shift recommending that we terminate Firefighter Struggle."

A short period of silence followed by a few soft chuckles and a groan comes from the receiver.

"Are you sure you want to do this? I'll back you up, but one and two are going to look at this one real hard. Plus, the training chief has a stake in this."

"I know Chief. Believe me, I've been thinking about this for quite a while. My fear is that Struggle has the absolute best day of his career and squeaks by with an 80. The second that test is over, he will go back to being a 65% guy. Our last drill was awful, the one before was almost as bad. We are still having to go over stuff that he passed on his six month test."

"Yeah Schmoe, I've been reading the daily training notes, I agree. How about the other stuff, the stuff around the station?"

"Well Chief, that's what makes this hard. I have never had a probationary employee who works as hard as Struggle. Maintenance, attitude, work ethic all of that stuff is out-freaking-standing. It's the critical stuff, the ability to perform under pressure and to work with a minimum of supervision, you know the stuff we get paid the big bucks for. That's whats lacking. Decision making skills aren't all that great either, Plus those evolutions that are mentioned in the training notes. I've been losing sleep over this."

"O.K, shoot me the memo, I'll call number two, I'll let him call number one and the training chief. I know your documentation is solid, just do me a favor and double check it. I know this is going to be scrutinized"

"All righty Chief, thanks for your help on this."

"No problem Schmoe, thanks for the heads up, this is going to be a pain in our ass for a while."

"I know, see ya."

"Good bye."

Thats it. That phone call happened within 60 seconds after finally making the decsision to ruin someones life. It was not a decsision that was arrived at on a whim, countless hours of thought went into it. It was one that I knew needed to happen, but kept hoping some switch would come on and improvements would occur.

Sometimes, I still wonder if maybe there was another option, that some way to salvage Struggle's career was out there and I just couldn't find it. People have ran into Struggle, he is doing well and has another good career going.

I last saw Struggle in a court room. I was sitting with the Chief of the Department waiting for the trial to begin. Our attorney and Struggle's attorney went into chambers with the judge and Struggle came over to say hello. We had a nice conversation, of course we didn't discuss the case. I was glad to hear Struggle was doing well, as was Number One.

After 10 minutes or so, the judge came out and told us that there had been a settlement and dismissed the jury. It turned out that the district had settled for less the cost of a well used car. The amount wouldn't even cover Struggle's legal fees. I felt good that I didn't have to testify and that we had "won", but it still bothered me a little that we paid anything.

I know Struggles lawer probably got most of the cash to cover his expenses. We later found out that Struggles was talked into litigation by another unsuccessful rookie. We won that case too.

We always do.

Thanks for reading,
Just another Joe, keeping the wolves from the door.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

First Day at the Kinda Big Fire Protection District.

Welcome FF Newby. I'm Captain Schmoe and I will be your supervisor for the next 6 months or so.

I am sure you have a lot of questions, but we have a tremendous amount of material that we need to cover today. I will ask if you have any questions periodically, so just save your questions until then.

Grab your safety gear and meet me on the apparatus floor. Well Newby, I am sure your mom does call it the garage, but here we call it the apparatus floor.

This is your seat, it is called the #4 spot. Put your gear here, so you can get to it quickly and you can keep track of it. Any time you are on the rig, you are to wear your seat belt. There are no exceptions to this. If you do not wear your seat belt, a little bell goes off and a red light flashes on the dash. I will know exactly who isn't strapped in. The little green head set there is yours. It allows me to communicate with you, and if I should want it, it allows you to communicate with me. Leave the microphone off, If we need to hear you say something, we'll let you know.

You are to stay in your seat until you are directed to get off of the rig, or at the scene of an emergency, until you hear Cyndi set the spring brakes. Unless directed otherwise, just follow The Prince and do what he tells you.

Any time the rig is going to back up, you will be the back up man. Cyndi will tell you to dismount, at which time you will get off of the rig and go to the rear. Your mission at that point will be to act as another set of eyes so we don't back into anything.

Do you have that nifty little notebook that they told you to get? Good. Now write down your first assignment: 1. Learn the six basic hand signals that apply to safe backing. 2. Get with Cyndi and find out how she wants you back her up. Do you have any issues with taking directions from a woman? No? That's good. Don't get on Cyndi's bad side, she will tear you up. 3. Be prepared to demonstrate the information you obtained about backing at roll call next shift.

Now, lets go into the kitchen. Still have your notebook out? Good write all of this down, I only want to go over this once.

This is your domain. Every firefighter that has come before you has served in the kitchen. You must keep the sink clear, the counters clear and clean and the table neat and tidy. This means all of the time. In addition, the floor will be mopped, the stove wiped down and the counters wiped after each meal. It is your job to run the dishwasher and empty it as needed. You are also responsible to ensure that our fridge and our cabinet gets cleaned out on the first and last shift of each cycle. If those C shift weasels try to pawn off their three day old salad on us let me know and I will dump it back in their fridge.

You need to make sure that the salt, pepper sugar and creamer gets filled every morning and that the paper towel stand is placed on the table before each meal.

Now the most important part of the kitchen. This is the Bunn VPR coffee maker. I know that you read tha Fire Geezer BLOG, and I know that the Geeze makes coffee while the crew checks out the rig. It's not like that here, you and you alone are responsible for making sure that there is always fresh coffee available, at least until noon. After that, check and see if anyone still wants coffee. Don't ever let me see the Chief making coffee, it won't be good for either of us.

I know that this is hard to believe, but you will be judged as a firefighter partly on how well you keep the kitchen. I suggest that you hook up with Ricketts and pick up a few pointers, you don't want to screw this up.

No Newby, I don't think it would be a good idea for your mom to bring you dinner. We usually have community chow. You will learn how to cook sooner or later.

We are not like the Very Big City Fire Dept. We will allow you to eat with us at the table. Those knuckle draggers make their boots eat at the tailboard out of a dog bowl. That's just mean. We, above all else are an organization based on love. Tough love, but love none the less.
Lets go into the office and start the formal stuff.

O.K. Newby, I know you're probably a little nervous. I know I was. Here's the deal: Our probation is flat out tough. I will not deny that. But, it is not impossible. Every person that you have met who wears our badge has had the same doubts and fears as you have. They have all succeeded, just as I have. If I made it, the odds are you can too.

You may know some of this stuff, but I have to document that I have explained it to you. Our probationary period is one year. During that year, you can be terminated for failure to meet probationary standards. These standards have both objective and subjective components.
You will be given a written test at the 5 month and at the 11 month point. Each test is about 200 questions and will cover IFSTA manuals, district S.O.P.s, District Information Sheets and manipulative lesson plans. In addition, you will have to know the unit inventory and be able to completely fill in a district map by the 5 month test and you will have to be able to outline the Fire Code by your 11 month test. You must pass these written tests with a score of 80%. If you score below 80% on either of these tests, you will be terminated.

In addition to the written tests, you will be given a practical exam at the 6 month and the 12 month point. You will be tested on the various evolutions that are outlined in your probationary manual. The evolutions will be run one after the other, with occasional breaks for rehydration. I know you are not used to the climate here, so you will need to work on increasing you ability to work in the heat and altitude that we have.

The practicals usually last 4 to 5 hours. While performing the evolutions, the examiners will be asking you questions about the evolution, equipment and procedures. This is to see if you can still think and speak when you are tired.
You must complete the practical exams with a score of 80%. You are allowed to fail one evolution, but remember that the average score for all evolutions must be at least 80%, so it is vital that you get as many points on each evolution. Again, if your final score is below 80 or if you fail two events, back to the ambulance company you go.

You are responsible to learn an incredible amount of information. All of your spare time here at work should be spent in the books. I will make sure that you get enough drill time to master all of the practical evolutions, but the written stuff you are responsible for.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a subjective component to your performence as well. Attitude, adaptability, ability to work under pressure, descision making ability are all things that I have to evaluate while determining your ability to work here.

All aspects of your performance will be documented on a daily basis, both good and bad. Each shift, I will make entries in your probationary outline that will address the training you were provided, your perfromance and whether it met our expectations. Subjective notes will be entered as well. I will retain control of your book, although you may make copies of the daily entries. I will have you sign the daily notes each day, so there won't be any surprises.

Ricketts or Prince will probably give you a sheet titled "Expected Rookie Behavior" or something like that. Use it as a guideline for your actions while on duty. However, there are a few things on there that I do not want you to do. When they give it to you, bring it to me and I will cross out the things I have a problem with.

Okay, we still have a lot more to cover, but you need to check the coffee status and learn how to do the dailys. Make a fresh pot real quick and then get with the Prince to do the daily checks.
One last thing. I heard about your little send off from the ambulance company, the shin-dig over at O'Malleys. I also heard you may have had a little too much beer and that you were running your mouth off about working here. You gotta be careful, people don't like that kind of behavior, especially from a boot who hasn't worked a shift yet. You don't need that kind of publicity. You need to keep a low profile, both on and off the job.

My advice to you is to keep your ears open and your mouth shut. Please, whatever you do, don't tell us how you got it done at the Little Bitty Volunteer Fire Dept.

You better check the coffee.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, August 3, 2009

Big Picture - Wildfires

The Big Picture is a photo-blog that is published by the Boston Globe. The author picks a subject and selects 20-30 of the best images available on the subject.

The most recent Big Picture subject is the wildfires that are burning around the Mediterranean. As a former pilot, a firefighter and someone who likes to take photographs, I can tell you that these are some of the best I have seen in a long time. It is worth a look. They can be found at:

Thanks for checking in,