Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ask Capt. Schmoe

Occasionally, I get e-mails asking for some sort of advice. Usually, they are questions about how to become a firefighter or how to ace that all-important Chief's interview. Sometime, I receive questions that pertain to difficult issues common to the fire service. Here are a few that I found memorable and my responses to them:

Dear Capt. Schmoe,

I am a firefighter on a busy engine company. Occasionally, we may have a series of calls, or even a long call that causes us to miss a meal. I advise my Lt. that I am hungry and that it has been more than seven hours since my last eating period. He either ignores my complaint or tells me to "suck it up". 

How do I convince my Lt. that I really am hungry and that it hurts my feelings when he disregards my concerns?

Thanks in advance for your advice,

Hungry in Hanford

Dear Hungry,

Quit being such a whiny sissy. Buy some granola bars and some Monster energy drink and keep them on the rig. When duty calls and prevents you from scarfing down a burger, use the granola bar to provide some nutrition and the Monster to provide a "jolt".

As far as your Lt. goes, follow his advice. SUCK IT UP. I don't think that homeowner who is watching his house burn to the ground is concerned about you missing a meal.

Lose my e-mail address, find a new job. I hear Wal-Mart is hiring, maybe you could land a position in the Sniveling Bitch Dept.

Thanks for asking,


Dear Capt. Schmoe,

I am a Captain in a medium sized municipal fire dept. located in northern Illinois. My girlfriend and I are growing weary of the severe winters here and are thinking of moving to either Florida, Arizona or California. I was recently offered a position in the Los Angeles County Fire Dept. but I turned it down because I heard they make all of their new firefighters go to medic school after they complete probation.

Is there any way you could help me get a job with the Kinda Big Fire Protection District? It sounds like a great place to work and I think that I would fit in, as I like to eat Mexican food and I like to play in the dirt.

Any help that you provide would be greatly appreciated, 

Yours truly,
Chilly in Chicago 

Dear Chilly,


Are you stupid? Have all those cold winters turned your brain into perma-frost? You turned down LAC because you didn't want to go to medic school?

I don't think that you are smart enough to make it in the K.B.F.P.D. LAC is one of the best departments to work for in So Cal, anyone dumb enough to turn that gig down isn't going to make it here. Besides, any moron can eat Mexican food, we need people who can COOK Mexican food.

Also, playing in the dirt and living in the dirt are two different things. Look it up.

Just be thankful you don't work/live in Fargo ND. I hear it's really cold up there.

Thanks for asking, you idiot,


Dear Capt. Schmoe,

I am a brand new Chief  Officer for a mid-sized fire department. I am enjoying my new position very much and I find the challenges that it presents very stimulating. Taking this job is the best career move that I have ever made.

The lone thorn in my shoe is one of my senior captains. He is nearing retirement age (as am I) and he doesn't always have the same priorities as the management team or even myself. Although he takes his job seriously, he doesn't seem to think that certain administrative tasks are all that important and he sometimes places them at the bottom of his priority list when they should be near the top.

What am I to do?

Mystified in the Mojave

Dear Mystified,

At last, an easy question. Although the psychological and emotional needs of the senior fire captain are quite complex, the answer to your dilemma is very simple indeed.

Except for life safety issues, the emotional needs of the captain have to be the number one priority. He is preparing to enter a potentially chaotic period of his life, one that will change his status in society and his image of himself. It is imperative that he enter this life phase with the highest level of self esteem possible.

Therefore, my advice to you is to simply let it go. The senior captain is very likely correct, when he states that the minutiae is low priority in the grand scale of things. Recognize that it is all about him and that what the Fire Chief  or the Board of Commissioners think is important, might not be so.

Remember always that "old guys"  should get their way when ever possible. That you took the effort to ask this question tells me that you are a caring and sensitive leader. Keep up the good work.

Thanks for the question,


Good questions and even better responses. The questions should be good, I wrote them myself. Should any of you have questions about life, work or the fire service, feel free to drop me a line. My responses will be equally as well thought out as the ones above., after all I am full of advice and full of myself.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Something I have always wondered about you Americans. In Australia it has always been that the fire brigades handled fires and the ambulance service sick people. Recently in Melbourne the government has trained a number of the fire brigades to be able to responded to 000 calls (and ambulance will be sent as well) with the idea that the fire fighters may be able to get there sooner and that can make a difference.

    What do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of both systems? This is coming about in Australia because theres a lack of ambos was this the case in the US or did it come about for more noble reasons?

  2. I'll go a head and answer this one.

    The type of services offered by a fire department (fire brigade to you) very from region to region.

    Some regions have fire departments that are fire only, and rescue squads or private ambo companies that handle EMS.

    Some regions have fire departments that run medical calls like the KBFPD and use either rescue squads or private ambo companies to transport. Those departments will also usually have their members assist as extra help during transport if needed.

    The places that have fire and EMS combined, well EMS makes money in the United States. Also by combining 2 agencies into 1, there is less cost for municipalities because members of these departments are cross trained.

    The only shortages in the states are volunteers and paramedics. There aren't enough of either.

  3. Very good question and a very good answer. I will post another Ask Capt. Schmoe in the future and I will have a smart-ass satirical answer that will be sure to offend someone on both sides.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Mad Jack - I'm saving those questions for a future post, though i may have to paraphrase them. Thanks.

  4. Dang, Schmoe....wouldja tell us what you really think? I'm going to have to move on, cause there's no blog post that's going to make me laugh as much this morning.

    I'm off to bake some cookies for my Captain. He probably needs a boost.

  5. Anon - Good idea about the cookies for the Captain, remember, it's all about him. I'm glad you got a chuckle out of it, you never know with satire.

    Thanks for the comment

  6. What do you think are the advantages or disadvantages of both systems?< This is coming about in Australia because theres a lack of ambos

    So the government's solution to a lack of "ambos" is... send firefighters. Ok.

    Sounds like government healthcare 101- identify a problem, then provide the exact opposite of the correct solution.

    Silly me, I would have thought the solution to a lack of ambulances would be.... more ambulances. You're getting far too close to the US solution, where a lack of $100,000 ambulances is "solved" with $600,000 fire trucks.

    was this the case in the US or did it come about for more noble reasons?

    Sometimes. In other situations, far LESS noble reasons.

    The only shortages in the states are volunteers and paramedics. There aren't enough of either.

    There's plenty of paramedics. They're just in the wrong places. The "paramedic shortage" is a fallacy created by fire chiefs who think that if one paramedic on an EMS call is good, 6 must be better.

  7. I am sorry that CBEMT has decided to take cheap political shots borne of his personal political convictions rather than thoughtfully answering the question.

    Adding more ambulances to better response times would indeed solve the problem. However, consider that this means you have to shell out more money in labor costs - and that my friends is far more expensive than apparatus.

    Also consider that common sense and existing standards (AHA and NFPA 1710) suggest that you need more than two people on a serious medical call. What are you going to do - tie up two ambulances to accomplish this?

    If you already have an existing paid fire department that is not doing EMS, chances are they are underutilized. Take that crew and train them to do medical response. They can get to the scene a whole lot faster than your existing ambulance fleet. They can then stabilize the patient and provide additional manpower for transport if needed. This would seem to me to be leveraging existing resources to solve an existing problem - rather than engaging in raising government spending as CBEMT would have you do.

    My department does fire, rescue, EMS, hazmat etc. We staff our engines with four and our ambulances with two. One person on each crew is a medic. We find this to be a very efficient and flexible configuration.

    I would also disagree with CBEMTs assertion that there is not a paramedic shortage. It is very real in some parts of the country.

  8. Hungry in Hanford,
    Put some jerky in one jacket pocket, a water bottle in the other, and suck it up. Jerky provides long-lasting energy in the form of lean protein, and requires no refrigeration.