The truth about firefighting from an old experienced firefighter
Author: Bobbie Scopa
I've been a wildland and municipal firefighter for over 40 years. I've held positions from firefighter up through the ranks to Chief and above. Over the years I've gathered many surprising and funny stories. Most have a good leadership lesson for all of us. I hope you enjoy them.
Diversity in our firefighting workforce sounds like just another politically motivated issue. And there are some who may try to pick up the torch and run with it just to help “their side.” But the issue isn’t about politics. It’s about service to the public. How do we as fire service professionals provide the very best cost effective and efficient service to the public? I’m not going to discuss all the details of why it’s important for a fire department to reflect the community they protect including women and minorities of all types. That discussion would be long and could get heated with some old school folks. But take a few minutes to watch an interview that has been on the Seattle PBS station. I think you’ll find it interesting.
While reading some blogs and webpages for people effected by the latest round of devastating wildfires, it occured to me that everyone is incredibly stressed right now. Homeowners have had to flee for their lives, leaving pets and all their worldly possessions. Once evacuated they’re not allowed to re-enter their neighborhood. Now away from their home, they have to live in someone else’s home or camp out. School, mail delivery, jobs… its all up in the air while you don’t even know if your home is still ok or if it is a pile of ash. That’s a horrible thought.
The firefighters too are dealing with stress. Some of them may have left their homes as well while not knowing if they’ve survived the fire storms. Additionally, firefighters are dealing with great stressors while they fight the fire. Short of sleep, long arduous days, frustrations of not having enough resources to fight the fire, problems associated with their tasks, etc. The list goes on and their frustrations have to be kept under control.
Keep in mind that the same firefighters working so hard today have probably been at it for months now. Federal firefighters move from one part of the country to another as the fire season evolves. Those hotshot crews in Arizona in April are now in California in late August and September. The engine and crew firefighters have been working more than 16 hours a day for months now. They may get a couple days off every two weeks, but they’re under a lot of stress too.
Please share this story with your friends and family, especially if they’re anywhere near a fire.
In my life, I’ve experienced some pretty crazy incidents. Like all of us, many of those stressful events and emergency incidents don’t always occur on the fireground. We all have plenty of personal stress and trauma in our lives. Many years ago, it hit me all in one month. I had 2 significant emotional events take place… and one minor one. But the cummulative effect was significant. The first was the Dude Fire, which if you’re a regular listener, you’ve heard me talk about. 6 brave firefighters were killed on that fire. The next event was a near tragedy involving my children. And as a parent, anytime your kids are at risk due to your own negligence… well that fear and guilt and worry just piled on to my personal emotional trauma from the Dude. The last event was really minor in nature, but it figures significantly into the story.
But the question is; how do we take care of ourselves? And how do we take care of each other. Today’s story is just about the crew of firefighters I worked with and how they reacted to the stress I was experiencing.
As always, thanks for listening and even though we’re on track to have 400,000 story downloads by the end of 2021, I still appreciate comments and suggestions for the stories. Be safe out there.
Years ago, I worked for a Battalion Chief who was a great mentor for me. I was a new Captain and didn’t have much support from the other officers on the fire department, let alone support from a Chief officer. But my Battalion Chief gave me some real pearls of wisdom. He had two that stuck with me the most. The first pearl was “Don’t worry, you’ll outlive the bastards.” That was his way of telling me not to worry about all the old school guys I worked with. I would survive them. And I did too.
But the second pearl that I remembered all these years was, “No matter what, make it sound good on the radio.” I didn’t quite understand the lesson he was trying to teach me. But I eventually did understand it. And the story today is how I learned the lesson he was trying to teach me with his simple statement.
After listening to this story, I hope you can appreciate the importance of “sounding good on the radio.”
If you’re a federal wildland firefighter, you already know what I’m about to say. If you’re not, this may come as a surprise to you. The lowest paid people on a large wildfire… I’m including the kitchen help and those who are cleaning the toilets, the lowest paid personnel on the fire are likely the federal wildland firefighters. There might be some contract personnel down on that list, but for all the “hero firefighter” bs that we hear, isn’t it amazing that our firefighters are so pooly paid.
Municipal firefighters and some state firefighters can make more than twice as much as a federal wildland firefighter. And technically, the federal agencies who hire the fireghters don’t technically have any “firefighters”. The correct job title of the federal firefighters are actually “forestry technician” or “range technician”. If they were in a firefighter job title, they’d have to be paid more.
There is an organization called “Grassroots Wildland Firefighters” who are advocating for the federal wildland firefighters. This past week, their Executive Secretary testified before the Congressional Natural Resources subcomittee. Riva Duncan is a regular on my podcasts and this week we’ll be talking about the issues facing federal wildland firefighters including their pay, the correct job series (job title) and their health. Please listen and then share with all your friends and family who probably don’t understand the issues facing our dedicated and outstanding workforce.
Sometimes we think no one is watching us. But in reality, someone is always watching. Whether you’re a firefighter on a crew or engine, or you’re a Captain or Chief, someone is always watching you. That doesn’t mean it’s like big brother looking over your shoulder all the time. It’s just the way it is. Your subordinates, co-workers and supervisors are always watching. And that means you’re having an effect on those folks. It means you’re influencing those around you whether you mean to be or not. People are influenced by the words you use and the actions you take. It’s real life.
Knowing that those around you are being influenced by your behavior is an important lesson to accept. It took me years to understand that. Today’s story demonstrates just how much our actions can impact on those around us. Please take a few minutes to listen and think about the story. As always I appreciate any feedback and thanks for listening.
If you google “Leading Up”, you’ll find a hundred of books on the subject. But for this retired fire chief, it’s a relatively new term compared to when I started reading about leadership and attending leadership courses in the 1970s and 80s. But I susggest you read up on the subject if you haven’t already. I started hearing the term back in the early 2000s. But never understood exactly what it meant other than how to influence your boss.
This week’s story gives you my take on how we “Lead Up”. I’m not the definitive authority of the subject, but I think I can offer some insights from my 4 decades of experience.
We had a small technical glitch towards the end of the recording. So you won’t hear from the other folks present during the recording. We’re approaching over 250,000 story downloads so far. So as usual, I want to say thanks for listening. Please share any comments you have so others have the opportunity to learn from your experiences too.
I used to tell my firefighters that if it weren’t for people’s mistakes, we wouldn’t have jobs. There’s a lot of truth to that statement. People make mistakes and end up having to call 911. Thanks to my friend Ann, today we get to hear a couple stories of mistakes that could have had tragic outcomes. Instead luck intervened. Rather than tragedy we are offered a great learning opportunity. Listen to our laughter as Ann shares her close calls with home safety issues. Please share with your friends and family who might benefit from learning without the near tragedy. Thanks to everyone who’s listening to the stories.
If you’ve listened to many of my stories, you’ve probably heard me refer to my beloved co-workers as knuckleheads. Well, we’re all knuckeheads sometimes. In this weeks story I’ll prove to you a few times that I was certainly one. The easier and quicker we are to admit it, the better it is for us. And not only is it important to admit it, we can improve our status with our employees when we do.
I’ll describe some of the team building and camaraderie that can develop by being honest, admiting your mistakes and moving on. Some good natured teasing can ensue. Take it with a smile and know that you’re a part of the team when the guys are giving you a hard time. Hope you get a laugh and take home an easy leadership lesson too. And as always, thanks for listening.
We all have to deal with our supervisors at work. And while we’re dealing with our boss, our employees are having to deal with us as their supervisor. So we’re both an employee and a supervisor. That makes life interesting. We can bitch about our boss while at the same time our employees are bitching about us. A little self awareness can help us be better employees and better supervisors. Listen to this story and see if you have some ideas to make you a better employee and a better boss.
Often times in life, it’s the little things we do that are remembered. As a leader, we have to be aware that what we say and how we behave can have a big impact on our employees. And how we make our employees feel about us as their leader will effect their job performance and ultimately all our successes and failures. Listen to a story about how a small act engendered goodwill that I hope made a difference in several hundred firefighter’s lives. Please leave a comment if you enjoy this or any of the previous stories. Thanks for listening.
As firefighters we usually try to portray ourselves as tough and capable. And for the most part we are. But even tough firefighters have emotions. This story isn’t about all the bad things we’ve seen and the emotional toll it takes on our mental health. But it is about the emotional let down that we may experience after a long two or three week wildland fire assignment. Everyone is different of course. This week’s story is just about my own reactions to the stresses of a long stressful fire assignment. I’d love to hear your comments about your own experiences. Please leave a comment.
Sometimes life can get a bit anxious. Staying calm can help us maneuver through the rough water we encounter. Life can throw alot of enexpected challenges our way. Research has proven that when we begin to panic we actually reduce our field of vision. In other words we are unable to take in as much information as is available because our brain is shutting down to new inputs. The answer is to stay calm. But that isn’t always easy to do. Preparing is critical if we want to avoid panic during a critical episode. Having a contingency plan is one we can prepare. So is talking with our family about all the “what if’s.” Do you have an home fire escape plan? Have you spoken to your children about what to do if there is a house fire at night? What about a “go bag” if you live in an area prone to earthquakes, floods or fires? Think about it, talk about it with your family and make some plans. I hope this story helps you think more about how to stay calm when the next challenge comes your way.
Firefighters will recognize what might seem like unusual or unique situations to the public becomes common place for emergency responders. The public might not realize just how often weird things happen. But for firefighters, that’s our bread and butter. Poor decisions and whacky behavior is what gives us job security. if everyone behaved maturely and with good intent, we would be responding to fewer calls. Today’s story is about a couple instances that you might be surprised to learn about. I hope you have a great day and enjoy listening to this short story.
If you’ve listened to many of my stories, you know that there is always a surprise right around the corner. If you’re a firefighter, you know how surprising some of the calls we all respond to can be. You NEVER really know what you’re likely to find once you arrive on scene. No two calls are ever the same. And today’s story is about a fire that certainly wasn’t the same as most.
Thanks to all of you listeners. Through your listening, the website gets more and more traffic. Some of my stories will be included in an audiobook expected to come out this spring. This isn’t my book but a netflix channel and blog are including a story or two of mine. TheMeatEaters.com has a TV show on netflix as well as podcasts. Now they’re coming out with an audiobook that will feature stories about the dangers of the great outdoors. I’ll keep you posted on that one.
A few months ago, I was included in a podcast series called, How to Save a Planet. The particlar podcast I was on was all about the wildfires this past summer and how we got into the predicament we’er in now. For this topic, please listen to episode #53 about the california fires.
Until my own book comes out, which will be more my life than just fire stories, I hope you’ll keep listening to these stories giving you a glimpse into the life of a firefighter. Thanks to everyone.
I believe there have been 240 trillion books written about leadership. (that’s an exaggeration) I’ve read a lot of them and thought half of them might have actually been useful. But after working in the fire service for over 40 years, I think I have a reasonable perspective of what good leadership might look like. I’m not representing myself as a leadership expert. But I am an expert on what I experienced over those 40 plus years. Listen to this story and let me know what you think. As always, thanks for listening.
This week’s title could fill volumes of books about how “erratic human behavior” costs society in so many ways. You might think fighting fire is a pretty straight forward operation. I think it used to be simpler. Or maybe it seemed that way because when I held positions lower down in the organization I didn’t have to deal with the politics. That might be a part of it. But as fires have gotten bigger, they involve more and more communities and infrastructure. Imagine a fire where you might be dealing with a County government administrator and possibly a mayor of a small town. Now muliply that by 5 and you get an idea of the politics that fire chiefs/managers are dealing with. And don’t forget all the utility companies, highway departments, railroads, etc etc. Every one of those entities has some involvement during a large wildfire. This story is about one tiny landowner and how that landowner impacted the work and the success of many firefighters during a large wildland fire.
Romanticing the past is pretty normal for all of us. I hear myself doing it when I’m complaining about changes to the neighborhood where I grew up. Sport Complaining (Episode #28) done in moderation can be cathartic if it isn’t taken to extremes. But in the fire service (both wildland and structural) talking about the “Good Old Days” can drive me crazy. Those days weren’t all that great. They were just the days we knew and became comfortable with. It is important to recognize that nothing stays the same. Not our neighborhood, not our children, not our jobs.. and that’s ok. It really is. What is important is to know that changes are always happening and maybe we should engage to help guide that change. Not to drag our heals to keep everything the same, but to use our influence and leadership to positively move foward in the most effective way possible. Remember the old saying, “The Fire Service, 200 Years of Tradition Unimpeded by Progress”. Let’s do better. I hope this week’s story gives you pause to think and also makes you chuckle. As always, thanks for listening.
The experienced Division Supervisor was extremely distraught over what had just happened…
If you listen to many of my stories you probably already know that this week’s title might be a bit tongue in cheek… and of course it is. What you’ll hear is a story of how firefighters had to deal with an angry landowner at a large brush fire. The farmer had his own idea about how the firefighters should be fighting the fire. He didn’t really care about what the firefighters thought. He was worried about his wheat crop that was in the path of the brush fire. It was a large fire and to be honest, his crop really was at risk of being burned by the oncoming fire. But the firefighters were experienced and their priority after life safety was protection of property and that standing crop was very valuable. The firefighters would do their best to protect it. The farmer wasn’t listening. I hope you’ll listen to the story and understand one more of the complexities that firefighters are dealing with in the rural west.
Today feels weird and disorienting to me. Well, It’s been feeling weird and disorienting for a few weeks. The images above probably give you the topics that are making me feel odd. Tomorrow is the 19 year anniversary of the attacks on New Your City. You may have listened to some of my stories from the weeks I spent working there at the pile. We’re also into the 6th or 7th month of isolation due to covid-19. Now to top it off, wildland fires are ravaging and destroying communities throughout California, Oregon and Washington. It can wear on you even if you’re not being evacuated from your home due to a wildfire. It can wear on you even if you weren’t in NYC on September 11, 2001. It can wear on you even if you haven’t lost anyone to covid-19. Today’s story is just about that general unease you may be sharing with me today.
A few of the stories on this website related to today’s topic are…
#53, California Fires – Raking the Forest, August 21 2020
#46, YOU Can and Should Protect Your Home from Wildfire, June 29 2020
#13, Memories from the World Trade Center after 9-11, September 12 2019
My hope is that after listening to this week’s story you’ll want to listen to some of the related stories and develop an interest in learning what we can do to support each other and our communities. We really do have the ability to help make our lives better and our communities safer. Most importantly, I hope we can be tolerant and understanding while everyone is feeling stressed, anxious and maybe a bit overwhelmed.
About a month ago my good friend Mark Sigrist passed away. He worked for the US Forest Service for many years and was an experienced firefighter and Operations Section Chief. When I first became an Ops Chief myself, Mark was the senior Ops Chief on my team and mentored me in his own classic style. Looking back on those days I was nearly un-mentorable. But Mark did mentor me and I did learn. What he taught me were his values. First, be good at your job and don’t do anything half assed. Be professional and most of all, be concerned about the firefighters who we’re supervising. That last item was very important to Mark. He was always concerned about their safety, health and comfort.
Mark was a mentor to many of us on that Incident Management Team. I have two brothers, but Mark was the brother I never had. He was that big mountain of a man that everyone loved. And through all that serious and critically important issues facing fire chiefs everywhere, Mark told me it was OK to laugh and have a good time at work. I already did laugh at work. But I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate at this level of the organization and when was it OK. Mark was all business on the job and especially while on a fire. But when we were relaxed and not worrying about people’s lives and property, he made us all laugh. He was tough when necessary but kind and tender when that was needed by his co-workers and friends. But when I think of Mark I will smile and laugh because that’s what I loved most about him. He made me laugh. And in this life, we need as much of that as we can get.
To his family, all I can say is thank you for sharing Mark with us while he was alive. He spent so much time with us during the summers and I know that’s time he wasn’t with you. So thank you. To everyone else, here’s a tiny glimpse into one man’s life and how he impacted his firefighting co-workers around him.
Today (August 21, 2020) while listening to the news, I heard the familiar refrain that if California would only “rake the forest” they wouldn’t be having all these fires. This story is not about what you hear in the news or about our current leadership in Washington. But I do want to describe what it takes to make our forests and wildlands safer from fire. As I’ve described in previous stories, it is not easy to treat the fuels in our wildlands. It doesn’t matter if it’s a forest or brush or even just grass. It might be a federally managed Park or a National Forest. Maybe it’s a private or corporately owned timber production area. You may own 20 acres in the back country yourself. Or even more likely, you may live in a house surrounded by a beautiful natural landscape.
What’s important to keep in mind is that all the fires burning in California right now are not even burning in what we think of as a Forest. Many of the fires are burning in brush lands. There may be big trees scattered throughout the brush, but many of the fires are burning small state parks and individual’s small plots of lands. This isn’t gross mismanagement of public lands. To be more specific, there were more than 70,000 lightning strikes across California during their driest part of the year. Plus, the State is beginning to enter drought conditions once again. 70,000 lightning strikes on dry natural vegetation is going to start a lot of fires. I don’t care where you live.
So before you get all riled up, I’m not suggesting we can’t do more than we are now. I’ve been working for more funding and better regulations for years. And keep in mind I’m coming to this discussion with 45 years of experience and multiple degrees including a Masters of Forestry. I’ve been a prescribed burning practitioner and a fuels management expert for a long time. There are some who have more experience than me. But that list isn’t that long either. Lets just agree that this is a complex issue. And we really need public support for the agencies managing our wildlands and we need private land owners and homeowners to take some responsibility for themselves. And “Rakes”… rakes are critical around your own home to keep the pine needles away from your home. That’s about it.
Living and sleeping at large wildfires can be challenging. This year with the Covid virus it’s even more challenging. But this week’s story is about sleeping in a busy fire camp. I’ve also included a few pictures from a fire camp for those of you who might not have ever had the pleasure of living in the dirt and dust for weeks on end. The pictures will illustrate just how amazing the folks who work in the Logistics Section are. The firefighters get all the kudos but to all the folks working back in camp in Logistics, Finance and Planning, my hat is off to you.
The following photos show firefighters during their morning briefing, the kitchen units, showers, sleeping trailers and tents, the office area, etc. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this peek into the life of firefighters at a large wildfire.
In 1988 many firefighters from around the United States and Canada ended up in Yellowstone National Park assigned to the many fires in and near the park. Some firefighters made multiple trips to the area. I only made it for one trip to the fires there but that assignment lasted 30 days. It was an interesting time to be sure. I had never been on a fire so far from home (Arizona) and had never been on a fire for so long (30 days). After a few weeks I thought I might never get home. I missed my son’s first day of kindergarten. When I called home, the kids would cry, I would cry… It was a tough time. But there were adventures to be had. The firefighting was intense, the scenery was amazing and the inter-personal interactions were often quite entertaining.
This week I’ve included 4 short stories that you should find interesting and entertaining. It’s definitely a behind the scenes kind of view of what happens at a large, long term fire incident. There were many other short stories that could be included this week but I don’t think you want to spend 2 hours of your day listening to me reminiscing and laughing with my friends. These are good examples of hard working, professional and committed firefighters… who also qualify as knuckleheads. Hope you enjoy this weeks story. Thanks for listening everyone.
Today’s story is about different communications styles in our work environment. I can’t tell this story without using the actual colorful language that you might hear around the fire ground. So I apologize if my language offends anyone. If you have tender ears, you might want to bypass this week’s story. For those of you still brave enough to listen, you’re sure to get a chuckle if not more. Even though the stories this week are humorous, as usual there is a bigger point to be made. And as often the case, the message has to do with communications on the fire ground. I will not be suggesting that the F Bomb is my preferred communications tool. But you’ll hear when I used it and got the desired outcome. Besides the instances in this week’s story, I have many more that I could use to illustrate the point.
Although this story takes place in New York City following the 9-11 attacks, it is not about the incident itself. If you want to hear about my experiences following the attack, I posted a story about 9-11 on September 12th 2019. Episode 13. That story is quite serious. This is not. And I do not want to disrespect anyone since the setting for today’s story is NYC following that horrible day. It just so happens to be my first exposure to New York City Cops and Firefighters. We were all tired, stressed and over worked. Sometimes you just get some funny results from that combination.
Huge thanks to those of you who are out on the firelines this summer. Your work keeps us, our loved ones and our property safe from wildfires. And also thanks for those of you non-firefighter listeners. You all make this effort worthwhile for me. Hope you enjoy this week’s story and as always, please share my website with your friends.
Folks everywhere are stressed right now with the threat of Covid virus and everything else going on, so I thought I’d tell a couple of stories that should make you laugh and distract you from the news. As I’ve mentioned in my earlier stories, the public doesn’t really know what goes on at the scene of an emergency. Our intent is to provide excellent patient care and customer service. I think we always did when I was still working. But there is some funny stuff that happens too. Or in my case, my immature brain takes over and I have some funny thoughts that I don’t say out loud.
In this week’s story I’ll relate a few incidents that occurred at the same resort that was in my “first due” response area many years ago. We responded to the same place regularly and these short stories were pretty indicative of what we might see when we arrived on scene. I hope you enjoy this story and please share it with your friends and family. Stay safe everyone and mask up and wash up. Thanks.
I would never want listeners to think I’m man bashing. I loved working with the guys during my long fire career. But some men have been a bit more fun to work with than others. Today I’m going to tell you two stories. In the first story, the guy was clearly just mansplaining. And in the end, I hope he learned something about how to communicate with people. I learned something too. I learned that when the time is right, you have to stand up for yourself, even if it’s in a subtle non confrontational manner.
I think the guy in the second story was just testing me. He was also clearly messing with me. A form of hazing or pranking maybe. He was having some fun at my expense. It’s something I was quite used to and knew how to deal with. How we deal with these episodes in life can determine how we’re perceived, how well we’re accepted or not and how successful we are. This particular knucklehead and I became great friends. We went on to work well together and we continued to prank each other. I was just as guilty as he was. The score was tied by the time we both retired.
I hope you’re continuing to find my stories entertaining. But more importantly, I hope you find them useful, especially if you’re working in the fire service. Thanks for listening everyone and don’t forget to share this site with your friends.
Every year before the 4th of July, fireworks stands open up around the country. Depending on where you live, your access to certain types of fireworks may be restricted or maybe not. Some jurisdictions restrict aerial type fireworks, but some don’t. Even if fireworks are illegal in one city or county, they can easily be purchased elsewhere and brought in to another jurisdiction. During my 45 years in the fire service I’ve witnessed so many crazy incidents related to mis-use and mis-handling of fireworks. The same piece of fireworks may be safe in one location but totally unsafe in another depending on surrounding vegetation and age of the person using them. I have witnessed homes damaged by fire from a bottle rocket and injuries from the mishandling of easily purchased fireworks. Every firefighter has their own experiences with fireworks. It’s inevitable to be exposed to some crazy stuff. Hope you enjoy this week’s story and please comment and let me know where you heard about this website from. Thanks for listening everyone.
While I’m comfortably sitting here on my boat writing the introduction for this week’s story, thousands of firefighters are working hard to extinguish major wildfires throughout the southwestern US as well as Utah and Nevada. Before the summer season is over, thousands more will be deployed to large fires across California, Oregon, Washington and the rest of the western US. These deployments are in addition to the tens of thousands of initial attack fire responses in their local jurisdictions.
This time of year, my thoughts always wander back to the many experiences during my career when firefighters lives were either put at risk or tragically ended while attempting to protect a home or subdivision from wildfire. What makes this so frustrating is that homeowners and local politicians have the ability to directly impact upon firefighters successes or failures in these efforts. Please take a few minutes to listen to this weeks story. The actions you take as a result could save the life of a firefighter who is there to protect your life and your home. Please do your part. And as always, thanks for listening.
In my experience, the public and even firefighters themselves have a miopic view of the challenges facing firefighters on the fireground. They see the obvious dangers from fire. They don’t realize that sometimes there are other equally dangerous pitfalls awaiting us. There are critical challenges we have to deal with on fires that go beyond what you might think of. In today’s story I relate an incident where a newer female Division Supervisor had to figure out how to communicate with an older experienced tough and grizzled supervisor. The story also involves me as a supervisor of both of them and how I had to ensure they were working well together and communicating appropriately. Of course there will be the requisite laughs because in this business, you have to laugh at the messes we find ourselves in. Hope you enjoy the story and please leave comments where you found the story link? Thanks everyone.
Back in the mid 1980s, I got a fire assignment to take a strike team of type 1 engines (city fire engines) to southern California (from Arizona) for a large wildfire that was burning into a city. This was my dream. I always thought that southern California wildires were the most challenging and exciting to fight. Over the 45 years of my career I fought many fires in California and throughout the US but California fires are often very unique. Any large incident is going to have it’s complexities and the more influences on a fire, the more complex it gets. Politics, fire behavior, fuels, wildland-urban interface, etc etc. The complexities in southern California are endless. Fast foward about 20 years… Today’s story takes place in 2003 and I was involves a simple assignment I was given on another large California fire. I was told to take 6 bulldozers and build a fireline behind an affluent subdivision and prepare to burn out the fireline in preparation of the main fire coming down the mountain. Seems like a simple straightforward assignment. But nothing ever turns out to be that simple or straight forward. Listen to what happens but keep in mind what can happen to your at your job. Remember, have realistic expectations and be flexible at work. You just never know what might happen.
After the last week of social unrest and violence, I thought I would lighten the mood a little with a short story of life around the fire station. I am definitely not calling all firefighters knuckleheads but… well sometimes we can be a bit immature. It comes from working hard and often under stressful conditions. The public is always watching us and we have to exude a professional, confident demeanor. Of course we want everyone to trust us because we Really are competent and wanting to serve the public. But when we’re back in the station, we relax. And when we relax sometimes we might be less than mature in the way we kid and joke and decompress. This story is just one of those times. It still makes me laugh out loud to think about. Hope you enjoy this week’s light hearted story and distracts you from the current craziness we’re living through.
This website has had nearly 80,000 story downloads so far. So I’d like to ask you to leave a comment about how you found BobbieOnFire.com. I’d love to know where everyone is coming from. Thanks all and we’ll see you next week.
Many fire departments and wildland fire agencies are currently preparing for the upcoming wildfire season. In parts of our country the season has been underway for some time but in much of the west, firefighters are spending time in “refresher classes” and taking their introductory wildland fire courses. Often times when we are sitting in those classes we’re thinking how we’ve heard this all before… or nothing is really going to happen that I haven’t already experienced, etc, etc. We minimize our risk and the more years of experience we have the less we think we have to learn.
Today’s story is a shortened version of a tragic wildfire where 6 firefighters were killed in a burn over. I’m telling this story to try and motivate firefighters to pay attention and take seriously their annual fire refresher training and other training courses. I hope hearing what happened to some experienced firefighters will help you stay focused during your training.
Have you ever wondered why firefighters love their jobs so much? Why do people voluntarily take jobs that put their personal safety at risk? Everyone wants a job that suits them. We want a career that we find enjoyable, gives us job satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from our labors. With that in mind, I would have been ill suited to be an accountant or a grammar school teacher for example. We don’t always find our perfect career fit but here’s some perspective about firefighters and how our personalities mesh with our work environment. Remember these are generalities but represent what I’ve seen and experienced. I hope you enjoy the insight into the mind of many firefighters and why we enjoy our jobs so much.
Among older and retired firefighters, I often hear about the “Good ‘Ol Days”. “Why by god… back when we could… bla bla bla.” There are lots of things that were pretty cool about the Good ‘Ol Days. Back then we could ride on the tailboard of a fire engine. That was fun. Of course firefighters died riding back there too. They fell off, got run over, had head injuries, etc. By by god, those were the good old days. I was subjected to some less than professional behavior “back in the good ‘ol days” too. Some things about the good old days really were better. But there is much that I’m glad we left behind. This week, I’ll tell a story about my first controlled burn. I was young and not very experienced, but had the opportunity to try something new. At the time no one I knew was burning in the desert scrub in Arizona to learn from. The nearby Coronado National Forest started their controlled burn program after I started mine.
This story relates how youth and enthusiasm coupled with a little knowledge and experience can accomplish great things… and sometimes be a failure. I would say at the bottom of my balance sheet, my experiences were positive and helped me become an asset as an experienced burner. Over the years I gained more knowledge through agency classes as well as my graduate studies for my Masters Degree. But as in any career, youthful enthusiasm can be a great asset. Hope you enjoy this weeks story and please send comments or suggestions for future stories. Thanks.
Years ago while assigned to a wildland fire, the Operations Section Chief asked me to conduct a burn out operation along a 9 mile stretch of a two lane road in California in order to put out the fire and protect numerous homes. I was successful in the operation but like most things in life, nothing is simple. Personal relationships, past experiences and our professional knowledge all play into the success or failure of any operation. This was especially true in this case. In the end, what had been a very challenging fire with some bleak experiences turned into one of my significant career events. Hope you enjoy listening to this story and get something worthwhile from it. As always, thanks for listening.
In the early 2000s, the Incident Management Team I was a member of was dispatched to a hurricane on the gulf coast. These assignments were always challenging and fascinating to be a part of. I always learned a lot when I responded to a major emergency but this particular one was especially so. There are lessons for all of us in this story no matter what kind of work we do. I hope you find it interesting and educational and as always I appreciate any constructive feedback. Thanks for listening.
This weeks story is about how we might use humor on the job. Often times we have a distorted perception of our own sense of humor. I know for me personally if I was half as funny as I think I am I’d be on late night TV getting the laughs and making big money. When I go back and re-listen to some of the stories here at BobbieOnFire.com I still laugh at the funny ones. Heck, the incident might have happened 30 years ago, I’ve told the story dozens of times but I still laugh at it. At least I enjoy them.
The problem is when you’re working, what kind of humor is appropriate and what is not? In this story I give some insights and perspectives based on my experiences. I hope you get a laugh from hearing some of my examples of what NOT to do. Unfortunately in my life and career, I might have more examples of what not to do as I have what to do.
As always I appreciate any comments and suggestions. Please share BobbeOnFire.com with your friends. Also, please follow all the health recommendations coming out of your state and local agencies. Let’s do all we can to keep our active first responders and medical personnel safe. Thanks.
This week’s story is meant to entertain a little, distract you from our current events a little and also to make you think a little. It takes place in 2001 when I was an Operations Section Chief trainee. My Incident Training Officer had expectations that I wasn’t ready for. Her expectations were correct. Up until that time I just thought about the actual firefighting. The paperwork surrounding it was always just an afterthought to me. She opened my eyes a bit. Not that I ever got good at the paperwork. Years later we worked together often and eventually I was her supervisor. But man… did she make an impression on me. Hope you enjoy the story and share with your friends. Thanks.
In life we don’t always get a second chance. It’s great when we do get that second chance but it doesn’t always happen. Hopefully we learned from an earlier experience and improve the next time. Life is just a series of experiences and opportunities for learning. Sometimes I’m not sure I’ve learned the lesson and maybe that’s why I have to repeat a similar experience over and over. Kind of like Ground Hog day. But in the fire service we use a simple exercise called an After Action Review or AAR. It’s just a simple process where the people involved review what happened and consider what might have been done differently and better the next time. It’s a great way to learn. This is common in the military as well as the fire service. Other groups use the AAR exercise to learn from as well. We would all benefit from conducting group AAR exercises or even just personal ones to improve our performance.
Today’s story is about a time that as a Captain of an engine company I really messed up. But I was fortunate to have an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and get a do-over. I was thinking of how it might be appropriate to think of this story in terms of our current Corona Virus situation. I hope we as a country as well as individually learn how to do better next time. Stay safe everyone and pay attention to the Center for Disease Control and your local officials. The life you save might be that of your firefighters, EMTs and hospital workers. Thanks for listening.
As I write the introduction to today’s story, the United States and really the whole world is captive to the Corona Virus Pandemic Anxiety Syndrome or CVPAS. (I had to make up an acronym since I’ve spent over 40 years working in government.) I’m not suggesting we don’t have anything to be concerned about. On the contrary I believe we had better be listening to the scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and doctors. But even if you’re healthy and have a bathroom full of toilet paper, you might still be anxious. Truth be told, I have a little CVPAS since I’m in the target demographic; I’m a senior citizen now and have questionable lung health due to all these years of breathing smoke and a month of working at Ground Zero (9-11) and breathing all that was in the air down there. But we can’t get crazy about this either. Be smart and listen to the experts.
I chose this week’s topic because it’s just a cute story that I hope lightens your worries. Nothing heavy. No one gets hurt. No one is at risk. Everyone is happy. So take a listen and think about the good things you have in life and be thankful for your blessings. Thanks everyone and leave a comment if you can.
In my career I’ve had some unique experiences. One of them is the number of times I’ve been nearby when a fire has broken out. In a previous story you might have listened to the time I was near a fire start in the city of Sacramento. Well, I’ve had many similar experiences when I was the first person on the scene of a new fire. And if you’re a firefighter who happens to be near the start of a fire, you’re going to find yourself under suspicion of being an arsonist. There’s good reason that we suspect other firefighters. Unfortunately, there have been many firefighters who have been convicted of arson. For this reason, firefighters must be above reproach to protect their own reputation and those of our fellow firefighters. As you listen to the story, keep in mind those times you’ve been accused of something you hadn’t done. Or even more importantly, when you’ve been tempted to talk about someone else. Hope you enjoy the story and please comment and share with your friends.
Around 2000 I was assigned to a large fire in the northern Sierras as a Division Supervisor. On this particular fire I had multiple 20 person fire crews as well as many fire engines working for me. This story is about one of those fire crews who were from Hawaii. They were a great crew with an outstanding work ethic. But they also were quite comfortable relaxing when it was appropriate too. Their positive outlook and attitude stuck with me all these years later. Please listen and imagine being on the forest fire with this interesting group of men. I thank them for their hard work and for their contagious happy outlook.
No really… they really hate me. Or maybe they just love the way I taste. But regardless, I’ve had some bad experiences with ants. Especially in my first 6 or 7 years of firefighting when at least once a summer I’d have an episode of being bitten or stung or just attacked by big red or black ants. This week’s story is about one of those instances, what happened and how I reacted. I think you’ll laugh along with me but of course, there’s a lesson to be learned too. How do we recover from embarrassment’s at work? Do we let stupid things impact us in the long term or do we just move on. I hope you enjoy the silliness of this story and also think about how we can deal with minor set backs at work. Enjoy.
How we react to tough and challenging situations at work can determine our successes and failures. It’s not always easy to know how to respond to bullies and negative people who can have a direct impact upon our lives and careers. Sometimes we’re dealing with a boss who is the bully and sometimes we have people working for us who are the bully. Of course you have to deal with each of those situations differently and there is NO one right answer. How we decide to deal with challenges like this can depend on many circumstances that we find ourselves in. This story is about one specific set of circumstances and how I dealt with some “challenging employees”. I’m not suggesting this was the best way or even a good way to deal with this group of knuckleheads. But the story you’re about to hear is how I did deal with them. The results were positive although that isn’t proof that my method was the best way.
Be advised that in order to reach these rough tough characters and to accurately retell the story, you’ll hear the F word a few times so if you don’t want to hear that, you might listen to another story instead. Thanks for everyone’s continued support of my story’s.
When first responders work long hours, are under pressure to protect lives and property, they can often become exhausted from the pressures of the job. This week I illustrate some examples of what that might look like. The examples I site are just a few and are not at all complete in any way. The list is long and exhaustive and can be very personal. I hope after listening to this story you’ll think about yourself in whatever job you spend your time in as well as those around you. If you’ve listened to my story about 9-11 or PTSD, you’ll hear some common themes. Take care of yourself, love yourself and those around you and don’t feel like you have to act like a hero all the time.
I appreciate everyone listening and please share this story with your friends. Thanks.
In the fire service I’ve often said that the worst thing that can happen to a well functioning crew with good attitude is having no fires or no emergency calls. Even though we always had lots of work to do around the station or out on projects, the attitude would sink into the toilet when the call volume decreased. During those slow times is when my firefighters began to “bitch” about the boss (me), the bosses boss, the uniform policy, the caterer on the last big fire we went to, the equipment on the engine, the other crews we work with…. and it went on and on and on and on. The best cure for sport bitching is being busy on skill testing and demanding emergency calls.
In this weeks episode, I talk about some of the dangers of bitching on the job. I think it’s an important lesson for all of us. It might not be an “exciting” topic but if you’re a worker in an organization, a company officer, a manager or leader you have the ability to impact the entire organization through your attitude. As an experienced but recovering bitcher I can speak from a perspective that might help you in your career. I hope you enjoy this episode. Thanks
This week’s story takes place when I was a Captain on a Fire Department years ago. It was really just a routine medical call. But while responding and even treating the patient we really didn’t know it was just a routine call. There was mystery involved. Initially we had no clue what we were even responding to. It makes it hard for the first responders to show up and not know the nature of the emergency incident. In this case we didn’t understand all the particulars of the incident until after the patient was transported to the hospital. The way it unfolded was unique to say the least. A common theme in my stories has been to trust your intuition, follow your gut and be prepared for anything. This short story is another illustration of why I feel so strongly in those lessons. I hope you enjoy this story. Thanks to both John and Curtis for joining me this week.
Back in 1996 I had recently quit my job as a Fire Captain at my Fire Department and had returned to school to get my Masters Degree. So I wasn’t currently working for a Fire Department or a Wildland Fire Agency. Instead I had been hired as a temporary firefighter for the summer and had been working for a State Agency and the Forest Service. Because I already had 22 years of experience at that point and carried the commensurate fire qualifications, I was utilized as a Division Supervisor when assigned to active fires. This particular fire was located in eastern Oregon. I was excited for the dispatch because I had never fought a fire in Oregon at this point of my career. So off I went to Oregon as I describe in the following audio story.
What is significant in this story was my perception of the man I was working for. I had never met him before but from the way he spoke to me, I assumed he thought I was a bit of a drone. But as you’ll hear in this story, he had a direct and lasting positive impact on my career. The lesson I learned from this is to not judge based on some hasty communications or limited knowledge of someone. My advice to other younger and often female firefighters I’ve mentored is to not be scared away from the gruff communications style of some of their supervisors. You don’t really know what’s going on behind his mustache. I hope you enjoy the story and please leave comments. Thanks.
As I’ve often mentioned on this site, you never know what’s going to happen in the course of your day, week, career or even your life. Today’s story is about a time when I was minding my own business and thought I was going to have a nice evening having dinner with an old family friend. My evening was surprisingly interrupted by a citizen’s request to respond to a fire instead. How I responded wasn’t all that dramatic but my reaction to the entire episode was something I still wonder about. Hope you enjoy this episode and as always, please share my site with your friends. Thanks!
In life you never know if you might be called upon to help fix a bad situation. You might not have any expertise to resolve it, but you’re it! You’re all there is. In this week’s story I’ll relate an experience when I was a responsible for rescuing a young boy from an abandoned mine. I had no training in mine rescue, let alone lead a group of firefighters into an old dangerous mine. My expertise was related to high angle rope rescue so I did have some specific experiences to draw upon, but this was definitely a new one for me. In life it’s nice to be “good” rather than just “lucky”. In this story I think I was equally good and lucky.
It’s Christmas this week and my story today is about how to accept a gift. It shouldn’t be that hard to accept a gift but I might have had a tough shell wrapped around my soft sweet center for all those years while I was working as a firefighter (maybe even still). I believe most women firefighters can identify with what happened to me. This story doesn’t include any knuckle dragging firefighters calling me a bitch. On the contrary, it is a story of a gentlemen wanting to be helpful to me while I was on duty. But it’s pretty funny in it’s own way. As you’ll hear, I was unsure how to react to his unnecessary kindness. All I could do was smile and say thank you. Hope you enjoy the story, love the meaning of our holiday season and accept whatever gift you’re given with grace and a smile. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you.
During our lives we’ll have many instances when we have the opportunity to listen to the little voice we hear coming from the back of our mind. We often want to make decisions based on clear facts. You know… Just the facts mam nothing but the facts. But in reality our decision making is a combination of facts, emoti0ns and some things in-between the two. The “things” in-between are inputs that your brain is receiving but your consciousness might not be recognizing them yet. I’ve had many experiences at work and at home where (after I made the decision) I realized I had been making a decision based in part on intuition.
This story is about a serious accident that nearly killed a young woman and how listening to the little voice in my head may have led to her being rescued.
This week’s story is interesting just on it’s surface, but there’s a whole lot more to it. The story really deals with how we deal with a supervisor. These interactions can be critical to our future profession. Over my working life I’ve often been asked how I gained my wildland fire qualifications so quickly. My flippant answer was because I found water in the desert. This story explains why I said that. But the bigger picture is how I dealt with my supervisors and provided leadership “UP”. We often think about providing leadership down in an organization. But leading up is important but can be difficult to figure out how to do. I’m not suggesting I know all the answers but I can share this example of how I dealt with a few opportunities early in my career.
If you have experiences you’d like to share leave a comment. We need to learn from everyone around us. Thanks for listening everyone.
Back when technology wasn’t exactly at our fingertips in the fire engine or command truck, we used old fashioned maps to find our way to emergencies. Having a hard copy map in your hand was always comforting but there is lots of room for human error. And if you’ve listened to more than one of these stories you already know I’m very human. Now in most modern fire apparatus, there is a computer screen with all the relevant information necessary to quickly and efficiently find the emergency scene.
This is a short and I hope funny story about something that happened to me almost 30 years ago. As you’ll hear when I tell the story, it could have been a tragic story but it wasn’t. I was to blame in this story and no one else. But as with many stories, the line between funny and tragic is very thin. If you live in a community and the Fire Department or emergency first responders are asking for funding for some new technology, I hope you give it a good luck and support their request. I hope listening to this story helps you with that decision.
Towards the end of the story you’ll notice a few blank seconds in the recording. Sorry for my lack of recording expertise. I’ll work on fixing those types of blips as I keep improving. And as always, if you enjoy listening to these stories, please share the website with your friends. Thanks everyone and see you next week.
Last week’s story was a bit more heavy than what I had originally intended for this site. So today I’m posting a story about what it’s like to be working on the holidays. Lots of folks have to work the holidays so I’m not trying to make this another “hero” story. If you’ve listened to my other stories you know that’s not my intention. But after 40 years of experiencing things like… being on a wildland fire and watching families across the lake from the fire having their weekend camping trip playing in the water; or missing my son’s first day of kindergarten because I was at the Yellowstone fires in ’88; or numerous holidays where I tried to incorporate my family and those of my co-workers into the fire station dinner the best we could.
This story relates a few of those outstanding memories from the years of having to work on the big holidays. Even though I’ve always enjoyed my work and have been happy to be of service, I have to admit to a certain melancholy when working on a holiday. For me, the best thing that could happen if you’re working the holiday is to be busy. Members of the public might not understand why a firefighter would want to be busy at work but you really want firefighters who are enthusiastic about going to work. And having a slow shift on a holiday when you’re separated from family was the worst for me. I hope this story gives you some insight to what’s going on behind those fire station doors on the holiday. Thanks for listening folks and I’d appreciate you “liking” and “sharing” to spread the word of this little site.
Last night I was having a drink and dinner with some friends of mine. We’re all 64+ year old women either retired, or getting close to retirement. Neither of my friends who I was enjoying the evening with are firefighters but they do enjoy the stories that you all listen to here. I don’t know how we got on the subject of the lasting impacts of being a firefighter but I probably mentioned something about how some of my co-workers and I share some internal “wounds” from things that we’ve experienced on the job. One of my friends was surprised to hear that firefighters might suffer from post traumatic stress (or PTSD). She thought it was something only soldiers have to deal with. I assured her that it wasn’t that uncommon amongst the ranks of firefighters and police. I described a story of how I became aware of how some of these emotional impacts surface in our lives. As we spoke she realized that she too had some lingering stress from the untimely passing of her daughter. Of course she does. We probably all do since none of us live in a bubble. This is a short story describing how my eyes were opened to my own scabbed over wounds. Please listen, like and share. It helps get the word out on this website. Thanks all and take care of yourselves, love ones and friends.
Over the years I’ve had some challenges to my leadership at fires. This story relates 3 separate instances one summer that have had a long term impact on me. I believe people are mostly good and mean to do well. But when folks are stressed and firefighters are often stressed at a fire, they may respond differently to an authority figure than they might do otherwise. It’s true that some men might not like taking orders from a female fire chief. You might think this wasn’t common but it surely was. Add to this dynamic that after 25 years of firefighting I just had no patience for putting up with any macho BS. Looking back on this time period I felt like a “quick draw” gunfighter. If someone was disrespectful or insubordinate I pulled my six shooter and kicked them off the fire. Strong women in positions of authority are often called a bitch. It’s not surprising and it’s not new. But the majority of guys who thought I was a bitch eventually come around to being a respected co-worker once we’ve worked together longer. Most of the knuckle dragging firefighters eventually come around.
See how I reacted to these challenges. In hindsight I could have done some things a bit better but it makes for a great story. Enjoy the story. Share and tell your friends. Thanks.
When we see a multiple fire engines, police cars and ambulances at the scene of a minor accident, it’s easy to criticize. Since we don’t know what’s going on, we assume all those resources are unnecessary. The problem is we really don’t know and they don’t either until their arrive on scene to see what they have to deal with. This story is about my witnessing a terrible auto accident miles from the nearest emergency services and only having myself to manage 4 patients until help arrived nearly an hour later. I hope after listening to this story you’ll consider taking a CPR or first aid class. We all need to be prepared in case you also witness “flying bodies”. And the next time you see multiple fire engines, police cars and ambulances in front of someone’s home, assume good intent on behalf of those first responders. Hope you enjoy the story.
This short story is about one of my favorite “knucklehead” firefighter buddies and how he pranked me while working a shift on my fire engine. It illustrates how we managed the stress of the job through silly jokes and pranks. I have so many good memories of these kind of firehouse antics and I think they can help paint the picture of what might go on behind the scenes with your local firefighters. Hope you enjoy the story and if you do, please share the site with your friends.
Over the years I’ve had to walk the line between being a hard ass in order to maintain my position as a female fire leader and not going too far due to being overly sensitive. Its tough sometimes for a female leader in the fire service. I’m not saying it is for all female leaders but it has been for me from time to time.
As I became more secure in my role as a captain, then Chief, I think I got better at knowing when to engage and be the hard ass and when to smile to myself and just walk away. This is an example when I didnt engage too much becaue I knew it wasn’t important enough. I have many amusing stories of when I had to engage and be the hard ass. I think the next story will be about when I was very much the hard ass. But for now, I hope you enjoy this story of some of my wonderful knuckleahd firefighters.
Today is September 12th 2019, 18 years after that fateful day that changed us and the world forever. Last night along with some firefighters and their families… for the 3rd time I watched the same documentary about a young firefighter who happened to be on duty at the time of the attacks on NYC. The film makers ended up documenting the response to those attacks. While watching the tv screen, all the images I saw renewed my memories from my month working at Ground Zero following the attacks.
In the story you’re about to listen to I describe just a few of the images and feelings I still think about today, 18 years later. Keep in mind that our memories are never exact but the images and feelings are very vivid in my mind. After you listen to the story, what I hope you’ll think about is that Life Is Short. None of us know how much time we have on this earth and regardless of your spiritual beliefs, while we’re on this earth I believe we should do everything to make sure our family and friends know we love them. I think that’s all that’s important. In the meantime, here are a just a few memories from 18 years ago.
This story dates back to when I first was promoted to Captain at a smaller fire department. I suppose I had been a bit of a “fire brand” in my career leading up to this story. You’ll get more of the details when you listen. But what struck me as I was thinking about this story yesterday, was how many times we get tested in our lives. We get tested by our parents while growing up. Our children test us as they’re growing up. Once we’re working at a job, every time we start a new job or get a new boss or get a new employee who’s working for us, we get tested. Yesterday I realized I was being tested right up until the day I retired. Some of those “tests” can be small and less obvious. Some can be more dramatic (and stupid) as this story illustrates. But through it all we should smile, laugh at ourselves and enjoy the ride. This is one of those stories that makes me smile and shake my head. Hope you enjoy it too.
Hi everyone. The picture here is a good depiction of the fire that this story describes. Although the story isn’t about fighting the fire, it’s about the interactions between the firefighters who are fighting the fire. As I look back on things, fighting the fire was routine. The interactions with my co-workers and others involved was the challenge and what I remember most of all. The point of this story is how important it is to walk humbly. The fire where this story takes place wasn’t particularly difficult or challenging but it definitely wasn’t going to go out by itself either. What I had to pay the most attention to was the human element. And as you can imagine, dealing with human emotions is probably more dangerous and risky than fighting fire. So… I hope this one makes you giggle a little. As you will hear… it still makes me giggle.
First of all let me apologize for taking so long since last posting a story. I was making preparations to get my boat ready to make the nearly 400 mile trip from Portland Oregon to Anacortes Washington. My mind was on making sure my boat and I were in good shape to make it up the coast safely. But now I’m safe and sound in my new Marina on the beautiful Puget Sound.
This particular story came to mind because I had been interviewed twice this week regarding firefighting operations; once for the LA Times and once by CBS radio in LA. The reporter for the radio station asked me if there was anything I wanted to add at the end of the interview, so I figured I would remind people about redeeming their (YOUR) responsibility for protecting their homes from wildfire. This story relates to the unnecessary risk we put firefighters in every day trying to protect homes from wildfire.
Over the years I’ve been closely involved in firefighter fatalities while the firefighters were protecting homes from a wildfire. Even though we say “no home is worth the life of a firefighter”, we still lose firefighters every year trying to protect homes and communities. What causes me to see red with anger is when homeowners do nothing to protect their own home, then expect the firefighters to come in at the last minute to save their home. If you want your home to be safe from a fire, then be an adult and use appropriate building materials in the first place. Trim your landscaping appropriately, rake leaves and pine needles, ensure you have adequate access for fire engines, etc.
Thanks for listening and I SWEAR, I’ll post one next week you can laugh at.
Firefighters come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, genders and colors. Our abilities and skills other than firefighting range from building construction to floral arranging. Some of us are real techies and others (like me) have difficulty turning a computer on and off. This story is about my good friend and co-Operations Section Chief on an Incident Management Team in the Pacific Northwest who is a bit like me…. technologically challenged. In a previous story titled “North to Alaska” he was affectionately referred to as “Knucklehead Number 2”. During many emergency incidents with our team, my good friend Knucklehead Number 2, said and did many things that caused me and those around us to laugh. Often times he did so without meaning to be funny. I was often the brunt of his behavior and that was just fine with me. He was like the brother I always wished I had. So when I had the opportunity to provide some payback to my buddy knucklehead… I pounced.
For those of you who might not have read “North to Alaska” in a previous episode, I went into more detail about how the Incident Management Teams work. This story is about that same group of team members. It’s not a particularly important or critical story. But it illustrates that when the business of saving lives, protecting property and managing our nations wildlands, those professional “heroes” that everyone loves can behave like children. And those are the times I cherish many years later. I hope you enjoy the story.
Firefighters respond to hazardous situations all the time. Haz-Mat incidents including bio hazards are commonplace. But it is not common to have to deal with one at the fire station. Although I remember having to respond to a nearby fire station that had a kitchen fire start while the crew was out on a call. They had left something on in the oven. This is actually a common occurrence at fire stations. …but I digress.
If you’ve been listening to some of the previous stories, you might have gathered that this story’s title might be a just a tad misleading…. in a fun sort of way. This story is really an example of some of the firehouse antics that go on. These antics are some of my fondest memories from my years working on a fire engine and rescue. Although I wasn’t a big prankster myself, this one was all my doing and maybe that’s why I remember it 35 years later. I was the brunt of a few of the pranks but most often I was just an observer from the side. I hope you get a laugh from this story… and maybe just a little grossed out by the bio-hazard. Enjoy.
The last 6 episodes have been pretty lighthearted stories. I’ve tried to share what goes on with firefighters that we don’t want anyone to see. I hope you’ve been laughing as you’ve listened to all our antics.
As I was talking to my friend John (who used to be a wildland firefighter himself many years ago), he suggested that all the stories don’t necessarily need to be funny. I have many serious, sad, exciting and kind of terrifying stories but I worry that will lead to the public getting those Hero ideas in their head. And as I explain a little in this story, I hate that label. Firefighters are professional and hard working. We just happen to be put into the position to help when things go wrong for people. We’re the ones you see and it is our job.
So then what about this story? I always thought this was a funny story. I always laughed when I thought about it or told others. Often times my reaction wasn’t the same as those listening to me tell the story. I wasn’t sure why that was. When I told John what the story was about, he said “why do you think it’s funny?” I was perplexed. I just did. When you get towards the end of the story, hopefully you’ll see what I mean.
Now what is the point of this story? I’ve known that we rarely understand how we’re impacting those friends, family and co-workers around us. How do people perceive us? How do the words we use impact on those who are observing us? We might just nonchalantly say or do something without thinking too much about it. When I became a Deputy Chief on a unit, I realized that everyone was watching me and paying attention to my words and actions. It took me awhile to learn that lesson. It is a basic point of leadership but sometimes lessons come hard. So the bottom line for me was… our actions and words sometimes have unintended outcomes. Be deliberate, be aware and be positive. Hope you enjoy the story and find the humor in it too. The next story will be a funny one. Thanks for listening!
Over the many years of my career I’ve aspired to present a professional demeanor to those folks who worked for me and to the citizens we served. I made a point to act like a professional Firefighter, Fire Captain, Fire Chief, etc to those around me. I believe it inspired confidence for those in our organization and helped build trust with the public. I might have been a goofball in private, but outwardly I hoped that I appeared professional and competent. I think I was 99% successful in that regard.
From the earlier stories you’ve already heard how we don’t always deliver on my expressed value of professionalism but I tried desperately to never let the public see our goofy side. This story is about how my fire organization laid bare for all the public to see (hear) just how stupid we could be. What I love about this story is that even though I was about to literally explode while ripping out the tongues of some of my employees, after a few years passed they love to tease me about my reaction to their less than professional behavior. I hope you get a chuckle from this one.
When firefighters go north to Alaska to fight fires for the first time it’s a real adventure. Firefighting up there can be very different than in the lower 48 states. In the interior of Alaska, distances between roads can be gigantic. Logistical support comes via cargo nets from helicopters or cargo chutes by plane instead of trucks. Those are just two of many differences. On my first fire assignment to the interior we were sent to protect some scattered hunting cabins owned by native Alaskans as well as the oil pipeline from a wildfire started by lightning. Since we were protecting the pipeline we did have some road access. This story is about what happened one night while assigned to the fire. Keep in mind that although I might refer to my co-workers as knuckleheads (which you’ll soon see why), I loved these guys. They were like real brothers to me and I still love them and the memories from when we worked together.
As I was thinking about which story I wanted to tell next, two things occurred to me. My first thought was that some firefighters might believe I’m ridiculing them by telling these stories. I hope you all don’t think that. I have so much affection and respect for all the firefighting professionals out there. My next concern is that those of you who aren’t in the fire/rescue profession are going to think that we’re all a bunch of idiots. I hope that isn’t true either. In my 40 plus years of firefighting I’ve witnessed the most professional performance and hard work that you can imagine. It’s just that one way of dealing with the stress and impact of what we see is to act a tad goofy when that high level of performance isn’t necessary.
This story is one such occurrence. To the public seeing our fire engine and rescue trucks driving down the road returning from a call, they just see their local heroes. (I hate that term by the way. More about that at a later date). What they don’t know is what is going on behind the scenes. This story is just a quick glance behind the scenes.
When you’re a firefighter, everyday when you go to work you have no idea what is going to happen. That’s why we do it. It’s the perfect job for those of us with short attention spans. Was the medical call we were just on boring? No worries, in 20 minutes you could be helping someone in a car accident or rappelling down a cliff to rescue a fallen hiker. But often, the call could be something goofy. This story is one of the many goofy things that continues to make me laugh.
Now that I’m retired, I thought I would tell some stories that have been entertaining my friends for years. Over the last 4 decades many crazy things have happened to me while working as a county structure firefighter and a federal wildland firefighter. No matter what agency you work for, you get to experience what most people don’t get to see or don’t want to see. Many of the stories are funny but not all. Some of the stories include serious topics as you might imagine. Many of them have decent leadership lessons embedded as well. But my favorite stories are the funny ones. You might hear me laugh a bit as I tell the story. No matter how many times I hear myself telling the funny ones I still laugh. l really hope you enjoy listening to the stories as much as I enjoy telling them. If you do, let me know. I appreciate any feedback and suggestions to improve the stories.
If you have a group that could benefit from a leadership lesson delivered by an experienced fire chief, drop me a line. Even with the covid crisis, messages can be delivered safely and effectively with Zoom and other platforms.
Update: Between July 1, 2019 and September 9th, 2021, stories have been downloaded almost 500,000 times. I really appreciate everyone’s interest and support. Please tell your friends to visit the site and enjoy one of our stories. Thanks!