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.
Since beginning this site, I’ve been approached by fire professionals, educators and others to speak to their groups on the topic of firefighting and leadership. This new turn has become a great and unexpected opportunity for me. If you have a group that could benefit from this old fire leader telling some stories and how those stories relate to your group, send me a note through this site.
Update: Between July 1, 2019 and August 8th, 2020, stories have been downloaded about 100,000 times. I really appreciate everyone’s interest and support. Please tell your friends to visit the site and enjoy one of our stories. Thanks!