Let's Talk Fire: 101 Ways to Be A Better Firefighter
To often I feel old dog firefighters get a little complacent while new dogs on the porch get a little to anxious to get a bone. Don't get me wrong in many ways that is just how the fire service flows, but one truth remains we must always try to be the best we can so we can give the best we got. I see the probie scratching his head, not sure if he is confused or has fleas again.
The fact is we have to try to be the best firefighter we can be to really achieve anything ion this field. Below you will find a list of 101 simple yet effective ways you can do just that. I hope you enjoy and I hope you take something away from this.
I can't express how vital this is to old and new firefighters.
A Little Video to Get Us Started
How You Use This List
Before we begin I want to express concern as to how you approach this list. Some of these suggestions might seem a bit like old Draven has lost his marbles but I assure you they are still tucked firmly in that bag under my nomax.
This list is just a simple guide to some tried and true methods that have worked for various departments and individual firefighters in the past. It is not a set in stone kind of deal so if some of these things are rubbing you the wrong way please don't let that discourage you from at least trying the ones that do not get your bunkers in a bunch. I want this to be something that may help departments grow and prosper in an age where the fire service is struggling deeply to find and keep members.
Each suggestion can be modified to fit your department's personal needs and I assure you it will not offend this old dog one bit if you do not follow these word for word. God bless and I hope you enjoy.
Be a student of the fire service.
Online training resources.
- NFPA - Online Training
NFPA's Online Training allows you to learn at your own pace in the location you desire, from the comfort of your laptop or PC. Choose topics from a full list of courses covering some of NFPA's most-used codes and standards.
- National Fire Academy online and online-mediated courses
Course descriptions and schedules for the National Fire Academy’s free online (NFA Online) and online-mediated fire service training programs.
- Emergency Management Institute - Independent Study (IS) | Course List
FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI) Independent Study Course List
Rules of the road apply to us as well.
- Attend any firefighter training you can get to. The fact is the more you know and the more knowledge you gain the better you are prepared for any situation that a fire service call may throw at you. Even if you have had two vent classes this year a third would only serve you better.
- A Clean station is a sign of respect. Take pride in your station. Come in and make time to help clean bathrooms, or truck bays. The reality is people see this and it shows that you are making and keeping an emotional investment as well as a professional one in your department.
- Vehicle maintenance is everyone's job. While some departments do these types of vehicle inspections monthly others go weekly and a few I am aware of do it every shift change. It is important to know that your stuff will work when you need it to. It also gets the placement of tools and equipment fresh on every firefighter's minds.
- Know your response area. It is a great idea to get out and make a note of where alleys and hollows are located and be aware of their name. Not every street will have a marker detailing it's name so you have to be an advocate of having a mental map of your response area. This mental map will cut down on response times and make you a more efficient department in the end.
- Take a proactive approach to organizing trucks and equipment. Be the guy who assist the engineer in tool placement on the truck or the gal who helps assign equipment to each truck compartment. A good understanding on a fire scene of where items are in your trucks can save time and in turn allow us to save more property.
- Follow the rules of the road. We're firefighters so yeah we love the wicked loud sirens and the feeling of doing 70 down the highway but what good are we to the people we need to get to if we wreck or are involved in some form of traffic accident in route? We are not at all to answer that one but if we maintain the focus that we need to obey the rules and regulations of the road we can drive to arrive. Sometimes speed is not the answer to a good and valid response.
- Study fire behavior like it is your last resort, because it very well may be. If you know the warning signs of violent fire changes and conditions you will be prepared to deal with those events prior to their occurrences and even in the event they do happen. Study backdrafts, flash overs, and other forms of fire behavior so you will not be the girl or guy who gets a drill named after them.
- Take notes at classes or drills. I have been dubbed the fire nerd because of this one but trust me the mind will remember what you wrote down a lot more than what you heard. Keeping notes accomplishes a few things. First it will help you to get that information being presented at fire training classes right there in that fire noggin', second it will show the instructor that they are not wasting their time and someone actually came to learn.
- Create a fire training binder. Again very nerdy but I assure you it is a good tool. You can place your handouts and notes in here under specific categories and you will have a very handy reference tool you can pull from to study and get better at what you do.
- Become familiar with NIOSH, OSHA, and FEMA reports. I am an advocate of learning from the past for survival in the future. These reports allow our brothers and sisters who have given their life for this profession to not have died in vain. While studying these reports we increase the chance that we our selves will not fall victim to the same incident that killed one of our own. Learn from these case files and know how you would handle the situation had it been you in the fire.
- Good salvage and overhaul = good publicity. This may shock some of my readers but I assure you salvage and overhaul are not limited to after the fire is out and you are simply locating hotspots. Save a few pictures or the kid's favorite video game if you can do so safely. The homeowners will appreciate it and it shows that what we do really is a compassionate job.
- Ask questions to the cats who have been there awhile. Some of the best stuff you will ever learn will come from the older dogs on the department. They have been there and put the hours in fighting fires and pulling loved ones from cars and trucks. Sure occasionally you get the conceited old crow who thinks they know it all but when you find one who will actually tell you the real story be proud of that and learn from it.
- Take new firefighters under your wing. Guide them to where they need to be.
- Socialize with your crew members. The better you know the guys and gals you work with the more you will develop trust for them and the better that relationship will be. This will strengthen the department.
- Know what tool to use. If you are on interior attack make sure you have the right gear going in. Carry flashlights, chocks, and whatever gear you feel you might have a need for once inside the belly of the beast.
- Visit new construction sites. New construction affords us the opportunity to see what we will be going inside of with an almost x-ray precision. Visiting new construction sites will allow firefighters to get a feel for building construction first hand and see just what they are making entry into.
- Learn CPR!!! Since the very beginning of my career I have always said if you are not trained in CPR you may simply be dragging a victim outside of the fire so they can die out there instead of in the house. CPR saves lives and it should be a priority of firefighter training.
- When on the road wear a safety vest. This is not only important but it is an NFPA standard and an OSHA requirement that all members working in active traffic be in a high visibility vest. We have to watch our own buts sometimes and this is one of those cases. Be safe not sorry.
- Water hammer will kill a truck. As a hoseman myself I can tell you this is a biggie for me. Always open and close the nozzle slowly and avoid water hammer. This does not end at the nozzle but remember that hydrants can do the same and so can any lever or pull on our trucks. Be cautious not to sheer off a coupling or mangle your pump by getting into a hurry.
- Roll hoses after the fire. This is the job most of us dread because we find it taking us back to our early days on the department but the fact is rolling hoses and placing them on the truck bed is the responsibility of every firefighter so help out when you can.
- Clean the hose. Stop laughing you dirty minded probie! Fire hose is just like our turn out gear and will collect debris and chemicals. Always remember to clean it periodically and make sure it is not in danger of becoming the next fire hazard on the inside.
- Clean gear is safe gear. This is a major one for me. Always clean your gear after any scene in which you come into contact with smoke, contaminates, or bodily fluids. Turn out can catch fire and let's look at it this way. You may be one of the volunteer guys who takes their gear home. Do you want a contaminated bunker coat to be the cause of numerous problem,s and health issues for your family?Did not think so, clean that thing.
- Ask questions at training drills. The only stupid question is one never asked.
- Work out with an SCBA on. The more comfortable you can get in one the better off you will be. Take time to make it second nature.
- Workout.....Period. Heart attacks are attracted to firefighters like white on rice! Keep a firm and controled fitness program in your department to ensure everyone is taking care of themselves.
- Sound floors and roofs. I am often surprised at how many firefighters forget this simple task. Checking stability of the ground we stand on could be the deciding factor in whether or not we get to go back home.
- Visit local businesses and get a general layout of their facilities. Most owners will gladly welcome the fire department into their business. Go and get the feel for the place. Know how and where to shut utilities off to the structure.
- Join online groups and forums. You can learn a lot of information from people across the nation on online forums and boards.
- Respect your colors. When wearing your fire t-shirt remember you are representing your department. Don't go to a bar and engage in a fight or do anything that would bring shame to that symbol of who you are.
- Help firefighter outside the station. We are brothers and sisters and just like real brothers and sisters your relationship does not end just because you left the house. If a firefighter is working on a car or maybe trying to get something done on their house and you can help, you should. Be a part of the brotherhood inside and outside the station.
- Learn and practice good conflict resolution skills. What we do can and will stir some emotions. Firefighting is a tough job and we will often find ourselves arguing or trying to break up an argument. Learning and initiating good positive based conflict skills can help make the life of a firefighter much more tolerable.
- Put on gloves and learn to use them. Learn to do everyday things with your bulky fire gloves on and you will be much better when you have to use them in a house.
- Check hydrants frequently. Nothing sucks quite as much as tagging a plug and than finding out it is not functioning. Be active about getting in the community and testing fire hydrants.
- Know abandoned buildings and their general usage. Abandoned buildings are all to common to us as firefighters. Know where they are and what they are generally used for. If potential for a meth lab or illegal conduct is high at a location you need to be aware of that.
- Crowd control without attitude. Crowd control on a fire scene is very difficult at times. Learn skills that allow you to do the task without making people upset.
- Know rehab, use rehab. As firefighters we must know our limits. Rehab is there for us to keep ourselves in the shape we need to be to continue our jobs.
- Good communication skills are a must. This applies to so many fronts. Communicate with your crew but also the public and the media.
- Watch what you say on scene. Stating things like this is arson for sure will net you in some hot water. Keep your opinions to yourself.
- Know your department's SOPs and SOGs.
- Be an active participant in community events. Present yourself as approachable and the community will support you. Being present at events shows you actually care about the community you serve.
- Attend city cancel meetings. These meetings decide your budget, and many other issues that could affect your job as a firefighter.
- Find your tool. Just because Bobby takes a haligan does not mean that is the tool you feel most confident in. Find the tool that works best for you.
- Attend funerals in your area. This sounds odd but it shows that you have a respect for your people. Be respectful and show the family and loved ones that you want to support them as much as they do you.
- Do wellness checks in your community. Go out and check on sickly residents or just visit an elderly person for some quality facetime. Again a community that sees that it's firefighters care will be much more apt to support them.
- Get to know your mutual aid departments. be friendly and get to know who they are and you will develop a friendship that will carry over to the fire ground.
- Take meth awareness training. Trust me these labs are popping up everywhere.
- Maintain all training requirements. Prime example= I do not drive but my state recommends drivers training every 4 years for firefighters. Guess what class this dog is in every 4 years? By keeping your training up to date you stay on top of the game.
- Report bad behavior. No one wants to be the snitch but if you see things that could harm your department, crew, or civilians report it to the officer above you and let the system do it's thing.
- Speak positive about the fire service. Avoid negitive comments that could cause someone to look down on your department.
- Youtube. Watch videos and training drills to get better at what you do. Always be a student of this business.
- Visit schools. I am not just talking during fire prevention week. Go and be seen. Ask if you can help with events or just show up to hand out awards to kids. In the end you develop a working relationship with the school and you also are developing relationships with the children and earning the trust that it might take for them to believe you can protect them.
- Visit senior centers. Again just like schools it is all about nurturing relationships.
- Be a part of planning on your department. Be present at fire department planning sessions and contribute when you can and know when you can't to avoid hindering any thing that may come to pass.
- Know your partner and what they can do. Know when your partner is ready to head out of the structure or when they are ready for imediate action. Learning to read the person you are assigned with is a great way to develop a strong team.
- Key in on potential. If members of your department have unique skills know them and how they can adapt to the fire service. My department has a great list of unique individuals with all manors of skills from diesil mechanics to professional wrestling. (lifting with ease) Learn theses skills and how they can conform to firefighting.
- No energy drinks!!!
- Know your limits.
- Evaluate your work and improve on it. After every call sit down and take some quite time to review what you did, how it worked for the benefit of the scene and what you could have done differently to make it a better approach. By always evaluating we can better our skills set and make better more educated decisions in the future.
- Train with local departments. If you train with them it is easier to work with them on scene.
- Cops are our friends.... most the time. Never contribute to the stigma that firefighters and cops are enemies.
- Cherish the good times. Trust me always take time to enjoy those good moments. Maybe a joke here or something memorable there. These memories will stay with you forever.
- Attend fire schools. Free firefighter training is hard to find and most fire schools will give you the chance to experience training you just can't find anywhere else for the cost of gas to get there.
- Work smart not hard.
- Everyone has a place. Not everybody can man the hose but the fire service is one that allows nearly everyone to find something they can do. Respect that fact.
- Take periodic refresher courses. Go back and take a beginning firefighting class or maybe just a refresher on fire behavior. Every time you take these classes you make yourself more fire wise and in turn you are becoming a better firefighter.
- Be early. A lesson I learned in marching band. If you are on time you are late, if you are five minutes early you are on time. Show up to classes and events early and help set them up or assist in preparation. It is a sign of respect to a trainer to see students in seats before class begins.
- Offer to help before you are asked. If the chief is polishing the chrome on engine two jump in there and give them a helping hand. Be proactive on this front and it will pay off in the end.
- Wedges, webbing, and flashlights oh my! Those pockets on your gear are not just for unique fashion statements my friend. use them. Carry items you know you may need in the event the situation arises. Wedges for doors and webbing for victim drags can really come in handy.
- No gossip. He said she said can kill the integrity and team mentality of any fire department. You must avoid getting drawn into the gossip mill.
- Expect more form those in power.This may get you in trouble but for me a person bearing the title of officer should be doing more than the average firefighter. They should be setting the example for others below them to follow.
- Break bread. Having a dinner or lunch with your fellow firefighters can develop some great things within the department. You will start to get closer and form that tightly knitted atmosphere that drives good departments to become great departments. On occasion set down and eat together and get to know each other as both people and firefighters.
- Proper lifting techniques are a must. Lift with your legs not with your back.
- Buddy up to the utility company. This could be the difference in waiting 20 minutes for the power guy to disconnect the power to a structure as opposed to 20 hours.
- Treat dispatch with respect. Those cats work just as hard as we do. They have a hard task and we should realize that and treat these fine folks with the respect we expect to be treated with.
- Respect EMS. Just because the ambulance is not as big as the fire truck does not mean those guys and gals have any less heart than we do.
- Read firehouse, fire rescue, and any magazine that is fire related. These publications stay pretty current on issues in the fire service and are great learning tools.
- Take online classes. FEMA and many other sites offer great training opportunities online and these classes are a great way to get your skills and knowledge up to par.
- Have a sense of humor. Nuff said.
- Size up everything. House fires, car wrecks, and even a trip to the store to get mustard for the station hotdog cook out! Always be sizing up situations and making decisions in your head as to the next move or tactic.
- Learn hybrid vehicles. Otherwise you can have a real bad day and a major case of bride of Frankenstien hair!
- Learn how to fill your air cylinder. You don't expect Sally to feed you why should she fill your tank?
- Contribute ideas at budget meetings. be a factor in what the department purchases.
- Lead by example!
- Always introduce yourself. When you meet new people or have visitors to the station introduce yourself in a professional manor and welcome them to your fire station.
- The fire is not out until it is out. Check for hot spots and signs of rekindle potential and eliminate them,.
- ISO ratings should be taken serious. ISO greatly affects the insurance rates of your community and if you can get those rates down you need to.
- Get and keep OSHA certification up to date. Better safe than sorry!
- Get with the pump operator and learn what they do. Know how to get water to the guy or girl at the end of the hose. This is especially important to volunteer departments where you never know how many people you will have.
- The deck gun is not a toy!
- Take any survival and rescue classes you can. These are the types of classes that allow you to gain the knowledge and skills to save yourself or your buddy in the event things go south.
- Don't get caught in the climbing of ranks. Officer positions come with time and experience. Don't try to rush it just to prove you can.
- Visit sick firefighters. Take them soup or a good movie and hang out with them.
- Run reports are vital. Fill them out and fill them out good.
- Be friendly with forestry. Wildland fires can be brutal and these guys can get the job done in record times.
- Avoid cliches. Just because the media wants us to be drunks who see things or big burly muscle bound men does not mean we have to. Be you, it will be much easier and your department will thank you for it.
- Wire cutters. Fight with a tv line that has your helmet in a Jake the Snake Roberts choke hold or cut it, you do the math.
- Never pass a window looking for a door. When searching for a means of egress to many firefighters rely on doors when we can use a window just as easily.
- Swimming pools + bright lights= bad day! Take it from me. I fell into a pool in full gear after being spotlighted. Not a good feeling at all.
- Not every structure requires entry. Just because you want to go in does not mean you should.
- Try before you pry. Before you rip a door off it's hinges give that little knob a twist.
- Always and I stress always read Let's Talk Fire.
Take pride in what you have and it will be there a lot longer.
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