Technology with a Purpose

Archive for April, 2012

Profiling Today’s Fire Service Shiners, Whiners, and Recliners

Blog by Doug Cline
Chief of Operations with Horry County Fire Rescue (S.C.)

Some think you can just peal one firefighters name off the wall and replace it with another. Some have used the analogy that it will be the same circus but with different clowns.

This generalization couldn’t be more inaccurate. What we really have in today’s fire service are three types of folks: Shiners, Whiners and Recliners. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of these three types of individuals who make up todays fire service.

Shiners: This group is the backbone of the fire service. It keeps us moving. These individuals work tirelessly to make the fire service more professional, safer and better educated. They are focused on working to improve the safety of the community.

Shiners are self-motivated and always looking to make the system better. They are team players who truly care about the fire service. They are driven to find better ways to do their jobs.

Success is very important to a Shiner. They are never content with the status quo and are highly organized. In fact, a Shiner’s desire to keep things in order might be considered obsessive-compulsive.

Shiners don’t care, they’re about being the very best firefighter they can be, and helping others do the same.

Whiners and Recliners: They both do exactly that, Whiners whine and Recliners recline!

Whiners have a tendency to always be complaining and not working. But they like being bored; it gives them something to whine about. They dismiss new ideas and believe the status quo is good.

“It has worked for the last 20 years so why do we need to go changing?” they say.

For Recliners, success is measured by how much time they spend doing nothing. Their mindset is that the more they do, the more will be expected. Some have the mentality that all they were hired to do was run calls and fight fires.

Maybe with their feet propped up and head laid back that is all they see. Unfortunately, they never make it out of the station to see that the job demands more and the public deserves more.

Firefighters work and live in group environments. From their very first day walking into a fire station, recruits learn that the fire service functions in a team environment. Firefighters train in groups, work in groups, live in groups and eat in groups. This close interaction favors people who are trusting, cooperative, dependable and determined.

Because firefighters share so much of their lives with each other, they generally build team values, foster increased team cohesion and identify each member’s strengths and weaknesses.

However, some firefighter personality traits conflict with the team environment. In an interesting look at how firefighters work together, a study on work-injury frequency and duration found that when firefighters cooperated in groups, injury rates were lower than when firefighters didn’t interact with each other.

Firefighters who are reluctant to interact with other firefighters may in fact be reluctant to ask for help when they’re in trouble, possibly leaving them at risk of injury. So we can see that the Shiners, who are always training and learning, are our lowest risk to injuries.

The Recliners are most prone to injury since they have not trained or worked much with the other groups. Heck, it is tough getting up out of the recliner and doing something!

During my 28 years in the fire service, I’ve rarely witnessed a Shiner give up on a task. Shiners work at all cost to complete an assignment; sometimes even placing them at risk for the betterment of the task. Failure isn’t in the Shiners vocabulary. When they are faced with a failed mission, they take it personally.

On the other hand, Whiners are usually far too quick to embrace failure. They will just blame it on someone else and say they knew it would not work from the start.

The Recliners view on this is well, if we sit around long enough, someone else will do it or it will go away and we won’t have to deal with it. And they are absolutely right, a Shiner will probably come along and get it done.

Firefighters are people who will place their own lives in jeopardy in order to save a life. They enter the fire service knowing this is a high-risk occupation. But there’s no denying there are three distinct types of firefighters in our ranks. These are the types of people we need to manage and find ways to motivate. My advice for Shiners, Whiners and Recliners is: keep the Shiners motivated, give the Whiners plenty to whine about and get rid of the Recliners. They are dead weight.

About the Author
Douglas Cline, a 32-year veteran and student of the fire service, serves as assistant chief of operations with Horry County Fire Recue (S.C.). Cline is the President of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs (SEAFC), a member of the North Carolina Society of Fire and Rescue Instructors and the 1st Vice President International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI).

El Paso Fire Department Chooses TargetSolutions to Improve Training Efficiencies, Response Times

Like most fire departments, response times are critical for the El Paso Fire Department in Texas. The department’s standard of cover has a stated response goal of four minutes or less for all BLS calls and eight minutes or less for all ALS calls. The department is focused on beating those times on at least 90 percent of its runs, according to Strategic Planning Lieutenant Dennis Reglen. But it’s no easy task, especially when you consider the department serves a community with more than 650,000 residents spread out across 260-square miles.

Making this predetermined response time was growing exceedingly difficult, while simultaneously meeting federally mandated training provisions, Reglen said. The logistics of having units travel to the training facility for critical training activities, while also providing effective city-wide emergency response, was increasingly challenging for the department.

“The training needs to get done,” Reglen said. “But we also need to keep reliability of service in mind. We have expectations in our standard of cover, we have a goal and to meet that goal we need to keep units in their area as much as possible.”

With a clear objective in mind, El Paso Fire Department turned to TargetSolutions’ online fire training system. Now, with training provided by the industry’s leading fire department software, the department’s units are regularly positioned where they are most effective, Reglen said.

“Unit reliability was our biggest concern,” he said. “Given we have 75 units with nine, four-hour training sessions per year for each unit, it was required that we reduce our total unit availability by approximately 2,700 hours annually. TargetSolutions gives us the ability to keep our units in their response areas far more often.”

With a more convenient, flexible method for completing obligatory firefighter training requirements, the department is also benefitting from a more powerful record management system, Reglen said. The department was using a spreadsheet to track expiring certifications. But as most departments find, that was a recipe for disaster.

“We previously had no notification if an employee was about to miss a deadline,” Reglen said. “If they did, we didn’t know. Now, with TargetSolutions’ ‘Credentials Manager’ pushing everything, were much better off. That’s a huge factor for us. This system really helps us stay on track and notified rather than our old way of doing everything manually. The automated e-mail alerts help us tremendously.”

In fact, TargetSolutions’ innovative recordkeeping tools have Reglen much more confident in his department’s ability to score well during its next fire department ISO audit.

“I’m really excited about the ISO solution,” Reglen said. “ISO reports are such a big headache. It’s a lot of work getting ready for when the ISO team is going to be here. I think with this system it will be much easier. TargetSolutions’ (tracking capabilities) have cleaned up the process for us and we won’t have to depend on well-intended firemen anymore. TargetSolutions is making life easier. We’re not having to sit here and question whether our data is right or not.”

While the system has improved the department’s operational efficiencies, Reglen projects a significant improvement in its bottom line as well.

“Considering our units were traveling 645 times a year to our training facility for a total travel distance of 4,915 miles — coupled with rising gas prices, we anticipate a fuel savings of roughly $9,500 for fiscal year 2012,” Reglen said.

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

Training for Failure

Story by Dr. Richard B. Gasaway
Web master for Situational Awareness Matters (

Is it possible to train a firefighter to fail? You bet it is! I see it all the time. I should clarify that previous statement a little: I see it NOW all the time.

There was a time when I didn’t see it. In fact, I was one of those instructors who were training firefighters to fail. I didn’t realize I was doing it. No instructor would train a firefighter to fail on purpose. But, accidentally, it’s happening all the time and the consequences can be catastrophic.

In my Mental Management of Emergencies program I share with firefighters how easy it is to be trained to fail. Experienced officers and trainers alike have called this program a wake-up call and I could not agree more. As I was conducting my research about how the brain functions under stress I had an epiphany. We are training first responders to fail! It was a punch in the gut for me because I knew how many times I had provided flawed training to firefighters and EMS providers throughout my 30 years.

Let me share just one of many examples of how this can happen. But before I do, I have to offer you some B.S. (Brain Science). This will help in your understanding of how firefighters are being trained for failure.

B.S. Law No. 1: The stressed brain does not make decisions the same way as the non-stressed brain.
The lesson here is the non-stressed brain is a calm, rational thinking brain. It’s not under a lot of pressure so it can readily process information and figure out solutions to problems rather readily. The stressed brain; not so rational. In fact, just watching the apparent dumb things firefighters do when they are under stress would lead some people to surmise the stressed brain is irrational. The stressed brain isn’t irrational in its decision making. It is intuitive.

B.S. Law No. 2: Under stress, the brain runs automatic scripts.
The lesson here is the stressed brain compels the body to become a creature of habit. The brain will instruct the body to perform exactly how it was programmed to perform based mostly on memorization and repetition. This is true when recalling cognitive information (like people’s names and e-mail addresses). It is also the case with muscle memory (the physical movements tied to performing a task). Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.

B.S. Law No. 3: Muscle memory results from muscle movement.
The lesson here is muscles-memory is formed from actual physical movement, not from the storage of information about how to move. Talking about how to perform a demanding physical task is not the same as doing it. You can tell a firefighter all day long how to throw a ladder. But the brain does not store the memory of the actual movements until the muscles move and raise the ladder.

A Practical Application of the Brain Laws
Those are but three of dozens of lessons that are important for instructors to understand but let’s see how just those three can result in a firefighter being trained for failure.

Here’s the scenario. The instructor is going to conduct a live burn training evolution at the burn building. The crews arrive and everything is set up and the instructor conducts a pre-incident briefing of the day’s activities and objectives. Hose lines and water supplies are secured. The burn team is in place and fire in the hole! Send the first team in!

The first team advances with a 1inch line and they locate the fire and knock it down. They back out and the instructor team critiques their behavior. Each consecutive team does the same thing and this goes on for several hours and each team gets six evolutions on the line.

The instructors feel good because they know that repetition builds skills and these firefighters got some good training. The students feel good because they know they gained valuable experience and are now better prepared for structural firefighting. This is where the lessons of brain science and the fire service collide in a way that can have catastrophic consequences.

You see, the well-intended instructors, for the sake of expediency, never required each attack team to conduct a 360-degree size up around the burn building to develop their situational awareness before they engaged in the structural firefight. Why?

One of the most logical reasons is the burn building is constructed of concrete and steel. It’s NOT going to fall down on the attack team and everyone, including the instructors knows that. Everyone there has a comfort level with the stability of the structure. It’s built to be burned in for goodness sake. So, teams are not required to complete a 360-degree size up before starting each evolution.

Each team that enters the burn building advances a 1inch hose line to the fire and knocks it down. Fire isn’t large enough to require a 2inch in hose line. The smaller 1inch line is adequate and appropriate. The firefighters become very proficient with advancing their 1inch line and they are rewarded with success every time.

As firefighters practice these skills, the three laws from brain science are at work. The stress of the training causes the firefighters to think intuitively, not rationally. They are developing their automatic scripts (both cognitive and muscle memory). Under stress at a real structure fire, the firefighters are going to perform exactly how the scripts in their brains tell them to perform.

Have you ever seen or heard of an incident where a firefighting crew arrived on a fire that should have been a defensive (exterior) attack yet they went offensive (inside) the structure only to find themselves in a world of trouble quick? You could readily see they should not have gone inside. But for some reason, they didn’t see it the same way and, like fools, they rushed in. Were they being foolish? They certainly didn’t seem to be acting rational. That’s because they weren’t acting rational. They were acting intuitive. That’s Brain Law No. 1.

The firefighters arrive and go into a well-involved fire that any competent firefighter would readily say was a no-go fire (i.e., the firefighters do not go in for it would mean catastrophic consequences). Why would the firefighters enter a no-go environment and jeopardize their lives? Because that’s what they were trained to do-go! In fact, it is absolutely rare for firefighters to be trained on the physical and cognitive tasks associated with no-go. So when the firefighters arrive, they go in. They ALWAYS go in because their brains are running automatic scripts. That’s Brain Law No. 2.

The firefighters that arrive and go into the well-involved fire are yet vulnerable to another major consequence. If the fire is no-go it is probably going to be a large fire that requires large water. But the poor firefighting team does not pull a 2inch line. They pull the 1inch hose line and advance it into a fire whose potential far exceeds the capacity of their small hose line. Big fire requires big water. That’s sorational. So why would these firefighters not pull the larger line? Because muscle memory has been built up over numerous practice evolutions. The muscles know a structure fire gets attacked with a 1inch line. The muscle movement of practice over time has built muscle memory. That is Brain Law No. 3.

The Catastrophic Results
Put it all together and what do you have?

Firefighters arriving at well-involved structures, failing to complete a 360-degree size up causing flawed situational awareness. By not practicing the complete size-up they are missing the important lessons of how to assess building construction, fire and smoke conditions. The fire may be defensive but they don’t see it as a defensive fire. Because in their minds, the script reads every fire is an offensive fire.

They advance small hose lines into fires that need big hose lines because they have only practiced with small hose lines. Even if, during training, the instructor were to say now remember, if you have a big fire, you need to pull a big hose line this will not work. It is a rational statement being made to a rational mind. Of course it’s going to make sense. The students may even let out a collective “no duh!” in response as if to indicate such a simple concept did not need to be iterated.

It’s not what the instructor says that will dictate the performance. It’s what the student does that will determine it.

Here are some tangible recommendations for fixing these problems.

1. Build a 360-degree size up into every evolution. Don’t just have them walk around for the sake of walking around. Have them say what they are looking for as it relates to building construction, building decomposition, fire and smoke conditions.

2. Practice pulling 2inch lines in training. Even if the training fire is too small for a large line, practice pulling and using the larger line.

3. Discuss and train firefighters on what no-go conditions look like. What the building decomposition would look like. What the fire conditions would look like. What the smoke conditions would look like.

4. Train firefighters on the physical tasks to be performed when a fire is a no-go fire so they know, physically, what they should do.

Is it possible to train a firefighter to fail? You bet it is! But it is avoidable with a minor change in how we conduct our training.

About the Author
Dr. Richard B. Gasaway has served as a firefighter, EMT-paramedic, company officer, training officer and fire chief in six emergency services organizations in West Virginia, Ohio and Minnesota. In addition to his exemplary 30-year career in public safety, Dr. Gasaway has completed extensive studies on the high-stress, high-consequence environments first responders operate in and how stress impacts decision making and situational awareness. His findings have been chronicled in more than 150 books, book chapters, training videos and first responder journals. Dr. Gasaway serves as the webmaster for the Situational Awareness Matters website (, a site dedicated to improving first responder safety.

TargetSolutions to Show Platform’s Capabilities at FDIC

This is an important week for the fire service community. One of the largest conferences of the year is now underway in Indianapolis.

FDIC, which is being held at the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium, is running now through Saturday and TargetSolutions will be there when the exhibit hall opens Thursday. If you’d like to come by and check out TargetSolutions, the industry’s most powerful and innovative online training and records management system, please stop by booth No. 13040.

“We’re very excited to attend this conference,” said Vice President of Sales & Marketing Jon Kostyzak, “who will be handing out free swag (t-shirts) at the booth. This is one of the marquee events on our calendar. We see this event as a tremendous vehicle to discuss our platforms capabilities. FDIC is all about training and so are we.”

TargetSolutions will also be hosting a user workshop on Friday at 12:30 p.m. The special event, which is open to all current clients and prospects, will be held in the Santa Fe Room of the Indianapolis Marriot Downtown.

There will be free food and an up-close look at TargetSolutions’ cutting-edge platform that is revolutionizing the way departments approach training and recordkeeping.

“Whether you’re an existing client or just considering the platform, this will be a really beneficial event,” said Director of Client Services Jenny Cady Fergason. “We are going to spend a lot of time talking about how the platform is helping fire departments reduce costs, streamline operations and save time. We’re going to answer everyones questions, so this is really recommended for anyone considering TargetSolutions.”

“If you’d like to sign up for the event, please stop by booth No. 13040 for information or just show up to the Marriot Downtown on Friday,” Fergason said.

For more information on FDIC, please check online at

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

Who Says It Has to Be Difficult to Report for the ISO

If you’re like most training officers, you’ve had your share of headaches tracking and organizing training records in preparation for an audit by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). You know that if your records aren’t documented properly, you won’t receive credit from the ISO.

With TargetSolutions, everything is simplified.

TargetSolutions features powerful records management system functionality that will help your department achieve Class 1 status. The platform enables site administrators to easily and automatically accumulate the proper documentation making the entire process stress-free.

“TargetSolutions has created a records system that clearly allowed our organization to comply with our scheduled ISO audit in September of 2010,” said Guy Keirn, who is a training chief with Pinellas Park Fire Department in Florida. “The process of completing the training section of the report for ISO was seamless. We were able to extract all required information and complete a comprehensive report for the ISO inspector.”

TargetSolutions helps departments achieve greater efficiency with ISO tracking by providing access to premade, completely customizable training templates that were created specifically to report for the ISO. After training officers have delivered these activities to their employees, they can rest confidently knowing TargetSolutions’ industry-leading records management system will automatically track completions and eliminate the hassle of having to search through endless paper trails and stacks of training spreadsheets.

“ISO reports require a bunch of things, but one of the key things is training records,” said Cal Fire San Diego’s Fire Captain Dan Collins. “With the TargetSolutions system the battalion chief can easily pull out those training records. That’s a big help.”

In addition to easier tracking, final reports are comprehensive and will exceed the ISO’s expectations. Tim Riley, who is the chief of the Dunedin Fire Department in Florida, implemented TargetSolutions before his most recent fire department ISO audit and he reported back that ISO loved it.

“I absolutely endorse TargetSolutions,” Riley said. “With TargetSolutions you can easily track, assign and create a training program that is customized specifically to the needs of your own department. Tracking and standardizing firefighter training, whether for a recertification, a qualification, or ISO, has never been easier or more efficient than with our TargetSolutions system.”

About TargetSolutions
TargetSolutions is the leading provider of web-based technology solutions for fire and EMS departments. These solutions enable departments to maintain compliance, reduce losses, deliver curriculum, and track all station-level tasks, certifications and training activities.

With His Feet Missing His Motivation Returned: Are You in the Same Boat? Is It Time for a Gut Check?

Blog by Richard Blackmon
Captain, Fulton County Fire Rescue Department (Ga.)

I want to share a personal experience you may understand all too well. Recently, when I stepped out of the shower, I looked down and didn’t see my feet. You can imagine my horror. I began to panic, where did they go?

I started to look in the shower to see if they might have fallen off, but was scared to move in case I fell over. Standing there flustered and alarmed, I took a deep breath and slowly bent down to search for my missing feet. It only took a second to realize I did in fact still have feet, they were just hidden by my increasingly over-sized stomach.

What is the point of this you might ask? Well, I had become overweight and at that moment, I decided it was finally time to do something about it.

I am turning 51 years old this year and things need to change. With that in mind, I put a plan in place. I have had a treadmill for years and it has had many roles in my household, most notably, a holding area for my clothes and a storage area for my belongings. But I decided it was time to make that treadmill my best friend. After all, it just might be what saves my life.

My wife and I removed some of the clutter the treadmill was collecting, cleaned the dust away and plugged it in. I didn’t expect it to work, but after a few seconds it came back to life and I jumped on. It was tough at first, but you know what, it’s starting to get easier now.

Motivated with a goal in mind, I’m now ready for my next challenge: lifting weights. I’ve started working out on a daily basis and am walking two miles per day. It’s only been a few short weeks, but I already feel better.

I thought, as long as I am doing all of this exercising, eating better, etc., I might as well go all the way. I decided to make an appointment for my yearly physical.

Those of us serving as emergency responders have a demanding, stressful and important job. But if you look at the statistics, most firefighters don’t die in a burning building or at the scene of a natural disaster. They die from a heart attack. It’s time to take health and wellness safety for firefighters seriously.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be around for a long, long time. I want to continue my career and carry on helping the people of my community. I want to see my grandkids one day.

If you read this far, you may be like me. I hope you’ll take the time to do a self-analysis of your physical well-being. If you need to make some changes, there is no better time than now.

Be safe. Be healthy.

About the Author
Richard Blackmon is a captain with the Fulton County Fire Rescue Department in Fulton County, Georgia. He has worked in the fire service for more than 15 years and is a training officer for his department. He is an adjunct instructor with the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and the Department of Homeland Security as a terrorism awareness instructor. He retired from the US Air Force as a master sergeant and saw combat in Grenada, Panama and the first Gulf War.

Advice for Leaders in the Fire Service: Communicate with Your Rookies

Blog by Jacob Johnson
Lieutenant with Pearland Fire Department (Texas)

What’s the best way to handle a rookie who really isn’t a rookie? You know, someone who left another department and has arrived at your doorstep. These newcomers are rookies in your department and need to learn your department’s culture, but they are still skilled with some experience in the field.

How should we as officers handle these situations?

These individuals are a little different than the regular everyday rookie just off the street. These people require a certain kind of treatment that other trainees don’t. I have with this situation several times now. A rookie recently came to our department with four years of experience. He was starting to learn the Driver/Operator position at his previous department. Here is how I handled his assimilation, and though it may not be perfect, it seems to be working nicely:

First, I sat the rookie down on his first shift and explained my expectations. I wanted to make sure he found out what was expected from me, not someone else. Obviously, expectations for somebody with four years of experience are different than someone just out of fire school. Your rookie should be able to test out of basic skills very quickly and be comfortable testing on their first day if called upon. Once they clear all basic skills, then take those abilities and build on them.

Secondly, I explained that because of his previous experience, the rookie treatment would be reduced. That he would be given a little more wiggle-room than a typical rookie. I wanted to make sure he understood, however, if he ever slacked up, he was most definitely going to hear about it. Even with previous experience, newcomers need to have necessary expectations, duties and goals that all rookies need to live up to.

I have had this conversation with several newcomers to my crew and have seen tremendous results. By communicating effectively, the newcomers feel respect, while being made completely aware of what a new employee is expected to deliver.

The most important thing for just about any rookie, in just about every profession, is to be accepted by the crew. This is especially true in our line of work. Firefighters are known to eat their young and as officers we allow it because we believe it will pay dividends and make that one-time rookie into a seasoned professional. Very seldom do officers really need to get involved, anyway. Usually your crew will handle the rookie well before you need to. Just make sure they do it in the right way.

Treating a newcomer with some experience like he’s completely uninformed will cause them to shut down. We need to respect their experience. And the best way to receive respect is to give respect. It’s also equally important for rookies to respect the men and women who came before them. Communication is the key.

About the Author
Jacob Johnson is a lieutenant with the Pearland Fire Department in Texas. He has been in the fire service for more than 10 years.