Archive for the ‘7. Everything Else’ category

Mental Poison

01/03/2014

This one has been brewing for years, and I think it is time to get it out in the open for everyone to share. I really struggle with this topic and it creates a lot of frustration for me to try and comprehend that this is something we are even talking about. Lets just start it out bluntly.

If you’re already set in your ways, and have long ago decided that not only are you going to just simply gather a paycheck but at the same time hold a deep never ending grudge for the guys that are trying to move forward and make this job better, then go ahead,  hold on to that mediocre mentality, sit back for the ride and finish your career in that state, but by all means KEEP IT TO YOURSELF!

I am truly sick of new, young, great minds on this job coming to me discouraged because these people have decided to demotivate them and talk trash about myself, my crew and everything we believe in. You know who you are, and I hope you sit back for a second and realize that you are mentally poisoning the youth and future of our job. It is easier for you to verbally bring us down to new guys (because they won’t talk back) then it is to step up and bring your own crew to the front and raise the bar. This is criminal, do you know how big of an impact you have on these guys that are just trying to do the right thing and work hard. They are at a point in their career where they are just looking for guidance on how to do their job right, and trying to figure out what that really means. The good ones are attracted to places where they have mentors that will actually teach them, but then you try and spin us off as “those guys”, and proceed to describe to them every single way that I will ruin their career if they come around me.  That is garbage.

We have a great bunch of people that have come on our job in the last few years, some of the best new guys that I have ever had come through our firehouse and other great ones I didn’t get to work with. Hungry, motivated, self driven, and ready to get better everyday. They are blowing the old expectations  of what it meant to be a good new guy out of the water. When they finish their probation and move on to their own firehouse I  watch with great satisfaction as these new guys start making an impact on their own with their highly motivated mentality of holding themselves to a standard of pursuing mastery of their craft. At the end of the day,  my only goal for them as they rotate through our firehouse, is to mentor and teach them the way I would want to be taught. DSCN2940 - Version 3

If we hold up on our end of the deal of what it means to be mentors, then we will reap the rewards across the entire job as that mentality slowly moves around the city. However, as I have learned first hand, be prepared to put yourself out there and take a beating from a group of people that will fight this type of energy everyday of your career. DSCN0470 - Version 2

Here’s some examples of  the mental poison that is being put into these young motivated minds by others who are threatened by what we are teaching. They tell these guys to be very careful at my firehouse and never let yourself become one of “those guys”. They will say that it’s an easy thing to get sucked into down there and you will see in the long run it is a waste of your time and energy. They will make accusations that we only care about fires but never focus on any other aspect of our job. They will try to convince them that it is all shallow egos, cockiness, and bravado. They will even go as far as to tell these guys that they are training too much and that they will never make it through a career if they don’t take it easy. The list goes on of a hundred different examples that are being used in an attempt to scare them (the new guys) away from ever “being a part of that”.

Let me tell you what being “a part of that” is. Expectations are high, you come to work everyday knowing full well it could be the day where we need you at your best. You check your truck out in the morning like it’s actually your job. That doesn’t mean a walk around the truck, that means halyards are dressed and tied around only one rung. It means batteries are fresh on tools and blades have been replaced. It means running your hands down the chains on the saw to make sure they are sharp enough to grab your skin so you know they are fresh. It means the power heads/saws are getting run everyday. If lines are sloppy they are pulled and re loaded, yes, even in the winter or on a Sunday (what a concept). That is how important our apparatus is to us.

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It means training comes first. If your priorities aren’t regularly based around quality company training, I can assure you nothing else will replace it. No amount of drawing on a whiteboard, or talking about hose lays at the tailboard will replace actually doing it. Your email management is not what makes you a good officer! We need leaders who are willing to get dirty and be the first one to step up at the next drill. If you are leading an engine company with one of these new guys on it right now and it has been more than a few shifts since you pulled a line, shame on you. You are  verbally telling them how wrong we are, but your inaction at your own firehouse is sending a far stronger message to them.  I have noticed a common denominator to the trash talking over the years. The more frequently you talk down about us, directly correlates with how infrequently you teach your new guy hose management. DSCN1675 - Version 2

Early on in my career, I was surprised how you almost had to feel bad for feeling this way about the job, I had plenty of times were that atmosphere made it feel like you were in the wrong and almost as if you should apologize for being at a certain firehouse. I got the same talks from guys telling me not to be a part of that, to choose my battles (and that this was not one to be involved in), I was that new guy receiving the same demotivating talks that the current ones are still hearing.

Company Pride does not have to equal unchecked Egos and cockiness. Can they go together sometimes? Sure they can. But 99% of this negative light that is brought on about my firehouse is created outside of it. I am not sure if it is insecurities about their own companies performance, or if they feel bad about the time spent in the lounge chairs while we are out training. But something makes them feel as if they need to discredit everything about us. When you have a group of guys that want to build a crew and their common goal is to be the best they can possibly be, company pride and espirit de corp will always be present. When another fire company does not have this common goal, does not believe in company pride, and sees training as more of a bother, then clearly it doesn’t take a genius to see why they are offended by a highly motivated crew with strong company pride.

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We understand that this high energy mentality that is starting to gain traction with our youth is intimidating. It requires a lot of hard work, dedication to training your new guy, and an all around commitment to raise the bar on your own performance. I am not sorry that we are choosing the hard way, because it is the right way. For those of you who truly believe in this mental poison you are spreading among our youth, keep it to yourselves. If you feel you have to talk to someone about it, I honestly welcome a phone call from you any day I am on shift. I will always have a discussion about this topic, but I will always ask you one question. Can you tell your Chief word for word these beliefs that you are so quick to tell to the new guys? Because I can tell him mine, and I stand behind every word. 

For the young guys that are working hard and trying to be masters of their craft….Keep on going, you are doing the right thing and we will always stand behind you. The right way is rarely the easiest way, and at the end of the day it is pretty clear who’s who.

-Ryan Royal

Shining Examples Of “REAL” Brotherhood

08/01/2013

By Ryan Royal

Brotherhood, that term that is constantly debated at the kitchen table and across the fire service. Sometimes I read so much about the brotherhood dying it makes me wonder if it is salvageable. I have grown up around this job and learned a great deal about the brotherhood long before I was a part of it. I am thankful for this, it has helped me do my part to preserve and teach what real brotherhood is all about both on and off duty. At times I begin to get down and believe the masses when they say the brotherhood is simply trickling away and it is hard to get guys to do anything for each other. Well I am here to say I have been recharged and my outlook on the current level of brotherhood around my department has been lifted into a very positive perspective.

Its NOT dead yet…not if we have anything to say about it.

The Colorado Springs Metro Area has taken a relatively large hit when it relates to fires in the last year. Within 1 year we lost over 850 homes and 4 of our citizens in two separate fires. It has obviously been a trying time for thousands of our citizens but at the same time has really put our firefighters to the test physically and emotionally. Tremendous challenges, long work hours, close calls, unprecedented fire behavior and just the frustration of being in the middle of whole neighborhoods on fire while having to write off hundreds of homes that we would traditionally be making aggressive interior attacks on. The guys have really been tested on duty, and I think being tested in situations like this builds brotherhood.

But what about off duty?
Sometimes it can be easy for us to pack up and completely block out everything that has to do with the FD the second they walk out the back door. At times this can be healthy, as long as we remember that real brotherhood does not work 10 days a month. Real brotherhood is shown by taking care of each other both on and off duty.

“Brotherhood is a great tradition that binds us together in fellowship”

Let me tell you about two men on our job who are receiving a healthy dose of brotherhood, neither of which would have ever asked for it but both of them being over-deserving of it. I originally wanted to write an article based off my opinions on what the brotherhood really means,  instead I will tell you facts based of off real stories of brotherhood that I was able to witness in the last month. The men below both lived in Black Forest when a fire destroyed 500 homes and killed two people. They were dead in the tracks of the main firestorm and lost a tremendous amount.

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Photo Credit: Steven D. Smith

PJ Langmaid rides the backseat on the cities only Rescue in Colorado Springs. I went through the academy with PJ and we graduated onto the same shift together. PJ is a very dedicated fireman who has put a tremendous amount of time into studying his craft. He is an extremely talented carpenter and probably has one of the most natural gifts of problem solving that I have ever seen. When you’re in one of those situations where you just need another mind working through your problem, he is the one to have at your side. I wish we had a way to take some of his common sense, bottle it up, and sell it to the long line of people that could use a dose or two. I know most of this because we have become friends over the years and I have done a lot of work with him. Not everyone gets to see this side of him, but that is the beauty of my story. PJ might come off rough around the edges to some people, maybe it’s that “boston attitude” (where PJ grew up) that makes people get caught up in judging a book by its cover. He is frank and tells it how he sees it, but I’ll tell you what comes with that. You get a very loyal friend who always puts the brotherhood above his own needs. I cannot count how many times he has been at someones house after receiving a single phone call, for no other reason then they needed help and that’s just what you do in his mind. He is a protector of tradition, he believes in making firefighters better and teaching them the ways and important cultures of the fire service, brotherhood in particular. He spends his extra money on attending firefighters funerals and has networked a great deal around the country in an attempts to see how himself or his department can be better.  He is very strong willed when it comes to protecting our mission and leads by example on the importance of being quick out the door, combat ready, well trained, and continually keeping your head in the game.

Here is what he is really bad at. Asking for help.  Like most of us, he will ask for help only when he physically cannot figure out a way to get it done himself. It probably sounds familiar to most of you.

PJ and his family lost everything  in the Black Forest Fire, it was completely reduced to about 4 inches of white incinerated powder. What survived the fire after sifting could probably fit into a five gallon bucket. He also lost about 350 of his trees which is 99% of his property.

I had the pleasure of being the “contact point” for the efforts to help PJ, by being in this position it really let me see the full array of brotherhood he began to receive. With a little discussion, a few emails and talking with some other guys on the job it rapidly started to take shape. In a matter of weeks the Brotherhood went into motion and money was being collected from sources as small as a single engine company putting together some cash to larger unions organizations writing very large checks. Soon enough thousands of dollars began to roll in. Cash, Home Depot gift cards and checks came from all around the state of Colorado, many of these from firefighters and their families that had never once met PJ, had only heard that he needed help. That is an incredible gesture. One donation that really impressed me was from a fellow forcible entry and training company based out of Portland Oregon. The guys from Brothers In Battle LLC heard about our efforts and took their entire profit from the last class they hosted and sent it his way. No questions asked, they just felt it was the right thing to do. That is putting your money where you mouth is.

Here is a quick look at PJs home after the fire, and the progress that him and the brothers have made in a matter of weeks.

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Money was where most of the efforts were being focused on for PJ, but the grunt work was still being accomplished behind the scenes. PJ and some of our fellow firefighters had gathered on numerous days to sift his foundation, shovel it into dumpsters and then completely rip up the old slab, grade the property and prep it for building a new home. It is now ready and plans are being drawn up for his new house, (which he will build himself of course).

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Gator just retired out of Engine 19 and Truck 19 on July 5th 2013.  Gator completed a career where he can officially walk away and say he had his head in the game for over 30 years. He spent time on busy companys and  worked on the citys Rescue for quite a while. Gator is a well known legend on the job and I have no doubt each and every person could tell their own story about him.  I worked on Truck 19 as my first assignment after completing probation, I was up there with two other firefighters and all three of us were very green, young and full of energy. When we showed up, Gator was our driver and we were intimidated to say the least. Gator is one of those guys that would fit perfectly into the stereotype of the “old driver”. He had the intimidation factor, he was quick to speak up if it was something he didn’t agree with and was very protective of his crew. It took him a while to figure you out, and you had to prove yourself to really get the full benefit of working around Gator.

Here’s the side of Gator that I got to know. He was one of my first mentors that really taught me what it meant to be good at this job. That included all aspects that encompass being a good fireman. He embraced the young new guy that I was and decided to truly push and challenge me. The low standards that are set as a minimum in most of our fire departments is not what he would let me settle for, he constantly made me think about how and why I was doing a certain skill or tactic. He developed me to think for myself and to fully understand the difference between realistic training and checkbox skills. Gator taught us that there was always time to train, that it should happen daily, that you should be in your gear and that training fell second in line only to running alarms.

This is a senior guy at a slower house that could have just as easily decided to check out and let us young guys figure it out on our own. Instead he took complete ownership of us and passed on the dying art of basic firemanship. I attribute a large portion of my love for the basics of this job to Gator, primarly because of the way he guided my mindset and priorities early on in my career.

The other side of the job that Gator taught us about is what it means to be part of the brotherhood. He reminded us that it was a privilege and that just showing up in the same uniform didn’t give us automatic rights or entitlement to this tradition. He taught us to take care of one another and to always step up for a brother in need. Comaradery is something that he built between the whole crew, and I know few men like him that can bring the same type of energy to a fire company. He showed us what it meant to be the senior man, and it became very clear that your seniority number is not what made you a good senior man.

When Gators property was overun by the Black Forest fire, I knew it was time to step up and organize something that would return the favor. Gators house did survive, no one will ever no exactly how it made it. He lost a good portion of his property, his garage and horse barn, including two horses. Every single house on his entire street was completely reduced to a foundation. Gators house sits on a small portion of unburned land completely surrounded by the land that was devastated during this fire. To complicate things, this fire happened when Gator was 5 shifts away from retiring. He was beat down, discouraged, and very pessimistic about ever returning to live at his current property. He canceled the massive retirement party we had planned and was content with moving on to retirement, just like that.

This is where we knew it could not end that way. A guy like this needs a sendoff worthy of a local fire service legend.

Gator payed it forward his whole career, now it was time for him to collect. With a few emails and phone calls I witnessed a work day begin to form. The day we were going to do his retirement party had now started to develop into an all day land and tree clearing party. I began to receive so many texts and calls of people trying to RSVP that I knew it was going to be a big deal.

Brotherhood had truly arrived. WIth only a week or two notice, July 10th turned into one massive display of brotherhood and camradery that sent Gator off in the proper fashion. Over 70 of our guys showed up and from 9am until 4pm over 150 trees had been cut down, limbed, hauled, bucked and split into enough firewood to last a decade. Guys continued working until every last log had been split and stacked. We then had a BBQ and sat around telling stories and lies until late into the night, sending Gator off in proper fire service fashion.

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We all know how hard it is to get this many firefighters in one spot, it is almost impossible. I can honestly tell you that I did not have to remind one single person about this day. Guys poured in one after another, dozens of chainsaws, a skid steer, 3 hydraulic splitters and an unbelievable energy among every single person that showed up. It was overwhelming to see the amount of extremly hard labor that went on all in the name of helping a brother out. I want to thank each and every person that showed up, you have done your part in keeping such a sacred tradition alive. Gator should be able to look at that group photo and recognize the type of impact he has made on our Fire Department. His legacy will carry on because of the way he has taught each one of us.

The next photo is a perfect example of how Gators impact will live on through guys he never even worked with. That is the face of brotherhood (a dirty one at that). He was one of our newest guys on the job, himself and some of his fellow new guys worked harder than I could have ever imagined, in return they were able to experience the fire service brotherhood at its finest and will remember examples like this for the rest of their careers. These new guys are what will carry on everything that guys like Gator and PJ are currently standing up for. It is how we keep this long standing characteristic of our job alive, but it only continues if you take the time to pass it on, and show brotherhood through your actions, not just by words.

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This was a long winded article but I thought it was a story worth taking a few minutes to read. I am honored to have been a part of this day and very humbled and thankful to everyone in the picture below. Thank you all for repaying our brothers in a time of need and setting a fine example to the rest of the fire service during a time where the integrity of the Brotherhood seems to be questioned. Well done.

(Click on the photo for a full size picture)

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Choices

06/24/2013
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It really comes down to three choices that you will have at the end of your probationary year…Three roads you can pick from.

1. You can become fully engaged and decide that you will be a professional firefighter, your head will be in the game and you come to work to fully earn your check and your title. You will study and improve your craft and train every person that will replace you at some point. All the way up till the end of your career, you will become better and still enjoy doing the job. Entitlement is not an issue and you realize that We Owe The Citizens our best performance when the time comes.

2. You can do your job and maintain the the average bar of what we are expected to do, not ever going much above that but still being a useful hand when we need you. This is still a critical part of our fire service, but won’t change the problems that we face today. You’re there, but will you improve it in some way or another?

3. You can (but shouldn’t) barely skate through your probationary year and then view that next year as “you made it”, you now view this as just another day at work and feel no responsibility to training yourself or others around you. You breed complacency and always manage to find something more important then training or maintaining our rigs. Rehearsing the TV schedule for the week is easy but knowing how to cut a garage door is a foreign and  “unneeded concept”. Your second job is way more important and please don’t bother me with training, because we will figure it out when we get there. As long as “the fire goes out and everybody goes home” you consider it a success and can mentally block any of the real performance problems that may have occurred. The engaged guys annoy you and you like to pretend the stuff they train on is all hypothetical fairy tales that never happen…until they do.
We might annoy you, but you offend us.

The number 1s and 2s are taking it back!!! Beware number 3s, its OUR time!!!!

For all of the new guys, these are CHOICES. It is up to you!    We can tell which one you choose.

 

Bittersweet

12/12/2012

Tough fire last shift, multiple burn victims outside. Child still stuck inside. Large body of fire upon arrival. Because of the hard hitting, combat ready crew that I have the honor to work with everyday, we were able to rescue an 8 month old from inside. It was each and every one of them, from the first line protecting the interior search, to the outside Truck team setting up for VES and choosing the right window. All the bases were covered. I don’t take for granted coming to work with a fire company that believes in being our best and giving our neighborhood the best chance possible. Every day they commit to fight complacency and mentor others to the finer points of this trade. They still believe that no matter how many other obligations this profession throws at us, we are still responsible to be the professionals at fighting fire. Cheers to them and what they stand for, Engine 8, Truck 8 2012.

The young child will be fine, however keep the adult and other child in your thoughts as they are both in critical condition in burn units. Thank you.

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Never Forget, Not Just One Day A Year (Part 2)

12/03/2012

By Ryan Royal

December 3rd, 1999, Worcester Massachusetts. It’s an important day and most of us in the Fire Service know exactly what happened and have known this as a significant event in most of our careers. Hopefully we Never Forget, because good men were lost in a valiant effort and also left behind a terribly large number of widows and children. We lost 6 brother firefighters that day, some who were searching for the helpless, and some who were searching for their brothers. A very dramatic fire scene that ended up with a Chief performing an act that could have been one of the hardest decisions he has ever made in his career. The decision to deny entry of any other firefighters, all while knowing he had already potentially lost 6 of his men, and many more could have been lost in the same fashion. This fire changed our fire service, just like so many others, they all bring about some type of lesson.

I have spoke about this specific topic before, the last time was on 9-11 and had the same title (Never Forget, Not Just One Day A Year). What do these fires mean to us? We say Never Forget right? Well for those of us who were not there, were not intimately involved, didn’t see the funeral, or have to remove a brother from a building, what does this mean for us? We say never forget, but it has to run deeper than that, it cannot be something that we share or recognize on that one day of the year in the name of brotherhood. We must truly do our best to honor and remember the never ending list of LODD’s in our Fire Service.

The first step of properly remembering, is to remind yourself not to be “That Guy” when we see the news of the next LODD. That guy that instantly bashes the actions of a firefighter who just lost his life in a fire 2000 miles away in a building that you have never seen, on a fireground that is the same as your next one will be….FAR FROM PERFECT!! This makes me crazy, there’s a time to show respect and mourn, than at a later date there’s a time to learn lessons and critique the actions at the fire. Let me clarify; when I say critique I mean try to figure out what might help us prevent the same situation from happening to our own company. Not pretend like you have all of the answers and that it could have never happened to you. We can learn a tremendous amount from these situations and still keep the values of brotherhood and respect intact.

How else can we remember? We can start by not letting their names be the only part that we remember. They have left us extremely valuable lessons that will continue to save firefighters lives long past their untimely deaths. So many of these fires have changed the way we do business and made us very aware of the many different ways that we could potentially get ourselves into trouble. If this is your profession and you are not studying the lessons that these men and women have posthumously given us, than you are wasting a gift to the brotherhood that they paid for with their life.

It is the most expensive mentorship that we can possibly receive, and the only way for you or I to repay it to our fallen is to carry their name on by teaching and mentoring ourselves and others to the important lessons they left behind. What about the new guys in our profession who were not around when many of these events happen. How are they supposed to “Never Forget” something they never knew. It is our job to make sure they know. We cannot have minds that only draw experience from the years we have worked on this job, it needs to stretch back 100’s of years and constantly be updated with experiences that happened to men long before we were even born. Many in the fire service call this the 300 year mind. This really struck home for me recently as I was training a new guy. As we discussed the topic of the day I spoke of Charleston like it was common terminology, it took me a sentence or two before I realized my probie did not know what I was talking about. I asked, “You know about the Charleston 9 right?” He honestly answered me and confirmed he did not. At first this frustrated me and almost offended me, I thought “How could you not know about Charleston, it only happened 5 years ago”.  I realized, this was my fault not his. He was only 5 months into his career and never worked as a firefighter before this. The Charleston 9, the Worcester 6, Black Sunday, Buffalo, these all happened well before he even picked up an application for this job. These are recent fires, we are not even touching the archives of the Vendome Hotel, 23rd Street or even Brett Tarver.

Think about that as each year goes by in your career. Remember it is absolutely our responsibility to make sure these firefighters did not just leave a “Name” behind, they paid the ultimate sacrifice to the citizens and their families and gave way too much to be just names. They left legacies of mentorship to each and every one of us.

 

Here is a good start, if you don’t know about each and every one of these fires, and know the details and lessons learned. Take it upon yourself to make sure no one around you is clueless about these men.

Worcester Mass, Dec 3rd, 1999. Cold Storage Warehouse Fire
FF Brotherton, FF Jackson, FF Lucey, FF Lyons, FF McGuirk, Lt. Spencer,

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Buffalo NY, August 24th, 2009
Lt. McCarthy, FF Croom
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Charleston SC, June 18th 2007. Sofa Super Store Fire

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New York City, NY. Black Sunday, January 23, 2005, also Joe DiBernardo added Nov 22nd, 2011

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San Francisco, CA, June 2nd, 2011. Berkeley Way Fire

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New York City, NY, August 18th 2007. Deutsche Bank Fire

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“Speak The Truth Even When Your Voice Shakes”

10/10/2012

By Ryan Royal

There is a battle brewing in our beloved fire service against an enemy that we can’t battle with 2 1/2 inch smooth bores, it is an old foe that is not new to the fire service by any means but I think we used to handle it in a different way. We used to be able to handle it with a stern, man to man talk out back of the firehouse. Grab a cup, go outside, let it rip, call someones bluff, find a solution and move on like men. Before we move on, let me make something clear, I am not trying to act like an old salt here talking about the good old days of handling problems, but I have been taught and mentored by these people who grew up in that fire service. What is happening currently scares me, because without these talks, without that gruff senior guy calling your bluff and bringing you back down to earth, the enemy grows at a rapid pace. When this enemy grows unchecked it is like a working fire with no water, it grows rapidly and we can not stop it until it is too far gone.

Ego, is this enemy. Unchecked ego especially.

I have it, we all have it, but at what level and how is it kept in check? Unchecked egos advance rapidly, and when this happens you can ensure yourself that integrity will be the next part of a mans character to be sacrificed. The two can’t mix, maybe for a while they can, but at some point your ego can become so powerful that it blinds your reality and you don’t notice the threads of your integrity are slowly unraveling. This job can create an ego and build on it from the day you walk in, it is the nature of the profession. You are being taught that you are now part of the select few called upon to protect the large majority of your city, your told that you will be called when everyone else can not solve their own problems and that you will have the answers one way or another. That failure is not an option and that one way or another no matter what happens, we will do what it takes to get the job done. Right? How would that not develop some healthy pride and ego in a new firefighter? I think that is ok, we need “doers” in this profession, people that need to be held back at times, people that have some pride in themselves with healthy confidence and ego. It comes with the territory, with that said the only way to keep this powerful enemy contained is with a healthy dose of reality to cause humbleness from time to time.

In the firehouse you typically find that reality from your peers, (maybe some more than others) we have each other to call your bluff, to provide some peer pressure and just remind you that there is much more knowledge and wisdom out there than what is contained to a single mans experience. This is very important, there has to be that healthy amount of fear in the back of your mind reminding you that if you voice an opinion or direct your beliefs to others that you have the potential to be called out. You will also find this when you make a mistake, with a few conditions. Our job has plenty of mistakes that come with it, almost every fire has a handful of mistakes that can be found. We are going to make mistakes, but it is how we handle them afterwards that shows true character. If you make a mistake, you will and should be called out on it, because that is what drives improvement. Most firefighters biggest fear of making a mistake is not stemmed from the result of the mistake, it is knowing that others are going to hear or see their mistake which is just as powerful as being called out on it in the first place. You know what prevents being called out on your mistake? From being in that uncomfortable situation of having to explain yourself and all of the uncomfortable questions that have been developed by others having time to think about what you messed up on and how they could have done it better? Own that mistake, just own it, take full responsibility for it! It is good for you, it keeps you grounded and shows integrity, it reminds you that your just another blue collar worker like your fellow firefighters, someone who does and will make mistakes in the future. When you own a mistake it shows leadership, it shows your brothers that not only do you make mistakes but it allows you to own it and explain why and how it happened instead of letting them form their own opinions. I have learned all of this the hard way, but once I did it became a very simple concept. These concepts are a powerful weapon against Egos.

This old driver has called my bluff, its probably what he’s doing in this picture. He might come off rough around the edges to some, but he’s honest, loyal, and a mentor who never had a problem keeping me in check.

We cannot lose the ability to have honest discussions with each other, to provide that pressure that keeps us grounded. If we get to a point where we cannot call someone out when they are wrong because we are afraid it will bite us later in our career, then we are setting a dangerous precedence. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard firefighters talk about a situation that is simply wrong and causing them a great deal of grief, but feel as if they cannot call out the other person because they are more senior or of higher rank. Worried that it will effect them for years to come if they speak the truth and stand up against something that is just plain wrong. If you are in this type of situation and buy into those feelings, you are doing nothing to help yourself or your fellow firefighters, and you are absolutely not helping uphold the tradition of the fire service that is keeping each other held in check.

Where am I going with all of this? It all comes back to this enemy that we must fight in ourselves.I enjoy taking on large projects in the name of our profession getting back to the basics and treating it more like a craft. In the past some of these undertakings have ended up bringing a large amount of recognition to my crew and I.  I personally don’t handle praise well when it comes to situations regarding our job, it makes me uncomfortable. Don’t let that be confused with being unappreciative of the recognition, because I am. But I try to use personal praise or recognition as a reset button for myself. It is a good time to ask myself,  “Am I remaining grounded and what were my original intentions that brought this recognition?” It should remind you that it is not about you, and recognition was never the goal. When I look around  I can quickly come up with a list of people that are better than me at this job, and that are leaders that I can only hope to be like. You should be able to think of these people also…if you can’t and you think your the best firefighter on your job, your not. If you think you have the Company Officer role dialed in better than any of those who have come before you, you do not. Humble yourself and really think of those people that come to mind and strive to model their qualities that made us think of them in the first place. This will keep us grounded. If we WANT to, we can always find someone that does this job better, but we have to want to see it.  I have a list of these people to last me a career.

My Father (On the Left) has conquered this enemy, this unchecked Ego. He is a shining example of how you can advance through the ranks from follower to leader but remain a man of strong character. He believes in his people and treats them with respect. He does not believe that because he is their leader he has to have all of the answers or know everything that someone may ask. He would never ask someone to do something he wouldn’t do himself, and most importantly he always puts his people before himself. When integrity and respect is what you show as a leader, you will have a loyal following that will trust you even when they don’t fully agree. He treats leadership as a gift and a honor, and does not egotistically demand respect because of rank, he earns it through consistent, level headed decision making based on the simple differences between right and wrong.  I think his greatest downfall is the size of shoes he has left me when it comes to leadership, they would take me a lifetime to fill what he’s done in 25 years.

“Speak The Truth Even When Your Voice Shakes”. To me that quote can be summed up very simply, it is not going to be easy, but it is the right thing to do. It is the only way to prevent Egos from running rampant throughout our ranks. It can be done respectfully, it can be done firmly, but the bottom line is it must be done. When egos become strong enough that integrity becomes compromised it becomes very difficult to show that person the results. By the time you call them out, the ego has become so strong that they will fail to recognize their faults because they cannot fathom themselves doing such wrong. When we get to that point in the game, it is too late in the 4th quarter. For the sake of this great fire service and its future, speak the truth even if your voice shakes. Grab that cup of coffee, bring a guy out back and dish out an ass chewing when it is needed, and then the next time your on the other side of that conversation take a hard look at yourself,and remind yourself why that man on man honest conversation is such an important tradition to this fire service. Don’t get offended, don’t get angry, and for Gods sake do not hold it against them. Check yourself and move on.

The PIG Forcible Entry Tool Review

09/09/2012

Ryan Royal

Before I start my review let me preface this with a few thoughts. Any of you that have taken our classes know that I am not an easy critic when it comes to tools and their designs. The fire service tool market is full of gimmicks, and a good portion of the tools being sold and marketed to us are simply to make money. There are a large selection of hand tools, personal tools, and so on, that manufactures make a large amount of money on because they know we will buy them and fill our pockets with every multi tool under the sun. Attention to detail when it comes to tools and power saws is something I have tried to focus on for the last few years, I am trying to fight the good fight and educate as many firefighters that are willing to listen about quality made Halligans, hooks, saws and whatever else I can get my hands on. I have done a few tool reviews, and turned down even more, because when they have contacted us I have been open and honest, letting them know that I don’t believe in their tool and I am not interested in advertising something that I don’t stand behind 100%. I know I wont get it right all the time, and I am sure I will fall for a gimmick here and there, but let it be known I am trying my best to weed out the money makers and find the tools that are going to be workhorses for many firegrounds to come. Rant ended…

A few months back I was in contact with Chris Moren from Lonestar Axe Company, he is a firefighter for the Austin Fire Department and the inventor of the PIG. Chris is a good guy and has his head in the fire service game. I liked to see that this tool had humble beginnings from being developed by a firefighter on the streets. Chris thought the blade was the weakest link between the pick head and the flat head axe. From this very simple combination, the PIG was born.

The PIG has a head that measures 10.5 inches long, this includes the pick, which is 4.5 inches by itself. It weighs 8 lbs and  is made from 57 tool steel heat treated to a hardness scale of 46-50. The head comes in a few different options, polished or unpolished and the other option is notched or not. I will talk about this feature in just a little while. The handles can be ordered in a 28″, 32″, or 36″ versions, these handles are made by the Fire Axe Inc. The PIG also has a newer option to the handle choices which is the same type of handle that glows. All of these options can be seen on the PIGs website or Facebook page.

The PIG that was reviewed by IRONS and LADDERS was a 36″ regular handle with a notched pick head. I received the PIG a few months back, out of the box I liked the feel of it, the weight, construction quality etc, but I don’t fall easily just based on looks and feel, so I reserved my judgement until I could get it on the rig and put it to work. I like to presume all tools are gimmicks until proven otherwise. Well the PIG knew how to start a good relationship with its reviewer. The next day I placed it on the Truck, not even 3 hours later we caught a good working house fire in our first due area. The PIG got put to work immediately, it was a good fire and required an hour or two of solid work by the Truck Co due to a large amount of attic extension. The first job the PIG got put to work doing was opening up the roof. My crew and I made our way to the roof and had to open up a 4 foot wide trench from the peak down both sides all the way to the outside walls. I went to work on one side making my louvers. The 8 lb head easily crushed through the plywood decking, I quickly crushed out 4’x4′ squares. When doing this type of crushing tactic there is no need to make a continuous cut, the crushes can easily have a few inches in between each crush and still louver when you are ready. Once my areas were crushed out, the PIG then showed another quality that I liked, I could easily spin the tool and sink my pick into the louver of the roof. This secured my tool to the louver which allowed me to pry on the fiberglass handle with all of my weight and pivot open my louvers over the roof joists.


Photos By: Steven D. “Smitty” Smith


Like I said, bringing me a fire and then getting a good hard work assignment was a great way to set a first impression for me of the PIG. The 8lb head mixed with the 36″ handle was a perfect combination for the work that was required on that roof. It is weighted very well and feels good during your swing. The advantage of opening roofs with the flat head, especially with a plywood deck, is that it prevents the tool from getting stuck and pinched like the blade on a normal axe can do. I also liked having the pick side for driving into the fascia and other trim boards and then prying them off the gable ends of the building. For roof work and exterior overhaul I was very impressed with its capability, it performed extremely well on this job. However I needed a lot more time with the tool to give a fair and honest review. This type of work, especially on its first day shows me very little about its durability, it was only being used on wood and asphalt shingles. So onward we move.

I was able to put the PIG to use on another half dozen structure fires and was pleased with its basic duties. My next plan for the tool was to put it through the durability ringer by bringing it to our forcible entry classes and having the students abuse it in many different ways. We brought it to multiple classes and used it at both the conventional forcible entry stations and also at the carriage bolt and drop bar stations. By doing this I would give you a rough estimate that we forced over 300 doors which caused a few thousand metal on metal strikes with this tool. This type of abuse will give us a very accurate look at what type of durability the PIG will have.

After going through this many forcible entry evolutions the PIG showed some signs of normal wear. The handle had some pretty good dings and chunks missing right below the tools head from over strikes by the students. All of this appeared to be cosmetic and was little concern to me, these type of handles are very strong and can take a good amount of cosmetic damage. The actual steel on the flat head also showed some dings and roundness on the square edges, however there was very little mushrooming for that amount of use. The PIG obviously uses higher quality steel then your common fire service axes, this has advantages and disadvantages that follow. We go through a lot of axes over the years while teaching the forcible entry classes. It only takes one or two classes before the heads are mushroomed so bad that they must be filed down. The PIG did not need this type of maintenance after this round of classes. This shows that the durability of the tool head is very strong. One thing to take notice of when your axes are very high grade tool steel; the energy has to be transferred somewhere, so if your axe head is not showing the mushrooming then there is a good chance that your Halligans will. This was a concern for me when we started using the PIG, I did not want to have all of the damage being given to the Halligans instead of the axe. I was happy to find that the PIG does have very hard steel, however it is not has hard as some other axe companies on the market. I found this to be a good thing, it holds up enough to prevent significant mushrooming but still did not cause severe damage to the Halligans like some other brands of axes have before. The head also stayed very secure and had zero wobble to it, this is very rare for our axes after a few classes. We break heads off or loosen them up on a regular basis.

The tool proved to be a very good striking tool for forcible entry, I loved the weight of it and again it was balanced very well in your hand for multiple controlled strikes. The only disadvantage I found during forcible entry operations was the use of the axe blade in some situations. It can be handy to have and axe blade for wedging the door open while forcing, or also creating a large gap in tight fitting outward swinging doors. You lose this ability with the PIG because of the lack of a blade. While this is a disadvantage, it is not a deal breaker for me. Our Truck firefighters typically all carry an axe, so as long as your operations are being done with two of you available then I would suspect that you will have a PIG and a regular axe available. Wooden wedges can also be used in these situations.

Something else that I felt needed modification was the notch. If I was to order a PIG again I would order it without the notch. The notch is an option on the PIG and it is designed to help you marry your Halligan to the PIG to make a set of Irons. I don’t carry my Irons married in that fashion very often, so it would not be a big deal for me to loose this option on the tool.  I found that when burying the pick of PIG  in both roofing material and in metal doors, the notch had a tendency to make it difficult when trying to retrieve your tool. I had multiple times in a metal door where I had to really wrestle with the tool to get the notch undone from the jagged metal. We went back to the old firehouse fabrication shop and easily fixed this problem. It didn’t make it perfect, but it made the notch a lot better. You can see below the first picture shows how the PIG comes from the factory, all we did to improve on the problem was take a flap wheel and an angle grinder and smooth out the sharp clean edges of the notch. It was only necessary to do this on the part of the notch that would catch when pulling your tool out of the material.


While this is a disadvantage, I won’t take points away from my overall opinion because the PIG offers the tool with or without the notch. That solves the problem and it is one of those small characteristics that you just can’t predict without getting some good quality time on the tool.We discovered this problem while using the pick for something that is a unique advantage to the PIG. When forcing doors, many times the pick of the Halligan can be used to drive carriage bolts through the door defeating whatever locking device was attached. The PIG can also be used for this type of operation in a couple of different ways.


As you can see above, one person striking the flat side of the PIG can drive the sturdy pike through the door causing massive damage to the material holding on to the locking mechanism. It is not better than the Halligan but worked in a very similar fashion without much difficulty.

The unique option to the PIG was being able to swing the PIG like a baseball bat directly at the door trying to hit the bolt with the pick of the tool. After one or two hits to get your aim down, we were able to drive bolts through the door in only a few good swings and without the need for another firefighter to strike for us. We were also able to inflict damage much faster because the energy of the tool was being transferred directly into the door, whereas when you are striking a Halligan you lose energy when the axe is striking the Halligan.

After a long testing period and some rigorous evolutions I can honestly say that I am very impressed with this tool. A lot of tools come and go in this profession and very few come close to our tried and true pick head axe, flat head axe and Halligan bar. Tools that don’t try to do too much and have a specific job always perform better than the “do everything 14 and 1 tools” that plague the fire service. I think the PIG fits into this category of being a simple, basic and very efficient tool. To be honest I am very surprised someone did not design this tool years ago, it is such a simple concept and combines the most used ends of the axe. The durability is top notch and the options are great. I would like to try the 32″ handle, I did like the 36″ handle a lot, especially for outside and roof work. The 32″ handle is just a little smaller so that crawling and searching is a bit easier without sacrificing your force when swinging. I foresee this becoming a very popular tool in the fire service, it is a workhorse with a very solid design. The best combination I see is instead of two firefighters carrying axes, have one carry the PIG and one carry an axe of their choice. This along with their normal hook and Halligan compliments adds a very versatile set of tools for your fire ground. I will be recommending this tool to my department to at least outfit our Truck Companies. I can think of a half dozen tools that sit on our rigs that our extremely useless in comparison to the PIG. A job very well done by Chris Moren, I think he is on to something with this tool and I can officially declare that this tool is no gimmick. Far from it.

You can check out the PIG at Lonestar Axe Co 

Also visit his Facebook page here to see a large variety of videos with the PIG in action along with other reviews and updates.


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