Good ideas and real solutions are too often shut down with that short, cynical answer, “That won’t work.”

Effective leaders, on the other hand, are curious and want things to work. They respond by saying, “Tell me more.”

Are We Preparing for the Wrong Threats?

Jeff Rusteen at Firehouse
June 9, 2015

Our responsibilities have expanded dramatically. We are confronting new challenges that demand the ability to adapt to ambiguous situations. But it seems that most of our training focuses on “base conditions,” or what we expect based on responses we have been on before. We must be ready for complex incidents that quickly lead to chaos. We have to be ready for anything!

Jeff Rusteen’s Firehouse article warns us not to fall into rule-of-thumb decision making, but instead, to be ready for a complex attack that requires multiple resources working together.

The first thing that went through my head when the doctor said I had cancer was that I’m gonna die. ~Boston Firefighter

I know that feeling. It’s the same thought that I had when I was told I had cancer, both times. I’ve battled cancer twice in the last 15 years, and so far, I’m still winning. I have a rare type of cancer that fights the gastrointestinal system. I don’t know if it’s work related, but I can’t imagine all those years of breathing smoke didn’t take some kind of toll on me.

There is a silent killer stalking us. It’s soundless and travels hidden all around the fire scene, and its deadly exposure is killing us. It’s been hiding in the shadows for years, but it’s worse now. State-of-the-art building materials designed to prevent flame spread and modern furnishings are giving off dangerous carcinogens. Our chronic exposure to heat, smoke, and toxins is what’s causing cancer to us. At a fire, we don’t think about what we’re breathing or absorbing into our bodies. We should.

This is serious and we must take whatever actions we can, right now, to do the things we need to do to protect ourselves from this silent and deadly killer. Wear your masks, clean your gear. Change those old bad habits, be aware, and look out for each other. It won’t be easy, but we need to be willing to do whatever it takes!

Are you playing with these two?

We face a variety  of dangerous factors in our job everyday. Some are unexpected and have a mind of their own. But most are predictable and preventable. This cartoon by Paul Combs reminds us of one of those issues we can predict and prevent, simply by being aware of it and wearing our protective gear.

Dave Dodson says, “Smoke is fuel–airborne solids, aerosols, and gases that are capable of further burning…”

So why would you want to breathe it or let it soak into your skin?

Give some extra thought to how smoke hurts us, and let’s look out for each other. Make sure we’re wearing protective gear when we should!

How Do You Know?

November 25, 2014

If you had a tool that would help your fire department evaluate risk and ultimately reduce the threat of firefighter injuries and death, would you use it?

Think about your firefighters and use the Vulnerability Assessment Program (VAP) to implement operational and strategic plans to help them work safe and effectively.

Automation Makes Us Dumb

Wall Street Journal
November 22, 2014

FFrobotvintageHas artificial firefighting arrived? Today’s firefighting technology can sense the environment (thermal imaging cameras) and respond to unexpected problems (personal alert safety systems). It has increased firefighter safety and improved fire ground operations. But it doesn’t think the way we think. Our input and actions are still required.

Our concern should be, as presented in this WSJ article, that the overriding effect of automation may work to “de-skill” us. And this “fading of skills” may lead to relying too much on automation, which will render us less capable and adaptable in complex, dangerous situations. We will become more subservient to technology.

Human insight, ingenuity and intuition can’t be replicated by robots.

We will always need thinking, human firefighters!

We Determine The Outcome Of Any Action Or Situation

The human element (you and I) determines the outcome of any action or situation. The world is not a safe place, and I’m not referring to natural disasters or terrorism. I’m talking about human error that changes or destroys lives everyday.


Everyone of us is touched or affected by the decisions or actions of others. Maybe it’s an incorrect dose of medication given during a routine medical procedure, or just stepping on the gas and speeding through a red light. Many people are harmed every day as a result of the errors we make.

Daily life in our complex world is all about us (people); it’s not about technology. Everything we use, whether technology (tools, machines, equipment, etc.) or systems (training, processes, procedures, etc.) is controlled, influenced and/or operated by us (people). Therefore, our performance determines how well the technology and systems will work, and how safe and effective we will be.

From the error of a moment, comes the sorrow of a lifetime  ~Chinese proverb

How do your decisions affect the actions of others? How can you improve your performance?

“A fairly straightforward operation,” as described by FDNY Battalion Chief Joseph Jardin, still requires good decision making, and fast! Especially when two window washers are trapped on a dangling scaffold nearly 70 stories up the new 1 World Trade Center tower.

Effective command and control, combined with real teamwork and the right tools and procedures can bring a complex and dangerous situation to a positive outcome. It did here!

Read more about the 68th floor challenge here.


Sometimes, the more policies that are put in place, the less your members will feel accountable for tasks. What may seem like a good policy may actually be affecting members and your fire department’s mission in a negative way.

Are Some of Your Policies Counterproductive?

  1. Review WHY the policy was created and decide if there’s still a valid reason to have it. If not, get rid of it!
  2. Does the policy contain unproductive tasks (We’ve always done it that way) that have potential for improvement? Revise it for better productivity!

How Can You Stop Counterproductive Policies?

  1. Decentralize authority and responsibility. Empower your members to make decisions.
  2. Be an advocate for change. Be willing to try something new.
  3. If you do need a policy, design it to be focused on getting work done, not slowing it down.

For better organization and productivity, keep it simple and ask, Why do we need it? How do we do it?” and “What will it do for us?


How Do We Control Chaos?

Performance is reality. And in uncertain and turbulent times how we perform makes all the difference between success, and sometimes death or injury. Performance is about task, accuracy, speed, and accomplishment. It’s the connection between actions and goals, and having a sense of what matters to you most gets you closer to accomplishing your goals. Performance is about “getting things done.”

Gulfstream Hotel fire mural in exercise room at PBCFR Station 91.

Gulfstream Hotel fire mural in exercise room at PBCFR Station 91.

Here are some nuggets on improving performance through leadership and understanding the human element.

There is nothing in this world constant, but inconstancy. ~Jonathan Swift

The world isn’t what it used to be:

There is less stability.
There is more technology, and it grows faster every day.
There are more demands and expectations.
There is less job security and more worker demand for “empowerment.”
There is more complexity.
There is more danger.

We face awesome challenges in our chaotic and constantly changing world, and it will continue at a rapid rate. As world demands and instability increase, it’s clear that the current complexity and danger is not going away. Change will continue to be the only constant.

There is a call to arms by many for better performance everywhere, all the time. It’s time we improve individual, team, and organizational performance. It’s time we start controlling chaos.

We may not control the outcome, but we can control the input – our effort. ~UCLA Basketball Coach, John Wooden

Our world and our work demands that we have an acute awareness of what’s happening, the ability to adapt to changing situations, and the skill and will to make critical decisions, and fast! We have to design and implement ways to help control the chaos of information, time, and space in today’s complex world.

What Is Chaos?

Chaos can be defined as complete disorder and confusion, or behavior so unpredictable so as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions. It usually carries a negative connotation involving undesirable disorganization or confusion.

How Do We Control Chaos?

We control chaos by becoming thinking and adapting leaders. We learn to transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges. We study, practice and build the following:

  • Our Human-ability beginning with what’s happening above and below our neck (the mind-body link and stress) and personal “error control center”
  • Our Sense-ability by overcoming our blind side and learning to believe what we’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting
  • Our Think-ability by making sense of the information at hand and developing a TEMPO to move at the speed of the decision needed
  • Our Team-ability by physically conditioning and our preparing ourselves, and strengthening our mental stamina and support of each other

Learn to use use all of these abilities to plan your work and adjust to shifting priorities and demands, and you will be able to bring order to chaos.

What are you doing to control chaos?