Train Like You Fight: Rules of Engagement

Video of the Rules of Engagement from John Buckman

This is Safety and Health Week and the theme is “Train Like You Fight.” The theme captures two angles of responder safety:

  1. Safety on the training ground and reduction of training-related injuries and death
  2. The importance of adequate training to prepare for safe fireground operations

For more information on Train Like You Fight, go to 2014 Safety and Health Week

If You Want To Change The World…

United States Naval Admiral, William H. McRaven, delivers sound advice in his commencement speech to the University of Texas Class of 2014. Below are the quick notes on what to do. Listen to the speech to find out why and how to do it.

  • If you want to change the world, start by doing the little things right: make your bed.
  • If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.
  • If you want to change the world, measure people by the size of their heart.
  • If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and move forward.
  • If you want change the world, don’t be afraid of the circus.
  • If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.
  • If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.
  • If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest of moments.
  • If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.
  • If you want to change the world, don’t ever ring the bell.

Also, read the workingfirechief’s blog for his thoughts on “Changing the fire service for the positive and keep good traditions alive.”

How will you help change the world?

Fighting Fire in The Lion’s Den


A family had had to make for a quick exit when their van caught fire while touring the lion enclosure at a wild animal safari park.

The family was rescued by park rangers and the lions were moved (eventually) to another location.

What problems are created, and what tactical and Command solutions (strategies) must be applied?

Fighting Fires in Half-Story Buildings

Buildings with half-stories over full-stories present special challenges for firefighters because of the knee walls that create confined spaces. These structures are usually single-family dwellings, but some larger structures may be renovated into multi-family dwellings.

Knee walls are vertical walls that stretch 3-4 feet internally from the floor toward the peak of the roof in the half-story part of the structure. A concealed space is created behind the knee wall and usually extends the length of the room and is most times used for storage or concealing plumbing or electrical wiring. These concealed spaces present an increased risk for rapid fire extension.

Half-story buildings can be found anywhere, even in South Florida (there are several in my battalion, especially in the older cities).

Apply Intentional Command to efficiently synchronize resources and effectively attack rapidly evolving, complex and severe problems.

Full Speed Size Up

What is the occupancy?
What is the life hazard?
Where are the occupants?
Where is the fire?
What is the fire doing to the building and where is it going?
What is the ventilation situation?

What problems are created, and what tactical and Command solutions (strategies) must be applied?

Key Things to Remember

The keys to fighting fires in half-story buildings:

  1. aggressive truck work on the fire floor and floor above
  2. timely advancement of hoselines on the fire floor and floor above
  3. adequate resources (firefighters, equipment, and water) to stretch and operate lines and open up concealed spaces

Row House Fire: Philadelphia

Video by: phillyfirenews. Video info: Row Home Fire in West Philadelphia on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. The fire was located on the 1600 block of N. 60th Street. Video provided to PhillyFireNews.com by Fox29

Apply Intentional Command to efficiently synchronize resources and effectively attack rapidly evolving, complex and severe problems.

Full Speed Size Up

  1. What is the occupancy?
  2. What is the life hazard?
  3. Where are the occupants?
  4. Where is the fire?
  5. What is the fire doing to the building and where is it going?
  6. What is the ventilation situation?

What problems are created, and what tactical and Command solutions (strategies)  must be applied?

What is Intentional Command?

Managing stress, staying mindful & other strategies for leadership

By Billy Schmidt
Published at FirefighterNation on Sunday, August 11, 2013

Intentional Commanders influence others with a purpose. Photo by Artie Werkle

Intentional Commanders influence others with a purpose. Photo by Artie Werkle

Intention is a determination to act in a certain way—with resolve. Intentional commanders can efficiently synchronize resources and effectively attack rapidly evolving, complex and severe problems.

Every day, fire departments respond to dangerous situations with commanders who personally direct complex operations. Officers need a better understanding of how to command these highly dynamic and unpredictable environments where everyone engages in actions that place their physical and psychological wellbeing at risk. These unique leadership demands require that commanders prepare themselves and their teams for the psychological, social and organizational challenges they will face when operating in a dangerous and chaotic context.

Command Process
My interest in becoming a more intentional commander originated from my experience with managing multiple resources in complex settings. This study into how command influences a situation has helped me to step back and take a larger look at the workings of the entire command process. It’s raised my awareness of the importance of the underlying behaviors and mechanics of a functioning command team and how its success determines the development of achievable strategies and the delivery of effective tactics.

After many years of commanding a variety of incidents, taking command courses and practicing the command process, I’ve discovered that most command literature and training lacks the essential elements of managing stress, staying mindful of purpose and building mutual trust between the commander and the team. My intent here is to address the unique challenges faced by commanders, while offering a better perspective of how they can influence their firefighters and the situation as a leader.

The Current State of Command
Plenty of today’s emergency scene problems are the natural consequence of command’s ineffective or misdirected influence on the behavior of the firefighting force. It’s ironic that when you ask some incident commanders (ICs) what constitutes command, you often get standard answers like strategies, tactics, span of control, accountability, communication and benchmarks. Usually, there’s no reference to the central task of a commander—influencing their firefighters and the situation as the leader.

Commanding dangerous events isn’t easy. Whether working a structure fire with a quick rescue that requires fast thinking or mitigating an escalating chemical emergency that demands a slow, methodical approach, there must be a clearly defined, well-organized and purposeful command. Command must be intentional and it must be in control at all times.

Many ICs operate in a status-quo mode where they do a radio “play-by-play” for dispatch and let the crews carry the burden of tactical execution without a defined strategy. Others micromanage each minute and every detail until the event outpaces them and everyone runs for cover. These approaches to command are ineffective, especially when faced with complex or severe problems, which nowadays are a common occurrence.

How do we establish a command that meets the unique psychological, social and organizational challenges that arise in highly dynamic and unpredictable situations? We become intentional commanders.

Defining Intentional Command
Much of commandership has to do with intention. As commanders, we don’t choose our situations, but we do get to determine how to respond to them. A good example of this comes from General Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower obviously didn’t make World War II happen, but he approached it with a steadfast goal to influence the war. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, he planned and directed the invasion of Normandy, including the competing agendas of the commanders and politicians involved. Eisenhower was an intentional commander.

The Intentional Commander is caring, trustworthy and self-confident. Photo by Artie Werkle

The Intentional Commander is caring, trustworthy and self-confident. Photo by Artie Werkle

Intentional command is influencing others with purpose. A strong desire and motivation to command will help commanders perform at their best. The intentional commander is caring, trustworthy and self-confident. This establishes the image of competent commanders as credible and reliable decision-makers. As a commander, you’re here for one reason: to support the firefighters you are going to lead. You’re responsible for keeping them alive and accomplishing the mission. You owe them your bugles, because this isn’t about you.

A Vision of Intentional Command 
More needs to be studied and said about what a commander is, should be and, more importantly, what they should do. Most fire officers have a clear sense about the responsibilities of command and they work hard at expanding the skills of situation assessment, developing strategies and prioritizing tactics. But many miss critical elements, including managing stress, staying mindful of their purpose, building strong teams, earning trust and leveraging their fire department’s culture to be ready to meet the challenges of operating in dangerous environments. Future columns will address the unique psychological, social and organizational skills that individuals and teams need to develop and practice their intentional command.

Until then, be safe and help people.

How do you influence your firefighters in complex situations? How have you established your position as a credible, reliable commander?

Historical Stories: Another Way to Learn Better Decision-Making

My recent article published at FIREFIGHTERNATION.

Lessons from history help us make decisions in the present and be ready for the future

By Billy Schmidt
Published Saturday, May 12, 2012

“We like to hear good stories retold. What is more interesting is our need to tell stories, again and again and again. Each telling helps us understand more about the lessons embedded in the story.”             Gary Klein- Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions

What are the qualities of a good leader? What combination of experience and personal characteristics enable leaders to make rapid decisions during critical events? What processes do they use to make decisions with little information under extreme pressure?

Work on the fireground, like soldiering on the battlefield, demands an acute awareness of what’s happening, the ability to adapt to the changing situation, and the skill and will to be deliberate, decisive and fast. History provides timeless lessons from leaders who successfully made fast decisions under stress—decisions that made a difference.

Numerous books, articles and personal letters have been written detailing the complex and confusing aspects of both military battles and fireground incidents and examining the ways critical decisions were made. There are hundreds of movies and documentaries that depict these events, providing another medium through which to learn better decision-making.

Storytelling can be an effective learning tool that passes along wisdom and experience that others have obtained as part of a historical event. The stories allow the audience to experience a moment in history and can give them a sense of “being there when it happened.”

This FF-360 column is not just another article that simply tells a story. This column is the first of several in which we’ll take an imaginary “staff ride.” Staff rides, originally used by the 19th century Prussian Army and widely used by today’s military and wildfire professionals, are case studies conducted on the ground where the event happened. But in place of actually being there, we will experience historical events first-hand through stories delivered to stimulate our imagination. These historical stories, ranging from military events to fire incidents, will focus on decision-making lessons so that we can learn how to better lead during chaotic and stressful situations.

The story shared here features a Civil War battle and a pivotal decision made by a leader in the heat of the conflict that very likely changed the outcome of the Battle at Gettysburg.

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the Battle at Little Round Top
It’s July 2, 1863, and you’re near a little town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. It’s a hot, humid day and you find yourself witness to probably one of the greatest conflicts fought on American soil. On the first day of the three day battle at Gettysburg, only parts of the Union and Confederate Armies were engaged. But today, those armies will face difficult and deadly battles in the Peach Orchard and on the Round Tops. The decisions made by both sides will dramatically affect each army’s ability and motivation to continue. (See image 1)

Little Round Top - Library of Congress

Little Round Top – Library of Congress

You sit on the slopes of Little Round Top watching the Union Army’s 20th Maine, commanded by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, prepare for battle. Chamberlain was a professor of rhetoric from Bowdoin College but today he is a Union colonel. Colonel Chamberlain and his comrades are about to face a fight where his decisions will shape both their lives and the outcome of the battle.

Chamberlain and the 20th Maine are in a dangerous, and what appears to be losing, situation. Positioned on a 500′ rocky hill, they are the end of the Union line and are to hold that position against a Confederate flank attack. From your vantage point, you hear the thunder of cannon balls crashing around you. You smell trees burning and you hear the screams of injured and dying soldiers. Through the thick smoke, you see groups of soldiers, dressed in gray, pushing upward toward the 20th Maine’s left flank. The Confederate Army is quickly making its move and Chamberlain needs to rapidly make a decision. (See image 2)

453px-Little_Round_Top2.svgYou watch Colonel Chamberlain survey the situation: (1) more than half of his regiment is dead, (2) many of his remaining soldiers are wounded, (3) and almost all of their ammunition is gone. He stands quietly, taking everything in, and then you hear him give the order, “Fix bayonets!” You can see his men are surprised by the order. You then hear Chamberlain quickly yell, “Fix bayonets and charge!” Suddenly, you watch as his men scramble to their feet and move together down the hill, following their leader and changing the course of the battle for Little Round Top.

Within minutes, you witness the exhausted group of men under Chamberlain’s command capture hundreds of surprised soldiers in gray. And it all happened because of one leader’s ability to make a split-second decision in a critical situation.
Watch a video of Chamberlain’s story here.

Footnote on Chamberlain: Colonel Chamberlain was professional, tactically proficient and understood human nature. He had the ability to quickly understand what was happening, adapt to the changing situation and make a critical decision. Later in the war, Chamberlain was chosen by Ulysses S. Grant to command the special honor division of veteran brigades formed to receive the surrender of arms and colors of General Lee’s army at Appomattox.

Thoughts, Questions and an Exercise for Learning
Questions
What insights into leadership and decision-making can we gain from this compelling story? Here are some questions to consider:

  • How did Colonel Chamberlain make the right call amid confusing and rapidly changing conditions, under extreme pressure and with incomplete information?
  • What are the intricacies of decision-making in a large organization, the Union Army, and a large group, the 20th Maine Regiment, and how did culture affect what was possible?
  • How, and when, did Colonel Chamberlain share his vision for success and reduce the possibility for misinterpretation?
  • What process did Colonel Chamberlain use to make the decision to “Fix bayonets and charge?”
  • Are there lessons from Chamberlain’s story you can apply to your own life or organization?

Here are some personal questions you should ask yourself?

  • How do you make your decisions? Do you use a specific decision model?
  • When you make decisions, do you consciously develop and compare possible courses of action to come up with your plan?
  • How do you evaluate your decisions?
  • Does your organization provide training on decision-making?

Thought Exercise
Think about a recent decision that you made, or perhaps that someone else made, in a dangerous and stressful situation. How did you/they go about the decision-making process? Was it deliberate or did it appear to be arbitrary? What factors were considered? What courses of action were considered? How was the decision communicated? How was it implemented? What were the outcomes?

Some Thoughts on Future Lessons from History
It’s no small thing to say that history is an excellent self-help guide. It remains true that history repeats itself because we refuse to learn from it. So we should study history not just to acquire facts but also to get better at everything we do.

I have always been intrigued by history—especially the military events connected by strategy, tactics and human behavior—and how it applies to the fire ground. The sheer impact of so many historical events, along with the courage of the people involved, makes these truly amazing stories. After many years of personal reading and reflection, I invite you to read and learn with me as we study history, leadership and how to perform better on the fireground.

Until next time, get prepared, be ready and stay safe!

Recommended Reading:
Bayonet! Forward: My Civil War Reminiscences. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Stan Clark Military Books. Gettysburg, PA. 1994.
The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command. Edwin B. Coddington. Touchstone. New York, NY. 1968.
The Power of Intuition. Gary Klein. Doubleday. New York, NY. 2003.

What lessons from history have helped you make better decisions?

Who’s the Better Leader? The Loud, Excitable, Charismatic Leader or the Quiet, Calm, Maybe Boring One?

UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden

UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden

Bill Parcells coaching the NY Giants

Bill Parcells coaching the NY Giants

What makes up a good leader? I would suggest that it probably depends on the situation or environment. Every event or group of people requires a particular approach; sometimes direct and commanding, while other times composed and guiding. I believe today’s best approach to leadership is “adaptability.” Adaptable leaders who are decisive and action oriented in the thick of the storm, and who demonstrate an openness to others and a desire to grow them in the calm before the storm, will promote and sustain a more practical and effective culture in the organization.

So read here Time Magazine’s Joel Stein’s take on “why the best leaders today are quiet, calm – even boring.”

Who do you believe makes the better leader? Loud, excitable, and charismatic? Quiet, calm, and boring? Or the right mix of both, at the right time?