DiscoverCode 3 - The Firefighters' Podcast
Code 3 - The Firefighters' Podcast
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Code 3 - The Firefighters' Podcast

Author: Scott Orr

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The twice-weekly podcast for and about firefighters, "Code 3" covers topics of interest to those in the fire service, through interviews with those who know it best. From Chiefs to Probies, Engineers to Firefighters, and Paramedics to EMTs, award-winning journalist Scott Orr talks with them all. Show notes at
236 Episodes
If you’ve been in the fire service long enough, you probably remember when firefighters with a trade skill were highly valued. These were the guys who came into the job knowing things like engine repair, or electrical, or even plumbing. But these days, it seems those skills are not valued much anymore. Now, hiring and promotion are based largely on test scores and education. How did we get here? And is this okay? Or are we missing something? My guest to discuss this is Chad Costa. He’s a battalion chief with the City of Petaluma, California Fire Department. He has two decades in the fire service, and he’s worked in some pretty diverse situations, from a rural department to a city as well as CAL FIRE. Chad is the technology and communications battalion chief and a division group supervisor on California Interagency Team 5.
In between the FDNY’s four- and five-man engine crews and volunteer department rigs staffed by two, there are a lot of departments that put three in the seats for calls.It may seem to be a problem for those agencies that have more personnel. But this level of staffing is their reality, and many agencies work with it. If a three-man crew is new to you, then you’ll want to hear from today’s guests. First up is Jeff Bryant Jr. He’s a firefighter/paramedic with the Aurora, Illinois Fire Department. And a third-generation firefighter who has served in the fire service since 2007. He is a co-owner of Fire Factory LLC and part of FireNuggets Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps departments with training logistics. Next, we’ll hear from Scott Freitag. He’s the chief of the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority. He’s also the president of the Arizona Fire Chiefs Association.
Are you an engineer? Or maybe a chauffeur? Or perhaps an MPO? Regardless of the name, if you operate the pump panel on an engine, you need to know a lot of technical stuff to be any good. And the guys on the other end of the line depend on you to know it.So how well do you know the way your apparatus operates? Many people with technical jobs are satisfied to be able to do well when everything’s working. But you don’t really earn your pay until you come through when the situation goes sideways. Here to talk about what a great engineer knows is Paul Watlington. He’s a battalion chief with the Burlington, North Carolina Fire Department.
Let’s talk Zen Buddism. Do you know the term Shoshin? It’s the Japanese word for a beginner’s mind. A verse from a philosopher says:“It is not difficult/to keep a beginner’s mind./There are many possibilities in a beginner’s mind,/but in the expert few.” … which is why my guest today says it’s important to keep the beginner’s mindset. To always be learning, to be confident in what you know, but never cocky. To remember why you got into this profession. George McNeil forgot those things, and he paid a price. Now he wants to make sure you don’t forget them. George has ten years’ experience working in rural fire and emergency medical services. He’s been a paramedic/firefighter an emergency manager and flight paramedic.
Let’s say you’re a new officer. You want your crew to follow you, right? Now how do you get them to do that? One thing that absolutely will NOT work is to order people around arbitrarily. This does nothing but make them annoyed with you. Put yourself in their place: What would get you to follow someone? Chances are, it’s an attitude called “command presence.” That’s what instills confidence that you know what you’re talking about. Back again on Code 3 today to discuss command presence – what it is and why it’s important – is Tom Merrill. He’s a 35-year fire department veteran and a former chief of the Snyder Fire Department in Amherst, New York. He is now a fire commissioner for the Snyder Fire District. Tom served 26 years as a department officer including 15 years in the chief officer ranks. He has taught at fire service events around western New York as well as at FDIC. He also is a fire dispatcher for the Amherst Fire Alarm Office.
Something good can come from even the worst situations, and in this show, you’re going to hear from a great example. This is the story of how Travis Howze, survivor of the Charleston Nine disaster in 2007, developed PTSD and ended up leaving the fire service after eight years. He went on to become a full-time stand-up comedian, and his 2015 album, “Reporting for Duty” reached the top ten. Now he entertains around the country and has performed at FDIC where he will be again in 2020.
For just about as long as anyone can remember, the fire service has operated in a pseudo-military style. Members have ranks, of course. And complex org charts are a favorite Powerpoint slide. The similarities to the military include passing information up and down the ranks. But today’s guest says that’s an old concept that has become a recipe for communications failure. Brian Schaeffer is the chief of the Spokane, Washington fire department. He’s served in fire departments in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest over the past 25 years, and works on several public safety and health-related committees. He has lectured on issues such as the psychology of decision-making, servant leadership and high-performing organizations.
Today, we’re talking about the Denver Drill. It’s well-known, but just in case you need a brush up, here it is: In 1992, a Denver, Colorado firefighter named Mark Langvardt was on the second floor of a commercial building on fire. He was doing a search but became separated from his partner. He couldn’t find his way out and ended up trying to escape through a window. But the space he had to work in was small and the window sill was high. Even though he was located and crews tried to get him out, it took nearly an hour to extricate him. Mark Langvardt died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Since then, tactics to rescue firefighters from similar situations have been developed. Here to explain the Denver Drill and why it is important today is Tony Carroll. He is a battalion chief with the District of Columbia Fire and EMS Department.
Today, we’re talking tactical worksheets for EMS. This is more important than it may sound. A tactical worksheet is nothing more than a glorified checklist. Who needs that? If airline pilots use them every flight, maybe they should be in your arsenal also. They can prevent mistakes and protect you later if someone starts looking for blame. Here to explain the details is Bruce Evans. He’s is the fire chief and a paramedic at the Upper Pine River Fire Protection District in Bayfield, Colorado. Bruce is on the board of directors at the National Association of EMT's, and he is a National Fire Academy instructor. He’s also on the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine's Preparedness Committee.
The Fire-EMS community lost a vital member this week. Bryan Fass passed away suddenly on Monday. He was just 46. A former paramedic, Bryan was well-known for his advocacy of first-responder fitness. His career was based on teaching injury-prevention and safety techniques. He ran Fit Responder, which he founded in 2007, and spoke frequently at EMS industry conferences around the country. Bryan was a prolific author, writing for multiple websites and his blog, as well as four books on fitness and wellness. With me today to remember Bryan is Greg Friese, Editor-in-chief of
There was a time when you were universally viewed as friends of the community. You were welcomed because people realized that you were there to help them. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Violent physical attacks on EMS personnel are becoming more common, with new incidents being reported just about every day. So now we have to think about how to prevent those assaults. In Austin, Texas, they’re taking steps toward doing that. Here to explain more is Ernesto Rodriguez, the EMS chief for Austin-Travis County EMS.
On September 11, 2001 our world changed. America was just getting to work when it was attacked by terrorists using commercial airliners as weapons. That was the day everything we knew turned upside down. And it was the day that the FDNY suffered 343 line of duty deaths in one incident. Many more would lose battles with cancer caused by working in the rubble. Some are still fighting cancer today, 18 years later. Here to talk about the impact the terror attack on America had on the FDNY is Chief Rick Lasky. He’s well known around the country for his seminars on Pride and Ownership. If you’ve not heard him speak live, you’ve missed an amazing presentation and you should book him to speak at your next event. Rick retired after being Chief of several departments, including Lewisville, Texas. He started his career 40 years earlier in Chicago, which is where I hail from myself.
One of the aspects of firefighting that we don’t often discuss is the role of the fire-cause investigator. Once a structure fire is under control, this job becomes critical to determining what insurance will pay to the property owner … and if arson was involved. There are a few things firefighters can do to make the fire cause investigator’s life a little easier, and today’s guest says they really don’t get in your way of extinguishing the fire. Rick Chase is a fire cause investigator with the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority in Prescott Valley, Arizona. He is also a division chief and the fire marshal. Rick started in the fire service as a member of a U.S. Forest Service hotshot crew. He joined the Central Yavapai Fire District (the precursor to CAFMA) in 1995 and worked his way from a reserve firefighter to his current position.
We have discussed several times on this show the sad – and potentially disastrous –story of the declining numbers of volunteer firefighters. Everyone has their own theory of why no one wants to volunteer these days. But a Syracuse, New York newspaper op-ed column with a new explanation began showing up in social media in August. Maybe you’ve seen it. If not, we’ll link to it on our website. It was written by Jack Kline, of Lysander, New York. He has been a volunteer firefighter for over four decades. He remembers the good old days when people liked giving their time to protect their neighbors. His column’s title explains why Jack believes we’re experiencing a manpower shortage now. It’s “Make Volunteer Firefighting Fun Again.”
If you conduct training for firefighters, your teaching may be out-of-date. Now, you’re probably thinking, “That’s bull. I know how to throw a ladder.” Problem is, if you haven’t taken recurrent train-the-trainer courses, you may not be doing it right...the way it’s being taught now. If you’re a Baby Boomer or Gen X, your methods are probably outdated. It’s not your fault—it worked for you. But today’s new firefighters are different. Here to tell us why we need to update our training skills is Chris Garniewicz. He’s a captain with the Bluffton Township, South Carolina Fire District. An IFSAC certified Fire Instructor 2, Chris is an instructor with the SC Fire Academy and lectures throughout the East Coast on truck operations and instructor education. He began his career in the Metro Boston area as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
If you’ve wondered what it would be like to be a newly-minted Fire Chief – it could be a turbulent experience. You may think you know what it takes to run a department successfully. Maybe you do, may you don’t. But there are a million details to consider that might not even occur to you. That’s why the IAFC has put out an e-book titled, “You're the Fire Chief--Now What?” It’s a guide for new and interim Chiefs from Day One to Day 100 and beyond. Here to tell us what’s important for a new chief to know is Al Yancey, Jr. Al headed up the committee that developed the book. He’s the Chief of the Minooka, Illinois Fire Protection District. It’s a combination department.
The late Vince Lombardi, famous Green Bay Packers coach, was known for his inspirational quotes. Today’s show is about this Lombardi quote: “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” That applies to firefighting as well. It’s not just how you perform on the fireground that counts, it’s how you perform all the time that makes the difference. Here to explain why ... and how to build that winning leadership culture in your firehouse… is Adam Neff. Adam is assistant chief of training at the Nixa, Missouri Fire Protection District. He got into the fire service 25 years ago as a cadet volunteer and worked his way up. He also holds a Chief Fire Officer Designation.
There’s a certain mindset that says it doesn’t matter how you start, as long as you finish strong. That’s not always true, though. One example: when you pull your first line at a fire. How you do it sets the whole scene for the firefight. If there’s confusion about where those initial lines are going, you’ll end up with a bowl of spaghetti. Back with me today to explain how and why to best stretch that first line is John Lightly. He’s a battalion chief in the Youngstown, Ohio fire department with over 20 years on the job.
Look around construction sites and you’re likely to see a lot of trenches. If there’s an underground line of any type, it takes a trench to put it in and to maintain it. Unfortunately, not all trenches are constructed to standards. That makes the job of rescuing a trapped worker even more hazardous. There are a lot of factors to consider when you arrive at a trench rescue scene. Here to discuss some of them is Mike Daley. He’s a lieutenant with the Monroe Township Fire District No. 3 in New Jersey. He holds a Master Fire Instructor certification from the ISFSI and is an instructor at the Middlesex County Fire Academy. Mike is also a member of New Jersey Task Force 1.
What color is a fire engine? Well, if you’re a fan of traditional fire helmets, then I assume you’d prefer your apparatus to be red. You know, fire engine red. But for years, since the 1970s, there’s been that nagging question of conspicuity. What color is safest? What color do drivers see most readily? In today’s world of highly distracted drivers, does color matter? My guest is Dr. Stephen Solomon. He’s taken a look at the data that’s been collected and has some answers. Stephen is an optometrist. He’s also a veteran firefighter, with 17 years as a captain, and 17 years as a fire commissioner. He is a hazmat tech and TRT supervisor in Tioga County, New York. He’s worked on projects to make fire apparatus safer. And you know that reflective and fluorescent trim on your turnouts? He worked with 3M to develop that.
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