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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
248 Episodes
By now, most departments have adopted social media in some form. Here in LA, as in many larger cities, Twitter is a great resource to learn where agencies are responding to various emergencies, 24/7. In fact, in many cases, Twitter and other platforms have taken the place of press releases. That came about as news outlets realized that official social media accounts gave them much faster access to details than even a phone call. So—are you using social media to its fullest? Maybe you’re on Twitter and Facebook, but what about Instagram? Here with some suggestion on how to best use these platforms is Rob Reardon. Rob is a captain and PIO with the Duxbury, Massachusetts Fire Department, where he has worked for the past 17 years. He is an EFO and a CFO graduate. He’s also PIO for several other agencies. Before he joined the fire service, Rob worked for 10 years at television stations and major newspapers as an award-winning photographer.
When you arrive on scene of a medical emergency, do you talk with the patient? Sure you do. In fact, if you’re still fairly new at EMS, you likely practically interrogate them. Questions like, “When was your last oral intake?” or “What were your events leading up to this incident?”…are laughable, when heard outside a run.How about, “When did you last have something to eat or drink?” or “What happened just before you passed out?” A real conversation will get you farther faster than trying to act like a doctor—who, if he has experience, knows better anyway. Here to explain some of the things we can learn from just talking to a patient is Tim Nowak. Tim’s the founder and CEO of Emergency Medical Solutions, LLC, an EMS training and consulting company. He's been involved in EMS and emergency services since 2002, and has worked as an EMT, paramedic and critical care paramedic. He’s also been involved as an EMS educator, firefighter and HazMat technician throughout his career.
Firefighting has always been about survival. But now, we are recognizing that fire isn’t the only danger. Whether it’s occupational cancer, cardiovascular events, or behavioral health injuries, the threats are constant. A new book, Surviving the Fire Service, contains information about cancer, cardiovascular risk, medical exams and screening, nutrition, managing heat stress, and a whole lot more. It explains how to manage and reduce risks in the fire service. Here to tell us more is Todd LeDuc, the editor of Surviving the Fire Service. Todd LeDuc retired as assistant fire chief for Broward County Florida Fire/Rescue after a 30-year career. Todd is the Chief Strategy Officer at Life Scan Wellness Centers. Life Scam provides NFPA 1582 compliant early detection physicals to some 35,000 firefighters and law enforcement officers. He’s also Secretary of the IAFC's Safety, Health & Survival Section.
This edition of Code 3 may make you a little uncomfortable. It’s about racial bias among EMS providers. And while that bias may be unconscious, it affects patients all the same. My guest today led a comprehensive study of nearly 26,000 EMS encounters in Oregon over two years. The results are disturbing. The data showed that medics were less likely to do a pain assessment on Hispanic and Asian patients than whites. It also found that black patients were 40 percent less likely to be given pain meds. What’s going on here? Certainly, no medic goes on a run thinking that a minority patient’s going to get different treatment. Jamie Kennel is the director of the Paramedic Program, a joint program between Oregon Health and Science University, and the Oregon Institute of Technology, where he’s an associate professor. He’s also a co-founder of Healthcare Equity Group – they help EMS organizations improve the equity of their care.
Okay, here’s an idea that’s guaranteed to divide opinions: The Cosumnes Fire District, near Sacramento, California, is using virtual reality technology to train firefighters for structure fires. Officials say the VR goggles are a cost-effective way to train on a variety of scenarios that would otherwise be expensive to create. The company that makes the system is loaning it to the fire district for evaluation. I have a lot of questions and I’m sure you do, too. Today, I’m talking with Cosumnes Fire District Battalion Chief Rick Clarke about what he thinks of the idea so far.
Lots of departments require you to be a paramedic as well as a firefighter, but that can lead to conflict. In some departments, this cross training means firefighters are assigned to ambulances. Many of them end up wanting to get out of otherwise excellent work environments because they don’t want to deal with an EMS role as their primary job. How you view this situation is largely a matter of attitude, of course. Ben Thompson wrote an article on firefighting from an ambulance a while back for He’s a lieutenant for the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service. He’s been the coordinator of the department’s mobile integrated health program, Birmingham Fire and Rescue C.A.R.E.S., since 2016.
After many years of being called “firefighters”, there is a small but persistent group pushing back. They want to be called “firemen” again. Perhaps surprisingly, some of those people are women. They also want to be called firemen. It comes from an attitude that says women should strive to be a part of the team, not to ask that the team change for them. Also important here is a feeling that, in past years, women in the fire service have been excessively accommodated…that they’ve been given unnecessary special treatment. Today’s guest says women in firefighting should not expect nor be given any specific accommodations just because they’re female. Got your attention? Let me introduce you to Alexis Shady.She’s a fireman—not firefighter—and EMT with the Bellefontaine, Ohio Fire Department. She wrote an article for Fire Engineering called, “I Am the Problem.”
If you’re listening to this edition of Code 3, congratulations! You made it through the 2010s. It was a turbulent decade for first responders of all kinds. And the ride’s likely to get even more bumpy into the next decade. What were the trends that made the 2010’s a challenge..and where are we going? Greg Friese, Editor-in-chief of took a look back at the lowlights and has some predictions.
You may be a TRT specialist in your department. Or you might be a novice. Either way, you’ve probably realized that rope rescue gear has become very technical. NFPA 1983 is very specific about the details required to make rope suitable for various tasks. And then there’s NFPA 1670, and others, too. With the bewildering number of choices out there how do you pick the right rope material, or friction device, or even carabiner? Here to explain which is best for what situation is Dale Stewart. Dale owns, a company that supplies rope equipment and training to the emergency services community. He’s worked with Phoenix Fire as an instructor in their mutual aid program as a consultant for rope and water rescue since 1987.
Technical rescues are high-risk/low-frequency incidents, and that means training on them is critical. One slip, and you could have a very bad day. If you know NFPA 1006, you know the minimum KSAs are tough. But departments routinely face problems with training when they have a shortage of really good instructors, current equipment, and funding for adequate training time. Back with me on Code 3 to offer some solutions is Dalan Zartman. Dalan is a technical-rescue expert for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security. He serves as regional training program director and advisory board member at Bowling Green State University. Dalan is a member of the Central Ohio Strike Team and the Washington Township Fire Department. He’s founder and president of Rescue Methods.
One of the most important roles of a leader is to take care of their crew. That means if you’re a company officer, you need to be aware of your crew members’ emotional state.We’ve all heard that the job can lead to PTSD, and I certainly hope that you accept that. It’s proven, and it’s a fact just like falling from a ladder can cause a broken arm or leg. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to be looking for signs of emotional trauma. Then, you can take steps to help. My guest to explain how to do that is Jared Meeker. He’s a fire chief in a combination fire department in upstate New York, and has over 30 years’ experience in the fire service. He teaches incident command skills for fire officers and career survival skills for all first responders.
If you’ve listened to this show for any length of time, you know realistic training scenarios … and sometimes the lack of them … are my thing. Learning the fundamentals is always the key to later skill-building. So it’s important to get focused on training for bread-and-butter operations.. those common skills that sometimes are taken for granted. How do we develop a program that covers this ground when we’re working with multiple different generations that all learn differently? Today, we’re talking with Lt. Stephen Rhine about how to accomplish this. Steve’s been with the FDNY for 17 years. He’s also the Training Coordinator and former Captain of the Roslyn Volunteer Fire Department. He’s a certified New York State Fire Instructor and a Haz-Mat Tech Level 1. And he’s a PIO with the FDNY Incident Management Team.
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.
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