The term “Mutual Aid” is one we use within the Fire Service but it’s also pretty self explanatory. Mutual Aid is about opening a “network” of help (aid) between one another and that’s exactly what Rhett Fleitz (FireCritic.com) and I (along with MANY others) have been doing this past weekend.
For Rhett and I, it started on Friday. We left home at 3:30am to fly from Roanoke, Va through Chicago and into Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were headed to the 2014 Winter Seminar / Brotherhood Bash in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The event is put on by the KZOO FOOLS (link) and the Kalamazoo County Fire Chief’s Training Committee.
We arrived to snow measured in feet, sub-zero temperatures and winds gusting at “knock ya down” speeds. It was not something we are not used to and much worse than we had expected.
With that said, we were also met with something we are very much accustomed to … Brotherhood and shenanigans !
As we got off the plane, we were met by KZOO FOOLS President Kevin Thompson and Matthew (Matt) Schimmel. They came to pick us up and drive us into Kalamazoo. Although we have met them before, they created a sign so that we would be sure to recognize them and know that they were the ones picking us up …. LOL .. with a start like this, we KNEW it was going to be a good trip!
I have to admit that I was AMAZED by Kevin’s driving skills. The roads were covered with snow and it was piled 6-8 feet high on the sides. That much snow here would have shut the entire State down. I wasn’t sure we would even make it to Kalamazoo. The conditions were even bad by their standards. There was a HUGE accident, involving 3 fatalities on the road we were supposed to travel ( Read about that tragic accident HERE) causing us to alter our route.
My hand prints are probably still embedded in Kevin’s back seat but we made the trip without incident. If ya ever need a ride to the store for bread and milk during a snow storm, CALL KEVIN!
The Brothers gave us a GREAT tour of the City / County. As we always like to do, we stopped by several Fire Houses in Comstock.
We met some great members, seen some nice houses / rigs and learned about how these Brothers and Sisters operate (paid on-call). They even let us sit in their prized piece.. a 1943 open cab Seagrave!
Rhett wanted to take her around the block but we couldn’t quite convince them. The Rig is stationed at what they call the “North” station in Comstock. This was the first “purpose built” piece / rig owned by Comstock. All rigs before this one were basically pieced together and build by their members.
So after our tour, we made a quick stop by the hotel to unload and freshen up before a very nice dinner / meet-up with several of the Chiefs who were a part of bringing us in and hosting the event. It was a GREAT cap to a long and exhausting day.
What Rhett and I didn’t know during all of this was that due to the weather, the Community College where the event was originally scheduled had closed. At the very last moment, these members were dealing with a venue change. The fact that Rhett and I were unaware speaks volumes about their professionalism and ability to handle crisis.
The event was moved to the Oshtemo Township Hall and Fire Station #1 (link) where we were met with an additional 10 inches of snow that had fallen over night.
It was a PERFECT venue where we were also met by an outstanding Chief (Chief Mark Barnes) and many of his members who had helped make the transition flawless.
Neither weather nor venue change would hold us back … there was well over 100 Brothers and Sisters in attendance, many even coming from neighboring States. This speaks VOLUMES about the dedication to the job these Brothers and Sisters have!
Our topics for the day was Professional Wellness (physical and mental), Social Media in the Fire Service (an abbreviated segment), followed by Improving Morale and Motivating Firefighters.
The day / event was as different as Rhett and I are.
Although there were MANY lessons learned (on both sides), our program was more “speaking” than teaching. It’s somewhat difficult to explain but there is not a lot of you “HAVE or MUST” to do it “THIS” way or “THAT” to achieve your goal . We don’t lay down solutions in “step by step” order or give ya a “quick guide” to follow. We TALK to our audience. We tell ya what we’ve experienced (not as in telling war stories) as well as what we have found that works or doesn’t work for us. Again, it’s somewhat “different” from the typical sit down with a book in a class room session but we’ve always been very well received and it seems to work.
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As I said, we started out with Professional Wellness. We touch on both the physical and mental aspects but focus more so on the mental.
Those of you who have followed my site know the struggles I’ve faced over the past 13 months. Rhett and I talk openly and honestly about our journey through that battle in this segment of our presentation. There is typically not a dry eye in the room. This class was no different. It’s a VERY emotional presentation.
We talk about STRESS, DEPRESSION, PTSD, SUICIDE and more. If you think these issues are not a battle or a topic that affects the Fire Service then you are sadly mistaken! If you think they can’t affect you, your Department, Station or Company then again … you’re WRONG.
Every member in attendance learned that lesson first hand Saturday morning. During that session, there was a member who needed to field several phone calls (not in a disruptive manner).
At the lunch break, that member informed us that a member very close to the Brew City FOOLS (link) had ended his life during the night. He was 32 years old.
There was an announcement made after lunch followed by a moment of silence. The entire class was in shock.
We had just talked about how “not all wounds are visible”. How we need to recognize the signs and symptoms of when a member is struggling or needing help.
We talked about how members hide, conceal and even lie about their pain, struggles and needs.
We also talked about how to reach these members …about how and where to get them the help, assistance and support they need. They CAN NOT fight mental illness alone…. neither can we!
It was a somber ending but we managed to complete the evening session. Afterwards, many more folks would join us for a Brotherhood Bash at a nearby restaurant.
Once again, the house was PACKED! In the opening remarks, a toast was made and glasses raised for the member mentioned above as well as to all of those who came before us.
Rhett and I weren’t sure how the class had went over as the audience was understandably difficult to read following the tragic news at lunch. Our concerns were washed away and our hopes validated at the Bash as member after member approached us to shared the impact we made on them personally. It was a VERY humbling experience as well as an HONOR to meet and share time / experiences with each of them.
That’s a good lead back to the title of this post … “Providing Mutual Aid” … we were all helping each other in one way or another. Rhett and I learned just as much (if not more) from these Brothers and Sisters as they did from us!
The Brotherhood BASH was a HUGE success as well! The Brothers and Sisters of the KZOO FOOLS are doing some FANTASTIC work!
They packed both venues and, thanks to many generous sponsors; were also able to give away a ton of cool stuff.
The KZOO FOOLS gave away everything from apparel, to a set of irons, a pig, a helmet, a custom Detroit Shield and even a full set of gear!
A great time was had by all … including me and Rhett!
I don’t know how many items they raffled / gave away but there was a ton of it!
I’m not sure if they knew what they were getting into when they asked Rhett and I to MC the raffle.
Rhett got everyone’s attention and opened the raffle by singing the lines from the movie “Top Gun” … you know .. when they sang “You’ve lost that loving feeling” … LMAO.
Of course he ended the show with a “mic drop” but not before Brother (Captain) Gene Davis won a custom fit set of Janesville V-Force turnout gear provided by 5 Alarm Fire and Safety Equipment .
Thanks to everyone who attended either or both events and contributed to their huge success.
We talked about those of us who “get it” and it’s obvious that those in attendance did / do. We understand that however, we also talked about if “getting it” is enough anymore. I don’t think it is. “Getting it” is just half way reaching our goal …after we learn to “get it”, we then have to learn to “GIVE IT” and that too is what Mutual Aid is all about … it’s a two way street!
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So, after the Bash, guess who picked us up in the wee hours of the morning to drive us from KZOO to Detroit?? Yep… Kevin and Matt once again. Oh yea … did I mention it was STILL SNOWING! Geesh .. add another 8 inches or so to what we’ve seen fall so far.
We were headed to Detroit to meet up with our Brothers and Sisters from the National Firefighters Endowment .
About 30+ of our members, including 18 from The Officer’s Club (link); converged on Detroit to distribute equipment purchased through the Detroit Mutual Aid (link) program.
If you don’t know what the project / program is, then you should. PLEASE use the links above to learn more about how you can help put some much needed gear, tools and equipment directly into the hands of the Detroit firefighters. Keep following …. I’ll explain more.
Our members had already arrived and staged at the hotel.
They spent a day organizing, packing, planning, establishing an Incident Command System and preparing to enter the battle Detroit firefighters face on a daily basis.
It was a HUGE undertaking that resulted in our delivering over $150,000.00 worth of equipment! The equipment wasn’t simply dropped off at Headquarters or some other location either, it was delivered to 14 different stations and placed DIRECTLY into the hands of Detroit Firefighters. The picture below contains some of the partners who helped make it possible (again, visit the links/websites above to learn more).
This was an unbelievable experience! I can’t explain the feeling we had after walking into a firehouse and handing over this equipment. I’ll never forget the look on their faces as we described not only why but how we got there. The support came from all over the world.
Lori Mercer, from FirefighterWife.com (link) ; was even on hand! Lori and her team had organized firefighter wives from all across the country to create hand made items to be placed into “care packages” for the wives, girlfriends etc of the members we were reaching out to!
Their packages included a variety of items including apparel, hand made jewelry, informative literature, baked goods and more! In my words, Lori and Firefighterwife.com not only looks after Firefighters all across the Country, they also look after our spouses who are back at home and more often than not, over looked. Lori and her team are doing some AMAZING and GREAT things for and throughout the Fire Service and she deserves our support. If you haven’t checked her out yet, PLEASE use the links below…..
Firefighter Wife on Face Book
We also had some “big ticket” items such as K-saws, Vent Saws and PPV fans.
In addition, we had sets of Irons, Pigs, flash lights, MN8 FoxFire sample kits and more. It all came from the “wish lists” each station provided (which is at the bottom of the Detroit Mutual Aid web site) .
That’s what surprised me the most. You’d think that if you told a bunch of firemen to give a “wish list” that it would have new rigs, new SCBA, new radios etc on it …. NOPE … not from the Brothers and Sisters of Detroit. They wanted GLOVES and Nomex HOODS … little things …. the things many of us take for granted. It was humbling. Well, they got their hoods, gloves and more.
There were several things that stood out to me on this trip. The first was the condition of their gear. We’ve all heard the stories but I can tell ya… it’s nothing like seeing it first hand.
Now sure … their gear gets used and used a LOT. It also probably doesn’t get cleaned as often as it should. What you have to remember is that this is all they have. Many are lucky to have a single set of gear that’s complete, much less a back up for when their first set is wet or damaged. Their maintenance program isn’t working. Any repairs either gets done by themselves or not at all.
Boots were another HUGE issue and something seen on almost every wish list. I was HORRIFIED!
Most every pair I seen had holes or some type of defect. They were patched with epoxy, duct tape or whatever they could find.
Most were rubber boots on top of that and remember all that snow I was talking about??? That’s what these Brothers and Sisters have to fight fire in!
The other thing I noticed was their morale. After seeing what we’d seen and learning what we had, you’d think almost certainly that the members morale would be as low as it could get right? WRONG!
Every member we met had a smile on their face! I don’t know how they did. The member above (with the boot) is Martin Rucker. He was driving Engine 54 that day (E54 / T26). After we had visited a while, heard their stories and delivered the gear / equipment, we talked him into singing us a song …. we captured it on video and it’s a MUST SEE …
Yea… I know. WOW! This is a reflection of each member we met. Against all odds, they are still proud to be Americans. They are proud to American Firefighters but more importantly they are PROUD to be Detroit Firefighters! He told us the stories, showed us the gear and then stood there and sang the National Anthem! You can’t script or make this stuff up!!!
I should mention here too that Black Diamond Boots (link) stepped up BIG TIME to help support Detroit Mutual Aid.
Matt Cervino, Black Diamond’s National Sales Director; even came to Detroit with us and made the visit to each station!
Although we couldn’t afford to give every member of the Detroit Fire Department a new pair of leather boots, Black Diamond was able to create a deal where they are available at a VERY affordable price. They stepped up in a BIG way and the members of DFD (as well as many others) appreciated it !
Are Detroit Firefighters a “charity case”?
I have to tell ya that at several stations that question came up… “so what, are we (Detroit Firefighters) now, a charity case?”.
Our response was NO. Detroit Mutual Aid is NOT about charity. It’s about BROTHERHOOD and I explained that. For so long now, we’ve talked about how Firefighters (Public Safety) have been forced to do more with less while we stood by and watched Detroit do it with NOTHING!
They’ve hurt and struggled yet they’ve been teaching us a lesson. You seen it in the video above. They’ve taught us about morale and doing the job. That PRIDE and OWNERSHIP have nothing to do with how much or the type / brand of equipment you have. If you think about it, they have taught us so much by fighting the battles they fight. Doesn’t “Mutual Aid” by definition mean returning that aid?
I am truly HONORED to have been a small part of what happened this last weekend in Kalamazoo and Detroit. I’m still “soaking it all in”. My phone has rang off the hook today with members we met this week. We’ve made life long friends and strengthened the Brotherhood.
I’ll include some local news coverage and links to other articles about the Detroit Mutual Aid project below ….
“Positive Attitudes”, Model City Firefighter
“Why Detroit Mutual Aid Matters to Firefighter Wife”
Support Detroit Mutual Aid
Stay Safe and in House!