Who are you working for?

Sometimes, that’s a difficult question to answer. It shouldn’t be, but all too often; we sometimes loose sight of who we are really here for. If you don’t know, it’s our “customers”. The people who dial 9-1-1 requesting our help. The people who live in, visit and travel through the areas we are sworn to protect and serve. Yea .. there’s that other word … “serve”.

This is going to be a LONG post and another one of my semi-rants so if you’re not up for it and need to dive … go now. If you have the time to read further, I think it will be worth your time. If you do, please also take the time to do me a quick favor and “like” us on Face Book. These numbers REALLY help us bring you the material etc that we do. Tell all your friends, hit the “like” and “share” buttons … it makes a difference. THANKS

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So, how do we loose sight of who we’re working for?? That list could go on for pages. A lot of times, it’s the “trickle effect”. It “trickles” down from the top.  When the top brass is more concerned with resume building and looking good for their bosses, sometimes the most important people in the equation gets neglected.

I know of a Department where this has happened. The top ranks know nothing other than micro-management and the ensuing disease has infected the entire Department. Micro-management is NOT a leadership skill. It’s not even a good management practice.

A micro-manager is simply attempting to cover or hide their own flaws (or self perceived flaws). Their decision making process is often times based purely on the fact that “THEY” are in charge. In their minds,  they need to show you and everyone else that to maintain their “authority” or “power”. They can’t give the impression that someone of lower rank is more educated than they are. They can not allow subordinates to think for themselves because they may come up with better ideas or ways to accomplish a goal and that would make them “look bad”. It’s sad but mentalities such as this are breeding in departments all across the Country.

I’ve seen it first hand in my career. Chiefs that you’d have to play like a cheap guitar. As long as you made them think it was their idea or left enough leeway from them to receive recognition everything was fine. Anything less than that, right or wrong; would never float. The sad thing here is that after a while, it’s often times not worth the trouble. When morale, self esteem and everything else has been taken from you, sometimes, you forget about who your fighting for and say “to hell with it”.  That’s the shame of it all.

Even today, I know of an “Internationally Accredited”  Department with Battalion Chiefs who are nothing more than glorified secretaries and I say that with all due respect to the men holding those positions.  They are allowed to field “sick calls” in the morning and temporarily fill a slot for the shift. They get “special” projects and sometimes even get to deliver mail to the stations. They are not allowed to do the simplest of things. They are not even allowed to make assignments within their Battalion. They can not say who works where within their own Battalion. Who knows the work habits and ethics of the men better than the Battalion? An Admin Chief??? No.

If the Battalions are treated like that, you can imagine how the Captains and Lieutenants and firefighters must feel. How does an Officer build Company Pride in situations such as these? How do you motivate an oppressed Company Officer to go the “extra mile”. How will he in turn motivate his Company to do the “right thing”… to do a good job? When does the fight become too much?

I don’t have the answer but I will share with you 2 stories from my Company / Battalion that have happened just recently. They are “feel good” storeis, GREAT examples of Customer Service and I hope you come away from reading them with a positive thought / direction.

We have a regular EMS run in my territory. An elderly man and woman, 97 and 93 years old. They live alone. They have a home health care provider who visits everyday but in the evenings and at night, they are alone. They are of the generation that wouldn’t have it any other way.

Their neighborhood has changed over the years. It’s gone from single family home owners to lower income rental properties. Today, they are prisoners in their own home. Every door is locked with a dead bolt. What’s worse is that the locks are keyed on both sides.
Here lately, they’ve been falling a lot and needing our assistance. They both need the assistance of a walker just to safely get around inside their home. We’ve been there so many times that we’re basically on a first name basis (of course out of respect, I always address them as Mr or Mrs.) They NEVER go to the hospital. We help them up, make a thorough assessment and get them back into bed or their chair.  I think they are afraid that if they go, they will never make it back. That or they’re afraid of leaving the other alone.

They used to leave a key hidden outside. They’ve now removed it in fear that a predator would find it. The other night, she had fallen at around midnight. We got there and watched as he made his way to the door (using his walker) with his keys. We then watched as he fumbled through the keys, unable to unlock or open the door. He figured he had the wrong set and began to shuffle back to the bedroom for another key ring. This went on several times before we (without damage) forced entry.

The incident got me thinking. What if he fell too? What if one of them were unresponsive? What if the house were on fire? Of course if it were on fire, I would  have taken the door but for these EMS incidents … I don’t want to destroy his property and cost him money just to get in and put her back into bed. How would we secure the house until the next morning when someone could make the repairs? Who would make them?

It bothered me. What can I do to help these folks? What can I do to help me help them yet allow them to live with the Independence,  privacy and respect they want and deserve?

A KNOX BOX. They were worried about the security of a key out under a flower pot but surely I could sell the use / security of a knox box securely mounted to their brick home.

I called the “powers to be” and gave them the “spill”. Well guess what …we don’t have any “loaners” or any other resources to help these folks. Knox Box makes a residential unit that cost about $100 and they (the home owners) would be more than welcome to purchase one if they wanted. Then, someone from the office would even come out and lock the resident’s key inside the box once it was installed. That IS the procedure you know.

There was NO WAY I was going to go talk to these folks and ask them to buy a $100 box to bolt onto their house. I wanted to help them … not add to their burden.  Boots and Randy went to work. They found a similar type of lock box at a local hardware store. Instead of a key (that is carried on all of our rigs) these boxes had combination locks. We could easily have dispatch “Flag” the address and include the combination on the run ticket of any incident to that location.

They found 2 different brands. One cost $30, the other around $25.Problem solved!  I made another call, We wanted permission and the funds to buy the box. We would install it ourselves…off duty if necessary. Guess what … WE ARE OUT OF MONEY ! Are you kidding me??? A Department of our size, with our reputation and history doesn’t have $30 to spend on the welfare of a 90 year old couple? I must have missed something along the way because I thought THAT was OUR JOB. To help and protect people just like this couple. We would just buy it ourselves.
Our Battalion Chief came out and I BLEW A GASKET. Lucky for me, we go WAYYYYY back and he not only calmed me down but also offered a solution. We told  our Union ( IAFF Local-1132 ) the story.  These brothers jumped right into action. They not only offered to reimburse us for the expense but also offered to assist with the installation. I think they (we ..L-1132) are even going to stock a few extra of these “lock boxes” in case a similar circumstance  arises in the future.

That’s what customer service is all about. It’s what our job is about. It’s why we’re here. If I can’t help a 90 year old couple in my first due then I may as well go home.

Turns out that this couple has a grandson who thinks as much about their welfare as we do. He bought the box, it’s securely in place and the combination  on file. These folks are better protected and our Department better able to serve them.

Scott Leamon of WSLS 10 blogged about it HERE

My boys … Boots and Randy ( and I know they are far from “boys” … it’s just what I call em) made a positive impact this week. Their actions and concern for our citizens resulted in a positive outcome for not just this couple but possibly more like them in the future.  As always, I’M PROUD OF THEM !

They have big hearts and are on the job for the right reasons. That brings me to the 2nd story I wanted to share with ya. Last day, we caught a run for possible basement fire. It was one of those calls where you could tell by the dispatch that we were most likely going to work.

Elderly female, hard of hearing saying her house was full of smoke. Dispatch advised an audible alarm was sounding in the background and that the caller was confused and was not leaving the house.

We arrived with nothing showing and was met at the door by the elderly resident using a walker. There was a decent haze of smoke and the smell of burnt food. We assisted her outside and then made our way back in. In the kitchen, we noticed a ham cooking in a turkey baster type pot on top of the stove (setting across two burners … not in the oven). The ham was covered in water and didn’t appear burnt. We began searching elsewhere.

We figured maybe something in the microwave. Possibly a toaster oven. NOTHING. Turns out, it was the ham. It had stuck to the bottom of the pot and despite the outside appearance, was burnt and smoked up the place pretty good.

The resident explained that she was a widow who had been living alone for some time now. She often cooked for a friend down the street in exchange for rides to the grocery store, doctors office etc.

We got the house ventilated and the resident safely back inside. Clearly, she was a little upset. Maybe even a little embarrassed. She told us how she had cooked many hams this way and never had a problem. This was to be their meals for the week and she had nothing else to cook.

Well, we had held Ladder 5 for ventilation and together with my boys, they went straight to work. They removed the ham from the pot. One of them went to work cutting off the burnt bottom while another began scrubbing the pot and it’s lid. A third member removed the burners and eyes from the stove top so they could be washed as well.  One of em washed while another dried. The ham was placed back into the pot and fresh water added while the stove was wiped down and put back together.

In no time, these members had everything cleaned up and back in place. Their meal was saved and put back on to finish cooking.

You should have seen the smile on her face. Watching 6 firemen dancing around her  kitchen …. cleaning and cooking. I don’t guess she’d ever seen such a sight.

There are firemen out there who wouldn’t have done all that. They would have thrown the pot out into the yard, ventilated the house and headed back to quarters. “That’s not our job” some would say. Well, I say it is. She didn’t know what to do. Still shaken  from the smoke and alarm sounding. Embarrassed for us having to respond. In doubt as to the condition of the ham and already worried about what her and her friend would eat this week.

She used a walker to get around. How difficult would it have been for her to empty and scrub that pot?  To clean the stove and get everything back into place? We provided a SERVICE. We didn’t put out a fully involved house fire with a garden hose while saving 2 jumpers and a baby but we did make a difference!

We left this citizen with a positive image of her local Fire Department and it’s firefighters.

These are the people I work for. Citizens like the 3 I just told you about and thousands more like them. The people who need and benefit from our help if even in the smallest of ways. More times than not, it’s the “little” things that make a big difference. I posted a video about this exact topic back in December 2011. I’d like to share it with you again. Before I do, allow me to share with you the members who were on scene of the burnt ham incident ….

I had Firefighter Todd “Boots” Harris and Rookie Randy Armbrister with me on Engine 13. Ladder #5 had Lt. Rob “Bugg” Reid, Firefighter Brady McDonald and Firefighter/Medic Craig Champney (detailed from Station #1-C).

{Also assigned to the incident was Engine #4 , Medic #4, RS1 and Battalion 2.} WELL DONE boys … and THANKS!

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines