50 Fires…

Illustration by Paul Combs

Illustration by Paul Combs

I had several great conversations last weekend while attending the South Atlantic Fire Rescue Expo in Raleigh, NC.

One in particular was with a younger member who had just recently been promoted to an Officer position within his Department. He was open and honest in our conversation and like all new Officers admitted he was “nervous” about his new assignment.

This member hasn’t seen a lot of “work” and is worried if he will make the right decisions in the heat of the moment. Although I have never been to jobs with this member, he has been following me online for some time now … even as far back as my days as a “Melrose Misfit”.

He read how my members “introduced” me in one of our “Meet The Members”  posts on that Blog …it said.. “One of the things all of us here are impressed by is his knowledge in strategy and tactics and his uncanny ability to locate the seat of the fire and the fastest way to get to it.”

Read that “Melrose Misfits” post HERE

He wanted to know how I (or any of us for that matter) do it. He wanted to know what classes we take …. what books to read etc. He felt like there must be something tangible or a “magic wand” that he wasn’t tapped with at promotion time. He’s an Officer now and he doesn’t know everything he thinks he should. He wondered what prepared us.

Captain Todd Stone and Battalion Chief Audie FerrisThis was the perfect opportunity for me to share a conversation that I’ve had several times with a well respected, fellow Captain and good friend of mine… Captain Todd Stone.

Todd and I have discussed the issue several times and both agree that it takes about 50 fires.

Now I’m not sure “comfortable” is the right word but I do think it takes about 50 fires before you REALLY start to understand and know what’s going on around you in a fire and on the fire ground.

3711-550x412I guess basically what we’re talking about here is EXPERIENCE and in case you’re wondering… it begins on your first day on the job.

Let’s be honest, the Brother I was talking to (and possibly many of you) may not see 50 fires in his career and that’s ok. The Job is not all about “fire” anymore but for now, that’s the topic I’ll stick with… or at least close to it.

I hit 50 fires pretty quick and early in my career but I also had something else just as valuable.

I was surrounded by good members and worked with some amazing crews. I was surrounded by good members and I listened to and watched them. I asked questions and sought to understand why we were doing what we were doing. I built upon and carried the knowledge I gained from them with me throughout the Officer ranks.

10 15th st sw E9 crewI drove the Battalion Chief’s car for the first several years of my career. After that, I was assigned to the busiest Company in the City and worked under a strong and aggressive Captain.

We were a single Engine with 4 assigned. Including the Captain (Tommy Dews) . We had a strong Lieutenant (Kenny Furrow followed by Dennis Croft) and I rode with  one of the best Firefighters in our Department still today… Scott Mutter. We were the Extrication Company for the entire City and on top of that … we went to jobs. We were good at what we done and we pretty much did it all.

I quickly made Lieutenant, 1st Lieutenant, and then was assigned as “Acting Captain” at Station #3-A. I would go on from there to Officially make grade and remain at #3 for a while.  We were also a very busy house where I had a young crew complimented by one of the most Senior Lieutenants in the Department … Richard “Patty” Patterson . (Part of that Crew is pictured above right).

pilot structure fire010I think I was the 2nd youngest member (behind Scott Mutter) to have ever been promoted to Captain at the time and I was assigned to one of the most Senior and respected Lieutenants in the Department. I was going to be “this guy’s” Boss? …..Talk about intimidating!

The secret was that despite everything I had seen and learned up to that point, I still knew I didn’t… nor did I act like I knew it all. I wasn’t ashamed / embarrassed to look to or ask Patty or the Company for input / advise. “What do ya think?” … “What do you see?” …. “Am I missing something here?” …. “Am I thinking right?” I was still learning my new position.

Read “Yea… I’ve Gone to Fires”

18th and Rorer 4-20-2008So back to the “50 fires”. Yea … I took all the structured classes offered / available but nothing can replace the things I learned from those members or that I gained “on the streets” back in those early days. Nothing takes the place of those first 50 fires and who I fought em with!

Those first 50 fires taught me more than I realized. I may not have known the new fancy terms we use today but every job I went to taught me more about things like fire behavior, flow paths,  door control, thermal balance, searching, Engine / Ladder Company operations etc, etc, etc.

Again I’ll say that “comfortable” may not be the right word but “aware” may be. The more fire I fought, the more “aware” of my surroundings I became.

545408_10151070016177849_1234042377_n-1-250x250It’s more like a form of “Situational Awareness” … I had been “there” before. I recognized “this” and “that”. For the most part, I wasn’t (nor am I now) caught off guard anymore. I know how to read the conditions and what to expect…. I actually anticipate it …again… because I’ve seen it before. You’ll get there too (and NO… I haven’t seen it all).

If you’re one of those guys who’s not seeing a lot of work … someone who may not catch 50 in your career, again I’ll say that it’s ok. You have more places / people to pull from.

Those structured classes I spoke of earlier are not all bad. There is some VERY GOOD information in the classes offered, you just have to understand how to bring that information “home” and apply it to your Department / situation.

Capt Wines and Goodo Cove Rd working fireYou also have your fellow members / peers…. It’s like that “paid guy” who happens to vollie at your Department. Hopefully he doesn’t think he’s better than you … but maybe … just maybe.. he’s SEEN MORE than you while working his paid gig. SHUT UP… loose that chip off your shoulder, listen to and watch what he’s doing…. you just may learn something.

Is “50” the right number? I don’t know … maybe more … maybe less but I do believe it takes a certain amount of experience to become proficient at what we do. When you think about it, that philosophy could apply to our private lives as much as our professional ones. It just goes to reason.

Suck it up … become a sponge. Take in and learn all you can from whatever source is available. Hey … not all my lessons were good ones. I learned just as many things NOT to do as I did WHAT or HOW to do when coming up.

The other part of this is that yea… I’ve made mistakes along the way and I’m STILL learning. Every day I learn a new lesson. Every fire / job is a new one. How I apply that, and/or what I’ve learned from it; to “The Job” and what I already know is up to me.

The Job and the challenges we face everyday are ever changing and we must learn to adapt and change with it… otherwise we are destined to fail and in the Fire Service … Failure is NOT an option.

As always… your thoughts and comments are more than welcome. I hope you’ll share this post and maybe even start a good discussion around your kitchen table or tail board.

Ironfiremen on FaceBook HERE

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines