The Paradox of Choice

Do you ever struggle with training, or studying about the job? I don’t mean in struggling to find motivation or drive to do it, but rather where to even start? I want to soak everything up I possibly can about the job. There are so many different avenues to the fire service: engine company, truck company, squad, technical rescue, HAZMAT, RIT, even EMS, the list is almost endless. Have a RIT article for me? Send it. Oh there’s a good video showing vertical vent? Ok I’ll watch that too. Fire Engineering sent out another email? Better save that to read later. Someone tweeted tips on things to look for in building construction? Better drive around the city looking for similarities.

Sometimes I find myself jumping from book to book, article to article, tweet to tweet. Trying to soak up everything but not really getting what I want or need. So a few months ago I decided to try and lay out a schedule for myself to help keep me a little more on track. I stick to this schedule religiously on shift days, on my off days I still find myself jumping around on different topics, but it has helped give me some structure. I also have about 6 different fire books that I am currently reading in my free time- which one just depends on my mood that day. I didn’t say I had my studying completely nailed down yet. I’m definitely not saying this idea works for everyone, but it’s been great for me so far.

**Note: These topics are pretty broad for a purpose. They give me guidance on the kind of thing to study that day, but allow me to pick things that interest me. This also forces me to pay attention to things I wouldn’t normally choose to study – aka EMS).

Monday

  • Mayday/RIT

Tuesday

  • Truck/Rescue/Search

Wednesday

  • Water (supplies, staffing, pumping, etc.)

Thursday

  • Historical fires

Friday

  • Tactics (Ex. Basement fires, UL studies, etc.)

Saturday

  • Leadership/Personal Development

Sunday

  • EMS

Read 1 LODD report a week.

**Another tip: Take notes on everything you read, watch, or study. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve referred back to them. Also, if you see something you don’t understand, reach out to someone. As long as you’re studying and trying to get better there are no stupid questions.

Maybe there are different topics you would choose to focus on, or have some suggestions for me? I’d love to hear!

Firehouse Fitness

One of the many recent changes in the fire service is recognizing the importance of health; mental, sleep, eating, and fitness. I could go on all day about the importance of proper nutrition and enough sleep. All I’ll say about that stuff for now is that you should probably take a nap, it’s all about moderation, eat more protein, and include some green stuff on your plate.

One thing I will talk a little about is fitness. Before I joined the fire service I was not in good physical shape (aka chunky😆). So, I spent quite a bit of time, effort, and money paying for trainers and workout plans to get in shape. With some hard work I was able to get in very good shape and pass several different physical agility tests such as the CPAT. Then… I fell into the trap of “I passed the test and now I’m set” mentality and I lost some of the progress I had made. When I finally got the offer from my department I quickly realized I needed to make fitness one of my top priorities again.

My favorite thing about my shift is that they all prioritize fitness as well, and we workout as a group. We start the morning with our daily checks, chat about the workout, then head upstairs and get a workout in. **With the obvious disclaimer that we stop to run calls.** Afterwards, we all sit around the table again drinking protein shakes- gotta get the gains lol. My shift started doing this before I started, and it has helped build camaraderie, motivate us to work harder, and teach us lessons we can use outside of the gym. Our shift works well together and I firmly believe this is a huge part of the reason why. Consistently doing the workouts, upping the intensity and pushing ourselves to continuously improve week over week, and most importantly not letting each other quit on ourselves builds confidence. As my Senior Fireman said just a few days ago, this confidence stays with us into the back of the ambulance and onto the fireground where it really matters.

As far as general health and wellness it doesn’t really matter what you do for workouts as long as you’re moving your body. Whether it’s CrossFit, body building, running, walking, hiking, whatever…Just pick something you enjoy and do it, something is better than nothing. For first responders it still doesn’t really matter what workout you do, just make sure you include both strength training and cardio. If you’re new to working out, start slow and build up your program, there’s no point in trying to bench 300lbs if you haven’t picked up a bar in years. Also no point in trying to bust out 1,000 pushups a day if you can’t string more than 20 together in a row. There is NOTHING wrong with where you’re starting, what matters is the fact that you’re starting, so don’t over do it.

One thing I’ve found since working out with my shift is that it doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. I used to think I needed to have workouts programmed for me with lots of different kinds of lifts and complicated cardio HIIT sessions. Honestly you can get a good workout in with a pull-up bar, some dumbbells, a place to do pushups, a set of stairs, and some good music.

Monthly assessments are a great way to gauge your progress. Once a month we “test” ourselves to see how we’re improving and to hold each other accountable. These numbers are shared with no one but ourselves, and we don’t compare to each other. The only thing that matters is that we get more reps than the last month.

Our monthly assessment looks like this:

  1. Max number of pushups without stopping
  2. Max pull-ups without stopping
  3. Max number of reps on bench press to failure (once the reps get high enough you start building in weight)
  4. 15 Leg press/20 calf raises at 270lbs
  5. Max dips without stopping
  6. Max pull-ups without stopping

When I first started I’m ashamed to admit I could hardly do 30 push-ups without stopping, could barely get a pull-up with 3 bands assisting, and would die if you mentioned running stairs. (Told ya I had let my fitness slack). The last fitness test we did for ourselves I had 172 push-ups, 6 pull-ups without a band, and I now love using our Jacobs Ladder for cardio….and this is just a few months later. I’m excited to see how far we all get in 6 more months.

So what changed for me?

  1. I eat to perform, not diet.
  2. I began doing 100 pushups a day
  3. If I find a move I’m not good at, I incorporated it into every workout (ex. Satan push-ups)
  4. Keep it simple, most of the workouts I do at work include a bunch of push-ups, pull-ups, dips, squats, etc.
  5. Pay attention to my body, if I’m exhausted I may choose not to workout, but I’ll at least try to move in some way whether it’s stretching or a walk.

If you’re not sure where to start- google is your friend…though sometimes this can get overwhelming. I also frequently use Pinterest for ideas on workouts and typically combine several to come up with my own. 555 fitness is another great resource for quick and effective workouts. Again, keeping it simple is your best bet. You can also try finding a trainer, someone on your department, or someone you trust. I’m no professional but I love talking fitness so I’d be happy to help. I’ve also included some of our workouts below, but please remember modifying is totally cool, and expected if you’re new to working out. The last thing you want to do is injure yourself or be unable to complete the workout. The goal is to slowly improve and build physical strength and confidence, and that won’t happen if you do too much too soon.

One workout we do pretty frequently was created by our Senior fireman, it definitely sucks but it’s honestly mostly mental. He calls it the

“Millennial Workout”

  • 250 decline pushups
  • 250 incline pushups
  • 250 regular pushups
  • 125 pull-ups
  • 125 body weight squats

Doesn’t matter how you do it, just keep track of your numbers until you complete all of the reps. We’ve obviously built up to this, so unless you’ve had a pretty intense workout regiment lately I would cut the reps down and build up to it.

A couple more example workouts are included below.

Workout 1:

Warmup

45 of each: diamond, decline, incline, and regular push-ups. 5 pull-ups and 50 flutter kicks between each set

3 rounds:

  • 1.5 min Jacobs Ladder (or run stairs)
  • 10 upright rows
  • 5 reverse pull-ups
  • 1.5 min Jacobs Ladder (or run stairs)
  • 20 dips
  • 25 ab-ups (knees to chest)
  • 10 tricep kickbacks
  • 1.5 min Jacobs Ladder (or run stairs)
  • 15 leg press/20 calf raises
  • 5 weighted Bulgarian split squats
  • 10 back squats
  • 1.5 min Jacobs Ladder (or run stairs)
  • 2 min rest

Finish with:

2 rounds

  • 1 min wall-sit
  • 1 min plank

Workout 2:

Warmup

50 of each: diamond, decline, incline, and regular push-ups. 5 pull-ups and 50 flutter kicks between each set

2 min Jacobs Ladder at 90-100 steps per minute (or stairs)

3 rounds:

  • 10 pull-ups
  • 5 weighted Bulgarian split squats
  • 20 dips
  • 50 flutter kicks
  • 10 burpees
  • 10 alternating dumbbell bench press
  • 15 leg press/20 calf raises
  • 10 skull crushers
  • 50 flutter kicks
  • 10 burpees
  • 20 ab-ups
  • 10 goblet squats
  • 10 upright rows
  • 50 flutter kicks
  • 10 burpees

Finish with:

2 rounds

  • 1:15 wall-sits
  • 1:15 plank

Workout 3:

Warmup

50 of each: diamond, decline, incline, and regular push-ups. 5 pull-ups and 50 flutter kicks between each set

Jacobs Ladder, accumulating 2600 ft. Each person does 100ft, gets off and the next person gets on before the timer stops. Keep going rounds until you get 2600ft. Could do this with running stairs or sprints in the bay.

2 Rounds:

  • 15 leg press/20 calf raises
  • 50 flutters
  • 10 satan push-ups
  • 6 pull-ups
  • 10 hammer curls
  • 10 upright rows

Finish with:

2 rounds

  • 1 min wall-sit
  • 1 min plank

Final thoughts: I know the saying from Fit to Fight Fire may be cheesy to some but I think it’s important to consider: “Would you want you, rescuing you?” If you can’t say yes, maybe it’s time to take a hard look in the mirror. Change isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing is found on the easy path.

Good luck, stay safe, and remember why you’re doing this- for them.

Mentors

Mentors

The Oxford dictionary defines a mentor as an “experienced and trusted advisor.”

Bob Proctor says a mentor is “someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.”

I think it’s important to constantly evaluate yourself: are you pushing yourself everyday to be a better person, are you improving your improving basic skills, and learning new things? Having good mentors can help you continue to take steps to improve yourself, and they’re willing to call you out if you get off track. I firmly believe these people are the key to your success in the fire service.

With that being said, you want to be careful who you look up to and ask for guidance. With social media everyone likes to talk these days, so make sure who you’re listening to is worth it.

Things I look for in a mentor:

⁃ Easy to talk with

⁃ Trustworthy

⁃ Compassionate

⁃ Hard working

⁃ Driven

⁃ Honest

⁃ Experienced (in life and in firefighting)

⁃ Knowledgeable

⁃ Morals/Values that align with mine

Good mentors are impossible to replace and don’t necessarily have to all be from your department. I believe you need three types of mentors. (If you’re lucky like me you’ll have more than one of each).

1. The department mentor. This person should obviously have more experience than you, and be someone worth looking up to. What I mean by this isn’t necessarily that they’ve won the most awards or had the most promotions; but they have a strong work ethic, are willing to teach, and are always working to find ways to improve themselves and the department. You should be able to trust that when you talk to them (unless it’s something they would have to report) that what you say will stay between the two of you. This is the person you turn to to when you have specific questions about your department- whether it be about how a call was handled, a training question, or when you’re unsure of how to handle various situations specific to your shifts.

2. Someone that is similar to you. (Does not necessarily have to be from your department.) This similarity could be in rank, such as if you’re both Lieutenants. Or a common specialization such as in Hazmat or EMS; if you’re a female, another female, etc. Someone that is able to more closely understand your situation. They are able to offer guidance in a way that takes into consideration your specific needs that someone without that similarity may not be able to.

3. Someone experienced outside of your department. In my opinion I believe this is the most important person for two reasons. One, if you only have mentors in your department they may not be able to see the situation outside of personal biases. The second reason is that if your only mentor is promoted to your supervisor, it may make future conversations difficult as they would have to separate being your boss from giving you unbiased advice. Again, this person should be easy to talk to, open with their personal experiences, and someone you can trust that what you say will stay in confidence. This person needs to be in your corner, but you also have to be able to trust that this person will call you on your crap if you need it.

When you find people who you would like to mentor you- reach out! Ask them if they would be willing to help teach and guide you in your career. Every few months ask them to meet for a cup of coffee or go visit them at their station. These meetings don’t have to be long, but they allow you to discuss how your career is going, and to get fresh advice. I think you’ll find most people are more than willing to share what they’ve learned with you if you just ask. I promise you, you will learn more than you can ever imagine, and it isn’t necessarily all about firefighting.

And one day, if you do it right, soaking up everything you can from the generations before us, you’ll become worth being a mentor to someone else. But you have to put in a lot of work first, and you better be willing to shut up and listen today.

I am beyond lucky to have the mentors I do, I firmly believe I would not be where I am today without them. They have pushed me to apply for the job at my department when I was unsure if I was ready, guided me when I’ve come across situations I didn’t know how to handle, and have motivated and pushed me when I was struggling.

Finally, remember to thank all of those who have been a mentor to you. They don’t have to take time out of their lives to teach and guide us, but we’re lucky they do. Express how much it all means to you, because you never know when the last time you’ll get to learn from them will be.

To all those who have been a mentor and friend to me- you know who you are. Thank you, it means more to me than you’ll ever know.

So what’s your point?

I’ll make the disclaimer when I start this that I’m no writer. I really don’t know what the point of this is other than I have a passion for the job, and I want to be involved in every way that I can.

I love my job, every shift is new and exciting and after years of trying to find my place in life, I know I’ve found it. I honestly hope I love this job as much in 30 years as I do today. With high call volumes and staffing issues I can see how it is super easy to get bogged down and fall into the traps of negativity that happens to many great firefighters. I hope to use this platform to help motivate others, or at the bare minimum to hold myself accountable.

Every department has issues whether it’s personnel, money, staffing, equipment, or everything combined. But honestly, none of that is the point. Yes, all of that matters but those of us on the line can’t control any of it. We can’t control our pay, our staffing, or how new our trucks are. We need to learn to trust our officers and cities to take care of those issues and focus on what we can control. What we can control/contribute to is the relationships we have with the guys on shift, physical fitness, relevant and aggressive fire training, and the people we are here to help. Preparing for and honoring the job, that’s the point.

What’s the job? If I have to explain this to you, maybe you should rethink why you’re here…but to me as cheesy and cliche as it sounds it’s important to treat everything we do with respect and compassion. Whether it’s helping up an elderly lady who fell and being the only kind contact she’s had all week, trying your damndest to help your team bring back a code, the middle of the night CO check, to giving a kid a ride in a truck, obviously the structure fires, and everything in between.

It’s being physically fit enough to take care of the person beside you. For me that involves a lot of upper body training, focusing on my nutrition, and learning that it’s ok to admit you need an occasional nap. It’s understanding that if you give up in the gym, you’re training yourself to quit on the fire-ground and not letting that happen.

Focus on investing your time and energy in training on the basics such as quick water on the fire, 360’s, aggressive search, and RIT. I think if we do that we’ll all be a lot better off.

I know a lot of people don’t like when I say this job could get a citizen, another firefighter, or myself killed because they think I’m just being dramatic. But fire doesn’t care where it happens or who’s there to fight it. Fire doesn’t care if you’re a volunteer and see fire once a year or if you’re full time and see fire everyday. I want to be prepared so when that time comes I can work with a team to effectively put the fire out and minimize damage. I’m here to do what we all said we’d do: protect life and property. The only way to do that is to aggressively pursue relevant and effective training. I’ll never be able to connect with or understand people who are on this job and only want to put themselves first. I am also done apologizing for having high expectations for myself and those around me.

Obviously training is extremely important to me, and I struggle to connect with people who don’t see that as well. You expect football players to spend months on the practice field training; you’d think they were insane if NFL teams went all year without practicing to go to a game and expect to win with no injuries. What’s different about firefighting? Why shouldn’t firefighters train for fires? I understand they don’t happen as often as they used to, but that’s one reason why they’re even more dangerous. Kinks kill, and so does complacency.

Basically, it’s not about us, it’s about the community we serve. And I can say from where I stand the people who complain most about this job seem to have completely forgotten that. I hope to use this as a tool to connect with other like minded people so we can all continue to learn together, and to hold me accountable to the communities I serve.