Monday, July 9, 2018

Lead Like Churchill

The recent movies, Darkest Hour and Dunkirk, have served to re-introduce one of the world's most respected leaders, Sir Winston Churchill.  In a recent issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning author, John Meacham, outlines three defining principles of Churchill’s leadership. These are principles that we can apply to our own work, departments, and personal leadership.

Churchill quoted Aristotle who stated that courage is the most important virtue, for it guarantees all the others. It was his display of courage and indomitable spirit in the face of seeming defeat, that motivated the English people, and encouraged his allies to join him in the fight.

Churchill believed that leaders should always level with their followers. This allows them to see the world from the leader’s perspective.  The following quote about the British people, can be said of the people that we have a responsibility to lead, “There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away. The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.”

Churchill knew that he would never be able to beat Hitler alone. He needed alliances. Having an ally is crucial, as without alliances things will begin to fall apart.  Not only should we seek alliances for our own ideas, organizations, and people but we must also be willing to ally with others in support of their ideas, organizations, and people. Churchill said, “ cannot rise to be in many ways the leading community in the civilized world without being involved in its problems, without being convulsed by it agonies and inspired by its causes.”

It is in the demonstration of these three principles that Sir Winston Churchill is remembered as a great leader. He was a man of broad vision, unquenchable courage, and unbreakable will - traits we could all use more of.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Why Your Company Level Inspection Program Is Failing [SPECIAL REPORT]

There are three primary reasons that a fire department’s company level inspection program may fail.
  1. Unmet expectations.
  2. Lack of support.
  3. Inadequate training.
Unmet expectations.
When I hear the term “company level inspection program”, I envision a program that exists to support fire prevention functions, specifically to assist in the completion of fire and life safety inspections. However, this is not the generally accepted definition. “Company level inspection program” is also the title given to programs that are intended to educate firefighters on a communities structures and properties, create fire pre-plans, and improve community relations and outreach. Each of these is a worthy endeavor, however, each of these possess very different goals and objectives, personnel training requirements, and crew time commitment.

If the expectation of the program is to support fire prevention and assist with inspections, then a training focus on fire and life safety codes, application, and enforcement would need to be delivered.  These inspections require a larger time commitment and more thorough walk-through of a property. If personnel are examining a structure for code deficiencies, it is difficult to also be thinking about or creating the fire incident pre-plan.   

Pre-incident planning is typically a more general overview of a property, its access, protection features, and operational hazards. Firefighters are trained, or conditioned, from the academy days on items to look for.  They are already thinking about what actions they may take in a given fire scenario at a property. The only additional training that may be needed is that related to fire protection systems, special hazards, or documentation.

Firefighter awareness or community relations and outreach, could simply be showing up to a facility, meeting the key personnel, and touring the property. This level of involvement would require no training, time commitment could be as long or short as the company officer deems appropriate, and could require little to no documentation.

Lack of support.
Company level inspection programs that lack support of the community leadership and fire department administration are doomed to failure.  There has been more than one ambitious fire marshal who has set out to institute a program that has been widely accepted by line level personnel, but has failed. A successful program takes more than ambition by personnel, and vocal encouragement from leadership.  A successful company level inspection program will require real support by means of time, resources, and perhaps operational changes.

The most effective company level inspection programs are owned by departments that have a culture of fire prevention. Fire prevention, life safety, community risk reduction are made a priority from the top leadership all the way down through the organization. Without this culture of fire prevention the company level inspection program may struggle. Initially, time and efforts may be best spent on building a department with a cultural foundation of fire prevention and life safety.

Inadequate training.
The survey results revealed a wide range of training applications, methods, and length. On-the-job training and in-house programs were the top training methods for company level inspection programs. As a component of a training program on-the-job training (OJT) is a great idea. However, to be effective the OJT must be formulaic and structured. Often times, when fire departments refer to “OJT”, what they are actually talking about is experiential or legacy knowledge.  This is training where the twenty year veteran tells the younger department member how he does things or how things have always been done. There are multiple obvious problems with this. Different people have different perspectives and passions, and will share knowledge accordingly, additionally the information presented or methods used may be incorrect or obsolete. This level of “OJT” can result in lack of uniform training, or neglect of correct knowledge and best practice engagement.

Like OJT, in-house training should be an essential component of company level inspection program. The issue with this is that it varies from “house” to “house”. Survey results show that the time allotted to “in-house” training programs varied from 1, 4, 6, 8, 12 hours to half-,full-, or multi- day programs.  To be effective, in-house training programs must be structured and standardized based on departmental needs and objectives.

Training requirements go hand-in-hand with the two topics mentioned above, expectations and support. The goals and expectations of the company level inspection program must be clearly defined so that a proper training program can be created and implemented.  A single, initial training is not enough, on-going and continuing education and work review is necessary. Additionally, company personnel must have support from more knowledgeable and certified fire prevention and inspection personnel.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Top Posts of All Time

Today we celebrate 500 posts on! Started in 2009 as a project to educate other fire inspectors and fire prevention personnel, this site now gets 15,000 views per month (plus, many more on LinkedIn and Medium) with an email list of almost 4,000 subscribers. 

Thank you for supporting The Code Coach, through your reading and valuable input!

Top 10 Posts of All Time

  1. Understanding Pre-Action Sprinkler Systems
  2. Eating Your Own Cooking
  3. Building a Kiosk
  4. How to Conduct NFPA 80 Inspections
  6. Fire Sprinkler Design Guide [for AHJ's]
  7. Overwhelmed Fire Inspectors
  8. When Is A Fire Watch Required?
  9. The FPO Effectiveness Tool
  10. NFPA, IBC, and ISO Construction Classifications, in Comparison

Monday, June 18, 2018

Don't Leave It In Vegas - NFPA Conference & Expo 2018

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”,  may be a great slogan for your evening activities, but not for the content of the 2018 annual NFPA Conference and Expo. Every attendee receives valuable knowledge, tools, and resources that they should bring back to their respective fire departments and organizations. Educational sessions, vendors, and networking opportunities abound for all functions and components of fire protection and life safety:
  • Healthcare
  • Fire Service
  • Emergency Management
  • Fire Protection Engineering
  • Fire Protection and Alarm Systems
  • Facilities Management

General sessions featured two speakers that focused on the theme of future innovations. Futurist, Jim Carroll, provided a broad overview of the future of technology, and how that future is already here. He challenged attendees to stay attuned to the world around us and strive for continuous growth and development with the quote, “The future belongs to those who are fast.”

Keller Rinaudo inspired the audience with the accomplishments of his company, Zipline. Zipline is utilizing “futuristic” drone technology to bring life saving medical supplies to the most remote parts of the world. The company is currently in the process of opening its second distribution center which will provide the entire country of Rwanda with readily available blood and medicines.

NFPA President, Jim Pauley, introduced the “fire and life safety ecosystem” concept. The ecosystem is eight elements that must work in harmony to protect people and property. Pauley stated, “We have forgotten that safety is a system – not a singular action, piece of equipment, or event.”

My particular interests led me to presentations on pre-incident planning, human factors and behaviors, risk and resilience, media relations, and training and development.  Two of the most impressive presentations were case studies, one from Uber and the other from Carvana.

In “The eVTOL Revolutions: How the Next Generation of Air Travel Will Impact Fire and Life Safety”, representatives from Uber presented the next phase in their growth strategy and its impact on the fire and life safety industry. Celina Mikolajczak, Director of Engineering, painted a picture of the what Uber plans to do with electric VTOL travel and transportation. Rex Alexander, Head of Aviation Infrastructure, discussed the impact that this new form of public transportation would have on codes, standards, and FAA regulations.

Carvana, the online-only used car dealer, created the innovative concept of the car vending machine.  Their presentation, “Carvana: Performance-Based Design of an Automated Vehicle Storage and Retrieval System” demonstrated how they were able to implement the performance-based design process to create a product that would garner acceptance from a variety of local officials and regulatory agencies.  

The NFPA Conference & Expo is one of the world’s biggest and most comprehensive fire, electrical, and life safety events. It's an opportunity to gain valuable insights, meet with industry experts and learn about new products and solutions.  With 110 knowledge enhancing presentations, several hundred vendors exhibiting in the expo hall, and more than 1,000 attendees to network with, the NFPA Conference and Expo should be the primary event on the fire and life safety professional’s calendar.  

Handouts of the all presentations are available for download from,

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