Monday, December 11, 2017

2017 Year End Reading List

Here's what I was reading in 2017.


Write to Market, Chris Fox

From Jailer to Jailed, Bernard Kerik

A Message to Garcia, Elbert Hubbard


Night Watchman, Tony Dunbar

State of Fear, Michael Crichton

The Gray and Guilty Sea, Scott William Carter

Fear, L. Ron Hubbard

The Sins of the Father, Lawrence Block

Fire Thieves, Michael Brigati

The Murderer Vine, Shepard Rifkin

Talking to the Dead, Harry Bingham

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

How to Succeed in Fire Engineering

Paul Bryant, author of The 7 Traits of Highly Effective Fire Engineers: A Guide for Those in the Profession Who Wish to Get Ahead, has spent a career in the fire protection industry.  In his time he had the opportunity to work with all types and “qualities” of engineer.  Clearly, there were some that rose to the top.  They were different.  They seemed to easily excel at their field and quickly advance beyond their peers.  

This book is the analyses of his research on the seven traits that sets these high performing individuals above their counterparts.

Trait #1. Having Passion. They love what they do.

Trait #2. Being Objective.  They prefer to make decisions based on facts, even if the facts contradict their personal experiences and beliefs.

Trait #3. Knowing Your Limits.  They know what they know, but more importantly, they know what they don’t know.

Trait #4. Progressive Thinking.  They look to the future - they don’t live in the past.

Trait #5. Taking Responsibility.  They automatically assume responsibility for their output.  They readily own up to mistakes.

Trait #6. Getting Involved.  They really get involved in, and contribute to, the industry.

Trait #7. Appreciating Others.  They acknowledge and appreciate the skills of others in the profession.  They understand that it does not have to be a competition.

“Each of the seven traits are more to do with attitude than anything else.  It is attitude - and the right attitude, that separates those who succeed from the rest.” --Paul Bryant, Fire Cubed LLP

Monday, November 27, 2017

Preventing Fires in the Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI)

So far, this year the United States has experienced 52,699 wildfires. These fires have burned nearly 9 million acres, destroyed 8,700 structures, and claimed 23 lives, and will cost insurers $3 billion.

NFPA 1452 defines the wildland/urban interface (WUI) as “the presence of a structure in locations in which the AHJ determines that topographical features, vegetation fuel types, local weather conditions, and prevailing winds result in the potential for ignition of the structures within the area from flames and firebrands of a wildland fire”. According to the Verisk 2017 Wildfire Risk Analysis nearly 4.5 million homes meet this definition, and are considered to be at high or extreme risk of wildfire.

What can fire prevention organizations do to mitigate the wildland fire risk and how can we prepare our communities for these wildfire disasters?

A house threatened by wildfire, by USDA

The critical area that homeowners have the most control over is known as the “structure ignition zone”. This is a radial area around the home of up to 200 ft.  NFPA 1452, Chapter 9, recommends the following actions should be completed to prevent ignition from nearby flames or floating firebrands.

  1. Maintain a buffer zone of at least 30 feet around the home. Plant only  high-moisture, drought resistant, and low-flammability vegetation next to, and within the first 6 feet of, the home’s foundation.
  2. Use only noncombustible roof materials.
  3. Ensure that the roof and gutters are always clean or debris, pine needles, and dead leaves.
  4. Install 1⁄4 in. mesh metal screens over foundation and eave vents
  5. Enclose the sides of stilt foundations and decks
  6. Providing metal screens or spark arresters on chimneys
  7. Maintain access to emergency water supply sources such as, swimming pools, wells, ponds, and lakes.
  8. Follow all local open burning regulations.
Residents living within the wildland/urban interface should be prepared for evacuations in the event that mitigation's fail, or extreme circumstances prevail.  Residents can be prepared for wildfire by making the following arrangements.
  1. Have an evacuation plan, and be knowledgeable of exit routes and shelter locations.
  2. Inventory the home and possessions with videos or photographs.
  3. Secure important documents off-premises (safe-deposit box, etc.).
  4. Identify those important items to be brought in the evacuation.
  5. Keep a bag of personal care hygiene items, for use at evacuation shelters.

For more information and tools on the wildland/urban interface, homeowner safety, and firefighting operations, a valuable resource is the NFPA Firewise USA website at,

Monday, November 20, 2017

Leading the Stampede

"The Stampede" by Frederic Remington

General Petraeus used this painting as a metaphor for what his army officers were doing, he explains:

“I use this image to tell you that I am comfortable with semi-chaotic situations. The picture depicts an outrider galloping at full tilt over rough terrain at the height of a violent storm while steering a willful mount and guiding a sometimes frightened and unthinking herd of cattle to its destination.  It represents getting the job done despite the challenges.  The terrain is rocky, the wind is in their faces and it is raining sideways.  Some of these cattle will get out ahead of us - that’s fine, we will catch up.  Some cattle will fall behind and we will have to circle back and get them - that’s fine, we will bring them on.  We must be comfortable with this environment of uncertainty, challenge, risk, danger and competing agendas.  We need to accept it. But we need to do more than simply hang on to the saddle.  We must master our mount and we must flourish in the apparent chaos.  I am comfortable with this.”

Petraeus shares this painting and metaphor of herding cattle, for his leaders.  In the fire service, and on a fire scene, it may sometimes feel like something more akin to herding cats.  However, Petraeus was successful in his military leadership by following his four strategic leadership tasks. This four task strategy can be implemented by our fire officers for the same success.

  1. Get the big ideas right.
  2. Communicate them effectively.
  3. Aggressively oversee their uniform implementation.
  4. Create a feedback loop to measure progress and refine the big ideas.

Get the big ideas right.  What is our departments vision and mission? What are our priorities? What are the things that must get done?  This needs to be clear for the long-term strategic goal, and for the short term incident.  Do not get caught up in all the minutia, focus on getting the big ideas right.

Communicate them effectively.  It seems that every after-action report list “communication” as a top problem. Why is this? Using a variety of methods and media, we must make sure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the common goal by communicating the big ideas.

Aggressively oversee their uniform implementation. Implement and execute. An idea is nothing without implementation.

Create a feedback loop to measure progress and refine the big ideas. When you start to aggressively implement your big ideas, you will see that they need to be “tweaked”.  As a department changes, or an incident evolves, our previous “big ideas” may not be applicable. We must ensure that we are out getting feedback and measuring the forward progress of the organization, and adjusting and refining the big ideas. From this point the loop can re-start, communication, implement, measure and refine.

As firefighters, inspectors, engineers, and company officers we may feel that we do not have much say in these big ideas. But it is our responsibility to know and understand the strategic leadership of our departments and provide the support in these four strategic tasks. A superior of General David Petraeus said, “David did not try to wear my stars while here, but rather helped me wear them more effectively….” For those of us leading from the middle of the stampede, this should be our aim.