Leading Firemen and Chasin’ Kinks

So I get a call from a young brother on the other side o’ the country. We’ve broken bread together a coupla’ times and he’s the kind of Jake you just naturally take a liking to. He’s all fired and up and rarin’ to go, just askin’ for a little leadership to light the way. So what do you think the issue is…you got it, hose loads. I’m thinkin’, “funny how things just go in circles…” I was in his shoes years ago and made the same mistake that he has. I presumed to give my opinion when those around me felt I was too young, or too new to make a significant contribution. Which, with many new members is truly the case. But not always. Sometimes its simply a way to crush anything new or anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. Why do we do that?

“Did you chase the kinks?” The Byrne Building Fire, Los Angeles. Courtesy of LAFire.com.

And so it goes, ..the flat load is what I was taught. Pull loops every 50 feet. Simplicity. But then there is the Detroit Bundle, the Cinncinatti, the Tri-fold or Triple lay, the Minute Man, the Philly, the Attack 50, the New York way, the Poughkeepsie way, the Irish Half-Twist, ….geez, makes your head spin. Firemen across the country will get in a full blown Donnybrook over this issue when it rears its head. Probably been arguing the point since Ben Franklin was a baby! The culprit in my department is currently the bumper load on the Quint. Not enough space, too much hose, nozzle in the way, can’t get it out without makin’ a knot! I know you are feelin’ my pain. The younger members love the bumper line idea. It works well on some of our other rigs, but on this particular piece, I think I’d rather get rid of it and install a pre-connected coffee appliance…No, really. I’ve downed many a cupful in the bay, critiquing in loving but sarcastic tones as my crew members come up with yet another idea on how to load the bumper without struggling to deploy it, breaking the door latches or damaging the nozzle. Fortunately, all three platoons are equally irritated over the damn thing and so the first one that comes up with a really good fix gets a prize!

“The culprit in my department is currently the bumper load on the Quint” Photo by Author

I don’t hate the bumper line, I just hate the fact that if I call for it, it invariably ends up looking like someone’s misguided attempt at flyfishing! I’ve let the fellas know that I don’t care if they like the bumper line or not, if they can’t get it into action fast enough, I just won’t call for it. They’ve assured me, this latest hose load will be to my liking..

Here’s the thing, the younger brother I mentioned earlier isn’t really saying he’s against the current hose finish they use in the disputed bed, (which just happens to be a bumper line) but he is saying he doesn’t understand why the old hands are so adamant that they use the old method and the old method only. You know the story, he went off to Conference, learned some knew things and was able to see an application which may or may not be realistic for the piece he’s riding. But he won’t ever know, will he, because the minute he opens his trap about it, tries to show some initiative, he’s blasted oughta’ the kitchen. All he’s asking is, “Why not?”, or “Why do we do it the way we do, it seems inefficient to me…” The answer is the same across the country, in many fire houses, many engine bays. “Because that’s the way its done here!” Beautiful how we are all on the same page so often….(that’s sarcasm).. Its the wrong page more frequently than we’d like to admit, but we’re all on it together.

One of my favorite 2.5″ Loads, ….not that I’m an expert. But I didn’t win that debate in my department, in fact, I don’t think I even got a word in. The hose finish we did end up with (more of a minute man), works just fine and was chosen by the boys that gotta’ pull it.  Photo by Author. 2013

But the thing that gets me most here is that the hose load is not the issue. If he doesn’t understand why the “triple lay” (or whatever hose load is in dispute) works best, its most likely due the lack of training to demonstrate its importance to him. Or maybe, God forbid, the guys arguing for the old way are just being stubborn and don’t have a clue why the “triple” is in use, but have no interest in having to learn something new. Sadly, this is common in our houses and always has been. Better to crush any of that “I’m young and know more than you” attitude right at the first chance!

Maybe I’m being too harsh here…

I had the opportunity to work with several older and younger brothers on the job this past April prior to going to FDIC. I was privileged and honored to work alongside those who help out at Jim McCormack’s Fire Department Training Network (FDTN). I was there for six days straight, helping to set up training evolutions, prep live fires, assisting with live fire and in general just having a rockin’ good time! The crew working at the site this time around included a new mix of old hands and new, myself being the newest to the group but also making the longest trip to get to the site, just a few miles East of Indy and about 3000 miles from my first due.

Leatherhead109 at FDTN for April’s Engine 1 & 2, Truck 1 & 2. They put me to work with Scott Hardin’s burn crew, a coupla’ good ole Southr’n Boys! From left, Jarrad McCorn, Scott Hardin, myself and Aaron Rhodes.

One of the things I had been looking forward to the most was that I would be working with firemen from all over the country. Boston, Lexington, Charlotte, Orlando, Buffalo and New York, Indianapolis and several departments nearby were all represented, to name a few.. In a way, I felt like I was back in the Corps due to the fact that much of the lingo and dominant accents were definitely Southern in nature, something that always makes me feel at home. I enjoy hangin’ with brothers that have that slow subtle humor and meandering drawl.

How does this relate to the bumper line? Well, the beauty of working with these brothers from all across the country is just that, ..”Doin’ work” as they say. Most of us have taken classes with members from other departments, but it isn’t every day, especially if you’re from “way out” on the ole’ peninsula, to “work” with other brothers, all of whom you have never met!

But far more important than the language bein’ ejected was the simple, basic tasks we were setting about. The various hose loads and tool debates that we quibble and argue about back home and in many of the departments across the country were insignificant. What was important was those things that all of us have to grapple with in order to have success on the fireground. Such as chasin’ kinks, hose placement priorities, rescue priorities, forcing entry, getting water on the fire…fast..When it comes down to it, how the hose comes off the truck matters not at all. Brings to mind a fire my crew and I were first due on this past summer. When I turned around to order the line brought up, the probie nearly slammed into me, pre-connect on his shoulder, ready to place. Perfect. Who cares how he got it out of the bed in the end. He was ready to do work!

“Hot time in the old town”. Maneuvering to the fire in confined area. FDTN 2013. Photo by author.

This is what I’m getting at here. Back to the bumper line. Maybe the kid has a good idea, maybe you’ve already had that idea and found it lacking. But are you helping him understand the company tool choices, or just creating frustration in him by ignoring his attempt at contribution? The hose load you use will probably do the job just fine, if you practice deployment and placement. So perhaps investing some time will smooth the debate. The more the line comes off the piece, the more situations will develop in the training evolutions that will demonstrate the pro’s and con’s of the method used.

Going over the basics at FDTN with Mike Lombardo. Photo by Author. 2013

EVEN MORE TO THE POINT, HAVE YOU made sure that the kid knows what’s really important? I don’t know about you, but it was many, many years before I ever heard an instructor specifically spell out hose line placement priorities, let alone any officer I worked under. For so long it was assumed you understood. Now, as I look back, I wonder if they didn’t teach me because no one had taught them, and they were merely doing what had always been done. Another thing, you hear some mention of getting kinks out of lines, but you hear far more about the arguments concerning smoothbore vs. combo or fog tip, but have you ever seen how fast both fail when the lines are badly kinked? Will both nozzles work? Yes, especially when handled in a knowledgeable manner, but like the hose loads, if they aren’t in place or used properly, they fail,..sometimes catastrophically..

VES in the flashbox with a little saw work. Photo by Author 2013

Over the years, many discussions have taken place in the firehouse about the critical, growing importance of getting the nozzle in place and getting water on the fire as quickly as possible. That is far more important than which hose load works best. Yes, those issues are valid. Heck, several departments have gone away from pre-connected lines altogether and have returned to using a make n’ break. But how will that particular hoseload make or break the call? What brings success or failure is the way it is deployed, the kinks, advancement around corners, over balconies, up the stairs, enough couplings to do the job and is it the proper line in the first place?

Back in Indiana, those lessons were pounded into my head for a solid week! It was like going back to boot camp, except I was one of the support staff, so when the students got priorities mixed up and delayed getting water on the fire it was us guys on the burn crew getting punished for it…and I might add, loving every minute of it!

It was a place where ego’s needed to be set aside, you do the job you are assigned and each member is relying on the other member. A place where those who love the job, come to give back. Over and over again I kept thinking that in spite of the broad background of many of us, our list of fireground priorities was very much in tune. It was assumed by some of the older Jakes present that I knew how to keep myself safe, to understand the evolutions and once I knew the goals and objectives, that I would get in line and help make things happen. That assumption was based on known basics that we should all master. I can’t say that my training from formal organizations really prepared me for the work that week. What prepared me was experience, repetition, awareness and a love for the job, which has propelled me to seek out ways of being better at the job. We tend to get lost in whats’ comfortable, then we fail to stir ourselves to maintain that sharp edge, which often is very uncomfortable at the start. I needed that six days of hard core work! It got me back in tune, helped me clearly see whats really important in the basic skills we use every day. Even old dogs need to revisit these things, or we will become dull and will lack the sharpness this job truly requires. So maybe instead of ranting at the new guy, take him out back and pull some line, show him why, show him the best way you know, show him the tricks in between. And maybe, if you can spare the time, you might find that he has a good question or two and you’ll both learn a little bit.

Jarrad and “A-A-Ron” working out of the bucket to reset the roof prop in the FDTN classic Tower Ladder 456. Photo by Author. 2013

Just finished training at the kitchen table one recent morning and called out over my shoulder as I strolled to the App Bay, “Bunker out, people!” The scramble of boots and chairs being knocked askew, the coffee cups being destabilized, the laptop computer cords being yanked gave my ears to know that they were not only on the move, but enthusiastically so! The fellas like being challenged, they like getting caught off guard a bit, it gives them an opportunity to really show their stuff and work on improvement. The Quint pulls around back, brake set, we all step out and I point at the drill tower and shout that we have a heavy smoke and fire showing from the second floor window, flames lapping to the third, immediate report of a man down seen moments ago in the second floor window…..and I intentionally call for the bumper line..”Oh, geez..gotta work on that..”

I need a cup o’ Joe…

Post Update:  Since this post was written, the bumper load has been brought under control…and the kid, well, ..he’s was moved to another house where the love for the job is overwhelming, they patiently tolerate his thoughts on bumper loads and he’s as happy as a pig in..ah, yeah, you get the picture.


  • T McD says:

    Great post!

    A great leader once told me….
    “you only have so much change in your pocket so spend it wisely.”

    Thanks again brother!

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      Little Brother, just so you know, I think you couldn’t do better than to be with the Loo’! He’s “top shelf” as they say. Keep doing what you’re doing and I believe you will go far in this public service. You can ride with me anytime!

  • H Babler says:

    Captain Fleagle,
    Great post as always, I have been reading your blog for almost a year now. As of last week I have gone back and read all of your previous posts and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. You have a wealth of knowledge to share with the younger members of the fire service like myself. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts I look forward to reading more of your writing and the opportunities to put it into practice as I move up in the fire service.

    • Ben Fleagle says:

      FIreman Babler

      I thank you for your encouraging and honoring remarks. I have slowed in my writing as life has it’s twists and turns, but have not given it up. Indeed I write for those of you, who like myself, have been left to figure it out on our own. Yet the wheel which we are in need was invented long ago. The Good Book says, “There is nothing new under the sun”…thanks again!


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