Booster Lines, Bullies and Buffoons

The other night I was out on the front porch puffing on my favorite brand of cigar and staring off into the distance pondering the movement of the earth around the sun. I was indulging myself with a moment or two of quiet time. As I counted the aircraft...


It may be best to simply plunk yourself down in a given spot near the A-side of the structure and wait for the Roaming Ralph to come flying by on one of his many circuitous circumnavigations of the incident. Be warned. You may have to tackle them, or hit them with a rolling body block to get their attention. Perhaps these folks operate according to the old "you cannot hit a moving target" theory of supervision and management.

All of this creates a very poor operational command structure. The subordinate officers in the command post do not want to make a decision because they know that the Roaming Ralph wants to make all of the decisions themselves. They have been through all of this before. They know that even if they make a proper decision, Ralph will change it on the way by. My friends this would be laughable if it wasn't so common and so devastating to good order. Apparently there is still a persistent group of officers who have yet to realize that the year is 2007 and we just aren't managing fires like we once did.

Through the years I have seen my share of Roaming Ralph's and their opposite numbers the Stationary Stanley's. The Stationary Stanley type will take a position out in front of a building and place their butt and their brain into vapor lock. They will not take advice, nor will they issue orders. You cannot get them to speak on the radio. However, if you do get them, you would be well advised not to heed the blathering which comes flowing out of your portable radio. They are the exact opposite of the Roaming Ralph.

Incident command is a critical part of all that we do. Every one of our people, from the highest ranking chief to the newest firefighter, needs to be thoroughly trained in the use of the Incident Command System. Heck, in New Jersey this is mandated by a state law. However, training is not enough. You need to use ICS every day and at every type of incident. It is not a special weapon kept in readiness, to be unfurled only when things are really big or really bad. If you fail to commit to this you will fail when the time comes that you will need to use it.

OK, I should have your attention by now. How about those people who still insist on riding on the rear of fire apparatus? Oh Harry, you might say, nobody does that anymore; People stopped doing that sort of thing years ago. Are you sure? There are a lot of fire departments which have two-person cab units still in service and there is an amazing temptation by some folks to think of the people in the fire service as being exempt from the laws of nature, probability, and chance. I will never fall off the back of a fire truck. My dad, granddad, and great granddad did it and they did not fall off of the rig. Nah, it won't happen to me.

Let me tell you something. I know it can happen, because it happened to me back in 1967 when I was serving with the U.S. Air Force in Alaska. My buddy and I were riding on the back of an old 750-A pumper on the way to a run in our base housing area. Our unit was over at the main station on the opposite side of the base from our quarters adjacent to the housing area.

We had a long run ahead of us and our driver was working to trade speed for time and distance. As we rounded a corner not far from the main station the pumper hit a bump, I lost my grip on the bar and fell off the pumper. I can recall a feeling of fear as I fell and hit the pavement. Luckily I was able to land in such a way that I kept rolling. Luckily there was no one behind us. After coming to a stop, I got up and limped over to the side of the road. After a short trip to the base hospital I was placed off duty for a couple of days.

Incidents like this never really leave your mind. I often thought of this fall in Alaska as my engine company rolled through the streets of Newark, with my brother and me on the back step hanging onto the grab rail for dear life. Here is an area where the problem should have been consigned to history two decades ago. However, I am a suspicious person by nature and unfortunately it is my hunch that this is an area where hanky panky can and does still occur. That is just the way it is.

Let me urge you to battle for the right way of doing things in your fire department. I know that many of you are not in a position to make policy. However, you cannot sit idly by and let these brainless bullies and buffoons continue to kill and maim our people. Fight for safety. Do not let them do these bad things to you! Do not let your people be subjected to this!