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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in Ohio, New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing: The views expressed on this site are entirely my own. They do not reflect in anyway the views or positions of my employer.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Changes Coming to CFD?

     After frequently offering suggestions on how Columbus Fire could potentially tweak and improve its service delivery model, it just wouldn't be right if I didn't take a moment to comment on the recently released "potential ladder company moves". This is a good discussion and I am glad to see it happening. This is especially true given that I helped write a CFD ladder company study in 1997. Some of that study's recomendations are being mentioned in the current report.
     However, Columbus is a much different city today than it was then. People are moving downtown in droves, the short north and arena districts are many times more populated with almost constant new construction. In addition, the development in the outer edges of Columbus has slowed just a bit. Gone are the days of massive large annexations, although what does exist and what is being proposed in areas like the northeast side (Hamilton Rd &. 161); the Southeast Side (Gender and Lehman) and the far west side (Galloway Road) pose serious challenges to ensure proper fire protection. 
     The bottom line is that CFD can not "rob peter to pay paul" when it comes to Fire Protection. With the exception of a couple of medic units, most companies are where they need to be given the current fire facility locations. 
    This is most apparent in the talk about moving L1 to 7s; L13 to 19s; and L24 to 6s. Not only would that take one of two Ladders out of the ever more densely constructed downtown and short north, it would creat a massive ladder service hole centered on one of the busiest fire activity sections of the city. A fire at Hudson St and Cleveland Avenues for example would have a significant delay for Ladder Service. As would the surrounding areas. 
     An alternative would be:
     Move Ladder-1 to 7 (not ideal)
     Move Ladder-13 to 16
     Move Ladder-24 to 6
     Move Ladder-27 to 11

     Note, of all the potential Ladder moves, moving Ladder 27 to 11s is by far the most benefical for the city, IF Ladder-34 is not going to return. In fact, if not a single other move were made (which may be the best move) moving the Ladder from 27s to 11 would be worth considering. This puts the ladder in the middle of the service area, allows it to cover 34s area (somewhat) and the Olentangy River Road area. 

     Turning to the Northeast Side. With the massive development coming to Hamilton and 161, the process of building Station 36 should begin as soon as possible. This station, when completed, should have a Ladder. There is no other way around it.

     On the east side, the Ladder at 5 should stay at 5. It is in an excellent location for fire protection and to provide rescue services on 270/70/ and east broad street. Putting this ladder on Waggoner Road would, in my opinion, be a waste. The city can not grow further east or much to the north. Most of a Ladder-35s runs would be back towards 5s- might as well leave it in the best position. 

     More suggestions will follow, but I would encourage CFD folks to at least think about whats offerered here. Either way, its good to see CFD starting to address the challenges of a city that is growing faster than its fire and ems service. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What a World

It has been too long.  But I have a really good reason.  A big move. The end of a relationship.  The purchase of my first home.  The feeling that every single thing in my world was in motion at the exact same time.  Not a bad thing.  I suppose it could be called exhilarating or at least that will be my word choice.  I am certain some would call it fear.  Perhaps most would.  

And in the midst of this whirlwind of difference, what session did I end up having to present, last minute, at the recent NENA conference in Indianapolis?  Out of 101 sessions, which was the one requiring my intervention lest it have to be cancelled?  Change Management of course.  

Standing in a room of about fifty people, helping them see how to manage the unexpected opportunities of their professional and personal lives, what I really performed was a public self service.  Fifty-six minutes of reminders and assists.  Passionate declaration of the fact that all happens for a reason.  That some things are only for a season.  And that we have a role to play if only we choose to take the stage.  Any stage.  I think I only looked at the power-point a handful of times.  I didn't look at the instructor notes at all.  I doubt anyone noticed.  

There are moments where the stage might be big, with an audience of friends, family and strangers filling a great hall.  There are others were the stage may be a small room, with an audience and cast of one. No matter, when the time comes, we are judged, if we are judged, not by how well we followed the script (hint, there is no script) but how well we acted our part.  How true we were to our character.  The drama critic will silently ask and scribble an answer to whether we lived up to who we were brought here to be.  Did we take the chances?  Did we dream our dreams while awake?  Did we try to make our world to the image of something greater? 

If we know that the change we are living is to that end.  If we know that the missteps and the backtracks, the tears and the smiles are all a part of that mission to be ourselves, to live ourselves, then nothing else really matters.  As the British say, "A change is as good as a rest".  Well friends, here we are.  Another place on the journey.  And sitting on my front porch, coffee in hand, trying to figure out what that one birdsong is that is so distinctive from the others, I can safely say, I am on my path. But,if you truly believe all things happen for a reason, if you truly have faith, then you know that you never really leave the path.  We only sometimes forget to see it.  And change is really just a different view. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dispatch Basics: the worst phrase you will ever hear or say

You hear it in a variety of circumstances. Sometimes its the answer to: "why do we do it that way?"  Sometimes its a response to a proposed action that goes a little far outside the box, requiring a Supervisor's approval. Other times its said with the shrugged shoulders symptomatic of a career of frustration, indifference, or passing the buck. 

I would venture to suggest that it is reflective of much more than one person's potentially defective style of supervision. If anything, it is the canary in the coal mine language that serves as a flashing neon sign screaming: "there may be serious management or leadership problems here". 

What phrase does all this and more? 

"That's above my paygrade."

I can imagine no circumstance where that is a truly valuable or appropriate answer to a question or suggestion. In truth, it is a cop-out. Engineered to absolve the user from any obligation to either a) make a decision themselves b) route the suggestion/question to the proper person 3) or provide a proper explanation of why things are the way they are.  

Think about it like this. You are sitting at your local physician. You are curious about a new lump that suddenly arrived on your anatomy. Likely not serious, but still annoying. You ask the doctor about i and get: "thats above my paygrade!"  What confidence does that instill in you about their knowledge or their ability?  I think we all know by now there are chains of command in every institution. There are processes to follow. 

But to just throw in the towel. What kind of respect will that earn you?  After all, even if you don't know an answer, or arent authorized to make it, shouldn't the next step to be take it to someone who is able? 

How about some pride. How about some ownership? If the question is silly or has been tried or really shouldn't be escalated, then explain right there and then what's up. Do not take the easy way out. 

That's something that applies- no matter what your paygrade. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dispatch Basics: Verify! (and Replace if Required)

I have to confess that I am surprised that this may be a revelation for some centers.  Granted, it may be a policy issue and not a dispatcher issue, but it seems like common sense:

(Part 1) Verify that the units you have sent to the assignment are actually going. 

(Part 2) If they are not responding in a pre-determined amount of time, replace them! 

This should not require permission from an IC or some sort of special papal dispensation. It is truly a matter of common sense.  The next step, after replacing the missing in action unit, is to notify the responding IC or the other unit (if there is one) that you were unable to verify the other unit and have replaced them with Unit XXX. 

Some examples:

You assign two patrol units to a disturbance.  The first unit acknowledges the call on their MDC.  The second does not.  Ten seconds later, you call the unit on the radio and they do not respond.  Call one more time.  Wait ten seconds.  Then assign the next closest car.  Immediately after, notify the first unit of the change.  This is a safety issue that may impact the actions of the first car.  Whether their back-up is coming from one minute or ten minutes away could have a significant impact on whether they go directly into the location, or wait.

You dispatch three engines to a fire along with a Battalion Chief.  The second due engine does not acknowledge their  run.  You must replace them, AND notify both the IC AND the second due engine of the change in assignment. In many areas, the second due engine is responsible for water supply.  The third due has a different role on the scene of the fire.  Disaster could ensue if the third due engine is not aware that they must now assume the role of water supply.  Granted, your procedures may be different, but this is just one situation where replacement and advisement are very important. 

The same situation could exist on an EMS run, where a BLS unit would wait on the scene if the originally assigned paramedic unit was coming from five minutes away.  However, with a critical patient, a hospital ten minutes away, and the paramedic unit coming from twenty minutes away, the EMTs may decide to transport immediately. 

In all of these cases it comes down to taking the simple steps to ensure the most effective outcome.  Verify assigned units are responding, take the correct action if they are not, and ensure that the people who need to know- KNOW.  Dispatchers can play a very important role in ensuring effective and timely response of units, no matter what the emergency and its starts with verifying that response. 

Dispatch Basics: 9-1-1 Center Design (Part-1)

Although this particular topic is directed more at the managers and directors of 9-1-1 centers, addressing this issue starts with dispatchers and the important nuances of how the job actually gets done.  For those centers who have call-taking, dispatch, and supervision on the same floor or in the same building,far too little thought is given to how the physical arrangement of the working positions either contributes to success or failure.
Here is the first problem.  Too many “modern” centers make too many incorrect assumptions about how we work.  Or they think that technology will bring about changes in how we communicate.  Case in point: having all of the dispatch positions facing a giant wall of TV monitors.  Yes, it looks like some cool scene out of a movie.  Yes, it gets more gizmos and wizbangs into the center.  But I know of no dispatch center were the personnel spend a large amount of time watching those screens. 
Should they be there, perhaps.  But the most important information for dispatchers should be visible from their position while they sit normally.  Ideally, if an alert, it should appear visually and audibly.  Distracting personnel with giant screens is a good first step towards diminishing the effectiveness of the center.  The best information to put on those screens are things that should be glanced at once in a while or that relate to everyone on the floor- such as weather maps, traffic cameras, or the overtime list.  These do not need to be front and center, just visible.  Far more important is to have easy visibility, at the position, of the active incidents, radio, and CAD while not isolating the dispatchers from each other. 
The next big problem. Many agencies try to use electronic messaging as  a replacement for old fashioned communication by voice or sight.  Although CAD to CAD messages are an important tool, especially in large centers, there is no replacement for line of sight or proximate communication.  Being able to look at, learn over, or lean back to speak to a coworker is important beyond all description.  This is much more "human", much more effective, and has a much lower failure rate than being forced to route simple questions through a computer system. 
The next big problem: we are not going paperless.  I'm sorry but its just not going to happen.  We need scrap paper, we need maps, and we need places to write important information.  Now, there shouldn't be 2,000 post-it-notes on the monitor, but there is a happy place where the necessary information is documented and we maintain our effectiveness. 
Along the same line, we must have an adequate amount of workspace, but we must also have everyone close enough that they can support each other when required.  This allows a more effective team based approach to the mission, instead of individual islands of Dispatchers all doing their own thing.  There are multiple ways to accomplish this and it depends on how many personnel are working, what job they are doing, and building constraints but facilitating “old fashioned communication and teamwork” should be a major goal of any 9-1-1 center position design. 
Speaking of positions, another disturbing trend is for more and more monitors crammed onto the desks.  This has to end.  No dispatcher can be expected to be actively or effectively engaged with more than three or four screens at their positions.  Directors need to make harsh decisions about what really needs to be on the position and what needs to go.  Vendors in the 9-1-1 space can help this effort with greater integration of software and technology, which saves having to have monitors by system.  Instead, we should be able to have our monitors arranged by function, a process that could radically improve the effectiveness of dispatchers and lessen the number of critical mistakes. 
Returning to the floor plan, more centers should also offer tables on the floor.  Having a simple eight-foot table next to dispatch area can serve both training and meal needs, keeping food away from the expensive stuff, but keeping personnel close enough to still be “in-the-mix”. 
In the end, it all comes down to the facility and the technology meeting the needs of the Dispatchers and the Operation, not the reverse.  Too often, Dispatchers and Supervisors are not even invited to the planning discussions. This is unacceptable.  No fire chief, police chief, ems director, or IT director would allow a new facility, police car, fire truck, or ambulance to be designed and built without a clear understanding of the mission or the needs of the user.  When it comes to 9-1-1 centers the same should be true.  So if your agency is planning a new building, do everything you can to become involved in the process and help make sure that what is built actually helps you work better. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Dispatcher Basics: Valuing the Past

A quick thought today about one of our greatest resources in the world of 9-1-1: those who have come before us. 

One of the reasons why the fire service and law enforcement are such proudnand storied organizations is the respect they show their traditions and their history. Show me an organization that understands and values its past and that organization will likely have a promising future. 

As a generally new profession, 9-1-1 (or whatever discipline of emergency communications you are a part of) often doesn't take the time to reflect on where it started or where it has been. In the chaos of the schedule of most 9-1-1 directors there is little room for "value our history" between meetings, calls, meetings and calls.  

However, this ends up costing us far more than we realize. As we look tohave a  better, more engaged, and effective workforce one strategy is to help our dispatchers grasp their role as part of something much bigger. As a critical piece of a public safety profession that has roots well over 150 years old.  Sharing with our new members their responsibility to help this proud group grow, succeed, and continue puts their actions into prospective.  It helps them to feel connected to something bigger. 

One simple way to do this is to value the senior members of our organizations and those who have retired. Too often, the last time a person is seen in the center is the day they retire. Too many never again step foot inside the center.  This is a sad and missed opportunity. 

Think of how much knowledge is potentially lost. How much support for new people could be found in the lessons or encouraging words shared by a long time veteran?  Why not have the retiree come back and speak to the newly hired- explaining just how valued their career and friendships were? Or serve as a mentor to those interested in the career? 

Many fire departments and police agencies have groups for their retirees. Seeing them at the table in the kitchen is an important event for everyone concerned. It connects the future to the the past and the present and helps to build the community that we should all be a part of. 

I encourage each of you to find ways to connect your agency to its history and your personnel to those who have served before and who are just starting out. Maybe its a retiree night at the center; a newsletter that shares "where are tgey now" or a display of memoribilia in the lobby of your center. Whatever forms it takes, being connected to our senior and retired members will pay dividends for all concerned and help us create an even better 9-1-1 profession. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Dispatcher Basics: You are not paid to think

You are paid to know. 

That may sound a little outlandish or even risky, but there is a very real truth behind it. When things are going crazy, those in the 9-1-1 field don't have a great deal of time to ponder every possible outcome or read a binder full of disaster plans to find out what to do.  

Under the stress of an active shooter, a tornado, a greyhound bus accident, or a fire the Dispatchers on the team handling that incident must react instinctively and with minimal thought.  Those of you who have been in those situations probably know all too well the challenge (or horror) of working with someone or for someone who doesn't understand this.  They are wishy-washy, uncertain, or indecisive.  Often they do not trust anyone to do the right thing.  

There is a simple reason why people don't trust others or themselves to make the critical decisions during times of crisis.  They don't know themselves or others well enough to trust.  This is why training, learning, and teamwork are so important.  Building the knowledge and the skill BEFORE the big day allows you to be able to react from a position of knowledge, not a position of fear or uncertainty.  

The obvious parallels are responders in life and death situations.  They do not have time to consult the manual.  It is the memory of their training, the shading of their experience, and their attitudes and beliefs which help determine how they will react.  They will not have the time to consult "the book", and neither will 9-1-1 professionals have the ability to do a research project during the crazy times.   

So think about your training, knowledge, skills, and experiences.  Do you build these up as much as you can?  Do you jot down lessons learned from each shift your work or each major event you handle?  Do you share your lessons learned with others so you can gain from what each of you go through?  There are many ways to build your knowledge, but they are not all from your own ledger.  

This is what it means to "know".  You may not have all the answers, but you certainly won't have the luxury of time to do a detailed analysis.  If you have taken the proper steps before that crazy day, however, you may not even realize that thinking was and is overrated.