And Now a Word From The Sponsor

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.



Monday, March 25, 2013

Just who does he think he is?

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Perhaps as some sort of school bully taunt, someone posted in response to one my articles, “Just who does that guy think he is…”.  I have to admit, it made me smile.  I have been causing people to ask that question for the better part of my life, childhood and adult.  Every time I have asked a question that maybe they didn’t think I should have.  Every time I have foreseen a challenge and proposed a solution before others even knew there to be a problem.  Each and every time I reacted in a way different than the average or the norm or the expected.  When I came out in an Ohio firehouse in 1998; when I relocated to New York City in 2000; when I obtained an “unnecessary” master’s degree in 2007 and started teaching as adjunct professor a couple of years later; or when I ventured my way back into the pews In 2012.  Whatever the case, whenever the opportunity, my best days have always been defined by when the most number of people asked that question.  Ironic, I suppose, that there is a bible verse that defines my purpose more succinctly than I can:

13"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  (http://www.biblepath.com/beatitudes)

These verses, an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount are, from my view, a commandment.  We are given the talents, abilities, mind, and heart that we have no to hide them away.  Our inner being is not to be locked away, reserved for when permission is granted or only for some special occasion—like the china in the curio cabinet.

No, our lives are meant to be lived.  Our ideas are meant to be shared.  Questions are to be answered, and answers and solutions developed in community and fellowship with others. 

So many in this world today hide from questions—much less answers.  They would prefer not to challenge those in power and assume that the old ways will remain and that that the old ways and mindsets are better.  Or that only a select few have a monopoly on knowledge or truth. 
I do not agree.  I have a responsibility, obligation, and duty to share ideas—myself—and my spirit with the world around me. As does every other member of this wondrous human race.  If you do not agree, well that is your choice.  But the reaction to what I may say or write, well that is your own—not mine.  If you are lacking in the spiritual or intellectual fortitude to come along on a journey of learning and discovery then I shall say a prayer for you, and invite you—but I shall not abide or pause myself-- while you grow into a life greater than the one you have imagined for yourself and finally get around to giving me permission to live mine.

We in this day and age are fond of lists.  I suppose it might make it easier, given my habit of writing lengthy answers, to provide an alternative answer to the question that motivated this response:

 So here it goes: Who Am I?

I am an Ohioan; New York Immigrant; I am adopted; I am loved and loving; I am dedicated; caring; honest; and passionate. I am a writer; photographer; and public servant.  I am a college graduate twice over; a certified Communications Center manager and Emergency Number Professional. I am a student; a gallery exhibited artist; and a business owner.  I am a friend, best friend to more than a few; and a lover of meeting new people and making connections that bridge differences.  I am a Christian and an attendee of the Riverside Church.  I am a fan of movies; airplanes; country music; travel; history; politics and museums.  I am a proud gay person—out since 1998—and never lost a friend, family member, or anything else by being who I was made by God to be.  I am a blogger; project advisor; and Chief Fire Dispatcher in the New York City Fire Department—and a damn talented one at that.  Not because of myself alone but because I have been fortunate to have learned from many amazing and wonderful people and I keep learning-- every single day.  I am the Grandson of George and Lenora and Walter and Agnes; brother of Holly; and Brother in Law to Matt; and Uncle to Emma and soon to be Hannah.  I am a welcomed customer at the Three Jolly Pigeons Bar; Anapoli Family Restaurant; the laundry mat on the corner; and the Thurman cafĂ© in Columbus Ohio.  I am blessed to have more great friends than I dare list here—and so lucky to have been granted an experience over these last thirty-eight years that has been full of more wonder and amazement than I could have ever imagined. I am a human being—never perfect—but always striving to grow and learn and challenge myself to be more than I assumed I could be.  I have played firefighter a few times; ridden a few calls on an ambulance; lost myself in a soup of doubt and fear so deep that I never thought I would escape—on at least two occasions.  I love Dogs and Otters and Penguins—and I love that moment of standing in the museum—looking at art— when you for just one moment you can live inside the soul of the creator.  I love buttered popcorn; lemon-lime seltzer; Guinness; Key West; and will someday find a partner to share it all with.  Or maybe not.  But through all of it—these and the countless other ways that define me—I have never been—never will be—alone.  And for that I am most thankful of all.

That is who I am: Christopher Blake Carver—born and raised in the Midwest—living in New York—and so grateful to have been asked that schoolyard question—so that I could be reminded of what the answer really means.

The Art of Relocations


One of the most critical functions of any fire department dispatching office is to ensure that adequate fire and EMS coverage is maintained no matter how busy the day or how large a single incident may be.  Fire departments should not operate on a first-come, first serve basis where citizens unlucky enough to have an emergency at the same time as someone else are denied an adequate response.  
This does not mean that on every corner should sit a fire engine or medic unit at all times, assigned to one particular address—“just in case”.  But it does mean that departments have a duty to balance their resources in the best way possible to ensure that each and every emergency receives a response in as timely a manner as they are able.   

The most common event that effects availability and response times is a working fire or other large scale emergency that involves “tying-up” resources in an area for a significant period of time—generally an hour or longer.  When this occurs, dispatchers should be empowered (and required) to relocate or redeploy existing resources to ensure an adequate response time for subsequent emergencies.  An additional method of solving this challenge is the recall of off-duty personnel to staff reserve apparatus—an approach that might be more effective in areas where coverage is already limited or a department is not able to relocate resources from another agency for coverage.
 In tandem with the redeployment of resources as a tool to manage reduced availability, many agencies also reduce response levels during such periods.  Departments should look at this tool, especially for minor emergencies, fire alarms, and likely minor events such as outside odors of smoke or gas as a critical method to preserve response times, but it will be addressed in detail in a future post. 

One reason why some agencies find resource management efforts, such as relocations, a hard concept to grasp is because it goes against the mindset of “it comes it, it goes out” or “we can only handle one event at a time”.  This is an understandable point of view for response personnel who have to focus on one thing at time—at one incident.  But for dispatchers and the department management and the city itself—there is a moral and legal obligation to meet the needs of the public at all times and in all instances.  Allowing one side of the city to be stripped clean of fire apparatus for a working fire and taking no steps to maintain at least basic coverage is a shortsighted and dangerous course of action that exposes the department and the local government to liability and undermines department effectiveness.
The City of Columbus is a good example of a department that should consider utilizing relocations more frequently to ensure adequate coverage. By virtue of the city’s layout, there are large areas covered by only one firehouse, and where activity levels are significant.

 Note: In terms of making relocations, there are several rules that should apply:

1.      Covering firehouses (making relocations) should be done whenever the impact is going to be medium to long term and/or an incident is rapidly escalating.

2.      There are several software solutions that can assist with maintaining coverage—but these software solutions still require dispatch personnel to have a concept of relocations—when to do them and why.  

3.      Relocations can take several forms, but generally units should be moved from areas of high coverage to areas of lower coverage. 

4.      Call volume is not the predominate factor to consider when making a relocation—it is time.  An engine in an area that can be covered with minimal time impact makes a better choice to relocate to a diminished area than a company who may not be that active but who’s second due coverage comes from a significant distance away.

5.      Also, you should avoid if at all possible relocating all of the units in a firehouse.  Take the engine from one house, the ladder from another, and the medic from a third. Otherwise you simply rob Peter to pay Paul and may create an even bigger response coverage problem than the one you were trying to fix in the first place.

6.      Units relocated to ensure coverage should not be used (generally) to respond to the incident that created the problem in the first place.  This only recreates the coverage problem and results in the units moved to fill the updated coverage gap coming from an even further distance—increasing the negative impact on response times.  

To use Columbus as an example, there are two types of coverage holes than can exist, either due to a working incident or a company going out of service long term.  In the first case, even certain single units can be so critical to coverage that they should be covered.  In the second case, a group of units can be considered and when all three of them are out of service relocation can be made.  In either case, a potential goal could be:

Engine Company arrives in seven minutes or less, no matter how busy.

 Ladder Company arrives in ten minutes or less, no matter how busy. 

Medic Unit arrives in eight minutes or less no matter how busy.

These goals are actually not very stringent and represent a considerable credit over the NFPA standards for response time of apparatus.  However, it is recognized that activity level will impact availability; it just should not have such an impact as to significantly impact response times in a negative manner.

Back to Columbus, what follows are some suggestions about relocation rules and their explanation:

Engine Companies:
Battalion One:            

Two of the Four Downtown Engines should be available between 0800-2000hrs, Monday to Friday.  Due to population downtown, traffic concerns, etc, it is too active for more than two of the engines downtown (E1,2,3,9) to be out of service, relocated, or unavailable at the same time.

Engines 26, 29, 32, and 33:    

Should always be covered when out for more than one hour.  Their response areas are too large and too active and second due engines are too far away.  

In all other cases: 

When three engines that normally respond together are all out of service (daytime) or four engines that normally respond together are out of service (night time) a relocation of at least one engine should be made to ensure adequate coverage.  Examples include: 

Engines 23, 21, 151, and 5 are operating at a working fire and will be tied up for an extended period.  An Engine Company should be relocated to Engine-23.  (Engine-1, 2, 3, or 9 would be a good choice since they are doubled up. 

Ladder Companies:
Columbus has one Ladder Company that should always be covered due to the guidelines mentioned above: Ladder-13.  It has too large a response area to be uncovered for a significant period, especially given it being first due to the Ohio State Campus. 

Otherwise, Ladder Coverage can be maintained using the “One in three rule” mentioned above.  If three adjacent ladders are out, relocate a ladder from an area with decent coverage to fill the Gap.  For example, a serious working fire on the north end ties up Ladders 24, 28, and 111.  A Ladder Should be relocated to Ladder-24.  (Ladder 1, 2, 10, or 15 would be a good choice)

For Rescue and battalion relocations, a simpler rule could apply:
Battalions:      

o   If only one battalion is in service, it should respond from Bn-1.

o   If only two Battalions are available, they should respond from Bn-1 and Bn-3.

o   If only three battalions are available, they should respond from Bn 1, 2, and 3.
Rescues:         

o   If only one rescue is available, it should respond from Station-2.

o   If two rescues are available, they should respond from Stations 2, and 16.

o   If only three will be available long term, they should respond from Sta’s 2, 4, and 16. .

 Medics:          

Although more challenging, medic relocations can be based on similar factors but are more effective during mass casualty incidents that have a long term impact on availability.  In the CFD example, there are few instances where normal operations may require medic relocation. 

However, in large scale incidents, a one-in-three rule may be effective.  For example: A bus accident downtown results in ten medics operating long term: medics-1,2,8,14,15,10, 7, 18, 25 and 21.  Slower medics should be moved into the gap of coverage (if not used directly to the incident).  Medic-34 could relocate to Medic-1; Medic-28 to Medic-2; Medic-5 to medic-15, and Medic-31 to Medic-14. 

Clearly, rules and policies regarding relocations are dynamic.  However, dispatchers must be given the tools, training, and technology to ensure adequate coverage for their areas of responsibility—no matter how busy things may be.  The public expects a level of service from their fire department and will not accept an excessive delay in 911 responses because of a single incident having too great an impact on the availability of resources in the community.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Community Approach

While attending Palm Sunday services today at the Riverside Church here in New York, The Rev. Robert Coleman's sermon on the meaning of Christ's Journey and whom he chose to make that journey with reminded me of a simple truth that links nicely to my love of Urban Geography and one of my favorite things about living in New York, or in any community where a person takes the time to make the effort to be a part of that community.

here is a question for you: How many places can you go where people know you are and where they are glad to see you?  How many places can you walk in, in person!, and be greeted by name and, more often than not, with a smile. 

Are there places in your community where, if you do not show up for awhile, you are missed, and a comment is made on your return.  I would suggest that the more of these kinds of places you have, the more you make a positive imprint on your community.  This list should go beyond work.  How about your diner, or the regular stores you shop in?  Your favorite Italian Restaurant; the Bank; Church if you attend; or a local bar. 

Whatever those places are, perhaps they serve as a barometer of the way we present ourselves to the small worlds around us.  And, perhaps, they serve as an easy place to start on a mission of having more genuine interactions with the world around us.  It can begin for anyone-- in any community or place-- as a simple effort to "Be The Blessing".  So many of us complain about the impersonalization of modern society, maybe we can do more to change that than we ever thought possible.

and, if it makes you feel any better, you can check in from the neighborhood diner on Facebook while you are having your coffee.  Just be sure to make contact with the real world, as well as the virtual-- it will help make things better for you and all of us as well. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why Automatic Aid is Not the Only Answer

 
For fire/ems departments struggling to handle increased call volumes and growth of their communities beyond their effective response areas Automatic Aid Agreements with adjacent departments are an often implemented solution.  Columbus and other departments in Central Ohio have been leading innovators of this type of effort, starting in the 1970s.
Ideally, these agreements result in the “nearest unit”, regardless of jurisdictional boundary, responding to an emergency. They are in place over the United States in various forms.  Beyond Columbus, prime examples include the Washington DC area; California and parts of Florida.  On the surface, this is an excellent idea.  Having the nearest appropriate resources respond to a fire or medical emergency is would seem to be common sense.  But, as with many things, there are challenges that must be addressed if Automatic Aid Solutions are to be truly effective.
Challenge 1: Dispatch Delay
The first area in which automatic aid encounters difficulty is in dispatching.  For many agencies, the dispatcher processes and dispatches the run and the surrounding areas must monitor each other’s radio dispatch channels for responses and then dispatch their own units on the mutual aid call.  This builds into the response a delay that can be significant and sometimes excessive.  Remember, for the most critical calls: Time = Life/Property, however, automatic aid can make even mediocre response time goals very difficult to meet. 
For example: 
A 911 call is received by the Police department.  Initial screening determines the need for EMS and the call is conferenced to the fire dispatch call-taker.  The fire-call-taker processes the run and releases it to a dispatcher that reviews the run and assign the unit(s) to respond. The run is then read over the air for the units that are assigned.  In the case of automatic aid, another dispatcher has to listen to this channel, then input the run into their own CAD, assign a unit, and dispatch the unit on the mutual aid run. 
The total time from receipt of the call at the agency of jurisdiction to the dispatch of the mutual aid unit (best case) is several minutes.
For those departments that are only aware of each other’s runs by radio dispatch, this process may also include a delay if there is a backlog of runs to be dispatched.  Further, the mutual aid response is often for responses that are already a distance away, therefore any time delaying the dispatch message only increases further the response time.
In order to overcome this challenge, the departments of Northern Virginia have developed and implemented a CAD connectivity solution that allows each department to DIRECTLY dispatch the mutual aid partner.  This allows immediate dispatching, and the run only has to be handled
 
This also allows each department real time status monitoring of other partner agencies, which helps to solve challenge Number 2:
Challenge Two:  Status of Mutual Aid Units
When relying on mutual aid units, it is a significant challenge for the requesting agency to know if the automatic aid unit that they wish to dispatch on a call is actually available.  The worst case scenario is that the already cumbersome process described above, with its potential delay, results not in the automatic aid unit being assigned, but, rather, the requesting agency finding out the mutual aid unit is on its own call and must be replaced, thereby necessitating a further unit to be assigned and a further delay in response time. 
Solution:
Short of a CAD linkage solution where each automatic aid department operates from a shared unit table that tracks availability (or, even better, one dispatching and alerting program), a low tech solution is for mutual aid units to advise the most common partner that requests them that they are tied up.  This works best for lower volume mutual aid environments.  For busier agencies, there are very few, if any, effective solutions that do not require technology to be implemented that can permit a more effective dispatching effort that seamlessly takes into account the status of mutual aid units and eliminates the delay in their assignment.
 
Challenge Three:        If you have it, why should I?
Especially in these times of tight budgets, many fire departments are becoming overly reliant on Mutual Aid partners to take calls that they should be able to handle more consistently on their own.  No one can find fault with a few border areas that perhaps a mutual aid partner is closer to being distant from that jurisdiction’s nearest firehouse.   Or, at the other end of the spectrum, a joint management and development effort towards emergency services that takes a regional view and builds firehouses and adds resources appropriately.  Both are reasonable approaches to emergency services. 
But, in this time of recession, no department should overly rely on another.  Communities want to know that they are getting something for their tax dollars spent on firehouses, ambulances, and very expensive fire apparatus.  The knowledge that a department takes thousands of runs for a neighbor unwilling to provide a required level of protection for their own community certainly would not be welcomed by many concerned citizens.  Further, in these cases, the resources they pay tax dollars to fund are often unavailable for runs in their own community—a tricky situation when you ask for new tax dollars and the community cannot see the value.         
 
Solution:
Departments must leverage their mutual aid availability towards one of two outcomes—regional approaches to emergency services that also have in place some type of funding element—so departments are not left picking up the bill for picking up other department’s slack.  Or, departments must develop new ways of sharing resources and ensuring that every department is working towards meeting minimum standards of service, such as those developed by the NFPA.
 The bitter irony in areas such as Columbus, Ohio, is that the city annexes land for development and tax revenue, but is often unable to effectively serve the area it annexes.  In the end, the township or suburban departments still respond to calls in the area of new development (due to a lack of an adequate number of new firehouses) but the suburban departments receive no funding to provide the service.  Although hardly fair, this arrangement has existed for years and will only get worse as the suburban portions of the city (due to urban sprawl) experience increasing numbers of fire/ems calls for service.
Overall Solution:
Clearly, the time has come in many areas for a more regional approach to the delivery of fire and EMS services, one that leverages the best of mutual aid principles, while ensuring that taxpayers are getting what they pay for and national standards for response time, coverage, and amount of resources are being met. 
The first step towards this approach, and one that addresses many of the inherent challenges of relying on mutual aid to meet everyday response needs, is to regionalize emergency service communications.  This permits better resource management, effective dispatching of units from multiple agencies, and better command and control.  Given the technology available in today’s public safety communications industry, this type of approach does not have to require millions of dollars in new facilities and new agencies to run them.  Virtual consolidation, next generation CAD systems, and radio systems permit a far greater degree of coordination and cooperation than was ever possible before.  Additionally, these types of efforts can help save lives by reducing response times and streamlining the dispatching process.
Whether new technology is the only solution or the first step in a dynamic evolution of emergency services in a given area, it is without question that the political, economic, and safety realities of many communities require a serious examination of how things are done and how they can improve.  As mutual aid dependent agencies become busier and busier, the impact of these challenges will only increase.  Whatever solutions are implemented, there must be an understanding of the challenges that are present and serious effort to find whatever solutions will work for the local emergency service agencies and the public they are tasked to serve—starting with those whose tax dollars they are provided in exchange for being there when they are needed. 
 
 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Don't Call me Brother... (Unless...)


I have been around the fire service in one form or another long enough to remember the side-effects of Backdraft.  Four years after the release of that movie, firehouses around the United States were still flying flags from their apparatus—Chicago style.  The years after 9/11 have brought similar inspired displays—and fire apparatus adorned with American Flags and other patriotic scenes.  Often where it seems as though they could be the background of a video where Lee Greenwood sings “God Bless the USA”.

I suppose these are not really bad things—although a presence of false patriotism is almost as bad as false anything else.  How many people claim to be Christian but judge everyone else in the world in the first and last breath of their day and most of those that come in between?  Instructions in the “Good Book” notwithstanding.

But back to the firehouse.  Around the same time, another trend developed.  The use of a word so frequently and so intensely by so many that it became a kind of shorthand for everything in the American Fire Service.  A word that’s power is intended to inspire—support—reassure.  And that word is: Brother.

Now, I understand, I think, what people are trying to say.  I really do.  They want to convey that everyone in the fire service is all together; that we all care about each other.  That we will support the efforts of our fellow fire service members till the end.

Not to sound crass—but that is far too often a complete and total line of crap.  And each day it becomes more so.  In just the same way as the Westboro Church? holding “God Hates Fags” signs at a military funeral; or a member of a fire department embezzling from the department funds—the word “Brother”  is a word that just doesn’t live up to the reality far too often in the firehouses and communications centers of the American Public Safety World.

First and most simply, let’s start not by using the word—but by living the action. It is by first looking out for our fellow SISTERS and BROTHERS in the Public Safety World and putting action to thought that we create a genuine community of support.  I personally watch people use the word who then turn around—and to their brother (or sister) complain, moan, and whine about the person they also called brother just a few hours before.  I see the person that speaks of how we are in this together abuse sick time—call out when it looks like it might be a busy day—fail to do their job to the best of their ability—or just generally act like a spoiled brat in the firehouse/communications center/et. Al.

We seem to have an overall problem in this country with words being thought of as equal to action.  It’s not a surprise in a digital world where so much communication is virtual—including what you are reading right this instant. We have somewhat lost the idea of letting our actions speak instead of our words—and I would argue in no case is this more frequent that the term brother and in few places is it more important that you walk, instead of talk, than public safety.  The challenges—the stress—and the importance are real.  So should you be.

The same applies no matter what the topic, let your actions replace what you feel need to be your words.  Don’t talk about going on a diet, going back to school, being a better person of faith, or saving money.  Just because you post it on Facebook does not make it true.  And just because you call me your brother does not mean you are someone I can count on when the brown stuff is flying into the oscillating air cooling device. 

No matter what the topic, let us all endeavor to say less—and do more.  And please, don’t call me brother unless I know it is a genuine reflection of our mutual understanding and appreciation in the firehouse.  Till then, Chief Carver will work just fine.