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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 (s) and should not taken as official policy of ANY organization with which I am associated. Reading or sharing any post from this site shall be taken as an indication that you have read this disclaimer and understand it.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dispatching Basics: "It Takes a Village to Make a Probie"

     One of the universal truths for all 9-1-1 centers is that there will be new people.  In the fire service, and some dispatch agencies these are referred to as "probies", short for Probationary Employee.  Whatever they are called, however, they are the most important resource your agency has, unless you want to continue answering phones until you are well into your eighties or beyond.  After all, we can't keep doing the job forever, so we need to make sure there is a next generation to replace us.  

     Sadly this process doesn't go as easily or smoothly as we would like it.  An entire book could be written on the process of recruitment, hiring, training, evaluation and retention (and perhaps it will be).  But I would like to keep this short so lets just focus for a minute on some critical things that the new person needs to know and the people already on the job need to know.  If you have additions to this please share. 

To Those Already On The Job: 

     The new person does not arrive fully formed with everything they need to know bestowed by the training process, their life's experience, or time spent watching Chicago Fire, COPS or even CHiPs. They will only be a successful employee if you provide an environment for them to be successful.  Even if you have never seen yourself as a trainer, CTO, or anyone close to having official mentoring responsibilities, the truth is they need you to help them.  Be patient, be open minded, but be firm and fair in the process.  Understand that how you treat them in their first weeks and months on the job will have more impact on their career than you can ever imagine. 

Do not use the way you were treated as the road-map for how you should treat your new person.  Use instead the road map of how you SHOULD have been treated.  In dealing with adults this means treating people with respect, appreciation, and understanding.  It is not easy to learn new things.  Does this mean that every new person should always stay in the job, of course not.  Some people will wash out, that is just the way it is.  Sadly, many good dispatchers are lost to the poison of bad coworkers.  Either they don't accept them, don't help them or just don't care.  We are better than that.  

If we are a profession, then it means we should support those who come into the profession behind us.  Be a resource, be helpful, be kind, and show by example what a great dispatcher can and should be.  Even if you never work directly with the new hire, leading by example is a powerful tool for creating our next great generation of Dispatchers.  Do your part.  Please.  

To The New People: 

     Welcome to one of the world's greatest professions.  You are now part of a family, which is a good thing and a bad thing.  Your feelings will get hurt.  Get over it.  Your opinion may not be welcomed, get over it.  You will be expected to be the first person in the center every shift and the last one to leave.  Get over it.  You will have to learn to quietly listen and take in all that goes on around you, interjecting only when critically necessary.  That is as it should be.  Accept it.  You will be expected to learn and study when others may be taking a break.  That is the way it should be.  You will never gossip about your coworkers, tell stories "out of school" or badmouth people you work with. Make this truth the first and last thing you say to yourself each day.  If you can do these things, the people you work with will come to trust you and you will become a part of the team.  The people you work with will become like family.  They will help you, support you, take care of you, look out for you and your life will be far more "rich" for knowing them.  

     This will not be because you completed all the tasks on checklist.  It will not be because your words and opinions prove your worth to the organization.  No, your actions and your approach to your job will show others (and yourself) that you belong.  Imagine a baseball player who got the highest salary but never hit a home-run.  Or a chef who never stepped foot in a kitchen?  Its not what you say that earns you trust or builds your reputation, it is how you work.  Show your fellow dispatchers you care by your actions. 

     Take the time to learn and never stop.  Go to the weddings and the funerals.  Sign the birthday cards.  Bring in food for the shift once in a while.  Take part in the important rituals that are part of any great organization.  Most of all, learn how to be a great dispatcher.  We learn not by speaking, but by listening, watching, showing an interest, and asking questions.  This is hard.  In this day and age we want to share our opinion, to stake our claim.  This will not endear you to those you work with.  In public safety we must often act based on instinct, just knowing what is going on and what is required. In order for instinct to be effective, trust is required.  Do everything you can to build that trust and you will soon find out what many of us have known so long, being a part of the 9-1-1 world is one of the greatest jobs you will ever know.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Rush to Christmas Begins

Okay, I confess.  I broke my vow.  In the face of overwhelming temptation, ease of access, and a lapse in self control, I went shopping on Black Friday.  Not just any shopping, I went Big Box retail.  I darkened the door of a Wal-Mart, a Target, Michaels, and others.  It was late in the afternoon, long after the 6am hordes had fallen aside to exhaustion, frustration, and the weight of 1000 door-buster specials.  There were next to no lines and the only worn faces were those of the store employees, looking as though they had been at work since 4am because, well, they had.    

In the tattered remains of the Friday morning orgy of present purchasing, I have to say it wasn't all that bad.  Found what supplies I needed, a gift or two, and made my way home.  I have to say I suppose that many writers look forward to their annual proclamations of holiday pity. The mandatory mandate that Christmas is all about material goods and that we have lost the "thing" that made Christmas special, if we ever really had it in the first place. 

I am certain that the Bethlehem K-Mart had a blue light special holiday sale starting on the day after Thanksgiving year 0001.  Perhaps they even offered authentic looking Christmas Stars for the tops of whatever trees were the "in-thing" back then.  We really shouldn't be annoyed anymore by what the holiday has become, or surprised by it.
Waging a war against the commercialism of the Holiday, and the irony that a day devoted
to celebrating love, peace, and goodwill toward man is all about things that are so far removed it is seemingly pointless.  We have people who kill in the name of god because they are angry about killing; we have people who are "leaders" who mock the less fortunate, the sick, and the weak and the disabled and then claim to be religious. We have ministers who condone, promote, and celebrate hatred for people they do not understand. 

In the shadow of that "holy" light the world has gotten far crazier than is indicated by the number of wrapped boxes people obsessively pile under their Christmas tress.  Perhaps hoping that quality of gift can make up for quality of life or love.  Not really shocking at all is it that the meaning of things has gotten a little off track. 

One of my favorite things about the Holiday was the initial reason I ventured out on that darkest of Fridays.  In my recent move, I managed to misplace four of my favorite Christmas CDs, including the one that, for me, is the key to unlocking the Christmas Spirit.  It is the soundtrack to a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Each season, its the first CD  that I have to listen to before I can put up the tree, write a single card, or enjoy a flickering Christmas Bulb.  

Therefore, my mission to find a replacement was essential.  I was convinced it would be easy to find.  After all, who really wants an understated jazzy Christmas CD that reminds you of the simple truths of Christmas and of ourselves.  In the face of the endless chatter on TV, the political nonsense that passes for our Republic, and a Hundred Million people fighting for the right to buy a plastic widget at $10 off to exchange for love that they need but have little idea how to have, what market would there be for the exact opposite?  A few simple Christmas songs that take us back within a few cherished notes to a place far removed from what the holiday has become.  What WE have become?

IAs you maybe could tell, the first store didn't have the CD.  Or the second, or the third.  I have to say though, I have never been so happy to have such a hard time finding something.  Or to be able to purchase the very last one in the fourth place I went to find it. I couldn't help but think as I listened to the sounds of Vince Guiraldi, maybe we aren't all so bad off as "they" would have us believe. Today I think I may go try to find a Rudolph the red Nosed Reindeer CD.  Wish me luck.  Wish us all luck-- and love. We certainly need it. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Thanksgiving List

Being adopted; my family; my upbringing in a quintessential american suburb; the freedom that my parents gave me to learn about myself, grow, explore, and make decisions; the trips we made as a family- from roadtrips to vacations; airplanes; the fire service; MCL Cafeteria; The Shake Shoppe; Resch's Bakery; Friendlys; Indian Mound Smorgasboard; the surprise airshow when I was about 10; the teachers- Mrs Derr, Mrs Koslowski; Mrs Davis; Mr Anglim; Ms George; Dr Cox, and so many others; my crazy time at USF; Ritz Camera; The Ohio State University; The Dublin Ohio Police Department; The Truro Township Fire Department; the FDNY; CineMad Media; the first guy I dated; Axis; The Eagle; No Attitude; AWOL; the shamrock;  the Thurman Cafe; Stans; Heath Rowland; The Alumni Club; Box 15; COFBA; The All-Ohio Scanner Club; Cord Camera; Revco; Paul Tibbets; Mike Boucher; Eugene Naylor; Edna Marie Ceglia; Mike Esposito; Howie Hemsley; Mike Fox; Deidre Evans; Amanda Torissi; Valdo; Viktor; Carla Murphy; Anapoli; three jolly pigeons; Manny; Callum; ron & eric; julie & patrick; Alex; APCO; NENA; jacksonville state university; john Porcelli; henry dingman; jerry neville; excelsior; jack; gingers; Old town bar & grill; blue smoke; new years eve in times square; chris c; planeview park; the mounds; the Met; the New York Historical Society; Riverside Church; Rev Stephen Phelps;Lisa & Eva; Stacia; Stacey; Toms Restaurant; Toms Diner; the Shenandoah Valley; Roanoke; Key West; London; Provincetown; Maine; Savannah; Charleston; movies; documentaries; are you being served... My boyfriend Chris. 
And...Jack, Shirley,Holly, Matt, Emma, and Hannah (my family of birth). 

I would like to give a special shout out to the family I have picked up along the way: Natalie K.R.; Johann (& Jen) K.; Jennifer S.; Chris M, Chris M, Ed W.; Josh M, Doug V.; Eric G.; Tom O.;  Joe P; Allen D; Keith T & Erin; Todd P; Sheila HW; Melissa P; Sandra C; Marylou A; Deirdre E; Teresa M; Josh D, Brianna, Jim H; Brian; Crystal A; Cheryl C; ; Jenny H; Dana V; Michelle; Brian R; Courtney; Brian W,; Jamison; Mark R; Jay R; Kevin R; Michael S; Ryan S;  Zachary S;  Steven S; Yolanda W; Lisa F; Anna S; Rachel S,; Kevin M; Kimberly M; Ty W & Keri; Ashley H; Blake G; and Jeanne W.  I know I missed a couple, please dont be offended. But you should all know (named and unnamed) that when I start to question my choices or worry about the paths I have chosen and the decisions I have made, I always come back to this beautiful tapestry.  The story that has been my life and the amazing people who have helped me to create it.  There are many who have not been so blessed. But at every moment I have.  From a kindly stranger on a plane to a lifelong friend met in a firehouse or while taking photos of airplanes.  The people I have met have been amazing, beautiful, and a greater gift than any I could give to the world. Thank you all for being a part of this crazy adventure. I could not have done it without you. 
 Happy Thanksgiving and God Bless You all!

Something for my fellow "avgeeks"

If you know me for longer than ten to twelve minutes you know of my love for aviation. The fact that I didn't end up a pilot (yet...) is one of the few real regrets of my life. However, I am fortunate to have a passion that is shared by many and more than a few friends that I can "avgeek" out with.  For those of you that are fellow aviation geeks, or if you are looking for a great Christmas Gift for someone with an Aviation Obsession, allow me to turn you onto the work of Brian J. Terwilliger.   His most recent work, "Living in the Age of Airplanes", was released this year.  Narrated by Harrison Ford and scored by James Horner (R.I.P.) the film is a testament to the beauty, accomplishments, and possibility of Aviation.  You can watch trailer number one here and trailer number two here. A list of locations where you can see the movie is here

Hie earlier work, One Six Right, is a view of the aviation world through Van Nuys Airport in California.  It is available on DVD and would make an excellent Christmas Gift for the aviation enthusiast in you or someone else.  Take a look at the preview here.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dispatch Basics: "I hear voices"

      One of the most difficult things to teach new dispatchers is the importance of their voice, not only the words they use (or don't use) but the tone and speed of their speech. It goes without saying that a person's voice is literally their most critical tool as a Dispatcher.  Future advances in video and text to 9-1-1 not-withstanding, this will likely be the case as long as there are dispatchers.  Here are some critical issues to consider: 

"Radio and Phone Voice": To be effective, Dispatchers must develop a firm tone that can be used as an assertive tool on the phone and on the radio.  In this manner voice becomes a behavior modifier, getting excited callers to calm down and provide critical information, and letting units on the other end of the radio know that they have a competent and professional Dispatcher that they can count on (and that wont tolerate slacking from field units).  It was always amazing to me in the FDNY to see how quickly units started acknowledging runs; clearing off calls; and generally just operating better when a good radio Dispatcher sat down at the mic.  There are several styles to accomplish this, effective for slightly different reasons , but the point is to ensure that things work smoothly, information is passed, requests are responded to, there is minimal dead air, and a sense of confidence is expressed.  (Special shout out to George Munch & Jeanne Williams ret. FDNY as prime examples and great teachers on this topic) 

"Concise":  There are some dispatchers who do not know the meaning of this word.  Sadly, they try to convey any message in as many words as possible, rather than in as few as possible.  A prime example of this are redundant or unnecessary words used in Dispatch Messages:  "Engine-1, respond to 205 West Main Street, report of a dumpster fire." Everything that the fire department ever responds to is a "report of".  Why bother saying it?  Although this may not seem like a big deal, the price is paid when things get busy. The busier they are, the less time we have to give information and our everyday habits become the foundation of our actions.  Starting out with an ear on efficiency and effectiveness on the slow days means we will be more effective on the crazy days since we wont be trying to change our normal operation.  

"Hold on Speed Racer":  It is incredibly important for dispatchers to understand that the busier they are, the more determined they must be with their speech over the radio.  In many cases, this will mean forcing themselves to speak more slowly.  Although this can be counter-intuitive, the logic is pretty clear.  When its busy you need to make sure that your units get the information you need to share the first time.  It is not very effective under normal operations to have to repeat things, much less after the tornado has gone through.  Along the same line, it is also worth taking a moment to make sure that critical information has been received by the units.  Just saying "read your MDC" or making an announcement is not always the best way.  Especially if there is life and death information, get an acknowledgement that the unit(s) heard it.  This three-five seconds may help save the life of a victim or of an officer or firefighter. 

"Hot-Potato": Make sure that you are sharing critical information such as: Other incidents active at the same time in the same area (this gives responding apparatus the clue to look out for other responding apparatus); safety information about the building (prior threats to police, HazMats, etc); important comments in the incident history; delay of back-up units; etc.  The list is long but it is the Dispatcher's responsibility to help ensure the safety of responders and one way we can do this is by sharing what we know, when it is helpful.  Don't overload them with stuff. Understand that not everything is critical but when you have something that does matter, relay it and get an acknowledgement.  

"WHY wont they answer me?":  Understanding the operations side of an incident goes a long way towards helping dispatchers be better on the Radio.  At night, a fire engine will probably not be able to answer on the radio for a minute or two due to the time it takes to turn out of quarters. A Medic working a cardiac arrest may be a little busy to answer right away and a police officer at a domestic may be delayed in responding to radio messages.  In most cases, these are not reasons to panic, but the Dispatcher should be mindful of what impacts a unit's ability to reply immediately.  

"Looking like a Superstar" There is an "ebb and flow" of incidents and this is learned by Dispatchers with time on the job.  Understanding how this relates to Radio Communications is important, for it allows time to anticipate and  plan for the next course of action.  For example, a Dispatcher handling a fire for which ten calls have been received should not be surprised when the first arriving unit calls for a second alarm. Likewise when a police officer handling a house with a history of violent domestics calls for urgent back-up. 

Together, each of these concepts (and others) will help anyone be a more effective radio dispatcher.  The key is to learn from those who have come before; continuously improve your knowledge; and learn from the events you encounter (both good and bad) 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dispatch Basics: Canceling Units

It may seem a common sense thought, but there are some agencies who are not permitted to cancel excess units on an assignment or to serve as resource managers. As many dispatchers know, it is not uncommon for enthusiastic fire or ems units to add themselves to calls, especially if the call sounds serious.  

But this can quickly lead to chaos, especiallly on busy days or when the dispatchers do not (or are not allowed) to tell units that they are not needed or can remain in service.  A related issue is when two units claim to be "closer". It is the dispatcher's responsibility to be judge and jury in these instances- with no chance of appeal. 

One important action that dispatchers can take, especially when units have added themselves is to cancel units that are farther away (this is where the CAD map plays an important role, along with situational awareness). Note, if units become available that are closer then by all means they should be sent- but as replacements, not additions. 

Many assume units self dispatching or jumping calls to be victimless crimes. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Response times for the next incident in the area can be dramatically impacted if additional units are responding to a call where they are not required. In a job where seconds count, the added response time when a third or fourth due unit has to respond can have serious consequences. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Watching Harry Potter

I can look back now and know a little better what went wrong.  I did not come to this realization by reading a book.  That little nugget will make my boyfriend smile.  There was no Newton's apple that feel from a tree and granted eternal or even temporary knowledge on its interrupted path to the ground. 

My realization came in, of all places, the middle of a Harry Potter movie. As I am told, it wasn't one of the better ones. It was number two.  Harry is determined to find the source of a voice that only he can hear.  It seems to come from the air, calling to him but no one else. Daring him to search out and get to the truth.  Saving the school and his friends and mentors is a mandatory element of the experience, and adds the mandatory movie drama. 

But what defines his quest is his ability to see and hear things that no one else can. I have been there.  Not while searching for a shadowy serpent in the walls of my school (thankfully), but in my own service as a leader.  The best leaders I have known have heard these voices too.  The things unseen that were good, that served as motivation, and provided direction.  Whether for a shift at a firehouse; an organization, a city or a world. 

Ironically, this same trait has been found in my dating life as well.  As many of my friends will nod at reading, I have made a career out of dating the possible future versions of people.  The ideal possibility that they could become.  The land of the present or of the real is of little worth to someone who can dream in great tapestries of roses, days exploring museums, reading books together, and flowing weddings with 500 guests in a church nave glistening in white satin candlelight.  Never mind that the person before was actually looking for a quickie, or a seven foot tall guy with a beard, or would rather be stung by 3,000 bees than spend more than seven minutes in a bookstore.  

Whether in love or leadership, the greatest not only see and feel that possibility and work towards it, they bring others around to hear the voice as well. They know that all matters of the heart take at least two to work.  That is the difference, between a crazy man who hears noises in the dark and a visionary who helps create something better than they found.  Getting others to come along too.  Harry was able to do this.  He has his close friends and, in this particular film, brought help to himself at his time of greatest need through the power of his faith and his loyalty. 

For me, this is where I have gone wrong and where many others likely do as well.  I can hear the voice, I can see the potential, and even the likely outcome, but too often my view is a solitary one.  But because I am so confident in my assessment, I think I can slay the dragon all by my lonesome.  That my victory will convince the doubters and the deniers that I was right all along. Maybe it will even convince the person standing beside me of the righteous path.  Never mind that they long ago go off the bus, if they were ever even on it in the first place.  

The truth, no matter how hard to admit, is that it does not matter what the end of that type of journey is,  if no one else understands why you are on it, the victory is hollow and shallow and temporary at best.  

So here's to the leaders that are good at getting others on the bus.  That recognize whats real and what's imaginary.  Here's to the times in our lives when we have been on the bus together, even if we didn't realize it or understand why.  And here's to a life of not just seeing the possible, but knowing what to do with the vision. 

Situational Awareness: A Dispatcher's Most Important Tool

It starts with a word problem: 

A call is dispatched for a building fire.  Three engines, two ladder companies, a rescue company, one medic, and a battalion chief are assigned.  An additional medic unit is in the area and adds itself to the call.  The initial companies arrive and report nothing showing.  At the same time, a call is received from an address around the corner from the address of the reported fire. Initially this call is for an unconscious person.  An engine and medic unit are dispatched from approximately four miles away.  A few moments later the call is upgraded to a cardiac arrest.  The fire is contained and two of the apparatus on the fire incident (an engine and medic unit) are flagged down by a civilian to help with the potential cardiac arrest patient.  They inform the dispatcher they will be operating at that location and go to work.  The engine and medic that were assigned are cancelled.  The call turns out to not be  an arrest.  

How would you (or your agency) have handled this situation? 

1. Exactly as described above 
2. You would have been alerted by your CAD that nearby units were available for a call (once the fire was contained) and they would have been dispatched? 
3. Your CAD alerted you to direct the 2nd medic unit to the higher priority call and assign the nearest available engine.  
4. You would have redirected one of the engines on the fire call along with the additional medic to the higher priority incident and replaced the third engine on the fire call.  
5. You have no idea what is even being discussed here and would like a pass.  

Some may think its never right to "armchair quarterback" an operational situation. While it is true that little good can come from criticizing people in retrospect, it is never wrong to take a moment and think about the type of dispatch SYSTEM that we are creating and supporting.  

Dispatchers must be given the authority and the training to permit good decisions.  The more information they have, the more training they are provided, the more authority they are vested with, and the more support they have for doing "the right thing"  the better outcomes we can expect from both them and our public safety services.  

In this case, depending on the information obtained about the fire, the best choice would likely have been to redirect responding apparatus to the high priority medical call. However, it depends.  Were people reported trapped in the fire?  Were there three or four calls for smoke or fire?  Or was it one call for a minor odor or smoke condition that was reported out and the fire dispatch was precautionary.  

It is in this capacity that Dispatchers should serve as resource managers, ensuring that the limited number of tools in the tool box are used the right/best way.  Thankfully, many CAD vendors can now support a more dynamic and empowered dispatch process.  This process is further encouraged by policies and procedures that are results oriented. And one where Dispatchers are supported for taking effective action and then best results are used to support training of other personnel.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Supervisor Challenge

One of the most prevalent issues in any 9-1-1 center with more than one or two personnel working at a time is the issue of effective Shift Supervision.  Often, the challenge takes the form of getting Supervisors to see themselves as in a different role than the people they supervise.  This is made incredibly difficult when the supervisor is also tasked with working a position and/or when the Supervisor is responsible for overseeing people they worked with as dispatchers on a frequent basis. 

Despite the frequency of this issue, there have been few solutions, however that doesn't mean that this is an impossible situation to overcome.  From my experience, there is a simple fix and it starts with getting everyone "on-the-floor" to not see themselves as different, at least in the ultimate reason they are there: to help save lives and provide the best possible service to the public and field responders. 

This approach starts with a redefinition of the roles inside the center.  Rather than seeing Supervision as only the responsibility of one single person who has passed a test, been appointed, or been selected, the roles of Supervision and Leadership should be seen as everyone's responsibility.  From their earliest days on the job, new Dispatchers should be trained on effective supervision, why supervision is important, and what she or he can do to help run the floor in a more effective manner.  

For example, if new personnel are trained (and assessed) on their performance in: Admin Phone; 9-1-1 Phone; Radio; EMS Dispatch; Fire Dispatch; Law Dispatch; Support Dispatch; and Basic Supervision/Leadership; then they have a much better understanding of the roles played by each member of the team.  If policies are written to encourage team performance and, to a limited extent, team accountability, then everyone has organizational support to see themselves not as an island, but as part of an overall group of professionals.  

The next logical step would be to have Dispatchers on a shift rotate a "lead Dispatcher" type role that may serve as an Assistant Supervisor.  (Likely after the completion of their probationary period).  In this way, every member of the shift would take turns seeing things from a supervisory prospective, with responsibility for problem solving, crisis resolution, and related tasks.  For many reasons, the traditional supervisor may need to be retained, but the ultimate goal would be for the person in that role to be able to serve in a largely oversight capacity, developing each member of the team to have skills at all roles on the floor, including supervision.  

In case you are wondering about whether or not this would work, I can tell you from my own experience that it does.  In FDNY, dispatchers served in the "lead" position (known as Decision Dispatcher) as soon as six months after completing initial training and, with effective mentoring and supervision, this helped develop exceptionally skilled personnel.  

Maybe it will not work for everyone and it certainly requires a different approach and mindset, but it can pay significant dividends to bridge the divide between the different roles on the floor and encourage everyone to help solve the supervision challenge. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

What Really Matters

I will confess I was extremely excited about watching the political shows this evening. Eager to hear about the reactions to Donald Trump's rants; Dr Carson's "stories", and how we will wver make it to the Presidential Election of 2016. 

Leave it to the world to show us yet again that this is serious business. Leading the United States and by extension the Western World is not a game. It demands seriousness, understanding, intelligence. I know that anti-intellectualism is strong. That so many people feel that just anyone who can scream loud enough, be angry enough can serve in the role of President. That there are trends away from understanding the complexity of the world and how to operate effectively in it.  

In the face of this tragedy, let us be reminded just how wrong this view is.  The world is not a game. It should always be clear, maybe even more so tonight as we pray for the people of Paris and for our own continued safety.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Important Things

I think I was 13 years old when I stomped my feet and said I would never go back. For some reason Mom and Dad didn't try to fight or argue.  There was just a resigned acceptance.  And from that moment in 1987 until 2012 I did not darken the door of a church for a regular service. 

The coincidence that 13 was the same age where I really started to feel I might not be like everyone else is not lost on my present day understanding of my historical religious revolt. But if it was part of my decision, it would have been in asubconscious  way.  The same manner in which you sometimes know not to order the salmon no matter how good your friend swears it will be. 

And so I did not go. Except for funerals and weddings.  That is one reason people come to fear church so much. Like a hospital, they come to associate it only with the darkest of days, which are more obvious in terms of funerals but often the ultimate truth about weddings as well. My experience was the same. 

Until a late winter Sunday in 2012 when I found my way to the pews of Riverside Church in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.  I was not fully familiar with the history of the church,  but I knew it was open and affiriming. I suppose I went there for a thousand reasons, not the least of which was to begin to know myself a little better.  To gain some understanding of the why and what for that I was missing. Maybe it was also to in some way make it up to my Mother for that stomping so many years before. She who had been gone seven years by then physically, but not more than seven minutes or so emotionally on that day or any other. 

More than that even, I went to test a theory. One that had been my tool for self acceptance when I slowly emerged from my closet in the late 1990s.  I truly believed that God created me.  All of me. Just they way I was and am. And that perhaps one reason for me being who I was created to be was to play some role in showing the world the wonder, mystery, and diversity of God's creation. That, far from being an affront to God, any person who lives up to their creation and calling is a reflection of God. A belief that if you live a life of love, tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness and faith you reflect the best of what we can be. And, by extension and expression, show the world a better path. 

In the pews of Riverside Church, on that day and those that would follow, my theory was validated. I will be forever grateful to the staff, clergy, and congregants of that church for helping me along my path and proving to me that Gods love is eternal and total for all of his children. That there are still so many who do not know this truth, that there are so many who do not grasp the pain and hate they sew with their words of venom towards those they do not understand but whom God created, that is one of the tragic realities of our time. I pray that it will ease with greater understanding, but more so I pray that those who only see the darkness of Faith used without Love will come to know the real truth and the possibilites of God that are beyond the bile, blame, and fear.  There is another way. A better way.  

This week marks the 85th anniversary of Riverside.  I will not be able to attend the celebration, but I know that I live that celebration each day.  My only regret now is that my Mom didn't ever make it to church with me. But I suspect that, in truth, she was there with me every time
Hopefully, no matter what your particular faith or belief system, you can find a place that supports your spirit. Its an amazing gift to find your way home. . 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why I am not a fan of video games (or casinos)

It has been a good week.  I have actually managed to get up on time.. twice!  Go for a nice walk each day before work, get some sunshine and take another walk before bed. My FitBit has rendered its verdict with a nightly moment of buzzing affirmation as I hit my assigned 10,000 steps in 24 hours on, count them, TWO days in a row!   

More beneficial than the physical activity has been the spiritual experience of getting outside to start the morning off in a space without a phone or email.  With whatever I walk by or see to serve as inspiration, motivation, or a reason to shake my head in wonder (or confusion) at this crazy beautiful world.  

Today offered two such extremes.  In one corner, the Canada Geese performing day two of their migration.  For reasons I do not fully understand, great diamonds of geese have been flying northeast over Saratoga Springs each morning.  Always on the same heading, always about the same time. Some are small groups, maybe three birds.  A few are much larger, numbering in the dozens or hundreds. Some are perfect Vs, with minimal honking, soaring gracefully while other formations look quite amateur like.  These aerial bands of mall teenagers are completely out of order, struggling to keep it together, and continuously squawking to each other.  I imagine those to be the younger birds, those who just don't have it all figured out yet but who have to try.  They have no choice.  To survive they have to figure it out, to get better, to come together. Their future success will be revealed in the quiet beautiful grace of nearly silent flight that will lead them to wherever the approaching cold demands that they go.  They are not there yet.  But they will be.  

And on the other hand, "I can't wait till (video game I can't remember the name of) comes out- I will like be playing that from when I wake up to when I go to bed" said the young woman holding a child like an extra large bag of potato chips as she walked passed me in front of the post office.  It was clear that the video game she was about to commit to in a way she has likely never committed to anything else in her life was the priority, the purpose, the reason for her to get up on at least one day of her life.  I suspected that it wasn't the only day that her motivation was found in pixels on a screen. I wondered if she ever said those words about the child she was slinging around while making sure her phone conversation continued.  I prayed silently in hope this was her nephew.  Or someone else's child that she was babysitting.  Even though I knew it was not.  

I know it is wrong to judge.  But it is not wrong to question.  Above me moments later, animals that are considered such lesser life forms struggled to find their way in a communal flight that will likely take them thousands of miles.  A journey that not all will survive.  While down below, we with responsibilities, destinies, purposes, friends, families, and a world to change for the good find a million ways to derail our journey before it even starts.  Some, it seems, don't even know there is a journey, or even someplace to go.  All things in moderation, I suppose.  But we also owe it to ourselves and to each other to at least try and avoid the flashing lights, the bottles, the noises, the fear, and the anger that can take us so far away from any knowledge of why we are where.  What we are doing.  Where we are going.   

How smart those geese really are.  I bet they don't even know how to play a video game.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

No, this isn't from House of Cards...

What would you think if this was the platform of someone who ran for office in your community?  How likely would you be to vote for him or her? 

1. PROTECTING our community with an effective, proactive, community based approach to public safety services. 

2. GROWING our tax base through smart  and sustainable development- which will bring quality jobs, reduce poverty, and improve our way of life. 

3. ENCOURAGING every member of our community, every group, every club, every church, every business, and every union to get involved and work together to build better citizens, better neighborhoods, and a better future. 

4. SAVING taxpayer dollars by reducing duplication of services and wasteful spending and leveraging cooperation and coordination with our government partners and business community. 

5. INVESTING in our communty's future through smart, results based spending on infrastructure, improvements, and city services.

6. PARTNERING with neighboring and regional governments and the private sector to solve problems, cut government expenses, share knowledge  and move our community forward. 

7. OPENING MINDS by working with our schools and universities to improve our local educational opportunties, encourage the arts and train the next generation of American workers and Small business owners. 

8. CELEBRATING our shared history; our wonderful diversity; and what we can accomplish when we work together, feel safe, valued, and respected and care about all of our neighbors. 

9. REACHING OUT to those in our community affected by Addiction; Poverty, Discrimination, and Mental Health Issues to connect them with the help and support they need to overcome their challenges, live happy successful lives and be productive members of society. 

10. LEADING our community forward by being ready to listen, to work hard, and to help bring people together. 

Columbus Fire.. Radio Communications

One of the most significant challenges in this age of everyone having a radio is how to ensure that units on the scene can communicate to each other without being talked over by apparatus that are responding, asking to be added to the run, or the Dispatcher proving information. At the same time, it is important to maintain control over units and ensure that all responding apparatus have adequate awareness, not just of what is going on around them on their incident, but citywide. This becomes exponentially more important during busy periods, when having units on too many different channels present the danger of overwhelming the capabilities of even the most talented dispatcher, and contribute to chaos on the scene of incidents as assignments are frequently much different than normal.  

Although CFD recently implemented a change to address this issue, there may be a better way that accomplishes both objectives and reduces the demand on the dispatchers.  

Instead of having responding apparatus on one FG channel and on-scene units on another, CFD should consider having any unit assigned to any fire incident operate on "10-Alpha" until they arrive on the fireground, at which point they would switch to their Battalion Fireground channel.  This would allow all fire apparatus to maintain awareness of citywide fire operations, reduce the number of channels that have to be monitored by dispatchers (a significant safety issue) and help to ease confusion during busy periods.  

Just my $.02... 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lessons From the Air

One of the great privileges I have as part of my job with NENA is to be able to travel.  Whether it is to do a presentation, teach a class, meet with colleagues to plan events or activities, or to support our development process, every time I board a plane it seems as though some magical event happens. Perhaps it is an idle conversation that leads to a great connection or an example of great customer service (or bad). Maybe to you I sound like a 41 year old kid who still speaks poetically about Disney World, dating, or the New York City Subway despite a lifetime of experiences that should have convinced me by now not to dream with my eyes open.  But, still, I am a romantic at my core.  You will just have to accept it. 

On a recent journey I was in a window seat of an aircraft flying from Philadelphia to Indianapolis.  On this flight there was not really anyone to talk to.  I had moved my seat to allow someone that had survived a fall down a mountain to more room for his splinted leg. This meant about an hour of isolation, in the single seat on the port side of the aircraft. 

I rarely bring out my laptop anymore. Or make any serious effort to engage any electronic device. The time in the air offers a mostly meditative experience, away from the rings and the dings and the buzzes in my own thoughts and my own place. Like Superman, you have to find your better self wherever you can. Phonebooth, Embraeer Jet, etc.  

As I was sitting in a my Whitman/Melville/Wayne Dyer mood It occured to me that our route would take us directly over my hometown. Given that I now had a window, I perked up and looked forward to a 450mph flyby of Tomato Town, Ohio Stadium, and the land where I learned what it meant to be me and the glory of Hot Pretzel Nuggets; Rolling Rock Beer, and pizza that is dismissed by snobs of the genre as "saltine crackers with some red crap on top". (Ohio is, above all else, an acquired taste). 

But in the midst of my anticipation, a funny thing happened.  I lost my normally great sense of space.  There was just enough cloud cover below to obscure the landmarks. I thought I knew where I was, but between the white puffy skyblocks and the etches and scratches on the window, I was no longer sure. 

A strange sort of panic overcame me as for a brief moment I felt totally unsettled, as though my compass and my maps and the street signs all became Wonderland Characters, leaving me dazed, confused, and a little out of sorts.  For a person that loves maps, exploring, and learning there are few emotional horrors as great as loosing your bearings.  Being lost is never a problem, if you can still feel where you are. If you still have the confidence that what will be found around the next corner will be magical, special, and true.  

But those 15 seconds, where every Rand McNally I have ever owned flashed before    my eyes, where moments from a terrible dream flowed Niagara like over my mind. Dreams where the Mets and Cubs somehow play each other in the World Series and still both manage to loose.  Where your winning lottery ticket leads not to a life of wonder but of perpetual heartbreak. Where a million gifts of talent, life, and love become a million links in a chain of fear, longing, and missed opportunity. 

As my lip quivered under the weight of the questions the oddest thing came into view below our plane. 30,000 feet away, 30,000 lifetimes from the past, runways came into sight. Two parallel runways.  And in the distance two other runways. It clicked then.  The distinctive sight of the two largest Columbus Airports.  And a few moments later, a giant stadium, and the another Airport.  And although I was 30,000 feet above it.  Although I could not touch it. Or speak to it.  I could know it. And where I was. And where I have been. 

I may not know exactly where I am going or how.  The future holds answers to questions I do not even know to ask.  But at that moment I found my place on the map, despite a window of scars and a sky of obstacles. I wasn't even supposed to be sitting there.  Did not start my day planning to have that view. But like so many of lifes great gifts- this simple sight was provided without even asking, or knowing that it was needed.  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Empowered Dispatcher

One of the most common misperceptions or assumptions about the proper role of Dispatchers is that they should simply sit back, follow protocols, and leave the difficult decisions and actions to those in the field. Normally an incident commander or, perhaps, a book of policies that must be followed to the "T" no matter what.  In the agencies that are the most effective, however, Dispatchers are empowered, trained and encouraged to obtain information, make decisions, and undertake actions that dramatically improve their ability to meet the needs of the public and of responders. 

This approach may lead to infrequent errors in judgement, a response that is a little heavy or a little light, increased complexity, or additional training.  However,much like a football team allowing the QB to call an audible, this type of approach leads to much better odds that executing the "big-play" will go successfully.  

Empowering your personnel does require investing in training, testing for skills and abilities at the time of hire, and having effective supervision in place as well as an agency wide commitment to learning from successes and failures.  Fortunately, these are all critical factors to the success of any 9-1-1 agency. 

In this age of increased liability , increased demands for sometimes limited resources, and the evolution of public expectations, we owe it to the public to provide them the best possible emergency services, starting from the moment the second "1" is dialed and continuing until the incident is closed. 

Empowered Dispatchers are a critical component of providing effective safety services. What follows are just 15 of the many Characteristics of Empowered Dispatchers and the agencies that utilize them.  If you have more, please do not hesitate to email me at I would welcome your insights, questions, and comments 

1) Dispatchers able to effectively go "off the card":  This means giving dispatchers the ability to assign a unit that may not normally respond, but that is nearby or that has an ability that the dispatcher may believe will be required.  This requires the dispatcher to have a significant level of training and knowledge. 

2) Dispatchers are able to adjust responses based on additional information: Are your dispatchers able to assign additional ambulances when they know an accident has numerous patients? Or an additional engine and ladder company if there are people trapped in a fire? Perhaps a dispatcher is encouraged to give a heads-up to the SWAT team commander when there may be the need for a SWAT response?  In each of these examples, the dispatcher can help improve results by going a little beyond the normal.

3) Dispatchers are authorized to Redirect Units to higher priority calls or when units are "crossing" each other. This is a "no-brainer", but some places discourage it, or don't train their personnel to recognize when the situation is occurring.  Fortunately, technology can help, but the root necessity is for personnel to realize it is happening and be authorized to do something about it.

4) Dispatchers are able to adjust responses based on volume of activity:  If your agency is experiencing a period of increased volume, personnel should be permitted to decrease responses (or possibly hold them altogether).  For example, a normal response to a fire alarm is two engines and one ladder and a Battalion. During a thunderstorm, the response should perhaps be just the nearest available fire suppression apparatus.  (The key here is:  if you receive additional information the incident is serious, you must upgrade the response to its normal compliment)

5) Dispatchers are trained on and aware of all the toys in the toy box- what they do, where to find them: Are your personnel aware of what each unit does, what role it plays, and when it might be used?  There should never be a unit in CAD or on a response card that a Dispatcher can't identify, describe and explain.  This include units that are cross-staffed, second-pieces, or staffed only by call-in personnel. 

6) All Dispatch personnel should understand the basics of operations on the scene:  Dispatchers should be provided basic understanding of the operations on a fire, ems, or police scene.  Including the incident command structure, terminology, and procedure.  When an officer responds to a domestic violence call, a fire, or a medical call, the dispatcher should be able to understand the "flow" and be able to visualize what is going on.  A good example of this in action is when a dispatcher is repeatedly calling a unit on the fireground that is inside a fire building, or one that has just been dispatched but has not yet had time to board the apparatus and pullout of quarters.

7) All personnel are aware of the factors that impact resources and plan for them ahead of time.  (Weather, events, etc)  Despite rumors and assumptions, many busy days are not a surprise. In fact, weather and special events are the two biggest factors that lead to crazy days in Public Safety.  Granted, there are some that are random.  But planning for these big days and understand what periods of the day are normally the busiest, help dispatchers make better decisions and engage in better resource management

8) The Dispatch Center is provided ongoing updates from the ICs at Critical Incidents. Having the incident commanders at large scale and/or long duration incidents is critical.  The Dispatchers (and other personnel) are able to better anticipate future needs, ensure history histories are accurate,  have improved situational awareness and provide accurate information to relevant parties as required. 

9) Dispatch Personnel AND field personnel engage in AARS and Critiques to learn how they were successful and how to improve next time. Far too many agencies fail to capture the critical insights gained from large incidents.  Even worse, some agencies do not invite Dispatch Personnel to participate in After Action Reviews or Incident Critiques.  If agencies want to ensure future incidents are as successful as possible and that Dispatch Personnel are seen as part of the team, this is an essential area to improve. 

10) Dispatch Personnel should be aware of the clues from calls and unit communications that paint a more complete picture of what is happening with the incident. Seasoned Dispatch Personnel are well aware of the subtle clues that indicate the potential seriousness of call. From breaking glass, to screaming we need to ensure our new personnel are trained to listen for these clues and develop their intuitive skills.   

11) Dispatchers are able to handle effectively "out of the box" incidents (apparatus accident enroute; maydays etc). A perfect example of this concept are accidents involving responding apparatus.  Dispatchers must be trained to not only maintain their composure but also to ensure that: 1) the responding apparatus are replaced on the original assignment 2) an appropriate response is sent to the new accident involving the responders 3) radio discipline is maintained.  This situation is one of most complex that any public safety agency will face and the Dispatcher is key to its success. 

12) Dispatchers understand the role played in ensuring best possible outcomes for the public and the safety of field responders. Agencies must do a better job ensuring that Dispatchers see themselves as a critical part of the entire emergency response spectrum.  This can be accomplished in many ways, from employee recognition efforts, to encouraging responders to interact with Dispatch Personnel both formally and informally. 

13) Dispatch Personnel (and their entire command structure) must see themselves as professionals responsible for learning as much as possible, not an automaton subject to the whim and will of the CAD system or the procedure manual. The creation of a professional environment requires an agency wide change in viewpoint and approach.  The culture of professionalism is reflected the recruitment, hiring, evaluation, promotion, recognition, and discipline processes (amongst many others..).  This is also reflected in how personnel who seek outside training and education are treated.  Are those that make an effort to grow and learn valued or dismissed? Are members encouraged to participate in professional associations?  Each of these factors contribute to both the empowerment of personnel and the overall effectiveness of the organization. 

14) Units that the agency dispatches are not permitted to "jump" runs whenever they like-- the Dispatcher is responsible for determining if they are required, appropriate, and adjusts the response to ensure proper resource management. In order to prevent chaos, Dispatchers must be considered the final authority, with deviations only permitted in life-threatening situations.

15)  The Dispatcher is viewed as the Incident Commander until the arrival of the first apparatus or unit.  This simple (but profound) mindset illustrates the importance of the Dispatcher's role and the critical nature of their duties inside the communications center and how those duties impact the response and the outcomes for responders and the public.

Columbus Division of Fire...Continued

New Firehouses (and more...)

It is simply not possible to expect the CFD to be able to serve over 800,000 people and manage nearly 200,000 responses with their current level of resources.   There will have to be new firehouses constructed in the coming years. In addition, some older firehouses will need to be rebuilt where they currently stand or relocated to provide better coverage.  There is also the opportunity to enhance service and save taxpayers money through  new cooperation between CFD and surrounding departments. 

Additional Stations:
New Station 35: On Waggoner Road, North of East Broad Street
New Station 36: Near Hamilton Road and Harlem Road
New Station 37: Near Sullivant Avenue & Galloway Road
New Station 38: Near Frank Road & Hardy Parkway
New Station 39: Near Marion-Franklin High School
New Station 40: Near Winchester Pike and Brice Road
New Station 41: Near Morse Road & Stelzer Road* (see Station 28 relocation below)

Potential  Stations depending on development & other factors
New Station 42:  Polaris North
New Station 43:  Hayden Run West
New Station 44:  Olentangy/Henderson
New Station 45:  Scioto Downs/Rickenbacker
New Station 46:  Trabue Road& Wilson Road

Stations to Rebuild & Relocate:
Station-12: Relocate to new/larger new facility west of current location (Sullivant Ave & Wilson Rd)
Station-13:  Rebuild onsite into larger firehouse (2 story, small footprint, 3-4 bays)  
Station-23:  Rebuild onsite into larger firehouse (2 story, small footprint, 3-4 bays)
Station-24:  Rebuild onsite into larger firehouse (2 story, small footprint, 3-4 bays)
Station 28: Move to Agler Rd & Cassady Avenue to improve coverage and build new Station-41 near Morse Rd & Stelzer Rd to improve coverage in Morse/Hamilton corridor and far northeast

In The  Meantime...
Until new stations are online, the EMS resources that would operate from new stations can be placed in service from nearby township/non-CFD stations, or in certain cases existing CFD Stations that are either very busy or very remote. This would immediately ease the burden on automatic aid partners.  This returns a previous effort that permitted new companies to be placed in service at nearby stations prior to the physical construction of a new firehouse.  (Engine16Awhich became Engine-24 for example)

Potential Placements:
Medic-35 at Station-141
Medic-36 at Station-133 or 121
Medic-37 at Station-241
Medic-38 at Station-193
Medic-39 at Station-171
Medic-40 at Station-162
Medic-41 at Station-134
Medic-42 at Station-33

Enhanced Cooperation
A related issue would be exploring enhanced cooperation between CFD and surrounding departments, especially those who are dispatched by CFD and surrounded by Columbus.  Perhaps it would make economic sense to build a new firehouse for 12s that is large enough to support Franklin Township as well.  A similar effort may be beneficial to Clinton Township with Station-24 or Mifflin Township for Station-132 and a new CFD station in the Agler/Cassady area.  Such arrangements make economic sense and have the potential to improve response times.  They also would save the township departments the significant expense of building replacement firehouses.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Columbus Division of Fire: Keeping up the Pace

I would like to take a moment and commend my hometown Fire Department, The Columbus Division of Fire, for taking the first steps to improve their operational strategies to meet their ever increasing call volume and the changing nature of their emergency responses.  

At the same time, here are a few suggestions of other potential enhancements:

1) End the practice of assigning a Rescue on every motor vehicle accident unless it is on a limited access highway or there are reports of entrapment. 

2) Introduce the CAD designation of Heavy Rescue, reserving the designation of "Rescue" for rescue/engine combinations. For fires, given the need to ensure engine arrival in a timely manner, Rescues shall be used as engines unless no heavy Rescues are available.  For example, a fire assignment at Polaris Mall would be:  Engine-33; Rescue-111, Rescue-101, Ladder-33, Ladder-111, Heavy Rescue-11, Medic-33, Battalion-2. 

3) Dispatch assignments should take into account the status of a unit and if an additional dispatch is required. (Until a regionlal CAD link is established like what is used in the Washington DC Metro). 
This would ensure improved response times and reduce reliance on Mutual Aid. 

4) Medic units in outlying areas should be provided an EMT driver so they can respond by themselves to all runs expect MVAs and Cardiac Arrests. This will ensure that ALS engines remain available in areas where response times for second runs are lengthy. 

More to come later...

Sunday, November 1, 2015


They tell you it will be your car keys.  Or your partner's birthday.  Maybe it will be one of the 317 passwords you have to remember to live effectively in this digital world.  Email?  Bank?  Damn, even my car has a password. They tell you that making them all the same, well that is just silly.  An invitation for everyone to steal everything, right down to your last penny, if not your entire identity. No matter, those will be the signs you are beginning to loose your mind-- or your memory.  (or both) 

Isn't it odd though, that the greatest danger is not that some mysterious and nefarious soul from a foreign land will find out our magical codes and render us soul-less, or at least money-less for a period of time. No, the greatest danger is something much different indeed.  A a crime of which we are both perpetrator and victim.  We spend forty years or so going through so many experiences.  Loosing those keys, loosing those midnight love affairs, loosing the bright eyed child that drove us to dream the big dreams and, sometimes, live them.  Trying, failing, trying failing, and, occasionally succeeding.  But at some point deep down in the sober beauty of the annual fall, as the trees move through their season with silent grace, you realize that in the quest to remember the small, you have forgotten the large.  

In the silence of a phone that doesn't ring, a job that maybe doesn't fit, a loved one who just doesn't understand, or a dream that remains in some way unlived you start to realize the biggest thing we can forget is ourselves.  We know by now what to do to succeed.  We know Mom was right, about that swimming too close to eating rule, about her lessons for finding a good mate, and for how to make good meatloaf.  (growing up in the Midwest has it advantages) 

But in the turmoil and the stress, the aggravation and the disappointment, and in the living of every day, we drift away sometimes from that inner knowing into a land of outer doing.  Only to wake up one morning to realize that we are not writing anymore, we are not taking photos any more, we are not spending time with our friends anymore.  We have somehow discarded the ingredients list for the life we want to live and we are left tired, fat, and still hungry. 

At the most important time, we have begun a decent into the earth bound box long before we ever should. Driven by distraction towards a premature departure.  If driving shouldn't be done wtih diverted attention, then living certainly should not be done that way either.  

Amazing is it not? With such a monitored, listened to and tracked life.  Where our entire day can be planned and verified by a device out of Star Trek, that the device never bothers to give us the important reminder of all.  Maybe someone should invent an app that does that.  Oh well, its probably not worth it-- I would just forget my password.