Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Day 18 started with daily clean up duties, and a discussion of 4 department SOPs: drug testing and pre-employment drug testing, vacations, and duty trades. Each day following “house duties” (clean ups) we start with a quick discussion of pertinent SOPs. These are included – along with our textbook – as the reference material we are required to read before attending class. This past weekend I was able to catch up and work ahead a little on the large amount of written reference material we’ll be discussing in class this week.

Following this brief SOP discussion (always limited to 15-30 minutes), our Training Chief, Keith Morehead, usually provides us with a bit of wisdom or philosophy from his extensive experience in the field. These short sessions provide a good vision of the model public servant he would like each of the recruits to become, and a gives him a chance to provide us motivation for our progress through training. Today his message was particularly reassuring after the anxiety most of us faced last week. He told us to stop thinking about “I’m going to fail out of this place” and start thinking “I CAN do this.” The classes and practical sessions are – no doubt – going to get more difficult, but the attitude of the training staff is that they are here to help us succeed, not to try to “wash us out.” I know that it is much more difficult – and much more work – to adopt an attitude that helps recruits succeed. Mentoring, coaching, feedback, and counseling are always more time and labor intensive then curt dismissal. I applaud the training staff’s approach to doing all they can to mentor and encourage success.

Chief Morehead also read another chapter in Alan Brunicini’s seminal work: “Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service” – how exceptional public service should look to the citizens we serve. These discussions of “how it should be” are an excellent addition to class – they help shape the attitude I personally want our crews to demonstrate when they are out there, delivering service to citizens. Brunicini goes a bit over the top at times, but he’s on target with the idea that we should treat each citizen as we would one of our loved ones….Chief Morehead’s “revised” Golden Rule! There is also no denying the success that Chief Brunicini built in the Phoenix Fire Department – he has undeniable support from citizens and policy makers – and for good reason: he provides the exceptional service that his citizens are paying an exceptional price for!

The morning lecture session today covered hand and power tools used in the fire service. I love firefighting tools because they are tough and practical – built to do heavy work dependably. They are straightforward in design and purpose, yet reflect the creativity and the need for adaptation that characterizes firefighting itself. Firefighters are often called to handle situations when “there is no one else to call.” We are masters at finding creative, efficient ways of handling all sorts of life’s problems. Some of the tools of our trade were developed to overcome specific fireground or rescue challenges. Others were brought over from another specialty field and improved or modified for the challenges faced on the fireground. In short, the tools we discussed are a lot like the firefighters who use them: tough, practical, efficient, creative, and straightforward.

Once again our instructor, Bernie Vrona, used a great instructional method to ensure everyone in the class participated in the lecture, while covering the material from the textbook in a thorough but efficient manner: he had every student present one of the tools to the class. Each of us were required to discuss: what the tool is, how it’s used, when it’s used, maintenance issues and highlights associated with our specific tool, and problems associated with using the tool. Our mini presentations were supplemented by pictures of the tools from Bernie’s collection, or by demonstrating the actual tool itself if we had one on hand in the Training Division’s collection. Everyone was involved, interested, and we covered the material quickly and thoroughly.

Then we went outside and started 2 of the main power tools carried by the Saint Paul Fire Department: the Homelite Super XL chainsaw and the Stihl rotating saw.

We spent the afternoon working with our instructors and the exceptional crew of Saint Paul Ladder 18 – C Shift on salvage operations (how to protect and save undamaged property at a fire scene). We constructed water chutes and catch basins, and practiced tarp folding and balloon tosses (a specific way to spread a tarp to efficiently cover personal belongings of a citizen, protecting them from water damage at a fire). We also cleaned a lubricated a number of extrication tools and equipment recently used by Saint Paul Fire crews at automobile extrictation class. The equipment will be used by our class briefly before being distributed to front line Fire Department companies.

The physical training session today was something I personally, was looking forward to. We had been told that we might use the Lee and Rose Warner Coliseum for some “indoor” workouts during the cold winter months. The Coliseum is located on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, just a few blocks north of the Saint Paul Fire Training Facility. The Coliseum (many of us still call it the “Hippodrome”) is a center for hockey and livestock shows, and features indoor seating for over 5,000 people. It is the seating – specifically the 28 sections of seating, 45 rows of seats/stairs in each section – that I had heard would provide us unending agony as we ran up and down the rows of seating for our physical training. Interspersed with all that running would be sit ups, push ups, weight lifing, and other exercises – again designed to boost our elevated heart rates for short periods of more intense work. Really, I was looking forward to the experience….really!

I was not disappointed. The stairs, the exercises, and the running (part of the hour was involved running laps around the concourse surrounding the areana), provided a superb workout! It was warm and dry inside, and I was glad that we would not be slipping and sliding around in the snow outside (not a factor today, but this week they are calling for 4-6 inches of snow, and I guess I was looking forward to the Coliseum to help prevent some injuries to me and my classmates). The workout was very challenging, and my legs felt pretty good during the workout.….I look forward to doing more of that in the future…..really!

Day 18 finished off as many of the previous days had….I was tired, coughing and breathing deeply from pushing myself physically and mentally. More importantly, I was pushing into that interior place where I faced my fears of failing….where I knew I was building proficiency and self confidence….where I was surprised to find that – when I thought I was burning all the energy I had available – I actually had some “left in the tank.” I wanted to keep going to see how deep that reserve was…yet I knew that Captain Deno was likely to help me answer that question very, very soon! (Captain Deno runs every workout right along with us – he is an exceptional coach and in incredible shape!).

As I drove home after class, I found myself reflecting on Chief Morehead’s encouraging words, and started thinking that I CAN do this…in fact, I was really enjoying “doing this!” But somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard evil laughter and saw a comical fluorescent orange smiley face lurking….I knew that Captain Deno would be there tomorrow and the next day ensuring that any self-confidence I might have today would evaporate all too quickly in the future challenges that lay ahead. He had warned us just today: “Last Friday’s First Quarter Practical Exam was the easiest one we’ll be doing.” YIKES!

But, today I felt good nonetheless, and I am confident that my classmates and I will rise to the challenges of weeks 5-13. The Fire Academy has been an exceptional experience so far! Like everything else about my job as Fire Chief: if it all ended tomorrow, I would consider it an honor and a blessing to have had the experience of being here and working in the most challenging, most enjoyable profession ever invented!

Take care.


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