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, October 26, 2010


Today I had the distinct pleasure to travel to Minneapolis Fire Station #27 for a joint press conference with Minneapolis Fire and the American Lung Association. The event: announcing the winner of the 2nd annual “Faces of Influenza” Healthy Challenge. The Healthy Challenge is a contest between the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Firefighters, and the department having the most members who get immunizations against the influenza virus wins the contest.

As a Firefighter and Fire Chief, I love to win, and I especially love winning against admirable opponents like the Minneapolis Fire Department. Of course, this is a friendly competition designed to help educate and encourage the public to receive influenza immunizations. Minneapolis won last year’s contest, and I had high hopes that Saint Paul would prevail in 2010. Well........victory was not to be for us this year either. In spite of having nearly 300 of our members immunized, Minneapolis won – they had 4 more members immunized than we did. We lost by 4 people!! (Heavy sigh). Well, even though Saint Paul “lost,” we all won in the end – getting protection against a serious illness that can kill even the healthiest people.

In addition to Minneapolis Fire Chief Alex Jackson and each department’s EMS Chiefs (Matt Simpson for Saint Paul and Charlotte Holt for Minneapolis), I joined Mrs. Linda DeLude for today’s press conference. Linda is the wife of deceased Minneapolis Firefighter Barry DeLude. Barry died from complications of influenza in 2007. Like many healthy people, Barry decided not to get immunized against influenza. It was sobering to hear Linda talk about Barry’s illness and his life that was cut short by the disease. If a strong, vibrant Firefighter could be cut down in his prime by the flu, then all of us are at risk. Linda’s mission is to encourage EVERYONE to get immunized against influenza. Barry served on Minneapolis Fire for over 20 years, and served most recently on Ladder #5. Station #27 (current home to Ladder 5) has a memorial on their watch office wall honoring Barry and displaying the Healthy Challenge awards from both 2009 and 2010.

If you haven’t gotten your influenza immunization yet, I highly encourage you to do so. The vaccination is a simple shot in the arm, and is appropriate for everyone 6 months old and older. If you have any questions regarding the flu or the vaccination, visit the American Lung Association’s Influenza Prevention website for more information:

Firefighters are often called to care for injured or sick citizens. My department relies on annual influenza immunizations as our first line of defense against contracting the flu virus. Barry DeLude’s story reminds all of us how devastating the flu can be. Make the immunization YOUR first line of defense as well, and get your flu shot today!

The flu season runs from autumn to late winter/early spring, so if you haven’t received your shot yet, there is still plenty of time and plenty of vaccine available. Take this important step for to protect yourself and your family - get your shot!

Take care and stay warm on this blustery October night!


Sunday, May 23, 2010


Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to meet with Saint Paul’s newest neighborhood crime watch group serving the Irvine, Pleasant, and Ramsey neighborhoods in Saint Paul. The Alert Neighbors group was recently created by my friend, John Morson. After “retiring” from a long career in public safety, John wanted to create a neighborhood group focused on reducing crime, building awareness of important health and safety issues facing his neighborhood, and providing information and practical solutions to known public safety risks. One of those risks is death from sudden cardiac arrest (heart attack). John’s solution: teach people a new form of Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) that only requires the use of your hands to deliver rapid compressions on the chest.

Hands Only CPR eliminates the need to breath into someone’s mouth. It reduces the aversion many people have to conventional CRP. The new technique also eliminates the need to remember the ratio of chest compressions to ventilations – something that seemed to change constantly over the last several decades. Hands Only CPR can be learned in just minutes, and requires just two simple steps:

1. Call 9-1-1.
2. Deliver rapid, deep chest compressions without interruption.

Anyone can learn Hands Only CPR in minutes. The American Heart Association provides a GREAT website on Hands Only CPR. The site provides easy-to-understand diagrams, videos, and great background information. It even provides an application for iPhone and Droid mobile devices so you can use the latest technology to show others how to perform Hands Only CPR. Check out this great website at:

The Alert Neighbors invited Saint Paul Paramedic/Firefighter Mark Wandersee to their meeting yesterday to teach a Hands Only CPR class. Mark is a very talented instructor who teaches CPR to hundreds of people every year. He brought videos, manikins, and a host of experiences “from the street,” and the class was lively and educational. 15 citizens took the class – the youngest being just seven years old! All were awarded Certificates of Completion for the class and rewarded with the knowledge of how to save a life during a sudden cardiac arrest!

Graduation Photo of the Alert Neighbors Hands Only CPR Class

Yesterday’s class was the first Hands Only CPR class taught by Saint Paul Fire….but surely not the last! I believe everyone should know this life-saving skill and that all schools and businesses should be equipped with Automatic External Defibrillators (AED). Studies show that four rapid interventions lead to superior cardiac survival rates:
1. Rapid activation of the 9-1-1 system
2. Immediate performance of CPR by bystanders
3. Immediate application of an AED
4. Rapid intervention by Advanced Life Support paramedic crews

Saint Paul residents already have a great 9-1-1 system. That system employs dispatchers that can assist bystanders with CPR instructions over the phone if necessary. The Saint Paul Fire Department has exceptionally talented paramedic/firefighter crews with rapid response times. What our system would benefit from, however, is more citizens who know CPR and more sites equipped with AEDs. Hands Only CPR classes will certainly increase the number of bystanders who know – and are willing to perform – CPR when they see an adult collapse in cardiac arrest.

If you’d like to learn Hands Only CPR, check out

If you’d like to have the Saint Paul Fire Department bring a Hands Only CPR class to your workgroup or school, please contact me at: or call the Department at: 651-224-7811.

And, if you live in the Irvine, Pleasant, or Ramsey neighborhoods in Saint Paul and want to join an interesting neighborhood group with lots of safety-related activities, check out:

Thanks for joining me "On Scene" at Saint Paul Fire’s “First Ever Hands Only CPR Class!”

Take care and be safe!

Monday, February 15, 2010


In the summer of 2008, the Saint Paul Fire Department celebrated the Centennial birthday of Fire Station 18 on University Avenue at St. Albans Street. The station had been in continuous service for 100 years, and we felt it was a fitting time to celebrate this venerable station and the crews that had served the “Frogtown” neighborhood for so many years.

The day and the celebration were “picture perfect.” Warm sunshine and smiles prevailed over a crowd that topped 500 people. Antique fire apparatus, live fire demonstrations, historic equipment displays, and lots and lots of veteran firefighters and their families made for a very special event. Stories from the “old timers” and the neighbors who had lived near the station for decades helped “fill the gaps” in our corporate memory of station life and department history. For many members of our department, the celebration was like opening a treasure chest of our past and finding precious memories inside.

This weekend marked another occasion to “open the treasure chest” and marvel at some of the really intestesting and historic roots of our department. The occasion: the delivery of “Engine 29” to our newest fire station (Station 1 - still under construction at Randolph Avenue and West Seventh Street). Engine 29 is a 1924 Ahrens-Fox NS2 pumper that originally was delivered to the Department in 1925 after a railroad journey from the Ahrens-Fox factory in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The new fire engine originally served as Engine 11, but was subsequently moved around and renumbered as the needs of the citizens dictated changes in our apparatus fleet. Engine 11 remained in service from 1925 to 1930. It was then renumbered to Engine 8 and served until 1939. It served as Engine 4 and again as Engine 11 until 1951, when it was finally moved into a reserve status and served until 1969, ultimately retiring as Engine 29 – the designation it carries to this day.

The rig has been stored in a warehouse in Hastings, MN for the last decade or more, and was recently rennovated to be a static display in our new fire station. Originally thought to be a 1925 model, we discovered during the restoration process that it was, in fact, a 1924 model. The reason for the confusion? It was delivered to the City in 1925, and was shipped with another Ahrens-Fox rig – this one a 1925 model. The 1925 rig ended up going to Red Wing, MN.

The Ahrens-Fox brand of fire engine was manufactured from 1852 until 1977. The brand was so popular and performed so well that they were known as the “Cadillac of Fire Engines.” Their performance was legendary: they held world records for the greatest flow in gallons per minute, highest pump pressures, furthest and highest fire streams, and the longest time running without a mechanical failure. The Ahrens-Fox had a distinctive appearance, highlighted by the large chrome spherical air chamber located on the front-mounted water pump.

On Saturday morning, Engine 29 arrived via flatbed truck, and was gently lowered down a set of steel ramps through a large window opening in the side of Fire Station One. Crews then pushed the rig into its final display position.

On- and off-duty Firefighters came to participate in the event. Crews from Engine 8, Ladder 8, Ladder 10, Engine/Medic 10, Engine/Medic 9, and headquarters staff watched as the rig slowly made its way into the building and into place. The fire crews took plenty of pictures and posed near the rig and in the driver’s seat of Engine 29. I think we all felt a visceral connection to our past and to the men who used these machines so bravely for decades and decades in our City.

There has been talk - for awhile now – of forming an Antique Apparatus Group in Saint Paul Fire….I think it’s high time we did. There are precious memories still laying in wait in that warehouse in Hastings, including:

• A 1918 Seagrave water tower
• A 1931 American LaFrance open cab pumper
• A 1935 Peter Pirsch tractor-drawn aerial tower (85 feet ladder)
• A 1938 Ford pumper
• A 1951 Mack open cab pumper
• A 1962 Mack Canopy cab pumper
• A 1963 General Safety engine

And of course, we have our antique steamer and our 1916 Seagrave Ladder Truck (Ladder 2) that was featured at the Centennial Birthday celebration of Station 18.

These antique rigs are precious memories of bygone days perhaps, but they also serve as vivid reminders of the rigors of our work and the ingenuity and creativity needed to combat the hazards faced by firefighters. Looking at Engine 29’s open cab, and its running boards and tailboard where the “old time” crews faced wind, driving rain, and freezing snow, I marveled at the “toughness” needed by firefighters from the 1920s and 1930s. Then I looked up and beyond the antique rig to the stair way above the display area. There, in rough assembly, were the crews from Ladders 8 and 10 and Engines 8 and 10. I saw in their faces the same toughness and dedication – the same pride and tradition.

I thought how perfect this was: the enduring toughness of the antique, renowned for its legendary performance, backed by the men and women who are still delivering legendary service through their own toughness and dedication! I was immensely proud of the firefighters gathered around Engine 29 on Saturday! They came with a sense of curiosity and interest, and found some of the very best of traits of the Fire Service reflected in the chrome. They, like me, marveled at the enduring strength and beauty of a venerable rig, yet found within themselves those same qualities – the qualities that will long be reflected and remembered - their dedication and service to this City and its citizens.

Station One will be completed within the next couple of weeks. Once we formally pass all final inspections on the new station and the attached Fire Headquarters building, the crews from Station 1 and Station 10 will take up residency in the new Station. Later in the summer, we’ll have a big open house for the Station and the Headquarters building. Until then, please feel free to drive by and take a look at the new building. And be sure to peek through the windows on the very corner of Seventh and Randolph to see Engine 29: proud, strong, beautiful, peaceful…..

I hope all Firefighters can ultimately retire in a similar fashion: in health and peace and harboring fond memories of legendary services rendered.

Thanks for joining me “On Scene” for the arrival of Engine 29!


Sunday, February 7, 2010


February 7, 2010:

I’ve washed all my work out clothes….cleaned out my car….stored all my classroom notes and textbooks on the shelf….read the newspaper reports of the graduation and the now fulfilled dreams of my classmates….and slept a full 8 hours last night for the first time in months.

At long last, I can look back at my academy experience and conduct a “Post Incident Review” – an After Action Report of lessons learned, of things that “went right,” and areas where I still need to do some improvement. Here are some of the significant results of my final personal “mental size up” on my academy experience:

o The academy broadened my perspective of what we (I) ask Firefighters to do everyday. From the tools I provide them with, to the rigs they drive, to the buildings they are expected to search, vent, rescue from, and extinguish fires in, to the procedures and training I provide them with, I have been exposed first hand to many of the challenges and obstacles they face everyday. I know that exposure and this academy has broadened perspective immensely. My academy experience will make me a better fire chief and help me make better decisions. Those decisions will be more “firefighter-based” in the future, and there will be an increased effort to improve the resources for, and the safety of, our firefighters.

o My appreciation for firefighters and the work they do was already at a high level before entering the academy. That appreciation is markedly deeper today. Until you’ve humped the hoses, crawled down the hallways, climbed on the ladders, and experienced the frozen fingers, pain in the knees, sucked the air, donned the gear, carried the load, and faced the challenges of running out of air inside a building or jumping out the window onto a ladders slide to the ground, you cannot fully appreciate the strength of body, focus of the mind, and drive of the heart needed to do this job well. I will be looking at the men and women around me now with a deeper understanding and respect thanks to having walked in their boots for a mile or two.

o Anyone who is preparing for the academy would be well-advised to be in great shape before they arrive on day one! Cardio-vascular endurance and muscle endurance is critical...muscle mass is less so. Do a variety of exercises, as firefighting puts your body into a variety of situations and movements not found on the typical weight machine or universal gym.

o Give the academy a full time commitment. Ensure you have 1-2 hours extra in the evening to study and practice the practical physical exams. Some of my classmates worked out 2 and 3 times a day, and many of us crashed in exhaustion early in the evenings. Time is precious, and none can be wasted while in the academy. Your family should expect that you’ll be largely unavailable for them for the 13 weeks, and you must prepare them to handle the household without you for much of that time.

o Prepare for the practical exams by getting the mechanics of the movements down and practicing for speed and proficiency. Donning your PPE and air packs correctly and FAST is vital, as is chopping with the axe, tying knots for hoisting, and pulling hose/dummies/weights with your arms. Practice some skills that require fine motor skill when you’re shaking with exhaustion until the movements become automatic. Create your own “back yard” props if you have to. I created one for the flat chop, hose back lay, dummy drag, and Keiser. If I can do it, YOU can do it!

o Your heart has to be in this. It’s too hard to complete a 13 week academy if you’re not REALLY into it. Jump in with both feet and a “burning” desire to attain that Firefighter’s badge!

My own academy experience is done, but I too know that it’s only the first step of a long journey. I intend to keep growing my skills and keeping in shape. I have enrolled in the 36-month apprenticeship training program and intend to complete that journey with my classmates. That program includes both college-level classes and practical tests (like our quarterly practical exams), so I’ll have to stay in top shape for the next several years.

I also intend to work alongside a fire crew – as one of the crew – at least a full 4-day work segment every 3 months in order to maintain my skills and keep in touch with the daily routine of the firehouse and the daily challenges of field operations.

I also have built quite a “work list” as I’ve gone through the academy – work list items I discovered while in the academy, and that I intend to address as I resume my full-time Fire Chief duties: fighting for the resources to improve the physical condition of our Training Facilities and training equipment; implementing new ideas for the Recruit Academy, company training, and the Apprenticeship program; modernizing our reserve apparatus fleet; refining, clarifying and consolidating many of our department policies; focusing on ways to improve firefighter safety; building on the strong partnerships we’ve formed with the colleges and businesses who have supported this academy and our department; and increasing communications with the firefighters in our department on health and well-being, safety, and lessons learned from various field operations around the country.

Tomorrow I return to the Fire Chief’s office. I’m returning a stronger, younger, smarter man. I’m returning with a larger, deeper “Firefighter’s” perspective and a Firefighter’s heart and passion for the job and the services we provide. I will be looking at our department’s services through the eyes of both “Firefighter” and “Citizen,” and I will always remember the “name on the back of my jacket!”

I cannot wait to get to work tomorrow!!!

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Saint Paul Fire Academy. I will continue The ON SCENE WITH CAR ONE blog in the future, documenting various fires, emergency scenes, and events in and around the Saint Paul Fire Department and – undoubtedly – some updates and exploits “from the field” on the Class of 2010. Please feel free to join me here online as I go to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’d like to continue to share with you my perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service! Please feel free to comment as well, and I look forward to going “On Scene” together.

God Bless and Take Care.


February 5, 2010:

The day had arrived! Family and friends had gathered to see “their Recruit” take the oath and pin on the Badge of “FIREFIGHTER!” My classmates looked so young and crisp in the their bright white shirts, sporting – for the first time – the American Flag on the right shoulder, and the bold red and white “Maltese Cross” patch of the “Saint Paul Fire Department” on the left shoulder.

Chief Morehead was the Master of Ceremonies at the graduation ceremony. Mayor Coleman presided and handed each man the coveted badge of FIREFIGHTER. One of my classmates, Andy Bieze – our class spokesman - spoke eloquently about dreams fulfilled, going through the academy, and what it means to be a Saint Paul Firefighter. Mr. Vrona, the Mayor, Dr. Kory Kaye, Chief Morehead, and I also made remarks to the class and the audience. I was in the official capacity of Fire Chief, feeling part of the class….yet not one of them for today. It was their day – a day of unbridled success and triumph, relief, and of dreams come true! I was humbled and deeply honored to be awarded the silver and red badge of FIREFIGHTER by Mayor Coleman. It was a most fitting testament to the last 13 weeks of training!

My immediate and extended families attended the ceremony. Many of the younger ones took the day off from school to be there. An old Coast Guard buddy of mine came in from Milwaukee to see the show. He caught me totally by surprise by coming all that way to see me and celebrate this day with me. Kendel: you are a TRUE Shipmate and Friend! My nephew Vincent was there, along with a friend of his, Michael – both members of the Emergency Medical Rescue Service in Cannon Falls.

Words cannot express my joy at having completed the academy, but I did have “a few” words to say to the audience and my classmates about the Class of 2010. Here are the remarks I made to them during my graduation address:

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen! Thank you for being here today!

The Saint Paul Fire Department was formed in November of 1855. The department started with just three pieces of equipment: a fire engine, a ladder truck, and a hose cart – all drawn by hand.....the hands of a small band of young, strong, spirited men selected from the community they served. It was back before the era of horses and steam-powered firefighting pumps...and long before motorized vehicles......The department’s responses back then were known as “fire runs” – because the firefighters literally responded by running down the street pulling their hand drawn rigs and equipment to the scene.

The firefighters were special men....selected for their physical strength, their mental toughness, and their willingness to serve others. Over the ensuing decades of service, these men became renowned for their extreme bravery, their compassion for others, and their devoted service to the citizens of Saint Paul. Today we’re here to welcome and congratulate the next generation of Saint Paul Firefighters, and to celebrate their transformation from “Civilian” to “Public Servant”...their promotion from “Recruit” to “Firefighter.”

I said that Firefighters are special....and the Class of 2010 is truly a unique group of special people! Five years ago, over 2,000 men and women took the arduous Firefighter entrance exam. 2,000 people vying for a handful of jobs.....And then....there were no jobs available! In the worst economic crisis in since the 1930’s, the Department was faced with 28 firefighter layoffs for 2010, and no hope of hiring anymore from our 2005 test. Over 700 men and women would “die on the list” as the department continued to shrink. But thanks to the leadership of Mayor Coleman, Council President Lantry, and the firefighter and chief officer unions, the City made a bold decision – the right decision for our citizens and our Department – and chose not to lay off firefighters. We fought for and secured a federal SAFER grant that permitted us to hire the Class you see before you today.

2010: the class that almost wasn’t a class at all! 20 out of 2,000 were selected for their physical strength, their mental toughness, and their willingness to serve others. The members of this class waited five years - some waited even longer - to be called up and offered the chance of a lifetime. One has waited since he was a kid, really – a young Saint Paul Fire Explorer eager to one day pin on the badge of a Saint Paul Firefighter. One recruit is the grandson of veteran Firefighter “Red Haslach.” Red served over 38 years with the department and is now 102 years old – he’s with us today to watch his grandson graduate! Welcome, Red!

Like the phoenix – that mythical bird that rises from the ashes of destruction – we brought forth a new spirit of hope from a dying hiring list, and we’re incredibly blessed as a department and as a City that these recruits answered that telephone call with an emphatic YES! We had to reach two of them as they served military tours in Iraq. One was called while on his honeymoon in Hawaii. One was called on the same day that he received an offer to join the Dallas, Texas Fire Department. Yes, we are incredibly lucky to have them here, and blessed that they have answered the call to serve. And so they came to us....from Saint Paul...from Minneapolis....from Saint Cloud and Duluth, and Dallas, and Hawaii, and from the sandy hot hills of Iraq.....

I joined them on their 13-week journey through the Fire Academy, and shared their transformation from “Civilian” to “Firefighter.” I saw first hand how incredibly talented and spirited they quickly they bonded into a team. For the first few days of class they were quiet and reserved, excited.....eager....yet restrained. I think it was on about the third day - when someone loudly passed gas - that the ice was finally broken! From then on, you could not restrain their passion for the job or the success of their classmates. They quickly bonded to help each other succeed, and everyone freely shared their experiences and strengths with the group. They were strong and bold, and the spirit of youth was upon them. I could not be more proud of them.....and I was honored to be counted as one of them.

We learned the trade....we learned some tricks of the trade. We strengthened our bodies and ran endless flights of stairs. We endured the rigors of survival skill training and controlled burns....and the equally demanding task of studying all 37 chapters in the course textbook and a 3” think binder of department policies and procedures. The physical and mental demands were enormous....and these men not only succeeded, but EXCELLED!

Life in the academy was a full-time job and required a full-time commitment. I personally want to thank Assistant Fire Chief Jim Smith, Executive Services Director, John Swanson, and the members of my senior staff: they took over most of the work of “Fire Chief,” and allowed me to attend this academy. I cannot thank them enough for giving me the precious gift of “opportunity!”

I also want to profoundly thank Chief Keith Morehead, Captain Jerry Deno, Training Officer Clarence “Hawk” Hawkins, and Lead Instructor Bernie Vrona. These 4 men were our instructors at the academy, and their experience, judgment, attitude, and sacrifice are truly outstanding. I don’t know when they found time to eat, sleep, prepare all the logistical details, or find the time to relax with their families. They pushed us hard....but they pushed themselves even harder. True leaders to a man, they ran, crawled, sucked air, and got dirty, wet, and frozen right alongside all of us. I admire their dedication and passion for teaching us the skills to save lives and keep ourselves safe.

I know members of this class who worked out 3 times a day on top of studying and raising families. I felt really sorry for my classmates and my instructors who had families – some have infants and toddlers at home, and I know the wives picked up much of the workload while Dad was studying....or working out....or crashing from exhaustion onto the couch at night. The last 13 weeks have been tough on recruits, instructors, and families.

My son Jack provided a vivid reminder of the sacrifices made by families of firefighters just last week. Jack’s 12th birthday is today. Happy Birthday, Jack! Jack said to me last Sunday, “Only 5 more days!” Thinking he was excited about his upcoming birthday, I said, “Yeah, only 5 more days until your birthday, huh?” And then he WHAMMED me – as only a loved one can WHAM you right in the heart.....”No, only 5 days until I get my Dad back again.” OUCH....a vivid reminder that Families Also Serve.

In a few minutes we’ll take an oath of office – the Firefighter’s Oath” – to sacrifice....We take that oath knowing that we are also committing our families to the long hours, the illnesses we’ll bring home, and the uncertainly of what the pager and the radio might bring us.

Yes, I will always remember the spouses, the mothers and fathers and children. who are taking the oath with us today. I will always remember that Families Also Serve. I want to specifically thank the families of the Class of 2010 and all of the Saint Paul Firefighters and Police Officers for their enduring service to the department and the citizens of Saint Paul. Thank you, family members! (Lead the applause).

Finally to the class of 2010:

THANK YOU most profoundly for making me a part of your special class. You made me feel young and strong and part of something incredibly special. I am so very proud of you!

At the Saint Paul Fire Academy, you survived tough, demanding physical training; you overcame academic challenges; you grew stronger hearts and a bold spirit, and now you are at the end of those 13 weeks of training....yet at the beginning of your real learning experience “out in the field.”

Like the men of 1855 – those first firemen in Saint Paul – you were chosen for your physical strength, your mental toughness, and your willingness to serve others. And I know that over next several decades of your service, you too will become renowned for your extreme bravery, your compassion for others, and your devotion to the citizens of Saint Paul and to our Fire Department Family.

Our family: Sometimes we’re set in our ways......often opinionated..... We’re tough and aggressive because we have to be; and we’re compassionate and gentle cause we need to be. Welcome to our strong, proud, family!

Welcome also to the noble profession of being a public service. Please don’t ever forget that you are public servants first – foremost – always!

The words “public” and “service” come from the Latin words for “people” and “slave” – remember you are literally “slaves to the people” and you don’t work for yourself, but for others. Look first to satisfy the needs of the citizens in all situations and at all times. You will know the sacred trust that people put in you as you enter their homes, treat their loved ones, save their treasured possessions, restore their sense of dignity and security, and safeguard the mementos and memories of their life. Never forget the trust that people will place in you......and never betray it. As Chief Appleton so aptly put it: “There’s a name on the back of your jackets. That name MEANS something. Don’t ever do anything to discredit that name!”

Now that’s a tall, tall order, and I know we didn’t cover all of that over the last 13 weeks. So remember my 6 Standing Orders to you: the 6 rules to be followed at all times and in all situations. They are your Golden Trump card – to be played anytime you are in doubt. Know too, that I invest you with full authority to carry out each of these duties:

Always – always – look at yourselves and evaluate your actions and those of the firefighters around you through the eyes of the citizens. They are the final arbitrators about whether or not our actions are appropriate and the quality of our services.

Be problem solvers in the community. You are the pointed end of the spear, you’re where the rubber meets the road. Take your skills, your training, and your truck full of equipment and bring value to the citizen everyday, not just they day they have a fire or a medical emergency.

Make your station a safe haven in the neighborhood. Our stations have been an established part of city streets and neighborhoods for decades and decades. Be open to your “neighbors” – welcome them into the public areas of the stations and help them with whatever question or problem they are wrestling with today. Let them see your station as the neighborhood clearinghouse for help, advice, and safe company.

Be courageous – physically and morally. You’re not afraid to charge in and attack a fire. Use the same courage and bold action to step in to dispel a rumor, resolve differences, correct a wrong, and bring peace and justice in your work areas, your stations, and your neighborhoods. Challenge convention – and push to implement the lessons learned from other departments in the American Fire Service.

Don’t just deliver a service, build a relationship. The relationships you’ll create are what make us “the good guys.” Remember that name on the back of your jackets!

Take ground and lead the transformation. Use the resources and training you’ve been given, your unique perspectives, and your initiative and creativity to solve problems and change the way we deliver our services.

Today you bless this department with your unique talents and skills. Your strength on the streets will help us make strategic operational changes that our department has looked forward to for the last 20 years for. You bring a fresh perspective and a fresh attitude – don’t lose those precious commodities! It took a long time to get you here.....but I am so incredibly happy that you are! Congratulations, class of 2010! Welcome to the Department and to the rank of Firefighter!

After the ceremony I had a chance to visit with my family, and the families of my classmates. I was so happy for the families who had ALSO waited years to have their son or brother or husband “called up” to serve as a Saint Paul firefighter. Well, their long wait was over, and now their sacrifice would begin in earnest. They were happy and proud, and I hope they will always remain that way!

I left the party at the very end, and my family went out to celebrate Jack’s birthday. Later, Sue and my oldest daughter, Emily, and I slipped out of the house and attended the graduation party at O’Gara’s in Saint Paul. My classmates and instructors all were there, along with many adult family members. It was good to see them all together one last time before we “split up” to the various shifts and assignments at stations around the City. It was good to feel the camaraderie, youth, and strength one more time….those are three of the things I will always feel when I think of this class – three things I will always hold precious when I see them as FIREFIGHTERS on the streets of Saint Paul!

To Andy, Marcus, Larry, Matt B., Matt H., Colin, Kyle, Tyler, Frank, Bernie, Tony, Stefan, Brian L., Brian M., Chuck, Mike, Dane, Joe, Justin, and Adam: your academy experience has ended, but your real journey is just beginning…..I cannot wait to see how far you will go in the upcoming years!!! Thank you for making me part of something special, for being such superb classmates, and for making me feel young and strong again! I wish you the very best of luck in your careers and your future endeavors!



February 2, 2010:

Today was – for me – the final day of the academy. Today’s final written exam would be the final hurdle. I would skip the tour of the dispatch center this afternoon, having directed a similar center in Saint Paul for 14 years. I still visit the Emergency Communications Center (ECC) and know many of the employees there. I elected instead, to skip the tour of the ECC and go back to the office this afternoon and catch up on things there.

The Final Written Test consisted of 130 questions: 80 Firefighter II level questions from the textbook and 50 questions about the Department’s SOPs. All 21 members of the class passed, so ALL of us will graduate on Friday!! YES!! We did it together and without losing anyone along the way!!!

In the early afternoon we traveled to Fire Station 23 to clean and hang the fire hoses we had used during training, and to conduct practical training on shutting down a fire sprinkler by driving a wooden wedge into the sprinkler head while water poured out of the sprinkler system. It was a wild, wet afternoon, as all of us climbed the step ladder, stood under the gushing water, and reached up to feel for the sprinkler head, orient the wooden wedge into the sprinkler housing, and push and hammer the wedge in place to slow…and then stop….the water flow!

Soaking wet, we peeled off our turnout gear, separated outer shells from liners, and hauled ourgear back to the Training Center, where the gear would be washed and dried over the next couple of days.

My classmates climbed into the vans for the trip to the ECC, and I headed to the office. We’d be reunited on Friday at graduation.



February 1, 2010:

They turned the schedule around on us again today….the Fourth Quarter Practical – originally scheduled for tomorrow – is being held later TODAY! My stomach started churning in anticipation of that “last biggest” hurdle as Mr. Vrona began the morning lecture……

Mr. Vrona had attended a presentation by Mr. David Dodson this weekend on the art of “Reading Smoke.” Reading smoke is about predicting where the fire will be burning NEXT based on the smoke’s color, volume, turbulence, and other characteristics. Mr. Dodson is a 25 year fire service veteran and nationally-recognized expert on the fire service, structural firefighting, and building size up.

Mr. Vrona recapped some of the surprising new information coming from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) regarding the chemical composition of the smoke generated by burning building materials and contents. The smoke that firefighters are exposed to is DEADLY and FUEL LADEN! NIST analyzed the chemical composition of the smoke produced in typical “room and contents” fires – fires burning in the wood frame construction found in the typical home, and the materials used to furnish and decorate most households. The number one chemical found IN THE SMOKE was #2 Fuel Oil! Smoke really is fuel! The Dodson lecture tied the NIST results with flashover and fire growth statistics, surmising that the fuel oil content in smoke may account for the reason that there’s been a 38% increase in firefighters being caught in flashover conditions, and the reasons that fires are now doubling in size every few seconds instead of every few minutes.

Paychecks, city maps, and Chief Morehead’s “Firehouse Recipe Book” were also passed out this morning – the last two items were in preparation for our first couple of days on the job “out in the field.”

I had to leave training this morning to attend a meeting downtown, and upon my return I found that I was the last one who needed to take the Fourth Quarter Practical Exam, and the second-to-the-last guy was taking it when I arrived back at training! A surge of adrenaline pumped through me as I quickly donned my turnouts and air pack and hustled out to the base of the drill tower. Standing at the rear bumper of the engine – the “starting line” for the Practical – I was literally shaking with nervous energy. THIS is the test I had been dreading! In my mind, THIS was the “final exam”….the final hurdle to be overcome…..the remaining big obstacle between me and graduation! By comparison (in my mind), the final written exam would be a breeze….

I had completed one practice run through of this exam last Tuesday in 7 minute, 38 seconds. Maximum allowable time was 8 minutes….not a lot of time to mess around with a bungled knot, redo cross threaded couplings, or fumble with donning the mask….The words that I dreaded seemed to come in slow motion from Captain Deno’s mouth as he poised next to me with the stopwatch….”Anytime you’re ready; your time starts when your hand touches the hose…..”

My hand touched the hose! I sped towards the hydrant with the four inch hose and hydrant wrench….made the connection smoothly….turned on the hydrant 10 full turns….turned on the main valve of my air tank as I quickly walked to the ladder….raised and lowered the ladder….donned my face piece and went on air….carried the hose bundle to the third floor of the tower….connected the gated “Y” and high rise bundle to the standpipe….picked up the box fan and fast-walked to the fifth floor…..plugged in and turned on the fan….hauled the icy bundle of hose up the side of the building with the rope – from the ground to the fifth floor window and back down to the ground again…ran down the stairs to the third floor….picked up the hose bundle and ran down to the ground level….dropped the bundle and scooted over to the pike pole and rope….the rope was like an ice-coated eel in my gloved hands, but I managed to quickly tie a clove hitch, safety knot, and two half hitches around the pike and ready it for lifting….and then I stepped over to the Keiser Sled, picked up the sledgehammer, and sucked in a big breath of air before starting the final station of the exam: driving that heavy steel sled for five lung-busting, forearm-killing, hand-numbing, heart-breaking feet to finish line!!!!!!!!

I drove the Keiser sled the five feet and was sucking hard on the air tank when Captain Deno shouted “STOP!!!!” I let go of the hammer, and both the hammer and I stood swaying in mid-air as I straddled the Keiser machine and waited for the verdict....I had done well....let’s see what the official results indicated...... The air was silent as Captain Deno approached me with the stopwatch held to my eye level so I could see my results….6 minutes, 33 seconds!!!!!!! YES!!

I never would have thought it was possible for me to shave off a minute from my previous time! I had passed, and with a very respectable time! Later, while taking off my turnout gear I heard that ALL of us had passed the Final Practical! All 21 of us….poised for the final hurdle tomorrow….the final written exam…..but it could not be as challenging to me as today’s test! I went home happy and relieved!

That happiness and relief lasted about 2 hours….

I was called to a two-alarm fire on Sloan Avenue in the early evening. The fire in a two-story, 8-unit apartment building claimed the life of a 49 year old man. Saint Paul Firefighters did a tremendous job of stopping the fire in the apartment of origin, safely evacuating all remaining residents, and saving the other seven units in the building. But seeing the grieving family members gathered in the parking garage stole any sense of satisfaction at doing a good job “on the fire.” My sincere condolences go out to Mr. Yang’s family and friends, and to all who have suffered the tragedy of losing a loved one as a result of fire.

I arrived home from Sloan Avenue in time for the 10:00 PM news, but I chose not to watch it. Why watch the TV reports when you’ve see the tragedy and sadness first hand? My triumph from this afternoon’s test had vanished…my focus on the academy paling against the reality of life in the real world of blacken apartment rooms and sobbing families….

I skipped studying tonight, trading test preparation time for sleep, and climbed into bed tired, cold, and sad.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010


January 29, 2010

I am crawling fast – SCOOTING, actually – doing a narrow hallway. Opening off to my left and right were vacant offices with carpeted floors and a single window in each room. My classmate, Bernie, was searching the rooms to the right; I took the rooms to the left. Our Search Team Leader and classmate, Andy, was moving quickly down the hall with us, trailing a rope tether behind us as we went. The rope was tied off to the railing at the top of stairway of the second floor - the floor we were searching…..looking for reported victims.

Below us, our attack crews were fighting a fire in the warehouse area of the 2 story commercial structure that we were searching. The building was abandoned, but formerly contained the warehouse on the ground floor, and the office spaces above. Light smoke filled the hallways and rooms of our second floor search area. Visibility was good….8-10 feet or so, and we were moving fast down the hallway. My helmet-mounted flashlight lanced through the smoke, diffusing from a narrow spotlight beam into a scattered flood of light that seemed to be pushed back – and pushed apart – by the smoke….. exactly like a car’s headlight vainly attempting to pierce a fogbank. At each doorway, I’d stick my upper body into the door, shine the flashlight beam around the room, and call to Andy: “CLEAR!”….no one inside that room. I scooted down the hallway, pushing my Halligan Bar ahead of me in my right hand, as I reached out to the next doorway on the left. The only rooms I really needed to fully enter were the bathrooms at the far end of the hall….I wanted to ensure no one was in any of the stalls….

Andy, Bernie, and I are part of a larger exercise – again at a vacant structure at the Rock-Tenn Corporation in Saint Paul. This large industrial complex recycles cardboard and manufactures card stock and paper products. The building they have loaned us for our training exercises is a perfect structure for our use: a mix of offices, warehouse spaces, kitchen and meeting rooms, and utility rooms and loading docks. We conducted a total of 5 evolutions at this facility this week, conducting live burns, search and rescue evolutions, and simulating rooftop ventilation using an aerial ladder truck. The training was realistic, yet controlled; safe, yet challenging. For me, it was highly enjoyable as well….I had a BLAST!

Today was the last day of Week 12. We have only one week to go….”4 days and a wake up,” as we used to say in the service. 4 more days of training, and we wake up on Day 5 for graduation and a joyful release from the classroom and the academy! All of us are anxious to finish and “hit the streets,” and the Training Division staff recognizes perhaps the most dangerous part of our training: the time where we’re anticipating completion and focused on “being done,” yet there are important lessons for us yet to learn. We’re confident and cocky….yet we are not experienced enough to avoid a deadly mistake. Chief Morehead used a barnyard analogy to describe our eagerness to be done: “The horses are out of the stable”….or “the pigs are out of the barn,” or something like that….in other words, it’s almost impossible to get our attention and keep us all herded together in the final weeks of the academy. But the Training Staff manages somehow – just barely at times – to keep control over us, and we know we still have two huge hurdles to clear in Week 13: the final, all-inclusive written exam, and the Fourth Quarter Practical!

There were four of us working on the search team, working the second floor hallways and offices. As I low-crawled down the carpeted hallway – flashlight beam lancing out to the rear end of my partner as he crawled down the hallway just in front of me – I thought it looked just like a hotel: rooms opening off both sides of a carpeted hallway, except these rooms were empty offices measuring about 10 feet by 10 feet. “Command” (the Incident Commander, who was managing this incident) had assigned our 4-man team to search for victims on the second floor office area.

We broke into two teams of two to quickly cover the hallway and office area, thinking we’d move onto the cafeteria and meeting room areas when we were done with the offices. My partner and I took the left side of the hallway, and the other two member of our search team took the right side rooms. We opened the door to each room, I went to the right in a right-handed search, and my partner went to the left in a left-handed search. He had an axe, and I used a six-foot pike pole to extend our reach into the smoky darkness. Stretched out, we could cover the room with a single “sweep,” and we quickly made our way through the three offices on the left. Just as we dove into the smoke for the last office, our teammates in the right hand rooms yelled out, “We got a victim!” We finished off our room search, met our brothers in the hallway, and the four of us worked to maneuver the victim down the hallway and the stairway using brute strength, our “Morehead Straps,” and some finesse to work through the doorway at the top of the stairs. We carried the victim out the front door, then were reassigned to search an area on the first floor…..we adjusted our gear, checked our air supply (over 2/3 full – GOOD!), and went back into the structure…..

The smoke was lighter down here, we could duck walk through the larger rooms…..THERE – in the corner of the kitchen area!! Two victims! We quickly grabbed them under the arms and moved back towards the front door. They slid easily on the linoleum floor! We quickly had them outside into the snow and slush of the cold winter day. It was a most satisfying afternoon!

This weekend I would relax and spend some time with my son, Jack. He’ll turn 12 on February 5 – Graduation Day for us, but a big day for him as well. I’ll likely have to cut short the graduation party in the evening to spend Jack’s birthday with him in a special way. Last night he had told me, “Just one more week!” I thought he was referring to his birthday, and said, “Yeah, one more week until your birthday!” He said, “No, one more week until I get my Dad back!” OUCH! This academy has been quite a time commitment for all of us – recruits, instructors, and families - and I’ve heard many of my classmates talk about the time they’ve devoted to studying, working out, or crashing on the couch after a hard day in the brisk winter air. All of us realize that a critical factor to success at the academy is this: You have to make it a full-time commitment!

I’ve been able to manage by having a great staff back “in the office” that has taken much of the Chief’s workload for me, and a great “Commissioner” (i.e., wife) at home, who understood and supported the commitment right from the start. But the academy has been a drain on all of us recruits and our families (and the instructors and their families), and we’re all looking forward to graduation day! Four more days, two final exams, and it’ll be all over, Jack, and then you can get your Dad back again!

I’d like to thank all the families who have instructors or recruits involved in our academy! You all – like the families of our front line brothers and sisters in the firefighting service – also sacrifice and serve alongside us. You make our commitment possible, and you bear much of the burden of managing a home and raising children “solo” because of our firefighting jobs. God Bless you all for your support to us and your enduring service to our community as well! I will never forget that FAMILIES ALSO SERVE!!



January 28, 2010:

About half the class took the Minnesota State Firefighter II certification test today. This test is one of the final remaining tests for our recruit academy, yet another reminder that “we’re not done yet.” Failure could still result in dismissal from the academy. Man, that would stink to flunk out now!” But, we’ve heard stories of guys that “washed out” on the final day of class, or the next to the last day in the past…..NONE of us want to be “that guy!”

The Firefighter II test combined a 100 point written test and a 4-part practical exam. The practical test consisted of power tool use and maintenance, auto extrication, conducting a pre-fire survey of a building, and writing a report of a simulated structure fire in a vacant building. The practical portion was relatively “easy,” and all of us passed. We are still awaiting the results of the written portion, which was challenging and covered nearly the entire 37 chapter textbook.

The test took the entire morning. After lunch, we retuned to the donated structure at Rock-Tenn and conducted search and rescue exercises and live fire training. We walked through the building before the sessions began as part of an orientation for safety purposes. Man, was that building a maze of rooms! Meeting rooms, cafeterias, crawlspaces, warehouse floors, paint booths, office cubicles, and hallways. Quite frankly, I was “all turned around” before they even put the smoke into the building! Once again (for the hundredth time at least) I marveled at the incredible work that we expect our firefighters to do while conducting searches in these complex buildings. I have been in other buildings on the Rock-Tenn campus – far more complex and confusing than this one – and there is seemingly NO WAY that you could find someone in amongst all the twists, turns, nooks, and crannies…..yet, our brothers and sisters enter those buildings, conduct those searches, find the victims, and – most of the time – find their way back outside safely. Today’s practice would help us build skills to do these searches quickly, effectively, and safely. The donated Rock-Tenn building was a complex building, and would require both large-scale search techniques and small room/hallway techniques. I was really looking forward to searching in this realistic setting!

The class split into two groups, and the group I was in had the opportunity to be the back up attack line and the “safety line crew / light off team.” The first evolution – where we were assigned the back up attack line – also turned into a search and rescue operation for three of us (we had 5 in my group), because while the nozzle man and back up stayed with the hose line, 3 of us broke off to help search large areas of the first floor. Smoke was light in the areas we searched, and we were able to duck-walk or move in a stooped posture to quickly cover the area. We searched fast and covered the rooms visually for the most part, our flashlight beams easily penetrating the dark interior of the building and the light smoke haze. We found and rescued a “hose dummy victim” from underneath a countertop/sink in a corner of a first floor room.

For the second evolution, my classmates Andy and Bernie, myself, and Captain Deno entered the structure to build a fire for the attack teams, and then we crouched nearby to watch the fire build, the smoke “layer,” and the attack teams come in for extinguishment. I love these opportunities to watch fire behavior “up close!” They really are a great opportunity to see how the smoke moves towards the fire as it’s building, and away from the fire once ventilation is started. Experiencing the sights and sounds of a fire burning close by, feeling the heat build up on your shoulders, legs, neck (through our hoods, of course), and through our gloved hands really gives us a great sense of how fire behaves, how interior conditions change, and how protective our personal protective equipment really is. Captain Deno kept up a nearly uninterrupted monologue, pointing out various observations of the fire, smoke, and heat, and drawing our attention to various hazards – like the light fixtures that came crashing down around the attack team as they brought the fire under control – and the point at which the plastic light switch covers melted in the extreme heat.

It was a rewarding and enjoyable day, and the hands-on training was a great adjunct to our classroom learning. I left the training center tired, happy, and ready for the week to be over….Week 12….one more day and Week 12 will be history!



January 27, 2010:

In much of our training, we’ve discussed the importance of “situational awareness:" knowing what’s going on around you, monitoring the changing conditions of a burning building, “reading the smoke” to determine what is happening and what will likely happen next, knowing where your teammates are, anticipating the needs of an incident, and formulating action plans for a variety of emergency situations. Today, however, we focused on individual firefighter “needs” and maintaining an awareness of what’s going on inside our heads and our bodies, and how to seek help for situations that impact our health, emotions, and wellbeing. I've called it "a mental size up" in other correspondence: mentally assessing yourself and asking, "how am I really doing?"

Class lectures and guest speakers today helped us make those "mental size ups," and provided us some great resources for making a personal action plan to address the mental, emotional, and physical challenges we'll face as Firefighters. We received information on the Employee Assistance Program, the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing process, Nutrition, and MAYDAY procedures.

The sessions about Employee Assistance Program (EAP) were very helpful. I did not know that our HealthPartners EAP provided financial and legal assistance to firefighters as well as the more traditional help with emotional/social/communications issues. I also never realized that EAP provides assistance to spouses and family members as well. The EAP counselors who came to talk to our class were very informative and helpful.

There is no doubt that Firefighters are exposed to some very graphic and tragic incidents, and they are called to help people who are suffering the most devastating traumas of life: death of a loving spouse, suicide, rape, child abuse, violent crime, tragic accidents, and other events that occur on a frequent basis. Individual incidents can have a haunting and lasting impact on a Firefighter’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Even less graphic incidents can “build up” emotional stress for emergency responders – stress is often both cumulative and chronic in nature. Several guest speakers gave our class some personal insights into critical incidents and the resulting emotional stress those incidents continue to have on their lives. We discussed the defusing and peer counseling services available from the Metro Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team.

We also discussed the importance of exercise and healthy nutrition. Throughout this academy we’ve been shown the importance of physical training, but up until now we haven’t discussed the nutrition side too much. Today a Dietician from HealthPartners, Julie, came in and discussed the new federal nutritional guidelines. Check them out at

Julie’s presentation was very informative and interesting, and matched many of the discoveries I had made “on my own” during my recent experience with dieting and “calorie counting.” I did not find it surprising, for example, to learn that it takes about 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to help prevent chronic disease, 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise to maintain a healthy body weight, and 60-90 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day to lose weight. Julie discussed ways to quickly assess 100 calorie portions, how to chose healthier foods, and dietary approaches to stop hypertension.

Captain Deno presented a lecture of “MAYDAY” procedures: emergency radio messages we send if we’re lost, disoriented, low on air, trapped, can’t find our way out of a building, and other life-threatening emergencies. We discussed both the situations that should prompt us to call a MAYDAY, and the radio format for making such a call. One format follows the acronym U-CAN! First, identify YOU – who you are and what fire company you’re assigned to. C – CONDITION – what is prompting the MAYDAY situation? (I’m on the third floor in the hallway and have been trapped by a falling ceiling; my legs are pinned and I can’t get free). A – ACTION – what am I doing to alleviate the situation myself? (I’m turning on my PASS device, shining my flashlight on the ceiling, and thumping on the floor with my axe). (These, by the way, are all actions taken so that the Rapid Intervention Team can more quickly find the trapped firefighter). Finally, N- NEEDS - what do you need from the other firefighters so they can help you?

After a quick lunch, we were visited by the A-Shift Deputy Chief, Dennis Appleton. Chief Appleton spoke about teamwork, the importance of making a good first impression “on the streets,” LISTENING to experienced veterans, and remembering “what you learned from the book.” He told us to be humble, and to remember that citizens and other firefighters will be judging us – and our department – by our actions. He put it quite eloquently: “You have a name on the back of your jacket. That name MEANS something – don’t do anything to discredit that name!”

The rest of the day was spent on preparing for and reviewing material in preparation for tomorrow’s State Firefighter II certification test. About half the class has taken it already; about half the class will take it tomorrow. The state test includes both a practical portion and a written exam; they make up two of our academy’s four remaining examinations. I’m really not “sweating” the State certification test too much. I’ve studied every chapter in the book at least twice, and the practical portions have been thoroughly reviewed and tested in our academy training already. I’ll go for a good night’s and a final “brush up” of the textbook in the morning....


Saturday, January 30, 2010


Tuesday, January 26, 2010:

Today’s morning classes consisted of a field trip to Sprinkler Fitter Local #417’s Apprentice Training Center in northeast Minneapolis for a lecture and hands-on demonstration of fire sprinkler and alarm systems. The instructor was Mrs. Angie Wiese, Fire Protection Engineer and Public Information Officer for the Saint Paul Department of Safety and Inspection (DSI). She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and is a certified Professional Engineer. She’s very talented, and is the daughter of a Saint Paul Fire Captain at Station 5.

Angie made the class cookies and brought in candy for our class, so everyone enjoyed the already good lecture on an important subject for firefighters. We go on MANY “alarm sounding” calls, and have to be familiar with alarm systems, how to reset them, how to investigate the reason they are sounding, and how to operate the various components of a fire sprinkler system in order to control fires and minimize water damage from activated sprinkler systems.

Angie’s lecture was followed by a hands-on demonstration of the various sprinkler system components located in the adjacent “laboratory” used to train and certify Sprinkler Fitters. That portion of the program was presented by Tom Froyum, a Fire Inspector with DSI and a former Sprinkler Fitter.

We returned from the Sprinkler Fitter Apprentice Training Center in time for lunch, and then received a visit from another of the Department’s Deputy Chiefs – this time Chief Dave Galbraith from the “C Shift.” Dave is an old Coast Guardsman like me, and he served on small boats and stations in Maine. He is a gifted leader and a wonderful story teller….I settled in for what I knew would be a good “yarn” as he began his presentation with a quick summary of the Wizard of Oz. He asked the class (with a quick little smile) if we all were familiar with the story of the Wizard of Oz, and after hearing that – of course - we were, he said, “Good! That’ll shave about 2 ½ hours off today’s lecture!”

Chief Galbraith used the story of Oz to reinforce the three virtues he felt were critical to being a good Firefighter: Courage, Heart, and Brains – the three attributes sought by Dorothy and the gang. About “Courage” he had this to say (quoting an unnamed source): “It’s easy to be brave at a safe distance.” He reminded us that courage was not defined as ignoring your fear, but controlling it.

Regarding “Heart,” he talked about the passion of being a public servant….of treating people and especially medical patients with compassion and caring. He even said that HOW you people is more important than the actual treatment you provide. Dave is a long-standing paramedic with our Department and knows about how to “serve with Heart.” He also provided a quote from Albert Schweitzer that was most appropriate for the soon-to-be public servants in the recruit class (staring down the road at a – hopefully - long and successful career): “One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

For the “Brains” part of the story, Chief Galbraith spoke about the importance of not just applying “muscle” to solve a problem, but to THINK, PLAN AHEAD, and take care of yourself mentally. He reinforced some of the resources available from the Employee Assistance Program and the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team. Then, after a short meeting with the recruit class’s “C-Shifters,” Chief Galbraith returned to the Deputy Chief’s office, and we turned our attention to the remaining activities of the afternoon: EMS Practical “exams” with Chief Keith Morehead, and the first practice session for the Fourth Quarter (and final!) Practical Exam.

The EMS Practical Exam was not a scored test, but a mentoring session provided by one of the great EMS mentors in our Department. Chief Morehead worked on a number of medic rigs during his career and is well respected as a Firefighter, Paramedic, and Chief Officer. His time on Medic / Engine 17 was spent providing devoted service to the north East Side and in mentoring fledgling paramedics on this Department. Keith is a Registered Nurse, and has worked in the hospital environment for years as well. Suffice it to say that he knows how to treat people when they are hurt, scared, sick, and frustrated with the bureaucracy that can be found in the health care industry.

The EMS Practical Exam was set up for Chief Morehead to “mentor” us in a few of the more common and critical aspects of being an EMT / Firefighter on our Department. He constantly stressed compassionate care of the patient and superb customer service. During his 90 minute exam, he ran us through the rigors of collecting vital signs, spiking IV bags, 12-lead EKG placement, use of our hydraulic stretchers, and packaging patients for transport. It was a great mentoring session with a great instructor!

The final “event” of the day was a practice session for the academy’s fourth and final Practical Exam. This exam is another timed evolution that contains a number of fireground functions, critical pass-fail elements, a minimum passing score, and a maximum time allotment. Introduced today, we’ll take the “final” next Tuesday, and already my stomach is churning in anxiety. That has been a typical reaction, by the way, for all of these practical exams….the exams give me and many of my classmates butterflies, churning, anxiety, or….whatever you call it. We all know that failure is NOT an option, and - to various degrees - most of us start worrying about how well we do as soon as we find out we’ll be facing another exam….

The practical tests are tough, and they require strength, muscular stamina, and fine motor skills. The MIXTURE of fine motor skill elements (tying a specific knot for hoisting a tool, plugging in a ventilation fan, or screwing a gated Y valve to a standpipe) thrown in right after a major muscle movement item (running a hose bundle up the stairs, hoisting a hose bundle, back-laying 4” hose to a hydrant, etc) is what KILLS you. You get done with “the big stuff” (major muscle event), and when you’re all shaking and wobbly from exhaustion, they WHAM you with a fine motor skill activity! Tie a clove hitch, safety knot and two half-hitches around a pike pole???!!! I’m sucking air so badly that I can’t event SEE the pike pole!! I exaggerate a little here….but only a little. I can SEE the pike pole, but making my frozen, oxygen-starved, shaky fingers TIE the required knots with icy, stiff firefighter gloves on IS a quite challenge. But hey, it’s not SUPPOSED to be easy….it’s supposed to be firefighting!

Here’s an overview of the Final Practical Exam:

• Back lay 100’ of 4” supply line to a hydrant, make the hydrant connection, and open the hydrant (10 full turns of the hydrant wrench)

• Raise and lower the fly of a 24’ extension ladder, then donn your facepiece and go “on air” (no skin showing, or you FAIL THE EXAM)

• Carry a 70 pound hose bundle to the third floor, connect a gated Y to the standpipe, and turn on the water

• Carry a 50 pound fan from the 3rd floor landing to the fifth floor, plug in the fan and turn it on

• Hoist a 70 pound hose bundle to the 5th floor window and lower it back to the ground

• Run down to the 3rd floor, pick up the hose bundle, and carry it down to the ground floor

• Tie a clove hitch, safety knot, and two half-hitches onto a pike pole for hoisting

• Drive the Keiser sled 5 feet using an 8 pound sledgehammer (30 – 50 WHACKS that drain all energy from your forearms, all blood from your fingers, and all breath from your lungs)

• Do all of this in less than 8 minutes, and without any major mistakes. Quitting or intentionally skipping any station results in an AUTOMATIC FAILURE.

When I finished the practice test today, I couldn’t grip anything with my hands. It was a cold 12 degrees and the Keiser is a BEAST on the forearms. I met the time standard, so I “passed,” but I had forgotten the hose bundle on the 3rd floor landing! I ran right past it and out the front door of the tower. Later, I looked at my heart rate monitor and was shocked to see that my heart rate had spiked to 191 during the test….I thought my max heart rate was 185, and that was as high as it could go. Either I have a “new” max heart rate, or my monitor was acting up, but either way, I KNOW I got a very short but very intense workout during those 7 ½ minutes!

We are nearing the end…..The State Firefighter II exam is scheduled for Thursday, January 28th. The Final EMS Practical was held today…..the final written test and practical exam is a week from today…..then, graduation just a few days later. It has been a distinct pleasure going through this academy! Although I am looking forward to having it be OVER, I will regret going “back to the office” after graduation. My plan is to work a firefighter’s “work segment” once per quarter to continue my education of how our Department and its people operate. Four 24-hour days per quarter after graduation….I cannot wait!



Monday, January 25, 2010:

Today’s lecture started off with a free-wheeling discussion about some of the major considerations for conducting a search inside a large building. Up until now, our search and rescue evolutions had been confined to small buildings – the burn building, the Hennepin Tech trailer, and the Sherburne Avenue four-plex. Sherburne had been complex because of the small rooms, heavy compartmentation, and the thick smoke. Today’s search would be conducted in another donated structure: a 2-story commercial warehouse/office building at the Rock-Tenn corporation in Saint Paul.

Rock-Tenn is a cardboard recycling industrial complex that also produces paper and card stock products. I’ve been inside the production plant at a 2-alarm fire there in early 2008, and was amazed that ANYONE could find their way out of that structure! Catwalks, ladders, machinery, giant rolls of paper, and little offices tucked in little nooks and crannies seemingly wherever there was room between piping, elevators and hoists, forklifts, and boxes of both raw and finished products. It was a nightmare! The building WE were going to use today was far less complex, but still capable of posing some significant search challenges. Hugging the wall and doing a “right-hand” or “left-hand” search in the drill tower or burn building was one thing; sweeping across a large cafeteria or warehouse floor was quite another. How do you conduct a thorough search of a large area while still ensuring you can find your way back outside and all the while maintaining your orientation within the building and in relation to the rest of your crew? Well, that was the focus of today’s training.

The class and the instructors addressed some of the main concerns we had about large area searches, including: air management, radio traffic, maintaining orientation and crew integrity, lack of water supplies/long hose lays to the interior, apparatus staging, safety and accountability for firefighters, command organization, and firefighter judgment. This last item included self-awareness, monitoring your own mental and physical status, and realizing that in a smoke-filled room, you have incredibly limited perspective of what’s going on in the REST of the building. It was a sobering discussion after our experience at the Sherburne Avenue building last week, where an air management incident resulted in a true emergency where someone could have been seriously hurt.

We conducted an After Action Review of the Sherburne exercise today as well, and discussed air management; the importance of crew communications and maintaining physical/visual/audio contact with other members of a search team; the need for clear, concise, communications (we suffered from a lot of radio congestion on Friday); and the typical chaos that results on a fireground when 12-16 firefighters and multiple hose lines arrive at the scene of a fire and attempt to get through the front door and to the seat of the fire all at the same time. The resulting mess (technically known as a “cluster”) usually sorts itself out quickly, but not always. So, we critiqued the Sherburne Smokehouse evolutions to review what “went right” and what “we could do better on in the future”…..we’d need to apply some of the lessons learned to today’s larger, far more complex search situations.

We also received a visit by the “B-Shift” Deputy Chief today, Chief Mark Mueller. We operate 3 firefighting shifts here in St. Paul: A, B, and C-Shifts. The Deputy Chief is the senior fire officer on duty for each 24 hour shift. The Assistant Chief, Fire Chief, and division heads are on 40-hour schedules, and on call 24/7 for major incidents – both on and off the fireground.

Chief Mueller talked about the safety enhancements that have been made to the firefighting profession during his 30 year career. He also highlighted the fact that we lose over 100 firefighters a year nationally to fatal accidents and on duty medical emergencies. In spite of the advancements, it’s a dangerous job. The Chief also spoke about the need for specialized and higher education and becoming a student of the position you aspire to hold for promotions. Finally, he talked about the firefighter schedule, and that it is not as healthy or attractive as it would first appear. There is a tremendous amount of stress on the individual and the family because of our long hours and busy workloads. I’m glad he pointed out that the schedule is tough on the spouses and the families, because I know first hand that “families also serve.”

We received a few additional tools today: wooden door wedges, sprinkler wedges, and door straps. The sprinkler wedges are for stopping the water flow from an activated sprinkler head, and the wedges and straps are for keeping a door open during searches. The wedge can be used under the door or on the hinge side to wedge the door open; the strap (a small rectangle of canvas with two elastic “ears” sewed on the side. One ear goes over each doorknob on a door, with the canvas over the door latch. The tension in the elastic ears holds the latch “in” and prevents the door from locking behind you in a search).

And finally, the afternoon session arrived, so we packed up the reserve engines and Police vans and headed to 127 Raymond Avenue to the donated Rock Tenn building. We split into teams and practiced our large area search techniques. In addition to maintaining contact with a wall and sweeping a tool towards the center of the room, we added a hose line and a rope “tag line” to the mix, using the hose and rope to extend our search across large warehouse areas. We managed to find several victims, including Fire Training Officer “Hawk” Hawkins, who was posing as both a victim and an evaluator of our procedures.

I must admit that when they finally told us to pull our masks off (we were searching with blacked out face masks), I was surprised to see how “big” the room was we were searching in. Where I thought we were coming through a wide hallway about 8 feet wide actually turned out to be about a 30’ x 20’ room. I guess that’s the result of my narrow perspective and still “hugging the wall!”

The second search seemed to go much better. Four of us were on a team searching the same 30’ x 20’ room using a hose line. We managed to work together pretty well, and pulled the hose down the right-hand wall to the corner, then ACROSS the room using the entire length of the hose, with our team spread out a few feet apart. We found Hawk, although I think I jabbed him with the pike pole I was using to maintain my contact with the wall.

On the third search, I was with several classmates in the upstairs office area, searching empty offices (no furniture) for “hose dummy victims.” We found one, and the team safely brought the “victim” down the stairs and out the front door.

Key lessons learned (for me) today:

• It’s important to remain calm and relaxed as much as possible in order to conserve breathing air. Checking your remaining air level and communicating your status to the team leader is critical. Ideally, the team enters and leaves together, and if you’re the one sucking down air like it’s an endless supply, your crewmates will have to stop searching and get out of the building with you when your low air alarm sounds. I have really worked at getting into good aerobic shape, so I had no problem with air USAGE…but the constant monitoring was a great exercise of personal awareness.

• Air usage can dramatically JUMP when you locate a victim and are extricating them from the building. Just because they were “hose dummies” today did NOT mean that the adrenaline flow wasn’t going full tilt after finding and rescuing a victim. To us, they were all “real” fire victims, and (of course) they always lived because of our prompt, heroic actions!

• Shouting to teammates in a large room with an air mask on only muffled the voice and prevented accurately hearing what was being said. Using the radio was a far better option, as the audio seemed to come across louder. Our department was blessed to have a radio for every firefighter now, thanks to a Federal Homeland Security Grant.

• Searching with a tool (in my case, a 6 foot pike pole) can dramatically extend your “reach” in a search. It also comes in handy in case you have to get out of the building in an emergency. Firefighters are taught “NEVER to get off the truck without a tool.” An ax, pike pole, or Halligan Bar can make a hole pretty rapidly in many interior walls and doors, or can help vent a window in an emergency. Hand tools: don’t do a search without one! It can be a pain trying to lug all the necessary equipment into a fire (hose line, hand tool, rope bag, etc), but I consider this to be a critical safety factor for any firefighter working inside a structure.

So, our first experience at large area searches went well today, and we were already looking forward to a return trip to Rock-Tenn for some controlled burns and further searches later in the week. I felt really satisfied – I was gaining confidence in my gear, my physical conditioning, and the teamwork of my classmates. We were “shaping up” nicely, I thought, and all eager to start applying our new-found skills and confidence “for real” out in the streets of Saint Paul.


Sunday, January 24, 2010


January 22, 2010:

This morning the class quickly hustled through a 65-question written test covering 5 textbook chapters and 17 Department SOPs. I aced the exam – my first perfect score on a written exam in over a month....

Following the exam, Father Dan Conlin, our Fire Department Chaplain (radio call sign, “Angel One”) presented a short introduction on his background, duties, and the support he provides to firefighters and their families. Father Conlin is a volunteer chaplain for the Department: he is not paid, and he provides chaplaincy services to us when he’s available from his “regular” job as a Catholic priest serving in the Archdiocese office of marriage services. He’s a wonderful humanitarian and a quiet, friendly man. Father Conlin stressed to our class the importance of serving humanity and remembering our own human nature: “We can only do our jobs well if we understand our humanity well.” I was impressed that Father monitors the fire radio system on a very frequent basis, and often joins the fire crews in the stations for a meal and quiet discussions.

After Father Conlin departed, our class changed into our PT gear and loaded up the reserve engines and Police vans with equipment for our practical evolutions: search and rescue practice at a “donated structure” on Sherburne Avenue in Saint Paul. The structure – donated by the HRA – was a two-story, wood frame “four-plex:” 2 apartments on the ground floor with a shared stairway between them leading the 2 more apartments upstairs. The building had a front porch (on Side A – the address side of the house) and a large balcony on the second floor on the back of the house (Side C). Chain link fences ran between the house and the adjacent properties on the side, leaving about 4-5 feet of clearance for laddering the second floor windows on Sides B and D (the “left” and “right” sides of the house, respectively). (Firefighters use this “Side A, B, C, and D designation to standardize geographical orientation of buildings in our mental maps of the property).

The class again divided into teams of 4, and assumed the roles of various fire crews operating on the scene: primary attack, back up attack, ventilation team, search and rescue team, and ignition/safety team. The building was vacant, with some scattered furnishings. The ignition team lit several smoldering fires in barrels inside the building, which produced a thick, brown glut of could not see more than a couple of feet inside the buildings. There were no “fires” to fight today; the primary goal was to practice quickly and efficiently getting off the vehicles, “flaking hose” (pulling it off the trucks and laying it out on the sidewalk and front yard so it doesn’t kink when it is charged with water) to make a quick entry into the house, and use the hose lines to assist in search orientation while inside the house (the hose can lead us back to the front door).

Teams repeatedly conducted searches inside the building, and practiced rescuing “hose dummies” from the building. (Hose dummies are humanoid figures constructed from old fire hose. They are the size and weight of an adult human, are more “lifelike” and flexible than plastic mannequins, and are less expensive than commercially available dummies or mannequins).

We ran four or five evolutions throughout the rest of the morning and afternoon (we had a short brown bag lunch at Station 18). The evolutions allowed us to gain additional experience and confidence, and gave us an opportunity to really practice “air management” – carefully monitoring our rate of breathing and the remaining air level in our tank. It is critical to begin exiting the building while you still have plenty of air in your tank – far too many firefighters have died or become injured because they waited too long before starting to exit, then got disoriented on the way out of the structure, and run out of air.

After the last evolution, Captain Deno brought all of us into the smoky structure and had us sit down in one of the large rooms. We couldn’t see beyond 4 feet or so due to the thick smoke. Then, Captain Deno opened a back door or window on the house, while Mr. Vrona started a gas-powered fan on the front porch. The fan created “positive pressure ventilation” – pushing air into the house, creating an over-pressurized situation. The smoke and fumes inside the building quickly found the exit opening on the back side of the house, and in just a minute or two the visibility inside the house improved dramatically. It was a graphic demonstration of the benefits of positive pressure ventilation!

The day was warm – about 34 degrees - and the melting snow and slush made footing treacherous around the vehicles. Wet gloves were a constant factor. Although each evolution was fairly short in duration, we reset the gear and “loaded hose” on the engines between each evolution, so it was a long day of training. After nearly 5 hours in our air packs, by lower back was aching, and I was ready for a warm shower and a short, 2-day weekend.

At the end of the day, we loaded up our gear and wearily climbed into the rigs for the short run back to the Training Center. We unloaded the gear and brought it inside so it wouldn’t freeze over the weekend. My classmates invited me to stop for some refreshments on the way home, but I wanted to give them their space and a chance to decompress without me. I opted for the solitude of the car and the short trip home to see “The Commissioner” and the rest of my family. Week 11 was over, and I was bushed.....Tomorrow (Saturday) I would join several members of the Department’s “Climb for a Cure” team, and climb 50 stories of stairs in the IDS tower in Minneapolis in preparation for a fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Tomorrow was just a practice climb or two; the actual “Climb” is scheduled for February 6th – the day after our academy class graduation.

That wraps up Week 11 of the Saint Paul Fire Academy! Just 9 training days left until graduation. In that short time we’ll have more live fire training, a final written test, the Fourth Quarter Practical Exam, and the Minnesota State Firefighter II written and practical tests. So, it’ll be an action-packed time over the next two weeks – much of it “on the farm” instead of in “Pair-ee,” but the end is in sight!

Thanks for joining me “on scene” at the Sherburne Avenue Smokehouse Evolutions!



January 21, 2010:

Today was an absolute BLAST! We enjoyed a field trip to the Dakota County Technical College campus in Rosemount, Minnesota to attend an Emergency Vehicle Operators Course. We arrived at Saint Paul Fire Training Center early, and fired up a few of the reserve fire engines from the fleet (after shoveling snow and ice from the rigs – we REALLY have to get a heated storage garage for this equipment. These reserve rigs sit outside in all seasons, yet we rely on them to replace our front line equipment when they have to go in to the shop for maintenance or repairs). The Fire Academy recruits and instructors drove quite a caravan for the trip to Rosemount: 3 old engines, a reserve ambulance, and two passenger vans we borrowed from our partners, the Saint Paul Police Department.

We bumped and rattled and shimmied our way to the college campus. Then we sat in a classroom for presentations about defensive driving techniques, handling characteristics of large vehicles, legal implications of using sirens and emergency lights, and the challenges of driving on ice and snow. The lead instructor was Harvey Biron, a former West Saint Paul Police Officer and supervisor, and the former Police Chief and EMS Director for Cannon Falls, MN. I had not met Harvey before, but we had mutual friends in public safety. Harvey is also well known by my sister’s family, who are all members of the Cannon Falls Rescue Service (EMS).

Following a short lunch (we took our old fire engine in to Rosemount for a Subway sandwich), we returned for the FUN part of the day: a series of emergency driving courses set up on the college grounds. Throughout the afternoon, my classmates and I took turns driving fire engines and ambulances through 4 different emergency driving scenarios (we did not use the Police van, out of respect for our brothers and sisters in blue!). The 4 scenarios were:

• The Serpentine Course: you drive the engine or ambulance down a straight road, weaving in between orange traffic cones. Object: don’t knock over the cones as you weave between them! It sounds easy, and it long as you’re going slowly enough. Each student had the opportunity to go through the course a half dozen times or so, gradually increasing the speed of the vehicle. The distance between the cones remained constant.

• The “Skid Pad” was a straight course followed by a quick dog-leg turn at the end. The surface of the pad was pure ice! A student would drive down the straight course and “hit the brakes” just before the dog-leg course. Students rotated between vehicles equipped with Antilock Braking Systems (ABS) and those without. The object was to experience the difference between the two braking systems. For those vehicles without ABS, students had the opportunity to practice “threshold braking” techniques: braking “hard” until just before the wheels locked up into a skid, then easing off the brakes momentarily to make the dogleg turn, then squeezing down on the brakes again until just before the wheels started to skid again.

• The Backing Course allowed students to practice backing rigs through a serpentine course and around a circular course. The object was to learn how to use the mirrors effectively and to judge the pivot point of the vehicle (the rear wheels! When the rear wheels reached the object you wanted to steer around, you turned the steering wheel to begin your turn).

• Finally, the Decision Course. Students approached a traffic light that indicated whether you needed to steer sharply to the left or right in order to avoid a simulated road obstacle. Again, students went through the course a number of times, increasing speed from about 20 mph to 35 mph. Decision making and reaction time were critical factors in avoiding the “obstacle.”

I was in a 1980’s fire engine formerly owned by the Inver Grove Heights Fire Department. I rode with Training Officer Clarence Hawkins. When I saw “Hawk” sitting in the rig ready to go, I thought to myself, “Well, if anyone would know how to make that rig fly, it would be Hawk.” He is the Department’s resident collector of fire department memorabilia, fire stream appliances, fire trucks, and other old antiques and collectibles. I could not pass up the chance to learn some tricks of the trade from him.

As I was driving around with Hawk, I reflected on how long it had been since I last drove a fire truck.....20 years ago in the Grand Lake Township VFD. It was fun to back in the driver’s seat, sitting up high, and cranking that big wheel around the sharp corners of the course! I think I only knocked over one cone all afternoon – on the glare ice of the dog-leg turn on the skid ABS on that old rig, and when the brakes lock up on the ice, the rig goes in a straight line!

Some of the key lessons learned during the afternoon:

• When avoiding an obstacle on the road (the cones, for instance), don’t look AT the cone, look BEYOND the cones to find the path that takes you AROUND the obstacle. Drivers tend to focus on a road obstacle. People to steer TOWARDS what they’re looking at, so they tend to hit what they focus on!

• Sometimes, “hitting the brakes” is NOT the best way to avoid an obstacle. STEERING is the key avoidance action, so take your foot off the gas, and STEER around the obstacle.....keep your foot off the brake.

• It is possible to slide sideways in a 1980 Ford E-One fire engine without tipping it over!

• A quarter turn of the steering wheel is all you need to avoid an obstacle in the road at 20-35 mph. Too many drivers “overcorrect,” by turning the wheel too violently, and end up getting into an accident anyway.

• When backing and turning, start turning the wheel when your back wheels reach the object you’re turning around (the back wheels are the pivot point of the turn).

At the end of the day we turned our rickety, rattling caravan north to head back to the Saint Paul Fire Training Center. Cold drizzle and sleet were raining down on us as we maneuvered through traffic on Highway 52, but the conversations recapped the “field trip” atmosphere that prevailed during this enjoyable, educational training day. Our conversations reflected our buoyant spirits in spite of the gloomy weather.

Week 11 was nearly over, and the week had included live fire training, ice water rescue, and “hot dogging” around in fire rigs and ambulances. Tomorrow promised additional “hands-on” evolutions in a donated building on Sherburne Avenue.......yep, this was definitely “Pair-ree,” and none of us would ever be content to be “back on the farm” now!!