Get ahead of the rumor mill with tight, predictable communication systems in your organization and with your team.
How well does communication happen within your organization? When I work with teams in the Fire Service, a common theme is that communication needs improvement. Working in HR, I noticed that every lawsuit, EEOC claim, mediation, conflict, grievance, general discomfort with a coworker, reason for leaving a job, etc. typically comes down to a communication moment gone wrong. This is something we can continuously work to improve because no one wants to spend their time (or money) embroiled in those conflicts. Let me emphasize this … all that drama came down to ONE communication moment gone wrong.
An article by Forbes cited that 70% of all organizational information comes through the grapevine. The less formal communication exist has a direct correlation to employees relying on the rumor mill. However, when it comes to who is sharing formal information, 74% said they would believe their supervisor even more than top leadership (who were only believed 42% of the time). It showed that without that link from their direct leader, staff members were much more likely to believe the rumor mill.
So let’s close the gap! Direct supervisors are the most trusted sources of information. So by having a solid way of passing information down the chain and backing it up with consistent communication vehicles is the key.
Imagine a leadership challenge such as budget cuts and even layoff of personnel. If something this serious is not handled well by senior leaders, there could be some real chaos in the field. I worked with a team who went through a layoff of 12 personnel. Leaders had to choose who would be laid off and a methodology to be used to deploy that layoff. Then they had to plan the day of the layoff and how to bring the remaining employees through it. It was critical to keep the planning meetings confidential (avoiding panic) and to create a communication plan that would notify everyone within a short window of time. We worked for weeks and the result was actually a smooth event. The solid messages allowed rumor mongers to be corrected.
For example, a rumor started that we were marching people out of the building with a security guard. That simply did not happen, and employees actually started correcting those spreading that rumor.
There are lots of details when it comes to a crisis like this but using the following method of curating your messages will help immensely. How? Here’s a good method based on the chocolate fountains we see at weddings (You know, where kids are sticking their fingers in the chocolate?). Picture the information, like the chocolate, cascading down the chain. If done well, the information will get to the bottom in an uninterrupted or edited fashion. Now if a finger makes its way into the flow of the fountain, we can see two flows… one unedited and one a rumor. By the time that chocolate makes it to the bottom, it can cause confusion and even toxicity in the message.
Tips to cascading communication well:
I’ve seen this work in times of crisis and also with routine messaging. The key is to be deliberate and proactive in your communication to defuse rumors, calm potential panic, and have reliable methods of delivery that are known and trusted by members. #crisiscommunication #bravefireleader #fireleader #firechief #fireleadership #firechieftraining #onlinefirechieftraining
Our sincere thanks to Kelly Walsh of www.bravefireleader.com for sharing these insightful and helpful Blog Posts with us!
We are honored to present a two-part blog post from our podcast guest, Kelly Walsh of BraveFireLeader.com.
"How we disseminate communication to our teams is crucial in times of Crisis and Everyday"
In times of crisis, it is easy to see whether there are flaws in your organization’s communication processes. If there are not good plans in place, the rumor mill runs rampant, informal leaders are relied upon for translation and speculation, and anxiety runs high.
As a consultant in Fire and Emergency Services, I often do cultural assessments of teams who are looking to improve how they interact and move the organization forward. A resounding complaint received in surveys is that communication is POOR. This is a source of frustration from leaders who feel like they ARE communicating and wonder where the gaps are.
First, let’s make a distinction between Interpersonal Communication (how we relate and speak to each other), and Organizational Communication (how we disseminate information throughout the organization). This blog will focus on Organizational Communication and will be a two-parter with tools you can use right away.
Next, we will examine what you have in place and a good way to review or improve that. The next blog will give you a way to have solid content and a great flow of important messages throughout your organization.
When I work with a leadership team, I notice leaders expressing frustration that they are always putting information out, yet the rumors are still flying, and people aren’t reading the emails they send. Their frustration leads to a “why bother?” feeling. One group I worked with felt they were “always communicating,” and the staff was not disciplined about reading the communications. “They have to meet us halfway,” one said. The symptoms of this were staff complaining, morale low in some areas, and trust of the rumor mill over the words of the leaders.
Their problem was a lack of a “Communication Strategy." They dropped emails or texts for various things, but there was no consistent message vehicles or a place where they could go to verify the information.
The good news is there are some simple, thoughtful ways we can regain control of communication in both small and large organizations or even sections/divisions. These are things we can do on a large-scale crisis issue like an emergency change of medical protocols during a pandemic, or something that is not a crisis but certainly important to all employees like a change in promotional testing procedures.
Let’s look at how to improve no matter where we are our communication journey (and it is a journey, not an event):
I am pleased to share that we have begun to receive some "traffic" to our Blog page and comments, as well. Today, I am honored to welcome a guest message from LW
I must confess that I'm not a firefighter. I've been doing extensive research on firefighter mental health and suicidal deaths. I am both shocked and disturbed by the lack of preventative, in-house support programs for our country’s firefighters/EMS in all (or most) fire stations across our nation, especially since 9/11.
It would help tremendously if fire chiefs and others with the power to implement top down changes in the fire service would recognize that the mental and emotional health and well-being of their firefighters/EMS is no less important than protecting their physical life.
We simply can't afford to lose the lives of our fire and medical first responders to PTSD, permanent disability and suicidal deaths when it's preventable most of the time. The cost of saving a firefighter's/EMS life pales in comparison to the cost of saving his/her life. You can hire and train a new firefighter, but you cannot replace the collective experience of the firehouse that often spans numerous years and the camaraderie that existed between them. Plus suicidal death of one brother puts surviving brothers/sisters at a much higher statistically significant risk for dying by suicide themselves.
I'm working on a website to help support our heroes and I appreciate the content you've provided on yours. Even though I'm not associated with the fire service, I hope that you’ll still send me your newsletters. I've subscribed to other firefighter/EMS websites to become more aware and stay informed and would enjoy receiving your newsletters, too.😀
Thank you for your previous service as a firefighter and EMT. It's not the kind of job for everyone but everyone who provides (or has provided) such public service is a hero in my book! 😄
The above title comes from a song from the music group, The Association, who were consistently topping the charts in the late 1960's and early 1970's. In spite of its age, it certainly rings true today.
As I am writing this entry, word has come that Prince Charles has been diagnosed with Covid-19. If one thing is clear, Covid-19 does not discriminate based on skin color, faith, beliefs, etc. ANYONE can get it. It has nothing to do with most of the currently attributable social stigmas that we usually assign to certain social classes and practices. Anyone and everyone can be infected - unless....and only unless, they....WE ACTIVE PROTECT OURSELVES!
Almost every country in the world, and every state in the U.S., has very clear instructions to its citizens, providing best practices to help you avoid the contagion. Therefore, while I won't list them all here, (You can find those for the State of FL here. However, I'll review a few of the recommendations and why they are so important.
#1. Proper Personal Sanitation - While thousands of people ran out to stores and are hoarding ten years of toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer, (which most stores will not refund and which almost every state has promised to prosecute should they attempt to sell it at prices approximately ten percent above published shelf costs), they all "missed the boat."
The single most important preventive practice is frequent and proper washing of our hands. While hand sanitizer can help, we are told that best practice is to wash our hands, frequently, using any soap, as long as you wash for a minimum of twenty seconds! How "long" is twenty seconds without a clock or watch? Sing either "Happy Birthday" twice, or recite the childhood melody for the recitation of the alphabet, a a moderate pace. (My personal favorite!) ;-)
Some are of the mind that the soap must be an "antibacterial," but in this case, we're not fighting a bacterial germ, we're fighting a viral (virus) infection. Over the last near 100 years, we have learned that there is a big difference between the two. And that is why, a good hand-washing with any liquid or bar soap, for the recommended time frame, will indeed remove the contagion from your hands.
#2. Proper sanitation - Besides keeping you hands well-washed, keep everything you use on a daily basis sanitized as well. For this, use the various brands of antibacterial/anti-viral wipes, e.g. Lysol Wipes, Clorox Wipes, or any wipes that lists a 99.9% effectiveness on surfaces. Remember to wipe down your utensils (those you don't usually place in a dishwasher), the light switches, surfaces, door handles, and any other place that you touch frequently.
For packages that are delivered to you, it can't hurt to where a pair of disposable gloves to bring them into your home and while opening them. Same is true for any other item for which you might be unsure of its point of origin. And that includes yourself as well! If you have to go out to shop, it's a good idea to wear gloves while doing so and remove them prior to either entering your car or your home.
#3. Social distancing - What is the definition of "social distancing?" It's been defined as staying away from crowds of more than 5-10 people, in one paper. Another says less than 25. Who's right and who's wrong? Who care!!! If this was an epidemic of "Bird Flu" or a severe strain of the "regular" flu, would you go into a crowd of strangers? Would you get on a bus, street car or subway train, with people sneezing, coughing, dripping noses, etc.? I doubt it! But in those instances, you know that someone is ill. You'd still go shopping, but you'd give that person a "wide berth."
With the novel coronavirus, we don't know who may be infected and who is not. So, in this reality, just how important is that dinner at your favorite sushi restaurant? Or going to that music contest with 10,000 others in the audience?
Let's look at the situation in New York City - a city that absolutely runs on its phenomenal public transportation system? On any normal day, none of us would think twice of using the buses or subways. But today, when there is no way for us to know who is infected and who is not? I'll let you answer that question for yourself.
In times like these, people often turn to their faith to help them through these difficult times. And I'm one of them. Our synagogue has stopped all services and we have moved to "virtual" or cyber-services. However, both in the U.S. and in Israel, there are ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to shelter in place. They continue to study together, celebrate Bar/Bat Mitzvah with lavish and crowded receptions and continue to study in large groups. When questioned by a reporter, the answer was, "We are doing G-d's work, by studying and celebrating His word. We'll be fine."
I maintain a strong faith in G-d, but part of my learning years ago was that we/humans are not "puppets." The Lord does not pull our strings to tell us to go shopping or to wash our face. One of the greatest gives we received was, "free will." No matter our belief system, we can maintain a strong relationship with G-d and go grab something to eat when we're hungry or sit and listen to a symphony. And it is sad to have to say that in those areas in U.S. and Israel where this is occurring, the virus is running rampant.
Most of all, this is a time for common sense. No one wants to become infected. No one wants to lose a loving member of a family. But since the vast majority of us are not doctors, especially epidemiologists, we need to follow their best recommendations to keep ourselves safe.
PLEASE.....PLEASE....PLEASE..... Be Sensible, Be Smart, Be Healthy!
GUEST BLOG POST BY ANDREW DEVINE
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have teamed up to study the causal relationship between firefighting and diseases such as mesothelioma. The study found that firefighters have a substantially higher risk of developing mesothelioma than the general population.
Firefighters are a group of people that have one of the more notable risks for developing mesothelioma. These risks aren’t hard to imagine when considering the amount of debris and toxins released into the air when an older building burns down.
The smoke and dust generated from these fires are likely to contain unsafe levels of asbestos. When structures are on fire and when they collapse, asbestos fibers present in the structure become airborne.
There are also unforeseen risks that firefighters serving prior to the 1970s may have incurred. Such a risk is the use of asbestos in the protective materials worn by firefighters prior to this period. Since the risks of asbestos were not widely known, it seemed logical at the time to manufacture helmets, coats and pants with fire-resistant asbestos.
While firefighters today have protective equipment, such as masks and respirators, it is not always a requirement for them to use the equipment. This obviously puts firefighters at risk of exposure if asbestos is present.
Background of the Study
The idea behind the study was to create a more conclusive understanding of the occupational risks of firefighting and developing cancer. By increasing the amount of participants in the study, researchers hope to back up previous studies with a more scientifically significant analysis.
The study consisted of nearly 30,000 career firefighters who served between 1950 and 2009 in San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia.
While the research does not consider factors such as smoking, personal health and consumption of alcohol, they did determine that firefighters are twice as likely to develop mesothelioma compared to the general population.
This was the first study ever to identify higher rates of mesothelioma among firefighters in the United States. It also found that firefighters have a higher rates of developing several other types of cancer.
The study is projected to have a second phase in which researchers will look at the occupational history of the firefighters in this study to gain more specific information about the relationship of firefighting and the development of cancers like mesothelioma.
9/11: A Recent Example of Asbestos Risks for Firefighters
One of the most infamous asbestos exposure risks for firefighters were those who served at Ground Zero on 9/11. The lower floors of the Twin Towers were coated in tons (estimated between 400 and 1,000 tons) of asbestos that was released into the air when the buildings collapsed.
The dust cloud resulting from the collapse swamped lower Manhattan, engulfing skyscrapers and people. Those without respirators were sure to inhale the toxic dust.
A study released a year after 9/11 by the American Thoracic Society highlighted the risks associated with asbestos exposure for firefighters at Ground Zero.
Although the study wasn’t speculative about firefighters developing mesothelioma in the future, it determined there was a significant amount of asbestos released in the air after the collapse.
The study did, however, determine that firefighters at Ground Zero had immediate respiratory side effects, including pleural effusions and pleural thickening. These are serious symptoms, which illuminate the risks firefighters must face.
There isn’t any event comparable in magnitude that posed risks to firefighters quite like 9/11. However, it does go to show that firefighters responding to calls involving buildings containing asbestos face an inevitable risk of being exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos.
Why Is This Study Important?
The study released by the USFA and NIOSH is important for many reasons, but one reason stands out in relation to mesothelioma: awareness. Knowing that firefighters have two times the risk of developing mesothelioma than the average American is powerful information.
This is information that can be used to help protect firefighters from unseen, airborne risks such as asbestos. It may also encourage firefighters who are tempted to remove their respirators to protect themselves.
Many people are still unaware of the potential threat of asbestos exposure. The toxic fibers are regulated in the U.S., but they still aren’t banned. Firefighters, especially, need to be aware of these risks.
About the Writer, Andrew Devine
Andrew Devine is a contributing writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He has developed an interest in educating patients and their families on everything from new treatments to what to expect after diagnosis.
Dear Friends - It's hard to believe that another year comes to a close. I heard someone on a podcast the other day say that the older we get, the faster each year goes by. Being in my late 60's, I think he might be right! It seems like only yesterday that we were about to welcome 2019 into our lives! Be that as it may, as we close this year this evening, I thought I would take a moment or two to close off the "calendar year" for "5-Alarm Task Force."
First, I must thank my beautiful, loving and understanding bride. Though we've been married for over 45 years, she's still the bride I married in 1974! She knows and understands that I spend most weekends, here in my home office/studio, editing podcasts for the coming week. Sure we do the necessary errands together over the weekend, but the vast majority of my "at home" time is spent in my private "cave," with the door shut, so that you, my listeners, don't hear a stray "woof" or "meow" in the midst of an episode!
Next, I must extend my sincere appreciation to the two companies that actually sponsor this show, Insight Training, LLC and the Firehouse Tribune. Both Andy Starnes and Nic Higgins are way more than sponsors, they are dear friends and were so, even before there was ever talk about sponsorship. I cannot thank them enough for their support!
I also want to thank my promotional partners. They play an important role in spreading the word about this podcast. There is just no way I would be able to afford the level of advertising they supply at no cost, other than a mention at the opening and closing of each episode. They include, Chief Miller Product and Sites, Lifescan Wellness Centers, Nestorbars, LLC, the Firefighter Cancer Foundation, the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, the Albermarle Sweet Shop, the Great Florida Fire School and the North Florida Fire Expo.
I am also deeply indebted to my guests, firefighters, doctors, college professors, police officers and more, who take approximately two-hours out of their busy schedules, to spend them with you and me, addressing key issues for firefighters in particular and all first responders in general. And they do so without conditions, remuneration or ego!
Finally and most importantly, I must thank you, my readers and listeners. When I began this venture back in 2016, I was hoping to have around 25 firefighters listening to my podcasts. I was a little off on my "guestimation!" In reviewing our data for 2019, we had nearly 40,000 accesses to the podcast from some 37 countries, across 6 continents!
I am humbled by these numbers. I am humbled by the number of followers on social media. I never, even in my best dreams, thought that an ol' fart firefighter like me, who has been out of the fire service longer than most of the firefighters who listen to this show have been in, would see these numbers. It was an injury in 1985, that forced me out of active service. Sure, I was appointed to our fire-police group and also as a town fire inspector. And as much as I enjoyed continuing my fire career at these levels, neither could provide that feeling of pulling a cross-lay as we pull-up to a working structure fire, and taking that nozzle through the door!
Life takes us down numerous paths. Sometimes our routes are direct towards our goals and other times, we face detours that we must follow. We may not like them or where they lead, however we're often left with no choice but to follow them. I've been down a good number of paths and detours, some good, some fair and a few that were not good at all. Nevertheless, I sit here today, doing something that I love almost every day. Even with all the work that I have to do for each and every episode, for right now, I wouldn't have it any other way. Why? Because it allows me to serve you, my second family of my brothers and sisters of the fire service, in nearly 40 countries around the world. And if you ask me, that is one hell of a family to have!
May you and yours be blessed with a Happy, Healthy, Peaceful and Safe New Year - 2020!
Steve Greene - Creator and Host
As many of you are aware, most of the social media sites allow users to include photos, drawings, etc. And for my posts to this website and a number of those sites, I too, use various pictures.
Other than photos that I have tend myself, I have spent a great deal of time using the various search engines, to find photos classified as, "public domain." If you do not know what that term means, it refers to that the fact that there is no known claim to the photo or, if there had been a copyright on the photo, it had expired. A simple example is music is, "Jingle Bells." It did have a copyright which eventually expired and was never renewed. Thus this holiday song is available for anyone to use, as long as they do not attempt to claim it as their own!
Today, in a post for the latest episode of "5-aalrm Task Force," I used a photo that I downloaded from one of a number of "public domain" websites, that should not have been on that website, for the photo belongs to Battalion Chief (ret) Keith Helms. And the Chief deserves credit for that photo whenever it is used!
So first, I would like to apologize to Chief Helms for unknowingly, using a photo that he shot and that somehow wound up on a website where it doesn't belong. I have corrected the public posting and will follow up on all my posts where I used that photo.
Second, this incident gives me purpose to take the time to review all the photos that I have collected from these various website, to research and attempt to determine their true origin. Those that I find were inappropriately on, what was supposed to be a "public domain" site, will be removed from my collection.
While we all make mistakes (and that's why the good Lord gave us erasers!) what shows what we're made of is when we step-up to own those mistakes. And this one was mine.
Stay Safe & Stay Well
This week, I once again head to Florida's beautiful west coast to the city of Ft. Myers, where I will be attending, for the third year, the 2019 edition of the Great Florida Fire School. The first year, the Volunteer Program Coordinator, Capt. Joe DeVito of the Ft. Myers Fire Protection District, invited me to attend, take some photos, videos, sound bites and even record a podcast. And that kept me quite busy.
However, it was only towards the end of our time there, that Joe told me the real reason he had invited me...he knew my fire service background and long-standing connection to it, even some 30 years, after I had had to give it up due to an injury, and had invited me to "part of the gang" again. Boy! Did he ever get that one right. Having been forced by the injury to give up fire suppression, I had been re-assigned to Fire Police and then, Fire Inspector. I accepted the changes and did my jobs well. Yet, I stilled missed the "good ol' days," when I was in the midst of the heat and mayhem.
We soon made a couple of moves, first to Florida, then New Jersey and finally, back to Florida once again in 1990. In those years, I kept up my trade journal subscriptions and my scanners tuned to the action. With the explosion of social media several years ago, I made a foray into several, to promote our company, Dalmatian Productions, and the pilot script for a fire-themed dramatic series (this was even before "Chicago Fire" or "9-1-1"). Capt. DeVito found me floundering on Twitter and became a mentor to guide me to more firefighters and vice-versa. A couple of years later, it was his idea for me to start a podcast. And here we are.
Last year though, Joe pitched me a curve ball. In June of 2018, he called and told me he wanted me to teach at the 2018 Great Florida Fire School. After I questioned his sanity in asking me, who had been out of active fire service for over 35 years, to be an instructor, I asked him what did he expect me to teach. "Something you're passionate about," was his answer. And he knew that that answer would be all I'd need.
When I started the podcast, its mission statement was for firefighter health, wellness and fitness for duty. It didn't take long for that statement to be lengthened to include the Cancer and Behavioral Health Initiatives. And that statement was the foundation for the presentation, "The Elephant in the Firehouse: When Ego Gets in the Way of Passion" or "Why do the rescuers fail to rescue themselves." And though I had but four students, teaching this class led me to receiving my Florida State Fire Instructor's certification.
This week, I will still be running around shooting photos, videos and catching sound bites. We'll be recording another episode of "Tactics on Tap," and I will be presenting again, with a few changes here and there. I'm looking forward to it.
And I'm looking forward to "hanging" with my brothers and sisters, too!
Stay Safe & Stay Well!
We are pleased to provide you with this information received this weekend. Please be sure to listen to the "MY VIEW" segment of Episode 4-7 of "5-Alarm Task Force" being released on Monday, September 23, 2019! We will need your help to get this legislation passed!
We are beyond grateful for this legislation introduced Friday, September 20th by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) with bipartisan support from Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) specific to the PFAS in our turnout gear.
As you will see in the announcement below, Senator Shaheen has been a fierce and relentless fighter for PFAS studies and testing for firefighters since learning of the amounts of PFAS in our gear in June 2018..
In the coming weeks we will see the results of Dr Peaslee's study on a near 20 year span of turnout gear, both new and used. I have seen the shocking of this study. There is no doubt in my mind the fire service must be warned, educated, tested, monitored and protected.
Without this funding we will not secure the studies required to understand the health effects of wearing the toxic soup of PFOA a known carcinogen, PFOS, a known carcinogen,as well other PFAS in staggering amounts.
We have no alternatives at this time. Imagine being the firefighter who will reach for his/her PPE knowing they are immediately exposing themselves to the staggering amounts of PFOA that is in their new, never-worn and their used turnout gear. There is no other occupation in the nation whereby this is acceptable.
We are also seeking NFPA 'Fast Track' a PFAS protocol that not only educates firefighters about the PFAS in their gear, but requires manufacturers to find alternatives to PFAS used in firefighter turnout gear.
We are seeking your support in asking that Congress approve the NDAA which will designate PFAS as a hazardous substance. This will expedite the replacement coatings in our gear, as well as ensure safe disposal of the textiles like turnout gear, and fund cleanup of the many PFAS contaminated military and non-military locations across the nation.
Please also share this interview with Senator Shaheen from WMUR as she discusses her bill, and Paul and I discuss the need for action.
This week, September 11th falls on a Wednesday. However, to most of us who were alive and are old enough to remember the horror and tragedy of that day, the date of “September 11, 2001” will always be etched in our minds as a Tuesday. A Tuesday that we will never, ever forget. For those of us who are/were firefighters, the date carries a powerful sting, such that hearing someone say the date, often gives us pause.
This national tragedy affects the families of nearly three-thousand innocent victims, from many nationalities and from all walks of life. I know a couple from South Florida and normalcy has never fully returned to their lives.
That morning, I was working in an office for Dalmatian Productions that I was sharing from a friend. I always had a police/fire scanner on my desk, and I heard members of Ft. Lauderdale Fire talking about an accident in NYC – a small plane was believed to have hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I ran into the editing area and rolled out a big, (for then) 27” TV and, after adjusting the antenna, picked up a local station that was rebroadcasting the feed from CNN. One look and I knew this was no small plane.
Within a relatively short time, the first video of the first jet striking the tower was played on TV screens around the country and probably, around the world. As soon as I saw that video, I knew our lives were about to change. Back then, I had been out of the active fire service for nearly sixteen years, due to an injury. However, everything I had learned about flammable liquid fires and multi-story commercial buildings came flooding back to me.
My late friend, who was from Long Island, asked me how I thought the FDNY would fight the fire. I told him, “I don’t think they can,” and my stomach tightened as I told him that. For I knew, that our brothers would go into that building, not to quench the fire, but to rescue as many people as possible. And just as that thought was uttered to him, the second plane hit the second tower. Now, there was no doubt, no unknown. This was an attack on the United State of America, as was Pearl Harbor.
As I sit here writing this entry, tears already fall from my eyes. Over the years of our friendship, I had shared many of my experiences as a firefighter with my friend and how we accomplished many of the tasks we had had to do on this call or that call. One of those stories dealt with reading smoke, specifically, the changing colors of smoke and what it often meant. I returned to the editing room to check something I had been working on, when my friend called out, “Come here, Steve. I think they ARE getting water on the fire; I can see white steam!”
I rushed back over to the TV and to my horror, I saw and explained what was really happening. “That’s not steam! That’s concrete dust! The building is collapsing!!”
“No!” he screamed out, but it was true. In a trembling voice he asked, “Do you think they made it?”
“No. They couldn’t escape. They may not even knew what was happening until it was too late,” I explained.
“You mean…” his voice trailed off.
“Yes,” I replied. “I would say that we just lost hundreds of firefighters and civilians, maybe even into the thousands.” We both began to weep.
I pulled my chair around and sat there, watching. What could I do? I had to do something. These were my brothers…men that I ridden with once, who welcomed me like family. I had to be able to do something to help. And it was during this though process that we watched the second tower fall. Being a firefighter, I realized something even worse had happened, because shortly before this occurred, the network had shown a shot of the FDNY’s command center, outside the two towers. The Chief of Department and a multitude of other officers were instantly killed in the first collapse.
“My God,” I said. “We just lost at least five hundred FDNY firefighters!” Thankfully, though that estimate was too high, when we add in our brothers and sisters from the NYPD and Port-Authority, plus the volunteers who had poured in from outside the city, volunteers from fire departments on Long Island and Westchester County, my “guesstimate” was so far off.
My friend turned to me, his eyes red, “What are YOU going to do?”
“I’m going to try and get to New York!” I replied.
“What? Why? You can’t fight fire anymore!”
I thought a second and said, “You’re right. I can’t. But I can help the survivors and others. They’re going to need administrative help. People are going to look for their relatives and friends. That means lots of computers and data work. I may not wear bunker gear anymore, but I can create databases and help that way. Anything with computers I can help with.” As it happened, my wife and daughters forbade me to head north. Though disappointed in their response, I certainly understood it. So, I thought of something else.
“I’m outta here,” I told him as I was heading out the door.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m heading over to the blood bank in town. I’ll bet they’ll be jammed. I’ll donate a pint first, then help them get ready. Come by when you can.”
When I arrived at the Blood Center, there was only one other person there and two technicians. They hadn’t heard much, and I filled them in. I asked them to get me started quickly, because we had a lot of prep to do. They looked at me cross-eyed. I said, “In just a little while, you’re going to have tens, if not hundreds of people here to donate blood, whether you’re ready for them or not. I can’t do any venipunctures anymore, but I’ll do the registration and vitals. You’d better make that call right now.”
One of young women took me over to a lounge and got me started while the other called the main office and explained what I said. While she was still on the phone and I was still trying to fill my bag, people began to show up.
“What are we gonna do,” the one with me asked of her co-worker. Her co-worker, still on the phone, held her finger up to advise the young lady to wait as she finished the call. When she hung up, she turned and said, “He’s right! We have to get ready and they’re sending a couple of more techs over.”
I was soon finished and gulped down my can of juice and ate my peanut-butter crackers. And then I grabbed clipboard, a couple of legal pads and grabbed by stethoscope and BP cuff from my BLS rescue bag in my vehicle. That was around 1:00 PM.
We finally closed the door to the blood bank at 10:00 PM. We had started to close at 9:00 PM, but people in line still wanted to donate, so we accepted them, but closed for anyone else that evening. I believe we collected over sixty pints that day and I promised them I’d be back first thing in the morning.
Wednesday morning, I arrived a bit early and found a semi from one of the warehouse stores in the community, who came to drop off bottles of water, cans and pouches of juices and boxes and boxes of snacks. Oh…and no bill.
That day, we opened at 9:00 AM and worked until 10:00 PM. Though the early and later parts of the day were busy, the mid-afternoon was slow in comparison, but people did keep coming.
Thursday morning, another semi was waiting in the parking lot. This time from one of the grocery stores. Same type of delivery.
It was around 2 o’clock, I think, that word was received that few survivors had been found to that point and they did not expect the blood that had been collected around the country, would be needed in NYC. That news stung, hard! We (and so many others) had worked so hard to be able to help. And truth be told, we did. All the blood that we had collected was able to be kept in the community to serve the needs here. And the same held true for most of the country.
Nevertheless, those days brought the American people together like they had not been since World War II. We were truly, “One nation, under God, indivisible…” It didn’t matter if one was a Republican or Democrat, African American, Caucasian, Italian or Polish; we were ONE country, UNITED together by this tragedy, at least for a little while.
I pray for all those we lost on that day. I pray for those who worked the pile for days, weeks and months and paid the ultimate price for their dedication. And I pray that it will not take another tragedy like 9/11 to do again.
Steve Greene is the president of 5-Alarm Task Force Corp., a 501 (c) (3), non-profit company and the Creator/Host of the "5-Alarm Task Force" podcast.