Growing up as a kid in the 1980’s, I still reflect back to the movie “The Karate Kid”, where Mr. Miyagi is teaching Daniel how to balance on the bow of the boat and maintain the best position possible to not get knocked over. In the movie, as Daniel becomes more proficient at achieving his balance, Mr. Miyagi begins to rock the boat, which eventually makes Daniel fall off into the water. The importance of maintaining balance for karate is reinforced to Daniel in this lesson, but is later understood by him in a holistic perspective for life.
Many times, the life of a call/volunteer firefighter becomes a similar balancing act. The obligations and commitments of the men and women in the fire service can become overwhelming at times. In addition to their responsibilities at their respective fire departments, they have other time constraints from their primary jobs, significant others, children, family, friends, hobbies, continuing education, religious activities, and military duties. The challenges and pressures for many firefighters to maintain this work/life balance can contribute to low morale, poor performance, emotional crises, or leaving the organization altogether.
Leaders in call/volunteer organizations need to understand and be cognizant of these outside influences, challenges, and time constraints placed upon their personnel. It’s understood that recruitment and retention of personnel continues to be primary focus for many organizations. Providing an environment to help these firefighters succeed could help overcome some of these recruitment and retention challenges.
A high priority should be to establish, create, and maintain an organizational culture that recognizes the importance of family and the health and wellness of the individual. Department programs should provide the flexibility, versatility, and convenience to meet their organizational responsibilities but allow the time for other activities and interests. All members should be
encouraged to stay engaged in these other outside interests and responsibilities. This makes them no less accountable for their organizational responsibilities; however it establishes an understanding of support and commitment from the department leadership.
Individuals still need to use caution and not overextend themselves by taking on too many tasks that they may not be able to complete. Doing less, but doing things really well can provide increased satisfaction and greater organizational value. It’s important to embrace and nurture organizational teamwork that can enhance everyone’s ability to balance all of life’s challenges.
As individuals, we need to understand our own personal limitations and not exceed our capabilities. Determining your balance point so you don’t tip over will be critical to your organizational success and individual health. Don’t have any regrets wishing you spent more time with family, friends, or activities. Find the work/life balance that grounds you to your individual core values and will keep you from falling off the boat when it begins to rock.
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Fire Chief Christopher W. Norris has been a member of the Westhampton Fire Department since April 1994. He has served in numerous capacities in the organization up until his
appointment to Fire Chief in January 2007. Chief Norris is the New England representative on the EFO section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
The Western Massachusetts fire service lost a leader last month. Floyd Ashlaw passed away following a brief but valiant struggle against the terrible pancreatic cancer.
Floyd was not a firefighter or fire officer; rather Floyd was a clinician, trained in the study of human behavior and adolescent development and it was because of this background Floyd was a fire service leader.
According to the National Fire Protection Association between 2007 and 2011, an average of 49,300 fires caused by playing with fire, were reported to U.S. municipal fire departments each year. These fires caused annual average of 80 civilian deaths, 860 civilian injuries, and $235 million in property damage.
Because of his training and his love for the fire service, Floyd recognized the value of a juvenile fire starter program; one designed to provide children experimenting with fire starting an opportunity to correct behaviors before problems escalated. Floyd worked to create one of the first Juvenile Fire Setting Programs (JFSP) in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Floyd was a leader and innovator.
The early days of the JFSP program were lean. There was no financial support, no revenue stream. There was no real credentialed training for firefighters interested and there were almost no mental health clinicians, unless loaned to the JFSP effort by their agency, able to participate. Meetings were held in basements of fire stations with consults and intakes often afterhours and on a wing and a prayer. The program despite its immeasurable value, struggled for support.
Floyd worked through those frustrations with tenacity and stubbornness; never giving up and often carrying the cost of the services out of his own pocket. Floyd would convince co-workers who were also clinicians to help with intakes and screenings, and Floyd inspired firefighters to get involved. Floyd spoke at many county fire chief meetings; always offering his phone number and asking, sometimes almost pleading, to please call, no matter the time of day, if a juvenile exhibiting fire setting behavior, needed help. Floyd was passionate because the program helped children.
Floyd’s passion and leadership nurtured and carried the JFSP effort in Western Massachusetts through its infancy and the early days. Floyd’s commitment influenced hundreds including firefighters, fire chiefs, clinicians, courts and fire setters themselves. Floyd’s vision of a supported program is now realized by the exceptional NoFires Program, offered and supported by the Northwest District Attorney’s Office and District Attorney David Sullivan.
Leadership has been described as the ability to translate vision into reality. Floyd, you did just that. Thank you and Godspeed.
Chief of Department
Chief of Department
Centerville Osterville Marstons Mills Fire Department
Chairman of the Board of Directors-NoFires (2011-13)
Behind The Mask is devoted to firefighters, showcasing them as individuals within the realm of firefighting. Why do we do this job? What motivates us? Who are we when the mask comes off? From veterans to probies, it promises to give a little insight into our world and the people who do the job every day.
Behind The Mask: Captain Rich Tibbetts
Written by Deborah Kowal
Captain Rich Tibbetts has been working at Westover Air Reserve Base as a DOD (department of defense) civilian firefighter for the past six years. Rated as a GS8 and promoted to Captain this past September, Rich is thirty-eight years old, and currently in his thirteenth year within the fire service.
Originally from Barnstable Massachusetts, he now lives near Worcester with his wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 10, and a three-year-old son. His family recently expanded with a new addition of a four-month-old boxer puppy. He commutes twice a week to the Westover base, working 48 hours on and 72 hours off, spending his time equally between home and the work.
Rich wanted to do something where he could help people, stay active, and avoid working behind a desk. He entered the United States Air Force at age 25 as a firefighter, with six-month deployments to Afghanistan in 2004 and Iraq in 2005.
Before coming to Westover, he was stationed at Elmendorf AFB, in Anchorage Alaska for three and a half years, Otis AFB for eight months, and at Schriever AFB near Colorado Springs for two years. He was also deployed to Galina Alaska, near an Inuit village by the Yukon River for a month. Galina was supposed to be a one week posting, but was extended a month due to wildfires.
Not surprisingly, Captain Tibbetts does not care for the cold weather, having lived in it most of his life. His spends his free time with his family and keeping his children occupied. He is a sports fan of the Patriots and the Red Sox, and likes to fish, but doesn’t find much free time to do so.
Tibbetts says the best part of his job is the adrenaline when he gets the call, planning on the way to the incident and wondering what it may look like when he arrives on the scene. He likes the excitement of not knowing what is going to happen every day at work. Rich explained it could be anything from a plane crash to someone needing medical assistance; it's never the same.
360° ▸ What was your first fire?
Rich: It was in Alaska, at a car fire during the night. They use block heaters in Alaska to help keep car engines warm as it gets so cold. There are usually a couple of them a year, it started the whole vehicle on fire. I was the plugman on that one, hooked up the hose to the hydrant then got behind one of the hand linemen.
"A mass casualty incident came in... a tank rolled up and opened their door. There was blood everywhere."
360° ▸ The call you will always remember that had the most impact
Rich: When I was on deployment in Iraq, we were off-duty and other medics were short-handed. We lived close to the medic tent so we were on standby if they needed anything. A mass casualty incident came in... a tank rolled up and opened their door. There was blood everywhere. I remember I pulled out this lieutenant on a stretcher and his leg was beside him. I have never seen someone’s face so white before. He made it, but a couple of guys passed away, and I will definitely never forget that one.
360° ▸ Oddest or weirdest call?
Rich: The most awkward call was while I was in Colorado. There was a man, who while sitting on his toilet, had his hip “locked up”. I had to physically get behind him to lift him up while he was sitting there naked.
360° ▸ Funniest thing that happened to you on the job?
Rich: While I was stationed in Alaska, it was obviously always icy there, so the guys would go to get out of truck and slide and fall on their backs, but when you were on your last shift there you would get something called an Alaska Jacuzzi. The guys planned it for weeks, but they would make out of snow a pool, and fill it with water. Then they would tackle you, strap you on a backboard and put you in it. They would throw the nastiest junk in it, like whatever old food they could find, fish and stuff. That was crazy, but if they liked you they did that to you. That was the coldest I’ve ever been I think. Here on base we do joke around and do as much “pranking” as we can but without going over the line. We have to keep it light and not stressful.
First thoughts... for the last few questions tell me the first thing that comes to your mind.
One thing you are really good at?
I’m a good cook.
One thing you aren’t good at?
Probably just sitting around and not doing anything, being idle.
Favorite food while on duty?
Anything we do together, having any kind of family meal.
Your first thought when the alarm goes off?
One piece of equipment you rely on?
Nickname at work?
Tibby, at home it's Daddy.
Who has your back most at the firehouse?
All the guys do.
Something that you really love to do?
I like spending time with and teaching my kids.
If you could live anywhere in the world?
Somewhere warm, near the beach.
Can you dance?
Not really. I could dance, but am I good? I don’t know.
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