Tuesday, August 17, 2021

From the "Half-formed thoughts" File


Not every person in the listed professions will fall in into the grid as shown, but many will.
My brother, the firefighter, shared a story with me. We were hunting out of the same deer stand and it is a great time to catch up on what happened in each other's lives over the past year.

His crew had been called out to a single vehicle accident. It was a granny and the vehicle was a 1970's vintage Oldsmobile Delta 88. The granny was unable to extricate herself.

Out came the jaws of life.

Standard practice is to put blocks beneath the front door hinge-post and snip the windshield frame. Gravity opens most vehicles like a clam when you do that.

When that happens, speed becomes essential. Sometimes there is gross trauma to arteries in the lower legs and the dashboard, which clamped down on the driver/passenger,  slows the bleeding. Once the dashboard is no longer clamped down the bleeding can accelerate and your patient can quickly bleed out if you are not Johnny-on-it.

The first iteration did not work. Perhaps it was the full frame beneath the ancient behemoth (the Delta 88, not the granny). Perhaps there was something beneath the floorpan that prevented the vehicle from sagging according to script.

The backup plan did not work either.

Finally, the third plan the team executed opened up the vehicle enough that they could pluck the granny out of the vehicle and get her on a stretcher.

The Battalion Chief who was ramrodding the scene ask "Hey, ERJ's brother, wanna guess how long it took to get the granny out of the car?"

The Battalion Chief's job is to maintain a global overview of the scene. The worker-bees are focused on their individual tasks. Somebody needs to be unfocused in case the scene destabilizes and becomes dangerous or if scope of the task expands and more/different resources need to be called in. He also times critical tasks for post mortem purposes.

"I dunno, Chief. Time gets weird. Way more than an hour. I am guessing 75 minutes." my brother ventured.

If you ever had the privilege of working with a great crew...

you will notice that the job descriptions are fluid when they encounter novel problems.

The crew that has very exact job descriptions for standard problems flow and conform to the new tasks posed by a novel problem.

Suppose my brother's crew of firefighters had to unload a truck to execute the extrication. They would not wait for others to show up to unload the truck. One or two would stay with the driver to keep an eye on the impact with regard to the extrication and then everybody else would be pitching boxes out of the back of the truck, rank be damned.

In the moment, nobody is comparing how many steps the other guy is taking or how many pounds-per-minute the other guy is pitching out the back.

The firefighters have a mission. The firefighters trust that the crew-chief's plan is as good as can be forged on-the-spot. Make a plan. Execute the plan. Evaluate results. If necessary, make another plan...the mission does not change.


Bureaucrats are the antithesis of firefighters.

They rarely "service" objective results. Their output are flow-charts, policies, procedures and plans (but not the actual execution of those plans).

Bureaucrats demand that people and institutions be disciplined when they deviate from the plan, even when the reality on the ground is radically different than the abstraction the plan was written to address.

Bureaucrats are not guided by results in the field. They do not trust that the reports of elderly people in assisted living facilities (for example) really are being mowed down by Covid being brought into the facility by carriers THEIR PLAN forced into the facility.

Spicy times

"If I cannot find a reindeer, I will make one instead."

With an advance apology to my three readers who might work in a three-letter-agency, the "anti-terrorists" agencies morphed into massive bureaucracies incapable of finding their own erection with both hands.

The police departments in very large cities are just as bad. The "clearance rate" for sexual assault in Chicago is 13%. That is the number of arrests that are made, not the convictions or plea-bargains.

The role of three-letter-agencies seems to have evolved to entrapment, bag-them and tag-them. In light of their humiliating failures in Afghanistan, they are likely to distract attention from their failures by whacking "domestic terrorists" in gross-lots.

"If we cannot find criminals, we will make them instead."   -Apologies to Dr. Seuss

Yeah, right. This is stuff we all knew.

If/when spicy times come we will be relying on our immediate family and immediate neighbors.

Our chances of emerging unscathed will be related to the odds of them functioning as a high-trust, results-oriented teams.

If they are not already there (and assuredly most are not even in the zip code) then our mission as gray-beards is to start moving them in that direction.

  • Paint-balling
  • Camping
  • Kayaking trips
  • First aid classes
  • Informal, neighborhood "Uber" service
  • Babysitting
  • Small gun range to "sight in" weapons in advance of hunting season
  • Other?
Maybe it is my "High trust" orientation, but I believe that humans are very adaptable. We conform to challenges and in a crisis we grab the top plate off the stack. The skills we mastered, the skills we used last are the default skills we grab when adrenaline crashes our operating system.

The idea that is lurking in this jumble of sentences is that that the skills necessary to make high-trust/results-oriented teams work are very transferable to other novel situations. While it would be ideal to run neighborhood boot-camp and patrols it is a huge target for the three-letter guys. Forming the nucleus of a HT/RO team is to advance your local chessboard four moves ahead of the other player.

...I am guessing 75 minutes." my brother ventured.

"Bad guess" the Battalion Chief told him. "Seventeen minutes from when you cracked the first tool locker on the rig until she was on the stretcher."

Yes, time gets weird when you are under stress.


  1. Sometimes vehicle extrications can be "difficult". Your brother's crew did fantastic to be able to get the patient out in 17 minutes while going thru three different plans of attack. That's the sign of a good crew - adaptable and determined.

  2. +1 on Dave, having done that a few times, that is amazing! Re high trust, we have a group that is prepped and coordinated and have been for over a year...

  3. My first car was a 68 delta 88, it burned premium fuel and could get 12 mpg (downhill with a tailwind). 17 minutes to crack one open is exceptional..

    I’ve trained as an emergency responder and can attest to time warping depending on the circumstances, usually it seemed to going by at 3x the normal speed.

  4. Never needed to be popped out of a car, but in case I ever do, THANK YOU to the guys and gals who do that. And ambulance attendants everywhere.

  5. Hmm, this is a pattern. Everyone has their radar up.

  6. When you are with a good crew with a good leader it is almost magic how quick and efficient everything goes. On the other hand having one "Dud" in the crew or a bad leader will drive you absolutely nuts with frustration. You strive to be the best you can and some "dud" screws it all up.
    (Retired after many years on ambulances and firetrucks)

  7. Choreography. Good crews: EMS, fire, police, OR, ER: have it. Comes, as you say, from high trust environments, when each member strives for excellence, has their head in the game, and knows-and values- the larger "dance".

    I have been blessed, in many jobs, to have been in such an environment.

  8. 17 minutes, each of which seemed like a lifetime. You can't just cut and stack time like cordwood.


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