BFD brass going back to the basics

Photo Courtesy of Frank Viscuso
BFD brass discuss fire fighting procedures in a development workshop.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Forty-five members of the Bloomfield Fire Department attended professional development workshops last week at Fire Station No. 3, located near St. Valentine’s Roman Church. Taking the 16 hours of workshops were Fire Chief Lou Venezia, all captains, deputy chiefs and firefighters who fill-in for captains.

The classes were given by Frank Viscuso. According to a township press release, Viscuso is a retired Kearny deputy fire chief, a published author and motivational speaker.

In a telephone interview following the workshops, he said the particular workshops being given to the BFD were designed to improve morale, mentoring, understanding how to conduct a post-incident analysis, and customer service, among other topics.
“If you were to ask anyone ‘what’ is the best teacher, they would say your experience is the best teacher,” he said. “But in firefighting, another person’s experience is the best teacher.”

All 45 members of the department, broken into four groups, held discussions framed by three criteria: as firefighters, what should they keep doing, stop doing and start doing.

Regarding what they would keep, Viscuso said all groups felt they trained well together, that their teamwork was good and the customer or community service they provided was good, too.

“It’s not just the fire we show up to,” Viscuso said regarding customer service. “It’s every problem a resident has. It’s showing up at events, going beyond what people think firefighter do.”

Traditionally what firefighters say they should stop doing, Viscuso said, is giving into complacency.
“It’s a very common thing,” he said. “It’s the acceptance of accidental success even if it’s the wrong thing, but it’s always been done that way. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists.”

The BFD is now experiencing change with new firefighters, and taking on EMS duties, he said, which means responding to different emergencies and having new job descriptions.

“The change can be descriptive,” he said, “but now the change has to be embraced.”
The workshops led to more open discussions among the BPD personnel about what they have not been doing correctly.
“You want better results,” Viscuso said. “Everyone makes mistakes. We’ll learn from other’s mistakes.”
He believed the firefighters were being very honest with him. If that were true, then Viscuso said there is a better chance to correct the mistake.

“The BFD is being proactive,” he said. “They are starting with leadership training. From there, they’ll make their culture by design. Every organization has a culture. It’s created by design or fault. Keep — start — stop — that conversation will help a department create its culture.”

And a good leader, Viscuso pointed out, cares about the well-being of their subordinates.
“That’s another thing we talk about,” he said. “What’s going on in the lives of your members?”
After all, Viscuso said, fire department personnel are together for 24 hours.

In an interview in his office earlier this week, the Fire Chief Venezia gave an example of complacency.
“When people are on a routine call,” Venezia said, “when they’re not taking it seriously, that’s when mistakes can be made and bad things can happen.”

Although responding to a call might just seem routine with nothing to fret about, Venezia said it could turn out to be the worst call in a firefighter’s life.

“We call them ‘smells and bells,’ he said. “It might be a false alarm at Troy Towers. You’re 10 stories up and then there’s a fire behind the door.”

Venezia considered the culture of an organization to mean the everyday work environment.
“It’s the discipline of the crews,” he said. “You ask yourself, ‘Are we moving forward as an organization?’ Instead of the person at the top, that’s me, pulling people where we want to go, you have the majority of the organization charging in that direction without being told what to do.”

Venezia agreed with Viscuso that it is important for superior officers to consider what is going on in a subordinate’s life.
“People perform better when they know their superiors care for them,” he said. “I view my job as serving stakeholders and the members of this department are the internal stakeholders.

“By doing that, we provide a better service to the community which is the outside stakeholders.”