Blowin’ Smoke with Brian Brush

This is one Blowin’ Smoke article I have looked forward to posting for some time now. I first met Brian at FDIC 2012 when I had the chance to climb in his footsteps during the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. Since that day, I have looked up to Brian and have gotten to know him better. Brian walks the walk. I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did. Also check out some of Brian’s work at www.fireservicewarrior.com.

My name is Brian Brush, I live in a suburb of Denver Colorado with my wife of 10 years and 3 children. I am a Lieutenant in Lakewood, Colorado for a what I would consider a mid-sized department that serves about 270,000 people across 120 square miles on the West side of the Denver Metro. The operations division responded to just over 30,000 calls in 2012. At full strength we are 340 members running out of 15 stations with a daily staffing of 87 firefighters for 15 engines, 9 medic units, 3 trucks, 1 heavy rescue, 3 chiefs,  a safety officer and on duty fire investigator.  My current assignment is the technical rescue station, a two company firehouse with the Heavy Recue and an Engine.

How many years have you served in the fire service and why did you join the fire service?

16 years  –

I came to the fire service as a volunteer in my home town in Northern California at 16 years old. Since most of the adult volunteers worked outside of the town the department depended on the young volunteers at the high school responding to the station by pager to be the tailboarders for the career officer and driver.

At the time becoming a firefighter was  a really cool way to get out of class on a regular basis but looking back I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I am to have been introduced to the fire service at such a young and impressionable age.  My passion for the fire service, its values and traditions were forged at the perfect time.  I was asked recently if I ever had considered joining the armed forces and I joked that the military never had a chance, the fire service drafted me two years before any recruiter had their opportunity. After that kind of introduction to the fire service and the example set by the firefighters I worked for, I really never considered doing anything else as a young adult; I just knew I found it.

I went on from there to school at Oklahoma State to study Fire Engineering, returning to work as a seasonal firefighter for the California Department of Forestry (now Cal Fire) in the summers, traveling the state on an engine going to fires. In my last year at OSU before moving to Denver I was hired at Oklahoma State Fire Service Training as a tech and it was there that I really found my interest in training, teaching and attention to detail in skills work.

In 2002 I was hired at my current department and have been lucky to have served in a variety of companies and special teams including USAR Colorado Task Force 1 as a Rescue Specialist for a few years.

Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference?

I don’t know how to answer this one because the times I try to make a difference I usually fail. The times I seem to have made the biggest difference I was just doing what I thought was right.

Have you accomplished any specific personal goals during your career?

I certainly have personal goals and aspirations, I have also been fortunate to have been in the right spot when opportunities have come along.  Becoming a career firefighter was the first step to all this, that at the time was an all-consuming goal. I will never forget the sense of accomplishment that came when that badge was pinned by my father.

Since then I have tried to keep pressing,  completing paramedic, my bachelor’s degree.  Special certifications like technical rescue, public safety diver, USAR, promoting to lieutenant and now working through my EFO.

Aside from the “career track” I have found incredible inspiration in my work with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Campaign and I will continue to try to support the goal of honoring the 343 and supporting survivors by expanding that tribute.

Finally, moments like this; getting to talk about my passion for the fire service with a brother who appreciates the trade the way that I do.  I believe that getting to the point where I have found a way to network with like-minded individuals from around the country on a regular basis is an unrealized personal goal that has brought me a great deal of motivation.

What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service?

I think that it might be the amount of requirements. It seems cliché but, I remember a simpler time when you would come up with ideas for training and you decided to go do x,y or z in your district between running calls. Now it seems that there are so many requirements to meet, demands for our attention and performance pressures that our time in the station that it is nearly completely scripted for us when we walk in the door. For example in my current company, I add up the required hours for basic fire training, ems continuing education, technical rescue technician, RIT, then add in new programs like Blue Card and put them on a schedule that includes checking and maintaining the apparatus and equipment of a special operations company, keeping a firehouse in working order and meeting the administrative duties of the first in as well through business inspections, hydrants, community outreach programs  and so on, you start to wonder what happened.  A lot of this is due to my change in perspective over the years from firefighter to company officer but I also believe that the do more with less, be more with less is a much harsher reality than most are willing to admit.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?

Where do you begin to answer this one? Dictated/mandated training is failing in function and will continue to as long as it is being dictated and mandated by people who do not know the current state of affairs in the street or information developing in the field of research. Two and 3 person engine companies are a reality but they don’t look right in text books so we will just act like it isn’t. Unfit firefighters die because of known physical and mental limitations but it is easier to document “lack of sufficient incident command”, “poor communication” and “lack of accountability”. Political attacks and tax ignorance, plus a poor economy, coupled with vendors treating firefighters as government contracts are fiscally destroying us.  Attempts to solve real problems with avoidance strategies or advances in technology.  I think that might be a long enough of a rant about challenges.

What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career?

I have either been caught in the act or had no connection what so ever to firehouse pranks so therefore I cannot answer to any “alleged” involvement.

During your many years on the job, how were you able to push through the darkest of times?

Support and perspective. The really difficult calls and events we typically go through with each other and you get through them by trying to supporting each other. When it goes beyond that, the few times that those calls have snuck out of the firehouse and followed me home I have been fortunate to have a very supportive wife.  When it comes to dark times professionally I think it is perspective, I may get incredibly frustrated with the way something is going at the department, be it cutting positions, budgets or even just a poor example being set then 20 minutes later be on a run for a medical at a school and see a group of kids looking at us like we are super heroes and you realize that the “darkness” is temporary and for the most part completely within our control

If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom,” what would they be?

It is good to love what you do.  I think too often we eat our young. These guys work their butts off just getting hired, complete a 20 week academy and then the first year of the job of their dreams they meet guys who downplay the importance of what we do, belittle the need to prepare and disrespect the potential risks we face.  This is an outstanding profession, paid or volunteer, we have an incredible stock of public trust, we get to do some amazing things but if we aren’t careful we could be taken off this earth in a heartbeat.  You will be better served if you love what you do, so wear your heart on your sleeve when you wear your badge on your chest. Trying to be cool by standing in the corner, sitting in the lazy boy or talking trash isn’t getting us anywhere. We are here to put out the fires in the buildings not our brothers.

Conclusion

I want to just add a disclosure to this interview to whoever happens to read this. I am not perfect in any way shape or form. As you read this I am probably making several mistakes simultaneously, I do not train as much as I should and I am nowhere near in the shape that I want to be. I can give back more and bitch less, I can listen to, learn from and look to others more than I do. I certainly can be a better company officer, father, husband and citizen. With all of this I hope that you can see that we have a lot in common, I just happen to be the one that got picked to be interviewed. It doesn’t mean I am anything special or different then you. The important thing is I recognize I am not who I want to be and I need to work towards being that person. Hopefully the day I walk off this earth I will be a little closer to that guy then I am today.