Chief Peter Lamb is a 35 year veteran of the fire service and has led three suburban fire departments (Harris Fire District, Coventry RI, Tiverton Fire Department, Tiverton, RI, and recently left the North Attleboro Fire department in Massachusetts.) In addition, he has served in multiple capacities at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy and served as the Director of state training. He has been an instructor for over 25 years and taught thousands of firefighters. He calls himself fortunate to have lectured for 15 years for Firehouse Expo and World Programs. He currently host of the weekly Youtube show called Firefighting Today, and also host of The Firefighter Training Podcast as well as the petelamb.com training blog. He has authored articles for periodicals and has lectured nationally on a variety of topics including, leadership, using technology in the fire service, tactics, incident command, training, and operations.
How many years have you served in the fire service, and has/is anyone else in your family on the job?
I got started in 1976 and although I “retired” in 2012, I still continue to train and make a strong attempt to mentor others even today. I still have more to give so while I am not responding at present I am still a member of the service. My uncle was a career firefighter and my grandfather was a young volunteer in the early 1900’s.
What was your drive to make you want to join the fire service?
I always followed the work of my uncle but in a strange way my grandmother was an interesting influence. In the days I was growing up the fire department still used air horns and a remote siren from the station to designate the location of where an alarm was. My grandmother was fascinated by this and often we were all packed up and brought to the fire. I guess she was an early form of a fire buff. When I was very young (about 6 years old) we went to a large mill fire. It was probably way too scary for a young child to be at in the first place but I was there. As we stood watching this inferno a volunteer firefighter from one of the mutual aid departments came running up the street and collapsed from a heart attack. My mom and others tried to help but the man died. That indelible memory and my folks making me understand what had happened I think had a great influence on me. At age 14 we could become explorer firefighters and as I got involved more and more I knew I had to be part of the service.
Is there any distinct way that you have tried to make a difference to either the fire service as a whole or the community you serve?
My passion is for training, sharing, and helping others. My initial training as a young volunteer was horrible or non-existent, but I always admired the folks who tried to teach us more. I try to reach out and help young firefighters (and old) on a very personal level. I appreciate all of those folks who stopped to help me along the way, and I feel like no matter how hard I try I might never be able to repay others. Often times folks in small departments do not have the resources or contacts to e able to get things done, and I want to help in that regard.
I want to be better, be safer, and do no harm. I want to share my message as far as I can and when all is said and done, I want others to know my passion and effort. I certainly have not achieved that yet, but each day I want to make a small difference and make the fire service just a tiny bit better. It is really about the “service” part of the fire service for me. My website tagline is “changing the fire service one mind at a time” so I guess that is the goal.
What is the biggest change that you have witnessed since joining the fire service?
Boy, when you have been doing it this long, there really are so many changes to consider. I would say the biggest change is the focus on better safety. I have seen the changes from cotton duck coats, riding the backstep, to thermal imaging, better gear, SCBA, fire apparatus and so much more. Also that safety, while often debated is a topic that is being discussed. I think that is a change from my early days.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge that the fire service faces today?
The biggest challenge is one that faces all of us all of the time and that is coping with change. I think while we are lively discussing “fire behavior” as of this writing (January 2015) it is really “firefighter behavior” that we need to change. We need to acknowledge the entire health and wellness issue that is resulting in about half of our LODD issues. We need to embrace changes in tactical and command issues that face us all. But most of all we need to take action. We need to stop talking about things and begin to apply them within our own departments each and every day at each and every call.
I was fortunate (or unfortunate) to be a Chief officer very early in my career, being a Chief of Department is a difficult job if you do it right. I have had to make difficult decisions in many areas that many times resulted in additional pressure on me in the end. If you try to do servant leadership, you do the most good for the many, and in many cases it can be an emotional stressor. I relied on my faith and a network of close friends who were chief officers who supported my efforts because they knew what I was experiencing.
With so many of our firefighters dying each year in the Line of Duty, what are some of the things you do to help ensure “Everyone Goes Home”?
I tried to make sure my personnel had the best of equipment and I also funded firefighter physicals and fitness efforts, but those efforts did not succeed for a number of reasons. I set the example myself by getting a NFPA 1582 physicals annually to set an example. Each day I try to take a positive approach to foster and moderate discussion on how to make sure we are doing a little bit better in the area of safety. Each department needs an advocate to make sure their department does not have a line of duty death. Firefighters may not be able to affect the national LODD number but if we do everything in our power, at our level or rank to make sure our department does not have a death, then the national number will get better collectively. I try each day to facilitate that type of discussion.
If you could provide some of the younger generation of firefighters with a few “words of wisdom,” what would they be?
Never stop learning. Listen to everyone, even folks that have a different opinion and take the pieces of information that will help you and your department. Go to a doctor and get a physical. Train several hours a day, everyday. Care for one another on the job. Take care of your family. Have fun. Have empathy for others…..those in the station you work with and those you respond to. Work with your chief and officers as a productive team member.
What is the best firehouse prank that you might have “allegedly” been involved in throughout your career?
Well, uhm, ugh, there might have been a time where fishing line was tied to the back wall of the station and then to the lead length of hose in the hose bed. When the truck was being pulled out of the station onto the ramp for truck checks a line was being laid through the double bays (back to back) and then onto the front ramp. Allegedly of course. I actually think that statute of limitations has expired on this one so the parties involved (ahem) should be OK.
I’d like to thank Chief Lamb for taking the time to be featured in this Blowin’ Smoke article on The “Model City” Firefighter. If you would like to be featured, or have a recommendation, contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.