John R. Kowalski Integrative Marketing Fusion

The Battles First Responders Fight

Thinking a lot about the things we see as first responders… two videos that really demonstrate the fight.

Reach out if you ever need to talk about what you’ve seen and how you’re feeling. Even hero’s need hero’s. A friend of mine also addresses groups on this issue. Learn more at

Stress & PTSD in firefighters

An excellent article was recently published by FireRescue1 on PTSD in firefighters that talks on recognizing PTSD symptoms in firefighters by Jim Spell. They begin…

After years of service, firefighters and EMTs often suffer from both acute and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The fire service has made great strides in identifying stress as it relates to firefighters on and off the job. Out of lessons gleaned from the enduring trauma of war to the repeated violence connected with domestic disputes, the fire service has become aware that our experiences as firefighters are on par with soldiers returning from battle and civilian victims of battery.”

Recognizing the symptoms is the first step just prior to getting help. And due to our history, that ego thing seems to get in the way. “We’re tough and can handle it.” But what if you didn’t have to “handle” it? What if opening yourself up and being vulnerable could actually strengthen you? Make you a stronger hero to those you help and those around you.

That’s where a client of mine comes in. Leslie Yancy of Hero 2 Hero offers a range of speaking engagements and workshops on this very thing for first responders and healthcare personnel. From Leslie’s website, “Bringing awareness and education to this subject is the key to stopping the suicides and unhealthy coping mechanisms. We need to break through the stigma that says stress and PTSD is a sign of weakness. It’s your strength.”

Educate yourself on the signs and develop a network of resources to assist. There is power in numbers and none of us are alone in this battle.

Be safe.

Smoke Effects on Wildland Firefighters

Great article here on the health effects smoke has on wildland firefighters. It has been known the chemical and off-gassing dangers of structural firefighters but wildland firefighters have similar issues.

“People are now aware that they probably shouldn’t stand in the smoke if they don’t have to,” said Mike DeGrosky, Fire Protection Bureau chief with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. “People know to minimize smoke exposure out on the line when people are working. But the reality is they work in a very, very smoky environment that smoke has lingering health effects.”

Read the full article here.

Volunteerism & Service – FF1 Complete

Good morning. As I reflect on this past week of a training coming to an end and a celebration of Firefighter I certification I keep coming back to the terms volunteerism and service. That is what it’s all about for volunteer firefighters. Serving and protecting your community. Helping people in need on their worst days.

Here is the text of my speech (part of it a repeat from my departments 2018 award dinner):

What a long road this has been. We started in August and I feel we could’ve spent a month on every topic. But this is the beginning. This was about foundations that we can build upon moving forward through ongoing learning and training.

As far as this speech… I keep coming back to one I made at my departments awards dinner as I think it fits this event as well.


This is our fire hall. This is our fire family.

We are members of a unique and special brother and sister-hood that goes back centuries to ancient Rome and even before that in ancient Egypt.

In 1666 the Great Fire of London helped standardize firefighting. In America, George Washington, the future President was a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria, Virginia as a member of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Company. Benjamin Franklin was also a volunteer firefighter helping to create the first fire department in Philadelphia in 1736.

The first known female firefighter Molly Williams took her place with the men on the drag ropes during the blizzard of 1818 and pulled the fire water pump to the fire through deep snow.

The first organized municipal fire brigade in the world was established in Edinburgh, Scotland, when the Edinburgh Fire Engine Establishment was formed in 1824. London was formed 9 years later in 1833.

The fire service is rich with history.

Firefighters have been helping communities and engaging in charitable causes through generations. An early example is firefighter Royal Tunbridge Wells. He helped raise money for widows and orphans. He used his dog ‘Jack’ and cat ‘Arthur’ to help encourage donations.

Signal Mountain, TN 2016

Signal Mountain, TN 2016

Speaking personally, I joined after the Gatlinburg fires… after our mountain, Signal Mountain was on fire. I still remember driving with my family on Highway 153 towards the mountain and seeing the plumes of smoke. Our mountain was on fire. At that moment I had to help. Not just something to do but a deeper calling from within. To help my family, to help my community. To protect us all. I am a protector. Maybe 6 or 8 months after that… I remember Lt. Clift say to me, “You’ve got the fire bug. I see it.” He was right. And that bug burns hotter now than ever. I’ve taken many classes, received certifications and completed the Firefighter I program. I plan to attend training, conferences and seminars. I’m also working on transitioning my career to help fire service organizations (but that’s another story for another time). I am a protector and part of the fire service and part of the Lone Oak Volunteer Fire Department.

Why are you here? Why are you part of the fire service?

Regardless of the fire service history and changes through the years and the reasons on why we are here. There is one constant thing that will never change. Courage, Compassion and Community.

This is our fire hall. This is our fire family. We are here to help our community. We are here to be an integral part of our community. And when I talk of this, I don’t mean just the members. I’m talking about everyone in this room – our families. They give to and help our community. They share us. When the call comes in the middle of the night or when we’re just sitting down to dinner, they share us and give to our community too. Thank you to my wife Brynne and daughter Sofia, and all of our families from the bottom of my heart.

This is our fire hall. This is our fire family.


So here I am with my new brothers and sisters. Our fire family. We made it to this point. We are here. Together. We have learned from the skills, knowledge and mistakes of our instructors. We learned that Fire is Hot. We studied, laughed, argued. All the things that brothers and sisters do. But we came together… eventually… as a team. We made it together and are now standing here in the proud tradition of the fire service.

I want to thank Rip, Jody and Nick. For their instruction, direction… patience… head-shaking… eye-rolling… all of it… Thank you sincerely from all of us.

A big thank you to Director Adams for his leadership, expertise and assistance. And to all the adjunct instructors who came down and gave their time to help us learn.

And the biggest thank you goes to our families. They have shared us. For the time away training and studying. For coming home exhausted with no energy for anything. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know it hasn’t been easy, so thank you.

In addition to the certifications I was awarded the prestigious Shane Daughette Award. Since firefighter Shane Daughettee’s death, this award is given to a fire graduate who demonstrates great leadership, attitude and dedication throughout the duration of Firefighter I class. This is truly an honor.

Here is a video presentation that the training team PIO put together showing some of our training moments. Enjoy!

U.S. House Bill Improves Benefits for Injured Firefighters

The bipartisan measure—the Protecting America’s First Responders Act—would eliminate delays and help secure financial support for first responders hurt in the line of duty.

This is a big win for all of us. Take note of the article as published by Firehouse:

The Protecting America’s First Responders Act—a measure introduced last week by Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ), Peter King (R-NY), Joe Courtney (D-CT), John Rutherford (R-FL), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Julia Brownley (D-CA), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) and Brian Fitzpatrick—updates regulations in the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program to reduce delays in receiving for those who suffering disabling injuries and also closes a loop in that program to allow fire police to receive support. A companion Senate bill introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) was passed last week.

“The brave men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe and their families must have the utmost support from the federal government—especially those who have made drastic sacrifices in the line of duty,” said Pascrell, who co-chairs the Congressional Law Enforcement and Fire Services Caucuses. “First responders constitute both our first and last lines of defense. This much we know. What many don’t know, however, are the struggles many first responders and their families deal with after sustaining serious injuries or loss of life on the job. This legislation will directly assist those brave individuals struggling with lasting impacts of service. I am committed to seeing it fully passed into law.”

The full bill can be seen here.

State Testing, Ongoing Learning

Well… tomorrow’s the day I have my state practicals and exam for FF1 certification. It’s been a long road for me (and my family) that began in August. It seems long but the sheer volume of information and training was concentrated. We could’ve spent a month easily on any of the areas we covered. That’s why ongoing learning is always going to be a part of me and should be for every firefighter out there. To keep not only themselves safe but also their team and communities.

We had some ups and downs as a team but came together. We learned, sweated, laughed and crammed our heads with as much knowledge as humanly possible. So on this day just before testing I’m feeling confident. Casually reviewing my study notes, tying my knots and flipping through my workbook.

Here we go!

Cancer Awareness & Prevention 2018

A topic extremely important to all of us.

From Firehouse the 2018 Cancer Awareness & Prevention supplement reviews various efforts to decrease firefighter exposure to carcinogens.

The 2018 Cancer Awareness & Prevention supplement reviews gear-cleaning to remove toxins, ways to reduce exposure to carcinogens in and around apparatus, international efforts to mitigate cancer risks, and some product-based methods for skin-cleansing. Firehouse thanks our Keystone Sponsor, MSA, as well as our Cornerstone Sponsors, for their support of this critical project.

You can download the supplement here. Be sure to read through it and share it with all your brothers and sisters. We all need to stay safe!

Saunas Help Firefighter Detox

I came across some great information on helping to detoxify us specifically with us working in LDH environments.

Some of the detox benefits an infrared sauna will help with:

  • Remove Toxic Chemicals – Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, & Mercury-Prevent Chronic Illness
  • Boost Immune System
  • Reduce Stress/Anxiety/DepressionRelieve
  • Muscle/Joint Pain
  • Promote Weight Loss
  • Increase Metabolism
  • Improve Blood Pressure
  • Reduce Skin Conditions

Check out Jenerate Wellness and be sure to download the guide. Lots of great information and another tool we can use to help keep us safe.

Protecting Volunteers’ Day Jobs

One of the lieutenants at fire school sent this article onto me.

What are your thoughts on this? I know myself holding a day job when tones go out can be a bit tricky. My particular situation has flexibility but at times I’ve been finishing conference calls on the way to a scene and even shuffling things around due to personal reasons. I can only imagine those with jobs that you’re unable to leave and are simply stuck. With the US fire service made up of 73% volunteer departments this is truly an important issue.

Job activities can always be made up later with the priority above all being public safety. It’s good to see bills like this in Texas seeing the light of day. Take a look here.

What are your thoughts and/or experiences with juggling fire service and jobs?

Your Actions Represent the Brotherhood

Just this morning my wife had an unfortunate incident on a road near our home. The W Road down the mountain is a winding road with a good incline. She was following a truck loaded with stuff going slower than the speed limit. She remained about 3 car-lengths behind through the narrow curves. On one of the few straight-aways the truck put on his blinker and pulled to the shoulder as much as he could and slowed down even more as if he were wanting her to pass. She hesitated to make sure, he slowed even more so that’s what she believed he wanted her to do, so then she passed safely.

Upon reaching the truck and ready to wave a “thank you,” she was greeted with an angry man rolled down his window and started yelling obscenities. As much as he didn’t understand what she was doing or his actions miscommunicated to her to pass is there any real reason for this anger at a total stranger? What if she had been going to the hospital with a sick or injured child? My wife is the kindest, most loving and caring person you would ever meet. My response, upon first hearing this and to know that she was shaken from this event was to first lash out. “What an asshole! What’s his fuckin’ problem?” How hard must it be to go through life at that…. such anger at 10am. To live in that anger must be hell. But that’s not the end of the story, not the end of this incident.

She then said to me, “You know your firefighter license plate? The one on your car?” I replied, “yes.” She then continued, “He had that same plate. The same firefighter plate as you.” Then my heart sunk. This was one of my brothers acting like this. Representing all of us brothers and sisters bound together in the fire service. This action is a stain on all of us. We are better than this. We represent our departments, our brotherhood and the Maltese cross we bear.

When we wear a shirt, jacket, hat or vehicle decal, we represent something larger than us. A higher set of standards that meets our calling to help. Our actions speak to the public and our communities whether on or off duty. Be the high standard the public expects. Be the high standard that honors the brotherhood.