Improving the Health & Safety of all Emergency Responders

Take Pride In Your Work and Share Lessons Learned

CJ Haberkorn, Shift Commander, Denver Fire

At one point in your career, you were tasked with sitting in the Academy during Week One and were overwhelmed with information. Information that came from established and recognized leaders of your respective department. In their speeches to you, the words Honor, Integrity and Pride were used, as well as, Tradition, Teamwork, and Brotherhood. For the most part, these messages all made sense in a way that hopefully got you excited about the career path you chose. If not, then you probably already quit reading this message.

The messages received at this time of delivery from your Command Staff were deliberate and not necessarily to the point of conceptualizing them to your self. How could it, you hadn’t responded to any emergency calls yet. If you take a minute to look back in your career, you can probably still see those faces and again hear those messages. What you possibly didn’t capture in that first week was the stress, chronic fatigue, and dedication to service that these men and women had endured to bring you those messages. There is a good chance that most of those messages were lost in translation because of the verbiage. Risk vs. Benefit? Near-Miss? Situational Awareness? Crew Resource Management etc.…

In the February 19, 2019, Safety Gram, I liked what Karl Ristow said about “Self-assessment.” His frame of reference is considerably different than mine, but the overall foundational principle is the same for both of us, Safety and Welfare for those that we work with.

In the Fire Service, we are tasked with an unusual and good problem to have. People that want to work and will work hard to achieve a common goal. The real question is how do we harness that energy and maintain safety, accountability, and welfare for all during emergency events? Some of us work in major metropolitan departments that respond to over 100,000 calls. Others work for rural departments that may run less than 1,000 calls. Does that mean one leverages “Risk” more than the others? I don’t think so.

The challenge is how to share “Lessons Learned” in an effective matter. Finding a paradigm or program that allows us to run an incident several times over and benchmark goals and objectives instead of just running the call, return to the firehouse, go home and never talk about it again. Especially if it’s a call that didn’t go as planned, this is where “Courageous Self Leadership” comes into play.

What is “Courageous Self Leadership?” There are several definitions, but the one I like is “the quality of mind and spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, and pain without fear of humiliation.” I worked for a Chief that stressed this to this newly promoted officers, and it has always stuck with me.

Courageous Self Leaders aren’t afraid to step outside the box and call out the fault to themselves or others when plans fail. They step forward and take personal ownership of the event and implement a new strategy or tactic to avert them from occurring again. Courageous Self Leaders positively share information to make the team stronger. They don’t hide in the shadows of the “doers,” hoping no one calls on them, opening the chance to fail again. They want to try again and use those lessons to turn a negative to a positive gain.

Now, in my 23rd year in the fire service, I am now that person addressing the new recruits passing those same messages in the name of Tradition. I strive to ensure that the message conveyed is the message received, so that ideals and organizational values aren’t lost in translation. And how do I do that you ask?

One method is to introduce them to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System ( This site is designed by firefighters for fighters, with the intent of opening the lines of communication across the board with all that serve in the fire service. The Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System is voluntary, confidential, non-punitive, with no statute of limitations for any person that chooses to share their story. The IAFC has done a fantastic job of allowing the input from firefighters from around the country to improve the value of the system. The cost is free. The message is free. The only toll that you have to incur is to step up and begin to share your experiences, or those from your department and have an open mind to learning.

The Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System is a valuable tool that should be implemented at the beginning of every firefighter’s career. The staff can customize whatever training needs you need. From a Safety Officer Standpoint, it allows you to draw from multiple departments and compare your experience with theirs. We can run one call one time, or the same call 100 times. Try it out. You won’t be disappointed!

CJ Haberkorn, Assistant Chief, Denver Fire Department

CJ Haberkorn is in his 23rd year with the Denver Fire Department and is an Assistant Chief, currently assigned as a Shift Commander. CJ has spent the majority of his career in Special Operations, specifically in Hazmat and is a Subject Matter Expert for the Denver Fire Department for response, mitigation and recovery for Hazardous Materials Incidents. Currently, CJ is the Colorado Metropolitan Certification Board Hazmat Technician Chair, which oversees the policy and procedures for PROBOARD certification for Hazmat Ops and Tech. CJ also sits on the IFSTA Validation Committee for NFPA 472 and is a voting member of the NFPA 472 Technical Committee.