Complacency Kills

One of the mantras I have always shared in my leadership training is “complacency in the fire ground can kill and complacency in the fire station can create big organizational problems.” The Oakland warehouse fire is a sad but perfect example. That fire is now the deadliest building fire in the United States in more than decade. The fire killed 36 people. According to the newspapers, the warehouse had been turned into artists’ studios and illegal living spaces.  Up to 100 people were at the electric music party at the warehouse — known as the “Ghost Ship” — when the fire started on the first floor. It quickly raged, with smoke billowing into the second level and trapping victims whose only escape route was through the flames. The victims were overcome by smoke before they could get out of the building.

Former residents said the warehouse was a death trap with few exits, piles of driftwood and a labyrinth of electrical cords. Photos of  the interior showed a hodgepodge Bohemian scenes of Tibetan prayer flags, Christmas lights and scores of wooden statues of Buddha, the virgin Mary Jesus Christ, elephants and dragons that sat atop the pianos and turn tables. The ground floor had RV’s and other nooks used as living spaces that were rented out to tenants, while the upstairs has space for concerts.

For years the city fielded complaints from citizens and even firefighters about dangerous conditions, drugs, neglected children, trash, thefts and squabbles at the illegally converted warehouse.

The Oakland Fire Department is required to conduct annual fire and life safety inspections of this type of building .Obviously the annual inspections did not happen. Chances are if the building had been inspected by a certified fire prevention inspector the building operation would have been shut down or brought up to code.

Webster’s dictionary  defines complacency as : A feeling of self satisfaction when accompanied by an unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies; an instance of unawareness or uninformed self satisfaction. On of the concepts that we learn in the fire service is “situation awareness.” For example, situation awareness during a building fire is essential for life safety. Situation awareness requires the knowledge of where you are, what you are you trying to accomplish and, how to get out of the building in a hurry if needed. Complacency is the opposite of situation awareness. It appears that the fire department members responsible for the inspection process became complacent.

The Dreaded Deposition Part 1

Part 1

Over the years I have had the opportunity to be involved in many depositions. Some went very well, others did not and, there were even some surprises during the process. In this article I will share some of the learning moments I had during and after the deposition process.

A deposition is actually a fact gathering process. The attorneys on each side of the case try to find out as much as they can about what the other side on the case knows or think they know. This process is called discovery.

The fact finding or discovery during the deposition helps the attorneys on both sides to develop a litigation “strategy and tactics.” The strategy is the overall goal of the attorney and client and, the tactics are the stepping stones used to achieve the goal.
The people involved in the deposition are usually your attorney and the opposing attorney. However, I have been involved in depositions where the clients and other interested attorneys were also in attendance.

Before being deposed, you will take an oath to tell the truth and there will normally be a stenographer in attendance. Everything you say will be documented by the stenographer. At times there will be a camera recording the event.

The location will normally be in an attorney’s office or some other suitable location. The deposition allows both sides to feel out the witnesses, especially the expert witnesses. This allows the attorneys to assess knowledge of the facts, along with credibility of the jury. However, my last deposition was given over the phone while I was sitting in my home office. That was a first for me.

Depositions are normally last about 4 hours; however, depending on the complexity of the case the deposition could last several days.
In part 2 of I will identify how to prepare and positively get through the dreaded deposition.

Different Question Same Answer

I have been involved in a deposition where the opposing attorney was hostile. We were having a discussion about a water pressure hydraulic formula.  When I shared the formula with him he appeared to be a little perturbed. Rather than sharing the formula, to make it simple the conversation went like this.

Attorney: So, Paul you say that 5 + 4 = 9.

Me: Yes.

Attorney: OK, then how much is 6 + 3?

Me: Same answer 9.

Attorney: OK, then how much is 7 + 2?

Me: Same answer 9.

This went on for several minutes. I finally let him know that he could ask me the same question in many different ways however, the  answer will still be the same. We then went on to a different topic.

Paul H. Stein, Public Safety Consultants

Public Safety Consultants provide competent expert witness services. Our fire, emergency medical, fire prevention and hazardous material experts are competent, intelligent, and highly educated with a common sense approach to litigation matters.

Services to be provided are:

  • An objective preliminary review and evaluation of all incidents.
  • Written opinion and reports
  • Technical support
  • Expert witness testimony by extremely experienced and highly educated fire service members.

More information coming soon, check back.