An Honest Look At Training.
The days of dragging hose through a field, or doing buddy breathing drills standing in your station uniform should be over. We need a commitment to high quality training!! High quality training may cause you to sweat, it may be challenging, and it might make you feel uncomfortable.
Lets take a closer look at that sentence:
Sweating. When this isn’t a typical part of our day we might want to take a step back, look in the mirror and see why we are not sweating. Ask yourself, do I put off training in the morning because I am worried about sweating and getting dirty for the remainder of the day? If so also ask yourself, when I signed up for this great profession did I feel entitled to remaining clean and cool sitting in the AC?
Challenging. You want to know the fastest way to make your company lose interest in training? Take that sheet out that has the ten required engine company drills that you are tested on every year and never ever stray from it. Watch how much enthusiasm the guys will get in their eyes when you mention your going out for your weekend training next shift and they ask you “Can we try this other drill”, and your response is “Well it doesn’t have that on the sheet”? We must add a challenge to our drills and try to make them different, when a company is brought to the same parking lot every time they lay hose with the same objective, you have officially set them up for disaster. Before anyone jumps on me, let me say one thing. I am NOT discrediting the most basic engine company drills, in fact the complete opposite, I am saying we must take the absolute basics and train on them in a way that has practical value to it, instead of making it a wasted day of motion without meaning.
Uncomfortable. Oh boy does this one get awkward. You mean we are going to train on stuff that we are not completely comfortable with, you mean I have to get up there in front of my crew and try something that I may not be 100% at and possibly look bad in front of them? Absolutely. One of the biggest barriers that we are dealing with in this fire service today when it comes to training is people worried about looking bad in front of others. It is a gigantic barricade that prevents improvement and instead puts up this wall of fear that causes them to take a few steps back and hide, avoiding the drill all together, which consequently, makes them just a little bit worse then they were before they started the drill. The only way we will MAINTAIN our skills is by training on our basics, but take that one step further. The only way we will IMPROVE our skills is by training on topics that we are not fully comfortable with. This means overcoming the egos and the fear that makes people shy away and going full throttle at the chosen topic until we can not only get it right every time, but now we are so proficient in that skill that there is no way we are going to get it wrong. Going out and training on ropes everyday because you enjoy them and are comfortable with knots does not make you any better that night when you need to bang a ladder but have been avoiding the 24’ extension like its the plague. This is even more important as the officer, nothing makes the grunts question the officer more than seeing one avoid a drill all together or say, “I have done this before”‘ while standing back and watching the crew perform.
Practical training on the basics makes a difference in firefighters careers! There is a tremendous amount of politics and extra fluff that we cannot control in our everyday walk through the fire service. However we have complete control of our company level training, and nothing makes more of a difference in someone’s future on this job then high quality training that is thought provoking and challenging.
Ok, here is where I tie it all together, because the last thing I want anyone thinking is that I am saying basic hose lays are lame, and that we should be doing some type of elitist, “I am better then you” training.
Focus on practical training with street value. Each time you set up a drill ask yourself what can I do to make this more realistic, how can I add practical teaching points to this, and then when we get this step right, how can I make it more challenging? Start with the basics, I mean the absolute basics, make sure the new guy knows how to stretch a hose from the pumper to the door and lay it our properly. Make sure they can properly flake it every time with speed and control. Then make sure they can do it with cars in the way, with different terrain, with railings and porches, etc. This is basic, but this is what I am talking about, when this step is skipped and all we practice on is dragging hose around without ever perfecting the stretch and layout, then we begin to miss things.
Ladders will not always be thrown on level ground, during the day with no overhead lines. Hose won’t be pulled through a building with no corners to manage while having perfect visibility. Search will not be done in a memorized concrete building without furniture and junk everywhere. Forcible entry won’t always happen with two people in the standing position without masks on. Victims won’t have built in handles on their chest and they definitely won’t tell you “only drag me to the window, because I don’t want you to take me down the ladder because it is difficult and may cause too much exertion”.
These are the basics, expand on them and don’t let the minimum standard for training be your bar, let this be the fire academies bar. If we think the academy was our training for the next 30 years and don’t ever raise the bar, this will cause us to become unsafe and complacent. Many times you may hear that we should not stray from the minimum in the name of safety, or that drills that are challenging are unsafe. Here is my humble opinion, when we avoid training on ladder work with rocky sloped terrain because it may be unsafe, we have just made the fireground that much more dangerous for us.
If you are someone that is committed to safety, I mean real safety with no lip service attached, then you will make a serious commitment to practical, consistent training on the basics of our trade. You will make sure yourself and the ones around you avoid complacency through challenging and uncomfortable training. Then you will bring everything you have learned to date on this job, and provide it to a new guy that comes through your station which sets them up with the tried and true fundamentals of our job. This is how you show your committed to safety, by doing it, not preaching it without action.
Mentorship is difficult, because it requires thought, time and energy. Mentorship is also hard to find sometimes and seems to be slowly dwindling. Here is my plea! Put down the game controller, put away your side business paperwork, log off the email for an hour and contribute to the tradition of passing along the right way to do things.
“Let Mentorship Be Our Greatest Tradition”
-IRONS and LADDERS