Monday, August 14, 2017

Playground, training ground, proving ground

Playground, training ground, proving ground

  Learning a skill set takes repetition under supervision from a skilled teacher. If practice makes permanent, be sure you are in fact practicing as perfectly as possible. If that is a firefighting skill, then shouldn’t that be with other firefighters?... more on that later. To move from the training ground to the proving ground is often done to early by necessity, but we should be very careful about setting lose our newly “trained” people into the fire. Yes we can measure how fast they can don their equipment, or how well they throw a ladder. We can measure how fast they can drag a hose, but sometimes the easiest things to measure are not what has the largest impact on achieving the goal.

  Having an extensive skill set that covers a vast horizon of fire/rescue seems to be a universal goal, but these advantages will diminish greatly when put into a low frequency event. Something like a building fire for the majority of the fire service. The way through this scenario is to stick the basic principles of the job. Namely to have good nozzle mechanics, a quality fire stream, and a crew that has practiced together at a realistic pace, and in a realistic place. Spending a lot of time on complex techniques is mostly a waste, unless you truly have mastered the basic skill sets that solve 90% of your scenarios. The reality is that you will not have the luxury of time or the pre thought process in a gritty situation.

  I work with a guy whose mantra is “It’s that simple”. He seems to have boiled down an ethos that got him through 3 decades of firefighting. If you are out there teaching skills that can’t be reinforced by on the job experiences, or get skill retention through moderate but regular practice, then you have lost most of the crew (and your reputation) in the first 10 minutes of your class.

  Am I telling you to that as a firefighter, you need to reduce your skill set? In a word – YES. If you are likely to face building fires from a hoseline, then you should be very focused on that threat. Consider all of this past years training experiences you may have had. What percentage of those where about your initial job title of “fire suppression specialist”?  You need a few basic skills mastered to the point where you can apply them to a majority of your possible incidents. Conscious apathy leads to cognitive atrophy.

   Reliable skills feel familiar under stress. Pulling a hose line into a building fire can be a stressful thing, and you should be concentrating on your decisions rather than your actual motions and actions. That is why it is important to train how you will work. I am from the camp of staying smooth rather than fast when it comes to line deployment. I see a lot of go getters running out the lines and masking up in 12 seconds, only to cross the threshold alone. So what else are you expected to do alone? That mindset is not reliable or realistic for me. I like the hustle but not at the sacrifice of teamwork. Teamwork is an essential part of your effectiveness and safety. If you practice like you’re in the engine Olympics, your medal maybe the one we give to your next of kin. I would prefer to walk with a lean - assess, make decisions, and move as a team.

  Practicing in an environment that is so different than your reality will also cause you to bare training scars. These are habits that will impede your decision making at an incident due to your un-realistic expectations. Stick with basic skills and practices while supervised by those that have done it. When those guys see you trying one of those youtube worthy tricks, and tell you “that looks like bull shit”. That’s because it likely is.

  After learning some reliable skills to a higher level, then ramp up the stress conditions.

  My wiser contemporary has us train people in cycles. We review basic skills and his vision of principles and practices. This is the who, what and why of our job, and it is sorely glossed over by so many others. I have seen it very useful for the younger folks to make the connections for their purpose and place on the attack line. We work in a static position, then move the line horizontally. After satisfaction we can go vertical and through some obstacles.  We ramp up the difficulty to find the spots that need improvement and practice those. Introducing stress after a reasonable level of competency actually assess the decision process of the crews as well as re-enforces the skill sets. I would like to express some caution here. Don’t seed overconfidence at this point. The trainees are better than they were, but remind them of staying in the decision making mind set - not the “beat the stop watch” mode. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

  The proving grounds are your first due area, not the parking lots behind the fire station. We need to find those buildings where we can pull a line. “It’s that simple”.

Every shift should be droppin’ cotton to find out what their equipment and people can do. Just pulling a pre connect on the black top will offer you little in contrast to being at a place where some decisions need to made. This is the “advanced” skill some fire officers asking for. Basic skills being carried out with tried principles are the advanced firefighting techniques we are looking for.

 “Firefighting is circumstantial”, and so is the training. Your expected situations, strengths of your crew/equipment, and your experience all play a roll. There is a lot of gray area in the training realm. So find someone with a bit of gray to help you through it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Avoiding reality, risk aversion, or just plain laziness

Avoiding reality, risk aversion, or just plain laziness are human instincts that can cost you your well-being. At a minimum, the lack of dedication to hands on training as it relates to fire ground operations can cost other people their property or their lives. Simply put, your possession of a fire academy certification, a 20 year anniversary, or a blue colored and recertified command card does not make you a skilled firefighter or commander.

Physical and cognitive ability will always be a big part of the job. Sometimes a guy has 1 of the 2 and they assume that 1 will cover for the other. Though not a popular thing to say or recognize these days is that not everyone is cut out for this job. A really “smart” guy with little physical ability has no more reason to be on the engine as the person who just can’t make good choices with limited information. This leads to a larger issue as I will outline below.

With the naturally smart athlete aside, humans are not born to be firefighters. The physical and mental skills are to be learned and, repeatedly trained on if mastery is to be gained. The associated recognition component is the most difficult to master as real life repetition for most firefighters is not even possible due to the lack of fire duty in their respective district. Film study and simulators, both physical and video can help. Exposure to those that do or have done the job regularly is even better. This is  why we as a service honor seniority.

The gap in cognitive recognition at fire scenes can be somewhat filled with physical training that is carefully crafted around the principles of effective operations. To do that, staffed fire departments should be following the historic principles that our busy urban departments are following. While we suburb (cross staffing) guys are training on everything from rapid sequence intubation, bailing out of a window and community paramedicine, the urban firefighters are going to small and large fires and then are practicing on…. You guessed it. Getting the hose out to efficiently use the stream, and setting ladders up and reviewing building construction. Most of the fire service is not getting enough repetitions on skills that can make a difference on the front end of a incident.

Attitude is the elephant in the room. Let’s face it. Guys that only train when mandated are the norm. We can’t mandate a positive attitude but we can foster one from a cadet’s start in the business. Continue to work the new people into the fold with physical job related tasks. The common way of caving into the laziness and whining will cement the lowest possible standard for the organization for years to come (where some of us are now). Terms such as “good enough” and “all fires go out” are for the weak. They are weak physically and weak mentally. Don’t rely on that attitude of being an EMS department that occasionally goes to fires either. 

 Apathy will lead to complacency and that will lead to catastrophe.

Ego can be a positive thing when hitched to a good attitude. As the fire service follows society into this abyss of self-doubting fickle Charlie Browns, it becomes increasing harder to identify what and WHO is to blame for subpar performances. We need confident people who can arrive at a large incident and say to themselves “I can fix this.” Years ago it was a good thing to be confident rather than under stated. This may be why there is a palpable disrespect for the dinosaurs out there…

Some modern firefighters have merged their false ego with their career choice. These men have seldom if ever attended a single professional training course where the methods were not predetermined, and certainly no scenario based decision making. These guys argue for hours over the merits of this or that type of tactic, and which is better for fighting fires. They argue about temperatures, direction of air tracts and cite these controlled testing’s as the only way to qualify strategies. Examples are “penciling", using a “hydro-vent”, or ultra high pressure "fog nails”, and my personal favorite “aggressive defensive attack”. All the while the vast majority of these modern experts have very little real world, uncontrolled incidents under their belt. Traditionalist “believe” and the modern man “knows” right?

 There are some common tactics between the 2 camps, but I will say that these agreements are on what the dinosaurs were doing all along as the scenario dictated. You don’t get to be a dinosaur by getting yourself killed or hurt right?

The influence of your trainer will set the course of your attitude and skill set. If you want to meet the public expectation of aggressive fire fighting, then you need to be trained by an experienced teacher.  Time tested principles work in uncontrolled and unplanned events. Know that.

hydro vent.jpg

Be honest to yourself and your community about your FD capabilities. If the traditional expectations of firefighters are not to be lauded by your modern group, explain to your “customers” that these "new tools in the tool box" are “acceptable practices” and that the “science is settled” before you let the entire apartment building burn down.

Unless there is a “car in the driveway” or a victim begging you, every building is vacant and “we only risk a lot to save a lot”. 

So remember, the first thing to do is establish command and run a lap every time, but don’t open a door to get a look, because Air is FUEL!! Give an extensive radio report without any tactical direction,  keep those Velcro tags ready because company concept is something only the dinosaurs used. HEY!! Who has rehab? Is my PIO enroute? Did I remember to turn on my GoPro? Check those boxes, and keep that Pack Tracker close because the sky is falling don’t you know…

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Triple H.... Is that a catchy enough phrase?

 It has been quite some time since I have put mind to matter here at the blog, and honestly I haven’t been able to zero in on what has been on my mind. Recently I found myself surrounded by micro beers, hipsters and the microbrew of the fire service. The Portland fire expo was a huge success by raising tens of thousands for the Sons of the Flag organization as well as the spirits of those that attended. If you had to miss this year’s effort, please follow Cody Trestrail and watch for next year’s offering.
 Now the brass tacks… I am currently what I would call a “tweener” in the fire education circuit. I have the great opportunity to work with and, learn from those that have been in this job longer than I have been breathing…. 1973 btw. I am between having a level of confidence that is needed to accomplish my job yet, still see the distance I need to make up to be at that higher level of understanding of the fire service, adult learning and how to stay as motivated and driven as those that are 20+ my age.. I also see the valuable lessons of keeping your sense of humor as we break our backs (sometimes literally) working towards the unattainable goal of being the best we can be at this vocation. Without the humor, we can quickly circle the drain of animosity and apathy. If you aren’t enjoying this ride then go do something else.

 Being quiet enough to learn from others is key. I have seen veteran mentors be humble enough to learn from those different and/or younger than themselves. Even when faced with a technique totally foreign or a statement believed to be complete bull shit, a measured reaction is always best. After understanding it from the other’s perspective then you call it as you see it. I have seen how an overlooked conversation can set off a chain reaction of events which have literally revolutionized the fire service. There is no unimportant conversation, there is no time wasted when spent with people who want to learn from each other. The intensity and the intelligence of today’s fire service is growing like it never has due to the networking over the web. Sure there has been some casualties as this fire service hive mind comes to life but, the fire culture IS better for it.

 The most important lesson for me has been to stay focused on the mission. Do you know what your mission is? I have heard many of my friends say that it is “about them”. OK, if that is what works for you than I’m ok with that. However, I see the mission very differently. The reality is that this job will eat you up emotionally, physically, and financially if you always lead with your heart and not your head. For me, the work is the reward and if that includes a save then congratulations to all involved. Execute the tactics that meet the strategic goals. My mission is about caring to do your job right.

 My mission is to know what needs to be done at a moment when some people go into vapor lock. To be able to make decisions when others are to close to the ball to see the whole field. I want to train hard enough so that I know what doesn’t work and why.  Regardless of my previous ideas or prejudices or even past capabilities, I want to know how to perform the skills within the principles of a disciplined firefighter. I see this as an unsolvable puzzle that I just can’t stop trying to solve.

 My mentor has explained his position on professional and personal topics to me over the last few years. My summary is an oversimplification but here it is: The genuine teachers are those that want to know, not those that want to be known. Being ruthlessly honest with yourself and your peers will ultimately make us all better. 

 Maybe that is why the profiteers (those with a professional marketing campaign or grant funding) amongst us make my skin crawl so much. Making an honest buck does mean something! It is never to late to repent and stop being a sellout. Donate some classes every year, and give yourself time to take other classes, and for God’s sake take the ones that make you sweat! 

 Humor, Humility and Honesty. Not always easy things to do or be but, if you’re going to stay on mission you will need all three.