Amusement Park Ride Training.

It’s been a while since I have had much to say.  However, during this pause from my blog a lot has gone on.  Firefighter I & II academy for six months, Multiple Recruit Academies, and many other training classes that I have been involved in.  I have also had the chance to be on the road some teaching for the University of Missouri Fire & Rescue Training Institute and others during this time away.  

All of these training classes have been beneficial.  Students have participated and have come away from each learning opportunity with new information and skills to apply to our trade.  They have passed tests, completed practical skills, and received certificates and other documents to document the training they have received.  

But most of them also have one thing in common, they all learned specific skills but did not get the chance to practice them as they would in the real world.  What I mean is, they didn’t have the opportunity to apply these new skills as part of the sequence of events from initial arrival.  Just like they would unfold on a real emergency and in real life.  

The NFPA 1410 standard outlines what kind of tasks firefighters need to be able to perform upon arrival to a fire.  Pulling hose, establishing water supply from a hydrant, setting up a portable master stream etc.  Each of the 1410 drills outlines a sequence that needs to be performed on real world events.  

In contrast to that, many times I am involved in training that no matter what the topic is; ladders, fire hose, search and rescue, ventilation, we focus on the specific skill until proficiency is developed.  That’s fine.  That is what the training objectives for that skill specify the students must complete.  However, I am finding more and more that there is more to the story that we as training officers and instructors are missing.  What’s missing is taking the training one more step.  Applying what we learned into the common arrival sequence that we perform each time we arrive on scene.  

Here is an example of what I am talking about.  In my organization, we have a mobile vehicle firefighting training prop.  It is a great training tool.  A healthy volume of fire, training smoke, a tire fire simulator etc.  When we first took delivery of the training prop and began using it, we would layout the lines, establish our water supply, and get everything ready to go.  Then we would allow the students to observe the fire, follow the procedure they were trained, extinguish the fire, and backout.  This evolution is repeated over and over until all students can demonstrate proficiency with the tasks and then the training is concluded.  Then the equipment is put away, the hoses are reloaded, the water supply is broken down, and everyone leaves the training.  We can continue this training cycle over and over again.  Just like an Amusement Park Ride.  Some get on, some get off, they all experience the same thing.  But we aren’t going to the fair, we are training people on the task of being proficient firefighters and masters of our trade.  At least that is what we SHOULD be doing!

But, when these same firefighters go to the next vehicle fire AFTER the training, they are riding an apparatus.  The vehicle isn’t on a flat parking lot with plenty of room, they have to get off the apparatus with all of there PPE in place, have the appropriate tools, deploy their lines correctly etc.  When these firefighters attempt this task in a real world environment, all we have prepared them to do is the actual task of putting out the fire.  Not everything that it takes to get to that point.  So these same firefighters respond to a vehicle fire fumbling with their PPE, forget their tools, have the attack line in lanes of traffic, and a variety of failures leading up to the actual extinguishment of the vehicle.  The single task of extinguishing the vehicle on fire goes fine.  It should!  We trained them for that.  We just failed to make sure the steps required to put the vehicle out were not practiced and verified they are in place.  

I am sure that many of you are thinking, “They should already know all of that stuff”.  I don’t disagree. When was the last time you asked firefighters to perform a turnout gear drill.  You pick either with SCBA or not.  Career or volunteer, how many in your organization can actually make the NFPA recommended 2 minutes for Turnout Gear and SCBA without a failure?  The answer may surprise you!  These are tasks that we take for granted.  But without regular training, these skills can get rusty.  

So, with our car fire prop, I have begun a new training regiment as part of vehicle firefighting training.  We will pull hoses, and practice the evolutions necessary to be successful.  But before the training is done, we will add training evolutions that include arriving with apparatus, good radio size up, proper apparatus positioning and traffic control measures, proper advancement of lines, and everything else that must be done BEFORE the task of extinguishing the vehicle.  Initially the students may grumble that it requires reloading hoses and equipment between each evolution and other complaints that are common with something new.  However, the chance in a training environment to be able to execute the entire evolution from the time you leave the station until you are safely enroute back to quarters is something that we have to include.  This approach to a training skill is as realistic as it can be.  It HAS to be!

This training approach can be used for virtually any training you want to.  Whatever training you are conducting, try to include the full event sequence from arrival on scene until you leave the scene enroute to quarters.  Without question, you will see an immediate improvement in crew proficiency and enhance personal safety because your personnel are truly proficient at the entire sequence of events.  Not just a specific set of tasks.  

There is no approach that this will require more time in the training evolution and is more equipment intensive.  Both career and volunteer firefighters have other time pressures which means that time spent training must be used as efficiently as possible.  As an instructor using this approach to training will require a solid training plan and adequate apparatus and resources to keep crews moving to limit idle time.  However, I have seen using this approach myself, crews come away from the training evolution with a better understanding of how to utilize this skill in an actual emergency and will perform better.  

I am hopeful that a few fellow training officers will read this and be willing to give it a try in their organization.  If you do, let me know what your results are.  I would be curious to know if you find the same in your organizations that I have.  

Be Safe!

Firedog

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The Courage To Do The Right Thing!

As we progress though life, sometimes events hit us right square in the head that says…..”Hey Stupid, You Payin Attention?”.  I am not sure why, but over the past several months there have been several events that meet that question and has had me reflecting on several issues.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have had some pretty significant incidents that have again forced our firefighters and our organization to stretch and be flexible.  Going above and beyond, work past the point where we are tired and would like to quit, and putting ourselves in harms way to help others.

A couple of weeks back in started raining.  And not just a little bit once and a while but a whole bunch of rain in a very short time.  I can remember talking with several of the firefighters on our water rescue team about the events unfolding in communities near us dealing with whole communities being flooded and wanting to go and help.  As the saying goes; “Be Careful What You Wish For”!  Early the next morning our people had the chance to respond to their own community being flooded but we didn’t have far to travel to get there.

The water rose fast, people in the community were in immediate danger, life threatening water conditions were present, it was dark, and on and on we can talk about how bad it was.  No question about it.  It WAS bad and it was very dangerous.  The personnel that responded as part of the operation didn’t blink an eye.  They walked right in and were ready to do what was necessary.

Overall the incident was a success.  No question on anyone’s mind that lives were saved. Fortunately no one was injured and lucky no one was killed. The event could have easily turned out different for a number of reasons.  Even members of the fire district found themselves in the water and had to self-rescue.  But undaunted, they returned and went right back to work.  Didn’t really want to but they did it anyway.  There were still people who needed rescue and the job wasn’t done yet.

The reason for the title of this particular blog is really unrelated to everything you have ready up to this point.  Things happen, and you move on.  The reason why I posted today is what has taken place since then.

There were some mistakes made.  Fortunately none of them resulted in a serious failure or negative outcome but they were mistakes that could have had serious consequences. The tendency is to overlook those mistakes, brush them under the rug, pat everyone on the back and tell them how great they were and go on.  Which means that many times we are destined to repeat the events of the past because nothing changes.

After this particular incident, there have been many side conversations about the events as they occurred.  What went right and in particular what went wrong.  Not to find fault, not to place blame, but to identify those things that need to be done differently.

When these conversations occur or when formal debriefings are conducted post incident, the tendency can be to take things personal, argue and fight, and to say “It’s not my fault”.

Our organization just completed a debriefing of that event.  I was truly proud of those that were present.  There was some very frank conversation about what occurred and what needs to be done different.  All aspects of the event were discussed from personnel to operations to equipment to procedures.  All of it was discussed.  And, some great suggestions about how to improve our operation, training, and processes for future events.

Sometimes, it is just nice to get together, talk about “stuff” and make the plan better.

It takes courage to do the right thing.  Many people will say that it is the only way to be.  I don’t disagree but it is much easier to say than it is to put into practice.

Having the courage to admit when you are wrong, identify when mistakes are made, and to be willing to objectively look at how to improve for the next time is one of the most important things we can do in life.

Sometimes, it is nice to just sit back, watch things unfold around you, see the character and the courage of those around you in plain sighte, and be thankful to have some great people that you call brothers and sisters and serve shoulder to shoulder with everyday.

Way to go Gang!

Firedog

Situational Awareness

This past weekend was my Duty Chief weekend and typical for me it was busy.  One thing that made this weekend different from most is that our fire district was working multiple calls at the same time and a few of them were major incidents.  By major incidents I mean that they required multiple station’s to respond and stretched resources pretty thin.

During the weekend there were two events in particular that I found myself struggling to know just how large an incident I had.  You  hear people talk about Situational Awareness and this was highlighted to me this weekend.

On the first day of my weekend, we started with a residential structure fire on the east side of our district.  Upon arrival, the house was at least 50% involved and we began our standard deployment and operations.  Crews arrived and given assignments, accountability was run, water supply established,etc.  Pretty straight forward.  About 30 minutes into that incident, we were dispatched to a second incident which was a Major Natural Cover Fire (Brush Fire).  I cleared the first scene and responded to the second.  Part of my challenge to the second event is due to staffing, I responded to the structure fire in an engine and was now responding to the second also in the engine.  This means that I wasn’t in my staff car with my incident command tools at my disposal.

Western Taney Firefighters work to contain a 70 acres grass fire near the Arkansas State Line

Western Taney Firefighters work to contain a 70 acres grass fire near the Arkansas State Line

As I turned south toward the incident I could see the large smoke plume and realized this would be a major incident.  As I arrived on scene, I had a large grass fire in a hay field moving very quickly due to high temperatures, low humidity, and windy conditions.  Initially, we established flanking operations with water since we were in a field to try and contain the fire.

The fire quickly consumed 10 acres, then 20 acres, then 30 acres within the first hour.  We lost two old barns and the fire moved into the woods which changed the way we were extinguishing the fire.  Initially I was forced to command from the front seat of the engine as I pumped and rolled along the fire line.  Wasn’t hard to do initially with only myself in one engine and a Battalion Chief and firefighter in a brush truck on the other flank.  Soon we had multiple teams working and I was finally able to transition out of apparatus into a command post to manage the incident instead of the incident managing me.  The challenge was knowing the size of the incident. I couldn’t see all of my scene and struggled at times to know the size and scope of fire involvement.  Did I have sufficient apparatus and manpower?  I had to rely on others to report status to me so I finally could see the big picture.  Once I had the big picture, management was streamlined and the incident was successfully brought to a conclusion.

The second incident of the weekend happened two days later which began as a simple

Firefighters work multiple grass fires along US Hwy 65 North of Branson

Firefighters work multiple grass fires along US Hwy 65 North of Branson

grass fire along a divided highway.  Upon arrival there was a fast moving grass fire along the shoulder of the road contained between the highway and the outer road.  While it was moving fast, it’s spread was contained between the two roadways and not a major issue.  Just have initial apparatus arrive, flank the fire with water and everyone goes quickly.   However, as soon as I arrived and began deploying resources, I received reports of additional fires north of my location including a vehicle fully involved.

As I continued northbound, I found several other fast moving fires getting large very quickly and a large black plume that was the van fire.

Again, I worked quickly to assign resources to the multiple fire locations and requested additional resources to cover the need.  However there was a significant amount of time where I struggled to identify the exact scope of the incident including exactly how many fire locations were there and if I had sufficient resources to manage the incident successfully.

There were three important take away’s for me from this weekend that I thought it would be important to share:

1.  Just because things are happening quickly, don’t forget the important stuff!  SAFETY!   Protect your people by keeping accountability under control, have good leaders in important positions and give the groups what they need.  I think the tendency for many is to just let the incident run as it will until such a time as things slow down and then you can pick up the pieces and manage the incident the way it should be.  It is during these “wild times” that firefighter safety issues are at their greatest and those working the incident are counting on you to keep the incident managed and safe.  DON’T LET THEM DOWN!

2.  Don’t assume anything!  While I never assumed that I knew the size of the incident until I was able to confirm facts myself, it would have been very easy to just think I had everything under control and allow the incident to dictate my decisions.  Instead, I chose to continue to work to confirm the exact magnitude of each incident and identified resource needs early and called often.  This made sure I had correctly adapted my strategy to the conditions and utilized my resources efficiently.  It took me some time before I knew for sure the exact size and scope of each incident and I didn’t ever stop adjusting until each incident was under control and extinguished.  

3.  Be flexible!  Everyone has SOG’s that are the playbook of how you are to manage certain types of incidents.  SOG’s by their very definition are a guide to help you make decisions about how to work through a situation.  However, these were both very dynamic incidents that expanded quickly.  Being able to identify the resource requirements quickly based on real data was imperative to bringing the incident to a successful conclusion.  When the the strategies that you put in place are not working….CHANGE WHAT YOU ARE DOING.  Adapt, Identify a new way.

I always enjoy a good challenge and it had been a while since I worked an incident of this magnitude.  Having two in the same weekend was enough to add a few grey to my stock on my head I have already earned but I look at them as stripes of service any more.

The moral of the story is everything worked out in the end.  Not because of luck, not because of the planets being in alignment, but because we had great people and equipment, in the right place at the right time, and we adapted to the conditions that presented challenges to us to bring everything to a successful end.

It’s not luck, It’s management.  It’s big picture firefighting with situational awareness.

It is my hope that one of these days, maybe I can get a UAV and a crystal ball.  That way I can see everything around me and look into the future all at the same time.

Stay Safe,

Firedog

Volunteer Training

Recently, I have been reading several posts and editorials about volunteer training. Many of these authors acknowledge that today’s fire service in the United States is made up of 70% or more volunteer fire fighters. The percentages are a little more or a little less depending upon which statistic you read.

But many of these volunteers today are receiving little or no training according to the same statistics. I am amazed by this and it bears asking the question…..WHY?

Training is one of those fundamental requirements of being a firefighter. Just like fire hose, nozzles, ladders, and water and PPE/SCBA. If you want the fires to go out, you have to have people, properly trained, to carry out the tasks necessary to get the job done.

As I read some of these articles, they cite reasons such as a lack of free time, no one qualified to provide the training, a lack of funds, and on and on and on.

GARBAGE! ALL OF IT. That is simply not a good excuse!

In today’s fire service, there are so many no cost or low cost training options out there that any of the reasons to try and rationalize why firefighter training isn’t happening simply doesn’t hold water.

There are books, youtube, facebook. blogs, and websites galore which provide training suggestions on how to train firefighters.

NFPA Standards outline how a training program should be developed and what kinds of training should be offered at what kinds of intervals.

I could go on and on and on. The bottom line is that there is simply no excuse why training cannot be done.

REMEMBER, TRAINING KEEPS FIREFIGHTERS SAFE. PERIOD. Take personal responsibility for your personal safety and the safety of your brothers and sisters. No one will make you do it. No one will likely punish you for not keeping your skills sharp. But there is a cost…

Not returning home at the end of a shift…

Not being there when your brother or sister needed you most…

Letting the public you are sworn to serve down when they needed you most. Trust me when I say that the public will remember. The next time you need new PPE, apparatus, tool, hose, whatever you may need… They will remember.

So while some say training is too much of a burden on firefighters today, maybe so. But I think an even more important question is can we afford not to train? I don’t think so.

How should we train firefighters?

Training in the fire service to me is a funny thing.  Not in the true meaning of the work but more so because when you ask someone “What is the goal of training to you” you get a wide range of answers.  

Some will say to advance my knowledge.  Others will say for “professional development” or so I will be eligible for promotion.  So does it really matter that so many people have so many opinions about what training means?  I think it matters as much as anything you do in the fire service.

When someone attends a training class or session, the instructor usually begins by identifying the course, the learning objectives, and what is going to be covered.  Then the students go through classroom and hands on training according to the content of the course.  When the objectives are covered, the course ends with written or hands on final evaluation, maybe both types of evaluation, or maybe the course is over and the students go home.  

But as instructors, what is the goal of training?  How far do we push the students and at what point has the students met the performance objectives of the curriculum or of the instructors?  As instructors, I think this is where we fall short for our students.

Unlike other jobs or careers, the fire service is a dangerous occupation.  Some in the fire service refer to what we do as a “club” or a “hobby”.  Is this the mindset that we want?  Where students pick up something at their leisure and kind of get “the hang of it” and then they are off to save the world?  Probably not. In fact, as instructors we are the ones responsible for preparing the students to perform that tasks and objectives in the topics that we teach.  We should not stop until the students can perform the tasks and skills to the level where the skill is second nature.  We are reminded often that when people get into trouble, “Training Takes Over” and many say TRAINING is what pulled them through their life threatening experience.  

When you look at pilots in the airline industry, During their initial pilot training for a particular aircraft, they are required to spend many hours in simulators training for the various emergency situations that have been identified as critical to the aircraft it’s occupants during an emergency.  Even after the skills are learned initially, on a regular basis the pilots are back in the simulator re-learning their skills and making sure that they are prepared for any emergency. If a pilot changes the type of airplane they fly, the process starts over and again they continue their training until they master the skills needed to operate the aircraft.

The military takes a similar approach.  Training is what keeps fighting men and women alive and pulls them through when the are in the heat of battle.  Training takes over for sure.  That is where I think we are failing our students in training within the fire service.  

As I look at my own organization and as I visit other organizations, we all recognize that there is cultural change and there is also change within our fire service.  There is data out there which talks about the traits of various generations and what makes them tick.  There is statistics out that tell us what we already know about our calls.  We are busier than ever but there are fewer fires to fight and extinguish.  

Many organizations across the country are spending equal or more amounts of time training for the medical emergencies which is 60-80 percent of our business today. The number of hours of training dedicated to structure fires and the various other types of fire suppression tasks is getting less and less.  I understand the rational and it may seem to make sense.  However, how many firefighters are killed responding to the difficulty breathing call at the same residence for the 5th time in 72 hours?  We are performing those skills regularly.  That is not the problem.  Less fires to keep our skills sharp and less training for these calls.  That IS the problem.

Because of what we are seeing in today’s fire service, the importance of training on fire service topics to the level of mastery should be the goal of every training evolution.  There are many people out there who argue that especially in the volunteer fire services that firefighter certification and hours of training needs to be reduced in order to help with recruitment and retention.  I have to disagree.  We may have to alter the method we deliver these training but not what we teach.  Ensuring firefighters are trained to operate in the hazardous operations we are called to and are able to come home at the end of the call is our goal.  Training along with experience is how we get there.  

So what am I saying by all of this?  Simple.  TRAIN YOUR PEOPLE.  When an instructor leads training, know what the NFPA standards say are the performance expectations for what students.  Make sure they  are being trained to that level.  When students perform skills, if they perform it correctly once, it doesn’t mean they are be proficient at the skill.  When they can perform the skill correctly, that means they are truly proficient and can perform the tasks under duress and under pressure.  Anything short of that should not be acceptable.

Make sure that the students are aware of what the instructors expectations are.  If they don’t know what’s expected, how can they meet our expectations?  Explain to them why you are asking them to do the task and make sure they understand to what level they are to perform.  When you do, they will rise to the occasion and meet the objective.  

But as important as anything I have discussed here, remember that this only happens when YOU the instructor ensures that it happens.  As the instructor, you are empowered to make sure that training is valid, of high quality, and meets the needs of the student and the organization.  You are responsible for being prepared, structuring training to be informative and yes, even keeping training fun.  

At the end of the training session, make sure that each student knows what was covered thoroughly.  Practical skills should be performed accurately, efficiently, and confidently with few if any mistakes.  For a long time written test scores were set to allow a passing grade of 70%.  What if the most important part of the training was missed in the 30% the student missed?  Maybe it’s time to adjust what the minimum expectation is.

As instructors, we have to make sure training get’s done right.  Many people say that effective training is done in a manner that is consistent and repeatable.  I agree.  It also has to meet the needs of the organization and it must prepare the students for what lies ahead.  

However, I do not live in a glass house.  Like any training program and any instructor, we all have work to do to improve.  While I am constantly trying to improve on my part, I challenge all instructors out there to take an objective look at your training programs.  Have you as the instructor prepared your students for what lies ahead?  Are they going to be ready when things go wrong and the need that training you gave them to get them out?  

We all have a lot of work to do!  

Good Luck!

Firedog

 

Firefighter Pride…

ImageThis past evening, our fire district recognized our latest group of recruit firefighters during a graduation ceremony. When we set the date for the ceremony, we asked all recruits to please R.S.V.P. with the number of guests they would have with them. Both the fire chief and myself were amazed when we learned that our recruits were having as many as 10 guests per recruit to attend the graduation! The event was amazing and it was very refreshing to see the support each of these recruits have from family and friends as they begin their journey in the fire service.

After the ceremony, as I drove home last night I found myself reflecting on the evening and looking back to when I was a new recruit. I can remember being a Public Safety Explorer in Verona Wisconsin and the pride I had helping out with open houses, First Nighters for the Post, and the opportunity to serve in that role. Sometimes I think we all forget the “why” when we decided to become a firefighter in the first place.

After I was home, I scanned through facebook and watched these new recruits put their own perspectives on the night out there for others to read. Over, and over again I saw the words, Pride, Brotherhood, Honor, and many others in their posts. I know they have the fire to be firefighters and are excited about what lies ahead.

If only, we could bottle up their excitement, and pass it out to those who need a little boost now and then. Oh, the fun of being a new firefighter!

Congratulations to the Western Taney County Fire District Recruit Class 12-3. Have a safe journey!

Firedog

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How Many Different Things Can You Really Be Good At?

As each one of us goes through our careers either with a paycheck or for the love of the job, at some point most of us realize that there is more to the fire service than just fighting fires.  Haz-Mat, Technical Rescue, Water Rescue, Aircraft Rescue Firefighting, and Tactical Medicine just to name a few.  All of them seem cool, and something different than the standard pulling hose and squiring water routine.

So, you begin a new adventure and learn some new skills, then another class, and another skill, and on and on your training goes.  So my question for this blog is, can you learn too much?  When have you exceeded your ability to remain proficient at the skills you have learned?

I am one of the biggest offenders of not saying the word no often enough and the thought of turning down a training opportunity is not something I have done often.  But can you learn too much and can you reach a point where you can no longer be proficient in all the skills your certifications reflect?

I definitely think so.  I had come to realize some time back that as I try and balance work and family, I had to decide which skills and abilities were important to my job and which ones I wanted to keep doing and let go of of the rest.  Most of those skills that I learned I rarely if ever use.

It isn’t an easy decision to make.  Times change, lives changes, your time and availability for training can change and yes, even your motivation and drive can change.

Regardless of who you are or what skills and training you have, I think it is important for each of us to take stock in ourselves and evaluate what we do and what we are trained to do.

Have you ever asked yourself why you continue to hold a certificate in a particular skill or ability even though you have never performed that in the field.  Maybe you don’t really remember how to do what your certificate reflects?

If this is you, maybe it’s time to evaluate what you are doing.  Take a close look at what you are trained to do and really ask the hard question like why are you still keeping up that skill?

I am not suggesting that anyone give up what they have worked long and hard for.  Some of the training you have received is required for your job or position within your organization so their is no question about what is important.

Always make sure that if you have training or a certificate that says you have been trained to perform a particular skill or task, that you take it very seriously and constantly train on those skills.  Remain proficient and able to perform those tasks according to the certificate you hold.

Failure to do so is simply not an option.

Remember, training is ultimately each individual’s responsibility to stay sharp.  Despite popular belief, it is not the training officer’s job to keep you trained.  Only to make sure that training is offered on a frequent basis to meet the needs of the organization as a whole.  It is ultimately YOU that has to make sure you are ready for what lies ahead.  Because ready or not, we know 911 is going to call and you are going to need to get the job done.  And done right the first time, every time.

Be Safe and Happy Training!

Firedog

Respect?

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Respect?

Many times we see uniforms with bars, stars, and bugles and we wonder what it means?  Those who are ex-military usually get it but what about the rest of us?

What it should mean to all of us it that you do not have to respect the individual wearing the rank, but regardless of the individual, the rank demands a certain degree of respect.  For most, the sooner we recognize this, the easier it is for the organization to function.

Just a thought

So what does it mean “Volunteer Firefighter”?

As many of you are already aware, I work full time for an organization that is technically a combination fire organization.  But, the heart and soul of the organization is the volunteer firefighters.  From the rank of Battalion Chief on down, these dedicated men and women answer the calls for service each day and are as professional as any other firefighter in this line of work.

Lately, I am beginning to ask the question, “What does it mean to be a Volunteer Firefighter”?  It seems that what it meant in the 1980’s when I began calling myself a firefighter and today are different.  Maybe it is, maybe it’s not.  But this question began making me ask this question myself and I thought I would take a little time to answer the question with a few thoughts.

When I began my career in the fire service back in the mid 80’s, I knew what it meant to me.  I had been bitten by the firefighter bug.  I couldn’t wait for the next training class, or until the pager went off.  I would hang around the fire station for hours cleaning trucks, working on bunker drills, practicing search techniques, whatever I could just waiting for the next call.  When the tones did go off, It didn’t matter what time of the day or night, Hot or Cold, Snow, Sleet, Rain, Christmas morning, my birthday, sleepy, tired, sick, hungry….It didn’t matter, I was going.

Some would read this and probably think I am way more crazy than you thought!  You are probably right.  But, I wasn’t the only one like this.  Back then it seemed EVERYONE was that way.  You see, I wasn’t alone hanging out at the station waiting for something to happen.  The whole department would routinely show up just just hang out.  We would have impromptu BBQ’s, Super Bowl Parties, and yes, even would train on whatever the mood struck us to train on.  We all just wanted to do whatever we decided to do at the fire station so that when the tones went off, we were quick out the door and quick to arrive to whatever the need was.

Some people like my dad would ask me all the time, “You know that people get paid to do what you do for free don’t you”?  He was absolutely right but I didn’t care.  I loved being a firefighter and still do today.  Paid, volunteer, part time, paid on call, whatever you call it, I was a firefighter and I LOVE IT.  I knew my stuff and I was good at it.  More than anything I was in the business of helping people on their worst day ever.  That is what it was all about.

So, what does it mean to you to be a volunteer firefighter?  Here are some of my observations and opinions on the subject.

First of all, it means that you take pride in the service you provide.  Retired Fire Chief Rick Lasky has said that being a firefighter is not a job, but it’s a calling.  He is absolutely right!  Many of us have dreamed about being a firefighter since we were small children.  Riding on the fire truck, wearing the gear, and helping your neighbor in their greatest time of need.  You must be dedicated which means that you answer every call for service not because you feel obligated to, not because you need to meet an organizational quota or requirement, but simply because you want to.  Because you cannot imagine doing anything else.

Second, it means that nobody motivates you to be the best firefighter other than you.  To be able to dress out on your PPE faster, advance that attack line better, throw ladders better, and doing every job or task in this business better than the last time you did it and constantly working to make it better still.  We all know that there are regulations and standards that state what the expectations are for our performance as firefighters and those standards are very important!  However, more than anything your ability to perform your job with the highest degree of confidence and safety so that you can make a difference is what counts the most. It’s all about the basics!

Third, it means that you do all of these things because they are important and the right thing to do.  Being a firefighter is not about “what’s in it for me”!  The gratification that we get by receiving an award at a banquet or a thank you from the public for a job well done is always an honor and is an indication of how we are doing.  But what should drive everyone in this business is standing up for what’s right, doing the right thing, and helping people who need our help.

What does it mean to be a volunteer firefighter?  It means answering the call.  Not because of the pay or because of what it may do for you.  But, because it is what you have been called to do and you want to do it more than anything.   It means knowing your tasks so well that you do not even have to think about doing the tasks, they just happen because you know what needs to be done.  It means knowing the basics because no matter how difficult or technical a call is, the basics will pull you through.  It means doing it because you care.  It means doing it because you love what you do so you do what you love.

A volunteer firefighter is no different then those who get paid to do this job.  In fact, when you think about those who work in the paid fire services, they too are technically a “volunteer” because nobody held a gun to their head and told them they have to do that job.  Every firefighter must remember that the NFPA standards do not differentiate between paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters in relation to who has to comply with what standards.  Every firefighter is expected to do the job safely, quickly, and efficiently so that lives can be saved, property can be salvaged, and our communities are protected.  It means that YOU are doing the very best job possible and doing so gives you the greatest feeling in the world.  Pay or not.

Once you know the job and the responsibilities, you have to be dedicated to answer the calls whenever they come in.  Day, Night, Winter, Summer, Christmas, Thanksgiving, always.  Not because you have to, but because YOU WANT TO! Because you take pride in being a firefighter and you are dedicated to the service.

So I challenge each of you who read this.  Ask yourself why I am a firefighter?  It doesn’t matter paid or volunteer.    Be honest with yourself.  If you truly are honest about your answer, maybe you have the right answer.  Maybe you have the drive, the pride to be the best because you want to be.  If not, start looking for ways to find that motivation. Take a class, teach some new recruits, spend some time at the station making something better.  If you still can’t find that motivation, find another occupation, hobby, or whatever you call it.  The fire service and your community doesn’t need people like you.  Nothing personal, just business.

If you are not currently a firefighter, does doing the things that I am talking about here make sense to you?  Do the things I describe here excite you and make you think about becoming a firefighter?  If so, your community needs you.  Your neighbors need you.  Firefighters in the volunteer fire forces are struggling to answer calls and keep the community protected.  Is there sacrifice in being a firefighter?  Absolutely.  There will be much time away from family and friends as you learn this craft, and become proficient at your tasks. You will miss baseball games, birthday parties, Christmas morning.  Not every one… but certainly some of them.  However, there is no greater reward than helping your neighbor and having the honor of  them giving you a simple “thank you”.  No amount of money can buy how that feels. If you want to learn more, stop by your local fire house and find out how you can become one of us.  It will be the best decision of your life.

Many times, I have heard the comment “They’re just a bunch of volunteers” as if that is some excuse for substandard performance.  NO WAY!  Volunteers do things because they want to.  Not because they have to.  Therefore, be a volunteer. a firefighter!  Take pride in what you do.  Be the best you can be everyday.

Be Safe,

Firedog

"Flipping" for training

So about a month ago, I attended the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis.  During the HOT Classes, and other training sessions, there seemed to be a common theme which was floating around all the classes and instructors.  It was an emphasis on how fire service instructors must embrace technology, find new ways to teach firefighters, and do something called “flipping the classroom”.  It seems that someone has suggested that there is a better way to teach firefighters other than “Death by Powerpoint”.  REALLY???  Say it isn’t so!!!

I find the concept of flipping the classroom very interesting.  The concept is really a common sense approach of how to make the instructor led sessions of training more efficient.  The basic idea is that an instructor will provide student materials via a web portal, blackboard, online learning service, or other method before the actual classroom/practical sessions begin.  It is the student’s responsibility to study this material, and be prepared to participate in training based on the ideas and concepts presented in the material prior to class.  When the actual “class” begins, the instructor has less teaching to do because students already have knowledge of the material and simply assists students as they complete the classroom segment.  In some cases, this concept may eliminate a classroom segment altogether and will simply begin with practical training.  Sound good to you?  Here are some pitfalls that must be overcome:

First, How to motivate students to do the coursework prior to training.  This can be done several ways. A test will gauge the knowledge of the student and make sure they have the minimum required knowledge to  continue with the next segment of the course.  Student participation can also be monitored using a variety of computer based learning tools (CBT).  Currently, programs such as Target Solutions (formerly Target Safety), Centrelearn, and others allow the instructor to track student progress and only allow students to continue within the curriculum when they successfully complete certain sections of material/end of course quizzes.  If you are dealing with a career organization, the motivation is quite simple.  Do it or else.  There is always that “do you want to work here?” card you can pull.  Probably not the most effective method however.

Second, The instructor(s) must re-tool their courses to accommodate this delivery method.  Having the knowledge to convert standard powerpoint into a movie format which can be uploaded to the various delivery mediums discussed in the last paragraph.  Making the presentation engaging to where the students will not loose their drive to breath and their pulse as they continue through the material.  There are many new ideas/methods of how to improve today’s presentations.  Any of which can greatly improve the student experience when using standardized curriculum from a vendor or institution.

Third, Instructors are going to have to be ready for intense training and be sure to make good use of the students time.  The students have already spent time and effort to learn the concepts on their own.  As instructors, we must encourage the students to engage and make the training fun and to train like it’s real.  Of course, there is logic which says that the instructor must also verify the knowledge level of the students is adequate and if any relearning must occur, try to be efficient in this effort.

So, the real question is does it work?  I think the overall answer is yes.  This concept has come from educators in our school systems and in that application the concept has been very successful.  Anyone who has been a fire service instructor has come to realize that adult learners are a different breed from our primary and secondary education counterparts.  The other issue here is that students must embrace technology.  Students who in their daily lives are plugged into the world using smart phones, IPads, notebooks and other devices are communicating through Facebook, Twitter, and other ways.  These students will easily adapt and embrace this method.  For the “old dogs”, this will certainly be a stretch and most likely will not work for this group.  Who are the “old dogs”? They know who they are.  Those who still have a “dumb phone”, still pay for an AOL account, just to name a few qualifying items.  So where does that leave the fire service?

CHANGE!  It may be slow at times but it must continue at a steady pace.  At this point in our profession, I do not see that all training courses and topics will qualify for this approach.  However, basic, entry level topics such as Vehicle Rescue, Ventilation Techniques, fire streams, foam application, and other courses that have a few basic concepts will lend itself to this type of delivery.  Student will learn concepts and then receive a solid, hands on training evolution to apply the concepts they learned online.  With practice and fine tuning courses for this delivery concept, more classes can be transitioned into this training format.  At the same time, the students who will learn from this delivery technique will also change and will adapt to this method.  However, no mater how cool the latest gizmo is, how much chrome you put on it, how bright it flashes, training concepts just like everything in the fire service has to be deliberately changed but at a pace where ideas are embraced, new techniques are employed, and the safety and well being of today’s firefighters is always the primary focus of training.

In the coming months, the regional training association which I am a part of has agreed to “Flip the Classroom” for a delivery of a basic firefighter topic.  In the meantime, we will continue to work on transitioning the curriculum to a format where students will access the information in an online delivery prior to classroom/practical skills training.

If you are interested in participating in a pilot of this delivery format, be watching the media outlets for the Greene County Regional Fire Training Association.  The outlets are:

Website:  www.greenecountyfiretraining.com

Facebook:  Greene County Regional Fire Training.

I will be interested to see how this concept works and if we can make it work in “The Show Me State”.  I think it will.  For the sake of those students who are half my age and will continue to out perform me in my ability to embrace technology, I will have to change and keep training interesting, and valid for tomorrow’s fire service.  Do this or my ability to share my knowledge and experience will be left in the dark ages.  This simply cannot happen.  I will not allow it.

So for now, be thinking about “Flipping the Classroom”.  Google it.  Get more information on it.  Once you start looking at what it is and how it works,  you too may begin to think, “I wonder if we could do that here?”  Many are doing exactly that.  As we struggle for volunteer and career firefighters, if we expect to have people ready to respond, we are going to have to find new ways to engage our new firefighters and give them the same rookie spark we all had early in our careers.

Hope to see you soon when we flip the classroom locally.

Be Safe!

Firedog