The Two Sides of Firefighter Training

There’s been a number of discussions lately that imply that our training may be what’s getting us into more and more trouble on the fireground. Here’s a few thoughts to consider…

We’ve been involved in firefighter survival and rapid intervention team training for a while now, in addition to basic engine and truck company training, and have found that as the years go by there are more-and-more images showing up that capture firefighters in very bad situations. The images also capture the fact that the firefighters are getting out of those bad situations. These situations, captured by the images, are like a double-edge sword. What do the images say?

The images say that firefighters are getting themselves into bad situations on the fireground and also that firefighters are getting themselves out of bad situations on the fireground. The real question that goes unanswered is WHY!

Why? Are these firefighters finding themselves in bad situations because they know or think that they are capable, through the survival skill training that they’ve had, of getting themselves out of those situations? Are they pushing further than they normally would because they know their department has a RIT on the fireground that is suppose to come and help them? Are they getting themselves in these situations because they focused more on survival skills and less on fireground (engine and truck) skills? Are they only partially learning these skills…are they only learning the physical part of the skill and not the mental part that goes with it? Are they unaware of the REAL dangers that come with only partially learning something?

When it comes to firefighter/fireground training there are two essential parts…Mental and Physical!

We’re doing a fantastic job around the country when it comes to teaching the PHYSICAL skill sets that firefighters may have to use to get the job done. Search, ventilation, hose line advance, nozzle operation, low-profile techniques, firefighter drags…the list goes on. We’re failing, for the most part, when it comes to teaching the MENTAL skill sets needed to make the physical skill sets work. When it comes to teaching both mental and physical skill sets the training has to go beyond the skill station. It has to incorporate operational training that involves arriving, processing, reacting, adjusting, and carrying through from start to finish. You can teach all the saw skills you want but if they guy doesn’t know to take the saw then both the training, and the firefighter, missed the point!

Now that’s a lot of twisted words but what it really means is that you have to be able to THINK as well as react. There are plenty of people out there, and we’re among them, that believe that instinct is what is required in the heat of battle. The quote we’ve used over-and-over again in our journey is from Arleigh Burke, USN Admiral retired, that states: “In the heat of battle you don’t remember very much, you don’t think very fast, you act by instinct, which is really training…so you’ve got to be trained for battle so you’ll react exactly the same way you did in training.”

We’re failing to train the MIND when we’re training for instinct. We had a run the other night, 0230 in the morning for a reported residence fire in one of our normal fire blocks. That time of night, that address, there’s a pretty high probability it’s a fire. Our normal engineer, who is solid and methodical when driving (which sometimes means a little slower for our own good), was off. The backup engineer, a young guy with more brawn than brains at times, was out like a shot. His instinct…let’s get there as quick as we can. We round two corners and see the swing arms coming down at the train track. We see the arms a couple intersections prior to reaching them (the intersections cross two streets, both one-way in opposite directions). The truck slows and without listening the engineer simply pulls beyond the second intersection – but he sure got there fast! Now we’re committed, requiring us to back up to at least the first intersection, and forced to regroup. We can go North or South, which requires thought, but we certainly can’t go straight—which was his instinct. Unfortunately, brawn over brain usually means that the THINKING component is lacking.

My point, one that hopefully you’ll consider when it comes to training and preparing for the streets, is that you can be as solid as the next guy when it comes to performing the instinctive skill-set but if you haven’t polished the Mental (THINKING) part of the skill set that belongs at the beginning of the instinctive part, then you’ll probably find yourself in one of these images that are being captured on the fireground.

Training in the fire service should teach firefighters to THINK and REACT, not just to react! The further ahead you think the better your reaction to the situation.

Get out and do some training!

 

1 Comment

  • Lee Jones says:

    The biggest thing in my opinion that is killing us, and it is well documented in almost every NIOSH report, is we don’t understand what we are doing? We understand the physical side of our job, how to force doors, how to ventilate, and how to stretch lines. We don’t understand, and are starting to forget, why we do those tasks and more importantly when to do those tasks and when not to do those tasks in the big picture. we are failing to understand how fire behavior, smoking reading, and building construction all interconnect together. Understanding the science and mental part of this job is so important. Then you understand when to apply the physical part. Every Firefighter should understand the reasons behind the task that he is assigned and to understand when those tasks are need and when they are not.

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