One of the most rewarding experiences thus far in my fire service career has been the opportunity to help teach and train new firefighters. Whether you call them recruits, rookies, probies, or something else they all have something in common; purity. These members are just entering our ranks and have not been corrupted by bad habits, shortcuts, egos, or “the way it has always been”. If you are fortunate enough to be a part of their initial training you are being trusted with shaping the future of the fire service. The instruction new firefighters receive during their initial training course lays the foundation for their entire career. The skills they are taught during this indoctrination to our craft should consist of the most important and most used skills we have. How you teach and train them on these skills will also dictate how they interpret the importance of the training. Most probies come out of school dedicated and proficient. So why on earth do we seem to degrade and dismiss these “basic” skills later in our careers?
There is a reason we teach the skills we do during initial training classes: we use them the most! But it seems that many forget the importance of fundamental skills as the years on the job tick by. Does the professional baseball player stop taking batting practice after little league? Does the professional hockey player stop practicing stick handling after junior league? Do our soldiers show up on foreign soil and figure out how to win the war when they get there? The answer is a very loud NO! All of these professionals constantly practice their most basic skill sets in order to perform at the highest possible level when it counts. So why would a professional firefighter stop practicing how to catch hydrants after rookie school? Laziness, ignorance, pride, and fear are just a few of the reasons we neglect basic proficiency. Sometimes we get caught up in all the daily distractions and lose touch with our training and skill level. Other times the culture of the department discourages this type of training. Regardless of what the reason may be, you cannot allow your crew to slack on the core competencies of our profession.
So how do you know if your crew is fundamentally challenged? First and foremost ask yourself, when is the last time your crew deployed a preconnected hose line other than while operating at a job? How often do you put hose on the ground and practice hydrant connections? Are your ground ladders maintained and thrown regularly, or are they ISO ornaments? Have you practiced donning your PPE and SCBA since you got your Firefighter 1 certificate? Do you find it takes your crew a long time to complete common assignments while operating at a job? Is the only training your crew gets mandatory in nature? If any of these questions are making your feel uncomfortable, you should probably revamp your training plan and reassess your commitment to our profession because you are likely fundamentally challenged. There is no excuse to not be proficient in these skills when the majority of them require very little equipment and can be done at your firehouse! All it takes is a little guidance and motivation to keep your crew adept. I don’t care how many runs your station turns out for each tour, you should never be too good to train on fundamentals. Forcing a door, primary search, water supply, hose advancement, and vertical ventilation are just a few of basic but perishable skills you need to keep your crew current on. They are the backbone of what our craft is all about, saving lives and property.
We are quick to get lost in sophisticated, once in a life time scenarios yet will end up on the wrong end of a video comment thread because a citizen records our inability to quickly knockdown a fire in a single family dwelling. Don’t believe me? I have seen some pretty embarrassing videos and would be happy to send some examples, especially to those who are too amazing to train on essential skills. It’s funny to me how a few fires, a few years on the job, a few certificates, and a promotion or two seems to elevate some of our members to a point which makes them feel exempt from participating in fundamental training. They have seen it all and done it all so in no way, shape, or form will you possibly have anything which could add or improve on their stellar skill set. I hope you are laughing as you read this because we all know who these people are in our departments. Do yourself a favor and keep yourself and your crew away from these individuals as they are the cancer of your organization.
What really fires me up is when I see guys who have been on the job for a few years mocking others who train on the “basics”. These individuals have no business in our profession and as far as I am concerned can hang up their gear. Maybe instead of running your mouth you should grab your equipment and join in. If you are a master at these skills you will likely have tons of knowledge to input into the training session. However, I highly doubt that is the case. I have found more times than not when I am out making mistakes on the training ground while I polish up my skills, those who chose to mock and not contribute are hiding because they have no clue what is going on. They can tell you everything you are doing wrong but have no valid reason why it is wrong. They are also incapable of demonstrating the appropriate way to complete the evolution. We all know the type and unfortunately if you can’t get them involved all you can do is hope they find another career sooner than later!
Stop being too scared or too proud to train on basic, essential, fundamental skills! Functions like forcible entry, hose advancement, and search techniques will likely save more lives over the course of your career than any once in a career, specialized scenario ever will. I am not trying to downgrade any type of training however I think we need to be realistic about what we focus our time on. What operations will be time sensitive vs. which ones will give us time to make a plan on arrival? I am also willing to bet fundamental skills will be involved regardless of how large the scenario is. So next tour get your crew and take the ground ladders off the rig. Spend a few hours deploying and reloading your attack lines. Teach each other something. This is also a perfect opportunity to give your junior member the lead, after all the basics should be fresh in his/her mind! Ignore the naysayers because it will be clear to other companies and the citizens who is dedicated to professional service delivery and who is dedicated to a paycheck the next time you catch a job!