Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Concrete Training

Nothing beats real world, on-the-job training; particularly in the fire service. 
It has always been a major challenge of the fire suppression providers to simulate real world scenarios.  How do you create a potentially deadly, deteriorating atmosphere in an unknown location with the urgency of saving a life (while preserving your own) without destroying property and killing recruits? 
There are hundreds of ways to development skills needed to function in an actual burning building.  We negotiate mazes with blanked out SCBA masks (like blind mice looking for cheese), repetitively practice with our equipment to hone technical skills into thoughtless reflexes (while sitting on a chair in the engine room), we flow nozzles (onto sunny parking lots) to give pump operators and nozzle jockeys time to develop natural reactions and thought processes.  We watch videos, we tell stories, and we read articles and books.  We pre-plan, chalk talk, and “what if” ourselves to death.  We participate in scheduled drills, we attend structured classes, and we obtain “certifications” by jumping through some carefully monitored and well documented “hoops”.  While these tasks may prepare us for the real deal, they certainly don’t recreate it. 
Many will argue that live burn sessions are the only way to properly prepare a firefighter for the real action he or she may face, and in many way, this type of training is very helpful to measure one’s abilities in certain areas.  Certainly, a live burn will assure that a candidate understands the purpose of the PPE, and the importance of maintaining it and wearing it properly.  It is an important tool for measuring one’s ability to remain calm, tolerate heat, and negotiate with limited visibility.  There is also no better way to drive home the lessons about staying low, NOT opening a fog pattern into a superheated space that you occupy, the importance of good timing with your ventilation techniques, or why proper radio use is so very important. 
Then there are the drawbacks to this type of training… The things it can’t teach...  Worse yet, are the habits we can develop when we train in a concrete prop more than we fight real fire.  Such as:
·         Real fire doesn’t check your schedule…or the weather
·         Real fires require overhaul… LOTS of overhaul
·         Real fires threaten property that can be SALVAGED
·         Real fires aren’t over in 4 minutes
·         Real fires decompose buildings in short periods of time
·         Real fires should be completely extinguished the first time
·         Real fires don’t wait until your crew, back-up crew, vent team, RIT team and water supply are all set and ready to go
·         Real fires don’t let you try it again
·         Real fires don’t show you the floor plan and escape doors
·         Real fires ignore the safety rules
A live burn session is a great tool to use to help teach a firefighter, but FAR from a simulation, and certainly not the ONLY tool that should be used to measure a firefighter’s ability…that’s what certifications are for, right?  More on that powder keg topic next time…
Stay safe Brothers and Sisters!