We are living in an incredible time in the fire service; the fact that our knowledge of the fireground is evolving at an unparalleled rate, combined with the fact that at no other point in history has information been shared as fast and freely as it is today, this truly is the Firefighter Renaissance. Twenty years ago (pre-digital big bang and infinite internet), I remember searching for hours, even days for the answer to a given question. I would first look in a dictionary, then ask my friends/parents/brothers/teachers and then I'd go to the library before either finding the answer I was looking for, or giving up, annoyed and unsatisfied. How ridiculous does that last sentence look to you today? With so much information, literally at our fingertips, one needs to only take seconds to find accurate, relevant material on any fire service topic. This free trade of information, in a lot of respects makes our job easier than ever before...but it also means that there is now no excuse for ignorance.
I know that I'm preaching to the choir here, but with the importance of competence in our profession (a mistake could directly mean the loss of a life: a civilian's, a crew member's or even your own), coupled with the fact that we are living in the information revolution, in 2013 each company should now have a zero tolerance policy on ignorance. The purpose of this article is to highlight the greatest training tool the fire service has ever seen...the computer.
I know this is heresy to many, so let me just clarify the above thought. Reading an article or watching a video on fire attack will obviously not lead to mastery of that skill (our bills are still paid in sweat equity), but it's a start. And I hope this goes without saying, but you must make sure that what you see and hear online is credible and works for your crew, your staffing, your equipment, your community, etc, etc. Now that I have offered my disclaimer, let's examine the near infinite number of opportunities one has for learning in 2013 and beyond.
First and foremost, as I alluded to in my last post ("The Holy Grail of Fire Attack") the scientific study of the fireground that has, and is, being done by UL, NIST, ISFSI, NYU-POLY, KTF and numerous other acronyms and initialisms is changing how we attack fire and affect rescues of unprotected civilians. Not only is the information that we are learning changing how we operate, but they are digitally spoon-feeding it to us (online, interactive learning modules)...and it's delicious.
Secondly, let's not forget about the true opiate of the masses: Facebook. I'm willing to bet that almost every one of you reading this has already been on Facebook today, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Facebook is an extremely powerful tool and is the easiest way to communicate with, and ask questions of brothers from around the globe. I have had hundreds of conversations with firefighters much smarter and much more experienced than myself. So now, if I have a question about fire attack, instead of waiting until the game is over to ask the senior guy on my crew, I can ask Chief John Salka, Lt. Brian Brush or Aaron Fields...and I don't even have to wait until the game is over.
Next up, YouTube. Many of us, including myself, respond to less than a dozen working fires a year. How then are we supposed to get our reps and sets at reading smoke, giving arrival reports, practicing our continual size-ups, etc? YouTube. We can watch 5-10 fires an hour...from the POV of the IC, the pipeman or the OVM...any time of the day...anywhere you get a signal...even in your "office". Could this be any more convenient? Hell, later today I will probably be watching one of you working a job that hasn't even happened yet.
Lastly, in 2013, apps are ubiquitous. They are designed to make our lives easier and they can pretty much do anything. Want to listen to your district's radio while you're at home...check; need help figuring out friction loss...done; wish you could get help with your upcoming promotional interview...yep: drug calculations, knots, ERG...I think you know the answer.
I think I've made my point, but here are a couple more great resources to explore:
* Podcasts - new show nearly every night on Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio
* Webcasts - can listen to the best of the best present...even while you're at home in your underwear
* Simulations - great way to make sure your crew is all on the same page
* Fire modeling - if you haven't before, you need to check this out
* NIOSH LODD reports - RFB...honor them by learning from them
* National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System - let's not make the same mistakes twice
* Blogs - there are some amazing firefighters and writers out there
Some resources that are a little more low-tech, but have stood the test of time:
* Books, magazines and DVDs to fill your library
* Conferences and classes are everywhere if you know where to look
In the past twenty years of so, education and the fireground have made an huge evolutionary leap forward. To truly be students of the fire service we must embrace technology in the age of the information revolution. Information is everywhere, to not look is to be blind. So the next time that you're having trouble trying to figure out what to do for drill later on, just turn on your computer/tablet/phone and something is sure to spark your interest...then go get sweaty.
I know that there are a ton of other resources that I left out...so let's hear them; comment below with your favorite tools, programs, sites, etc.