One of the greatest life lessons that many of us have been taught is to “practice what you preach”. It is valuable guidance that encourages all of us to lead by example and demonstrate character traits worth following. As in everyday life, this approach also stands true in the fire service when it comes to being a mentor by taking advantage of every opportunity to train and learn. The saying "train like you play” not only applies to organized training activities; it also holds worth in taking advantage of learning opportunities found in those "routine" calls for service.
In this article, I'll present four (4) helpful ideas that can be implemented into any fire service organization to help each and every member take advantage of every-day learning opportunities.
1. Apparatus Chess
When responding to the run of the mill nuisance alarm, respond with your apparatus as you would for an assignment to a confirmed working fire. Upon arrival, utilize your apparatus as if they were chess pieces preparing in advance for a move to conquer the opponent. The structure at hand (which is potentially on fire), is your opponent, and you want to practice and train positioning your apparatus during these routine calls in a fashion that would best suit the worst case scenario.
For example, you respond to a commercial establishment in your first due for a fire alarm activation with no call back or confirmation. This happens on a regular basis and almost always ends with the same result: an accidental activation or system malfunction. This is the perfect opportunity to train the way you play by strategically placing your responding apparatus in the positions most conducive to your operational needs. Pull the first arriving engine past the structure if it warrants, place the truck in the front of the building, and secure a hydrant with the second due engine. Treat fire alarm activations as structure fires until proven otherwise. The more you execute these steps under normal circumstances, the more natural it will be to position apparatus correctly at an actual emergency.
2. Dress For Success
Often times, responding to the same address repeatedly and being met with the same results will create a sense of complacency amongst responders. Far too often I have witnessed seasoned firefighters respond to alarm activations donning only their bunker pants or arriving with their jacket wide open and not a single ounce of urgency in their steps. Worse than this, is that their actions are showing the less experienced firefighters that it is an acceptable practice.
Would you show up for a job interview wearing your gym attire or your Sunday best? Dressing for success means being prepared for battle 100% of the time. Make it a challenge: turning each response into a 45 second drill to not only creates an atmosphere of friendly competition amongst the crew, but to also instills the importance and efficiency of donning the required personal protective equipment (PPE). When the time comes that the routine alarm is an actual fire, you will be dressed for success.
3. Know the Role, Play the Part
At the start of every shift, it is critical to make sure all crew members understand what their job function or riding assignment will be for the duration of the shift. Knowing what role you will play and how to properly perform these tasks is a great way to eliminate duplication of effort and avoid assumptions that someone else is taking care of a particular task. While responding to the scene for a fire alarm activation for example, plan out in advance what tools and equipment will be needed to fulfill the position you have been assigned, so that when the same response turns into a structure fire, everyone is already in the game.
4. The CONE Game
By far the greatest advantage of these routine responses is the opportunity to perform informal pre-planning of the target hazards in your first due district. Although you are operating on an actual scene, you are in a less critical mode of response, which allows personnel to focus on important information that will be valuable during a more serious response. If you are a back step firefighter, you will not have many opportunities to perform fire inspections and pre-planning. What better way to familiarize yourself with the structures than to train by playing the CONE Game at every location you respond to, both residential and commercial?
The acronym CONE stands for Construction Type, Occupancy, Number of Floors, and Entrance/Exits. By knowing the type of construction of a building, you will be better prepared for how fire behavior could affect the structure. Knowing the occupancy of the structure will play a huge role in determining life safety and suppression concerns and challenges. Knowing the number of floors in the structure is critical for your own safety. This bit of information will determine the length of the hose stretch you will pull, the distance you will travel into the structure with what air supply you have in your SCBA, and what information is needed for area familiarization should you become lost or disoriented inside of the structure. Lastly, identifying the location and number of entrance points and exits is important for accountability of occupants as well as for firefighters that may need to exit the building rapidly via an alternate means than the primary exit.
Psychomotor functions and skills become second nature and are performed more quickly and proficiently with practice and training. Making each response a training tool will develop thinking firefighters and help to eliminate complacency.