Like the rest of the Country, I was watching the Summer Olympics and listened to an interview with a local resident of London explaining the ‘insiders’ way to navigate the city. She offered the normal tips of how to get around and what historic landmarks not to miss. None of that distracted me from typing away on my computer and completing other tasks in my office but one particular comment did perk my ears.
When she was questioned about the cab drivers in London she stated the rate is about $11.00 a mile, which was enough to grab any fiscally-minded firefighters attention, but then she mentioned why. Some of the high rate was attributed to the London economy but it is “money well spent” because of their knowledge of the city. Knowledge that is not learned through using a GPS or their Smartphone. Knowledge that is learned through a defined, rigorous, and mandated process. A process that defines and separates London cabbies from any other cabbie in the world. A process that exists in some fire departments but is sorely missing in many.
This process is the knowledge of your first due area, or in the words of the Transport for London, a test simply called, ‘The Knowledge.’ To have the distinct honor to drive a famous black cab in London every single person must enter and successfully complete ‘The Knowledge’. The process can last anywhere from two years to four years, depending on the commitment and retention of the candidate.
‘The Knowledge’ is based upon learning 320 routes! These routes require knowledge of the 25,000 streets and over 20,000 landmarks, plus, for good measure, any places of interest within 6 miles of Charing Cross! Based upon some basic Internet searches all of this work to learn their “1st Due*” earns them about $38,000 a year.
* 1st Due is a geographical term that refers to your respective response area
Put this in comparison to an Engine Company or Truck Company chauffeur. A Fire Department Chauffeur most likely makes more in yearly salary and is required to learn less as most 1st due, even 1st – 5th due areas don’t have 20,000 streets. ‘The Knowledge’ is not simply one written test; it is a tiered process that requires successful completion at each level before going to the next. A process that eliminates the uncommitted yet fosters the candidates who exhibit the passion and commitment to drive. The entire process goes like this:
This exhaustive and comprehensive process is all done on the candidate’s dime – you pay for each test and if you fail, you still pay! All of this for job that offers no awards, no accolades, only average pay, simply just the honor and privilege to be called a London cabbie. The best a London cabbie can hope for is a large tip from a jet lagged tourist eager to feel like a ‘Brit’ or that a Hooligan will not get too rowdy in the back of his beloved black cab on ride home from the pub.
Now, put this in comparison to our chauffeurs, emergency vehicle drivers, technicians, or whatever name you dub your firefighter who is responsible for operating your vehicles. These are highly professional individuals charged with driving a 20-ton vehicle competently and safely at a high rate of speed, often against drivers who do not yield appropriately, or more accurately just have poor driving skills in perfect conditions. We reward these chauffeurs when they demonstrate proper operating and controlling of the vehicle. Not just pats on back from the Captain but also an award for safe driving and most likely, a salary increase. Yet, do we require the same of our Chauffeurs as London does of their cab drivers? And remember this entire test is long before they ever think of operating the vehicle? I think not.
Fire departments adopted a reactive response to loss of life and monetary losses from vehicle accidents by taking the initiative to implement a comprehensive safe driving process. This process focuses on the candidate safely handling the vehicle on the open road through documented practical training. Talk about putting the cart before the horse! The London cab driver never even gets behind the wheel of a black cab until he successfully passes the ‘Knowledge’. We let a firefighter drive a fire truck once he can properly demonstrate he can operate the ‘vehicle’ but he doesn’t have an idea where he is going while he is driving it like he stole it!
Included in a comprehensive process for vehicle operations, an intensive and relevant knowledge-based process of your response area must be done before you ever grip the wheel of a fire truck. This is not a how-quickly-can-you-read-a-map test, this is knowledge based upon your passion, commitment, dilligence to know the area you have sworn to protect. Knowing your area eliminates just one of the multitude of stressors that your driver has when the fire of your career is toned out. If they can focus solely on the incident at hand and not fret over which way to pull out of the firehouse, or how quickly will the officer be able to look up the street, or leave it to chance the scale for success tips in our favor.
The ‘Knowledge’ for our emergency vehicle chauffeurs should include, at a minimum:
Buildings & Landmarks:
* Target hazard refers to any building that possesses the possibility of large loss of life (nursing home, school) or high visibility (Government facility, etc.) if involved in fire.
Think this is too much for your drivers? Consider a London cabbie driver doesn’t drive with burden that one error, one wrong turn, one mistake can mean the difference between life and death of a civilian trapped in a fire that we swore to protect. The worst they lose is a tip; our lack of knowledge can lead to death. Exercise the pride in your position and understand your predecessors had this ‘knowledge’ for a reason – because it is required to be a Combat Ready Chauffeur!