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Hump Day SOS - College Is Not Knowledge

This week is another retro-SOS from my original first few months. These were pictures only so now that we are broadcasting out to the FE community and in full blog mode I will add some commentary. Again, if you already saw this one I hope you get another laugh or affirmation that you are not alone in your thinking.

Is your promotional system producing the results that make a positive difference in your department? Many departments have abandoned the notion that experience makes for better decision making and base promotions solely on certification and formal educational achievements. Where is the balance? There are some departments however that have realized that qualified and certified are two real different achievements and evaluate candidates accordingly. We can’t lose site of the fact that firefighting is a trade skill and a balance of education and experience is necessary in order to progress from apprentice to master. This journey does not occur from spending all your time in the classroom or online. Can a department create a process that evaluates the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to perform the job of company officer? Is it easier to only require an achievement that assumes qualification? If you are promoting a company officer that is going to have the responsibility of managing personnel on a fire ground you need to have a process for evaluating how they operate. This can be accomplished by using a fire command simulator designed for first due officers. If you are expecting them to handle personnel disputes then see how they actually handle a role player with an issue. No process is a perfect representation of reality but these two techniques give you a much better snap shot than do a simple question and answer panel. Almost anyone can memorize a checklist and hit all the buzz words but not everyone can execute, adapt and perform. Turn what has become an easy and cheap way out upside down. Count the certificates and education to break the tie scores but put your money on the actual performance of the individual.

The most decorated man in Marine Corps history, Chesty Puller, said at his retirement, “….I feel the Marine Corps has become over educated and under experienced…..” These words are haunting as we look at the emphasis on obtaining paper as opposed to being able to perform a skillful hose stretch, maintain accountability of a crew in a smoke filled 5th floor apartment, be able to mix fuel at 100:1 and know which saw it goes in, know the effects of ventilation, fire load and flow paths, know when the nozzle flow is effective or ineffective and why, know how to search from the area of high probability and risk to the lowest, know what a change in interior conditions feels like. Although there is value, none of these are mastered through attending PowerPoint lectures or online discussion groups. Robert Greenleaf who made famous the term “servant leadership” achieved many higher education accomplishments but felt compelled to sum up with his own epitaph which states, “Potentially a good plumber; ruined by a sophisticated education.” The fact is we need tradesmen in order to get the job done. It is the delivery of service that is the reason for our organizational existence. We should not be creating an environment in which the skilled expert craftsman are looked down upon as inferior species because they have not attended the “university”.

College isn’t knowledge and we should encourage and emphasize the importance of learning and mastering the trade skills to new members before they start logging on to the computer and completing assignments in the confines of the bunkroom. They will get much more from their education if they have a solid foundation in the TRADE of firefighting and we will all be “safer” for it. Firefighting is a “dirty job” it is not the corporate America that many uniformed wannabe CEO’s are trying to make it. Trying to turn Incident Commanders into financial analysts is like trying to turn Truckies into figure skaters. For everyone’s sake please promote experience and knowledge and not just certificates and college! Our members lives depend on it!!

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