While speed during extrication is often critical, it comes at a high price without efficiency. We must first learn the tools, develop skills, learn the how’s and why’s, practice teamwork, train, become efficient, with the result being speed of the operation. Speed is the rate of one’s activity, in this case extrication skills. Whether at a fire, during an extrication, or on special operations, it takes efficiency and training to foster speed. In referencing the ability to increase the rate of activity or speed on the emergency scene, I am not inferring a disregard of safety by fast driving, sprinting on calls, or taking unnecessary shortcuts, but by teamwork and purposeful actions of a crew.
Defined is the achieving of maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
Every crew can stand to improve their emergency scene productivity. For those of us who strive to deliver a high level of performance on every call, there is always room for improvement. Efficiency boils down to your approach to training, knowing your job and responsibilities at the scene, your ability to work as a team, and how you execute a given task. If you haven’t analyzed your on-scene operations, it will be very difficult for you to make improvements to reach your peak performance.
Recall your last wreck or fire; what was the first thing you did, how many missed steps or trips did you make back to the rig? Consider if your crew has a coordinated plan or do they rush like a maniac to complete a task? Keep in mind that training in efficiency is strong candidate for reducing time off your emergency operations. If you are striving to improve your crew’s efficiency-speed balance, here are 6 ways to be more efficient:
1. Prioritizing your movements
Have a plan to prioritize your movements prior to the call. Expect the unexpected on all scenes, as something that is bound to come up and throw you off. As a rule, try to have a systematic approach to any extrication or fire scene prior to an event. Consider the mandatory tasks, the equipment needed, and a plan to get them accomplished. Make a rough list of tasks in order of priority. Good organization and planning will streamline your job and provide strong motivation for crews to work hard. A supporting quote from Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
2. Limit Multitasking
Many firefighters assume that they are good at multitasking. In reality, very few people can solidly focus on more than one or two tasks, particularly if they require skill. Many fool themselves into believing they are getting more done, when in reality they are accomplishing less, and the quality of the work is poor. Efficient people know that concentrated effort with few distractions leads to a better work product with less use of energy and better use of time.
3. Build Solid Communication
Poor communication results in a huge waste of time. True masters of efficiency take a little extra time to think through their plans and provide good communication to their crews. They consider their objectives prior to moving forward. I am referring to purposeful communication and not unnecessary talk. The art to using precise communication to get the desired task can be accomplished. Good communication results in all team members being confident and can react efficiently to achieve all the objectives in a timely manner.
4. Apply Structure
Efficient officers create standard routines so they can achieve a disciplined approach. For example, on any fire, upon departing the unit, the backseat firefighter has the irons and as the officer, I will have a 6ft hook and Thermal Imaging Camera. This routine allows me to consider tactics and strategies instead of telling my firefighter what to do. While basic, one would be surprised how many crews in the fire service don’t operate this way. Most crews like having a flexible but designated operational plan. This basic concept will increase your productivity and the overall efficiency of the call.
5. Build muscle memory
On most emergency scenes there are strong distractions such as screaming bystanders, tangled wreckage, or heavy fire conditions, which make it easy to lose focus. As a result, it is easy to justify the importance of strong muscle memory. Muscle memory is enhanced by repetition and strong organization. Firefighters can greatly increase efficiency by being organized. Organize your actions, gear, and equipment in a way that you can consistently complete the skills safely and effectively. Simply patterns, such as having the backseat firefighter responsible for the irons will be a key to successful operations. Each call gives crews an opportunity to embrace and build muscle memory.
6. Timed Activities
Have you ever sat down and thought about how much time you spend productively on an emergency scene versus how much time you waste? Early in my career as a Lieutenant, I found as a result of timing fire and extrication drills that most people easily lose track of time during operations. An easy way for making improvements to the time required to complete a task is to have crews develop a schedule of tasks with specific times for each emergency scene activity (i.e. advancing a fire attack line) and use those for a base line. Work to improve those times by prioritizing actions, better communications, better organization, and applying a structure to the tasks. As crews train and begin applying these principles they will be pleasantly surprised as the time required is reduced. Efficient firefighters set a general time frame for each of their tasks and train hard to maintain the schedule.
In summary, efficiency can lead to increased operational speed; however, it takes a solid effort on the company officer and crew. Each call type can be broken down into basic steps with routine actions necessary and then move forward on implementation efforts for improvement. These steps include prioritizing your movements, limit multi-tasking, providing solid communications among crewmembers, create structured operational routines, improve the members muscle memory by continued repetition in training and on calls. The final step is to time these routine actions to develop a base line to reflect any improvements. This method will allow your crew to improve their success consistently. Training in this manner takes time and effort. Nevertheless, considering the challenges, process, responsibilities, and the potential end result to help motivate officers and crews alike. It is a work in progress, but I definitely feel that you will become more efficient (and dare I say, better?) as a result.
ISAAC FRAZIER is a Special Operations Lieutenant with St. Johns County Florida’s Heavy Rescue “Squad 4”. First due to the deadliest stretch of roadway in the nation, Frazier teaches from personal street experience providing tried and true tactics. Frazier is the owner of Tactical Advantage Training and creator of the course Tactical Extrication. Frazier travels nationally sharing his passion teaching fire and extrication courses. Frazier is a Florida Fire Officer, FL Paramedic, Special Operations Officer, Florida State Instructor, FLUSAR Tech, Diver, and FL Hazmat Tech.