I've been working recently on a presentation for my department about the change in our approach to exterior fire attack. As in, we can, and should, do it when appropriate. I was taught that this was the last thing you would ever do, and given many common sense reasons. All of the NIST/UL information, and some recent fireground experiences prove that the reasoning behind that was wrong. From a logical view, and given the years of successful fire suppression to back it up as further proof, that was hard to argue with the veterans who gave us that information. Now, with heat sensors, video cameras and money to burn stuff up in scientific experiments, we know that there was some faulty conclusions drawn - pushing fire, worsening interior conditions, etc. Given all that, I began to wonder about those salty folks who taught me that were great firefighters and leaders. How would they react to the dreaded "c" word (change)? We have developed and carefully nurtured a culture of skeptics that find that the worst expletive in the language Those tactics were seen as successful for many, many years. Unfortunately, the benchmarks for success were also somewhat skewed. True, none of those fires are currently burning. Typically, no injuries or deaths were attributed to ventilation practices. That made things better, so how could that be part of what should be changed? Lots of examples for resistance to the need to change. How would I "sell" this to the heretofore successful firefighters? I find the best way to convince most firefighters, of any rank, is to tell them they're wrong, and they should do it my way. Right - OK - not! The newest members, including those who don't have much in the way of actual fire experience, will be willing to buy in pretty quickly. Especially given the strong scientific evidence. To them, "legacy" fuel is more accurately "antique" fuel. "Modern" fuels is what they've grown up with. How it relates to their firefighting experience has no relation to 20-minutes to flashover.
All this began to lead me to how to make the case for change. I'm first assuring that we haven't gone soft, we're not afraid, we're no less aggressive. We know some new stuff, we're going to use it to our advantage. Next, I'm heading for why we fight fires as part of our service delivery, and why that hasn't changed a bit no matter what science has uncovered for us. We're here to protect the public, and keep ourselves safe in the process as best we can. So, if we've discovered a somewhat safer and more efficient way to accomplish our basic mission, it's not really a big change at all, is it? In order to do it correctly and consistently, we need to train about it - become educated, practice, execute.
So why train (finally)? Is it because we need to check off annual hours for some accreditation? Because it's on the schedule, and people get yelled at if they don't attend departmentally mandated events? Or is it because we're professionals, in the business of doing what we do to the best of our ability. Given information, tools, manpower, that's our baseline expectation - top dog, number one, el jefe, the boss - at protecting the public, in this subject area, from fire. "The way we've always done it" just won't fly as resistance to change. Skepticism? Bring it, let's challenge the new stuff, but don't forget that applies to challenging the norm as well. That's a good and healthy way to train. As a training officer, I should be the one vetting these "new" procedures. As I bring them in, there should be some trust in the training personnel given by the members. The troops should use their past experience and knowledge to incorporate any new practices into their methods of operation, and test them against the reality of actual operations. The feedback loop follows - it worked, it's inconclusive yet, or it sucks and here's some evidence why. These things are not (usually) pulled out of thin air, there's some actual reasoning. We know (or should know) that many of the fire related codes were written in blood. Tactical and operational changes use that medium as well. Operating in a flow path which injured or killed firefighters in a flashover - argue with that as a reason to make some changes, please. I love to win arguments.
I took this a little further, though. I'd predict that my experience is not unusual. Our companies are not usually quite as good as they think they are. Example: as an engine company captain, my crew rarely had a need to throw ladders at fires. Where I've worked, the incidents typically required few ladders, and our ladder crews typically took care of those tasks. Ask my crew to throw an extension ladder. Yep, we could get it raised eventually. But, monkeys wrestling a football always came to mind, and we would make jokes. Why were we so incompetent? We never trained on them. A basic skill (the probys were great at it), but pretty low frequency. So, look like fools to training officers, peers, and the public - definitely not resembling the professional heroes we claimed to be. As a training captain, and chief, I've seen plenty of examples. Various evolutions, different faces, but some of the same complacency. Oddly, the company officers who constantly train, and are rarely, if ever, challenged by the basics, lead very popular companies to work on. Just another example of how the company officer shapes the department in so many ways.
A long road to it, but - why train? Professionalism, safety, personal and organizational pride in being able to execute the basic skills (at the very least) needed to carry out our mission. With basic skills a given, we can more effectively tackle the more complex stuff including unexpected twists and turns in incidents. We're also willing and able to incorporate new ideas and techniques into our operations. That's why we're here, and that's what should motivate why we train.