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When you train individually or as a team - is it a check the box type of day or this could really happen type of day? It’s very easy to check the box in our daily lives and make everything a routine. Wake up, shower, coffee, drive to work, check the box for minimum expectations, go home, etc…. If you fall into this mentality it can be personally and professionally devastating at the extremes. However, even if nothing “bad” ever happens I challenge you to contemplate how much you are missing from the big picture. How much knowledge and skills could you be passing on to the next generation if you took the time to go beyond the check box? Practice will never make me, you or anyone else perfect – Perfect Practice beyond the Mastery Level will make us Perfect.


During the 2015 Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), Retired Rear Admiral Scott Moore presented “Building No Fail Teams,” for no fail missions. Admiral Moore had served in every Seal Team capacity from the ground up from 1984 until his retirement in 2014. He described the lead up to the SEAL Team 6 raid that rescued an America hostage in Somalia in 2012 (this happens to be the same team that exterminated Bin Laden).  Before this mission started, you have to go back to 2010. He described that in order for the Navy Seals to be a no fail team they had to train to be such. Typically, they spend 18 months training for a six month deployment. 18 months practicing the same skills over and over, in different capacities for what may or may not happen. The skills and knowledge was put to the test through constant stress. They stressed their muscles and their minds. They were forced to make decisive decisions, without fail. The mentality has to be more than just checking the box – their lives and the lives of their comrades depend on it.


For those in the fire service, I encourage you to research the Georgia Smoke Divers Association. Their training is designed around this concept just as Seal Team 6 is. It is tough and grueling training as they stress your muscles and mind, and then give you a scenario that will always require you to adapt and overcome. The knowledge and skills obtained through this class are basic skills executed beyond perfection. GSD - “Strong in Mind and Body.”


This process requires instituting the Overlearning Theory into application. Regardless if you’re on Seal Team 6, professional athlete or a firefighter the theory applies.  The one item in common between all three is that their skill level cannot be flawed. The Overlearning Theory is defined as practice beyond mastery. When we learn past mastery, we are able to adapt our knowledge and skills more readily when the situation changes unexpectedly. As well, overlearning ensures that the skills are more automatic (samurai like instincts). Go back to Seal Team 6 in Somalia, upon arrival to the pirate camp ground they encountered gun fire. While they trained for it and surely prepared, did they know exactly where and how the attack would come from? They were able to adapt to the situation based on their overlearning. When you respond to a house fire, surely you trained for it, but, can you adapt to the situation without making a mistake? Seal Team 6 walked away with two hostages, no causalities and nine dead pirates.  


Werner and Dismone describe in detail the Building No Fail Teams concept by providing the following example: “Soldiers repeatedly practice their maneuvers and task, so when orders come to attack, these tasks will be second nature and can be performed quickly and correctly.” Furthermore, Daniel Willingham states that “Practice makes perfect, only if you practice beyond the point of perfection.  Does this sound like something ALL should consider in the fire service? Many of you already practice and apply this concept, even without calling it No Fail or Overlearning. However, for those that believe that raising a ladder once a year will prepare you for raising a ladder when the stress of a rescue is standing in front of you, you are greatly mistaken. Train as if your life depends on it in everything you do. Be Seal Team 6 in your organization.  


Be Safe, Train Hard, and Take Care




Brian Ward, Chief of Emergency Operations, Georgia Pacific – Madison (GA). Author of Fire Engineering - Training Officer’s Toolbox and Managing Editor for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference. Brian serves on the ISFSI Board of Directors. He is a member of the Georgia Smoke Divers, currently pursuing his Master’s in Organizational Development from Columbia Southern University and Founder of

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