Several years ago, I was having conversation with a friend of mine who is a seasoned Company Officer from an agency I use to work with. I was inquiring on how he always seemed to be calm, cool, and collective on incident scenes. I was always impressed by his demeanor and command presence on any incident, but especially on those significant ones. His was reply was simply I’m a “Duck on Water.” I looked at him with a blank stare and said what does that mean? He said I make myself stay calm on the top, but often my mind is racing like a duck paddling his feet under the water. That was another of my many “Ah Ha” moments. I have always kept that little nugget in the back of my head when I am working an incident. This seasoned officer said the tone of incident is set by the initial person in charge. If you get excited so will everyone else.
Fast forward 14 years, my Engine Company is called to assist on a significant traffic accident with critical patients, parties trapped, and a vehicle on fire. The initial on-scene report describes a very dynamitic and complicated incident, this is done in a cool, calm and professional manner. It sounded exactly as if we were participating in a training exercise. As we arrived and obtained our assignments what I witnessed was pure orchestrated professionalism. Every firefighter on-scene was operating like a flock of ducks on water. The fire was extinguished, extrication quickly completed, and all patients transported in under fifteen minutes from dispatch. I was proud to be a part of and witness this professionalism in action.
Situations like one described occur every single day in the fire service. This orchestrated professionalism does not happen by accident. It occurs because we train for these “events.” That is right I said “events.” We are responding to someone else’s emergency not ours. For us these are planned events that we have trained for. The minute we make it our emergency is the minute we began to lose our composure and decrease our level of professionalism. The citizens we serve expect us to come and take care of their emergency and have the knowledge, skill, and ability to mitigate it in a fast, effective, and efficient manner.
Ask yourself a couple of questions. Are you a “Duck on Water” when you are operating at an event? Have you properly prepared yourself or those around you to handle our citizens’ emergencies? Aside from ensuring our skills are up to par, we also need time to train our minds on how to maintain our composure when things are moving a mile a minute. An excellent book by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman called “On Combat”, describes some excellent techniques to control your psychological responses to stress. This book speaks a lot to the military and law enforcement environment, but many of the lessons transfer to our profession.
BE SMART out there and keep paddling.