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"The best tool for fire attack is your brain. The only limits to maximizing its effectiveness are the barriers you put in place. Be as aggressive in obtaining knowledge as you are in advancing an attack line." – Chief John Tippett

This quote sparked my interest recently on twitter.  I wholeheartedly agree with Chief Tippett regarding the importance of utilizing your mind to increase your maximum effectiveness on the fire ground.  As an educator, I share with my students, "the most important Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you have is between your ears." With some humor, I also emphasize the importance of wearing your fire helmet is to protect this vital tool as well.

Aggressively Thinking Firefighters (ATF), another acronym for the fire service, we can add this to the list of approximately hundreds if not thousands of already Fire service-related acronyms in existence.  After all, we utilize acronyms to remember all the other acronyms. I am patiently waiting for the Field Operations Guide (FOG) manual on just fire service-related acronyms; however, I have digressed.

I recently watched an online webinar regarding hiring firefighter applicants and the main Subject Matter Expert (SME) remarked that overall the fire service is not the place for candidates that have higher levels of intelligence during the testing process.  I was immediately taken back and stunned by this professional and his statement.  I continued watching the video, and I listened with an open mind to why this psychologist asserted his opinion on why hiring panels should not hire for intelligence.

There is so much power in one short word.  WHY.  Only three letters, however, so much weight in one of the shortest words in our collective vocabularies.  When my daughter was three years old, and I am positive this was her favorite word.  She would ask me almost daily, and here is an example, "Daddy, why do I have to put my shoes on to go outside?" I would attempt to answer her question underlining the importance of protecting her feet in a scholarly dad fashion.  I would guesstimate that she would ask me "why" at least 30 times a day. It is in my humble professional opinion; the fire service should consider hiring firefighter candidates that also seek the answers to these valuable questions concerning why.  Entry-level and recruit firefighters are required to learn the skill set of the position of a firefighter. After the recruit academy and probation, these basic firefighting skills are achieved through several repetitions on the drill ground.  As a firefighter, develop and maintain muscle memory by mastering the basics.

As an educator, I desire to build upon the basic skills and advance the recruit entry-level firefighter to understand why we place importance on rudimentary skills.  The fire service has standard operating guidelines (SOG) and standard operating policies (SOP) for almost every aspect of our profession.  There is power in the word why.  I earnestly desire for those Aggressively Thinking Firefighters (ATF) to challenge me as an educator and allow me the opportunity to explain to them the importance of why.

Recruit firefighters out of the tower or recruit school should be able to pull and advance a primary initial attack hose line or cross lay.  They should also know how to shoulder load the hose line or cross lay and how to estimate distances for their initial attack line stretch.  They should know how to decipher between using an initial attack hose line or cross lay for an incipient fire and when to utilize a larger diameter hose line for a commercial fire. They should know why gallons per minute (GPM) matter versus heat generation in British Thermal Units (BTU).  They should also know when to pull a cross lay versus when to utilize a blitz attack line or a master stream appliance.

This is just one example, and there are several more examples of why firefighters should know the power of the word why. As educators, officers, training instructors, or senior members; please remember to share the power of the word why.  Eliminate the barriers and share the value of your experiences and the value inside the pictures of your slide tray.  Mentoring and passing on this information are requirements of all members and is extremely valuable to the future generations of the fire service.  Seize these golden opportunities as an educator; I refer to as "teachable moments" to educate your firefighters on the importance of the word WHY.

Chris Baker, has over thirteen years of experience in volunteer, combination, and career, fire departments in California. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Anthropology and Associates of Science Degree in Fire Service Command, Company Officer. Chris is a California State Fire Training certified Fire Officer, Driver-Operator, Fire Instructor, and Lead Firefighter I Certification Evaluator. He has over nine years of teaching experience as an Adjunct Instructor in the EMS discipline, Firefighter 1 Academy Instructor, and Fire Science Instructor in the California Community Colleges System. Chris is a member of the California Fire Technology Directors' Association and the California Training Officers Association. He served as a volunteer Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017 Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response Grants (SAFER) for both hiring and recruitment/retention. Chris also served as a Peer Reviewer on the FY 2017 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) and the FY 2018 Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG). He is a Volunteer Advocate Regional Manager, Region IX (CA, NV, AZ, HI) for the Everyone Goes Home Program through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Chris also serves as a volunteer member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Safety, Health and Survival Section serving in their staging area. He was a member of the 2018 and 2019 Safety Stand Down committees. Chris is a member of the Board of Directors and Public Information Officer (PIO) for the National Fire Heritage Center located in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He is a National Fire Service Instructor teaching at notable fire conferences across the country including the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) International. Chris is the co-host of the Fire Engineering: The Future Firefighter Podcast, and he writes blog articles published through Firefighter Nation and the Fire Engineering Training Community on mentoring the future generations of the fire service.


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