How did we get to a place as firefighters where we have the expectation that all training has to be presented on a silver platter and spoon fed to us? I know this is not the case everywhere, but far too frequently I seem to encounter a mindset that all training or knowledge needs to come from the training department in an official capacity. There is so much valuable information available to us through the internet, social media, and through printed publications such as Fire Engineering, and Fire Rescue Magazine, that to not take advantage of this incredible network of experience would be tragic. While I fully realize that we cannot allow our members to go rogue and start changing fundamental tactics that are outside of our Standard Operating Procedures or Guidelines, I truly believe that as firefighters, we have a personal responsibility to those we swore an oath to protect, to be constantly progressing in our knowledge, mastering new and existing skills, and ensuring we are both mentally and physically strong to perform our duty when lives are on the line.
Last year in my organization, one of our firefighters made an offer to the membership to order a small personal tool for anyone who was interested. This was a new tool he had recently purchased and had already found it valuable in a number of situations. With this offer to bring in this very useful tool, completely on his own time, he was met with several comments that suggested that if we are going to carry personal tools, then they need to be supplied by the department and we must receive specific training from the training department regarding their use. Where is the personal ownership that comes from pride in this profession? When I was working as a carpenter I carried different tools in my tool belt than the other carpenters. Some of those tools were passed down to me from the experienced journeymen I apprenticed under, and others I bought based on new information I learned during my technical training, but all made my job easier and ultimately made me more effective.
If we rely solely on scheduled drills as our only practice or source of training, or expect our department to supply everything we keep in our pockets, we are setting ourselves and our fellow brothers and sisters up for failure. No matter how busy your organization or individual fire companies are, there is always some downtime where a fifteen or thirty minute drill can be accomplished. Whether it’s a tactical drill done around the coffee table, watching a recent fire or rescue on YouTube, or throwing on your gear and practicing with a new tool, all of these things add to our skillset and make us just a little bit better. Isn’t that the goal?