Know and Understand WHY You Do It.

In a recent blog I wrote, titled "Know What You're Dealing With, Or Don't Do It!!!!", I challenged emergency services members and industrial ERT's to know their core business. To understand what they do. To understand what they're dealing with and likely to face when called.

If you want to get a bit of background to this blog, you can read it at

I was recently contracted to deliver Confined Space Rescue training for an industrial ERT which involved 4x 3 day courses, with each team undertaking 3 days each.

During the month, I was overall pretty impressed with the teams and their knowledge of the Legislation, equipment, techniques and other related stuff but during the practical scenarios, I challenged them to look at their systems they were using and to really understand what they were doing and why.

The trigger for this discussion with them was the use of a safety line for all entrants going into the confined space, however I noticed that they were only ever using it (the lifeline) on the vertical entries, not the horizontal entries.

The system they were using was a lifeline reeved through a Goldtail (Similar to a Whaletail) anchored to an achorpoint, with the reeved rope then running through a pulley on the head of the tripod and was then attached to the fall arrest rear D ring on the harness.

I asked each team to explain why they set up the lifeline.

The response varied, but without a doubt, the #1 answer was- wait for it.....

"Becasue that's the way we've been trained".

Sounds familiar?

Sounds like many fire departments the world over who do things becasue that's the way we've been taught. That's the way we've always done it. Just, because!

I then challenged them to explain to me the purpose of it. (I've never taught any session and openly criticised another persons teachings or instruction unless I can see an abvious safety issue and it will put people at risk- I prefer to promote open discussion about the techniques and offer alternatives and let the team decide what works best for them)

They replied that it was there for safety. (A bit of "Captain Obvious" with that answer!!!!)

I then further questioned them- was the lifeline there to catch you in the event of fall such as if the main haul line was to fail, or was it there to recover you if the atmosphere in the space changed and you were disconnected from the main haul line?

I got mixed responses, but no steadfast or overwhelming majority response to either example.

I decided to pursue this, (a bit liek a dog with a bone!) and continued my questioning, trying to get them to understand why things are in place and why they do the things they do.

I suggetsed that if the lifeline was there to catch the entrants in the event of a main line failure during the raise or lowering evolution, then so be it. It's not perfect, but in principle, it'd work all OK.

I then asked if it was there so as the rescuer can be extracted in the event of an emergency within the space and they weren't connected to the main haul line, then how would they do it.

The most prominent answer was "a bolt on Z pull system" or similar.

I then challenged the group to think about the response- where was the bolt on system?

In the trailer.

Is it made up?


How many could make one, under pressure with no guidance?

I coudl count the total number on 2 hands out of 40 participants in total!

How long would it take to make the system (after they got it from the rescue trailer!)?

The replies ranged from 2 minutes (They're dreaming!!!! Very few teams could do it in 2 minutes) up to 10 minutes.

So I then asked the teams, "Why have the system in the first place if we don't understand why it's there in the first place?" I then asked them to explain to me, "If we're talking about a life safety system to recover a rescuer/entrant in a space, what good is the system if it's in the trailer, not made up and only a couple on each team know how to make it up?"

As you could imagine, there was a bit of feet shuffling, a few nods of heads, lots of not making eye contact with me by the Team Leaders, a few grunts from the teams....

I then queried that if the lifeline is there to be used when the space turns nasty and we need to get the rescuers and entrants out, why they weren't using a lifeline? Surely a space can turn just as nasty, just as quick in a horizontal entry, as it could in a vertical entry????

I suggested to the teams, and I suggest this to everyone who reads this blog- know why we do things the way we do. Know the systems. Know how to implement them and challenges likely to be faced when implementing them.

Challenge "tradition".

Challenge "Becasue that's what we've always done".

Challenge "Because that's what we've been taught".

God only knows in a confined space (Or other emergency we're called to) when an entrant steps into sludge and stirs it up and it starts releasing methane or H2S and other nasties, it is not the time to think about why and how- we need to be decisive and prompt in everything we do as lives (Including our own) are on the line....

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Comment by Jim on July 1, 2008 at 9:22pm
The comment made by "FASNY Training on June 10, 2008" was wonderful to hear, by this instructor, from a student. So many times folks are stopped by there peers from asking questiions. Even though these same peers probably had the same question, or weren't paying enough attention to know to ask the question. Don't ever stop asking those questions and pushing for the answers. Don't let your peers tell you to "stop, were already late leaving". Any other instructor heard this? FASNY, you have a strong understanding of what it takes to truly be a learner!
Comment by lutan1 on June 11, 2008 at 4:57pm
For sure Ted. We don't just do it, because!
Comment by lutan1 on June 10, 2008 at 9:11am
you're spot on, and you're welcome! ;)
Comment by Mary Ellen Shea on June 10, 2008 at 8:57am
I think there's also an opportunity here to teach newer firefighters (such as myself) to ask questions during training classes. I make a general nuisance of myself during our drills...I'm constantly asking questions. But I notice that when I do, the other newbies with me are listening avidly to the response, which in my mind means that they had the same questions in their heads, but either didn't want to ask a "dumb" question or assumed that they'd figure it out eventually.
For me, the only dumb question is the unasked one. That's where folks get themselves in trouble.
Good Post Lutan- thanks
Comment by lutan1 on June 9, 2008 at 4:17pm
Spot on Lawrence!

I have issues with members who just do it (!!!) without understanding the why- as you said, it helps us to adapt and overcome.

Thanks for the comments...
Comment by Lawrence W on June 9, 2008 at 8:21am
AMEN, lutan 1!

I have had similar experiences not only in confined space, but also in Haz-Mat and Fire Brigade training exercises. Knowing why things are done prompts your personnel to use the training they have received to think and to overcome an obstacle that they may not have been directly trained on in the past. More important than training, is the idea that the training that you receive will lead to independent thought. We as responders have to understand the why in order to adapt and overcome.

Thank You for your post and for keeping us all thinking as it will, in turn, keep us all safe.

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