The Effects of Inbred Training
When we picture the word inbreeding we imagine movies such as, “Wrong Turn” with mutated and deformed humans that are cannibals. Thoughts of some mountain shack with a family that has never seen the outside world speaking in an unknown dialect that only they can understand. Inbreeding can lead to mental and physical mutations that limit a person’s ability to grow properly and perform day-to-day functions, and in severe cases causes the inability to survive. This holds true for fire departments as well. Inbred training is not necessarily that different from this vision.
Many departments present themselves as the best of the best. This is a thought process that demonstrates pride in oneself as well as ones organization. This is a great thing! The problem is that many departments take this presentation to heart and decide that their way of conducting fire ground operations or strategies is not only the best way, but the only way. How many times have we heard during training that this is the “(Insert Department) way of doing things.”
Let us look at a common scenario played out among fire departments all over the country. A probie walks on the job that is fresh out of rookie school and is training with the crew on extrication. The vehicle being cut is a newer hybrid with high voltage lines. The crew training the probie is a senior crew trying to show the probie the XFD way of doing things. The probie says, “Oh, we learned about these in rookie school, we should…” The probie is cut off and told, “Listen here new guy this is how we do it at XFD, that rookie school stuff is just for certification and doesn’t work in real life.” The rookie learns the XFD way, although dangerous, and continues with his career teaching the next probie that same XFD way.
Another example is our motivated firefighter that decides he is going to take it upon himself to pay for and attend a firefighting conference that includes some live fire training with instructors from another department. The firefighter comes back excited about the new skills and tactics that he has learned and tries to present them to the crew. As typical, he is confronted with statements such as, “That is how those guys over there do things, we are much more aggressive than them” or “If you like it over there so much why don’t you work for them” or the fan favorite, “That’ll never work here.”
We see the same situations played out in organizations across the country. Whether it is based on pride or based on making sure the new guys knows his place in the hierarchy of the firehouse, this close minded behavior leads to stagnation and potentially dangerous situations. So how do we combat the degeneration of our training gene pool?
We can implement the following three simple ideologies:
-First, learn new things. Keep up to date on trends and publications in our industry. Those Fire Engineering magazines that are on every kitchen table of every firehouse on earth are not just to be used as coasters, pick them up and read them! You can learn various new ideas and methods of completing tasks from simply reading modern firefighting articles. Additionally, attending conferences and training seminars outside of your current area can teach many techniques that some have never seen before that just might be what is needed on your next call. And dare I say, research ideas on the Internet. Now don’t get me wrong, I do not favor the idea of a “youtube fireman” that learned everything he or she knows from watching youtube videos and has never experienced anything themselves. However, the Internet is a great tool for researching how other agencies across the world handle the same calls that our department does and maybe learn a new idea or two.
-Second, listen. Listen to the probie. This is something that is overwhelmingly difficult to implement in the firehouse. The idea that the newest member of the crew just may have an idea that works better than the senior guy is ego-busting to say the least. However, these probies just came from an academy typically taught by a group of people as diverse as a national conference. While yes they learn the “state-method” depending on your jurisdiction, they also learn other tips from their instructors. I know that the probie needs to know their place in the family dynamic of a firehouse, however when you show interest and respect for an idea that comes from these new members, a level of inspiration and motivation grows within them that will last their entire career. Listen to the person that just learned saw something online or in an article that they are excited about. Have them teach the crew what they saw.
- Finally, find out what doesn’t work. Inventors find thousands and thousands of things that don’t work before they find out something that does. If you think you may have found a better way to complete a task, try it in training. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work and you add it to the list of things you’ve tried that didn’t work. Every method that we currently have to accomplish a task in the fire service came from the mind of a firefighter. These methods have evolved to more efficient ways again from the minds of firefighters. Whether the idea comes from yourself or from the new guy, whether you saw it on the internet or in a dream while you were sleeping, it needs to be tested to see if it will work efficiently for your department. If you have an idea let’s see it.
When we continue to teach the same methods of accomplishing tasks over and over again without changing or attempting to increase efficiency, we create an environment of inbred training that never adapts to world changing around it. By adding in outside ideas and concepts we are able to dilute the gene pool. Breeding out concepts that don’t work and strengthening the concepts that does, allowing our profession and craft to evolve. Now, go out and train!
-Lt. Michael DeStefano (BCFR)
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