School Days: Your Fire Service Report Card

School days, school days.. if you are anything like me you were so glad to see those days go, especially the report cards. So that brings me to this: it's 4 a.m. and the bells drop for a fire or EMS call -- at the end of call just how would your report...

I've gone back to school again, but this time I am the instructor and I have put together a four-part lesson plan that will show you how to break down your careers from rookie to retirement while giving you helpful hints and ideas to keep you an honor roll student. Oh yeah, and this time you can leave the apple at home.

Elementary School (Years 1 - 3): The Newbie Phase

Everyone in the fire service starts at the same spot. Day one is basic recruit training -- showing up to work with big ideas on what a career in firefighting is all about. This is very similar to your first days of elementary school with one exception, you are now an adult. This time you should have the wisdom to learn the right way from beginning to end. But unlike your first years in elementary school you may have to deal with some bad habits from your previous education. Note taking skills, study habits and your home life can interfere with your learning environment. With that in mind you walk into the unfamiliar surroundings of a whole new world ready to get your education started.

Your elementary years in the fire service start at day one and carry through the first three years. These are the days of learning the basics of everything we do. From pulling hoses to running medical emergencies we need to build a good solid base for the future. You need to follow the lesson plan and do your homework. It is important for you to understand the why's and how's of everything that is asked. Why do we not spray water on smoke or how do you control an unresponsive patient's airway are some questions and answers that you will learn. Remember to not just learn the skill, but learn why we handle it that way. For example we don't spray water on smoke because it doesn't aid in cooling the environment. We control an unresponsive patient's airway with an oralpharangeal airway because it is a simple airway adjunct that keeps the tongue away from the trachea. It is important during the early stages of your career to fully understand these things. Why? Because, as adult learners, we understand things better when we are given practical applications and solutions.

Now you are asking yourself, does he want us to grade every call we run? Well, that is not going to happen. I would grade when you are asked to perform a skill that you feel like you have not done to your fullest potential. For example, you are the highest trained EMT on the engine and you run a cardiac arrest and your ambulance is 15 minutes. You arrive on scene establish the patient is pulseless and properly defibrillate him back to a talking patient. Following the call would you give yourself an "A?" This would be a good grading situation due to the infrequency of using the AED. I would use the grade scale quite often in the earlier years due to the experience level. A lot of times in the fire service we make up for lack of experience with training and knowledge.

I chose the three year mark to end the elementary school or formidable years because at three years you should have a good grasp on what is expected and had experienced many different types of emergency situations. Does this mean that you know it all? Absolutely not! But at this point your experience level is catching up with your training level to give you a good solid base for the future. Toward the end of the three year period is a good time to introduce some specialized training, such as rope rescue, confined space, or water rescue. Each of us should choose a specialty area to be trained in to make ourselves more diversified and, in turn, more valuable to our department. So grab your backpack and head to the front of the class because you have graduated to junior high school. But before you go let's grab the grade card and see where you're at?

RYAN PENNINGTON, a Contributing Editor, is a firefighter/paramedic with the Charleston, WV, Fire Department. He is currently assigned to Station 7 and a member of the West Virginia Task Force 1 USAR team. He has over 15 years of combined fire, rescue and EMS experience. Ryan is currently a West Virginia State Instructor 2, Hazmat Technician, and Certified Fire Officer 2. Ryan was a guest on the Engine Company Operations in Today's Buildings podcast. You can reach Ryan by e-mail at