Before The Basics

Just what are the basics? What constitutes the set of skills that you and I must possess before we can practice our craft as firefighters? Are my basics your basics?

This week's commentary is being crafted for those of you who think that my only function in life is to sit at home on the front porch, puffing on a cigar and watching the traffic flow by. Oh, do not get me wrong. I still do that, but as the weather starts to get cooler, I do it a lot less.

However, my friends, there is a lot more to my life than that. I get out to go out to lunch a lot and I also spend an inordinate amount of time chatting with folks on the telephone (regular and cell). I also spend a great deal of time reading and researching on the Internet. Keeping up with the latest trends is an important part of my work as a fire protection consultant.

How can I provide the best service for my clients if I am not familiar with the latest trends in our field? Of course that does not mean I have to agree with each and every new idea, concept, or gadget thing which comes down the pike. No my friends, there is a lot of hooey out there.

On more than one occasion I have encountered people who sought to develop a lemming-like devotion to a new theory: a theory not backed by any real research or experience. To be brutally honest, some of what I read and encounter is just so much hot air. There are people claiming to be experts who may never have seen, let alone ridden on a piece of fire apparatus.

However, there is one trend to which I am willing to subscribe. I have heard the recurring hue and cry of the fire service for more years than I would care to remember which states that we must go "back to the basics." I just cannot count the number of times I have attended a conference or a committee meeting which this topic served as the basis for discussion.

Unfortunately there is one really basic problem that must be solved before we can move on to a true journey back to the basics. That question is simple, but unless we answer it we shall have little hope of getting to the bottom of our firefighter training issues.

Just what are the basics? What constitutes the set of skills that you and I must possess before we can practice our craft as firefighters? Are my basics your basics? This is a critical distinction. Am I talking about the basic Firefighter-I skills taught by those people who utilize the National Fire Protection Association's standards?

Or is it possible that I referring to those practical how-to firefighting skills and tips that have become the province of aging, grey-haired people such as myself. This is what people in the academic world call tacit knowledge. These are the skills which people learn by the doing of their jobs and the living of their lives. There is a great difference.

Is it possible that there exists a basic set of skills that each firefighter must have: one not covered in the codes, books and standards? I think so; or at least I believe this to be the case. I also believe that we need to fully identify this list and then reproduce it for use. This is a task I attempted to accomplish when I wrote my firefighting textbook back in the late 1990's. I wrote of those things which I had learned as I made my way through the fire service.

I believe that this skill training program should be somewhat akin to the basic combat training accomplished by each infantryman in the U.S. Army. Every person who joins the United States Army must complete the same basic training course as set forth by the Department of the Army. Regardless of where the training takes place, it is delivered according to a common script provided by the Training and Doctrine Command.

Allegedly every one leaves basic training with a set of soldier skills. It is even stricter in the United States Marine Corps. I have often heard the fact that whatever their job skills and duty assignment, every Marine is a trained combat infantry warrior. However, this is just the start.

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