Firefighter Training: Never Left the Basics

How often do you hear the term "back to the basic?" One question that keeps popping up in my head is why did we leave the basics to begin with?


How often do you hear the term “back to the basics” thrown around in the fire service world? It is a term that reminds us to go back to the beginning and revisit some of the first skill sets you learned as a firefighter recruit. One question that keeps popping up in my head is why did we leave the basics to begin with?

As I approach my 20th year in the fire service, having served with a number of different sized fire departments, I believe it is a direct result of many factors including distracted leaders, training plans that get too complicated, complacency and overconfident firefighters losing interest in what we “already know.” Let us look at why the back to the basics term simply needs to be eliminated from our vocabularies. We should change it to “never left the basics.”

Distracted Leaders

The managers of today’s fire service are dealing with more and more issues. From increased call volumes to an all-hazards response plans, many leaders can lose focus on some of the most important functions: fireground work. All the planning, preparation and funding don’t really matter when it’s game time if their front line firefighters can’t pull a hoseline and make a push. Understanding that basic skills should be practiced constantly by all firefighters will reduce the risk of injury or death of their crew members.    

Training officers, fireground commanders and chief officers should keep this function in mind when planning their training calendar. Reviewing basic skills should play a part of all training evolutions. If a firefighter is found to be lacking a needed skill, the officer should set aside time for one-on-one interaction. Discovering the need for remediation is best served on the training grounds where no one’s life is at risk and time can be spent on fine-tuning the skill set.  It can be a challenge to keep more experienced firefighters interested in a continual stream of “basic” skills, so a wise manager will involve these folks in the teaching, planning and reviewing to use their experience and allow them to take ownership in the program. 

Complex Training Plans

Now, talking to the training officers, it’s time to take a look in the mirror and see if you have lost focus on the main goal. The goal of any training plan should be to prepare firefighters to manage an emergency safely and confidently. This doesn’t always involve boxes filled with wires, floors that drop out or elaborate training props. Those objects are all great tools for teaching firefighters, but have limitations due to cost and preparation. Props like this cost money that is not always available to us due to a number of budget issues. They also consume our time when we have to build them and that is time you could be spending on building the skills necessary to make your firefighters ready.  

This may not be a problem for some departments because they have a training staff that has enough people to accomplish these tasks simultaneously. Many other departments lean on one or two members to run a training division, which can take them away from their main purpose, training firefighters. Throwing ladders, packaging a downed firefighter or pulling a crosslay does not need fancy props, they need aggressive firefighters who are not afraid to get sweaty while being motivated and educated by a training officer that is passionate about preparing them for their next fire. These “basic” skills should never be referred to as “back to anything.” These skills should never have been left!  Practice them until you are proficient in any weather condition.

Complacency

I know this topic gets beat down like a dead horse, but I strongly believe that complacency is a huge hurdle that we all face. “I’ve been to a thousand fires like this and I don’t need to crawl around on the floor training because I have been a firefighter for X number of years.” Really? Just too many variables need to be trained on constantly throughout your entire firefighting career. Some examples of these are air consumption rate, fitness levels and just plain old rust! Yes, I said rust, like the kind the kind that accumulates on a piece of metal that has been sitting out for an extended period. Rust can gather on us all, even if we only stop training for a short amount of time.

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