How many times have you ran a fire where the first hoseline stretched ends up looking like a unsprung coil of wire instead of a nicely laid out hoseline? If you don’t take the time to keep these skills fresh by practicing them, the rust will gather and your performance will suffer. Many firefighters who don’t receive training can go a year or more without pulling a hoseline off the engine. How can we expect them to operate efficiently at a fire scene if they have not pulled hose in over a year? You can’t, that’s the main focus of this article.
However, complacency steps in on a company level. I often hear statements like, “How many ways are there to pull a crosslay anyway?” or “I'm not a rookie why do I need to practice that?” Being respectful of the firefighters with years of experience, when was the last time you did it 100 percent correctly and efficiently? I have been pulling hose for a number of years too and the last time that I did it was not perfect, so I could use some more practice. Is perfection attainable or realistic? Probably not, but we should all chose to chase it when we are practicing. Realizing that you have become complacent is the first step toward fixing this problem.
Doing our job requires us to have confidence in crew members and ourselves. From time to time I see this concept taken to the extreme. To the point where the cockiness blinds them from realizing that they still need to review the most basic functions. We all want to think that we can do our jobs proficiently and most can, but sometimes that confidence can get you in trouble. Just because you can vent a roof in a minute tonight does not mean that you could do it a year later if you have not practiced it. Most skills that we use are perishable. Meaning if you don’t use them you will lose them.
This is where the “back to the basics” concept really confuses me. If our skills are perishable, outside conditions can affect us and our fitness levels go up and down, why do we ever leave the basics? Overconfidence plays a huge roll in this. I am not trying to bash anyone. Fact of the matter is many things have influence on your performance and overconfidence should not be one of them. Should we be aware of gaps in our skill set, understand our fitness level and train in any type of weather? Yes! The only way that you will find a deficiency is by doing the skill; wouldn’t you rather find this out in training? Determining that you forgot how to manage an SCBA emergency as it is happening is not optimal. We need to make this discovery in a controlled environment like training.
Just like training, deficiencies in our fitness levels go up and down. Family, other jobs, and life’s distractions can lead to big gaps in working out. Before you know it, you have gone from completing your first half marathon to back out of shape. Fitness needs to be part of our lives every day. For the weather aspect, there is no excuse for not being acclimated to every season. Start slow and get prepared for the hot or cold. The main point that I want to hit home is that you do not want to let your overconfidence talk you out of doing it. “I don’t need to wear my gear at a brush fire in the heat, I've been fighting fires in it for X number of years.”
So, are you ready to forget the “back to the basics” slogan?
The point of this article is to help you realize that we should never have to go back to something that we never leave. Grab some firefighters, set a few goals and get to work. Don’t get lost in setting up elaborate drills, props or plans, just get out and build firefighters who can function in any condition. Voltair once said “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.”
Do not strive to make training a perfect scenario; make it good enough so your firefighters get the basics skills down to where they perform the same way every day! Build their confidence and always keep their ego’s in check by offering them solutions to their deficiencies without making them feel insecure. We want humble, wise and proficient firefighters riding in our seats. I would feel proud as a chief if I knew that my fire department is as fully ready as possible for the next run because we never left the basics. The only thing we need to get back to is the next basic skills session.