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The Tale of Two Fire Engines

One day at the fire engine factory, there were two fire engines being assembled. These two engines were unlike the others inside the factory as they were being made identical to each other. In fact, you could even call them “twins.” The finishing touches were placed on the big red twin engines and they were freed to begin their journey of service to their communities. This was the last time that they would ever be seen as twins. 

You see, one engine is destined to serve an older, more deprived, neighborhood that has fires on a weekly basis, while its twin is heading to an up-and-coming neighborhood with upscale homes that may see a fire once every six months. Both engines were forged from the same steel, at the same time, but the conditions that they will face could not be more different. 

One must be a finely tuned firefighting machine because it will be tested more often than not. And the other...well, wait a minute, it has to be a finely tuned firefighting machine as well. How can the engine that will be assigned to the slower fire area keep up with the real-world experience of the battle hardened warrior? Can these twins that began their journey together be equally ready for their next challenge? If they stay the same, how will they be different? Let’s use the story of “The Tale of the Two Engines” to drive home the point that sometimes you don't have the option of a lot of real-world experience, but are still required to perform to the same skill level.

This analogy came to me after a shift riding on the twin to my regularly assigned home engine. Often times in my department, we get moved from our home stations to rotate coverage and this time it was the twin in the slower fire district. The similarities and the huge differences in the twins really struck me. They are both eight plus years into their service careers and could not look more different. Fewer bumps are bruises can be seen on the slower engine, the hand tools look brand new, air packs look like they could be placed back in the plastic to be sold as new, and the hose is perfectly aligned in the hosebed. But these conditions are not a sign of what’s to come. At any moment the bell could ring out to the tune of “structure fire” and off to work it goes.

In many ways this engine and its crews have the chips stacked against them. They haven’t seen a large amount of fires required to gain experience. Just as the engine, the crews that ride on this proud ride also can suffer from the lack of experience. Command decisions, signs of flashover and tactical assignments may have to be based solely on training. Training? We are talking about training? That’s right, training and drilling is the way that you combat the lack of “real-world” experience. With this in mind, I believe that these crews will face an even bigger challenge.

Complacency: it kills firefighters. With the lower call volume and fewer number of working fires, complacency can slowly creep up on you and catch you when you and your crew aren’t even aware of it. Running calls that are repetitious and monotonous can make complacency rear its ugly head. Countless automatic alarms mixed with a steady stream of medical calls can numb us into not being ready. Just because your area doesn’t see many fires, it does not give you the right to slack off and not be ready. In fact, it should push you to learn more about today’s fires through other methods, such as online learning.

Now, let’s go back to the battle-hardened warrior assigned to the declining neighborhood where fires are common. It may look a little battered and bruised, but it has earned every bump, bang and dent. If you had a dollar for every time this red warrior had rolled out the doors with heavy smoke showing you would be a rich man. Fire after fire keeps coming in, hose gets laid out and hose gets packed up in a constant rotation.

The tools are well worn, air packs are a solid shade of black, and the hosebed looks like it was dragged through a fire pit. Just like the engine, its crew has seen many fires. But is this a good thing? Sometimes with experience comes over confidence and oversight. How many times before have we seen this type of fire? Well, last time we grabbed the hose and made a quick knock down. But who is to say that this fire is the same as the last 100. It's not! Every fire needs to be sized up before being knocked down. Just because you have fought a lot of fires doesn’t give you the right to not take a long, hard look at what you are running into. The same challenge that the twin engine and its crew is facing can now be seen on the battle-hardened warrior, complacency. It may have different parameters, but it still is the same killer of firefighters.

How do we combat this problem? Training, just the same as with the twin engine. Constant training needs to be used. Always getting new updates on tactics, building construction, and fire behavior can keep you safe on your 101st fire. The fires we fight are an ever-changing variety. While the tactics may or may not be the same, the belongings inside the homes definitely are changing and if we treat every fire the same, the outcome could be completely different. With a constant flow of fires being a good thing for improving skills, morale and job fulfillment, it is not an end all cure all. We must continue to train just as hard, if not harder, than the twin crew to ensure that we can handle the next challenging fire.

Battling complacency can be found in every firehouse at any time. Whatever company you find yourself assigned to make sure that you are taking the time to learn, prepare and advance your skill set to ensure that when the alarm sounds you will be prepared to handle the emergency.

It was the best of days; it was the worst of days, but the twin engines remain on the front lines making a difference. It is amazing that these two proud warriors can be so alike when their worlds are completely different. Training, preparing and fighting complacency remain constant while the crews that ride on these engines gain valuable experience. One may gain experience at a much slower rate, but it still is just that, experience. 

If your department lacks the fires that many see, it’s time to use different tools to gain that knowledge. Get on the internet, watch the videos, and get out in the training grounds for some real-world situations. You never know when you may be reassigned from the slow house to the busy or vice versa. It’s your job to remain ready for war at any moment, even if your moment only comes once in a blue moon! Always remember the story of the two engines. That in the service of their communities they are no more important than the other because there goal remains constant. To protect life and property!