My son is my inspiration; he is going to be seven in a few weeks. He talked me into letting him take martial arts a while back, so I enrolled him into a local school in my community. He is moving up the belt rank in Tae Kwon Do, and he is getting pretty good at his craft. Recently, he tested for his latest rank, which means he moves up in belt color, and I got to hold the board while he broke it with his fist to pass his test. It is truly impressive to watch his transformation into a serious competitor when he walks into his class, and I watch him practice his craft every chance I can.
Recently I had an interesting conversation with my son regarding his training; we were at our traditional Saturday morning breakfast at the local diner when he announced he did not want to go to his lesson that day. I asked him why not, since he enjoys it so much and a few of his friends are his classmates. His answer was amazing… “I think I’m good enough for now.” Wow, I thought, I hear adults that populate our fire service say the same exact thing. But my son is only seven: he probably doesn’t know any better… What’s our excuse?
How Good is “Good Enough”?
Fire service training has always served as a springboard for controversial discussion. Kitchen table discussions at our station have always served up many a position when it comes to training. But in general, my experiences have led me to believe that there is a general malaise running rampant within our service when it comes to firefighter training. Case in point: the fire academy I work at graduates literally hundreds of Firefighter I credentialed students a year. Firefighter II students, however, graduate at a rate of less than 100 a year. We also run a multitude of technical rescue programs as well at our facility, ranging from confined space, extrication, rope rescue, trench rescue and emergency building shoring, just to name a few. We may run the awareness and operations level classes in these competencies, but it is a rarity when we will have enough students that return to take the Technician Level training programs. To summarize, we get them in the door to get the entry-level knowledge, but it is extremely difficult to get them to return to expand on the base of their knowledge. What is the primary factor concerning this lack of enrollment? Simply put, there is a deep-rooted belief that the basic level of training for our profession is “good enough.” But we as professionals should always strive to be our best, and never settle for being just “good enough” (photo 1).
So, one has to ask, “Why is that the case?” I am certain that there are a few different reasons that can be posed. First and foremost, the times we live in require most of us to work multiple jobs to support our families and lifestyles. When we are not at work, we try to spend as much time as we can with our families and kids. Whatever time that can be devoted to the fire service is already being spent there, so it is difficult to get many of them back to the Academy once they leave; there just aren’t enough hours in the day. What, then, about the time they spend at the station? Does your training officer review department performance during alarms and incidents, identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, and develop learning objectives to master these areas? Are these programs available for all members on all shifts and work schedules to attend? If not, then the training officer must do everything they can to ensure the needs of the member are being met (photo 2). For example, our department utilizes an annual schedule for training that covers all of the topics per month, including SOGs and Directives. The rules are just as important as the skills are. We are also sure to schedule annual proficiencies that are required such as confined space entry and rescue training, infectious disease control, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) competency and driver/operator recertification. These skill-based sessions can be easily done within the confines and the budgets of all departments.