Effective Training: The Key to Success

Let me share an observation about the world around us. It is my opinion that the level of dumb ass amongst our society today is a source of constant amazement to me. Each and every day a new story appears on the television news or in my local paper which make me shake my head and wonder, where in the heck are we getting people like this?  Each of these instances gives me pause to ponder about the mental capacity of many within our society. It seems to me to be at a low point in the ebb and flow of history.
 
I can recall the evening on the Tonight Show when Jay Leno shared another one of his "stupid criminal" stories with those of us watching his late-night show. His story involved a certain individual who had been arrested by his local police department and charged with possession of a small pistol. Like most criminals, the man denied any knowledge of said weapon. Unfortunately for him, his undoing proved to be the fact that he just happened to have a tattoo on his leg portraying that particular weapon, as well as the serial number on said pistol.
 
Talk about a real-life dumb-ass. Let me give you another example of the propensity for people to act the dumb ass within our society. I am making reference to those legions of fire departments which fail to train their people to do the job they are sworn to do. I can recall the story of a fire chief in Pennsylvania some time back stood up at a seminar stated that he did not want too much training imposed on his department. His reason for this statement stopped everyone in their tracks. That person said he did not want his people to know more than he did. Wow, what a dumb-ass. 
 
Many people still think that training is a waste of time. They believe that there are far more important things to do at the firehouse, like drinking beer and eating pizzas. Oh, I can hear the moaning now. The "we've never done it that way warriors" will be leading the cheers and jeers. There will be calls to string me up or dip me in boiling tar and cover me with a coating of feathers. 
 
Harry is on a training tear again they will shout. Enough already Harry, we get it. Yep, you are right. I am on a tear about training and I want you to know that far too many people are not getting it. Let me suggest a few versions of the moans you might hear in response to my call for more training:
 
·                     Who in the heck are you to tell me anything?
·                     Get off our case Harry, we train.
·                     If you don't believe me Harry, just check my records.
·                     We don't need to train Harry, we go to a lot of fires.
·                     We don't need no stinking training. (Ala Treasure of the Sierra Madre-1948 or Blazing Saddles-1974)
·                     I do not need to train since I already know it all. 
 
What a load of bull my friends. Enough is enough. Just about everything in life from cradle to grave involves some form of training. There may be things you do for which you think training is not necessary, but let me assure you that training and practice are needed in every part of your life. Training has been a part of my life for a long time. It has become a passion for me.
 
There are other people who play a part in my life for whom fire service training is also a passion. My friend Jack Peltier from Marlboro, Massachusetts stands representative of the very best in fire service training. I can recall the time he sent me an email version of a really neat article from the Boston Herald that spoke volumes about the bad things that can happen when you fail to train your troops. I am going to share that story with you now, because it is a good example of what can happen when people do not take training seriously.
 
It seems that there was a serious incident involving a private sector construction worker in a local Massachusetts community. The individual in that instance was attempting to disassemble a crane for movement to a job site. According to the Boston Herald article, "a …construction company has been cited for "serious" violations by not training an employee to use a crane, which fell on him and crushed his legs when he was dismantling it ... (It seems that) an employee was seriously injured while dismantling the Link-Belt Crawler crane without any process to be followed," the OSHA citation further read that, "…(T)he employer did not instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury."
 
It is at this point that I would expect many of you to start telling me about how stupid it was to have someone doing a job for which they were not trained. Oh really, how many fire departments have not been properly trained to do the things they do every day. Have at it my friends. Duh! Take your best shot. And then once you have done that, let me give you a few points to ponder.
 
At this time in the 21st Century, there are still states in our great nation which have failed to develop and implement full mandatory state training programs. Here in New Jersey, we have a great many fine county-level programs, but there is no state mandate for training. Oh, we have stands, but let me share a secret with you: They are voluntary in nature. Since I have been involved with this process for more than 20 years, I feel eminently qualified to pitch a bitch. 
 
The reason is really stupid my friends. In New Jersey we have a series of regulations that control how our system of government will work. One of the rules is called "State Mandate – State Pay." In other words, if the state mandates training, the state feels it will get stuck with the bill. As I said earlier: BULL!
 
This has left us here in New Jersey with what we jokingly call a system of "voluntary standards." What a contradiction in terms. That is sort of like discussing the concept of Army Intelligence, or jumbo shrimp. I believe such things are called oxymoron's by the unbelieving public. 
 
There is a fear rampant in government about these laws. I can recall the time my consulting firm completed a study for the State Division of Fire Safety on the implications of implementing the "Two-In/Two-Out rules in New Jersey.   The state said that they were being forced by the federal government to obey this law. Because of this they did not see an obligation to provide added money and training for the necessary programs. The research which my associates and I conducted arrived at the opposite conclusion.
 
At that time, New Jersey was not an OSHA state. The law was created by the state, based upon the federal model, but it was a state creation none-the-less, or so my associates at the federal level assured me. There was no federal mandate at time for the state to implement this requirement. This led the State of New Jersey to pay my firm and then never publish the report. You might call this another example of better living through good government.   Of course many years later we are now an OSHA state.
 
Because of this little bit of legal chicanery at the state level, we have forced the cost of training downward thus making the system of training delivery uneven. Some counties have large, modern facilities, while others make do. There are even a couple of counties that do not have training academies. Oddly enough, these happen to be the most populous counties in the state. Very few of the major cities even have training academy facilities any more either. I know the Newark fire training academy I commanded back in the day is a distant memory.
 
There will be those who love to hate me because of the positions I take and the opinions I put forward. Good. These are the same people who fought me when I supported mandatory live-fire training, mandatory incident command training and licensing, and mandatory seatbelt use. I love it when people take positions of ignorance and then proceed to provide a strong defense of ignorance as a concept. I live for those moments.
 
Let me take my argument to its logical conclusion. Let me stress to you that far too many also people take a cavalier view of what training is and what is needed. When I was assigned to the training division of a certain major metropolitan fire organization, I had frequent contact with the head of that agency. Sadly, his actions confirmed the paucity of his thinking for me.
 
One day while I was working to justify increased resources for a particular program, the boss said something to me that shocked me. More than that, I cannot repeat it in its actual English language phraseology. However, let me paraphrase what I heard one afternoon back in the late 1990's. 
 
The man asked me why I was so concerned with training. He indicated that it was a jerky function. He told me that we went to a lot of fires, so we would learn what we needed to do while we were doing it. This from a person with bachelor's and masters degrees in education. Hmm, I wonder if that person has anything to do with a certain construction company in the state of Massachusetts.
 
My friends, it is high time that we wake up and begin to smell the alluring aroma of well-thought-out fire training coffee. Far too many people with a similar low opinion of training occupy important positions in their fire departments. I want each of you to share this article with your supervisors. Put them on notice that you want more training.
 
This is not a career vs. volunteer issue my friends. In my state the fire department is your employer whether they pay you or not. While there may be variations of the law in your part of the world on this, I would be willing to bet that you could be found liable in court (or in the court of public opinion) for someone who died or was seriously injured because they were performing a task for which no recent training had been provided. 
 
You may agree with me or you may disagree. This being a free society, you have that option. However, I want you to know that I believe in practicing what I preach. I would not feel right speaking on this if I did otherwise. I still attend drills. As a matter of fact, the Adelphia Fire Company has increased the number of drills over the past few years. 
 
If you have known me for more than one day, you are surely well aware of the value that I place on training. Personally and professionally I believe there is a crying need for life-long learning and practice. I still travel around America sharing what I have been privileged to learn over my nearly five decade in the fire service. I have made it my business to work as an advocate of effective training. More than that, I will continue to do my best to bust the chops of people who pay lip service to training. 
 

Just remember the story of the man in Massachusetts who almost lost his legs doing something for which he had not been trained. If you think that structural firefighting without proper training is safer than operating a crane without proper training, than maybe you need to have your head examined. That's my view, and I could be wrong. But I think not. 

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