Pennington: The Basics are Where we Fail

"I have been in the fire service for 20 years, why should I practice putting on my PPE?"

How many times have you heard those words just to see that person on scene with the SCBA straps loosened, waist belt undone, or not wearing a hood.  It is a constant battle with ourselves to ensure that we can perform under all conditions and it comes down to being proficient at the basics.  It’s the basics that allow us to make saves, extinguish fires, and come home.  So why do so many firefighters fail at the basics?  Let’s take a jumpseat view at why the basics fail.


Being confident in our skills is required in our business.  This confidence level can lead to failure if we allow it to keep us from getting our hands dirty and constantly performing basic fireground functions.  A sense of entitlement seems to coincide with years of service.  The more years of service you have, the less you have to train seems to be a constant theme.  This thought process should be stomped out faster then a fast-moving fire.  With time comes the responsibility to lead.  Leading by example is the best way to influence your peers, rookies, leaders, and community.  As your years of service accumulate so should the need to review the basics.  Keeping yourself grounded to the basic functions will allow you to ensure that you don’t become "rusty" overconfident.

New Equipment

How often does your department buy new equipment, introduce it, train on it, and then you don’t drill on it until the bell rings?  If your department receives new equipment you should lead the way with training. Create different many scenarios to make sure everyone has a true understanding of the equipment's functions, uses, and limitations. 

Once the equipment finds its way on to the rig it’s up to us to ensure it is used properly.  All firefighters should take the initiative to take the needed time to become familiar with it. If you are a jumpseat rider, like me, take the time to ask your senior firefighters to show you how to use it.  You will be surprised at their reaction.  Most often they will be the first one on the floor, ready, willing, and able to show you the way.

Looking Bad

One of the biggest hurdles that keeps firefighters from practicing the most basic functions is the fear of embarrassment.  I always refer to fire stations as a high school-type social environment with different personalities.  Who would want to be embarrassed in front of their peers for the inability to perform a basic skill?  No one.

This is where the senior firefighters and officers need to step up to make drilling a positive environment. Too often we bust chops at the most inopportune times causing the environment to become detrimental for true learning.  There is a difference in busting chops and being mean to a firefighter who is struggling with a skill.  While we all enjoy busting chops it has it’s time and place.  Bust their chops to help encourage them, not to break them down.  Remember, while you are busting on that one, the next person to struggle may be you!  

Make the Basics a Priority

Making sure that you are #jumpseatready for the next bell to ring is a responsibility that we all should take seriously.  If you are getting comfortable with your basic skills take it up a notch.  Add some variables that you could encounter to ensure you are able to handle them.  Mask issues, PPE failure, hose rupture, or many other variables can lead to disaster if your base set of skills are not adaptable and sharp.  Dr. Rich Gasaway says "Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent"  Make your basic skills permanent and keep practicing them to ensure that the basic skills don’t fail you!

Want to learn more on the basics? Ryan Pennington has written a series of "Building the Base" articles found exclusively on the Firehouse Limited Edition Tablet App. You can download the Firehouse App and the each month's edition: Google Play for Android tablets or iTunes for the iPad.