Pennington: Training to the Tip of Perfection

When I sat down at my desk a few weeks back, I discovered a speech given by Admiral William H. McRaven at the University of Texas-Austin graduation commencement. He spoke about his time inside the elite special warfare operations group the U.S. Navy SEALs. These silent warriors are the 911 of our military. They are dispatched around the world on a moment's notice to defend our freedom and mitigate some of the worst things imaginable.

Following his speech, I went looking for more information on the SEALs. While I have known about them for years, it wasn't until this time that I discovered that the SEALs train right up to the point of perfection. For months and months they will train in preparation for their next mission. This mentality was instilled in them during their Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDs) training. BUDs is the basic training required by all future SEALs to join this elite force.

During BUDs, the instructors would make their recruits pay attention to the smallest detail in each and every evolution – from keeping their rooms perfectly in order after hours of rolling in the sand and ocean to changing the smallest details about their assignments – in hopes they would notice anything different. These instructors instilled in the recruits the mindset of attention to details and it pays to be first. If you could not accomplish a required task you would be dismissed from BUDs.

Then the wheels started spinning inside this jumpseat rider's head. Taking a small piece of Navy SEALs training and using it when you train basic recruits and drill with seasoned members would keep us focused on the details. If you read a NIOSH LODD report, there generally are a combination of many small factors that went wrong without correction. PPE not worn correctly, lack of communication, and loss of accountability are some that stand out in most every report. Could these factors be corrected by multiple repetitions of training while paying attention to the smallest details? I think they could.

We should take our training as serious as the hardened warriors who serve in the elite Navy SEALs. Training right up to the tip of perfection is the mentality firefighters need to use to ensure that they are prepared for the worst fire of their life. Could you imagine the confidence you would have responding to a fire that you had been practicing on for months? Could you train for your next fire for months?

The answer is an overwhelming yes! While each fire we respond has different variables to deal with, they have many of the same each and every time:

  • PPE must be worn properly
  • A water supply must be established
  • Hoselines must be stretched
  • Rescues must be made
  • Size-up must be preformed
  • Various tools must be used with perfection


Can you see where we could add solid repetition to our training? Each of these tasks must be completed in a timely and safe manner. They can be trained on right up to the point of perfection. 

The next time you don’t feel like going out and pushing yourself to become a better firefighter, think back to the ones who laid down their lives to protect ours. Focus in on what it would take in the Navy SEALs and apply it to your training. Strive for perfection, focus on the smallest details, and show up on scene to kick some fire butt!  Hooyahhh firefighters, now go get wet and sandy!

See Ryan Pennington at Firehouse Expo 2014 Ryan will be teaching several classes, including "30 Ways to Stay Jumpseat-Ready for Your Next Fire!" and "Identify, Adjust and Attack: A Tactical Approach to Hoarding Fires." He will be co-presenting "Communications Between the Front Seat and the Jump Seat" with Michael Daley. See him at Firehouse Expo, July 15-19, in Baltimore.