1. #1
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    Default book smart vs street smart

    I heard a quote on the radio today that made me pause so I thought I would ask the question here.

    "There is street smart and book smart and when someone says someone is book smart what they are saying is that they are not really very smart."

    Now I am fully aware that someone who is book smart can have all the proper theoretical knowledge in the world about a particular topic or career. The problem comes in when that person with little, or no, actual field experience has to try to actually perform or lead others in the performance of tasks they have little street experience doing.

    When I was a much younger man I worked in a cheese factory (imagine that, living in Wisconsin and all). They hired a guy right out of tech school with a food service degree to be the assistant plant manager. He had NO experience actually working in a cheese factory. He would come out and watch us and have us teach him a part of the job one day and the next he was out telling us we were wrong and do it this way. Well, under his and the new plant manager's amazing leadership we went from winning Blue Ribbons every year to not even placing. I had been gone a few years and this same management drove that plant right into the ground and out of business.

    I see corrolaries to the book smart graduates we see becoming leaders today in the fire service.

    Please discuss...I am not interested in ****ing matches, just opinions and ideas on whether I am even close in my thoughts.

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    May I say, from the perspective of a graduate, that theory is nothing without practice, and theory is much easier than practice! So degree is in no way an assurance of the capacity of the individual except of his ability to deal with the educational system, that is a different kingdom respect to the real thing.
    Yes book smart is a good way to say that someone is not really smart, and anyone that is proud to be called so is really dumb.

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    I cab speak from Volunteer Fire Service Experience.

    We had a guy join up. Didn't know jack squat about firefighting. Started taking every class that came down the pike. He spent more time at the County Fire School than some of their admin personnel. After a few years, he had the talk of a good operator, but he didn't have the walk. An open slot came up for a Lieutenants position. Chief "made" him over me. He was chosen due to being local and available more, where I had moved 10 miles away AND had a career FF position, working 24/24; which I had no problem with. My only concern was his lack of experience.

    Then one day sure as $hit, it happened. Structure Fire assignment, first due, him in the seat and me driving. Long driveway (1/4 mile or so....) I suggested to him that we allow the first due truck (about a minute behind us) to go ahead of us while we prepared to do a split lay up the drive. Nope, he wanted to get in there and hit it right away. So we proceeded up the driveway, without dropping any line. Daytime fire, who knew if and when another engine would be along. Heavy fire second floor with heavy smoke pushing from the soffits, indicating (at least to me) that we had extension. I suggested right then and there (again, daytime job) that he transmit a second alarm. Nope. Gonna hit it. Had the two inexperienced kids in the back grab the inch and three quarter crosslay. Big building. I suggested he grab the bomb line (300' 3" with a 2.5" smoothbore knob) and slap a gated wye on it AFTER he knocked the bulk of the fire down because he would probably need two 1.75" lines for overhaul....Nope. Long story short. The fire was confined to the zip code of origin, the foundation had minimal amounts of damage, and he eventually learned the meaning of the term "bomb line."

    Now don't get me wrong. Nothing wrong with book smarts. Education is a very valuable thing. But when you combine it with a lack of street smart, it is a dangerous thing.
    "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

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    There are "whiz kidz" out there who take every fire course they can and have enough "certs" that they can afford to use a few to wipe their noses and their butt if there's no tissues or TP... but put them on the fireground and they have no clue. Being "certified" does not mean one is "qualified".

    There are grizzled old veterans out there who learned their craft like the pilots in the barnstormer years did... by the seat of their pants, yet when the flight and fire business changed, they didn't adapt to new technology or keep up with the changes.

    The ideal firefighter, company officer and Chief officer will remember the lessons of the past, incorporate new methods and technology and forge ahead using both.
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
    Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY

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    Book Smart refers to the few educated people who have learned the theories but don't know how to apply them. There are a lot of people who learn the theory and then learn how to apply it.

    Learning strictly from experience is always the right way either. For example. A person learns through experience that a lot of water on a fire will put the fire out. That works pretty good until you hit the oil fire or the magnesium fire.

    A classic of combining the theory with the actual would be at what angle to aim the hose so as to maximize the distance the water goes. In this case there is no wind. Of course we all know the answer is 45 degrees.

    So book smart would mean that you passed the classes but don't know what you are doing. And as one who is now in a masters program I can assure you there are many like that. Sometimes I read the stuff those people write and wonder how they got their Bachelors degree.

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    Thumbs up Street Smart over Book Smart

    I would say that I have a fair bit of "book smarts" but I would trade my book smarts for street smarts in a second! The most important lesson that someone with book smarts can learn is that they still have much more to learn and that is "streets smarts!" I think that a person with street smarts is more useful in day to day operations but a book smart person willing to learn from someone with street smarts and integrate both can be a world beater.
    Mark Zanghetti
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    Waterford, CT

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    Perfect example: When you take the EMT test you are book smart, but every EMT is, or should be scared as **** the first time they actually do any of it.

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    I don't even need someone that is "street smart". I would gladly take good ole common sense over "book smart."
    RK
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    Management is making sure things are done right. Leadership is doing the right thing. The fire service needs alot more leaders and a lot less managers.

    "Everyone goes home" is the mantra for the pussification of the modern, American fire service.


    Comments made are my own. They do not represent the official position or opinion of the Fire Department or the City for which I am employed. In fact, they are normally exactly the opposite.

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    feels like the millionth time this kind of thread has come up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nameless View Post
    feels like the millionth time this kind of thread has come up.
    Um, golly, apparently there was a guy with a pistol to your head forcing you to post to this topic right?

    The reason I posted the topic is directly related to the fact I heard the comment on the radio. I apologize for you having had to waste your time.

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    Do not apologize, it is very interesting!

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    We had a guy that had every cert from the state that he could get as well as some from the NFA. He was proud to tell you all about how he had all these classes and how smart he was. Put him on a scene of anything and it was like watching a monkey play with a football.

    I'll take street smarts with a good dose of common scense thrown in over book smarts anyday of the week and twice on Sunday.

    On the flip side we have a guy that has only got what certs that he is required to have, but when he tells you something you had better listen because he has been there and done that. If the man says he is nervous or scared of something you better be backing up because things are headed south in a hurry.

    Just a note to add. We still talk about monkey boy and how "smart he was" and he has been gone for at least 8 years.

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    Actually I'm not familiar with the term; "bomb line"?

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    I have to agree with Robert 100%, common sense goes a long way. someone with street smarts as we call them to me are usually the ones that come from the trades and know what manual labor is so they usually perform well on the fire ground, but most of us also speak our minds and in todays world of the fire service it does not go over well when you're trying to tell the guy with the doctorite that the 2 male end of the hose don't go together.Don't get me wrong I think if you want a college degree, which I do have, don't lose the common sense or think to much into things. That's the biggest thing I have seen is the guys with higher education tend to overthink thinks instead of just getting in there and, safely geting our job done.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ffbam24 View Post
    Actually I'm not familiar with the term; "bomb line"?
    Another term for Blitz line, heavy hit line, sometimes it is a 2 1/2, sometimes a 3 inch, sometimes with a big smoothbore nozzle or a lightweight deluge. No matter the hose size or nozzle set-up it is designed to be laid out and operated by a minimum of crew and to flow a crapload of water. (Crapload is a Wisconsin term for big water, usually in excess of 300 gpm)

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    FyredUp,

    Yes, I understand what you are trying to say, and I think you are close on your interpretation. As some others have said, “book smart” is someone who has met the educational requirements for a degree or certification. On the other hand, “street smart” is someone who has learned through actual life experiences.

    We (coworkers, instructors, mentors, coaches, leaders, supervisors, etc.) try to teach the relationship between “book smart” and “street smart” to people coming into this career field. During academies, classes and training, we try to convey that the book is a valuable tool for learning information; the challenge is to be able to take what you learn from a book and apply it to real life. Someone once said on this site “the last time I threw a book at a fire, it didn’t go out”. We try to equip their toolbox; it’s up to them to figure out which tools are the best for the situation that’s presented.

    An example would be ventilation. We could sit around the coffee table for hours reading and discussing ventilation. We would all have a “book smart” understanding of the theories and principles, but until we actually apply this, it means very little. Once you apply these theories and practices at a working fire, the “street smart” experience begins to build.

    If doing vertical ventilation, everyone knows you need a ladder (book smart). Where, when and how to place the ladder for optimal use based on situation would be “street smart”.

    If doing horizontal ventilation, we all know you place a PPV fan at the point of entry. We have learned through “street smarts” that placing the fan at the point of entry creates an obstruction for other crews coming in behind you and most of the time it vibrates out of position and/or gets moved by hose lines being dragged nearby.

    As far as “people with little, or no, actual field experience who try to actually perform or lead others in the performance of tasks they have little street experience doing” should be mature enough to realize this, and learn from it. If they don’t, they are a danger to themselves and everyone around them.

    Another example could be emergency management. Shortly after Katrina & Rita, there was a demand for emergency management directors. A lot of municipalities were hiring people with degrees in Emergency Management, but obviously they had little to no experience. How can one get “street smarts” with large scale natural disasters? Unless you travel all over the world participating in these types of disasters, your experience level would barely scrape the surface. Granted, California has multiple wildfires every year and one could gain valuable experience through these types of incidents.

    As far as “book smart graduates we see becoming leaders today in the fire service”, I’m not saying it’s going to get worse but I don’t see it getting better. In most urban fire departments, today’s fire chief is more of a manager and today’s fire departments are run like a business. Most urban fire chiefs have little to do with actual fire ground operations.

    Another problem, the number of fires nationwide is dwindling. If you look at the recently released “US Fire Loss 2008” from NFPA, the numbers of fires have decreased, therefore reducing our “street smart” learning. Also, building and fire codes are stricter than years ago. As we equip buildings with detection and protection systems, the number of fires and number of major fires is going to decrease. If the fire service gets its way and begins to require residential sprinklers, dwelling fires will probably decrease also.

    As with Gonzo, I have seen seasoned veterans get left in the dust because they refuse to adapt to today’s changing fire service. We have to find a balance between book smart, street smart, common sense, experience, technology and information in order to do our jobs. Hell, remember when haz-mat was unknown and scary? Today it’s part of the norm.

    We were all “book smart” at one time. It’s up to us to groom and prepare the next generation of firefighters.

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    I get instantly suspicious when I hear either term.

    The truth, as a few others have pointed out, is that you need both. The other truth is that these days you get the book smarts first and develop the street smarts later.

    Depending on the job, either order would or could work.
    I am now a past chief and the views, opinions, and comments are mine and mine alone. I do not speak for any department or in any official capacity. Although, they would be smart to listen to me.

    "The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list."

    "When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water."

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    Cool

    I'm going to vote with Memphis on this, also... It doesn't matter where you get your smarts, you've got to have a little bit of common sense to succeed at this job. Show me a guy with a degree and common sense and nine times out of 10, I'll show you a good firefighter. Show me a guy who's been on the job forever and has no common sense and I'll show you a walking door chock. Which is better?

    Too often, the people I hear in real life discrediting formal education are those who were never able to obtain it themselves -- for whatever reason. Like everything else we have in the fire service... an education is just another tool and whether or not it does you any good depends solely on how you use it.
    Last edited by cozmosis; 09-28-2009 at 01:41 AM.

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    As others have stated, it takes combination of both. But I feel that we are partly to blame (we, meaning the fire service). I look at it this way, I got into the job back in the early 90's when all that was needed was a HS diploma and a good working knowledge of how stuff works. Your training was a short academy followed by the school of hard knocks at your first company assignment.

    Now we require higher education degress, advanced training because most of us can't afford to operate a true academy, and someone who slide into the officer's seat in a moments notice. Higher education degrees for officers and chiefs is a good thing, but the front line entry level FF needs a well rounded education combined with solid street apps such as how to use tools, past experience with manual labor, and the ability to look at something at face value without an in-depth micro-analysis.

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    Let me make this perfectly clear. I am not anti-education for fire fighters. In fact I have an Associate Degree in Fire Science, I have 4 IFSAC Certifications, 5 State of Wisconsin Certifications, more NFA classes than I can remember right now, 3 different Haz-Mat certs, Air Force 5 Level training, as well as many state, regional, and national classes. I also have 32 years in the fire service as a volunteer/POC with 2 different departments, CFR as a civilian firefighter on an air guard base, and now as a career firefighter for a medium sized city.

    I am a firm believer that theoretical knowledge only goes so far, without practical experience to draw from it is only going to remain theory. I do agree with those that said that real world work experience, especially in construction, mechanics, plumbing, HVAC, Ag mechanics and more only make the firefighter's knowledge base much deeper and makes them more useful.

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    Quote Originally Posted by FyredUp View Post
    Let me make this perfectly clear. I am not anti-education for fire fighters. In fact I have an Associate Degree in Fire Science, I have 4 IFSAC Certifications, 5 State of Wisconsin Certifications, more NFA classes than I can remember right now, 3 different Haz-Mat certs, Air Force 5 Level training, as well as many state, regional, and national classes. I also have 32 years in the fire service as a volunteer/POC with 2 different departments, CFR as a civilian firefighter on an air guard base, and now as a career firefighter for a medium sized city.

    I am a firm believer that theoretical knowledge only goes so far, without practical experience to draw from it is only going to remain theory. I do agree with those that said that real world work experience, especially in construction, mechanics, plumbing, HVAC, Ag mechanics and more only make the firefighter's knowledge base much deeper and makes them more useful.
    Exactly. Working in the same patch of land, you and I both know how tough the hiring for career staff is in our state, both requirements and limited numbers. Competition is tough. We use education and training through the process, but it is your know-how and common sense that will get you the job.

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    You can be book smart and still be dumb as a brick.

    I know of firemen that are not only book smart, have a good background, education, and understanding that are good street smart guys as well.

    In the firefighting and law enforcement professions, you should be both. If you can’t read, understand and be able to express yourself, you will be left behind by those who can. During competitive exams for promotions you have to have book smarts and street smarts to be able to achieve a high score to even be considered for an interview.

    I have had guys that weren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer as being book smart, but they had great street smart capabilities. They had a tough time passing general tests, but if they were shown hands on, they would pick it up quickly. One fellow I remember had a hell of a time taking a written exam on pump operations, but on the drill yard, he could pump his butt off without any errors. I asked him why couldn’t he do that on a written test and he said that the written test scared him and the practical didn’t.

    So you have them both book and street smart, they all fit in somewhere.


    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    Fyred Up,

    Good discussion topic. I like to post on an actual discussion before I read all of the other posts. That way I can give my opions straight up.

    I will briefly say that I am a college graduate with several degrees. I do not believe that I am any "smarter" than someone that has not gone to college. In fact I would say that I was no where near as "smart" as some others that didn't go to college.

    That being said, I think smartness are rather intelligence is based more on experience than books. The street smart person has learned the hard way and knows that they do not know everything. There is always more to learn. The book smart person believes hardheartedly that they know it all and there is little or nothing else to learn on a given subject and sees the only way to gin more knowledge is from books. I also believe no matter which way you learned your knowledge it does not make a person intelligent. Being able to take that knowledge that a person has learned and put it towards something productive and also learning from any mistakes which are made makes a person "smart" or intelligent. I am fortunate to have met many men and women in my short time on earth who had very little education at all but could do just about anything. They also tend to be very financial comfortable.

    As for myself I can hold my own but I do not consider myself "smart". I do listen and try to learn from others no matter what they are saying. I am human and a man so I can be hard headed but I do my best to continue to learn.

    I do believe that formal education or training is very important but it does not need to be college.

    Books are only the one possible beginning to being "smart". It takes books and experience to be "smart"

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo View Post
    There are "whiz kidz" out there who take every fire course they can and have enough "certs" that they can afford to use a few to wipe their noses and their butt if there's no tissues or TP... but put them on the fireground and they have no clue. Being "certified" does not mean one is "qualified".

    There are grizzled old veterans out there who learned their craft like the pilots in the barnstormer years did... by the seat of their pants, yet when the flight and fire business changed, they didn't adapt to new technology or keep up with the changes.

    The ideal firefighter, company officer and Chief officer will remember the lessons of the past, incorporate new methods and technology and forge ahead using both.
    One of the best quotes yet. I've seen grizzled old veterans who were trained in the seventies and that is where their training stopped. They are a danger in today's fire environment but they are now officers training the new volunteers. And yes their are "whiz kids" but often they gain the title from the same volunteers who make fun of their training or who are intimidated by any new knowledge. Neither has a lock on common sense

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    One is not more important than the other in my opinion. The balance of both is the most important. Believing you know it because you read it, is as bad as believing you know it because you've done it. As with most things it comes down to pride.

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