An Introduction to a New Monthly Column

Dec. 29, 2009
 Welcome to the inaugural column for Telling It Like It Is. This column will be dedicated to honest discussion about the issues and events that confront the fire service today. We'll have open and frank discussions that may upset some of you because they will take a "truth at all costs" approach to the issues for one simple reason — the fire service needs it.

Welcome to the inaugural column for Telling It Like It Is. This column will be dedicated to honest discussion about the issues and events that confront the fire service today. We'll have open and frank discussions that may upset some of you because they will take a "truth at all costs" approach to the issues for one simple reason — the fire service needs it.

When dealing with the fire service, most people and organizations either pander or patronize. They will tell you what they think you want to hear or they will pat you on the collective head and tell you not to worry. Neither is a good thing and neither will have any place here. We intend to confront the fire service on some of the most controversial topics for one reason only — because we love you.

We love the fire service from the very bottom of our hearts. We love the history, the tradition, the attitude of service, the unbreakable bond of brotherhood and everything else that makes this one of the greatest jobs in the world; however, the fire service is suffering. Suffering from budget cuts, internal deceit, falling public opinion, disorganized leadership, inconsistent political agendas and overall poor decisions. The result is that the fire service often gets relegated to the political backburner and its legitimacy questioned.

The current economy is letting politicians make changes that would be unacceptable in any other climate and, unfortunately, the fire service is paying the price. We need unity now more than ever before and yet, at least publicly, we appear divided, disorganized and disconnected. The national fire service organizations that we rely on for answers or assistance can at times be the most pandering or patronizing. Each has a political agenda to support and does it on the backs of the fire service. They need the support of politicians in order to maintain their voices, so they patronize. They need their members to continue to pay dues, so they pander. This is not to say that these organizations have not done great things to advance the fire service; however, one must understand upfront that these groups tend to serve two masters and that can be a recipe for disaster. At times, looking to them for help can be like reaching for a life preserver in violent seas and being handed an anchor instead.

What this column is not: This column will never be a direct attempt to upset or anger you. It may appear that way at times, but that is not the case. This column will not be subservient to any political agendas or special interests. We will not patronize you by treating you as a brainless laborer. We will not spare you the details. We will not attempt to polarize you in the way that sensationalist TV pundits bring in two opposing sides, stir the pot, and then sit back and watch the fireworks. This will never be our goal.

What this column is: This column will be honest, absent political agendas and or public polish. This will be a place where the issues will be exposed. Real talk to real firefighters. We intend to bring these topics to you in a direct manner that lays bare the issues and our feelings. In a unique twist, you will be given the opportunity to chime in and offer your thoughts. The purpose of this column is to generate discussion, but this is only where that discussion begins. Once you read the column, you are encouraged to go to and contribute your thoughts. We want to hear what you think as straightforward and factual as you can make it. Feel free to disagree; however, we would ask that you keep the emotion-driven hate mail out of it, because that is precisely where we usually appear disorganized and disconnected. Make your voice heard. This is your opportunity.

Let's get it started. Here's our first topic of discussion.

How is it that several, highly respected training institutions and colleges have transformed firefighter training into an entirely online learning experience? They make it sound pretty simple. Apply, be accepted, log in and take online multimedia-based training, follow all reading assignments, have your practical skills checked off by your own fire department, complete a final exam and you can go from untrained civilian to a fully certified Firefighter II.

Can you believe it? You can be a fully certified Firefighter II without ever stepping foot in the classroom! Who are they kidding? We believe in the value of online training. It is convenient, easy to deploy and can get critical information into the hands of the fire service in a very short period of time; however, it is not a replacement for the classroom experience. Online training should be used to augment not replace.

The job of firefighter is now and always has been a physical job. Donning gear, pulling hose, forcing doors and windows, bracing for the back pressure of a straight-tip, throwing and climbing ladders and operating power tools are all tasks that require hours of practice in order to develop the type of muscle memory necessary to perform them in the middle of the night without a second thought. A proper school will provide a small amount of classroom knowledge and then drive that knowledge into the student through hours of practical, physical training.

These training institutions contend that the practical skill verification is the sole responsibility of the firefighter's department. How many departments have the time or are properly equipped to spend hours with a rookie firefighter driving home the didactic learning that he took on the Internet? Let's be realistic; if most departments had the time and the equipment, why wouldn't they just conduct the classes themselves?

This does not begin to address the fact that, outside a physical classroom setting, the online student has nobody to verify that homework and workbook assignments were completed. There is nobody to verify that they read the required chapters or are following any type of a physical fitness standard.

In an online environment, the newbie learns nothing of dedication and discipline. Does he report to class on time and prepared? Are his ears open far more than his mouth? Does he cut corners? Does he go the extra mile? Does he cheat on the exams (nothing stops an online candidate from making every quiz an "open-book quiz")? Does he participate? Is he engaged? Nobody is present to ensure that the trainee learns the proper attitude necessary to make him successful. Nobody is even there to evaluate that attitude.

Given these shortcomings, why do these institutions offer such classes? From their perspective, they are extending training out to those who could not otherwise access it. Whether that access limitation is schedule induced or geographically induced, these institutions will tout that they are extending the reach of traditional training.

Consider this, though. If you are a physical training institution, your main limitation to revenue growth is the number of interested students within a commutable radius of the school. The only way to increase revenues is to extend the reach of the physical location of the training institution so that students living outside a commutable radius have a reason to send the institution money. The value of a real, physical-classroom experience is that this is where a firefighter learns to be a firefighter. It is more than the transfer of knowledge. This is the place where a firefighter learns to value tradition, respect the chain of command and fully understand the commitment it takes to do this job. They will learn the "Three R's" of firefighting: Reverence, Responsibility and Respect.

No web browser can do that.

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