~James Russell Lowell
In my experience as a fre oficer one of the most frustrating and yet universal complaints that I’ve heard is: ‘We’ve run out of training ideas! Granted, this is when the involved parties are voicing their concerns. This all too common dilemma usually presents itself unannounced in the form of firefighters sitting around unproductively.
‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’
‘Umm, just sitting here. Waiting for an emergency call I guess.’
‘Why aren’t you doing something? Why aren’t you training on something?’
‘We already did that, we watched a power-point after lunch!’
If you’re a dedicated emergency professional, that dialogue that I just provided should be familiar. If not word for word, then at least in context. And if you’re a dedicated fire officer, committed to being the best at what you do, it should have raised your blood pressure but at least 50% as it does mine every time I hear it. But why? Why is it that we face such an uphill battle in this regard?
Culture. I think that it comes down to firefighter culture. Think about it for a second. In what other industry does an employee get paid whether he’s doing his job or not? Sure, other careers have break times and meal times, but consider this scenario. A construction worker is seen sitting around on the job site. His foreman goes up to him and asks: ‘Hey, What are you doing?’
And his reply is: ‘I’m waiting to build something.’
Do you think his paycheck would be reflective of his productivity? That example is an analogy but it’s fairly parallel to the Fire Service. The people that are paying us to be firefighters, medics, hazardous materials technicians have an expectation that they are paying us to DO something. Not just be ready to DO something.
Think about it from a customer service perspective. Imagine if we were to add up all of the hours that we weren’t on ‘actual’ emergencies and contrasted them to two categories.
The first, let’s call: ‘The firefighter lifestyle.’
That’s time spent on ‘other’ non-emergency things. Shopping for groceries, meal prep, eating, bathroom breaks, phone calls to the wife, washing our personal cars in the parking lot, working out, watching TV and sleeping.
The second let’s call: ‘Non emergent/job related.’
Training, pre-planning, customer interaction, equipment prep and maintenance, apparatus inspection, cleaning, documentation, continuing education, inspections and daily chores.
Does the total amount of hours spent on EMERGENT Response come anywhere close to firefighter lifestyle + Non Emergent/Job Related?
But if we were to go to the people that are paying our salaries, whether you are a paid municipal firefighter or a contracted industrial firefighter, how would we explain to them the disparity of those numbers? How strong is our defense that they are not paying us just for what we do. They are a paying us for what we are prepared to do. What we are waiting around to do. In any other industry, how successful of a business model do you think that would be?
So to me, when it comes to training challenges, it comes down to culture. And where the rubber meets the road in regards to correcting negative cultural attributes, there is one undeniable ambassador, the Fire Officer. The absolute understanding for the constant need to train must come from leadership. If you chafe at my concept of the firefighter lifestyle and your rebuttal is that firefighters need to be well rested in order to do their jobs, you are a part of the problem, not the solution.
Training need not be physically demanding to be effective. Training should be a buffet of learning styles. A quick research would reveal the seven (7) identified learning styles. visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary. That’s seven different ways to package what you want your team to learn and assist them with learning it. The next piece is content. Where does that come from?
Research, commitment to improvement, and personal investment from the Fire Officer, but at the end of the day, I think Albert Einstein said it best: ‘Creativity is intelligence having FUN!’
~ Standing by in the Shadows