On The Importance Of Independent Fire Instruction February 07 2018, 4 Comments
A few years ago members of Firehouse 2 were sitting at the dinner table talking excitedly about attending the upcoming Orlando Fire Conference when the Battalion Chief walked out and after listening for a few moments to our conversation said, "I don't know why you guys would go to Orlando for training. You belong to one of the largest fire departments in the country. You have everything you need right here."
Photo Credit: Dennis Walus
The comment by the Chief killed the conversation, but didn't curb our enthusiasm. A few weeks later we were in Orlando taking forcible entry classes with Mike Ciampo, Truck Co. classes with the always aggressive Orlando guys, and a grueling RIC class with Jim McCormack. The classes were intense and fun. We returned home with a few bruises but had learned more in three days in Orlando than we had learned in three years of 'official training' from our own Department.
Why is that the case? Why hadn't we been exposed to this and many other things from our own department?
Many years and many conferences attended have allowed a few observations and conclusions about the independent fire instructors that teach throughout the country and why they are vital to the growth and advancement of the fire service.
Existing in a vacuum
Independent instructors do not live in the vacuum that you and I and the members of our own departments do. Many of these instructors travel extensively teaching students from departments across the country. As they teach, they share their information, but they also pick up tidbits of knowledge from different departments and incorporate the most valuable parts into their future lectures and drills. They also glimpse into other departments operations and develop ideas on what works and what doesn't.
They are often the spark that creates groundswell change around the country. It is their global perspective that allows departments to change decades of tradition for a more progressive approach. Often it is their knowledge and perspective that allows a return to common sense. I cite the return of the smooth bore nozzle as one of many sweeping changes that instructors have ushered forth. Another incredible and simple change that swept the fire service is the "Seattle Shuffle". It seems crazy, that when I was going through the academy many moons ago it was an offense akin to murder if you ever straddled the attack hose, yet crawling on your hands and knees while looking down was accepted and common practice.
New and varied tip ranges in response to smoothbore resurgence
While the word is loaded, there isn't a more appropriate term for what the instructors of the American Fire Service do every day. They spread their message and they provide fine examples of firemanship with their attitude and their love of the fire service. As a combined force, they are more powerful than NFPA standards and have arguably saved more firefighters lives in the process because they give you tools you can use when you need them most.
Ambassadors of the fire service should not be confused with preaching. Many of the best instructors do preach, but it is always grounded in knowledge, sound tactics, and instruction. In terms of the person I should be whether at work or home--well I'll just leave the preaching to my priest. Everyone else who preaches should be able to deliver 'the goods'.
No single instructor owns the methods or the tactics they teach, but they do own the intellectual capital they have earned with their blood and sweat from years of teaching. They teach for you to learn and share amongst your peers. They do not teach so that you can steal their lecture and start teaching outside your own department. If you're not sure if you're stealing or just sharing, just ask yourself if you are in it for personal gain. In the end, I've found that most instructors are extremely generous sharing slides and information. They want you to spread the word, they just want to be acknowledged for their work and effort. Your students should know that you've taken the time to validate and practice the methods you are teaching as well as their source.
Photo Credit: Dennis Walus
I can't think of an instructor who has become wealthy traveling and teaching the 'good word.' Often their dedication to the fire service causes problems in other parts of their lives. They are wealthy in other ways though. They have friends all over the world and a place to rest their head wherever they are. But more importantly, these few, have etched their names into the fire service by molding it and spreading a message that guides not only our performance but how we can be 'smartly aggressive' by arming us with their knowledge and wisdom. If they keep at it and devote their careers to it, maybe they'll be remembered among the likes of Andy Fredricks and others like him. When your name lives on beyond your career, that is a wealth money cannot buy.
For years I've been to conferences all over the country and I still think of that Chief's comment, the error of his logic and the idiocy of his blind confidence. I thank God that I didn't let him influence me.
A Grateful Student Of The Craft