Thursday, March 5, 2009

Interpretation – Of Standards and Symphonies

A symphony orchestra spends a lot of practice time on their musical pieces before they perform in concert.

There is a lesson in that for fire-rescue departments. The time that we - the “orchestra” - spends with our “instruments” and in practicing with each other, the better the "concert" will sound to our audience. Most of us realize how important training on both individual and team skills, knowledge, and abilities can be to all of us…and to the audience.

Orchestras have a musical score that guides their performance. The musical score is the written standard that tells each individual and group when to play, how to play, and what to play. The score includes the notes, the time scale, and terms that helps the musicians interpret how the music is to be played.

Some common terms used to interpret how music is played include;

Adagio – slow, relaxed
Allegro – lively, fast
Crescendo – progressively louder
Dimenuendo – progressively softer
Dolce – sweetly
Forte – loudly
Legato – smoothly
Subito – suddenly
Tacet – silently, do not play

Fire-rescue departments need a “musical score” to direct how we play. We need to know what to play, when to play, and when, what, and how the other instruments will play. These can be SOGs, administrative directives, EMS protocols, or national standards. Things tend to work very well as long as everyone is literally on the same page. Problems tend to arise when the instruments don’t play the correct notes or don’t play at the right time.

A more subtle problem is that there are differences in how standards are interpreted…and there can be as many interpretations as there are musicians. Typical fires don’t tell you that they’ll hit you with Subito problems or that the chief will be able to move the orchestra from one note to another in a most Legato way.

We can have some pretty diverse interpretations of the same standard. An example is the two-in, two out rule. Some firefighters and chiefs will argue loud and long that two-in, two-out applies to everything we do – firefighting, hazmat, rescue…everything. Others may point out that the two-in, two-out rule is actually limited to standards with very narrow interpretations, specifically hazmat hot zone operations and interior structural firefighting. I’ve had firefighters tell me that two-in, two-out is required at confined space rescues…only to be baffled when we had a confined space rescue in a space so small that only one very small rescuer at a time could physically fit into the space.

Fire-rescue standards don’t always come with the “How to Play” directions above each clef. We often have to apply our own interpretations. If we don’t practice together often enough and well enough, the concert won’t go so well when the interpretation is Accesio – ignited/on fire.

Enjoy orchestra practice.
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