Thursday, September 16, 2010

To “Think Outside the Box, You First Need a Box!

I have been reading views on opposing ends of the spectrum.

In this corner, we are encouraged to “think outside the box”; get creative in how we recruit, train and lead our fire departments.

In the other corner is the idea that, in the volunteer fire service, maybe we have gone too far away from what we do well and are getting involved in too much and it might be costing us firefighters.

I am going to take a look at both to give the reader some food for thought.

Firehouse Zen Master Mick Mayers is a thinking chief’s chief. His articles are provocative, thoughtful and leave you with the challenges that he presents to you. His thinking does not follow the conservative route and he most certainly is skilled at “thinking outside of the box”. Read here:

Unfortunately, Mick and many like him are anomalies; exceptions. They have taken their departments up the ladder and over the bars in their goal attainment and have the luxury of experimenting with new tools, tactics and interfacing.

That’s why I said that you first need a box; the box being at least the basics.

The basics of what, you ask?

The basics of whatever list of services that you provide for your community.

Whoa; the opposing end is tugging at me.

Firefighters are somehow different today, I guess. Apparently, they aren’t as inclined to dedicate themselves to the necessary training to be proficient? I read something about being “self-centered”?

Hey; I’m not saying that I agree with that last statement, but whoever said it in their blog must believe that to be the case. Read here:

See; I believe if a community is going to have a fire department, then the department needs to be equipped and trained to provide the services that the community PAYS for. If that is fire protection only, then so be it. If that includes vehicle extrication and medical calls, then you best be trained and equipped to do that. It shouldn’t come at the end of the conversation in the form of “what do you mean you don’t do that?”

So, people who join the department need to know the amount of initial training that is needed and the training needed thereafter to maintain certifications, proficiency and active on the department.

In the age of multi-tasking, I don’t understand how someone can say, “It’s quite obvious that a guy who is working a ‘real job’ 60+ hours a week can hardly master the science of the fire service; much less the art of what we do”. Now; I know we don’t want to reveal how we do our magic, but come on; they’re doing it in Third World countries, although it might consist of throwing dirt on the fire instead of water.

I guess that same person couldn’t hold down their full time job and work towards their masters’ or PhD degrees? I hope it’s not in some science discipline!

I know many-myself included-who did just that. We held down our full time jobs, took our training, ran calls, went to our meetings, coached our kids in baseball, went to their school activities and enjoyed our hobbies and all the while, fulfilled our duties as a firefighter, father and husband. We took the training together to support each other. We watched each others’ kids so we could go to training. If there are impediments that can be easily resolved, then do it.

So, we at least agree that we shouldn’t be offering services that we are not trained and equipped to provide. I don’t think that we CAN be all/do all. But, the firefighters AND the community needs to know, so that there are no false expectations.

Take as an example confined space rescue.

If you are not trained to perform rescues in confined spaces, then you don’t do it. You contact a department that you have an agreement with and THEY do it. Your department can perform all the functions outside of the confined space. Your crew is trained at the awareness level, which means you know that you are NOT to enter a confined space. It is not rocket science, but it is very structured in how it must be done. Same way with high angle or trench rescue (technical rescue). If you have pre-planned your district, you know where these hazards are located and can auto aid if a call comes in.

We are fortunate in Illinois to have MABAS and they have teams in all of their districts that have specialized training. Their teams are made up of volunteer and career firefighters. They can be activated at any time. And yes; you might be looking at recovery and not rescue.

Do we expect too much from our volunteers? We do if we expect them to do everything. I have a buddy who thinks that all he needs is a good pair of Ringer rescue gloves and a Leatherman 400-in-1 tool and he can defeat the aliens! Oh; what heart.

However; I don’t think that “there is too much to know how to do, and do well, for a volunteer to keep up”.

If you believe that, then maybe it’s time for national standards. Maybe everyone trained to the same firefighter certification program. Then, standardize the specialized training and offer it to departments that will likely need it in their communities.

Whatever is the solution, you can bet that volunteers will know what’s in their “box”. Some WILL think outside of it, but for others, well, they will only be able to take the awareness training.


The article is protected by federal copyright law under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella. It is written and submitted by Art Goodrich a.k.a. ChiefReason. This article or any other article submitted under The Adventures of Jake and Vinnie© umbrella cannot be reproduced in ANY form without the expressed, written permission of the author. Violations are punishable by applicable laws.
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