By now it’s no secret that the fire service has accumulated a considerable “body of knowledge” as a result of the fire dynamic research from NIST and UL. And now we’re into the “what are we going to do about it,” phase of evolution. We are starting to see examples of departments implementing tactical changes based on the research, including my own department, developing its SLICERS concept. And while we’re making good progress in bringing the research lessons to the fire ground, I’ve also noticed how easy it is for us to become distracted. By distraction, I mean the proliferation of acronyms, the jokes about them, and the questioning of the masculinity associated with lessons in the research. As we approach FDIC, I think it’s important that we remain focused on the primary goal, improving the safety of our firefighters and the citizens we protect.
The distractions I’m referring to are to be expected, as they are result of human reaction to change. Yes, I said CHANGE! I have had friends tell me I should avoid using that word because it can be perceived as offensive and freak us out. But after giving it some thought, I disagree. I think we need to call it what it is. I believe the fire service is capable of handling change, though we might not like it; we’re big boys and girls and are capable of handling most anything. And change is exactly what I’m after. I want us to behave differently on the fireground. So rather than negotiating like a teenage boy in the back seat of his daddy’s car on a hot summer night, let’s just get right to it.
I offer these steps as a guideline to help you work through the challenges the research brings us as organizations:
Read all of the studies and develop a list of key lessons.
There is a lot out there to read. Go to the UL and NIST websites and download them all. Call it a “literature review,” to get you up to speed on the facts. As you identity key lessons, add it to a check list of things to review in your tactical plan. If you don’t have a written tactical plan of some sort (many do not, so don’t feel bad about it), now is a good time to create one. Your goal is, after going through the various reports, to develop a list of concepts to consider and revise in your tactical plan.
If you are lucky enough to make it to FDIC, attend every fire dynamics program you can. Talk to the presenters and pick their brains if you have a specific question. Visit the UL and NIST booths in the exhibit hall and grab a sack full of DVD’s and training materials to take back to your department.
Take your list of research concepts to your practitioners.
Once you have your list of ideas, get those seasoned firefighters who are in the field going to fires in a room to discuss. Show them the science that supports the concepts and give them reasonable time to digest it. Then talk about how a fire in YOUR fire department might look with these concepts in place. How would you operate with your staffing levels and resources? What will be the key tasks of the first arriving engine, first truck, 3rd engine, etc.
Write it down.
It is important to package the concepts in a way that is transferable to the field. (That is where SLICERS came from) You will need to be able to communicate the lessons or concepts in a concise way. From your discussions with the practitioners, develop or modify your guidelines or SOP’s and schedule time to work it out on the drill ground. My department spent considerable time tinkering to discover what worked, what did not, and finding any best practices that we would wanted to remember. Once you have your revised (or new) tactical plan completed and tested, you are ready to take it the masses.
Train anyone who will listen.
It is important to take your revised approach to the everyone who may respond to your fires. That includes every member of your department and potentially mutual aid departments if you do a lot of that sort of thing. This can be a challenge for some departments, as other departments may be less than willing to listen. My approach has been to show them the science and concepts, share what we are doing, and leave it to them to adopt in their own time. We can’t necessarily make them do it, but they’ll get there sooner or later. Don’t let their unwillingness to advance hamper your efforts to move forward in your department.
Ignore the distractions.
It is important to keep your eye on the ball and move forward. What you do to train your firefighters today could save their life tonight. The modifications we made to our tactical guidelines were not that complex. They were simple tweaks to take advantage of what we had learned from the research.
I believe social media has done a lot to help communicate in our business, but I also believe it has been a double-edged sword. That open communication has also muddied the waters on the research in some cases. When you see that ambiguous graphic that challenges you to choose inside or outside, recognize it for what it is; a distraction. It reminds me of a leadership lesson on negotiations and conflict management. We know that when an opponent in a negotiation gets emotional, we’ve won that round. They’ve gone to emotions because they are out of facts. Game over. The same holds true with these social media graphics. I’ve yet to see anyone successfully challenge the facts related to the fire dynamics research. They are facts; plain and simple. The best the naysayers can do is stir up mud with humor or taking a off handed shot at your tactics. I’m all about having fun, but never at the expense of progress.
So let’s keep our eye on the ball brothers and sisters. This is a unique and pivotal time in the fire service where we know enough to have meaningful impact on firefighter line of duty deaths and injuries, if we have the courage and focus to see it through. You can adopt a model already in place, or create something that works for you. You decide how you’ll incorporate these lessons.
I’ll leave you with our Operations Chief, Robert Phipps’, favorite quote from our training program:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”