“The fire service’s weekly safety column”
By: Ray McCormack
Tactical Safety examines the process of firefighting to see if there is a better and safer way to operate.
One of the best ways to learn our trade is to talk fire. The majority of the formal education a firefighter receives occurs early in their career. Some in the fire service continue accruing certifications and degrees, but those efforts don’t provide what ‘talking fire’ provides. There are lectures and conferences, journals and fire magazines, and all provide the framework for staying current and increasing one’s knowledge. Talking fire, however, should provide the most engaging, intimate and unvarnished view of tactics, tips and opinions by the group, for the group.
Talking fire is not about formal critiques or “backstep briefings,” it is about firefighters who feel the need to share and express problems, solutions and their take on things. At the root of talking fire is a curiosity to learn how to perform better and problem solve. Talking fire allows for equality among participants to speak and listen.
There are many places to learn about firefighting. Those who understand the value of talking fire also know that there are many firefighters to learn from as well. The lessons shared can be distributed at any time day or night and many times will only have an audience of one. The lesson may be in story form allowing the listener(s) to draw their own personal conclusion and tuck it away for future sharing.
Passing it down or forward makes us better at what we do. The tip you discovered is much richer when shared. No firefighter has a monopoly on tips to share, but some are just better collectors. They listen for and uncover tips that other firefighters may not see the potential in. Sometimes, it is the little event or result factor that provides a springboard to more efficient and or safer operation.
Talking fire can be a brief conversation, or last a whole evening; it is solely up to the participants. When we hear the details of a story, we interpret the information and design our questions and opinions around what we have heard, and or read about, so that our feedback is an informed message which adds to the discussion. This close attention to detail, or the uncovering of new information by the listener, may or may not be able to be answered by the speaker; what it does rate is engagement. A high level of engagement is the key to further conversation and discovery.
Talking fire is not something an administration can either foster or curtail. I believe fire departments are best served by opinionated firefighters. When we do not have anything to say, how engaged are we? The more your people talk fire the better your operations will be, because your people care. When firefighters talk fire, they do not do it because it has been scheduled; it comes about because they have a deep commitment to firefighting and their fellow firefighters’ safety and professionalism.
Get firefighters together and listen when they start to talk fire, you will be amazed at what you can learn from those who talk the talk.
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