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.
It’s All About the Break-In
New firefighters; new ideas; new methods; and new challenges need to be met head-on and with clarity. A new baseball glove is not at its best when first purchased, it must be carefully broken- in so that it works for you and not against you. New firefighters need to be broken-in correctly too. What is seen as correct and necessary varies between companies, departments and shifts. One thing is for sure, if the break-in period is not handled correctly and reinforced, we will be facing a shorthanded situation. This version of being shorthanded has nothing to do with staffing levels per say…it has everything to do with not realizing full potential.
Firefighters need to realize their full potential, but they cannot do it alone. They must have people around them and on them to instill proper work habits and routines. How many firefighters just ride it out and coast through their experiences? You do not always have to be ‘all over it’ but you do have to have that capability. The way you get that capability is to have people in your corner from day one. The place you will find them is in the firehouse; they are the ones who broke you in and set you off on the correct path.
There is more to the fire service experience than just fire; that’s true, but few components require the study and attention to detail that firefighting demands. You must be up to the demands of increased developmental changes and tactics, and learn to be curious and question what people are telling you to do. Developing a mindset of discovery should also have been a portion of your extended break-in period. There are many people who have ideas on how things should be done, and that is expected in any trade; what the knowledgeable firefighter has on their side is the ability to exclude tactical noise from tactical pragmatism.
The emphasis on new recruits learning fire skills and the ways of fire operations is never a wasted effort and should not take a back seat to learning other forms of response or day tasks. The reason is simple: to make sure we develop life-saving skill-sets for firefighters. The most critical thing we can do for a new recruit is to show them how to handle fires. If you believe that new recruits would be better served by other disciplines, that is of course your choice, but just remember that what you don’t share or develop in the new recruit will be almost impossible to recreate later. And in that time, the potential for exposure to the enemy-and losing- is heightened by utilizing this new age form of complacency.
You can be complacent and do harm by omission too. If you do not help new firefighters learn what needs to be learned, and do not develop in them the tradition of helping other firefighters learn the craft, then you are forfeiting legacy. Fire is the true equalizer because it does not care if you haven’t learned how to effectively battle against it. Your fellow firefighters from the chief on down- and from the rookie on up- must understand firefighting and realize the importance the component knowledge. Knowing all your assignments, tools and gear are life saving segments that can not be ignored if we are to have tactical safety for firefighters.
The knowledge and good habits you pass forward and reinforce could save a life on day, maybe even someone else’s.
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