10,000 Hours?!


How do some firefighters get really good at their job and some, well, not so much. I was just perusing Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” and one of the focuses of the book is the 10,000 hour rule to become an expert or successful. I don’t plan on reading the book, but I’ve heard this 10,000 hour number before.

10,000 hours….

5 years full time employment (40hrs a week)

10 years part time

For the average firefighter that may take an hour a shift to check the piece; 64 years, if you do 3 shifts per week

OUCH! And that is just operating the piece and the equipment on it, not RIT training, not roof operations, not EMS skills, not fitness all of which a firefighter should be an expert at. Or is it 10,000 hours of “firefighter job related stuff”? Either way, I’m nowhere near it.

Now Gladwell is far from THE authority on the subject, having written about other people’s research and weaving in some interviews for flavor, but the idea is interesting.

I may have brought this up before, but have you ever watched someone at an incident farting around with a power tool like a monkey fornicating a football? Don’t you just think “Come on guy, the switch is still off”? How much time has he spent with that saw? How many hours? Minutes? He is acting like it’s his first time.

We ran a 2 1/2″ line in an attempt to fill our local pond on my last shift. The crew was all experienced and professional and I would consider a most of them to be experts. I asked for a solid stream (built into the nozzle) we had an issue finding it, when the hydrant was charged it gave the line too much pressure, We had a difficult time with apparatus placement to have an easy escape in order to stay available for responses.

The placement issue was all me. It was a silly new officer mistake. I try not to micro manage so I let the driver pick the placement based on my requirements, now I know better. The line problems were just rust. Not equipment rust, but firefighter rust. I know they are good at their jobs, it was a good refresher for all. The total delay or inconvenience was negligible and barely noticeable to anyone watching but everyone involved knew what happened and how to fix it.

When we were harassing each other about it later one of the younger firefighters ask what we were talking about and why it was an issue. So I see we need to do it again and get him a little closer to the 10,000.

Every time you put your hands on that piece of equipment you are learning something about it. All those little things that make checking the piece faster and easier for you also make you more familiar with it. The more familiar you are, the better you are but also the more complacent you become, not getting into that today.

Do I think the saw needs to be checked every day to be maintained? No. I do think it needs to be checked every day to maintain our readiness and competency with it. I can understand getting rusty with a 2 1/2″ line, 75% of our work is handled with an 1 3/4″, but there is no excuse for not knowing your saw, ladder, EMS equipment.

Are you going to get 10,000 hours of training and become an “expert”? I doubt it. Most of us have long passed the expert level at sleeping or channel surfing, maybe Grand Master level for some. But the general idea here is that you need to get your hands on that stuff. Get your face in the books.

Become a student of the fire service.


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