Blanket Rules Vs Training

Firefighter Basics just finished our first of what promises to be many HOT classes as “Firefighter Basics”. One of the things we do is ask the students “How does your department do it? How does it work?”. The reason for the question is to show the other students the variety of ways to get the same job done and to highlight a few pros and cons with each. Then we demonstrate and perform different skills with them to try and make their job safer and easier within their department’s parameters.
This week seemed a little different to me probably because I was way out of my own region, 1/2 way across the country. A number of department rules and requirements came up that I had never heard of. A couple made no sense and may have the unintended outcome of making the firefighters less safe. I’d like to think it’s budget cuts that prevent departments from providing consistent training for their crews, whether from an inside or outside source, but in most communities water is free for the fire department. I cannot convince myself that budgeting is the cause.
Since around 1743 our job has not changed that much. Granted mission creep has turned our profession into something Benjamin Franklin would never have imagined. But many departments have added rules that prevent firefighters from effectively and efficiently doing their jobs. Rules that don’t make sense or are flat out dangerous. A couple examples of that from this week; don’t open the pipe if you don’t have another firefighter backing you up, and always run the trash line first if the apparatus is close enough to the building. Both of these rules are based on the same theory that it’s not safe to operate a line by yourself. Of course it’s not. But the very nature of our job is not safe. The job gets safer through training, not administrating. Instead of handing down a rule from the heavens restricting the firefighter’s operations why not run training evolutions with them flowing water from a decent sized handline by themselves so they get comfortable with it?Both of these rules actually put firefighters in greater danger than if the rules didn’t exist at all. The first by telling a firefighter to set up near a fire and watch as it builds unchecked the second by ordering a firefighter to advance a line that may be of insufficient volume or length for the hazard. As instructors it is not up to us to change these rules, only to work with the students to find a safer way for them to work within them.

A department cannot just make a new “Law of the Land” and expect an inherent hazard to disappear. By adding rules ad nauseam departments do not solve problems they make more. The superfluous rules only add distraction and restrictions to the basic job of “Putting the wet stuff on the hot stuff”. Blanket rules also assume all incidents are the same and restrict firefighters from making tactical decisions based on conditions. Firefighters are also forced to weigh the consequences of doing their jobs and being punished or following the rules and risking injury.

This leads to a related subject, currently it seems like the “noise” level in the fire service is on the rise. Noise being the amount of extra things that distract us from doing our jobs or adds extra work to the profession we all love. Everyone seems to have a gimmick that needs to be mandatory or the next big buzzword that needs to be spoken at every drill. I get it and I won’t begrudge a person trying to feed their family, but the bottom line is we still need to put water on the fire. That is done by dragging a line to the seat of the fire and, in the words of one of our instructors, “punching the fire in the face as hard as you can” no acronym can replace that.
The article below, from a former public school teacher, sums up the noise aspect pretty well. He loved being a teacher. He loved it so much he worked 2nd and a 3rd jobs to make up for the money he was not getting from teaching. The school administration kept adding things to his plate that were supposed to make him more effective as a teacher. But in reality he was spending more time reporting on his job then actually doing his job. I think this is becoming a problem in the fire service as well. Of course we have reports and inspections, but we are starting to have so many time vampires to feed they prevent us from doing our job effectively

Remember K.I.S.S. Keep It Stupid Simple, don’t over complicate your life or profession.

1 Comment

  • Jack Crais says:

    I enjoyed the ideas espoused in the article, but doesn’t the acronym “K.I.S.S.” mean “Keep it simple, stupid” or, for those who worry about hurting someone’s feelings, “Keep it sweet and simple”?

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