Thursday, June 27, 2013

Does Anyone Here Speak Fire?

My Chief is very old school. When I brought out the NFPA certified pink camo helmet I’d won at a weekend fire school he just about went over the edge. Gruff words followed “There will be no pink worn on this Department”. Having learned long ago how to dodge a chief’s bullet, I just smiled and quickly turned the subject to other things I’d learned that weekend. Knowing full well that after a few weeks of seeing the helmet sitting by my gear he’d say; “it’s probably OK to wear it”. He’s is a great firefighter, a wonderful big brother, and a very good chief. I’ve been his Training Officer for several years and I’ve come to realize. Chiefs are very much like my other fire students – give them the “why” to the lesson and the desired shift in attitude, skill, or behavior, often follows. 

The pink helmet stirred much less attention than a question from one of our Junior firefighters later in the evening “when is our next training on fire behavior?” I casually mentioned sometime soon, and went onto explain that from now on we’ll call it “fire dynamics”. There’s a big difference. Fire behavior has inherent limits to its definition, but fire dynamics involves the fire’s reaction to all the actions of every firefighter and every happening on the fire ground. My chief stopped dead in his tracks, turned and looked at me and said “when are they going to stop?”

In all honesty, I wanted to answer - hopefully never, but I knew what he meant. Today’s changes are a lot to absorb, especially for Chiefs and chief officers. Not only do they have a calamity of endless paperwork, regulations, codes, and political issues to deal with; research and science seems to be changing all the definitions, training needs, and tactics at the same time. I sensed my chief’s growing frustration with the challenges and told him not worry; we’ve got it under control. We have the science, we have the technology, and we have fire fighters excited to learn. (What more could a training officer ask for?) And one more shining star: our Department’s internet service is now up to speed and can serve our rural western Maine town with ease. YouTube video’s and webcasts are broadcast without interruption. It will take time to adapt to the knowledge but we can do it. We can now talk fire. We can bring it all right to our little department. We can address the challenges, explain the science, expand our skills, and practice a variety of tactics. I sincerely believe, there is no greater time than now to be a training officer and an instructor.

But all this said, I think I’ll wait until next month, after my Chief says it’s OK to wear my new helmet to break the news: someday soon we’re going to have a class on flow path control. “You know Chief, all stuff that we used to just call ventilation but now we know there’s more to it. We have to help them understand the difference between flow path control and tactical ventilation?” Once again, he’ll almost be over the edge, but along with being a great Chief he’s a great firefighter as well. He’ll adapt and overcome and in that gruff voice he’ll eventually say, “OK, I trust you know what you’re doing”. Did I mention what a great Chief he is?

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