My Big Question: Do We Focus Too Much on the Nuts and Bolts?

My big question is, “Do we focus too much on the nuts and bolts of tactics and not develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through reading, writing, speaking and other hallmarks of educational courses?”

Organizations know they need flexible thinkers with innovative ideas and a broad knowledge base derived from exposure to multiple disciplines (training, education, and experience). But most focus more on compliance and technology in place of a broader academic background that includes reading, writing, and speaking.

I played a small part in a recent class for newly promoted officers at our fire department where “critical thinking and problem-solving skills through reading books, in-class presentations and other hallmarks of academic courses” made a noticeable difference in officer development in our organization (kudos to Captain Mike Ellis). I witnessed thought-provoking questions and real debate that led to better learning.

In his book, Going Pro: The Deliberate Practice of Professionalism
Tony Kern makes this point: “Get off the recurrent training cycle by embracing “growth-based” development of knowledge skills and abilities that exceed job expectations.”

Our ambiguous and complex world demands a new mindset – one that can keep up and think on its feet!

Read, learn, lead. It will make a difference!

What is your organization doing to help members develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills? How can you help make this happen?

Recommended Reading: Getting Firefighters Attention During Training

Learning has changed dramatically over the years.

The times they are a changing, and people and how they learn change with it. We should follow Dylan’s advice when he sings, “you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.” Every organization today, especially those operating in high-risk environments, must pay more attention to how their members learn, designing and delivering training and education that works for everyone. That’s how “learning organizations” are created.

Janet Wilmoth writes in her article in Fire Chief Magazine this month:

Now, a multimedia tsunami is available to viewers in their homes and offices, on their computers and smartphones, and in their vehicles with live and on-demand programs. And we expect the same entertainment and engagement in any program or class, online or at a conference.

Training in the fire and emergency response services has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, both because of increased technological capabilities and the increased demands on the fire service.

Denis Onieal, Superintendent at the National Fire Academy is quoted in the article:

Earlier this year, National Fire Academy Superintendent Denis Onieal said that fire-service instructors today understand that they are working with adult learners and can’t use the teaching methods traditionally used with children. “Great fire service instructors know that adults need to be engaged in their own learning — they’re poor passive learners,” he said.

Wilmoth concludes the article with:

A good instructor knows his students, his topics, and the most effective way to deliver his message or lesson before heads bow and focus shifts to texting or e-mails.

Here’s my response to the article:

HOW do firefighters learn? It depends on each and everyone one of them, individually. What we teach is important, but HOW we teach is vital, and it’s all audience driven. We don’t want to teach just an understanding of firefighting but the ability to do it. Along with building the skill of the body, the mind must be trained to observe, orient, decide and act. Building knowledge, skill and ability requires two things: 1) the student knows their own learning needs (where they are and where they need to go); and 2) the teacher understands the student’s learning needs and is able to adapt to them. In a group setting, this means hitting all the students’ senses for learning (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, and I would also include a sense of time and intuition). So, in reality, ALL OF THE ABOVE (Powerpoint, slides, handouts, hands-on, videos, and writing (something we don’t do enough of)) should be used. It just depends on the audience.

If our real goal is to train (condition) everyone to be ready for any situation, and to be more decisive, deliberate and correct in their actions, then we should use every training method available to reach everyone in their own way.

Read the entire article here.

A Related Article:

Dr. Denis Onieal on Higher Education in the Fire Service.

[The Art of the FireGround] Firefighters, Can You Vent Enough?

Photo by Tim Olk

Chief Ed Hartin reviews more tactical implications regarding ventilation and fire behavior, answering the question, can you vent enough?

The influence of ventilation during tactical operations is vital, but not addressed enough. Whether the box (structure) is closed, partially opened, or completely opened is just as important as putting water on the fire. It’s all connected. Read all of Chief Hartin’s posts on ventilation for a thorough study not just on what works, but why.

Influence of Ventilation in Residential Structures: Tactical Implications Part 8

The eighth and tenth tactical implications identified in the Underwriters Laboratories study of the Impact of Ventilation on Fire Behavior in Legacy and Contemporary Residential Construction (Kerber, 2011) are the answer to the question, can you vent enough and the influence of pre-existing openings or openings caused by fire effects on the speed of progression to flashover. Read more here.

What are your department’s procedures for ventilation? How does your department evaluate its ventilation capabilities?


Certain to Win: The Strategy of John Boyd, Applied to Business [Book Review]

USAF Colonel John Boyd was constant explorer, thinker, and doer (some say he was a rogue, but he did get things done). He influenced the tactical thought and critical decision making process of fighter pilots to “outmaneuver the enemy” during air combat operations. Boyd’s ideas can apply to everything from routine fire department productivity to high-risk, complex fire ground operations. Can his body of ideas be used for everything? Never. But they can be applied to most complex and rapidly changing situations.

Chet Richards was a close associate of the late Colonel Boyd and a lecturer at the Air War College and the Army’s Command and General Staff College. In Certain to Win, he introduces Boyd’s philosophy of conflict by examining how it works in the military arena as well as the business world. He puts forward that organizations, including fire departments, work best when they have clear visions, well-practiced skills, and implicit trust. Richards uses examples from military minds of Sun Zu, Musashi, von Clausewitz, Rommel, Patton, and Boyd seasoned with the organizational accomplishments of Toyota and Southwest Airlines to show how commonly held goals allow each unit of the organization to make decisions that continuously moves them toward the goal.

Why the title, Certain to Win? Sun Zu answers that here: If a general who heeds my strategy is employed, he is certain to win.

This is an excellent read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge on situational awareness, communication, decision making, teamwork, or leadership.

Rapid Intervention Roundtable at HEAT Conference 2012

Photo by Tim Olk

2012 South Florida HEAT Conference

Hosted by the Fire Training Officers of the Palm Beaches

Rapid Intervention Realities Roundtable

The sound of “Mayday, Mayday” heard over the radio will bring a sense of uneasiness and urgency to everyone on the fire ground. One of our own is in trouble. Is your fire department ready to manage an incident where firefighters transmit a Mayday?

Where does your fire department stand with rapid intervention team (RIT) operations? Many changes have taken place since RIT was first introduced, but how has your fire department RIT operation changed? Do you have RIT policies and procedures that are accepted and used? Do you provide realistic training for firefighter assist and survival? Do you have adequate staffing and resources, and relationships with other response agencies that will assist you with your RIT operations? Is your command staff ready to manage the risk and make the decisions to successfully control a Mayday incident?

District Chief Billy Schmidt (PBCFR) will host a roundtable chat on rapid intervention realities across Palm Beach County. Members of the Rapid Intervention Group will discuss RIT policies and procedures, practices, staffing and resources, and command and control. The Group will share its mission and intent to help fire departments in Palm Beach County raise the awareness of prevention, heighten the state of readiness, and strengthen the level of rapid intervention response.

Come and listen as they discuss their research into the following:

  • The impact of NFPA 1407
  • How to prevent unsafe conditions that may cause firefighters to become lost, trapped or injured on the fire ground
  • How to build knowledgeable, well-trained Rapid Intervention Teams
  • How to get Command and RIT working on the same page
  • How to get a fire department ready to respond to the unthinkable: A Mayday

The Rapid Intervention Group includes members from most Palm Beach County Fire Departments and is working to develop a fully comprehensive rapid intervention program through a collaborative partnership and a solution-centered approach that focuses on “fire-ground firefighter safety” as the highest priority.

Recommended Reading: Teamwork

Teamwork no longer implies working together physically but also virtually. Here’s three good reads on The Team:

Wildland Fire Leadership – Pulling the Team Together

…The time and effort a leader devotes up front in creating a well-functioning and cohesive team will pay off with great rewards in the end.

…We highlight the following topics regarding “Building the Team.”

  • Trust
  • Healthy conflict
  • Commitment
  • Peer Accountability
  • Team Results
  • Resilience

Steven Pressfield – The Warrior Sense of Humor

The warrior sense of humor is terse, dry – and dark. Its purpose is to deflect fear and to reinforce unity and cohesion.

… Another time, a band of Spartans arrived at a crossroads to find a party of frightened travelers. “You are lucky,” the travelers told them. “A gang of bandits was here just a few minutes ago.” “We’re not lucky,” said the Spartan leader. “They were.”

… Lastly, these remarks are inclusive. They’re about “us.” Whatever ordeal is coming, the company will undergo it together. Leonidas’s and Dienekes’s quips draw the individual out of his private terror and yoke him to the group.

Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition – Team Leadership

….A lack of leadership is often seen as a roadblock to a team’s performance.

….Rather than focusing on ineffective teams, Larson and LaFasto (1989) looked in the opposite direction by interviewing excellent teams to gain insights as to what enables them to function to a high degree. They came away with the following conclusions:

  • A clear elevating goal — they have a vision
  • Results driven structure — visions have a business goal
  • Competent team members with right number and mix
  • Unified commitment — they are a team, not a group
  • A collaborative climate — aligned towards a common purpose
  • High standards of excellence — they have group norms
  • Principled leadership — the central driver of excellence
  • External support — they have adequate resources

Just Your Job, or Your Mission?

Seth Godin talks of another way to approach your job:

Are you doing a good job?

One way to approach your work: “I come in on time, even a little early. I do what the boss asks, a bit faster than she expects. I stay on time and on budget, and I’m hardworking and loyal.”

The other way: “What aren’t they asking me to do that I can do, learn from, make an impact, and possibly fail (yet survive)? What’s not on my agenda that I can fight to put there? Who can I frighten, what can I learn, how can I go faster, what sort of legacy am I creating?”

You might very well be doing a good job. But that doesn’t mean you’re a linchpin, the one we’ll miss. For that, you have to stop thinking about the job and start thinking about your platform, your point of view and your mission.

It’s entirely possible you work somewhere that gives you no option but to merely do a job. If that’s actually true, I wonder why someone with your potential would stay…

In the post-industrial revolution, the very nature of a job is outmoded. Doing a good job is no guarantee of security, advancement or delight.

Ask yourself, “Am I just doing a job, or am I on a mission?”

Don’t feel you have a mission? Here’s a few questions to help you discover yours:

  1. What do you really want to do?
  2. Why do you want to do it?
  3. Who do you want to help?
  4. What will the result be if you do it? What value will it create?

Of Related Interest:

FireGroundWorks: Are You Ready?

Photo by Tim Olk

Is your fire department ready? Do you build well-trained firefighters into well-trained teams? Do you develop firefighters and teams that think and operate in complex environments? Have you prepared your fire department to be ready for anything, at anytime and at any intensity level? If not, then why not? What’s stopping you?

Dramatic changes in the world demand that the fire service be ready for anything. Several factors affect a fire department’s ability to be ready, and the right training strategy is crucial to addressing these new challenges.

The real question is: How do we train (condition) everyone to be ready for any situation, and to be more decisive, deliberate, and correct in their actions?

Firegroundworks was created to help fire departments get ready. FGW explores the fire service, studying, writing, and speaking on how firefighters think and how they behave, and finding ways to help them perform better. The focus is on adaptive leadership and sensemaking through situational awareness, rapid decision-making, task management, and teamwork. At the end of the day, technology is cool, but firefighters still need to bring thinking to action. It’s all about being ready, and that’s what FireGroundWorks is all about.

Are you Ready? Follow FireGroundWorks for articles, videos, podcasts, and links for readiness on the fire ground.