Wallet Card Firemen

The latest edition of Training and Tactics Talk, at Firehouse.com, is about training today’s fire service, with a focus towards the volunteer fire department. Chief Doug Cline and guest, South Carolina State Fire Training Academy’s Resident Training Coordinator Phillip Russell, spoke about how fire departments should reevaluate their training as well as their attitude towards training. Here are some key points from the radio show:

Departments should ask of themselves, what are the problems we are having? To create any change, there has to be an assessment of needs as well as goals for the end result.

There is a constant problem between quantity of training and quality of training.

Take every opportunity to train; repentances make us look good.

When does training go from being an operational problem to an organizational problem?

Departments have to look at their own demographics and prioritize their needs, based on their incidents.

We need to look at our attitudes about training. Does training on 30 year old tactics meet today’s fireground?

Instructors should be chosen based on their quality and passion for their subject matter.

Mentoring helps insure that responsibilities are understood and experience is gained.

“e-learning” (internet learning) only goes so far.

That last one reminded me of a phrase I heard from some friends back home. I was sent some photographs of a fire and noticed an individual in one picture. When I posed a question, my friend stated, “Oh he’s a wallet card fireman. You could wallpaper your house with all of his credentials, but put him in a fire and he couldn’t open a nozzle.” A nice sentiment to have, especially if your staffing is such that you’ll never really see this guy on a fire, but what if it isn’t? What if he’s the guy you’re counting on to be with you when you’re up on the porch roof doing VES? Everyone knows someone in their department who “hangs back”, out of sight until its time to overhaul. Problem with the facepiece, or the bottle was found empty, or had to meticulously flake the extra lengths up the stairwell, or the dog ate their SOPs. The partner in crime with this guy is the firefighter who has the credentials but lacks the experience. Not the experience that everyone chides the 2/20 for not having, but the experience that comes from “alternative training”. I put this in quotes, not to create a new catchphrase, but to credit Cline and Russell for saying it. As each of them expressed, departments need to look at the area in which they operate as part of their approach for training and the potential what-ifs. Fire service training simply cannot be left alone at the point of delivery, the passing grade. It has to be taken out into the field, experimented, used, tried and tested. Three firefighter-based training services have successfully made that approach a key to their success.

Brotherhood Instructors
Brotherhood Instructors, founded by brothers Nate and Curtis DeMarse, originally started out as a Google photo sharing group of fire service instructors. Today the staff of eleven instructors provides training as well as online commentary and education.

Traditions Training
Originally created by Ricky Riley, a former volunteer chief officer in Prince George’s County (MD), he and 11 other fire department figures provide training in basic fireground operations as well as classes that work within the demographics of your department (a training priority as mentioned above by Cline and Russell). Instructors Nick Martin and Dan Shaw and others also provide online training and commentary through the Traditions blog site.

FDNY officers Tim Klett and Ray McCormack present both lecture and hands-on training for firefighters, in an effort to teach both the probie and the senior man. They are founded on a core training basic, to increase safety through realistic training.
Ray McCormack and Tim Klett with members of the Hyattsville Fire Department. Weekend engine company lecture, training and burns focusing on standpipes and the 2 1/2-inch line.

There are two key points regarding e-training and these examples. First, each focuses on the basics of fireground operations and they continually build upon them. Neither has instruction based upon the latest fad or item your department needs to purchase. Second, the majority of their online material requires that the reader get out in the field and try it out, experiment, do the work.

Wallet card firemen will always be with us. We’ll see them in class, especially if it is required, but don’t look for them on the fireground. They’re not willing to try and put the knowledge to the test. As Cline and Russell shared, departments need to look for instructors that are quality instructors, who have a passion for their subject. This isn’t an endorsement for the three training organizations, but an example of individuals among us who are not content with simply having the passing grade.

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