There is No Profile for the White Elephant in the Smoke Filled Room


Video bites, Facebook morsels continually shape our education



As we look at the evolution of training in the fire service, we must realize that we are at a time like never before experienced. Today there is the availability of information at a moment’s notice. Fires occur and are on YouTube before the companies finish making up. There are training companies springing up by the minute and Facebook pages by the second.

Social media has had a tremendous impact on our training and knowledge, yet that impact is not always positive. We now place the onus on the individual fireman as to the quality of the information received. And in many cases that fireman does not yet posses the experience level necessary to determine the good from the bad.

In this day of Facebook ‘likes’, the quality of our training and information is often based on a popularity like system versus a bona fide vetting process. Furthermore many feel that this social media learning is a suitable replacement for actual hands on training, giving them that ‘jake’ like status with a fraction of the work.

Today you can be a KIC (Keyboard Incident Commander) and post your decisive size-up points to someone else’s fire from the safety of your living room. You can shred them for safety violations you observe during a two minute snapshot of a four hour incident, applying your years of experience watching other YouTube videos and reading the comments of other anonymous ‘firemen’.

Don't worry men, the critique will already be going on when you get back to quarters. (Mark Filippelli photo)

While all this is going on from your bedroom command post, where the latest ‘I fight what you fear’ poster hangs on the wall, the gap between training and experience continues to grow. This is not to say that there isn’t quality information available at your fingertips. In fact, today, there is more quality information available to the average fireman than ever before. Today you can read about the biggest fire to occur in the history of ‘XYZ” Fire Department in real time, you can chat with fireman from all over, you can watch training videos of the latest techniques; techniques that many years ago you had to read about in next month’s issue of whichever magazine you preferred.

There is a huge disconnect between what is needed in that smoke filled room and what people decide to learn and train on. The information is out there, and there are hundreds of quality, dedicated firemen that spend hour upon hour providing you with the information you need. Unfortunately, what many miss is that these firemen are just regular brothers. As comfortable with a beer in their hands, talking about family, as they are teaching you the much needed skills you should posses to do this job. Instead they are often giving “star like” status, while their hard earned message falls by the wayside.

There is no regulatory agency for the ‘new’ training environment. No one is sitting in the back row, deciding if the class or the instructor has what it takes. Instead anyone with a computer and a keyboard can become an instant expert. And the more they are liked on Facebook, the more credibility they get. Even if they are still 6 months off probation, still trying to figure out if they should put a Bronx Bend in the leather helmet.

'Knock this down quick so we don't end up on STATter911 or The Fire Critic.' (Mark Filippelli photo)

Then there is the social media spin. If I were to believe everything that was posted on Facebook today, I would believe “that artificial sweeteners were safe, WMDs were in Iraq and Anna Nicole married for love.” (1) With social media there is often a rush to judgment, because everyone want sot be the first one to share information. Couple that with some inaccurate information and then throw in posts by Captain Anonymous, and before you know it the ‘good’ information you are reading isn’t any better than what is written in the Enquirer.

In some ways social media has also created a “window shopping” method to fire service training, where you can read and article or watch a video and then quickly move on to the next thing, feeling satisfied that you have actually accomplished something. When in fact nothing could be further from the truth, while you can certainly learn ideas and concepts from reading articles and watching video, there is hard work to be done. Hard work if you want to get better.

This is not to say that everyone has to be from the busiest or biggest fire department to have “street cred”. However, there are some steps you should follow with everything you learn, to make sure the information you are getting is valid and then to make sure you use it to improve yourself and your crew.

1) Before you take what anyone writes at Facebook value, take some time and educate yourself. Make sure that there is some validity to what is being said. Read the magazines, yes the paper ones. Talk with some other fireman.
2) Once you read about it…DO IT! No matter what, the art of firefighting will always require equal parts doing and thinking. You can analyze the daylights out of any fire, but until you actually do something, it will never go it.
3) All your training should be RELEVANT, REALISTIC and REPETITIVE. So once you do #2, do it again, and again. Don’t do it until you get it right, do it until you can’t get it wrong. Do it until it becomes part of your fiber. Do it until you can process what is going on around you while you are doing it.
4) Two eyes, Two ears, One Mouth. No matter what math you use, you should be watching or listening twice as much and you speak. It is easy to watch a video and develop an instant opinion as to how screwed up the Department is in the video. Remember you are only seeing part of the picture and for a brief moment in time. You don’t have all the facts, and therefore you can’t possibly offer an educated opinion. Keep your comments constructive, and learn from what you see. Captain Paddy Brown once said, “You can do everything right on this job and still get killed.” You can also do everything right on this job and still look like a screw up on YouTube.

Some final thoughts:

You can do everything right on this job, and still look like a screw up on Youtube.

The problem with Facebook Firefighters is that you can only take them at Facebook value.

1. (1) Shooter (2007) Mark Wahlberg – Quote from Mr. Rate.

Photos courtesy of Mark Filippelli/Delmarva Fire Photography

Dave LeBlanc is a Captain with the Harwich, Massachusetts Fire Department. Dave entered the Fire Service in 1986 as a Call Firefighter with the Dennis Fire Department. He worked full time during the summers in Dennis, while attending the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut. In addition to his regular duties, Dave also manages the Department’s Radio system, is responsible for conducting Fire Investigations, and assists in maintaining the computers systems.

We encourage and support constructive dialogue and debate. View our comment policy.


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Backstep Firefighter

“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Ron Ayotte
“FEAR” by Ric Jorge
Ric, excellent article. Your FD is not the only one that suffers from TAS (Training Anxiety Syndrome). Same circus, different community. As far as seeking help from an EAP, I did take advantage of my community's EAP 8 years into my career. I was heading down the road to a separation/divorce after I got promoted…
2014-12-04 16:04:47
Mike McAdams
Who Looks After The Victims?
Captain LeBlanc, Great point in the blog debating the new and old techniques and how to blend them into that first minutes on the fire ground. One of the first points stated was “Unless they know your manpower, resources and abilities, and are standing in that front lawn at 2:00 a.m., all they can do…
2014-12-02 14:45:23
Ruel Douvillier
Who Looks After The Victims?
I suspect these new tactics are all related to the NFPA standard that came out a few years ago recommending higher manpower on apparatus than the authorities having jurisdiction were prepared to implement. For the 30+ years that I've been fighting fires, UL and NIST have been using the data that they gained by setting…
2014-12-02 11:48:44
Joseph carroll
Who Looks After The Victims?
I work in a dept with 2 man Engine cos, man powers is an issue with our first due assignment. (3 engs,2 Trks , Batt Chief). Usually 13 Firefighters on the assignment. At times the exterior attack has no option, heavy fire too include exposures etc. some new leaders feel that this exterior attack is…
2014-12-01 19:05:51
Who Looks After The Victims?
Am I missing the old SSLEEVES-OCD pneumonic??? seems that one. It addressed alot of the things we have to think of, and the new Slicers is something that I think in right circumstances and construction would make sense, but at other times might be completely useless. I have watched and read alot of the NIST…
2014-12-01 02:10:06
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