Your Eyes Are Useless When the Mind is Blind, Part III

 

Final in Series by Captain Dave LeBlanc

HTPBillyAdkinsPhoto


Editor’s Note: Dave’s first article in this three-part series looks at lessons for the fire service from the popular book “On Combat”. You can read Part I here and Part II here.

Don’t Train Until You Get It Right…

What are our goals for a particular training evolution? Are we training o teach competency, or to meet a standard? Are we just checking off the box, or are we truly setting out to master a skill?

This is where the Three ‘R’s come in; Realistic, Relevant and Repetitive. In order for us to get the most benefit from a training evolution it must address the three Rs. In some respect this is common sense, the more realistic the training the more we will take away from it, right?   The more relevant the training, the better it will apply to our job, correct? And the more we repeat, or practice a skill, the better we will become.

“With proper training and requisite conditioning and practice, we can achieve skills that others think are impossible. I think there is a whole realm of possibilities that we can teach and train [warriors] to do. Stress acclimatization is about measuring precise doses of stress followed by waves of recovery and then repeating these cycles very specifically. There must be time for adaptation to take place and there must be enough training, repeated over time, to help it stick as well as reinforcing the conditioning.” (‘On Combat’; P 35)

“When learning skills and ingraining them as muscle memory or autopilot responses, it is important that only one way be taught. W.E. Hicks 1952 study found that as the possible responses increased from one to two, reaction time increased by 58 percent.” (‘On Combat’; P 37)

In his paper “Line of Duty Death in the American Fire Service: Components of a Better Outcome Training and Discipline” Mike Lombardo writes that if we practice our basic functions, stretching lines or venting roofs, over and over again we will become very proficient. His stated benefit to this is that our firefighters will be in better shape and the will be very good at the tasks they have trained on.   The other benefit to Lombardo’s idea is that these actions become muscle memory. This frees up our brains for evaluating the situation before us. It allows us to multitask by reading conditions and performing the tasks needed to control the incident.

Lombardo also states that our training must mirror the fireground environment. If we fail to expose our members to realistic training, then how can we expect to them act accordingly when they are confronted with the situations we face on the fireground?

300 block of Madison St. NW Washington DC 10/10/2014 Photos via DCFD Rescue 2

300 block of Madison St. NW Washington DC 10/10/2014 Photos via DCFD Rescue 2

Good photo showing the fireman “sizing up” the job.

The more we practice and make the skills we do become ‘second nature’, muscle memory, the more we can take in as we approach the job.

Repetition breeds proficiency and allows us to focus on the situation, instead of how we are doing the task at hand. Like the photo above shows, the firefighter is sizing up the building while stretching. He is not thinking about where the nozzle is, or how to carry the hose load; those basic skills have been drilled into his mind over time. He instead is looking at the conditions before him, where his best access is, what the building looks like, potential egress points if things go bad.

As we train, using the three Rs, we go through Maslow’s 4 Stages of Learning. These stages, from people needing to be convinced of what they don’t know through ‘auto pilot” are exactly what Lt Colonel Grossman is talking about when he discussing training. As we hit the final stage, or auto pilot, we have imprinted the training and skill into our midbrain or puppy.

Unconscious Incompetence The lowest level of mastery.  At this level people need to be convinced they need experience and practice, as they are unaware of the deficit. Conscious Incompetence The second level of mastery.  At level people realize they do not know how to do the task,  but they do realize the deficit and the value to learning. Conscious Competence The third level of mastery.  People can perform the task correctly, but need to think about it.   Not ideal for life and death situations. Unconscious Competence   The highest level of mastery.  ‘Auto Pilot’ or muscle memory.

Unconscious Incompetence: The lowest level of mastery. At this level people need to be convinced they need experience and practice, as they are unaware of the deficit.
Conscious Incompetence: The second level of mastery. At level people realize they do not know how to do the task,
but they do realize the deficit and the value to learning.
Conscious Competence: The third level of mastery. People can perform the task correctly, but need to think about it.
Not ideal for life and death situations.
Unconscious Competence: The highest level of mastery. ‘Auto Pilot’ or muscle memory.

 

When Concrete Building Tactics Meet Real World Fire

While operating on the floor above at a fire, a rookie on the nozzle, firefighters noticed heavy fire in the walls above the fire room. They quickly opened up and told the rookie to knock it down.

Psst. Psst psst. The bail opened and closed. And the rookie complained about how hot it was. Firefighters told that rookie, less than politely, to open the nozzle and flow some water.   In defense of the rookie, 12 weeks at the academy and that is what he had been taught. The burn building mentality comes through loud and clear. “Don’t put the fire out, it is harder to relight and makes a bigger mess to clean up.” The problem is that in the real world we want that fire to go out.

As Lt. Col Grossman writes in “On Combat”, there is a principle called ‘simulator fidelity’. Quite simply put, the more realistic the simulator is, the greater the transfer to reality. (On Combat; P80) We see this in the Fire Service, in positive and negative lights.  Grossman explains that Military changed from plain ‘bulls eye’ targets to man shaped ‘E’ type targets and increased the firing rate of soldiers from 15% in World War II to 95% in Vietnam. The Fire Service must look to creating more realistic training if want to continue to have safer firefighters. As fire experience goes down, training must fill the gap. This training must simulate “real world” conditions, so that our firefighters are better prepared. As much as we can we must introduce a level of stress to the training, to ingrain these habits into the midbrain and better develop firefighters to operate in condition red.

“You must train to fight with intent and will, not fear and panic, and never with complacency” – Lt. Colonel David Grossman “On Combat”

The article just scratches the service of stress inoculation, how our minds work and what impact hormonal heart rate can have on our abilities. While many will go through their careers without knowing any of this, and do well, others may find this information invaluable to their understanding, preparing and being ready for that next call.

Front Seat Truths:

You must flow enough GPM to overcome the BTUs – Flow Water For The Win

You aren’t a soldier, your enemy isn’t alive, fire never has a bad day – Train Like Your Life Depends On It

Fire doesn’t need a plan, you do. – Failing To Plan, Is Planning To Fail

Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t happen – Expect The Worst

Less fires make it harder to prepare and remain vigilant – Complacency Kills

The time to consider what you will do is not 2am on the front lawn – Mental Preparedness Is Crucial

Hesitancy is just as dangerous as recklessness – Be Confident In Your Abilities

 

When we get weighted down over what to use, versus how to do it, we miss the point. There are many different tools available, and many different ways to accomplish the mission. Learning, and practicing with what you have, and how you do it is the most important thing, because that is how your department operates and that is what you will need to do on the fireground.

 

Top photo courtesy of Billy Adkins/Hit The Plug photography, used with permission. See more here.

 

 

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LeBlancProfilePhotoDave 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. While at the University of New Haven, Dave studied Arson Investigation. He also was a volunteer with the Allingtown and West Haven Fire Districts in West Haven. He spent his sophomore year as a Live In student with the Allingtown Fire District. His education included internships with the Aetna Insurance Company and the Boston Fire Department Arson Squad.

In 1993 Dave went to work full-time with the Harwich Fire Department as a dispatcher. In 2000 he transferred into suppression and was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008. 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.

Dave’s blog tends to focus on current day issues and maintaining a commitment to the ideals and principals that created the fire service, while keeping today’s firefighters safe.

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3 Comments

  • Todd D. Meyer says:

    Good stuff. Thank you.

  • Ted Nee says:

    Excellent and thought provoking article, we are doing a real disservice to young firefighters by creating incorrect mental models in concrete burn buildings. I One, minor issue I saw was the four stages of learning were actually developed by Noel Burch back in the early 70’s although the concept is widely attributed (erroneously) to Maslow in the literature. Thanks for the great article

  • Ron Ayotte says:

    David… excellent series.

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