The fire and EMS fields have changed so much in the past few years, the schools and academies are scrambling to keep up. Take what you have learned in classes and experience over the years you have been in the service and add it to what you learned in the academy or paramedic class you attended. Add in some “trying to think for the future” of the fire service and EMS. This is what they are trying to live up to.
If anyone has any magic or perfect tool to bridge a generation gap they have not published it, or we would all have heard about it and it would make a fine book. I have been known to be caught reading articles and books written by “big names” in the fire, rescue and EMS industries. I get great ideas for training and inspiration from these guys, but believe it or not, some of the best inspiration comes from unusual places. This article is based on “the three rules.” These three rules came from a preacher I know. His context is a little different from mine, but so is his pulpit.
I will never claim to be a Rick Laskey, Brunacini, Dr. Rich Gasaway, Gordon Graham, or Billy Goldfeder, but my preacher friend may be onto something here. The three rules can be applied to life, religion, work and teaching, but thinking about the rules we should be able to see how they can be applied to help us bridge the “generation gap” that some say has been forming between the seasoned veterans in the field and the recruits we have coming onboard today. If we follow the rules, we should be able to help the newcomers have a very successful and rewarding career in public safety.
Rule #1 Set the example
“What you allow in your presence is your standard.” I heard this quote in a NFA Incident Management Team class some time ago. The quote has stuck with me and I think it applies in many aspects of the job (and life). If you allow incompetence, or poor customer service on your shift, then that is your standard and it sends that message to the rest of the world. Set the example you want your recruit to follow. If you correct problems as they appear, this sends the message that you set high standards for yourself, your crew and your shift. This in turn sends the message that when the chips are down, your shift or crew can and will get the job done.
New employees will pick up bad habits, but it is not our job to teach them the wrong way to do things. Teach them the correct and safest way to do things. If you don’t wear your PPE correctly then they will see no need to either. If you take shortcuts in patient care, so will they. So put on your seat belt, wear your mask, take time to tie the safety knot, check your equipment as soon as you get to work, never freelance. In other words do the right things. If you show them the wrong way by taking shortcuts and someone dies because of their actions, you are just as much at fault as they are. After all, it was you that taught them to do it that way.
Never run down the job or your brothers or sisters in front of your rookies. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but it is never a good idea to tarnish a new person’s view of the department or coworkers. If your department is that bad, they will figure that out on their own. If you want good morale on your crew and or shift, set the tone for your day or tour. If you truly love the job, then you will “bring your own morale to work with you in your lunch box.” (Thank you Chief Kirkwood for that one). If you want to keep good equipment, show them how to take care of it, and take care of it yourself. Don’t be the reason “we can’t have nice things.”
Rule #2 Teach the Standard
Teaching the new recruits is everyone’s job. Never be the one to say “it’s the training officer/captain’s job to train these folks, I’m just a (insert job title here).”
No one has ever started a new job knowing everything there is to know about it. The new folks look to you as a leader, even if you are not the Field Training Officer (FTO), lieutenant or captain. They are going to follow your lead. It is not enough to be the good example, but we must continue their education by digging into the books when they have a question concerning protocols, techniques and procedures. Someone was your example/mentor, so return the favor. Remember the saying we have heard from the big names in the business, “every day is a training day.” Drag their butts off the sofa in the day room and into the bay to pull equipment off the truck. Tie some knots, see if they can tell you what every piece of equipment is and how it is used on the rig. Pull the drug box out and see if they can tell you what each drug is, the actions, the indications and contraindications are. Can they figure a lidocane and dopamine drip in their heads?
I have found the very best way to learn a fire/rescue skill, an EMS protocol, or drug calculation is to have to teach it soon. Your credibility as a teacher/mentor will depend on you knowing your stuff. As a fellow instructor told me once, folks in our business tend to have a good nose for crap. Never guess or try to BS your way though a question you don’t know the answer to. They will respect you a lot more if you are honest with them then help them find the answer. I promise you that working with the rookies will make you a better paramedic/firefighter if you take the job seriously.
Rule #3 Be Consistent
One of the “Laws of Learning” they teach in Instructor Methodology is the “Law of Repetition.” The Law is based on the theory that the things we do well are the things we do over and over correctly with a favorable outcome. So it is with teaching recruits the ropes. Practice the basics over and over, not until they get it right, practice until they can’t get it wrong.
We also need to be consistent in our leadership methods. When the rules change constantly, your rookies will react poorly. You lose your credibility and they have a tendency to tune you out. Find your way of doing things well and stick to it. If we follow protocol on one call and not another, this sends mixed signals to the learner, that it is OK to break from the protocol whenever we want.
We may never bridge the generation gap. Following the “three rules” will not make any of us the perfect mentor to anyone. I think we all have room for improvement. The best instructors, firefighters, rescue gurus, paramedics and leaders I know all tell me that they are learning new things every day that make them better at what they do, but I also think that if we try to remember these rules they just might help us focus on the task at hand with our newbies. Our job is not to judge them, but to help them be better than they ever thought they could at serving our neighbors.