The first detail that I need to discuss with you is how we as a service tend to use certain terms interchangeably, when it is not okay to do so. We do this because sometimes terms are somewhat related and we feel they mean basically the same thing, but as they say, the devil is in the details. The terms that I would like to discuss in this article are education and training. We commonly interchange these terms, and while these terms are closely related, they are in fact very different.
Education is defined as the act or process of imparting knowledge. To relate this to the fire service, this is where we teach them the “what and why” of our profession. We cover topics like Tradition, Organizational Structure, Fire Behavior, Building Construction, and the like. Education can be obtained from a variety of sources, and from a broad area.
Training is defined as the act of bringing someone to a standard or to proficiency. To relate this to the fire service, this is what we would describe as teaching someone a task. To make it even less complicated, training is the “how” of our profession. We teach them how certain things are done. I envision it as taking the SOG book out and teaching them step-by-step the process of how we as an organization complete various tasks that we are expected to perform. This means that training is done at the local level.
Both are essential, and I am not saying that either one is bad; I am just trying to explain that there is a difference between the terms, and we should keep that in mind. The reason that this is so critical is because when we use the terms interchangeably, both lose their identity, and that causes us to assume things. We assume that because a firefighter has taken numerous educational programs, that they are adequately trained as well. When a firefighter can show skills competency we assume that they are well-educated as well. This leads to a false sense of security not only for the member, but for their officers as well. To summarize this, I would simply offer that well trained does not always equal well educated, and likewise, well educated does not always equal well trained.
We do a marvelous job of teaching our firefighters how to do tasks, but we fail time and time again at teaching them why we do those very tasks. Is that because we assume that as long as they do what we tell them, they don’t really need to know why? Is it because we withhold information to keep our social stratification in place? Could it simply be that sometimes we don’t know the “why” ourselves?
We talk about wanting to change our “culture,” and make thinking firefighters. The very thought of a thinking firefighter makes some cringe with fear. It should not. Thinking firefighters, who are both well educated and well trained, are one of your greatest assets.
Any firefighter that not only knows how, but also knows why will be able to make proactive decisions, instead of reactive ones. Think of how many training and educational programs are taught from a reactive standpoint. I may stir some emotion with these next few lines, but I am okay with that. Let’s look at Rapid Intervention programs. I have taught numerous Rapid Intervention programs over the years. I did however eventually realize one thing that I had not ever really thought about. Rapid Intervention programs teach you how to react after things go bad. This my friend, is reactive.
Why do we wait until something goes horribly wrong before we take action? Would a program that teaches a firefighter the early signs of catastrophic events, so they could make educated decisions not be a much better investment? Instead of preaching to them to call the mayday early, would it not be much better to teach a firefighter how to avoid needlessly putting themselves into situations where the only likely outcome is a grim one?
To me, it is like we will teach our members how to wear a seat belt, but yet we won’t teach them how to drive. I know that some will view this as being soft. I assure you, I am an aggressive firefighter and I promote smart aggressive tactics. I simply don’t ever, and I mean ever, want my people to let their ego override their education and training. I want my firefighters to make educated proactive decisions, and use their skills and abilities that are finely tuned to execute the tasks required for those decisions to have a positive outcome on the situation.
It all boils down to the fact that if we teach our firefighters the “why” along with the “what and how” we will in the end build a fire service that is not only well educated and trained, but also safer and more successful. The end results would be a fire service that would provide better services to the people with fewer risks to our members. We were all quick to adopt the slogan “Everyone Goes Home.” I feel that years ago we should have added the words “alive and well” to the end. What do you say?