By Kevin Milan
Published Friday, September 7, 2012
These difficult economic times force fire and emergency service leaders to make difficult choices. Too often, training and travel are the first programs to be trimmed when a department looks for areas to cut. We all need to examine our programs and look for efficiencies; however, cutting training makes about as much sense as opting out of bunker gear when outfitting a new recruit.
Of course, opting out of bunker gear is absurd, but by considering the extremes, we gain insight into what’s really important. In this column, I ask you to consider what you would do if your department’s training budget was cut so severely that a single “Golden Hour of Training” remained. In other words, if you had only one hour left, what would you choose to train on? This conundrum isn’t reality, but it does frame an important question: What’s most important to you when it comes to training?
If training simply mirrored call volume, there’s no question that this Golden Hour would be dedicated to EMS. The debate would then become what EMS skills are most important: patient assessment, airway or the bread and butter CPR? The reality is that EMS skills are important, but I propose bypassing EMS since repetition breeds familiarity. We complete enough EMS runs to maintain basic proficiency in this hypothetical golden training hour.
If we considered Gordon Graham’s mantra of the dangers of high-risk/low-frequency events, what would you choose? Likely, the Golden Hour would land squarely in the special operations arena. We certainly don’t have enough call volume in highly specialized technical operations. The risks associated with a trip down Class 4 water or the perils of structural collapse rescue are enormous.
If you live in Colorado, I suspect the Golden Hour of Training for 2012 would involve wildland firefighting. The knee-jerk reaction to the most severe fire season in the state’s history highlights the importance of knowing more than the basics of fuel, weather and topography that we learned in S130/190. However, I suggest that we pass on wildland training if forced to choose how to spend the Golden Hour. The ebb and flow of call type will prevail, and expecting the 2013 wildland fire season to be like it was this year is probably inappropriate.
If we rewind the clock 10 years, our training on the National Incident Management System (NIMS) takes the front seat. It’s interesting to me that this training, which was once seen as so important that every American emergency responder needed to complete it, has never been refreshed. We have no mandate breathing down our necks to recertify, and yet I doubt the federal government believes that those canned PowerPoint presentations were so effective that our memory of what we learned would last more than a decade.
So with these options exhausted, what do you feel is the most important skill for a firefighter to know and be proficient at? Above all else, I would dedicate the last training hour to our most vital tool: SCBA.
The breathing apparatus (BA) is at the core of all we do. Not knowing everything there is to know about this life-saving device is firefighter negligence. So the problem we face is complacency.
The BA is so simple, we expect it to always work. We have such little trouble with it that it becomes invisible. I suggest you take the next hour and spend it with your pack; treat it like it’s the last training hour on earth. Learn everything: If you know the minutia, the big picture follows. Learn just how many breaths, that is, how many of your breaths, there are in your cylinder.
To do this, take your BA for a run. Climb stairs and draw every last breath out of your bottle. Realistically consider what you’ll do if when the mask sucks to your face. Understand the feeling of oxygen starvation and ask yourself, really, can you keep from pulling off your mask in an IDLH atmosphere? Some can resist the instinct, but most can’t. The key is to never get into this situation in the first place. By experiencing this trauma in training, your desire to avoid the situation at all costs is heightened.
If you remember the panic of running out of air in training, you’ll be far from nonchalant about it on the emergency scene. The best formula for firefighter survival is set squarely on your back at every fire. That atmosphere you carry into every difficult spot can save your life from acute and chronic exposure. Your airway is everything; protecting it with a BA is a no-brainer.
Also determine how long the BA will last with various workloads. Become comfortable with your heads-up display, and know everything there is to know about your emergency breathing support system (EBSS) and universal rapid intervention connection.
And if your training budget is trimmed, fight like hell, but fight intelligently. Be able to justify what you train on and why. Consider, and share, the repercussions of not training. Support your arguments with relevant examples. Equate fatal cuts in training to oxygen starvation, and fight to avoid getting to the last breath, the Golden Hour.
BA as Partner
Never compromise yourself by limiting the partnership you have with your BA. My father described the relationship he developed with his firearm in the military. Our soldiers’ mantra, “There are many like it, but this one is mine,” should translate to our partnership with the BA. A true soldier can disassemble a weapon blindfolded, troubleshoot and reassemble it in the blink of an eye. We must strive to be as intimate with our most vital asset. Why? Because with a keen respect of the BA, we all are safer.
Other guidelines to follow:
- The department doesn’t charge for air, so use all you need.
- Get comfortable with your BA; check it every shift.
- Top off a low bottle with a few breaths of “insurance.”
- Operate on the fireground intelligently so you’ll never need to cash this insurance policy. Our brothers in Seattle have it right: Manage your air. Make sure you have an exceptional level of situational awareness, and know your BA.
Also remember to follow the rule of thirds when it comes to air: Use the first third for entry, the second for exit and the third for insurance. The last third of your bottle is what you save for the guaranteed trip home to your family. We work in an uncertain environment, so you just may need that insurance someday.
Time to Decide
As a fire service, we stand together for training, but we no longer have the luxury of unrestricted training time or money. Therefore, we need to be smart about what we train on and how. The next time the subject of training cuts comes up, consider the Golden Hour concept. Use the findings you develop in a forced-choice setting to support your arguments.
So now that you know how I would spend my Golden Hour, how would you spend yours?
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