Lead by Example

What kind of instructor are you? The kind that talks safety and then ignores his own advice or the kind that ensures his students are safe at all times? While instructing various classes around the country I have often witnessed instructors and students talk safety and then forget their words as soon as the evolution gets underway. This behavior is unacceptable especially on the part of the instructor who must always lead the safety charge. Let’s review various situations in which instructors should integrate safety principles into training.

 

What kind of instructor are you? The kind that talks safety and then ignores his own advice, or the kind that ensures his students are safe at all times? While instructing various classes around the country, I have often witnessed instructors and students talk safety and then forget their words as soon as the evolution gets underway. This behavior is unacceptable, especially on the part of the instructor, who must always lead the safety charge. Let’s review various situations in which instructors should integrate safety principles into training.

 

Basic Training & Equipment Use

In his book “Common Sense Training: A Working Philosophy for Leaders,” Lt. Gen. Arthur Collins Jr. writes: “A good trainer will not merely set aside a number of hours to talk about safety, he/she will integrate the safety into everyday training and use of the equipment. Here, seeing is important: A commander must be able to recognize when troops are not handling equipment or situations with intelligence and care.”

“Everyday training and use of equipment”—this is where you as a company officer, instructor or a chief must demand adherence to established safety procedures. How many times have you observed your firefighters not wearing all their personal protective equipment (PPE) while performing a basic evolution? Here’s a thought: Insist that your entire team wear their firefighting gloves (not leather rope gloves or multi-colored extrication gloves) during every basic fireground hands-on drill, especially during SCBA drills. On that note, when was the last time you conducted an SCBA drill with limited visibility, using firefighting gloves and attempting some basic buddy-breathing or emergency procedures? Always train like it’s the real thing.

Another SCBA drill that gets little attention: the low-profile (or reduced-profile) maneuver in which you must reduce your profile to maneuver through a tight space. This is accomplished by loosening your harness and shifting your SCBA to one side so you can pass through the space or free yourself from an entanglement. Ensure your personnel know how to perform this maneuver without hesitation, and practice it in zero or limited visibility. You don’t need expensive smoke machines or facepiece inserts to accomplish this—just wax paper. Crumple small pieces of wax paper and place them inside the facepiece to mimic varying levels of limited visibility. Further, when it’s time to perform this drill, set a good example for the team by ensuring that you participate.

Keeping with the theme of SCBA training, observe how your personnel perform their morning SCBA check. Do they remove the entire unit from the bracket and examine everything, or do they just turn on the cylinder and bleed it down? Regardless of what they do, they probably learned it from a senior firefighter who observed their officer doing the same thing. Make it a point to check your equipment while the rest of the crew does the same, and make sure everyone performs a full check.

Collins also describes the importance of following safety guidelines around particularly dangerous
equipment: “Safety derives from proper training of troops. Since the tools of the soldiers’ trade are inherently dangerous, personnel must be trained to use them properly and command supervision must be exercised at all times. This fact of life is important for noncommissioned officers, who are always in charge of the small groups doing whatever has to be done. Knowledge of and respect for dangerous equipment are the best safety measures that can be taken.”

With this in mind, the next time your crew examines the power tools, create a drill that includes proper maintenance of the safety devices, and instruct each member of the crew to demonstrate proper use of the tool. This demonstration includes you, of course. And don’t forget to ensure everyone is wearing all their appropriate PPE.

 

Preventing Vehicle-Related Accidents

Enforcing safety regulations related to fire apparatus operation is a critical part of preventing the escalating number of traffic-related fatalities and injuries firefighters suffer. On this note, Collins addresses the importance of following training guidelines to help prevent accidents: “The commander must visualize what can go wrong in a given situation when the troops do not follow proper guidelines. Generally the guidelines for preventing serious accidents are neither complex nor mysterious. But when they are neglected in training, future problems are in the making.”

Preventing most serious vehicle-related accidents is as simple as buckling your seatbelts, checking around the rigs before you move them and remaining alert while driving to and from the incident scene. Further, ask yourself these questions: When and how do you train your drivers? Does every member of your department go through Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) training annually? Do you ensure your drivers follow the driving/ operating standard operating procedures every time you’re in the rig? This means ensuring everyone is buckled up, even on a quick drive to the store.

But how does this relate to safe training? Take every opportunity to turn a basic operation into a training evolution. For example, when driving the rig to the store, instruct the operator to spot the building or attempt to position the rig as if the building was on fire. Training in a controlled environment while adhering to established safety procedures will assist your team when the situation is not under control.

 

Safe Live-Fire Exercises

Have you ever seen an instructor at a live-fire exercise (burn building or acquired structures) who’s yelling at the students to “Stay low!” but is himself standing? What message does this send? Neglecting the basic safety principle of staying low shows the students that staying low isn’t that important and the instructor is not that concerned about his own safety. If your instructors are so overworked during these exercises that they’re exhausted and therefore must stand, you don’t have a proper student/ instructor ratio.

Additionally, are your instructors required to go through rehab? If not, this is just another wasted chance to demonstrate basic safety principles. And what about that salty instructor gear? What message does that send? I know it’s hard to clean your gear between burns, but let’s face it, some gear has never been cleaned!

 

First In, Last Out

If we really wish to ensure that “everyone goes home,” we must start with our instructors. On recruits’ very first day, instructors must create an environment in which safety is integrated into all basic training evolutions. This means leading by example: Crawl when you require your students to crawl; buckle your own seatbelt during EVOC training; be the first in line for rehab. And as FDNY Battalion Chief John Salka says, “First in, last out.” The bottom line: Whether you’re an instructor or you manage instructors, you set the tone and the example, and you can start the culture change.

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