Using Fireground Video as a Training Tool

Firefighters love “fire porn”–actual images of brothers and sisters in battle, facing down the red devil … doing it. The Internet, smartphones and social media have opened our eyes to a world that used to be relayed in stories told around the kitchen table. Now, instant access to real-time video means anyone with an interest in “all things fire” can get their fix. This is a double-edged sword, though. What if a family member unintentionally sees their firefighter killed in the line of duty? But that’s a topic for another day.

A Virtual Classroom
There is value to all this video: It gives instructors dynamic, visual examples of what to do and what not to do in given circumstances. When a building is belching chocolate brown smoke under pressure and a decision point exists about whether to make a push on the seat of the fire, a teachable moment comes into view.

And this doesn’t have to be limited to the training academy. Company officers can make a tremendous difference in the lives of their firefighters by sharing such videos. Tip: Get a few companies together at one time and show a video. Then show it again. The reason for showing the video a second time is to get firefighters to look past the most exciting part of the video to what else is going on.

After the video is shown a second time, begin a discussion about what was observed. For example, if you’re in a department that relies on predetermined tactical assignments, it might be instructive to ask a truck company officer to identify their primary observations and then compare and contrast them with those of an engine company officer. With unique priorities, such company officers may be looking for entirely different clues, or cues, at a fire; understanding what the other is thinking can help develop their incident command skills. That’s why each year in Philadelphia, one-third of all company officers in the field rotate to a new company, meaning that they’re unlikely to spend their entire tour of service in a single company operating from the unilateral mindset of engine or truck work. The rotation of officers is designed to result in chief officers who possess a multi-layered understanding of fire behavior, tactics and decision-making.

Alternatively, if you operate in a department where an incident management system drives incident operations, the video discussion could focus on incident and tactical objectives. This is particularly instructive for new firefighters who might be called on to ride the right front seat of the apparatus and function as a company officer absent an actual one. There are places in the United States where firefighters, both career and volunteers fresh out of probationary training, are called upon to function in this manner. Although this isn’t ideal (an understatement), it does represent the reality that many departments face. The best-case scenario under those circumstances is to provide these firefighters with as many tools as possible to be successful during the initial stages of an operation.

When possible, take the scenario presented in the video and move the incident to your own first-due area. Although staffing levels are certainly dynamic across the United States, the fundamental laws of physics are immutable. A 2½-story, single-family dwelling burns the same way in Brooklyn, N.Y. as it does in Brooklyn, Ore., or Brooklyn, Mich., or Brooklyn, Calif. (all real places). The point of such exercises is to ensure that firefighters in your company believe that such events can, and will, occur in your district–resulting in a positive mindset.

An Actual Classroom
In the end, such exercises can have a profound effect on a company and on a department. The result is that firefighters and company officers build “slide trays” of virtual experience upon which they can begin the process of decision-making when faced with similar real-life scenarios. 

Realistically, most firefighters will also embrace such opportunities because they view the training as relevant–that is, germane to their essential ability to accomplish a task expected of them. This is also an excellent opportunity to involve senior members of a company who hold years of experience, giving them an opportunity to “download” their vast knowledge BEFORE they walk out the door.

Some final thoughts: First, resist the temptation to use the exercise as a chance to openly criticize the firefighters in the video. Remember that you’re one smartphone away from being some instructor’s example of what NOT to do. Second, don’t limit yourself to video. If you’re ready to get really serious, regularly obtain copies of the audio from fires that you and your company have responded to and listen to them together. Such examples can be genuine exercises in humility.

Excellence is the pursuit of perfection, not minimal competency. Such “back step” conversations around the computer might save your life.

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