Using YouTube as Training Tool, Part 2

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Using YouTube as Training Tool, Part 2


YouTube is free and easy to use, and there’s certainly no shortage of intriguing firefighting videos—but how do you distill the abundant content into relevant fire training? Without a plan, viewing hundreds of fire videos can become mind-numbing. This series of articles provides a structure to capitalize on the firefighting experiences of others through the lenses of YouTube or any other web video-sharing platform.

Related article: Using YouTube as a Training Tool

Lessons exist in everything from a bumpy helmet cam to slick, high-definition news footage. Just as a lesson plan validates and improves a training exercise, a plan for YouTube training transforms passive viewing into active learning.

Learning Transfer Theory
As fire service instructors, we often leverage learning transfer, which allows students to take the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) acquired in one area and apply them to another setting. The simplest example of this in a fire service setting is transferring knowledge gained in a class or conference to the day-to-day job, such as when firefighters transfer the knowledge or skills they learned at FDIC (or another fire service conference) to their next run. FireRescue magazine proclaims this concept as their mantra; they print it in the masthead of the monthly magazine, stating, “Read It Today, Use It Tomorrow.”

If we look outside the fire service for ideas to improve learning, human resource analysts provide us with research on methods to maximize the effect of learning transfer. Readiness and alignment activities are evaluated and ranked in this research based on their ability to improve learning transfer. (For more information, read the Wilson Learning Research report.

Our takeaways from the research are 1) We must first “prime the learning pump” (aka readiness) by creating a structure within which students can effectively learn from watching videos, and 2) the lessons learned from these videos must be aligned with the student’s workplace (aka the fireground).

YouTube Training & Scaffolding
So what does all of this have to do with YouTube and firefighter training? In a word, everything. In this series of articles, we’ll be leveraging learning transfer by designing the learning episodes and the hands-on exercises. We will also supply worksheets that you can use at the firehouse kitchen table to maximize learning transfer. The goal of viewing YouTube videos is to simply gain knowledge, then transfer the lessons learned to the emergency scene.

Scaffolding the process are the 16 Life Safety Initiatives from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF). This year, the NFFF has put extra emphasis on the importance of performing an after-action review (AAR) after every incident. Some incidents demand comprehensive detailed review completed with a printed AAR; however most do not. What the NFFF asks is a quick five-point recap for each response:

  1. What was our mission?
  2. What went well?
  3. What could have gone better?
  4. What might we have done differently?
  5. Who needs to know?

We’ll use the above recap, or framework, to support YouTube learning episodes. In this piece, we’ll discuss the first of the five points: our mission, which needs to build on the universal principles of life safety, incident stabilization and property conservation. To be successful, however, the incident objectives must be much more specific, both on the fireground and when viewing YouTube videos. Note: For more information on AARs from the NFFF, visit

Set the Stage & Select Your Video
Setting the stage for YouTube learning is most effective when the trainee is in the mindset and role of the incident commander (IC). This is partly because identifying the objectives you would assign as the initial IC is integral to the foundation of YouTube training. These objectives build from situational awareness communicated in an arrival report from the first unit on scene. So for the mission exercises, put yourself in the IC role.

To begin, search YouTube for “arriving at a fully involved fire.” Select a house fire, preferably a small, simple structure. Play the video for 15–20 seconds to get a feel for conditions, then press pause, and verbalize an arrival report. For this particular scenario, place yourself as the officer on the first-arriving unit. Set the stage for success by using the standard arrival report for your department. Tip: If your department doesn’t have a standard, state what you typically would say on the radio when arriving. And don’t be afraid to try it again and again until you get it right. This is the beauty of YouTube—unlike the fireground, with video we have the option to pause, rewind or fast-forward. But don’t worry about your speed; what’s most important is that you give an accurate and concise arrival report.

The IDEA Breakdown
Must-haves in any arrival report include the incident’s who, what and where information. The IDEA acronym provides a generic arrival report format:

  1. Identify your unit and repeat the location. For example: “Engine 21 on scene 911 10th Street.”
  2. Describe the structure and conditions: “… of a one-story small residential structure with fire venting from the Charlie side window …”
  3. Establish and name command. Provide command mode and location: “Engine 21 will be 10th Street command. We are in the fast-attack mode entering the structure from the Alpha side.”
  4. State your Actions, and direct the actions for next-due units: “Engine 21 is laying in for fire attack. Truck 24, position at the front of the building and assist with forcible entry and search.”

Expand & Change
Once you’re happy with your arrival report for the initial video, pick another video from the “arriving at a fully involved fire” search. Complete the process for five residences. Expand on the complexity of the structure and the fire problem by selecting progressively more complex fire videos. Work on the articulation of your IDEA and ask crewmembers to critique your report. Repeat this until it becomes routine.

After this set of five reps, change the paradigm. Switch the YouTube search to “commercial fire.” Then start slow with your IDEA and cover all elements of the arrival report. Ask yourself and your crew, “What changes when completing commercial arrival reports?” Basically, the song remains the same, it just gains complexity based on the building’s use and construction (e.g., a sofa superstore differs from typical warehouses based on contents).

Your initial actions will change when you consider the complexity of the fire problem. Much of your arrival report will remain the same up until the action step. Change the search up again and again with other keywords. Try ‘wildfire,” “semi fire,”—pretty much anything that ends with the word “fire.”

Research tells us an action must be repeated more than 20 times before it becomes engrained in our minds. Repeat the arrival report at least five times with five different fires to reach saturation. Later, you can use this exercise as a warm-up to the next shift.

Virtual Practice Pays Off
Future articles in this series will build on a sound arrival report. Take the time to master this skill and sharpen your language. The adage of “as the first hose goes, so goes the fire” is true. Behind every success or failure on the fireground is an arrival report. Pay attention to the details, and consider how you’ll label the sides of the building, where you’d direct apparatus to position and what guides your decisions on water supply. Let these questions be springboards for kitchen table discussion. The ability to master the arrival report in a virtual setting will pay great dividends when we transfer this learning to the fireground.