Firefighter training must be more realistic, under conditions that more closely resemble the actual fireground, Jason Brezler told attendees at the classroom session, "Making Yourself Hard to Kill" on Thursday afternoon at FDIC 2013. Most importantly in training, firefighters should be taught to think.
Brezler compared the closed system of the training ground where everything is controlled and safe to that of an open system where the environment is not under your control and may be dangerous, such as the real world of the fireground. Brezler asked attendees, "When do we train? When it's sunny and 70." Why don't we drill in more realistic conditions, resembling those under which we may have to actually respond, in the middle of the night in rain or wintry conditions? "When are we most likely to suffer a line of duty injury or death?" he asked. When the weather is severe, staffing is short, and equipment is lacking. We must be prepared to work under these and other adverse conditions.
It is essential that firefighters be able think beyond the immediate situation and grasp the strategic consequences of their actions is part of "making yourself hard to kill." For example, Brezler said, consider an apartment fire during winter when everything is covered in ice. For safety's sake they do not make the roof because of the icy unsafe conditions, instead going up the "safe" interior stairs to attack the fire. If a window breaks, the supposedly "safer" interior stairs will turn into a chimney. Use of an aerial ladder would have been a better choice.
He also questioned the some of the thinking behind today's safety culture. Wearing your seat belt in the apparatus and other safety practices are not a matter of courage; they're a matter of responsibility. Despite the best training and safest practices, people get killed in combat and on the fireground for a variety of reasons. Not everyone goes home. We must manage our expectations and instead of unrealistically pledging to bring everyone home, instead pledge do our best to bring everyone back.
Tactical discipline is essential to maintaining command. Brezler referenced a military commander regarding discipline, who said without discipline, confusion reigns and the officer is no longer the acting commander. Brezler said the commanding officer should train his subordinates to think on his level. They should know not only what to do and how, but most importantly when and be able to take action when appropriate.
Brezler said one of the best things that we can do for firefighters and fire officers is challenge them to THINK. The ultimate goal is to advance a paradigm that saves the lives of firefighters while enabling the fire service to maximize its ability to protect the public. He said it is his hope that young firefighters and senior officers alike will be reinvigorated to make themselves harder to kill. Going forward, they should be eager to ask hard questions of conventional wisdom to find an approach that mentally, physically and tactically reinforces best practices, but also be forced to reevaluate the areas where the fire service consistently misses the mark.