Tuesday, May 3, 2011

PLAY LIKE YOU PRACTICE: Part 1 “Introduction to the concept”


A concept which seems to be increasingly lost on today's fire service

Complacency is the foundation on which many great fire service debacles have been constructed. Many good, sometimes even great firefighters, have allowed themselves to fall victim to complacency. If this occurs, often it provides them with a front row seat to the “domino effect” it can cause on the fire ground. Actively training during times of peace is not itself enough to ensure success in war. Regardless of the training regimen employed in the class-room and out in the field, failure to carry that performance onto the emergency scene will no doubt lead to a less than desirable result.

The fireground is the battlefield on which firefighters wage war on a very experienced and aggressive adversary. The enemy has no care of what you think you know; it worries no more of a 30 year line officer than of a 6 month rookie. It hasn’t the slightest worry for GPM debates, friction loss equations, risk/reward analysis or ISO ratings; it will fight the good fight just like it has done for thousands of years. It is the burden of the firefighter to stop it.

Just as in battle, the enemy does not always present itself as one might like. It may hide in wait preparing to ambush its attackers, or it may flex its muscle for all to see, as if to say, “Here I am, what are you going to do about it?”. To achieve victory the firefighter must meet his enemy swiftly and effectively, connecting adequate training with appropriate timing to knock the enemy down into submission. The key to this concept is appropriate timing. One single misstep at the onset of an incident will often dictate the next 10 corrective actions it will take to reverse the downward spiral of the situation. Adversely, one correct, well timed action at the onset of an incident will set the tempo for the rest of the firegrounds journey towards a positive outcome.

(Positive outcome= fire goes out, those in danger get rescued, no more property is burned than when we arrived.)

“Play like you practice” is an adaptation of the better known “Practice like you play” concept which equates to the fact that firefighters must train with as much intensity and purpose as if it were the real deal. Being “Combat Ready” and training with a purpose is absolutely the goal to which all firefighters should strive in their skill building. However this saying alone leads one to believe that a firefighter will automatically perform well on the scene because they practiced before the fact. “Play like you practice” should be a concept used in conjunction with the previous in order to connect all the dots and mount a stout attack on the enemy when it counts.


Spot hydrants, stretch lines and leave room for other units even if everything seems "normal"

Play like you practice, what do you mean? I’m referring to the fact that a company can be as well rounded in training as is possible, but if they are complacent when the run comes in, it can be disastrous. Every member can stretch lines quickly and effectively, they know various ladder throw techniques, forcible entry is second nature, ventilation concepts are repeatable on command and the intricacies of their areas streets and buildings are like a glossary index in their minds. Their preparation can be flawless, but if they show up to a “fire reported out” without stretching lines and throwing ladders the best way they know how then the tempo is already on the side of the enemy when it finally decides to show itself.

We have all seen it done and we have all heard the excuses, “it sounded like BS, it was 2 in the am, we were tired, we didn’t want to rerack all that hose for nothing…” the list goes on and on. All of these are big, bold examples of how “Complacency” can turn good companies into lawn ornaments when things aren’t as they seem. Playing “catch up” is no place for a fire company to be when lives are on the line, especially when the flip side is so easily obtainable with correct discipline and effort.

Say you don’t stretch a line or bring ladders to the building for a reported “food on the stove”. Say you turn out to be right, there really is no fire, it really was so called “BS”, what have you accomplished? What have you gained? True, we didn’t waste any extra effort: True, we don’t have any hose on the ground or tools to be stowed: True, we can leave immediately for another call. To these facts I say big deal! Effectiveness is our mission, as such effort is not only a prerequisite but a continued requirement. So… we have hose on the ground and tools to be stowed, are we serious? This mindset is simply a poor excuse for an excuse. How long does it really take to disconnect or rerack a line? How long does it really take to put a ladder back on the truck or equipment back in its compartment? If the answer is any more than a few minutes then I would say you should probably become more efficient at that also, through practice.

the push
The abandoned school you've run 100 times for alarm bells might look like this on trip 101. Show up ready to play.

Even though there was no fire, still what have we lost? We lost one more opportunity for our members to use their skills, one more opportunity to “practice like we play”, and one more opportunity to prepare for that time when we open the door for food on the stove and find a kitchen off with people trapped in the rear bedroom. Complacency and laziness breed further complacency and laziness, and the only way to stop it is by removing it from our mindset. We do this by treating every call as if it were a working fire, we do this by practicing our positioning, our techniques and our size-ups on each call whether we think it is “BS” or there is fire showing. We must place the wheels in motion for a positive outcome from the onset and ensure that we are giving our crews every possible advantage over the enemy we fight.

A well rehearsed fire scene is pure poetry in motion, effectiveness and efficiency, on display for the community we serve.

A complacent fire scene looks more like a beaten force routed by its enemy, with ineffective actions scattered sporadically across the fireground in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of incompetence. Firefighters must “Play like we practice” if we are going to match our adequate training with appropriate timing and effective action.

Part 2 will look into some techniques to accomplish this objective on a daily basis and help keep your company at the top of its game, fire showing or not. Stay Safe.

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