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What You Can’t Control, What You Can, and How

“Experience only prevents you from making a mistake the SECOND time, training keeps you from making it the FIRST time”


The above is a quote from one of my fire service mentors. While he himself is a veteran of 40 plus years in the fire service, and values experience he understands that if we depend on it to be our sole teacher we will fall short in our end goal of optimum service delivery for our citizens. Sadly, there are those in our profession that view experience as the only valuable teacher. They also view THEIR experience as the only one that counts. I often find myself at odds with “them” when debating tactics and the like. They offer something up and say that based on “experience” this is the best way, when you counter that in your “experience” that way didn’t work and this was the way you did it, it automatically turns to insult.

Let me be clear so there is no misinterpretation


EXPERIENCE IS VALUABLE! However, it is something you cannot control, nor is it something you can quantify. It also differs based on where you work, and what you do. The rural firefighter who goes to 1 fire a month does not have as much experience as the urban firefighter who goes to 25 a month. BUT on that 1 fire a month the rural firefighter had to establish a draft, while the urban firefighter was able to hit a hydrant every time, the rural firefighter had to stretch long lines and deal with large homes, the urban firefighter pulled a pre-connect and delt with a 1000 square foot home. So, who has more experience? To me the experiences are different but both have value. Neither should be discounted, but neither apply to every fire department, and should be evaluated as such. It is well established that experience cannot be controlled, but lets discuss what you can control.

Things you can control

Training: No reason not to train every shift for a minimum of 1 hour. Spend a majority of this training time on what YOU do. If you’re a rural department, drafting, tanker shuttles, dry hydrants etc. should be the norm. Urban departments should be training on stretching lines into occupancies of all shapes and sizes, forcing entry, and hydrant operations. Spend some time on training for the oddball stuff. If a large city has a water problem they need to know how to draft. If a rural department encounters a serious forcible entry scenario they need to know how to handle that, experience will not be an effective teacher on these things.

Education: You should be reading about fire service topics as much as possible (I recommend an hour a day on or off duty). Magazines, blogs, books, etc. read them, and then reread them, strive to understand them, highlight passages, reread them. Take classes, get outside your comfort zone.

Physical fitness: Fitness is a not an option, it is a job requirement. If you are not willing to get in shape for yourself, do it for your crew, your family, and your citizens.

Attitude: Negative attitudes are a cancer in any organization. Attitude is a choice! You choose how you react to every situation, so choose to have a positive attitude.

How can you control them? Start with 1 hour of hands on training, 1 hour reading something on the fire service, and 1 hour physical fitness EVERY SHIFT! That should be your minimum standard. This will bridge the gap of experience. When you train, or read about something you have never done then are faced with it in real life you will at least have a starting point instead of no clue. When you train, or read on something you do a lot you become that much better! Physical fitness (being in shape) will ensure you can handle any situation you are face with and not just survive, THRIVE!

Do not let a day go by that you do not invest in yourself, in your team, and in your organization.

As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!

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