The last few weeks have been interesting, educational, and thought provoking.
Between working my normal 24 hours on/48 hours off shifts, I have had several opportunities to assist teaching a couple fire department classes and work with some firefighters who are new to the job, in an effort to help some of them (and myself) learn something new. I have also been asked by an unusually large number of people (outside the job) to explain some of the different aspects of my job and why I do it and how it works. Being a talkative person, I have had no problem with providing as much information as needed and more about the job that I truly love.
Aside from answering questions, teaching classes, and working shifts, I have been spending as much time as I can at my volunteer firehouse. The workload never seems to get any less, no matter which direction I go… but I can’t say I dislike it!
Through all of this, I have begun to think a lot about learning, knowledge, and pride in the job of a firefighter. I have thought about what I can do to instill more pride in myself and those around me, and about how much knowledge is required in order to perform effectively as a fireman. It wasn’t until yesterday that I truly realized how valuable this knowledge and love for the job were to me, and how extensive the knowledge known as “the basics” really is. My Mom has a friend who is a writer, and yesterday I was asked to help explain a few things about the fire service to her because she is in the beginning phases of a book about firefighters. I started to explain the basics, and next thing I knew we were watching videos, talking “firefighter slang” and telling stories about fire department related experiences. I again realized how much I love my job, and every single thing that is involved with it.
It has been said many times that firemen are, besides people who fight fire, highly trained handy men. I’ve heard it said that we are “Jacks of all Trades, Masters of None”, and I believe there is an incredible amount of truth to these statements. Now, I’m not just talking about the rescue squad guys, who have all the fancy tools to do all the special jobs, I’m talking about the regular suppression level firemen. Many times, we take for granted the amount of knowledge that is taught to us in our training, and as a result, we don’t truly know what we are capable of in terms of solving problems.
For example, we know that fire is hot, and we know that water cools a hot atmosphere and puts fire out. For the most part, this is general knowledge and an average person could probably come up with a statement very similar, if asked to explain how fire is put out. As FIREFIGHTERS, we are taught WHY water cools the atmosphere and the fire dies. Looking at the technical details, its actually very advanced chemistry mixed with a little physics.
Another example (to satisfy the truckies reading this article) is ladders go up against a building. They tend to be easier to climb and thus work better when placed at certain angles for certain tasks. The standard climbing angle for fire department ladders is 75 degrees, but we know this isn’t always how it happens “in real life”. If a person who is not a firefighter watches us throw ladders or place an aerial, they assume we “just know how to make it work” when in reality (again in the technical details) we are utilizing the study of geometry, mixed again with a tiny bit of physics.
Science applies in all aspects of our job, and if you stop and think just how much “stuff” us firefighters are involved in on a day-to-day basis, you’ll realize that the amount of knowledge required to be a backstep fireman is enormous. Physics, chemistry, geometry, building construction, engineering, plumbing, electricity & circuits, water flow, height & weight and units of measure… they all apply.
The point in all of this is not to try to say that we are accomplished physicists, highly regarded chemists, or certified construction contractors, but rather to enlighten you to the fact that whether you want to admit it or not, as a firefighter there is a HUGE amount of knowledge that is required to perform. There is a need for constant study, constant practice, and constant brain stimulation in order to maintain a competent proficiency level. You NEED TO KNOW that you have enough H2O to overcome the amount of BTU’s from the fire. YOU NEED TO KNOW you’ve got your ladder truck positioned in the right spot so that if the building collapses, your rig wont be underneath the rubble that used to be the outside wall… and so on and so on.
There is an infinite amount of applicable knowledge in the universe and almost all of it can relate to the fire service in some form or fashion. The lesson here is that you can always learn something. Every day you come into work, every time your engine or truck rolls out on a call, there is something to be learned about someone or something. The hunger for knowledge and the willingness to learn are what set the best firefighters apart from the rest. Regardless of rank, riding position, or number of calls your department runs, we are professionals and are expected to possess the knowledge to handle extreme situations and apply it when necessary.
NEVER forget the basics of firefighting: the simple things you were taught in Firefighter 1 such as the fire triangle and the proper climbing angle. ALWAYS strive to learn something new. DON’T be afraid to ask questions, even if you think you know about something already, and most importantly, BE THE SMARTEST, FASTEST, SAFEST, MOST PROFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE FIREFIGHTER YOU CAN BE. Use the knowledge you have as a tool on the fireground now, and as a tool to help gain more knowledge in the future.