Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The value of fiction.

For decades the only methods to capture fireground operations were through the stories told by those who experienced it and the still photo. Many historical fires are frozen in time by the few photos taken as the events took place. Even today we document these fires by the split second decision of the photographer. We do find ourselves in a difficult position as technology has given not only us, but the public, the ability to document every second and every action taken on our modern fireground.

Many have brought to light the issues and risk of social media in today's fire service. This post is not about that. What I hope to convey is the importance of educating our membership, how to properly use media such as video, audio and the still photo to increase knowledge.

Face it, as we experience fewer fires and lose years upon years of street knowledge the next generation, myself included, will have less information to poll from on the emergency scene. Spending ample time on the training ground is one way to gain efficacy and knowledge on task based skills. But what about the decision making process? This week I was fortunate enough to listen to Dr. Gary Klein speak.

Dr. Klein is the expert behind Recognition Primed Decision Making (RPDM). What is so interesting about his work is that he isn't teaching the fire service these skills, it is just the opposite. He spent years with the fire service to find out how we make tough decision, under stress and in a split second. We have what he calls a "Slide Tray." The ability to act quickly is gained from our years of experience that is recalled, compared, then acted upon. This should give you just enough to understand this process and why it is more critical then ever. Visit his website for more info.

Our "instincts" that flow from RPDM comes from our collection of experience. With fewer fires we are adding fewer events to this set. To overcome a portion of these missed opportunities we can turn to technology. How many remember when the overhead projector was overtaken by the electronic presentation? So much more content was able to be covered in the classroom setting with ease. We soon took advantage of the new found ability to add video. Not only could these videos add value to our classroom but they helped to keep students engaged. In 2012 it is nothing to perform a quick Internet search to show a video that proves your point.

The negative side of the new love affair with instant video, are the students focused on the actions of the those shown or the intent of your lesson? We have all seen it or heard it. Pull up a video and the incident commanders from behind the glowing screen let loose. Some times comments are positive others negative.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of watching the task performers rather than the fire behavior or the what the smoke is telling us. Granted from time to time we will use the videos to exercise a point about the actions taken. Use caution when having students view our modern means of documentation.

What we can do, create simulations. There are several applications on the market that allow the user to take a snapshot and create a scenario without the actions of responders to "muddy the waters." These fictional events allow the viewers to watch the fire growth, behavior, smoke and reading the building. Once they have their own opinion, free of bias they then can elaborate on what actions they would take and why. These situations allow for so much more control than having free time simply watching "fire porn." Use them as company drills where the experience of the Officer or Senior Firefighter can be shared with those without the soot on their face.
Another great way to gain valuable insight is to go out into your district, perform a simple pre-plan then take a snapshot of that occupancy. Using certain simulation products you can on the spot, add smoke, fire and explosions to discuss while on site. Talk about where the hydrants are and in that situation what would be some best practices. What this also gains for your crew is everyone is seeing the same picture rather than five ideas of what could be. It goes back to what "heavy smoke" is. Your idea of heavy is not the same as mine.
With training budgets shrinking, the amount of fires we run and the loss of valuable knowledge we must find alternatives to ensure learning is taking place. Find a product or method that works for you but consider the ramifications it may have on impressionable minds. Hours of "fire porn" will never equate to the real hands on education of the fireground. Give your people the most ammunition possible through simulations.