Tricks vs. The Trade

“What you showed me isn’t in the book.  What are the Chiefs gonna say if I do this?  Are you gonna have my back if I do this and someone says something?”

This is a real quote from a firefighter at a recent training.  As an instructor and a fire officer, one of the “hurdles” I have encountered is that people have FF1, FF2, a cape and a “S” on their chest.  However, when they pull up with fire blowing, they don’t know whether to stretch a line or go fetal.

We seem to always worry about what “the book”, the Chief or a lawyer will say.  Also, we are so worried about book knowledge and pieces of paper that we fail to learn the real life application of our job.

A buddy of mine took a class from Mike Ciampo at FDIC.  In that class, Ciampo told them that he didn’t agree with the term “tricks of the trade” because the “the tricks ARE the trade”.  We are losing, or have lost, mentorship and skill sharing in the fire service.  If we don’t learn it in “the Essentials” or take an online class about it, it doesn’t exist.  Then we wonder why firefighters die.

I’ve gotten deer in the headlight looks when asking firefighters what they would do if their preconnect didn’t reach, how to size up a handline and what “shocking the door” was.  Guys have told me that we offensively attack fire with a wide fog and didn’t know what “the irons” were.  And we wonder why firefighters die.

Safety is more than just a buzz word, a sticker on a helmet or a program.  True safety is grassroots, its hands-on and its continuous.  It’s being proactive instead of reactive.  A couple of nuggets that I remember from Tom Brennan are his desire to perform “seven tasks all at once” and to “make the building behave the way WE want it to”.  If our training and operations more closely mirrored this approach, we may see the LODD numbers continue to drop.


Thanks and be SAFE


  • FireMedic says:

    I don’t think this is an either/or problem. Trying to teach someone the tricks of the trade without them having a basic understanding of building construction or firefighting principals will lead them to either forget what you taught them or to do it wrong. On the other hand, simply reading Essentials and taking classes obviously doesn’t give the new firefighter the applicable knowledge he needs. Essentials should be taught as a basic framework (for example, in the academy) and then the mentoring should take over to teach them the tricks (during probation and through their career).

    • I agree 100%. Maybe the breakdown is at the academy? The “Essential” are just that, the most basic information you need to either build onto or to get yourself killed in the real world. To me, that’s why choosing the right ACADEMY INSTRUCTORS is probably the most important thing an organization can do. Don’t just get Probies certified, give them a solid foundation to support them for the rest of their career.

      Thanks for the comment, be SAFE.

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