One of the biggest problems the fire service has is its credibility.  I received multiple e-mails over the past few weeks about a confined space training near-miss that in reading the information, I found to be pretty troubling.  Once again, it appears (at least from the published report) that training can get pretty hairy, especially when there is a certain amount of complacency among students and instructors.  But it goes to a deeper question: When training, at what point do we raise our hand and say, “Hey, something doesn’t seem right here”?

When we engage in fire, EMS, and rescue activities, we are participating in what is considered to be an extraordinarily dangerous setting.  In training, we have the ability to create scenarios that test our students, but we as course designers must consider the alternative outcome to successful completion of a task, and by that, I am referring to failure.  When someone is unable to complete a task, or the environment becomes too daunting, or unforeseen events occur, there has the be the ability to directly swing into normalcy (read: safety).

In burn buildings we provide extra exits and in high-line rescue training we continually monitor redundant belays.  Whatever the topic, we intentionally build our scenarios to consider the “what if?” events that might occur.  While crawling through an active 18-inch pipe might provide a “confidence building” exercise, what is the plan if someone gets stuck?  Or in the case at hand, weather creates a very real scenario?  Thankfully a greater disaster didn’t occur.  But while in confined space situations we must “train in representative spaces”, and nothing provides more realism than using the spaces themselves, we are also obligated to monitor those spaces and aggressively manage safety concerns for personnel.

When an instructor is telling you to do something that doesn’t seem right, there is also an obligation on the part of students to respectfully raise a hand and question the scenario.  Unfortunately, not every instructor out there is experienced or dedicated enough to insure that the proper learning environment is provided and adequately managed.  As real professionals, we need to not only do risk management on the emergency scene, but in training as well.  There are plenty of instructors from whom I have taken a class, only to walk away shaking my head.  If I am responsible for hiring instructors, I at least qualify them myself or seek the advice of colleagues who have worked with those people before.  Our business, however, is too dangerous to leave the teaching to amateurs.  Look for credible instructors with a history of work when you are trusting someone with the lives of your personnel.  We kill and injure enough of our people in real situations.  There’s no reason to do the same when the urgency doesn’t exist.


  • chiefreason says:

    I’ll second that, Mick.
    Just like there are wannabees and posers in our ranks, there are also those instructors who use their position to feather their nests and beef up their resumes.
    Their “training” leaves little to the imagination, but a lot to be desired.
    You hit another bulls-eye.

  • I think this issue parallels the topic of certification, does it not?

    Not being a rescue ranger, I am unsure if the confined space curriculum has standards for training scenario safety standards, such as rescue plan, dedicated rescue cache etc. If not, maybe it should.

    I am just speculating, but having a student stuck in an 18″ pipe, six feet underground is a bad time to figure out how someone is going to be rescued, especially if there is an airway issue.

    This is something that I don’t want to read about on The Secret List.

    Great post, Mick. Thanks.

  • Jon D Marsh says:

    Oh so well said Chief Mayers, and Chiefreason ! Therein lies much of our difficulty in implementing the 16 Firefighter life safety initiatives from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. During Safety-Sessions of our outreach program offered nationwide-free of charge; I am often floored by the responses I get when I ask, When you observe a potential safety problem, danger, or hazard at emergent scenes or here at the firehouse, are you empowered and/or encouraged by your superiors to immediately speak-up and identify the problem to the IC or your officer ? Many firefighters-especially probies, reply with “thats not my job,-thats the safety officers job.” Or another I hear over and over “when I tell my Lt. of what could be a problem, he tells me to concentrate on my assignment-he will take care of the fire scene.” Some departments have instructors who are so deep into paramilitary procedure, that consciousness of anyone but themselves is oout of the question. These are the same instructors who omit credibility from their vocabulary, as it is a word not for the wise, but for the wussy’s. We have a long way to go in changing fire service culture, but thanks to the greatminds of folks like Chief Mayers and Chief Reason-we are seeing positive change !

  • Peter Lupkowski says:

    We often hear about the saying “Let no man’s ghost return to say his training let him down.” May I say Mick’s thoughts touch the obverse. Let no man’s ghost return to say his training injured or killed him.

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