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.