Behind the Back and Thru the Legs

I always loved sports. I played just about every sport I could and eventually settled in with basketball and baseball. The coaches I had were always preaching the fundamentals and basics explaining that as players, we had to master the basics to the point that things like dribbling and passing were second nature. When those basics were mastered we were able to ascend our skill sets to seeing an open player before he is open and making moves on the fly, avoiding the defender with moves that were more challenging because we had a “feel” for the game.

The “feel” for the game allowed us to improvise and do things on the court that weren’t necessarily practiced. A defender stepping in front of us quickly, obstructing our passing lane may force us to make a behind-the-back pass. This is improvising with an advanced skill based on our most basic of skills: passing. Does the player get punished for this advanced skill? Probably not, especially if the outcome is a positive one.

When we get to an advanced level of skill sets, it typically comes from past experiences and hours upon hours of training. With that training and experience also comes the ability to recognize situations that are not typical. These non-typical situations will require us, if trained appropriately, to make the best possible decision for the best possible outcome. The mantra of always use two hands to pass and catch the ball with thumbs turned down may not work or be appropriate in a certain situation because the desired outcome is not going to be achieved.

The same can be said in the fire service. In recent weeks a Philadelphia firefighter made a heroic save and was faced with a decision to give the fire victim his air. There has been a great debate over the actions. I was recently asked by Eric Rhoden on his and Ray McCormack’s radio show what I thought about the incident and the reaction that followed. What came to me was a baseball situation.

We teach our kids to get square to the ball, get our glove to the ground, field the ball in the middle of our body/stance and to turn toward our target and so on. You get the point. But that doesn’t always get the out. Sometimes the fielder has to dive for the ball, getting dirty and bruised and maybe tossing the ball behind his back to get the out. Is there less margin for error? Yes. Is it taught that way? Not usually. Is it effective in certain situations? Absolutely!

There is one important variable however. You must be highly skilled and practice daily to make plays like that. You can’t just walk out onto the field and expect to perform at that level. I don’t know the firefighter in Philly that made the save, but my guess is that he is very competent with his SCBA and has mastered the basic skills surrounding his air supply. I would also guess that he is one that takes his craft very seriously and wants to perform at a high level for incidents just like the one he performed so heroically for.

I always teach that in the fire service there are no “always” and no ” nevers” because right when you think you have every situation covered, a call comes along that you never thought about. Ask yourself every day when you walk onto that engine bay floor, “Am I ready for the worst call of my career?” The conclusion I always come to is “No.” But, I train, drill or engage myself into the fire service every chance I get, just in case that call or situation comes along that requires something a little extra of me. Hopefully I will be ready to dive for that ball to make the play.

Finally, thanks to Ray and Erich for having me on and thanks again to Fire Engineering and everyone on the site, you all keep me engaged and excited about the fire service. Take care and stay cool during this hot summer. Be ready to dive for that ball.

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Jason Hoevelmann

Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with the Sullivan Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career firefighter/paramedic with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County.

FE Talk: Humpday Hangout

Bertie Shiver Johnson
Cleveland School Fire of 1923
I have read this story over and over. I do genealogy and think I have some relatives..doing more research. Thanks for putting this out there.
2015-09-29 21:40:23
Jim lang
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Direct result of lowering the Standards also and giving everyone a chance! The Job is no longer a calling it's just a Job to many these days! No more Pride Tradition Brotherhood etc etc....
2015-09-20 18:21:25
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Saya setuju dengan pendapat dan pengalaman anda. Pekerjan rutin seorang petugas pemadam kebakaran adalah berlatih dan terus berlatih. Dan apabila di antara teman petugas pemadam kebakaran disini yang mempunyai materi latihan boleh kah saya meminta materi latihan pemadam kebakaran itu ? Salam kenal dari saya Petugas pemadam kebakaran bandara kualanamu international Medan Sumatera Utara Indonesia.
2015-09-20 17:13:40
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Two years ago I was being trained and tested on required performance. I was able to do all but a duties. I attended every training session, asked questions and researched matters related to fire fighting. I couldn't drag another fire fighter and I had trouble "throwing" a ladder from ground to roof. I was released…
2015-09-20 16:35:03
How Dare You!-We Can No Longer Tolerate Incompetence!
Excellent article, after 30 years on the job I agree. What has always bothered me was why do firefighters too often find themselves in trouble? Why are we on an ice covered roof when we could more easily and safely removed glass from the second story. Why open up a confined space of decades dried…
2015-09-20 14:10:34

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