Are We Honest Enough?

One of the most challenging aspects of being an officer, leader or instructor is providing honest feedback to our crews. It sounds simplistic and most will say in response to reading that, “I am.” Well, as easy as it sounds, skimming over the “bad” stuff is easier to do because we are Brothers and Sisters and we hang out off duty or whatever.

We’re going to address this problem specifically as it relates to the training ground.

We try to involve our company officers in most all drills. The idea is that the company officer will be directing their crews on the emergency scene, making critical, real-time decisions and we want them to use drills and exercises to practice and refine those skills.

Recently we drilled on a new operational guideline that included some new equipment. We provided a video showing and explaining the new guideline and discussed the new operational guideline. The company officers were supposed to sit with their crews to watch the video, discuss the guideline then go out and get familiar with the equipment that would be used during the training evolution.

Some officers are more driven than others and some think they already know everything, and as you might guess, change is not embraced by everyone.

Ours has not always been an environment where honest, constructive feedback was accepted. Like many departments, we got by and used tactics that were taught 20-30 years old, they worked back then so why change them now?

This new guideline addressed a low frequency/high risk event and is something we haven’t historically trained on in the past. The simple fact that we were making this drill as realistic as possible was already causing some grumbling and not everyone was in favor of the new equipment and tactics associated with the new guideline.

I knew we were going to have deficiencies, after all, we want to find them during drills and training as compared to when the real thing happens.

The first two days we had to make some corrections, as was expected, and in one case the attack line had to be redeployed to make sure it was done correctly. There was constructive advise and recommendations made and good questions as to “why” we were making some of the changes. It was a positive learning experience and each person understood the correct way to operate under that guideline with the new equipment at the end of the day.

The third day was not as positive. It became apparent that one company officer spent no time with the video or his crew in preparing of the drill. This particular day I was involved in the drill and a chief officer was running the exercise.

During the drill many deficiencies were noted by assistant instructors and the guideline was not adhered to. When the drill ended, one small deficiency was noted, but everyone was told they had done a good job. Not good. I only found out about the larger, very significant problem later that day as input from the assistant instructors started debriefing me on the events.

We had to pull the deficient company officer in and explain what he did wrong and why. Since there was not an honest evaluation of the drill, he was under the impression that he did okay. This creates huge problems with credibility and trust between the trainer, officer and/or leader and crews or students.

It all worked out in the end. If we are not honest about performance and allow our firefighters and officers to believe that deficient behaviors and performances are acceptable, we are training them to fail. We must provide honest feedback, even when it’s not the popular thing to do or there is push back.

In all aspects of training, I see this regularly in the classroom and on the drill ground. When a task or skill is performed wrong or not to an optimum level, it must be addressed with respect to why and the importance of doing it right the way. However, when addressing these issues, it should be done in a constructive way as not to degrade or minimize that firefighter or officer.

Whether your in the engine house, on the fire ground or on the drilling ground, we have to be honest about our performance. Even though this can cause friction with some, it builds trust among your team because they know that your intentions are to make the team better. Don’t fail your people by letting things go, make them do it right before they leave the training ground and go back to the engine house on a positive note.

Thanks for reading and train hard. I appreciate everything that each one of you do for our fire service.
Jason

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