For some of you it may be hard to believe that I used to be a well behaved, mild-manner young lad. Around 12 or 13…well you get the picture. Having a discussion last week about people and personalities-something hit me, and hit me hard- the following is a ton of bricks.
Remember Paint by Number? A coloring book with a paintbrush and cheap, rock hard paint that had a standard array of colors. Each color was assigned a number and the areas requiring that color was identified by the associated number. I can only speculate that this was to teach young-minds about colors, numbers, shapes, and of course following directions.
Sound familiar? Of course, I am sure you followed those instructions perfectly and every page of that book was a refrigerator masterpiece. My mom mostly likely told me “good job” and maybe even saw some talent in me. Of course, the couple of summers spent attending art classes at the library were also used to help nourish my creativity. However, I can tell you I may have stayed in the lines for the most part, but the colors did not match the numbers. Maybe they wanted the yellow dog to have a blue collar. But I painted the dog black like mine with a red collar. Job was still completed but based upon my conditions.
In the professional field of fire control, suppression, and extinguishment, aka firefighting, we arrive with an array of colors and abilities to stay, for the most part, in the lines. The canvas that we apply our ‘brush strokes’ to is dynamic. To think and act as though we can follow the exact procedure to complete the task in the form of ‘paint by numbers’ we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and ultimately failure. Strict parameters, with tight clearances, taken by exact measurements is…too PAINT BY NUMBERS. Sure, we cannot show up and be abstract artist either, slinging paint, and mud, and…whatever else onto the canvas. We need organization, we cannot color outside the lines all the time.
You certainly have seen the acronym-yelling contest stirring up. Sure acronyms are great. When explaining to those who are needing guidelines (training), and parameters, they set the stage for later successes. However when they, as in the acronym or checklist, make the decisions for you, the chances of missing something increases. Acronyms and Check-box firefighting have a place to some degree but they should not be your PAINT BY NUMBERS.
This rant could continue, I could say that we need to focus on creating critical thinking Firefighters, but you know this. So instead, I am going to unveil something that has been rattling around in my noggin for a while, and is part of my 5 Firefighter Fundamentals Course. Here is a sneak preview….
Firefighters of all ranks should have a broad REPERTOIRE of tasks, tactics, and methods that can be accessed during an incident for mitigating the issues at hand. This reserve of abilities should match expected functions and should be well rehearsed by REPETITION. In contrast, too many options makes it difficult to stay proficient and can cause issues on the fire ground if team continuity does not exist. By having an in-depth repertoire and competency level on commensurate duties, RESPONSE shall be appropriate for all calls of service. Repertoire and Repetition creates Responses that are well rehearsed so that when conditions exist, the Firefighter will be in the ready status.
Many of you have seen these principles before, and some of you reading them I may have learned them in part from you. Nevertheless, doesn’t this “paint a picture” of how Firefighters should be? Plenty of ways to get it done, trained on why, how and when to do it, and ready to respond at any time. So why do we get so upset about acronyms, checklist, cheat sheets, and the like? Understand how your fire department expects you to respond, practice those methods, and be ready for whatever the day, the tour, or the shift brings your way. If you are someone who needs to be told what colors to put where, and has to stay within the lines, maybe the fire ground isn’t for you.