Sunday, November 6, 2011

On Teaching

Anyone can jump through the hoops required to get any certification pertaining to the fire service.  The same goes with becoming an instructor, it's simply a process of stepping stones from point A to point B.  Once you reach all of the requirements, attend the proper classes, and gain the certification you too can be a bonafide instructor.  What you do from that point is critical.  You can be one of the good ones, or you can phone it in and contribute to the problem.

Once, while teaching a FFI ventilation class, a young lady sheepishly approached me and said, "I'm sorry.  I'm sorry, I've never cranked a saw before.  Please don't be mad at me.  I'm sorry."  I looked at her and was dumbfounded.  What was shocking to me is that she came to me and was apologetic for being unfamiliar with a tool and was afraid to say anything because she'd had a former instructor who had given her hell about being unfamiliar with a tool.  I hadn't even gotten to the portion of the class that deals with: This is a saw...this is how it works...this is how you start the engine...this is the decompression switch...I simply told her, "It's okay.  In fact, sit right here and as we go through the process of how to start it I'm positive that there will be several others who have never done it before but are too afraid to step up and say something."  Needless to say, a small group surrounded us hanging on my every word, because they in fact had never started one as well.  Thank God I was able to let her know that it was my job duty to take her from being unknowing about a tool to proficient in it's use and application.  After a few drills, she was running a chainsaw better than most of her counterparts.

Being a fire service instructor is one of the most difficult, rewarding, demanding, and frustrating things I've ever done.  I'm lucky in the fact that I've had great mentors who have helped me along the way.  We all remember the infectious (in a good way) people that taught us how this business works.  They had a knack for bringing their love for the job into each subject and instilled it into us.  That's the type of instructor I strive to be. We all also remember the people that didn't do such a great job when teaching us.  Maybe they were simply bored with the subject they were presenting.  Maybe they were unaware that even though they had vast knowledge of the subject they had an inability to impart that knowledge to students.  Maybe they had jumped through just enough hoops to be an instructor never taking into account how important and difficult that job is.

Never is there a more rewarding feeling than helping someone learn to perform a task that beforehand they were terrified to complete.  A smile, a thank you, and a grimy handshake are at most times better than any accolade you could ever be given.  Case and point:

The guy in the photo above had never been on a ladder before in his life, and his first trip up it was apparent that he was overcoming a major fear, that fear being falling and smacking his melon on the pavement.  Through repetition a level of comfort was established, and before long he was locking off and leaning back at the tip of a 35' ground ladder.  Shortly after that, he was transitioning into and out of windows from the tip of the ladder, carrying a tool, and smiling like the cat that got the bird.  Times like that make the rain, the cold, and the long hours away from my family worth it.

They deserve our best, because these are the next generation of firefighters that will staff the companies you and I will one day be in charge of.  If you give them low expectations, little patience, and grief when you instruct them, you will contribute to the problem of declining firemanship in this profession.  If you set the bar high and dole out patience by the truckload,  you won't affect every single one, but there will be a few good firemen come out of your courses.

I've got a proclivity towards impatience that was a gift from my dear old Dad, and there are times I've had to step back and look at things from the student's perspective.  There are times they look at you like deer caught in the headlights and you know they just aren't getting it.  Those times are the ones that define what type of instructor you are, and I must admit that when I was new to it I'm sure I didn't meet the challenge like I should have.  Much like any task, instructing is something that I've had to learn to do, refining it over the years and honing my abilities.  Hell, I'm still trying to figure it out.  It's easy for me to understand what must be done to troubleshoot a saw or size-up a building to determine what length ladders I need to throw because I've done my time on the drill ground and learned those lessons.  What I need to understand (and you as well) is that you can't expect someone who has never stretched a line in their life to be great at it from the start.  They might not get it right the 1st, 2nd, or 45th time, but hey, we probably didn't either. 


  1. Proclivity?!?!? Glad I have a dickshio, dichion, word-speller on my desktop! I needed to read this as I'm teaching the next three days. Thanks Jason.

  2. Ne sweat Chris, I've got a habit of hearing a word, learning it's meaning and using it at least once. I got it from watching Judge Judy, where you hear defendants use great ones such as untruthitude!