Monday, October 1, 2012

Tactical Mastery

What makes an "elite" firefighter? Well elite firefighters have invested a tremendous amount of time mastering his or her skill set through thousands of hours of training and experiences. Now looking at experience alone, the elite firefighter has been provided opportunities to succeed from other people who invested time in said development. The author Malcomb Gladwell wrote in his book "Outliers" that "People do not rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot." If we were to overlay Gladwell's quote to the fire service, firefighters in reality are molded or influenced by the people for which they work for. Each of us one way or another are a reflection of our cultural upbringing. Some of those "opportunities" Gladwell speaks of in the fire service would be the instructors and officers who trained and provided the very first exposure to the brotherhood.
Tactical Mastery and the 10,000 hour rule - Physcologists have studied many elite people from different professions to see how much time was invested to master their chosen skill set. Many have concluded that investing 10,000 hours takes the average to the elite. One of these studies conducted by K. Anders Ericsson looked at violinists and divided them into three classifications. These three categories were "Stars", "Good", and just "Average" players. The third category was noted to most likely never play the violin professionally and would probably become music teachers. The study revealed that stars... "the elite musicians" had invested 10,000 hours during their career development. The good players were in the 6,000-8,000 hour range, they played well and with a high level of confidence and the latter was in the 2,000 hour range. Now if we were to look at one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, The Beatles had a unique development back story. You see John Lennon and Paul McCartney started playing together in 1957, this was (7) years prior to the Beatles invasion of the United States.
Up until 1960 The Beatles were just a struggling high school band that was mediocre at best. But in 1960, they were afforded an opportunity by chance to travel to Hamburg, Germany to play regularly. These Hamburg, Germany gigs were (7) nights a week and the performances were (8) hours per night. Prior to their success in the United States, The Beatles had polished there live act an estimated 1,200 times. That developmental time was a critical component to their mastery. Even today, many bands will never play twelve hundred times in their entire career. Adding up "The Beatles" investment in mastering their act, it totaled around 10,000 hours. By the time they landed in the United States, they had been together for over (8) years and took the music scene by storm.
The fire service has many different levels of fire service delivery. We can see on the internet many exceptional videos but along with good comes many that are lacking quality. Many service delivery levels are decided by the Fire Chief, but looking internally, we can see different levels of service delivery within our own personnel. There can be three categories of firefighters within the fire service similar to what Ericsson concluded. Many times, I hear the standard internet forum arguement, that we are all trained the same. I will agree on paper that we truly are trained the same if we all attended a nationally accredited program. But looking deeper into the statement, why do many fire department's have a few, elite, "go-to-firefighters or fire officers"? And in the same scan of the fireground, you can find some firefighters who are just sliding by as well? Alot can be attributed to a personal desire to provide the best service possible, but in a side by side comparison of equally trained brothers, it can also be the committment towards mastering the job. This mastery takes an enormous amount of time and often can be related to the 10,000 hour rule. Firefighters who take the fire service seriously, regardless if they are paid, paid-on-call, or volunteer, the one's who treat everyday as a training day, the brother or sister who is always following the latest training materials, techniques or scientific studies are investing in their own mastery. I often tell my students to "Invest in your mind and become a student of the fire service for life". Another motivational phrase I use is "Be a master of your domain". You see when I was a younger firefighter, I will admit I had low self esteem and lacked confidence in my fire service skill set. I believe to this day, that many new recruits have the same concerns. That being said, having a solid foundation of basic skill sets combined with field experience starts to provide personal character growth. While the firefighter gains confidence in his or her abilities, he or she is ultimately building self esteem. As a student for life, your committment toward obtaining mastery is important toward self preservation. Firefighters who feel they know everything about the job, are a danger to themselves and others. This mentality will eventually catch the complacent firefighter off guard and undertrained. To achieve mastery we must be a student for life.
Alot of people ask me why I choose to teach while off duty. My answer to them is while training others, I am constantly practicing my basic and advanced skill sets which ultimately make me a better firefighter. I like to tell firefighters that "time on the bottle" is critical. I am not talking about the beverage type either, "the bottle" being my SCBA. You see the more that I wear my self contained breathing apparatus, the more comfortable I become with the unit, it's capabilities, the limitations and ultimately the environment for which I am expected to work in. Now I understand not everybody has the opportunity to be exposed to 300-400 hours of training annually. But if you are training to the bare minimum, like 2 hours per month which category are you naturally going to fall into? If and when you do obtain the 10,000 hour rule within the fire service, those experiences will provide you with a high level of confidence. Like I said earlier, many will achieve this later in their career. It all depends on the time available to commit to training, response and daily exposures to the job in general. One thing that is fact, is all of these experiences will better align the firefighter to become an officer. There is a clear reason why some promotional candidates present with a high level of confidence. Command presence is all about having the right amount of tools in your toolbox, the knowledge of how those tools work (training) and the field experiences that all equate towards tactical mastery.