As a person in midlife, I will admit to the occasional bouts of forgetfulness. It’s what happens to those of us who are no longer young. I could not count how many times I’ve walked into a room and forgotten what I was doing or taken a breath in the middle of a sentence and completely lost track of what I was saying, not to mention the name of the person to whom I was going to say it. On the bright side, I do also have brushes with clarity that, with all honesty, make me a little giddy. I’ve still got it!…sometimes.
Thankfully the decisions I make as a housewife don’t require too much critical-thinking. I’ve been doing it so long, I can look into a refrigerator and miraculously put together a meal with little effort. This is something my children could never seem to manage. This was typical:
Child: *Feels hunger. Walks to refrigerator and opens door. “Mom, there’s nothing to eat.”
Me: “I just went shopping. There are lots of things to eat.”
Child: “There are only ingredients.”
I guess I’ve been doing it for so many years and have the skills to problem solve to combine ingredients well enough not to starve to death.
As a firefighter, it’s a different situation. I sometimes feel like that child opening the engine compartments and looking at all of the tools and widgets and just seeing ‘ingredients.’ But this time, it’s not a TV time snack that’s on the line, it could really be someone’s life or home. So how do you get from starving teenager to the Gordon Ramsay of the firefighting world?
First we start with education. Our county offers many classes on a wide variety of topics. We have books, supplemental materials, websites, and videos that are filled with great information. All of these things combined help teach us to do the right thing. But we have to continually be learning and adding to that knowledge base as firefighting challenges evolve with new materials and hazards.
Then we have training and drills. We use simulated real world situations and real equipment to practice to learn to do things right. Most departments do this once a week. We have situations ranging from medical drills to structure fires to hose operations to hazardous materials response. But education and drilling isn’t enough. We need to learn to THINK like a firefighter.
This is where critical-thinking comes in and we can put the right things and doing it right together. I can say with some authority at this point that every firefighters needs to know no less than a gazillion things and be able to problem solve in 0-10 seconds. And this, my friends, is why firefighters are truly superheros. Because things can and do change in seconds and so must our strategies.
Critical-thinking brings the education and training together to bring our response efforts into focus. But these things don’t come naturally to everyone. We have to develop these skills and continually sharpen them. We have to keep learning so we understand the science behind fire behavior, symptoms of a stroke, and how to use the Emergency Response Guidebook. We have to know how to safely free someone from a crashed car, stop a fuel leak, and when and how to ventilate at a fire without making things worse, along with so many other things. And we also need to reason and analyze the situations as they develop and make quick decisions as to how to problem solve for the best outcome.
For me, that means continually cramming new information into my firefighter brain, asking lots of questions, going to drills, and answering as many calls as I can. In my quest for more information I stumbled onto a few websites that have scenarios that give you a situation and you have to decide how to respond. I like this because it helps me think about what I might encounter and what factors are important to consider so that when I do respond to a similar call, I can think through how other scenarios have played out and what tools and resources might possibly be involved. Things like weather conditions, geography, and time of day have a huge influence on response efforts.
Recently I was on a call where a vehicle rolled over on my street. Thankfully, there were no injuries, but despite the appearance of simplicity on the call, from a firefighter’s perspective, there were lots of things in motion. The driver of apparatus 1 parked and had the pump engaged, hose ready to flow water in case of vehicle or grass fire, crash kit unloaded, and medical bag at the patient in under 2 minutes. The Incident Commander assigned tasks quickly to secure the road, examine the patient, disconnect the vehicle battery of the badly damaged vehicle. Lots to think about and our team did a great job in my opinion. The men I was working with were decisive and thinking. I was impressed. This was a relatively simple call. The working parts of a larger incident are things I can’t quite get my head around yet.
As I come away from each call, I take more knowledge and experience with me. I’m lucky to be with a team of men that are supportive and mentor me along the way. Hopefully, with a lot more study and drill, I will be able to help put together the ‘ingredients’ for a successful response.
Stay hydrated and be safe. It’s hot out there!