By Ty Wheeler
The fire service is a profession that is quickly expanding. Our profession has evolved over the past several decades. We have transformed from blue-collar firefighters trained to put out fires to firefighters with advanced knowledge in physics, chemistry, and much more. But we still hold true to many of our traditions.
The demands of our profession are rapidly growing, as is evident by the increasing size of our apparatus, which are meant to carry everything including the kitchen sink. Firefighting, EMS, hazardous material, and technical rescue are some of the threats we encounter every day. This does not include other assigned tasks such as fire inspections, preplans, and administrative duties.
With the increasing demands of the American fire service, we sometimes lose focus on our purpose and the risk we face daily. How do we ensure we are up to the arduous task of training and educating ourselves to be prepared when called on? To be successful and reduce our chances for injuries and death, we need to become students of the profession.
Becoming an Expert
The fire service savant is a person who dedicates his time, energy, and heart to the job; he learns at every opportunity to ensure he doesn’t become another statistic. This person is someone who goes above and beyond the normal training requirements, giving up personal time with family or hobbies, to attend class. He strives to be better than the day prior, knowing that tomorrow he will be better than today.
Society has put a numerical number of 10,000 hours of training or education as a benchmark for someone to be called an “expert.” A savant is just that: He is an expert in the field of firefighting—from basic firefighter skills to advanced strategies and tactics.
There are three major categories that every firefighter needs to be well versed in to be successful. Whether a chief of the department or a recruit, we can all push ourselves to learn something new each day. This can be listening to a podcast of new strategies and tactics or reading a book on firefighting, leadership, and self-improvement.
To be a savant of the fire service, you also need to be self-aware. Being a better person and developing your weaknesses will serve you later in your career and life.
How to Become a Fire Service Savant
1. Know the basics. Every firefighter attends Firefighter 1 and 2 class to become certified as a firefighter. These classes stress the basics for several weeks to set a knowledge base to build from. If the firefighters do not understand the basics, they shouldn’t be training in advanced material. Most of the incidents we respond to will require more basic skills than advanced. Just as with EMS, many skills a paramedic performs are skills learned as an EMT. You cannot be a good paramedic with poor EMT skills, just as you cannot be a good officer with poor firefighting skills. The basics will be the determining factor for success or failure while on the fireground.
2. Train. The adage, “you can never train too much for a job that can kill you,” is as true today as the day it was said. We need to understand the environments we are facing and how to successfully mitigate those hazards to send everyone home.
My personal goal each shift is to train at least three hours per day. This can include physical fitness training, researching strategies and tactics, or getting out on the training ground. For department training, I always suggest trying to double the required training hours set by administration. It is a way to ensure we are not becoming complacent by just doing the minimum. I always strive to go above and beyond to ensure success.
3. Learn. From the moment you step into the fire service until the day you leave, you need to spend your time learning something new about the job. Picking up books, getting your degree, and attending classes are all opportunities for growth and professional development. The savant not only reads new material but reads to understand. Researching is critical to become a savant. To be told something should be taken with a grain of salt; you must do your own research and draw your own conclusion.
I am a supporter of degrees for our personnel, even more so for those who want to be promoted. Not everyone needs to end their career with a PhD, but I firmly believe we need to hold ourselves to a high standard and a higher level of professionalism. Getting a degree is a great way to understand the basic concepts of writing, speaking, mathematics, and life skills; these skills will serve you well throughout your career.
4. Find the motivation. Being a savant is to find your “why?” For someone to be dedicated, he must have a motivating factor to push him to always improve himself. Why do you do the job? Why do you train so often? These are some of the questions you need to be able to answer to find your motivation. In the book Start With Why, Simon Sinek concludes, “When we can answer our Why, we can then answer the How, and What.” All actions need to start with this basic question of “Why.”
This profession can have ups and downs, but to become a savant we need to stay diligent in our training, education, and knowledge. Finding your why will lead you on the right path for success.
5. Be a leader. The criteria to become a savant can be summed up here: BE A LEADER, and be dedicated to learning. Knowing your job and doing your job correctly set the example for everyone around you and will become contagious. Learning and including those around you will elevate the knowledge, skills, and ability of everyone.
Set the example from the moment you walk in the door. Check your self-contained breathing apparatus, do your daily apparatus checks, and find opportunities to learn and teach. To be a good leader, you must first be a good firefighter. Then, once you have become a leader within your department, you can become a savant of the fire service through your dedication to the job.
Above and Beyond
The fire service savant prepares himself daily for the situations that may arise while in the firehouse or on the fireground.
Staying proficient in our basic skills and pushing our knowledge further, we can prepare ourselves for the stresses of the job.
Savants never become complacent with the basics of the job, always finding opportunities to learn and push their skills to a new level. The savant leads by example in all aspects of the job, from personal to company level training.