In talking to firefighters from across the country, I’ve run into stories of company officers who chastise or even formally discipline their firefighters for setting up drills on their own in the firehouse. Even worse, sometimes it is the senior firefighter being reprimanded for drilling with the junior member of the company. As someone who often spends time getting reps on my own, this is frustrating to hear.
If you are an officer who is guilty of this, take a second to call yourself into your office and give yourself a write up. If you forbid firefighters from masking up, throwing ladders, or stretching lines on their own because setting up training isn’t their job; you are doing nothing, but hindering the progress of your team, demoralizing them, and ruining any initiative they have to better themselves. It is a sign of weak leadership ability and you shouldn’t be surprised when your team starts to fall apart and perform poorly.
It takes hundreds of repetitions of a single skill to become proficient and reach a level of autonomy (which allows for performance under stress). It takes thousands of repetitions to reach mastery.
If your personnel want to take the time to get those reps when they have a spare moment in quarters, encourage it. Even better if the drill started as your senior firefighter grabbing the junior member off the couch to get after it. A senior member willing to motivate the junior members without your direction will go a long way in strengthening your team and take some of the load of leadership off your shoulders. The easiest team to lead is a team who motivates themselves.
Embrace the “lone wolf” putting in work on the bay floor. Encourage them, or better yet, join in. Let them lead the rest of the company through the skill. Junior members aren’t junior members forever. The earlier you give them leadership experience, the better they will serve you as a senior firefighter, and eventually company officer, down the road.
Disclaimer: For junior members, this goes for drilling on skills that you have already developed a baseline understanding of through formal training with an instructor or your officer. If you have less than five years on the job and you run across a video or article with a skill you want to try, it’s a good idea to vet it with your officer or senior firefighter first. They can make sure that it is relevant to your local operations and watch your initial performance to coach you through learning the skill for the first time. Also, it may be something new to them and the entire company or department could benefit from learning it.