Time, reps, and a whole lot of sweat.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that for me just going to the firehouse and “doing the job” is not enough. I’d say at bare minimum I want to be competent, but minimum standards are for losers. I want to put in the work to be a “good” fireman one day. Someone that can help pass on everything taught to me, to the next generation. There is only one path to get there. That’s time, reps, and a whole lot of sweat.

There’s only one way to get the time, simply to put in the years with your department. But what better way to put in the reps and sweat than investing yourself in training with humble, and hardworking firefighters. There is absolutely nothing more motivating, clarifying, and just plain invigorating than spending time with other like minded firefighters. Having the opportunity to listen to, train with, and learn from some of the most talented firefighters in the industry is an opportunity I’m not going to pass up if I can help it.

This weekend I was able to fit in a quick trip to New York to the First Due Training Conference. (If you didn’t go, you missed out and should go next year.) It was yet another incredible training experience. I was unable to make the lecture classes due to other commitments, but I heard they were fantastic. I made it for the Tactics on Tap discussion, which was full of hilarious stories, and a HOT class on Truck work on Sunday. The group of instructors for the HOT class was one of, if not the best, I have had. Every one was knowledgeable, and answered every student’s question with tricks they’ve learned from their experiences on the job. They took time to work on techniques based on each individual student, and gave specific suggestions on how to keep improving. They also gave great advice on how to implement the training and props at our home departments. The class was essentially divided into three parts: rotating skill stations, exploring the city and talking ladder placement, and evolutions of working in live fire. If you have the chance to take a class from that group, I recommend it.

I’ve learned a lot from attending trainings and conferences over the last several years, and some of the best stuff I’ve learned has come from simply listening to people talk. If quality training from high caliber instructors isn’t enough reason for you to attend trainings outside of your department, below are a few of the other benefits I have found from them:

    Mentors. I’ve talked a lot about this before, because I think it’s so important to your career, but find yourself some quality mentors. I would without a doubt, not be where I am today without mine. The experience they have is invaluable, and they are the kind of fireman I aspire to be some day. A good mentor is willing to give you their honest opinion on situations, and you need to be willing to take their advice into consideration. If you’re going to request their time, you need to be willing to consider what they’re saying, even if it’s not something you necessarily wanted to hear. You never know who you may meet at a conference that would be willing to mentor you during your career.
    Networking. Now, I don’t mean walking up to every “big name” you see on the FDIC presentations, or Twitter/Facebook and asking for their contact info. I mean finding like minded firefighters from other departments in your area, or even across the country. Firefighters that you would want on your truck with you. It will never cease to fascinate me how different firefighting is across the country, yet departments have many of the same personnel or morale. I’m a firm believer there is something to be learned from everyone. Take the time to ask people questions, and really listen to their answers. Doing this has made a huge difference in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to make some great connections literally across the country, many of these people I would never had met if I hadn’t attended the courses.
    Friendships. Some of my best friends in the industry have come from Twitter and/or various conferences. Find people who won’t sugar coat the truth for you, and who you can count on to help you keep moving forward when it sometimes feels like you’re knee deep in the mud. When I’m annoyed that I didn’t know how to do a skill or in a more efficient way, one friend will say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” …not that it makes me feel better but it is true. Essentially, you didn’t know it, you know now, move on. And if all I’m doing is venting about a problem they’ll also tell me to “quit complaining and fix the problem, and if you can’t fix the problem, then it’s not your problem so quit complaining.” As you can imagine, both of those statements can be infuriating when you’re in the middle of a rant. It’s basically like saying “shut up and keep working, you’ll get there eventually”. As mad as I get in the moment, that is exactly the kind of friend you need, or at least I need. I need someone who knows when to let me vent, but also isn’t afraid to call me out on my crap and keep my head straight when I feel frustrated and lose perspective. These are the people that are going to essentially say, “what the *$%#? are you doing?” If they think you’re getting off track of your goals. These are the people you can call or text at 2am when you get back from a fire to hash out how to make the next one go better. And who are as excited to talk about the job as you are.
    Shattering comfort zones. Traveling to conferences forces you out of your comfort zone. When I first started I was quiet (still am, I prefer to listen), and terrified of looking like an idiot in class. This resulted in not asking many questions, to the point that sometimes I would leave confused, with no one to blame but myself. Now I don’t care, in order to be effective I need the answer, and the only way I’ll get it is to ask. No one wants to look incompetent, but I would much rather ask questions and make mistakes on the training ground or classroom than at a fire. I also force myself to take classes on topics I’m not confident in. This weekend’s truck class being a perfect example. For one reason or another we just don’t do much “truck work” so my skills aren’t where I want them to be in that aspect. Getting out of my comfort zone in the class was a humbling experience, but it showed me exactly what I need to work on. If I only attended classes on skills I do frequently such as fire attack or EMS, I wouldn’t be able to explore where I fit in the industry.

You have no excuse to not want to learn, except laziness. And there are small conferences and trainings popping up across the country making it easier than ever to learn. Over the next 8 months I have at least one training or conference scheduled a month, and I’m fortunate my department is supportive of me wanting to travel and learn. I’ve found this is the best way to keep myself focused and pushing forward. Plus, I just want to listen to firemen tell stories. I’ll be venturing out of state more this next year, and I couldn’t be more excited. Maybe I’ll see you there!

As always, move with a purpose.

Photo cred: Chief Woolery

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