Blog by Brian Ward
Officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia

One of the most essential things we do as firefighters is Train for Adaptation. This helps us be ready for any situation.

Keep in mind, firefighters never really encounter identical incidents. Its true some have similarities, but each has its own unique twist. Thats why its critical we are capable of adapting spontaneously when a new challenge presents itself.

I recently spent several days with Chief David Rhodes of the Atlanta Fire Department during the Georgia Smoke Divers Course, which is based on a few items I believe are pertinent to any firefighter wishing to survive. The first item is paying attention to details. If we neglect the details, we can find ourselves in serious trouble.

As the accident triangle shows, small acts of omission today turn into major injuries and fatalities tomorrow. Examples of these small things include inspecting your turnout gear and SCBA and ensuring your tools are safe. As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

Once on scene, paying attention to details will give you clues where the fire is or may be going. In addition, looking for details should be applied to all incidents regardless of nature.

The second item heavily covered was the topic of knowing your own limitations and your equipments limitations. Do you know the length of time you can perform a strenuous level of work in gear and breathing air? Could this dictate your decisions on scene? Absolutely.

Ask yourself, if I was trapped inside a structure, would I give up because I am tired or would I dig as deep as I could to self extricate? One might argue they’d never give up when it’s concerning life or death, but how many people die 5 feet from the door trying to get out?

So, how do you truly know what you are capable of? Have you ever prepared for this type of mental and physical test? The greatness of this type of training is testing your limitations and not just hoping you can rise to the occasion.

All of the training that took place during the courses six days was based on the concept of Training for Adaptation. The first two items discussed, were meant to build a foundation. The third item was making decisions in different training scenarios. Hands on training with heat, fire, smoke and chaos impacting decisions.

The major factor for me was answering the question, can I do it when I’m mentally and physically exhausted? The training scenarios were beyond any training program I’d ever attended.

It’s important to remember when training, you need to train for what you are going to face. Do not allow yourself to become complacent with your skills. Practice picking out details by conducting simulations and pay attention to the minute nuances of a building. Inspect your gear, tools, and equipment on a daily basis. Discuss this with your crew. Once your gear is inspected, drill wearing all of your gear. And know your limitations.

One of the training items at my station is based around gear acclimation and simply developing a tolerance for the change in temperature from winter to summer. There is an absolute noticeable difference when a firefighter is acclimated to an environment. It’s important to know how your body works.

Try to practice drills that require you to think about how you would mitigate a situation. If you practice extricating a down firefighter, change the location and situation each time. It will require you to think. As with any training, critique afterward on how to perform more efficiently next time.

About the Author
Brian Ward is an engineer/acting officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia. He is a past training officer, chairman of the Metro Atlanta Training Officers and currently serves on the Honeywell Advisory Council. He is a State of Georgia Advocate for “Everyone Goes Home” and the Membership Task Force Co-Chair and Live Fire Instructor for ISFSI. Brian was recently awarded the National Seal of Excellence from the NFFF/EGH.

Ward has an associates degree in fire science and a Fire Safety and Technology Engineering Bachelors Degree from the University of Cincinnati. He is the founder of the website, FireServiceSLT.com and Georgia Smoke Diver #741.