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Robotic training

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  • Robotic training

    Sorry techies this topic isn't what you think. It's about a current frustration I have with some instructors and some institutions that teach fire training. Robotic repetition of skills with no critical thinking, no real explanation of WHY we do something, just this is what we do. I have seen firefighters with this type of training completely stymied if step B doesn't immediately follow step A, or if an obstacle, or monkey wrench, appears in the process they freeze up. Yes, I understand that robotic repetitions of skills are necessary in order to learn the practical skills we use like throwing ladders, and operating the vent saw, and dragging hose and so on. My issue is suppose we can't do a flat raise, or a beam raise and we need to do a raise where the tip comes under the overhead obstruction and gets pushed up to the wall. Or what if the vent saw doesn't start? Or what if the stairway is impassable? Why aren't we pushing more critical thinking? Why aren't we pushing the idea of Plans A, B and C so we can flex if we need to? Part of this is common sense, part of it is poor instruction by instructors given crappy materials teaching to the test, and part of it may be generational.

    Am I way off here or just expecting too much too soon?
    Crazy, but that's how it goes
    Millions of people living as foes
    Maybe it's not too late
    To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

  • #2
    I think it may depend on the level the students are at. Brand new recruits may need to concentrate on the mechanics of the job as you described. Not to minimize critical thinking but they really have to be able to function as ordered. The person doing the ordering had better have the critical thinking skills down. I believe it is a progression.

    It also may depend on the department involved. Our probies are not expected to think too much. But they are NEVER alone and they are not given complex or critical assignments. Most of our units treat a probie fresh out of the academy as if they know almost nothing with the exception of understanding the terminology and having the ability to get geared up. Their education really starts in their assigned company even though the academy runs a thorough training program for probies. This is a luxury that many departments can't afford. IMO, it is a shortcoming for the fire service. But how can volunteer or combo departments find time to train? How much time can volunteers commit to the fire service without destroying their family life?

    The best instructional school in the country can't really prepare a student to function fully independently and fully effectively on the fire ground. This is because a high level of judgment and interpretation is needed and that can only come with real world experience.

    Comment


    • #3
      captnjak,

      I agree that probies are generally not expected to think much but I am talking about simply not being able to function if the robotic steps are not perfectly executed. That to me is a problem. Firefighting isn't always crawl 20 feet into the building, turn left, crawl 30 feet, check the door, open it, flow water at the ceiling, and then at the base of the fire.

      As far as training goes, the FD where I am AC of Training the full time staff trains 7 days a week, between 1 and 2 hours. The Paid On Call firefighters train 3 or 4 nights a month. 2 on firefighter skills, 1 on driver operator, and any month with 5 Mondays the fifth Monday is EMS skill training. My mantra is make training relevant, make it interesting (hard sometimes with some topics), don't waste people's time, and when we are done, we are done, whether it took an hour or the full 2 hours. Time isn't my measure, quality of the training is.
      Crazy, but that's how it goes
      Millions of people living as foes
      Maybe it's not too late
      To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

      Comment


      • #4
        It's not just firefighting. The school I work in has begun changing the way we teach kids. It's not simply memorizing "facts" anymore. It's more about the why's/how's than what can you remember. Personally, I think it's a better way. Teaching people to think instead of teaching people to repeat.
        "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by FyredUp View Post
          captnjak,

          I agree that probies are generally not expected to think much but I am talking about simply not being able to function if the robotic steps are not perfectly executed. That to me is a problem. Firefighting isn't always crawl 20 feet into the building, turn left, crawl 30 feet, check the door, open it, flow water at the ceiling, and then at the base of the fire.

          As far as training goes, the FD where I am AC of Training the full time staff trains 7 days a week, between 1 and 2 hours. The Paid On Call firefighters train 3 or 4 nights a month. 2 on firefighter skills, 1 on driver operator, and any month with 5 Mondays the fifth Monday is EMS skill training. My mantra is make training relevant, make it interesting (hard sometimes with some topics), don't waste people's time, and when we are done, we are done, whether it took an hour or the full 2 hours. Time isn't my measure, quality of the training is.
          I hear ya. And I have always stressed that knowing why we do things and when to do them (or not) is at least as important as knowing what to do and how to do it. I've probably posted that in the past.

          The adaptability you speak of is obviously a big component for successful firefighters. That part can be a lot harder to teach. Some people just don't have it in them, IMO. But most will incorporate it as they gain experience. Around here we don't get as many guys from the trades or the military as we used to. I think that type is wired better for the fire service.

          Plus the generational thing you already mentioned. People in general seem to be less and less self sufficient these days. Probably because technology has made it too hard to stay on top of things outside a given individual's area of expertise. My father could fix anything that broke at our house. I can fix almost anything that breaks in my house. Younger guys don't seem to have the ability. Not their fault either. The average household appliance has a computer built in these days. Who can repair that?

          Of course, some guys abuse the privilege. I mean swing a hammer or turn a wrench once in a while for God's sake!

          I once had a probie interrupt me while I was teaching a forcible entry class because he didn't know what vice-grips are. I kid you not. He was an accountant before coming on the FD.

          Comment


          • #6
            I should add that there are likely to be fairly rigid lesson plans and policies in place at most fire academies. It is like that for a reason. Mostly because the department (or it's legal liability team) is trying to play it safe when it comes to training. They attempt to take the danger out of training for a dangerous job. Doing this is good for liability but bad for training firefighters to actually BE firefighters. Good instructors will find a way to get around some of that stuff. There are things that must be taught that can not be written down. The old "wink and a nod" style. This is one reason that instructors should not be chosen solely based on test scores or a folder full of certs.

            The department likely knows all of this and probably expects it to some degree. At least that has been my experience.

            Nothing above should be construed as my endorsement of outright unsafe teaching practices. I have seen it and it usually comes from a place of ignorance on the part of the instructor. Or a desire to look tough. Neither of which are desirable traits. And neither of which are likely to be all that helpful to the students.

            Comment


            • #7
              I'd think of it like math. First you learned basic addition and subtraction, and memorized your multiplication tables - the basics, like flat raises and beam raises.

              Later, when it comes time to do some complex math (Plan C), the basics help see you through.

              Much has been made about the "connected generation." As has been noted, some of them don't know which end of a hammer to hang on to...

              Comment


              • #8
                I think everyone needs to know the mechanics and the basics so they can understand when and why vary. If you can't explain what the task/tactic should look like, how do you explain why you varied? That being said, this is an extremely dynamic field that we must understand we will more often than not have more wild cards than absolutes, so we have to understand more to take appropriate actions when the curve ball comes. I have seen some people that function almost totally in an algorithmic manner and they tend to be the least effective in difficult fire or medical calls because their stuck trying to figure out which step comes next. They are the least likely to understand or embrace any RPDM (rapid primed decision making).

                Comment


                • #9
                  I am not at all saying that I expect firefighters to walk out of an academy or cert course and be the end all be all. But I truly believe we do them a disservice if we just create robots that mechanically perform with no idea why.
                  Crazy, but that's how it goes
                  Millions of people living as foes
                  Maybe it's not too late
                  To learn how to love, and forget how to hate

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I think cap jack nailed it pretty well -firefighting is still primarily " working with your hands" -, one of the ways I used to help students understand a concept was to ask what they did for a living (previously or current) and usually could find a "parallel " that would help them understand. I am not too successful when they have previously only been a literature major in college. What makes things even worse is many of the students didn't play in the dirt when they were little.
                    ?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by slackjawedyokel View Post
                      What makes things even worse is many of the students didn't play in the dirt when they were little.
                      All too often, they didn't even go out and play with the neighborhood kids as a group - instead having "play dates." The days of kids heading out after breakfast (and chores), showing up briefly for lunch, then being gone again till supper (to play on their own with friends) are long gone.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I think there are two issues at play here - time to train and lack of fires in which to use the skills. I know both are at play in the combo department that I work for, the combo department that I volunteer for and my volunteer outfit.

                        Problem number one is that we simply do not have the time to train our volunteers on both the basic skills that they need and then place them in scenarios where they have to use the basics to come up with alternative strategies. We are running a FF I and II class right now. We are nearing the end and at 4 months, you can tell that the students have already gotten tired of coming to class and performing practical's. I hate to say it but that is the reality as many of today's kids are used to fast solutions.

                        Problem number 2, and maybe even more importantly, we are running far fewer calls, and especially fires, where we need to think beyond the basic steps and come up with alternative solutions. On all 3 departments, fires are down. Significant car wrecks are down. About the only thing that is on the increase are basic EMS calls. And yes, that is a significant issue in terms of skill development v. skill stagnation.

                        Do I have a solution? No, but when I come up with one, I'll share it here first.
                        Train to fight the fires you fight.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by LaFireEducator View Post
                          On all 3 departments, fires are down.
                          On top of that is the fact the fires are different than they once were. With cardboard and toothpick "lightweight" construction and furniture that's little better than solid gasoline, a ten minute response time to the scene (not unusual in rural areas) may very well leave little to do on arrival but "surround and drown."

                          For a small, rural department that only catches a few fires a year in the first place, that means the opportunities for a given individual to use those interior skills can be next to nil.

                          I don't have a cure, either, and the problem's been around for a while now. Running around starting fires is pretty much frowned upon... ;-)

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I sometimes wonder if sometimes the culture itself isn't to blame. I have worked with lots of different supervisors, from career types to volunteer types. Some leaders wanted robots who would just do what they were told, and some wanted critical thinkers. The guys that wanted thinkers would ask questions, get opinions from the group, draw from other people's experience.

                            The guys that wanted robots wanted something done exactly his way, no room for thought, no room for compromise.

                            There is room for both leadership types, and some situations warrant different approaches, but if a student or probie cant ask questions, why not just make them robots?
                            The fire service is about service to our fellow man.
                            There is a trust that must not be broken and we are the keepers of that trust.
                            Captain Dave LeBlanc

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by FyredUp View Post
                              I am not at all saying that I expect firefighters to walk out of an academy or cert course and be the end all be all. But I truly believe we do them a disservice if we just create robots that mechanically perform with no idea why.
                              You bring up a great point, because as we all know (those of us with experience) that not every fire or call is the same. And robotic training is why you sometimes see a guy walk up to a fully involved structure with a vent fan or a water can. Sometimes tunnel vision is the problem, and sometimes some people are just not capable of outside the box thinking. It's always good to throw in some kinks into a training scenario, and I don't mean just messing with people during training like pulling pranks. That kind of thing is not only non-productive, it can be dangerous. I like the idea of a challenge as well, plus it's just more tools for the toolbox. It's always a given that you have your basic everyday "tools" to use, but sometimes those tools just won't work for a given situation.

                              Comment

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