CTC Firefighting

CTC Firefighting

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Throwing Books at Fire...

As a second generation firefighter, my dad has always instilled in me the old saying "You can't throw books at a fire and expect it to go out."  For my entire life, I grew up believing this hypothesis to be true.  Besides, books are made from paper, which we know is flammable.  So, throwing books on a fire will only increase the fuel load, feeding the fire, and making it grow.  Despite these strong facts, I recently tested this hypothesis, and found that it can be proved false.  If you have a large enough book, the book will displace the oxygen that the fire needs for growth, breaking the fire tetrahedron, and extinguishing the fire.  Now while I know this story is beginning to sound ridiculous, I believe that it has some strong truths are applicable to the fire service today.  As I continue to teach the next generation of firefighters, I'm finding that their response to the importance of cognitive knowledge is no different than those who have gone before them.  They don't see the importance in learning "that book stuff."  Thirty years ago, when you were hired by a fire department, you were given a set of turnout gear (or at least a set of hip boots, coat, and helmet), shown a hose, and told "when that alarm rings, go put the wet stuff on the red stuff."  That was pretty much the extent of your "certification."  Despite the plethora of books and courses offered around the country, this is the way many people still perceive firefighter training.  Now, don't get me wrong, I am a hands on guy.  I want to be the first guy to the nozzle on every fire and I believe that experience is invaluable.  I believe that kinesthetic, or hands on knowledge extinguishes fires.  I believe that regardless of how many burn buildings you go into, you can't replace what is learned when you get the nozzle on your first working job.  Hands on training and experience is important, but so is cognitive "book" knowledge.   Kinesthetic knowledge extinguishes fires, but cognitive knowledge is what will save you and your brother firefighters from getting killed while fighting those fires.  When will you ever need to know that steel elongates when it reaches a temperature above 1000 degrees Fahrenheit?  Long before you ever enter that Type II construction building with the heavy fire load, that's when.  When will you ever need to know that water expands 1,700 times it's size when it becomes steam?  Before you open that nozzle to a wide fog pattern in a well involved room, that's when.  Too often we only care about cognitive knowledge if it's going to be on the test.  Besides, as long as I have my certificate, that's all that matters anyway, right?  That cognitive knowledge is what you're going to rely on when the fire becomes more than routine or that extrication becomes more than just a door pop.  That cognitive knowledge may be what allows you to see your wife and kids in the morning.  So next time you're dozing off in the training room while that PowerPoint is being presented, don't ask yourself the question "will books extinguish fires?"  Ask yourself "How big is your book?"  

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