I’ve Never Witnessed a Textbook Put Out a Fire

I know I’ve heard this statement so many times it’s now nothing more than a cliche in my mind but it is true. I have yet to see a textbook sprout legs and jump on the rig and make a job with me nor have I found an Essentials book in any compartments on the rigs I’ve ridden. So no, a textbook (to my knowledge) has never put out a fire.

Everyone on the job is familiar with “NFPA 1001: Standard for Firefighter Professional Qualifications” (or you probably should be). This standard outlines the essential tasks we must be able to perform in our job as a firefighter. Answer the radio, get on and off the rig safely, perform vertical ventilation, search a building, force a door, etc. The standard outlines the tasks we must complete but doesn’t necessarily dictate how we complete them.

Enter the almighty textbook… As a perpetual student of the fire service I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard the phrase “This is what you have to do to pass the test” which is likely to be followed by the phrase “I’ll teach you how we really do it after you pass the test”. While there are several iterations of those phrases, I’m sure you get the idea. Now the philosophical question, why are there seemingly two standards? Doesn’t the “way we really do it” get the job done? I thought the point of our profession was get the job done safely and effectively. Why wouldn’t that pass the test? I like to believe that the way we operate is not contradictory to the standard.

I have witnessed time and again instructors who are more than capable and competent on the job with vast amounts of experience become seemingly crippled by the idea that we must follow the textbook verbatim to pass the test. For the purposes of this article I am referring to practical skills only, I’ll save my rant about written evaluations for another time.

Here are PowerPoint slides from two common textbooks used to teach the NFPA 1001 curriculum. One source shows the clove hitch as the method used to secure an axe for hoisting while the other shows a figure-eight on a bight (also indicating a clove hitch is acceptable). As a matter of opinion, I find the clove hitch to be an unacceptable knot as shown because the knot becomes side-loaded causing the potential for breaking down and no longer self-tightening. Can a clove hitch be used to hoist an axe, absolutely but in my opinion not in this manner.

I digress, what I am getting at is there is more than one way to skin a cat. A textbook is a reference and should be treated as such. I have many mentors that, in my opinion, carry just as much weight if not more than a textbook, they are my go to references. Collaboratively, the basis of my knowledge is textbooks, journal articles, mentors, other instructors, my students, my classmates, and my own experience (especially when I screw up). As an instructor, this is what I hope to bring to the table. I will not expect my students to rely on a single source for their information just as I will likely never teach from a single source. The standard (NFPA 1001 for our purposes here) outlines what must be done, it is up to us to use our resources to get it done effectively, efficiently and most importantly safely. There shouldn’t be one way to do something to pass a test and another way for “real life”.

About Jon Misewicz 13 Articles
A 17-year student of the fire service, Jon most recently served 8 years with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department as a Firefighter / Paramedic and Instructor. He is completing a Master's Degree in Education. His passion is training that translates knowledge to real world applications.