Jack of All Trades, Master of None

The fire service (and society for that matter) has been making a shift away from the trades towards education. At one time, many of those entering the fire service came from the trades having spent many years working with their hands, using power tools, and building things. Many of those continued with side businesses once on the job. This set of skills is particularly useful when those high-risk, low-frequency events happen that required a specific mechanical aptitude or utilizing tools for purposes other than the traditional fire service applications. Today, we are seeing more and more college graduates entering the fire service and fewer people from the trades.

It’s a sign of the times as we require more formal education, particularly with the increasing recruitment of paramedics. A paramedic license is viewed mainly as the ticket to a job in today’s fire service, therefore, many seek this education over life experiences. Once graduating from paramedic school, the entry-level jobs and side jobs are plentiful, decently paying, and NOT manual labor. Since I hold several pieces of paper suitable for framing myself, I am certainly not bad mouthing the educational component. I also enjoy working with my hands, constructing and destructing things. While it has a certain appeal to me off the job, it also contributes to my knowledge and abilities on the job. I understand building construction because I have built buildings. I know how to use power tools because I use them frequently. This is becoming increasingly uncommon in today’s fire service.

We do a great job training our firefighters to perform fire ground operations. Training props are becoming more and more realistic. We are forcing doors in zero visibility. Cutting roofs on a variety of pitches. We are creating real time, real life training scenarios. This is great for our low risk, high-frequency events. What are we doing to prepare our firefighters to utilize their tools for the “out of the box” situations.

When I was a baby in the fire service (about four months old), I responded to a snow machine accident with impalement. Upon arrival, we found a conscious male patient that had been impaled with a 4-inch diameter log through the chest/abdomen. The patient was in the middle of the log, leaving six feet on either side. The only option for transport was to use a chainsaw to cut the log as close as possible to the patient while someone stabilized it. To this day, I have never trained on this operation. Fortunately, I was with a former lumberjack who was well-versed with a chainsaw.

A while later in my career, I was dispatched to a male party stuck in a dragline with no additional information. Upon arrival, I found a conscious adult male patient who was unloading a dragline from a trailer. When the back of the dragline fell off the trailer, it caused the boom to swing back catching his arm between the cable spool and the boom. Initially, we attempted to lift the boom with the Hurst spreaders. It didn’t appear to do anything (until we released the tool causing a scream). In the end, a metal worker on the crew used a torch to cut the boom, releasing the leverage, and allowing us to lift the boom to free his arm.

There is no way to predict the situations we will encounter on this job. We can, however, develop comfort with our tools in unique situations. Last fall, I was invited to teach a Truck Company Ops class with some of my mentors. As an Engine guy, this was a step backwards, but hey, I don’t hold that against them. They gave me two circular saws, a pile of blades, and free reign to destroy anything that wasn’t nailed down. I saw this as an easy task, I mean, you can entertain truckies with a box of crayons and two widgets for a week. I found several wooden 4×4’s, some steel I-beams, a bolt head prop, steel grader blades, and a rebar prop. From there, my goal was to run the saws as long and as hard as possible in the amount of time we had, placing the students in unique situations. We used the 4×4’s to cut coasters and had them compete to see which team could create the shortest stack of 10 full coasters (the thinnest cuts possible). We cut steel I-beams from a ladder. We cut the rebar prop on our backs and above our heads. While the result was not task-specific, the students overwhelmingly agreed they had run the saws more that day then most had combined in their careers. They also overwhelmingly indicated they were much more comfortable with the saws following these evolutions. While I didn’t specifically train them to cut a vent hole, I’d wager they improved in that arena too.

The next time you are considering training for the guys, spice things up and make it awkward. They will appreciate it.wager they improved in that arena too.

The next time you are considering training for the guys, spice things up and make it awkward. They will appreciate it.

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.