Training Accidents – Discipline or Machismo

As I wrote around this time last year, “Avoiding Training Accidents, It’s All About Discipline”  it seems the number of training-related accidents continues to plague public safety. If (as I perceive it) training has become more dangerous than in the past, then the big question is why? Were prior accidents unreported or under-reported? Given the 24/7 news cycle and increased reliance on social media, are accidents (even minor ones) taking on more scrutiny?

A quick Google search for police and firefighter training accidents over the past twelve months yields many training accidents. Unfortunately most seem to occur during weapons training for police and high raise training for firefighters.  

As in the past  training-related injuries and deaths due to underlying health issues such as heart conditions are nonetheless tragic, accidents and death as a result of training activities continue to occur. The links below lead to very recent training related accidents over the past twelve months.

Examples of Training Related Accidents From the Past Twelve Months

The Badge of Machismo

Clearly, many training-related accidents can be attributed to a lack of discipline. This breakdown in discipline can take place at the instructor level, at the student level, or at both levels. It’s important to understand how and why those breakdowns occur. A colleague recently told me that, in his opinion, there are too many cases of “television/movie” inspired instructors. What he meant by that phrase is that the instructors believe “faster is better, stronger is superior, and toughness is admired.” This attitude (and lack of discipline) can result in a convoluted badge of machismo to be the best – at the cost of safety. Another theory is that instructors are working and training in a new era; due to budget cuts, and due to the need to get a backlog of recruits trained and out on the street, they are simply moving too fast. It’s possible that instructors are somehow encouraged to cut corners to reduce costs or get the job done more quickly. In either case, the attitude of safety is undermined, creating an environment where an accident is more likely to occur.

Adult Learners and Public Safety

Adult learners are different. They are characterized by maturity, self-confidence, autonomy, and are generally more practical, multi-tasking, purposeful, self-directed, experienced, and less open-minded and receptive to change.

In order to understand how adult learners relate to learning . In particular, it’s important to understand how first responders learn and assimilate information.[1][2]

    • Public safety workers are dynamic assimilators: They learn best when allowed to actively participate, practice and repeat codified sequences of behavior, as opposed to strict book learning. They are hands-on learners.
    • Public safety workers are communication-oriented learners: 1) Public safety work requires instant knowledge transmission and reception; 2) The culture of public safety is that of a large family.
    • Public safety workers are “prioritizers:” They focus their attention upon self survival, search, rescue and safety of incident victims, and then the protection of properties.
    • Public safety workers are follower/leaders: They respond to authority and expertise of their superiors and those who have lived the skills they wish to learn. Through this they gain confidence and leadership skills.
    • Public safety workers learn from peers better than unknown teachers: They view their co-workers as equals. They are “brothers and sisters,” not fellow employees. Therefore, to be most effective, the instructors must also be public safety workers who have been “in the trenches.”
    • Public safety workers are mindful of learning conscientiously: They view their education as important to themselves and the survival of the communities they serve.
    • Public safety workers prefer actual scenarios to abstract training: As hands-on learners, they don’t respond well to theory or hypothetical example. As dynamic learners, they respond best to actual critical incident scenarios. Public safety workers thrive on real life situations. They live for the “adrenaline rush” of being on a scene and responding to a crisis. So, the training must somehow re-create incident scenes to be effective.

Creating and maintaining a training environment that supports these concepts will also help support discipline among both instructor and student.

One of the most important aspects of the learning process is the opportunity for a new recruit (or seasoned veteran) to apply a newly-learned skill or to reinforce old ones. This is not to say that experience isn’t a great teacher – but learning through repetitive practice allows students (recruit or veteran) to develop their cognitive skills to an autonomous level through repeated rehearsal. Having spoken to many police and firefighters, there’s always a recurring theme: “When stress, adrenaline, or disorientation occurred, I fell back on the lessons learned in training; in other words my training kicked in.” In the service of public safety, “On The Job Training” (OTJ) is not acceptable without mastery of job task fundamentals.

Last year in the article “Avoiding Training Accidents, It’s All About Discipline” I quoted two of the great coaches and disciplinarian’s Vince Lombardi and John Wooden

  • Vince Lombardi –“Excellence is Achieved in the Mastery of Fundamentals.” 
  • John Wooden – “You discipline those under your supervision to correct, to help, to improve — not to punish.”
Training Discipline Lombardi Wooden

Training Discipline: Lombardi and Wooden

[1] Bullets are from the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/OEMS/Files_page/symposium/2010Presentations/OPE-921.pdf


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About Bill Booth

Authority on Strategic Business Planning For Public Safety, Police and Fire Training Centers. President of the Interact Business Group www.interactbusinessgroup.com and Managing Editor at www.respondergateway.net
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