Experienced firefighters are worth their weight in gold. They are the “go-to” guys when a difficult task must be completed and can be a valuable tool in assisting in training younger, less experienced members. The trap that we cannot let these human assets fall into is allowing them to let their experience lead to recklessness. Too often, we have seen veterans fall victim to casualties during routine “firefighter I” type operations because they have done it too many times before and it is now routine. There is no routine in this business. We must never let ourselves fall into this trap because at that point what was an asset now becomes a liability with potentially severe consequences for all of us. We need to recognize when our comfort levels are causing us to drift into failure.
Last fall, we had access to an acquired structure in which to conduct training operations. In addition to search and RIC evolutions, we chose to do vertical ventilation on the slightly sloped roof using the cutter’s edge fire service chain saw. One of the things I noticed was that the firefighters who did not have a lot of experience with the saw were deliberately over-cautious in their actions, moving gingerly on the roof and working the saw. On then other hand, we had some who were very experienced and were very comfortable handing the saw, but that competence caused them to be a bit too cavalier in their actions, failing to brake the saw (stop the blade) between cuts and while moving from one area to the next, cutting with one hand, etc. While they were very good at what they were doing, a slip-up caused by their obvious comfort with a very dangerous piece of equipment could have brought severe consequences.
The moral of this story: Don’t let your competence turn you from an asset to a liability. Always operate with respect for your tools and for the conditions, never allowing complacency to affect your performance.