Perishable skills are those skills that depreciate in effectiveness over time if they are not practiced. The fire service is a veritable minefield of perishable skills, some of which, conducted in an inefficient and/or incorrect manner, can have devastating consequences. There are very few “like learning to ride a bike” skills in this business where neglecting them for a period of time still allow them to be performed with a large degree of success when we need them.
The skills in question are not only individual skills, but more often team-based skills, where the outcome depends on the competency of a team of firefighters working in concert with each other to achieve an outcome. Departments that do not reinforce both individual and team-based perishable skills are headed for tactical breakdown. Individual skills such as tying knots, operating aerial equipment, starting and operating a power saw and conducting operations with extrication tools are some of the areas where the disintegration of skill can have severe repercussions in safety and operational completion.
Team-based skills are also perishable, not only due to the corrosion of skill by the individual members, but the loss of coordination of the team as well. Think about a pro football team. All plays are created for success and all players are “the cream of the crop” in the field, but when the timing and efficiency of the team as a cohesive unit is off, the play goes nowhere and the team is unsuccessful. Do you think a fire department is any different and when our plays don’t work due to rustiness, there is more at stake, isn’t there?.
Have you ever watched a fire company raise a ground ladder? Their ability to properly and effectively perform this evolution as a team is quite apparent to anyone watching. This can run the scale from a well-orchestrated, smoothly-run operation to a Three Stooges routine. Hose line stretching, forcible entry, and technical rescue operations are other perishable skill areas that require continuous training and reinforcement of skill. How does your department and its individuals measure up? Are they razor-sharp or rusty? It is up to you as a member of the team and the department to hone your skills and to ensure that your firefighting team is operating at maximum efficiency.
Be safe out there