Hitting the Curveball

Richard Marinucci

 

August days are considered the dog days of summer for Major League Baseball. This is a time when the wear and tear of the long season potentially impact teams’ overall seasons.

 

Teams must remain focused on their goals and push through the challenges presented. Teams and individuals must maintain their skills, remain mentally strong, and adapt to whatever is presented. The teams and players who do this the best are most likely to be successful.

Hitting a pitched ball that can approach 100 miles per hour is one of the most challenging things an athlete will face. Even still, it is commonly accepted that major league hitters will catch up to fastballs, and a steady diet delivered by pitchers will not be enough to gain an advantage over the hitters no matter how fast the fastball is. Pitchers need to have alternatives such as a curveball. The most successful hitters can adjust to the pitches they will see other than the basic fastball.

Fire Service Connection

In the world of rescues, responders go to many routine incidents, but those who are truly on top of their game learn how to adjust to the “curveballs” that are thrown at them. They have the core competencies and abilities to handle the routine and the critical thinking skills to adjust on the fly when things don’t go exactly as planned. Organizations that strive to provide the very best service possible must not only be able to handle the emergencies that go according to plan but also adjust as needed to make sure that any curveballs are not going to derail an operation.

In today’s fire service, there are more resources available to handle rescues than ever before. There are tools and improved training that make it possible to prepare for whatever comes down the pike. Just because the resources are available doesn’t always mean personnel will achieve desired outcomes. Preparation is extremely important, and that preparation must include the possibility that there will be times when the best laid plans don’t go as intended.

Individuals and organizations that are on top of their games have policies in place that provide general guidelines that offer direction and consistency. Unfortunately, it is impossible to anticipate every nuance that could affect an operation. This is not to say that organizations should not develop basic concepts and procedures. They provide a good foundation that they can adjust as particular deviations present themselves. Organizations don’t start without generally accepted standards and practices. They make adjustments based on what occurs in the real world.

Training in core skills to develop a high level of competence is absolutely essential if an organization wants to be considered a top-shelf department. It could also be argued that this competence needs to be almost “unconscious” to the point where the default performance under stress is proper and safe. If members do not need to consciously think about an operation’s basic elements, they can focus on the required problem solving. If firefighters master the basics, then they can take a broader view of the emergency and adapt.

Rescue Challenges

The fire service must address a couple of challenges. First, rescues in almost all disciplines are becoming more complex. Changes in vehicle construction that are designed to protect the occupants if a crash occurs make accessing crash victims more difficult. Changing technology such as hybrids and electric vehicles necessitate continual training-not only in extrication techniques but also in the hazards that present themselves to rescuers.

The tools available to rescuers are plentiful. Some are very specialized while others offer flexibility and versatility. This is good but does not come without challenges to organizations. Some departments have difficulty finding space on vehicles for the various tools. They get creative but must be conscious of the weight of the vehicle. If they use alternate vehicles, then getting the tools to the scene in a timely fashion could be an issue.

Departments should evaluate all the tools they currently use and look into other options. Some departments continue to carry tools that they have not used in a long time and the likelihood that they will use them is slim. Perhaps it is time to prune the stock and look to other equipment that may work better and be used more frequently. This is not always easy to do, as people are creatures of habit, and someone will always raise the question of what will happen if we need that particular tool and don’t have it. Sometimes equipment purchasers have made decisions based on probabilities.

It goes without saying that training is also necessary on the the variety of tools being carried. As organizations increase their cache, they must also increase their preparation to use these products. In keeping with the theme of this article, organizations should also train to adapt to unexpected events. This includes looking for alternative techniques and also learning all the equipment’s various uses. Most tools have multiple functions and can help in many different ways. Practice and experimentation can give personnel exposure to the options available and also create a mindset that allows some level of creativity when operations don’t follow a standard format.

Hit the CurveBalls

To be better prepared for recue scenarios and the possibility that events don’t always occur according to the “book,” departments and firefighters must study as much as they can about this aspect of the job. This means looking at emerging techniques, hazards, and tools. It seems that there are more and more options available. It is not always prudent to jump on the next great thing without investigating how it will affect your operation and how your department will utilize new concepts and ideas. But the pace of change of both the potential hazards and rescue situations presented along with tool and tactics advances challenge all organizations to stay current to be as good as possible.

One of the things that distinguishes good organizations from outstanding ones is the ability to adjust when situations don’t go as planned. These departments are certainly good at the basics but can also look at situations that are a little out of the ordinary and adjust-often in the middle of an operation. The fire service talks all the time about the importance of quick response and how seconds and minutes matter. Being as prepared as possible for not only the routine but also those “curveballs” that show up at the most unexpected times is the sign of a true professional. It also could greatly affect an incident’s outcome and determine whether it is positive or negative.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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