Instructors as students by Kris Hester

I recently made a personal FB post that was as follows:

“I have never served in a combat zone or been in a firefight, but I know exactly what these guys feel when they hear a brother say ‘I got your 6’. We have the same kind of thing in the fire service, sometimes it’s unspoken, you feel a little tug on the line and you know someone just picked it up you help you advance, don’t even have to turn around, you know they are there.  You would be surprised what you are willing to walk into or stand against when you feel a pat on the shoulder and hear ‘Right behind you, let’s go!’ Feeling blessed today for all of those that have been on a line behind me, those that have led me, and the wide eyed students that have trusted me….brotherhood.”

Mr. Huston asked me to elaborate on this as a soapbox piece, the statement that I made was broad, I could take this in many directions both positive and negative, and so I have chosen to speak of the last part, the “wide eyed students” and brotherhood. 

We all have heard others and ourselves speak of this brotherhood thing, I don’t even want to open that can, but I will crack the lid just a little. Part of my definition of the ‘hood’ is our responsibility to foster the development of the newer brothers, they work with us, they watch our backs, they will replace us, and so we have a duty to leave a better firefighter in our place than we were.  Unfortunately, we don’t always get to dictate what they are taught in the academy or in rookie school, but if they are at your class, it is YOUR duty to provide the best quality and most informative class possible. 

I have been a card carrying instructor for almost a decade now, but I have been providing insufficient training.  It took me taking a 2 week course for a position change recently to understand my own performance.  We had an ‘old school’ instructor, he read the slides word for word, interjected way too many personal war stories, and was an edition or two back on his course material.  I sat in class counting the hours to when I could hit the hotel and read for some real learning.  As I drove away after 2 weeks of hell, I realized that I had been the devil myself.  I too had been giving sub-par training and, reading the slides one after another along with other miss-steps.  As a young firefighter I was given the opportunity, no – the privilege of becoming an instructor and I was so caught up with the ivory tower, high horse attitude that I wasn’t concerned with quality control, and progression of my own abilities as an instructor, thus, I was actually doing harm in hindsight.  These young folks, they trust you to give them the information they need, granted some of them just want what they need to pass the next test, but some of them actually want to learn.  When you slow down, when you take the time to listen, you can spot them.  I found one the other day after doing some live fire training on a propane project. He was having some trouble, took a few minutes to work on it, and got a thank you after the day was done, that is what sparked my previously mentioned comment. 

I have been a firefighter since 1998, and I have an almost 16 year old daughter that doesn’t know me as anything else.  She has shown some interest lately in the craft, and I had the opportunity to get her out on the training field in some gear and had her shadow me while I was being a safety officer and igniter on the live burns.  Since she really wasn’t supposed to be there, I didn’t announce her presence to the other instructors.  During one burn, I looked down to un-kink a hose and one of the instructors saw her standing off to the side with me, thought she was just some lazy student hanging back, and put her on a hose line.  When I looked up I couldn’t find her and thought her mother (who was there) was going to kill me!  I found her and she was fine, and enjoying her new found task.  After that evolution I pulled her aside and made her known to the other instructors, so she could be at my side and not get drafted again.  I was able to explain what was happening with the fire itself, what the crews were doing and why, why they were advancing with straight and fog patterns, why the safety line was there and their responsibility.  As we progressed through the evening, I stood there beaming with pride that my child was interested in what I do, even thinking about following my boot steps possibly, as I thought about this I realized the detail and depth of explanations that I had shown her, that is the right of every student I have ever had. 

 ”Each student deserves the absolute best that you can give.”

For that moment they are in your hands, they are your children.   The vigilance that you would have if your child was on the field, the eye for safety, the absolute attention to every factor, every detail, and what you tell them, this is the attitude you should have with every student.  That, as an instructor is your responsibility, your duty to the brotherhood.  If you would have told me my smart assed teen age daughter would be able to teach me something about firefighting, I would have called you a liar.  Remember to slow down, listen, and watch, we still have plenty to learn brothers.

"My 16 year old daughter Morgan, on the training field with me."

“My 16 year old daughter Morgan, on the training field with me.”

Kris Hester has been a member of the Texas fire service since 1998. He is currently a Captain, training officer, and certification coordinator, a Public Information Officer and an Instructor 1. Kris worked as a Federal firefighter for the National Park Service specializing in Fire Aviation, and several seasons as a firefighter for the Texas Forest Service. He has been a “coordinating assistant” with the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stairclimb for ’11 and 2012. Currently he is working as an ARFF trainee at the Abilene Regional Airport in Abilene, Texas. Kris has contributed to Fire Training Toolbox since 2012.

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One Response to Instructors as students by Kris Hester

  1. Wyatt Oakley says:

    Kris,
    I could not have said this any better. There is a lot of wisdom that we as instructors could pass on if we just take the time to mentor and encourage these young firefighters. Most are eager to learn and our experience and tenure can be effectively passed on, IF we don’t fall into the trap of being one of the “old school” instructors that just read the slide and tell war stories.
    I have one son who is in the fire service and another that is getting ready to enter the fire service. They both took interest early in their lives, and with the mentoring from my fellow fire instructors and myself have grown to love the fire service.
    Thank you for giving me something to chew on about remembering what our job as a fie service instructor is all about.

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