Experience is becoming more difficult to obtain as fire incidents decrease. Researchers working with the Navy, however, may have uncovered a way to teach experience (or at least better decision making). The research, called Tactical Decision Making Under Stress (TADMUS), sought to identify weaknesses in the decision environment and to develop training programs that combat those weaknesses. The Navy commissioned the research in response to the failures in decision-making that led to the shoot-down of a commercial airliner and an attack on a U.S. ship. The outcome of the research was a book that outlined the training implications.
A few observations from the book are relevant to the fire service:
- Focus on the learning process during training, not on the final outcome
- Focusing on performance and perfection prohibit deeper comprehension of the material
- Informing students about stress before they experience it lessens its affects during training and incidents, thereby relieving their cognitive load when it is most needed
The researchers successfully used these key points to improve the decision making ability of their students in a very specific Navy training program. Yet each of these principles is applicable to fire service training as well.
Take for instance the first point regarding the learning process. Certification requirements can inadvertently focus training time on the perfection of practical skills. While this approach may verify that the firefighter can repeat a skill, it does little to ensure the firefighter meets the learning objective. What happens when the student must perform the skills under different circumstances than in training? They fail because they do not possess the requisite understanding necessary to synthesize the information for new situations. The focus of their instruction was rote repetition, not learning. Students must be given adequate time to focus on comprehension before focusing on skill mastery. By understanding the information, firefighters are able to apply their learning to real life situations and make better decisions.
The research also identifies boundaries for the use of extreme training as an instructional method. Fire instructors who use extreme training (intense live burn fires, etc) do so in hopes of preparing the students for the stress of the real world. While well intentioned, employing stress without preparation can be detrimental. Students perform better when they have a clear understanding of potential stressors and know when to expect them. Being prepared for the stress reduces its debilitating effects on decision-making.
Thanks to Navy research, we now have valuable insight that will aid in better preparing our firefighters. Incorporating this research into our training programs will deepen our student’s understanding and lead to better decisions. While it’s not exactly teaching experience, isn’t that the ultimate goal of gaining experience?