By: Christopher Brennan
What is the Fire Service Warrior Concept (FSWC)? What is the Fire Service Warrior Foundations program?
Our Mission is simple: Forging Fire Service Excellence. That’s why we take classes, struggle in the gym, and sweat on the drill ground. The FSWC is a resource, an opportunity, and a community for firefighters who are prepared to thrive on the fireground so they can protect the lives and property of their neighbors.
The Fire Service Warrior PrescriptionIn 2007 I sat down to begin what became The Combat Position: Achieving Firefighter Readiness. At the time I felt there was a need to look at the fire service with a particular lens, through the prism of what has become known as the Fire Service Warrior Concept. I wrote that book to provide an essential understanding of the unique challenges that confront today’s structural firefighters and broadly outline the means for preparing yourself for those challenges. This handbook expands on that work by offering a more specific program to prepare yourself.
In the ensuing five years I have been part of an amazing group working to define this idea; we have tested, refined, and reevaluated. What is the result of this effort? I believe we have found a prescription for those who want to implement the Fire Service Warrior Concept (FSWC) in their personal and professional lives.
Our stated mission seems to be fairly simple: Forging Fire Service Excellence. This “simple” concept, though, can be very elusive to implement. What is excellence? Why should we be striving for excellence? Why should we be developing ourselves personally and professionally to make the fireground a place where we thrive? Why does any of this matter? These are all valid questions and they are questions each of us should be asking.
Asking, examining, testing, and evaluating ourselves, our methods, and our results are critical to the FSWC. We cannot hope to grow and become whole if we accept the status quo or continue on a path merely because “we’ve always done it this way.” Many things we have done in the fire service reach back to the time of the Vigils in Rome and still have value either as historical tradition or sound operational principal; however, we shouldn’t hesitate to ask on a continual basis if the ideas, beliefs, and practices we hold so dear are still valid.
So, to try and capture most of the likely questions into one for the purpose of framing our discussion, Why should the fireground be a place I thrive? I’m glad you asked!
Thriving on the Fireground
In the context of fighting fire I dislike the term “survival.” While I understand the implication of striving to send our personnel home safe at the end of a shift or response, I feel that the term survival is too passive in the context of firefighting.
“Thrive” can be defined as “to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.” Our goals on the fireground are two-fold: first, we seek to protect the lives and property of our neighbors; second, we seek to return from our duty healthy in both mind and body. It is my contention that when we make it our personal mission to thrive under the challenging and difficult circumstances of the fireground we increase our chances of accomplishing both of our fireground goals, experience greater longevity and wellness, and reduce the risks of our trade to a manageable level.
It should be noted that the fireground isn’t the only environment that will challenge us. Whether we are providing emergency medical treatment to a gravely injured person, working in a toxic work climate, or fighting for residential sprinkler laws we face mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging circumstances. The fireground, however, I believe is the most challenging of these because it is the most dynamic, the most time compressed, and the most physically dangerous environment we are tasked to operate in. The fireground is like the old analogy about Broadway, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
The FSWC is a holistic system. It is meant to bring together the mind, the body, and the spirit in a way that maximizes the individual and his or her capacity to thrive on the fireground. However, before we can synthesize a whole we may find it useful to break down what we are trying to accomplish into principal domains, or subsets. In the FSWC those domains are referred to as FSWMindfulness, FSWFitness, and FSWTraining. This can be thought of as addressing our mind and spirit, our body, and our skills in a focused manner to develop toward our ultimate goal: Forging Fire Service Excellence.
Each of these three domains is critical to realizing the full potential of the individual fire service warrior; a hole in your game in any one area will reduce your effectiveness and efficiency. That said, we will all have strengths and we will all have weaknesses. We borrow a term for our perennial weaknesses from the CrossFit community—we call them “goats.” Our goats are those things that we seem to always struggle with, our weaknesses. As you work through the three domains and use them to integrate the whole FSWC into your life, make sure your focus on your goats. We do not get stronger by working on our strengths; we get stronger by minimizing our weaknesses.
The domain of FSWMindfulness is principally concerned with maximizing our cognitive and emotional capacities. Like it or not a building fire is chemistry and physics in action, and to maximize our situational awareness we must have a working knowledge of these topics if we are going to be able to predict how the fire will develop. Additionally, we must make decisions on the fireground in a timely manner, often without perfect knowledge. This requires a honed capacity at intuitive decision making. The fireground is also filled with many events that are labeled “tragic” by those who witness them; being immersed in the “tragedy” of others can tax us emotionally. The fire service warrior who has maximized his or her FSWMindfulness skills reduces the risk of our trade by minimizing the impact these challenges can have.
Firefighters are occupational athletes; we must use our bodies to accomplish our jobs. Studies into metabolic activity show that, on average, firefighting demands 12 METs (metabolic equivalent tasks) of energy. This is comparable to the level of metabolic activity expended by Navy SEALs on combat dives and professional boxers in the ring. Additionally, we are tasked to lift, carry, chop, and drag—assignments which demand strength, stamina, and high work capacity. We must perform these tasks while wearing personal protective clothing ensembles that add significant weight, reduce mobility, and increase heat stress. The coup de grace is that we must often operate from compromised positions that are anything but ergonomic. Taken in whole, this explains why it is important for fire service warriors to aspire to an elite level of fitness.
Enter our use of the CrossFit model. It is the brain child of Greg Glassman and has become used in fire houses, with law enforcement and military communities around the world. Visit www.CrossFit.com to learn more about this methodology. Full credit for the “named” workouts prescribed in this manual belongs to CrossFit, Inc. The definition of CrossFit is that it is “Constantly varied, functional movements, done at high intensity.”
This is the fireground. We don’t do the same thing twice, we often have to use full-body movements to get the job done, and the intensity level is high because of the high-threat environment we operate in. We are going to have to deal with injuries — ACL/MCL tears, rotator cuff injuries, spinal issues—and a host of other long-term injuries or compromises because we are occupational athletes. You don’t have to accept those limits. You rehab them, and you adapt. Your ACL is done? Work on mobility and do intelligently designed exercise programming to support the knee. If you get called to walk to the top of your tallest high rise (or you go mutual aid), can you get up there, go to work, come out for a ten-minute rehab and do it again? With our programming model we do recommend folks have six months of CrossFit under their belt. There is a lot to learn about how to safely, effectively, and efficiently train your body for these demands. Those six months starts today. The resources are there.
While FSWFitness is only one aspect of our holistic approach to maximizing our capabilities it is the one we can most readily measure and track.
Regardless of your underlying physical or mental capacity, if you do not have the ability to perform the skills of a firefighter you are behind the power curve on the fireground. What are these skills? There are many, but at the core it comes down to four critical areas: SCBA Skills, Hose Management, Forcible Entry, and Ladders. All of the work on the fireground requires execution of one or more of these elements. For the fire service warrior excellence in our skills is measured by our capacity to perform these tasks unassisted on the fireground. Why unassisted? With the challenge of minimal staffing that faces most firefighters we cannot count on being able to have two personnel available to throw a ladder or advance a hose line. While we will not operate inside an IDLH environment without a partner and appropriate back-up, there are many tasks that can be accomplished on the exterior in a coordinated and simultaneous manner if our individual skills are at their peak.
At its essence the prescription to implement the FSWC as a tool for personal and professional growth is to spend time everyday working to maximize your capacity in each of our three principal domains. We offer resources for you to do this in the form of our daily FSWFitness program and a constant stream of articles on the topics of FSWMindfulness and FSWTraining.
To help you implement this program in your life we have created several tools. We run our FSWFundamentals Seminar where you can receive hands on training and coaching, we have published the Fire Service Warrior Foundations Book, a 21-Day program for personal and professional development, we have a YouTube Channel for you to visit, and we run this website.
While the FSWFundamentals Seminar is often our first opportunity to meet and train together as members of the wider FSW community, it isn’t your first opportunity to prepare for what lies ahead. As a firefighter, you bring the knowledge, skills, and abilities you have developed throughout your career. You also bring the ideas, beliefs, and ethics that you hold dear. You must harness the sum total of those personal traits and mold them with focus and with purpose if you hope to forge within yourself a trait of excellence.
Train hard, train safely, and prepare yourself to thrive on the fireground