This past week I took an Advanced Firefighting Course. This is a requirement to get a license as a 3rd Eng (maybe 3rd Mate, I forget). It is experiences like this that have me convinced that I could never go back to school.
First off, I didn’t really know what to expect out of “advanced” firefighting. On the ship we ran a lot of fire drills, and damage control is a big portion of your submarine indoctrination. Plus, in my three years on the ship I managed to get a pretty good routine down for not having to do anything: when the general alarm goes off, first wait a beat, then grab your EAB and wander up to see if anyone manned DC central. If it was unmanned, swoop in and save the day. If it was already manned, turn around and wander off to the scene. With my “wait a beat and check DC central” routine, I would find the scene chock full of Junior Officers trying to man phones and a rapid response team trying to get past the JOs so they could fight the fire. Seeing that I was obviously of no use, I would duly report to the staging area and wait out the end of the drill in comfort. To all my submarine friends out there, I recommend this technique highly.
Between the Naval Academy and nuclear power training, I got pretty well trained to absorb knowledge via an instructor reading a PowerPoint to me. The modern trend, for anybody who hasn’t been in an academic environment lately, is to encourage class participation and group exercises and get buy-in from the students, or something. I hate this sort of thing. I don’t like participating in class. I figure I’m paying your ass to teach this class, so don’t try to get me to do all the hard work. I’ll take care of my end, you take care of yours. I’m so averse to classroom participation that I also hate it when other people participate in class. I don’t mind it when people ask clarifying questions, but except for that, I vastly prefer when everyone else shuts up so we can get on with the PowerPoint.
In these classes, however, there is always at least one person who feels the need to comment on everything the instructor says. This particular class was bad because there was two. Furthermore, both these people had egos. What an environment like the Naval Academy taught me is that while it is okay to have an ego, it is best to keep quiet about it. If you are the best at something, people will figure it out all on their own, and if you aren’t the best at something, at least you didn’t embarrass yourself by trying to prove otherwise. These guys didn’t get the memo, so anytime either one made a comment in class (which they did often), the other would chime in to try to put himself on top. To top it off, however, our fearless instructor also had a bit of an ego, leading him to try to top the other two. The entire class became three dudes all trying to jockey for top spot. Meanwhile, the other three of us in the class were just trying to go home at a reasonable hour.
It was somewhat unfortunate that our instructor had a bit of an ego as well because he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. For the Advanced Firefighting class the institution got professional firefighters with some mariner experience to teach it. This sounds pretty alright, but of the two instructors we had, neither knew much about ship-specific stuff. After this week I’m confident I could fight the crap out of an apartment fire, but shipboard fire, maybe not so much. It would have been better taught by professional mariners with some firefighting experience. The most memorable part of the class was the time one of my fellow students commented he “wasn’t too good at this book learnin’,” which is, you know, fine, but prompted the instructor to ramble on for 15 minutes about the Forest Service, toilet paper, aspirin, and 9/11, the relevance of which to firefighting I had a hard time figuring out at four in the afternoon when I was trying to go home.
The only other worthwhile things to mention occurred on the day we went to the trainer and actually fought fires. First off, the only people in the world allowed to act like drill instructors are people who are, in fact, currently drill instructors. If you’re just a somewhat overweight firefighter trying to make sure everyone turns in their flash hoods, you acting like a drill instructor shoots my respect level way down. Second, the most significant thing I learned the whole week is that being a firefighter is hard and I would never want to do it. Those fire ensembles are hot, man. So yeah. Good on ya, professional firefighters, and if you’re ever on a ship with me and a fire breaks out, I’ll see you in DC central.