Using YouTube as Training Tool, Part 3

Remember: Unlike the golf score card or the student report card, the rubric’s value lies is in the discussion it creates. It’s not a pass/fail test or an A,B,C evaluation. It’s a qualitative tool used to drive discussion around visual content. Photo Kevin Milan

Transforming passive YouTube viewing into active training requires a deliberate plan based on a structured evaluation of observed fire attack videos. It must also identify the overall goal of operations (or the mission), determine objectives to achieve the mission and assess the effectiveness of actions toward that goal.

This article provides that deliberate plan to train using YouTube, training exercises and a printable rubric to use when evaluating YouTube fire videos.

The AAR Framework & Defining the Mission
In this series of articles (see Using YouTube as a Training Tool and Using YouTube as a Training Tool, Part 2) the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s (NFFF’s) after-action report (AAR) provides the framework for evaluation. The NFFF encourages firefighters to complete a quick AAR after all responses, asking:

  • What was our mission?
  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What might we have done differently?
  • Who needs to know?

Previous articles introduced the AAR framework and offered guidance on the key step of defining the mission, which provides context for analyzing fire department actions on YouTube.

A Personal Challenge
The intent of training using YouTube is vicarious learning, identifying which actions supported and which detracted from the mission. In support of mission identification and delineation, we presented the IDEA acronym (Identify, Describe, Establish, Action) to guide arrival reports. Note: This step is so important, I encourage you to complete YouTube arrival reports as warm-up exercises for your next shift. These warm-ups will also prime your brain for the activities we’ll discuss here.

This article asks you, as an active and critical YouTube viewer, to evaluate actions in the context of completing the mission. Essentially, you’re to identify what went right and what went wrong (steps 2 and 3 of the AAR) in the videos.

This is followed by a personal challenge; that is, if the videos involved your department, what would you do differently and who needs to know (steps 4 and 5 of the AAR)? It’s time to put on your thick skin and be brutally honest with yourself, your crew and your department leadership. Often, exceptional performance is glossed over as “part of the job,” and/or poor performance is excused. By institutionalizing the AAR process, the message will get to who needs to hear it.

If the firefighter you see on YouTube struggling to deploy a pre-connect were your partner, how would you handle it? Could it be dealt with peer-to-peer? Should the company officer be involved? And what role does the training division have? Though it’s impossible to know whether the hiccup you observed is a chronic or acute problem, thinking through the “who needs to know” step of the AAR will help guide you when a problem—or a rock-star performance, for that matter—occurs on your fireground.    

Information Overload & Go/No-Go
The boiling activity, extreme camera angles and general commotion present in most YouTube fire videos creates an unsettling effect. This flurry of activity presents information overload. Our job as firefighters is to bring order to chaos, and observing chaos with a pause button has its advantages. But it’s also easy to be overwhelmed by the flood of fire, citizens, apparatus, firefighters and environmental concerns on the screen. These all contribute to the overall feel and pace of the developing incident. Observing this in a virtual environment can help calm your response to real-life situations. Running a video to the point where crews are getting ready to enter the building, pausing, then asking the go/no-go question will kick off an incredible discussion among your crew or your peers.

A Sample Exercise
Try this exercise with your crew: Explain that each member of the crew will be asked to make a personal go/no-go decision based on clues from viewing a quick video clip. Hand each member a black and a red playing card. Play the video up to the predetermined decision point, then ask firefighters to declare “go” with a red card, or “no go” with a black card, by placing the colored card face down in front of them.

Use this exercise as a discussion generator. Go around the table and ask each firefighter to flip and expose their card. This can be done sequentially or together. Inquire what influenced their decision and then delve into their reasons. This exercise has the added advantage of getting to know risk tolerance and risk adversity of your crew. If you have a firefighter who always or never “goes,” you have a problem. You can then use the exercise to reinforce our risk/benefit mantra: “Risk a lot to save a savable life, and risk nothing to save what’s already lost.” Every firefight falls somewhere on this continuum.

Operations Drill-Down
YouTube can also be used to drill down into specific incident operations. Compounding the flurry of activity present in videos is your inner discussion. As a firefighter, you’re drawing in the little things: You judge the attack team by their hose deployment; you assess engineers by their ability to supply sufficient water; you evaluate the officers on their command presence. You gain clues from body language, actions, reactions and the spoken word. And you do most of this on instinct; you may not be able to identify why, but you know quality or substandard performance when you see it.

Where to Start
So with so much happening on the screen, where do you start? I suggest starting with the most lethal—those items that kill firefighters. NIOSH LODD reports (see for a searchable database) are surprisingly, or not-so-surprisingly, similar. There are no new ways to kill firefighters. By using YouTube to highlight events contributing to these problems, our ability to recognize them on the emergency scene will increase.

For the YouTube exercises, use the attached worksheet, which focuses on these common deficiencies cited in NIOSH reports:

  • Risk management principles not effectively used
  • Crew integrity
  • Inadequate fireground communications
  • Delay of initiating fire attack/inadequate fire stream application
  • Uncoordinated fireground and suppression activities

This worksheet (more accurately called a rubric) is a standards-based assessment. Crews are either failing to meet the standard (or the mission), they meet the standard or they exceed the standard. The descriptions in the body of the rubric outline the expected performance of each of these levels.

Important: As you well know, firefighters are never shy when dishing out opinions. The ability to view, analyze and ultimately judge a YouTube video is much more than an opportunity to Monday-morning quarterback. But just as the cover of a fire service magazine only shows a snapshot in time, YouTube cannot and does not show the entire fireground context. To judge an individual, a department or the fire service from a single YouTube image is inappropriate. Think of YouTube simply as visual imagery that facilitates learning.

As you look at what went well and what could have gone better (items 2 and 3 in the AAR), watch the videos as if you were on scene. Try not to immediately throw stones at the operations. First look past the operations and concentrate on the fire and the fire building. Pause the video, then refresh your size-up considerations by verbalizing your arrival report (IDEA). Consider what you would do or what you would tell your crew to do based on the conditions you observe.

Using the Rubric
The saying, “A problem well stated is half solved” applies here. Just as a golfer uses a score card, instructors use rubrics to assess student performance. At the top of the rubric, write the mission. In the space below, list core objectives necessary to complete the mission. For example, if the mission on a single-story residential fire is to rescue occupants and extinguish the fire, the core objectives would be:

  1. Provide for accountability and responder safety.
  2. Complete primary search, remove viable victims.
  3. Secure a water supply and deploy appropriate attack lines.
  4. Coordinate rescue and ventilation, then locate, confine and extinguish the fire.

In short, view the video and use the rubric to evaluate the mission. But remember, unlike the golf score card or the student report card, the rubric’s value lies is in the discussion it creates. It’s not a pass/fail test or an A,B,C evaluation. It’s a qualitative tool used to drive discussion around visual content.

Individuals can complete and compare rubrics, or they can be completed in a group setting. If you’re inclined to tally results, you can quickly gauge agreement or disagreement among the members of your department.

Things to Remember
With so much experience retiring daily from the job, YouTube is one avenue that younger and/or less experienced firefighters can use to gain vicarious experience. What’s important when using YouTube is that you talk, discuss and debate, keeping in mind that sometimes there’s a right answer, but many times, there isn’t one single solution.

By leveraging the NFFF AAR template, we will learn the skills of evaluation in a virtual environment, which will provide benefits when we conduct an AAR on our next call.

The rubric based on NIOSH LODD reports places these deadly situations directly in our sights. In the virtual world, we identify killers and suggest strategies to intervene or mitigate. We have the advantages of “pause” and “rewind” to sharpen our decision-making processes.

Go Beyond the Surface
In this series of articles, we’ve only scratched the surface of YouTube as training tool. Suggestions for future YouTube exercises could revolve around rank or assignment. It’s actually viable to view the video from any role on the fireground: A safety officer with a pause button can sharpen skills to alter, terminate or suspend unsafe activities. Truckies can critique ventilation and forcible entry, while engineers can calculate pump discharge pressure. The chiefs can focus on transfer of command and condition, actions, needs (CAN) reports. We can bridge these and other sacred subjects, and even suggest offensive operations from an exterior position. YouTube is playing in every firehouse in North America, and we as a profession have much to learn from the medium.

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October 2017
Volume 12, Issue 10