Practice How You Play

This Post can also be found at the First Few Moments website.

Bob Hurley Sr is the basketball coach of St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, NJ.  As one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this past year.  If one was to ask Coach Hurley why he has been so successful, he will tell them it comes down to two things: discipline and practice.

 Hurley is well known for his intense practices and his ability to always get the best out of his players, and we could learn a lot from him.  His players don’t practice at half speed in unrealistic circumstances.  Their practices are intense and at game speed.  His team practices like they play, and as a result, they play with the intensity that they show in practice.

 Think for a second about how your department trains for a major incident. Â  What can be done to make them better?  What can be done to challenge the participants more and to bring out their best?  Here are a few of ideas:

Make sure the circumstances are realistic — You want to be put into a situation that tests your ability to manage a major scene that is as accurate as possible.  Does your department staff only two trucks for the shift?  If so, then don’t have four available to them for the drill.  Make injuries look realistic with moulage, and make sure the management of those injuries is timely and appropriate. 

Throw in a monkey wrench or two – Try and simulate the outside distractions you may encounter as part of the incident.  Think about bystanders, and traffic patterns and how they might affect access to the scene.  When units are responding, advise them that due to the incident, the intersection of Main St and Washington Blvd is completely gridlocked and impassable.  Make your responders think of alternate access to the incident, and make the scene commander adapt his or her plan to the unexpected challenges they might encounter.

Expand on your debrief — When the exercise is over, don’t just look at the good and the bad of what happened in the incident.  Have each department (fire, PD, EMS) walk the other participants through what they did from beginning to end, and have them share their after action report.  Everyone needs to understand what everyone else’s job is.  The failures that I have seen on larger scaled incidents are due largely to the fact that we don’t understand each other’s jobs.  Sometimes people don’t understand why that first ambulance on scene doesn’t just scoop a patient up and go and instead stays around managing the scene and hands people off to other crews. 

 On Episode 19 of First Few Moments, we discussed the importance of drilling and understanding the ICS system, and using smaller scale incidents to help us practice them.  Much like Coach Hurley stresses the discipline in his team to treat each game as if it was for the state championship, departments would greatly benefit from treating those incidents with a more ICS oriented approach. 

 Training and practice will always be beneficial, but when done at a more realistic pace in a more realistic environment, a greater benefit can be taken from it.  Next time your department drills on a larger scale incident, inject some realism into it and see how it goes.