The Danger of Cutting Corners

facebook Share on Facebook One of the benefits of being assigned to the Academy is watching newly hired personnel change from candidate firefighter to probationary firefighter and to see the recruit receive a black helmet from the fire chief at graduation.  His/her first day at the Academy wearing business attire, then to graduation day wearing “ready-for-inspection” Class C’s, demonstrates a remarkable transformation of the person both inside and out.  Of course it’s not the outer wear that is the most important.  The significant inner change is what is most evident and essential.  For some of the recruits, this may be the second or more time in their life they have endured an academy of some sort.  The 136th Recruit Class had a number of former military members hired with SAFER grant monies, so the regimented life at the Academy was not a shock to their system.  For others, it was a huge change.  A few had to be instructed on how to use a razor on their face so they could pass an inspection.  With a range in age from 19 to 40’s, a variety of life experiences was spread through the 72 recruits that initially began the combined squads of the 136th Recruit Class.  This was the largest recruit class in the department’s history with 63 recruits successfully graduating as probationary firefighters.  The 136th was led by Captain Chester Waters and his outstanding Basic Training staff that consisted of Lt. Marc Davidson, Lt. Angel Medina, Lt. Josh Allen, Master Tech Greg Bishop, Master Tech Jermaine Jones and Tech Mary Kate Costello, all members of Local 2068.

Captain Water’s daily mantra speaks on the attention to details and the consequences of taking short-cuts or cutting corners.  This was not only preached to the recruits at the Academy.  Chester would not hold back if he saw a member of his staff or anyone at the Academy doing something that would portray anything but a good example to the recruit.  The recruit watches everything, good or bad.  And it doesn’t matter if it is field personnel at the Academy participating in training or a staff member, the recruits pays attention.  Captain Waters will call you out if he sees a poor or unsafe act that will serve as a bad example that a recruit may witness.  Wearing your helmet with the chin strap not fastened is an example of an unsafe act.  The helmet will not offer much protection if it falls off your head prior to impact.  He teaches the dangers of not doing things right the first time and that taking short cuts will ultimately cause problems.  

While running around the Academy one morning, Captain Waters was leading the recruits for morning PT.  I followed him for a while and observed the way he would go in a straight line down the roadway and then make deliberate angled turns at corners to change direction.  The recruits, who were somewhat of a distant behind, made the same deliberate turns at the intersections while following their captain.  I later asked Captain Waters about the execution of the turn; the manner in which the recruits made the sharp 90 degree move versus rounding the turn and he stated “we don’t cut corners; ever.”  The next day I ran the same course and observed huge ruts in the grass at the same location where we made the right turn.  (See the picture)  The image speaks volumes as to the consequences of cutting corners.  

A vehicle cut the corner too sharp and drove off the cement and tore up some newly seed grass.  Maybe no big deal to some, but an example what happens when we cut corners.  Even though a cone was in place as a warning, a stop sign to alert you to stop and think this one through before proceeding, the choice to cut the corner was made and subsequent damage was the result.  Just like anytime we take short cuts and negative things happen, someone has to come back and clean up the mess we made or correct the result of the poor choice. Think about that when you are teaching short cuts with a skill.  More of a metaphor than some torn up grass, Captain Waters preaches and teaches not to cut corners and to pay attention to details.  And he practices what he preaches.

This recent class was Captain Waters’ biggest challenge as the head of Basic Training and chances are you have a probationary firefighter from the 136th.  For many months, the recruits were smothered in objectives, directives, orders and tests.  Pretty much every minute of their eight and a half hour day was accounted for in direction and details.  Now they belong to you.  Kind of like sending your kid off to college trusting they are prepared and will do the right thing and not be influenced in a negative way.  We all have a responsibility to continue where Basic Training ended.  The probies are looking at you and to you to take them to the next step.  We all have memories of people along our way that helped us in a positive manner or others who were absolute loads.  Fire Chief Bowers preaches about mentoring.  We are all leaders and mentors to someone.  Regardless if you deliberately demonstrate a skill or you are doing the skill on a call, you are being watched and evaluated by the probie.  Do it the right way and don’t cut corners.  This is your opportunity to make a difference not only in the probie but to the future of our department.  Don’t be that person that complains about the rookie but does nothing to help him/her out.  Take a lesson from Captain Waters and his staff; don’t cut corners.  Pay attention to the details………they are watching you.  (Congratulations to Captain Chester Waters for being the department’s first Career Fire Officer of the Year 2014)

Robert Konczal, 3rd Battalion

More Articles By This Author