With the advent of Harvey here in Houston, David and I thought it would be good if we took Community Emergency Response Training through FEMA. It’s offered free every couple of months. You can see more about what the training is specifically here.

I’ll be honest, I thought it was just some sort of class where you show up, read from a manual, listen to a few speakers and learn a bit more about safety in natural disasters but it is so much more.  Each session is 3 hours long and there are 8 sessions.

This was our second session.  I’ll admit – I was nervous about it.  I knew we would, in theory, be putting out a controlled fire but I have never used an extinguisher before.  I knew the theories but had never held one. As a young child, I was terrified of fire consuming our house at night and slept with my door closed specifically because I wanted to be sure I had time to get out in the case of a fire.  As an adult, you could say I have my head stuck in the sand or my hands over my ears and my eyes closed shaking my head saying “nope. nope.  nope. not going to happen here.” But we all know it’s possible.  In truth, I knew enough that I believed that as long as I knew the theories of how to put out a fire, I’d be able to do it if I had to.  That is perhaps true.  However, in CERT training, they leave nothing to chance.  Practice makes perfect and this is a great way to start.

The training is at a local fire station so I get the sense that we get a unique view of firehouse strategies as well as the training provided by FEMA.

We donned our gear – a hard hat, safety goggles, and gloves.  We all took a deep breathe and me the Chief out at the pit.   Immediately, I’m looking at the fire extinguishers and coming up with hundreds of reasons why I can’t try using that extinguisher.

The gloves are too big…the extinguisher is too heavy….my hearing aids might melt…I don’t need to do this. I’ve seen the videos, aim at the base and sweep.  DUH  

Looking around, it was clear that very few of us wanted to actually do it but I noticed something as each person mustered up the courage, picked up that extinguisher and attempted to put out that fire.  The ones who walked up timid and unsure of themselves just could not manage to put out the fire. Each of them had to muster up their own courage to do MORE than picking up that fire extinguisher and aiming.  They had to be determined.  The ones who walked up to that fire and said “I’ve got this.  You, fire, are going nowhere.”  They were the ones who were assertive and successful.

I resolved to take the bull by the horns and tell the fire who was the boss.  After all, at this point, I have 4 firefighters and they are in control of the heat. I grabbed that extinguisher, pulled the pin, squeezed once to test and off I went.  SWEEP SWEEP SWEEP SWEEP.  DONE. That fire went down.  I put it out!  After that, I felt like I could do anything.

It was really cool to see that once we did it, we each felt an incredible sense of accomplishment and a comradery unlike anything else.   Each of us knows now that if we encountered a small fire, we would know what to do and, without a doubt, would know the right process to take to put it out.

The training further teaches that when we are responding to an emergency, we won’t always have the fire department nearby and so we must work as a team (both with fire extinguishers but only one active at a time).  They both yell FIRE so others know around them and then one person leads, starting with yelling “Going in!”, the other has their hand on the shoulder and follows, responding in like “Going in!” ensuring that they have heard and are responding.  While person 1 is focused on the fire, person 2 is focused on the surroundings (what is the floor like, is there any threat that might hinder person 1, no tripping hazards, etc), as the person 1 sprays the fire with the extinguisher, the 2nd person is still ensuring the surroundings are safe.

One would think that everything stops once the fire is out (after all – that’s the goal).  However, the teamwork doesn’t stop there.  When exiting, the 2nd person takes the lead, turning around and leads the 1st person (who remains facing the fire in case it re-ignites and they have to return).

“Going out!” person 2 says followed by “going out!” by person 1.  Person 2 has their hand on the shoulder leading person 1 who is walking backward, watching the surroundings and ensuring person 1 doesn’t fall.

A quick high-level video can be seen here of what that looks like without the yelling and alerting.

As you can imagine, in an emergency situation, taking appropriate action and working as a team with everyone on the team is incredibly important.  It’s not up for debate.  It’s not even an option to not put your best foot forward.  Lives matter in that instance.

This entire experience impressed upon me the reality that we must find a way to do the same in our day to day jobs.

It’s NOT about making it to the end of your shift or the end of your project.  It’s not about just getting through the day.  It’s also not about giving your least so you can give your best to your side business or your family or your hobby.

Your job that you are doing today has importance and you must do it with the same gusto as you would if lives were depending on it.  Ironically, lives ARE depending on it.  That co-worker who has an ill family member really needs their job.  That sales associate who is dealing with the customers – she has huge medical bills.  That customer you are serving  – they need you to give it their all so they leave the interaction with you knowing they made the right decision.

As you can imagine, if lives are depending on your work then your department…no…your whole company must work as a team.  Teamwork with the same goals (put out x fire) and coming out on the other side in one piece while saving lives in the process.  There’s no better feeling.

Treat this week as though putting out this fire with your team will saves lives….after all, it may just be yours that is saved.