Recently, a British skydiver named James Lee was knocked unconscious when participating in a team jump.  His fall, faithfully recorded by his helmet-cam, shows his arms flailing as he plummets from 12,500 feet toward a certain death.  Fortunately for him, his teammates recognized his situation and worked together to stabilize him and deploy his parachute so that the YouTube video would be preserved (those Go-Pros are tough, but even they might fail a terminal-velocity-to-zero test).  News organizations around the world trumpeted Mr. Lee’s “miraculous” rescue.

I beg to differ – there was nothing miraculous about it.  James Lee lived to jump again because the people he was with had a) the situational awareness to recognize that something was wrong; b) the experience and training to know what their options were and the time they had to act; and c) the technical knowledge, competence, and confidence to perform the necessary tasks in the necessary order so that the day ended in triumph instead of tragedy.

It’s the same in rescue: when you have the right people in the right place with the right skills at the right time, you get the right outcome.  As always, the devil is in the details – in the above rescue, any number of things could have made the result a wake instead of a celebration: a delay in recognizing the problem or a misstep in the procedure can bring about a totally different result.  Likewise, in our environment the inability to correctly recognize the obstacles or use the proper tools with competence can have devastating results.

The difference between a “miracle” and a “catastrophe” often boils down to one thing: training.  Through repetitive applications of skills, we build competence and confidence in employing our abilities.  We learn new skills that expand our “toolbox” of options.  Most importantly, we work with team members to increase their abilities and options – remember that the best hammer in the world can only drive one nail at a time.  If you’re the only one with a hammer, then the deck takes way too long to build.

As a friend in the military often says, “the more thinking you do before things get exciting, the less exciting things are”.  Strive for that in fire and rescue.  Be the guy or girl that has the broad range of skills and abilities, the one that can think unconventionally when required, and the one that can figure out how to make even the most technical rescue look mundane.

I became a fan of Women’s Gymnastics years ago when my daughter competed.  I remember talking to one of the judges after a meet and she told me “the best gymnasts are the ones that make it look easy”.  That phrase stuck with me, because if you know anything at all about that sport or the level of skill required to compete at a high level, then you know there is nothing easy about it.

There’s nothing easy about what we do, either.  It takes commitment, skill, courage, competence, and confidence.  Those terms are in that order for a reason, because if you achieve the first two, the last three come as a bonus.  There are no shortcuts: putting a red light on your dash will not make you a Firefighter, and looking at the brochure for a Terradaptor will not make you a Rescue Tech.

However, if you keep reinvesting the sweat equity into fire and rescue, there will come a day when your hands make a difference in someone else’s life.  It’s a feeling that makes all of the hard work and perseverance pay off – with interest.