Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Outperforming yourself with the help of an instructor

I’m thankful for the opportunities at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center that improved my skills beyond what I imagined and equipped me as a volunteer firefighter.

We advanced a charged 2.5-inch hoseline to the second floor which proved difficult with four crew members total in full gear and SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). A fire school instructor then challenged four of my squad members and me to advance the charged hoseline from the first floor to the third floor with 50-feet of the hoseline in the room.

When we re-established the water supply, the hoseline felt heavier in our hands. Despite any doubts, we went to work. I called it good practice, especially for a real-life scenario to make do with the amount of available crew members.

I later told that instructor that he confirmed what I thought when I signed up for fire school: it would hard, but worth doing. I wanted to do my best, especially as the training became more rigorous. Many of the instructors helped us to dig deep to give more than what we thought possible. This particular instructor’s teaching style enables students to surpass their aptitudes.
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Those two exhausting times we advanced the line a total of five stories were physically demanding, and it was the best way we learned. When what we tried did not work, we tried other ways and relied on each other for the team-effort. When you struggle, you learn to overcome.

"Don’t confuse struggling with failure,” said Anika Curtis, a 21st Century Cyber Charter School 2015 Downingtown graduation speaker. She encouraged her classmates to adapt to situations and devote more efforts when they struggle.

When we struggled to advance the line, that instructor had a way that encouraged us to keep going. With his help, we spread our positioning in the stairwell and we moved together as one unit. As we did, he said, “Doing nothing is not an option.” This task forced us to not stop until we finished. He seemed proud of us when he said good job.

Firefighting, similar to any type of service, is a calling. We are called to act and to give our best efforts despite the odds. My fire school experiences demonstrated something I have heard speakers say – in the fire service, relative to anything in life, we are capable of greatness and vulnerable to failure. I refused to fail.

I wrote each instructor a thank you note. In the card for the aforementioned instructor, I thanked him for this experience and how he encouraged me to push myself to outperform my abilities. He, among many instructors, helped me accomplish that.

I hoped the instructors realized how much their efforts are appreciated when thanked by their students. How much we learned from instructors showed it.

When I handed this instructor his card, he told me I was a good student. It meant the world to me because he influenced me to discover my best efforts during the toughest times. I learned something else from my instructors: it’s about bringing out the best in your student, even when that student thinks they cannot do it.

I regretted not writing in his card that he was one of my favorite instructors. I hoped he realized it. Another valuable lesson is giving thanks to people who make a difference in our life, so they know it instead of us hoping that they do.

After I handed the cards to the instructors, I thought of when I interviewed a Downingtown West High School teacher about 16-year-old student Charlotte Hannagan who was killed by a drunk driver in 2015. The teacher recalled the class enjoyed when Charlotte told stories during class activities, and the way she accepted herself and others. They appreciated how Charlotte impacted them.

“I just think that’s a great legacy for her. She really inspired them,” Teacher Charlene Bigelow said, “unfortunately probably more than she ever knew that she really meant a lot to the class.”

The teacher’s words had an underlying message to tell people they are appreciated and how so. Readers emailed me and stated the article reminded them to express their gratitude for others.

Months after that skills day, I thanked him in person for the positive impact he had on my training. I told him I hoped students would realize the ways he helped them improve. He simply said he may or may not hear that from past students. His smile indicated he didn’t need to be thanked. I admired his humbleness. He cares about producing firefighters who give everything they have and more.

I feel honored and blessed that I learned from him and the other instructors. I’m thankful for how far I came with their instruction since I began school and since I joined my local company.

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