Don’t Just Say It. Believe It. Act On It.

“I don’t care what anyone thinks of me”. I wish that were true. Everyone says it and yet…

I have talked about this before. Actually, I probably have talked more about this than any other subject(except maybe training), but I keep seeing and hearing from people who are doing it, so I am going to once again gently remind you not to give your power away!

Last night in EMT class we had a guest instructor. He was teaching us about ICS(Incident Command Structure) If you don’t know that is basically the structure that is used in emergency situations. It doesn’t have to be for Mass Casualty Incidents(MCI), but that was the topic of our lecture. The definition of MCI is any incident that requires more resources than you have, but for us last night it was a massive incident. A mutli car pile up on the freeway that had every possible issue that could come up, come up.

After a lecture of about 1.5 hours some of us were given toy cars. Mine was a fire truck with E-2(Engine -2) written on it. Others had E-3, E-10 or M-1(medic) etc. The way we were toned out(or called to the scene) I was first to arrive. The deal is the first to arrive takes command.

Now, I have had one other class on ICS and it was over a week ago. It was 3 hours and in between that class and last nights I had 2- 4 hour Hazmat classes and a test, plus studying for a trauma test tomorrow, the course exam this Saturday and my final national practical exam the following Thursday. While I have ran a few calls, I am a student and have not been in charge of anything, so what do you think my level of skill and or knowledge was to handle this massive incident?

That’s right…very, very little.

I arrived on scene and started doing what I remembered from the lectures. I could have stood around saying I don’t know or worried that I would mess up or whatever, but instead I just jumped in and did something. Now that could have been a disaster. I could have possibly screwed it all up and looked like a complete incompetent fool in front of my class and instructors, but you know what that didn’t…

Well, yeah, actually that is what happened.

I didn’t know what I was doing. After I was relieved of command(this is what happens after the head person gets on scene. The first commander hands it over) the new IC assigned me to be the EMS Branch Director to which I kept referring to as the EMS Supervisor(no such position). In addition I wasn’t entirely sure what my responsibilities as the branch director were, so I just started assigning people jobs. Good news is that I was fairly right on about that, but I had so many people to manage that I couldn’t really get them to do much(they, like me, weren’t sure what to do even after they had a job). I was lucky because my assistant was an actual IC and had years on the fire service, so a lot of what I did right was due to his help, but at the end when the instructor said who was suppose to do this…the answer was me or when he said who kept using this incorrect term…the answer was me or when he said how come you were on scene x amount of time and no one was transported, that was my failure. After he asked about 10 questions and my hand kept going up to take responsibility and then explain, he said. “Well, good thing now is that I know your voice well.” I am not entirely convinced that was in fact a good thing.

Big deal!

I am in class to learn. I messed up way more things than I did right, but I can tell you for sure 100% by being thrown into that situation and being forced to think I now know a ton. Enough to go be an EMS Branch Director on the next MCI…no, but about 85% more then when I first showed up at class…yes.

Having done it and failed I learned. At the beginning of class so much of what the instructor was saying was abstract to me. I had no real context to relate to, but after the table top exercise I had lots of context, so when everyone else had left and the 2 firemen stayed behind to show me what I could have done better, I absolutely understood what they were saying.

If I had let my fear of judgment or failure impact me I would have robbed myself of an excellent learning opportunity which is exactly why I took this class in the first place. I want to learn. I want to have actual skills and I want to be a solid resource for the folks in my community.

Pretty much from the beginning of this class I have heard from people again and again, “Oh, you’ll do fine on the state test.” “It’s easy” “So and so passed, so if he/she can you can.” “You are so smart and study so much it will be a piece of cake.”

It shouldn’t matter, but those statements have added pressure to me. For one, I have not found this to be easy. Our books is so thick and has so much information in it and nothing is textbook anyway. Every time I learn this is how it’s done they throw something else at me, under pressure and then expect me to come up with “the best” answer and that answer is never found in a book anywhere.

Let me say I am doing fine in the class. I am getting A’s on all but one test(120 questions about every 10 days) and have passed(usually by 100%) every practical station, but often I feel like I am just flying by the seat of my pants. I do study every single day and I do think I have a firm grasp on much of it, but still for me it has required that I do study and practice and ask not easy.

I have moments of panic where I picture myself taking my test, failing and the whole class is like, “Oh my, did you hear AGirl failed?” “Wow she seemed to get it in class, she must be a real moron.” Not many of those moments, but occasionally. Usually after I do something well and several people compliment me. You would think that would build my confidence, but I am a special kind of wack-a, so it does the opposite.

The reality is that doesn’t matter. I am there to learn and grow and no matter if I look like a fool or fail or people make fun of me, I can’t let any of that get into my head and keep me from doing what I want. Keep me from reaching the goals I have set for myself.

Now, I know everyone is going to read this and say duh. Of course. Doesn’t matter what anyone thinks and blah, blah blah, but I hear almost daily about people who haven’t signed up for firearms training(training they want) because they are afraid everyone else in the class is more skilled or people who continue to take classes at their level and do not move on to more advanced courses for the same reason. People tell me again and again they are afraid to take a hand to hand or edge class because they don’t want to be “that guy” who messes everything up and fumbles around trying to figure out what to do next. I get emails every week that start something like, I wish I was more like you, but I am just too scared to take that step. My response always starts something like, “I am afraid to…” Although as I have said before not nearly as much as I used to be because I have learned the more fears I face the less scary the next one is. I recently got an email for a lady who said she really wanted to enter the giveaway, but was afraid she would win. She is serious and I can’t get her to enter. That is not a judgment that is proof that this gentle reminder needs to be put out there.

If you or I let fear, judgment, ridicule or even failure keep us from doing what we want to do to improve ourselves we are freely giving our power away and totally robbing ourselves. We say again and again I won’t let the bad guy win. He can’t have my purse, my car, my body, my life, my child, but then again and again everyday in a million different ways each day we hand over our power. Letting a thousand insecurities keep us from our goals.

My challenge to you, once again, is to think about something you want to do, but haven’t because it scares you or makes you uncomfortable and do at least one positive thing towards overcoming whatever is holding you back.

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” -William Shakespeare


28 thoughts on “Don’t Just Say It. Believe It. Act On It.

  1. Speaking from the moderately-experienced realm…

    I’ve sat through the ICS classes (-700, -100, -200, and if I can ever fit -300 in my schedule I will) and it is a TON of information.

    I had so many people to manage that I couldn’t really get them to do much

    This is a dead giveaway that something wasn’t running right. I’m betting that they threw a phrase like “span of control” at you at some point. You exceeded yours. You were EMS ops, time to start appointing divisions/sectors whatever.

    No more than five people should have been reporting to you, anything you needed should have been delegated. “Joe, I need three people to go help with that extrication. Go.” You don’t care who, or what tools they take, just that there is someone going to do the job.

    I’ve done the command thing more than a few times – MVAs, structure fires, etc… and here’s the dirty secret:
    It rarely works like it does in the book.

    I’ve been at work during Major Events and watched the county emergency ops center come undone because people can’t wrap their head around ICS. If it works – which requires a strong person in charge – it’s great. If it doesn’t, it ends up with a LOT of fingerpointing and the blame game goes on and on.

    You learned from your first time in the hot seat, and that’s all that can be reasonably expected. Just keep those lessons in mind as your career continues!

    And feel free to get in touch with any questions – here or by email.


    • Yep, that was exactly it. Part of it was our class was too large and they knew it would be a cluster. Also, it was designed for us to fail really to show us how frustrating and chaotic things get. It was loud and all that. And yes delegating is the name of the game. I did do some of delegating, but for sure understanding the structure better would have been a great benefit to me and also I should have had a board to write it all on, but I didn’t even those existed. The firemen afterwards should me exactly what you are talking about with groups of 5. Very helpful. Thanks Z!!!

  2. That part of my class was not my favorite. I am not a natural born leader and I’m happy to give up command when I can… when I can’t, you’re right.. you just have to do it and hope you don’t kill anyone in the process even though you know it’s “not your emergency.”

    Good for you. We had students who froze up like you wouldn’t believe. You don’t have to know everything.. you just have to act on what you do know.

  3. Well said AGirl. Stepping outside our comfort zones is how we grow as human beings. I remember starting down my career path while working as a printer in small town Utah. Even though she supported me every step of the way and sacrificed much to see me succeed even Lu had her doubts in the beginning. As we progressed she saw my path as as an opportunity for her to grow as well. Everyone else thought we were nuts and predicted disaster followed by a tail tucked return. You are absolutely right. Don’t be afraid to reach for the brass ring no matter how frightening it might be. You may fail, you may succeed but you will never be the same person.

    • “You may fail, you may succeed but you will never be the same person.”

      Perfectly said and I would add in 99% of the cases you are a better for it.

  4. I used to use toy cars and trucks when I was an EMS instructor, too. Not so much for incident command, but for mechanism of injury (I had actual crash-test dummy dolls). The cars with the dolls would wreck and then the “victims” would assume the same positions and the students had to treat based on MOI and how the patients presented.

    Way back in the day, ICS wasn’t as well defined as it is now, at least, not that I can remember. We’ve learned a lot in the past 25 years and ICS has almost become a fine art.

    I agree with Z, it rarely goes the way it’s supposed to (or the way the book tells us it should go).

    • I fnd this stuff endlessly fascinating. They do seem to have learned a lot. I believe 9-11 and Katrina were huge learning lessons.

  5. Now, I don’t know diddly about EMS protocol or proceedures, but I do know how to command or delegate. In a way, I think your exercise did you a world of good. Anytime you get an assignment to do something you that is above your level of experience is good experience, imho. That said….in this instance….what is the point? What I am getting at….you were deluged with information that no one could keep in their head due to the volume of it. Yes, as I said the exercise had value, IF they really wanted you to learn HOW to do things and WHAT things to do….,something of this scope requires hands on training working under someone who has done this repeatedly. In other words OJT. To be honest, this whole thing strikes me as one of those exercises where the instructors and/or higher ups get their egos stroked. Sorry, but I don’t have much use for those kind of people.

    • Yes, my husband is the same way. He can lead anyone anywhere doing anything under any circumstances.

      I may not have communicated the class well. I think our instructors are fabulous(none of them know about this blog, so not sucking up:) It was total chaos and things were accomplished. Many folks like the IC and others knew what they were doing. I am just new and at the end the feedback and critique was valuable and constructive. I don’t think it was an ego thing:)

  6. And the cool thing about ICS is that is works across the board. The police, Sheriff’s office, EMS, rescue, (a lost autistic boy in the woods) fire, they all use it!

    • Indeed. I was on that search and rescue and this is exactly what they used. It was not a MCI, but it was a large operation with many agencies and moving parts.

      • Yes, wish I had been able to participate in the search for the Woods boy.

        I took a CERT class because I was interested. I was nervous because I had never taken anything like that. That lead to an EMT class. That lead to . . .

        One never know’s what new & exciting adventures that initial step out of our “comfort zone” will begin.

  7. AGirl, ICS is ‘normally’ a week long course 8 hours a day… Having said that, Zer and the others are right, it NEVER goes according to plan. It’s more about delegating- extraction, tirage, packaging and transport, hazmat, etc. as the IC. It’s not about actually doing any treatment. Did they even give you a command board or a checklist???

    • lol, I must be an awful writer. The point of this post wasn’t really suppose to be about ICS. I was trying to say that regardless we all face challenges and we should not use those as excuses not to try. I was in a classroom, nothing bad was going to happen and yet it can be a stressful situation. So stressful, some will avoid it

      But, I read your comments and the others and I smile because you are constantly looking out for me…how lucky am I:)

  8. I’m glad you took that leap! Sounds like a great leadership learning experience.

    At the same time, I know exactly how you feel about the exams. A few years ago, I took comprehensive exams for my first graduate degree. Everyone said, ‘oh Damsel, you’ll be fine’, ‘this stuff is easy’, ‘so and so passed’ etc. Even got one ‘nobody who has taken them has ever failed.’ I studied like mad for weeks. Nobody had ever failed, right, then I’d better not be the first. Well, guess what. I was the first.
    Yup, flunked my comps and had to retake them nine months later. Ended up not getting that degree for another year because of it.
    And here I sit, as I write this, studying for my third set of comprehensives, a higher degree this time :). And I’m going to try to pass them. But I’ve learned something; failing doesn’t cause the sun to implode. So I’m taking them in a month, instead of putting them off for another six. Yes, I could fail them and look like an idiot. But I’ve been there before, and you know what, I’m strangely okay with it. Either way, I’ll learn something.
    Sometimes we can’t take that next step until we fall down. And the rest of the world is usually far too busy worrying about their own footing to notice if we’re flat on our face or dancing a jig. So don’t worry about exams, not because they’re easy or hard or whatever, but because you’ve got some good company among us flunkees.

  9. Since I retired from police work and the National Guard, I got a job where I do nothing but plan and train for big disasters…. I have dreams of ICS now, instead of chasing bad guys.
    There’s a lot of free online FEMA classes a citizen could take and master this stuff.

  10. Hey Girl, In my many years of teaching E.M.T. I ‘ve seen some pretty [lets just say less then smart] people pass the test. It can be done and You can do it! Your hard work will pay off. Good luck, Joe.

  11. The first time I sat for my national exams I wasn’t totally ready. I was also nearly twice the age of a lot of the kids taking it. But I knew I wasn’t ready to pass it, and was okay with that. Because it was the last “open” exam, where you could put a $1 stamp on the back of each of your exam books and have them mailed to you. Then, when you got your scores, you also got the answers. So you could use it to study for the next test six months later.

    And six months later, I knew what the routine was so wasn’t stressed about that unknown again, and I had studied more, and I passed three of the four parts. Six months later, got the one remaining section.

    So, yeah, face the fears. Doesn’t mean they aren’t still scary, but having done it once, or twice, or thrice, one learns that fears can be overcome, and where you end up after having done so is a place you once believed you could never possibly attain.

  12. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. You did and stuck around and talked to the firemen leaning more. The only bad thing is not bothering to learn from a mistake. With your thirst for knowledge you’ll do just fine. Don’t be such a worry wart.

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