President’s Letter: All-Hazards Experience Is the Worst Teacher


As I was standing alongside a road, watching a mile-wide flame front from a fast-moving wildland fire move rapidly toward me, a friend pulled up and said, “Fire first gives the test, then provides the lesson.”

This quote can be traced back to the teachings of Plato and Aristotle. Essentially, they said knowledge comes in three forms: from people (teachers), from books and from experience. They stated that experience was the worst teacher because it gave the test first and then provided the lesson.

In our all-hazards response environment, we’re faced with a myriad of dangerous missions we must respond to. I don’t know of a chief officer or fire officer alive who can be an expert in all the specialty areas: structural firefighting, wildland firefighting, hazmat response, EMS, specialized rescue, terrorism and other dynamic responses, and response to large-scale natural disasters.

Thankfully, the IAFC, through our members, has subject-matter experts in all of these areas and they’re more than willing to sharing their knowledge, much of which has been leaned from experience. As you look at the budget and the calendar, I’d encourage you to plan on attending or sending some of your officers to our outstanding slate of conferences:

All of these provide people (teachers) to help you gain knowledge.

Then there’s a plethora of materials written for the fire service and our members that Plato and Aristotle would approve of; find this body of information at IAFC.org

IAFC KnowledgeNet is an important resource for our members; it’s members on a peer-to-peer basis helping each other.

FSTAR—Firefighter Safety Through Advanced Research—is a collection of contemporary science that applies to our profession.

I encourage you to visit all of these sites and explore.

In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey talks about the need to “Sharpen the Saw.” As chiefs and fire officers, we need to be lifelong learners who are always expanding our knowledge tool chest because we never know what the next call will be.

Our communities expect us to respond to all hazards and our firefighters expect us to do all we can to keep them safe. To do that, we need knowledge; please join me at a conference this year as we learn together.

Fire Chief John Sinclair
President and Chairman of the Board

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