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Ride, captain, ride: The value of staff rides in the fire service

If you’re looking for a powerful lesson for all ranks in your agency, it might be time to consider a staff ride

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for fire service personnel, and it has to do with something called “staff rides.”

In the early 19th century, the Prussian army pioneered the use of staff rides as part of their officer training. After World War II, staff rides became an important educational element for officer development in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Today, staff rides are used by the private sector and the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

A staff ride is not a tour or a case study. It is a field study conducted where an incident or event occurred. It does not have to be a battlefield, but it often is the scene of a preventable tragedy.

The staff ride has three components. The first is a systematic study of the event. Folks, this is not simply reading one incident report before going into the field. That’s why it’s called “systematic.” Participants will review official reports, news articles, first-person accounts, and even biographic material on the leaders. Without this phase, a staff ride is nothing more than a guided tour.

The second component is a field study at the actual site. Today, we’re used to doing a lot of learning online. But this is where staff rides are unique. Students go to the actual site to better understand the events that occurred.

The final phase is integration. It brings all parts of the staff ride together. Students learn by going beyond “what happened?” They take on the role of the decision-maker, identifying problems and analyzing how to deal with them. The integration phase is designed to encourage shared learning.

Many fire departments have used staff rides to learn from tragedies. It takes significant preparation, but the rewards are great. If you’re looking for a powerful lesson for all ranks in your agency, it might be time to consider a staff ride.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Until next time, Gordon Graham signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.