training

There is no Try — Life Application of Yoda’s Teachings

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“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

So many times in life, we are presented with opportunities to improve our lives, whether it be through a job or in a business. So we decide to give it a try. I have been doing this over the last few months at Nav Canada. I was offered a job there at the Flight Information Centre, having left the company 6 years ago. It is such an excellent opportunity! I’ve been training to give pilot weather briefings (customized weather forecasts just for pilots) since the end of January — that’s why I haven’t been blogging at all! It’s been taking up all my time!

They’ve been teaching us a ton of weather theory, all about high and low pressure systems, what causes them to form, develop and dissipate. We’ve learned everything there is to know about warm and cold fronts, how to see when they begin and pick them out on upper air charts. Precipitation, cloud types, tornadoes and hurricanes. Freezing rain, vorticity, and a whole chapter on fog. It’s ridiculous how much I know about the jet stream now! And I can interpret satellite imagery, radar signals, and read a GFA like a boss.

As you might have guessed, I did pretty well at the theory and classwork. We wrote 7 tests and I think my lowest mark was 89%. In the process, I have completely drained the ink out of 2 pens (I’m working on the 3rd), filled two 3″ binders with hand-written notes, and have an impressive stack of cue cards with key points on them.

The practical part has been much more of a challenge. We have a lab with all the computers and graphic feeds that we need to give these customized weather forecasts. We go back and forth between 3 different screens to look at all the satellite views, actual weather reports and aviation forecasts. It’s a challenge to correlate all the info and the theory and then know how much to actually SAY to the pilot. What does he/she need to know? How much is too much info? How do I describe what I’m seeing over the phone so that it makes sense? It was very difficult to put the info into a logical order and string it together so that is sounds good.

And I’m a talker! I don’t usually have any sort of trouble communicating! One day, it all clicked and I was able to describe things well and get it all out. Then my instructors all started saying I need to say less. “Too much detail. You’ll confuse the pilot.” So, I’d say less. Sometimes, there were great pauses, as I tried to conjure the best, most concise way to say what I needed to say. Then, during a pause, they’d prompt me, “talk about the radar.” “Jesus H Christ, that’s what I’m about to do!” I would think, but I never said it. All of us trainees were awkward and making lots of mistakes, and our instructors would interrupt us. They were trying to help, or stop us from making mistakes, but it was so frustrating. Many times, I felt like saying, “just let me do it. Let me make the mistakes, notice them and fix them. Yes, typos will happen. Just never mind them!” But I didn’t say anything, and soon I started having nightmares about not being heard, yelling and no one listening. It was bad. I found out that my fellow students were having similar experiences, and one of them kinda blew up one day; after that, there was less interrupting.

After one lab run with the worst interrupting instructor, I finally had the clarity to tell him this: “When you interrupt or try to help, I feel like you don’t think I can do it. And that makes it really hard to actually do it.” I think he understood that, and that was the core of the problem. I was frustrated because I felt like he was just sitting there, feeling I was hopeless, wishing he was home (or anywhere else!) because I was so bad. But after I said that, he stopped almost all his interrupting and he was more encouraging.

So now we are in evals (evaluations). The mid-term eval was one 8-hour day, and in the 2 lab runs leading up to it, I was very stressed. All I could do was joke that I was getting all my nerves out ahead of time so that I’d do better on the eval. I have only been that nervous a few times in my life, and it was so hard on me. I decided that mistakes be damned, I just HAD to lighten up about it or it was going to kill me. I just can’t live with that level of stress for days on end.

And I passed! So the course continued and we learned more in-depth theory, like why the worst turbulence is on the left side of the jet stream. And it was all good! But now it’s time for the final eval.

It is three days long! Three 8-hour days of giving weather briefings, taking flight plans, processing NOTAMS, and generally having every word I say written down and scrutinized. I’ve done 2 of those days and have 1 more to go and I am just bursting to write about my experience.

On Monday, we had a practice run. As before, I was pretty nervous and didn’t do very well. Tuesday went quite a bit better, and I was feeling pretty confident on Wednesday, day 1 of the eval. As it went along, I was able to keep my nerves in check, and tried my absolute best to do my job diligently, carefully and not make mistakes. Tried very hard. As I went, once in a while I would realize I had made a small mistake, and I think I even knew I had made one bigger one, but at the end I was feeling pretty good. My instructor came over and gave me a quick overview of how I’d done — and I couldn’t believe how many mistakes I had made. All kinds of dumb ones! That I hadn’t even realized I had made! Lots. Too many. Way too many. I still passed overall, but barely.

Well, shit. All that careful work. I thought I had done so well! I was really rattled. It took me a while to process that on Wednesday night so that I could eventually get to sleep.

Yesterday came and I told myself, “it’s a new day! I won’t make those mistakes again.” I went in early, as I always do, and reviewed all the charts and weather info. I got it pretty solidly in my head and felt very ready, again! Almost too ready. I was there an hour and a half early, so by the time we started, I was pumped. And so I rushed in on the first one without considering all the info and made a really big mistake on the very first call! And I realized it a few minutes later! Crap. And then the strangest thing happened.

I instantly took on a “f*ck it” attitude. “Screw it. If I’m ridiculously careful, I make mistakes I don’t even know I’m making. If I act more confident, I screw that up too! F*ck f*ck f*ck.”

It was very strange. A part of me was still detached enough to see what was going on and that the f*ck it train of thought was too far on the other side of the pendulum and would prove self-destructive. Somehow, I don’t even really know how, I was able to talk myself down and get back into a more balanced headspace in order to do the job. And I did pretty well at the end of the day. I still made some mistakes, but other than that really big one at the beginning, I did better than on Wednesday.

And today is Friday, day 3. I’ve been struggling with getting in the right headspace for the practical side of the job for weeks. But I think I’ve got it. I’ve had 2 big realizations:

– I have to channel the inner weather briefer in me! I have the training! I know how to do it.
– So just do it. Stop trying and just do it.

That’s it. That’s my deep wisdom. Do or do not. There is no try. Trying just makes for a dualistic mindset/vibe. It introduces the possibility of not being successful. Learn, practice, do. That’s it! (Hey, I could write a book, like Liz Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love” and call it “Learn Practice Do.” 🙂

As a side note, I started this blog to report on my training progress with Nav Canada the first time! Some of those old posts are fun reading! 🙂

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Fire Practice Scenario

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I know some of you just live for new stories about my experiences on the fire department, so I’ve got a good one for ya! 🙂 A week ago at fire practice, our chief and deputy chief came up with an exercise to test our practical abilities, to complement the classroom stuff we’ve been doing. The scenario was a structure fire in a single story building, and we weren’t sure if there was anyone inside. There were 12 of us involved in the scenario, enough for two fire trucks. The first time we ran the scenario, the team I was on was the first on the scene. As such, some of my teammates were tasked with putting on breathing apparatus to be the first people in. This means that as soon as we can get staged and water flowing, they are to go into the building, find the fire and start putting it out, and start looking for any survivors (2 people fight fire, 2 people look for survivors). I was tasked with “tagging the hydrant” which means that my job was to take the hose from the truck and attach it to the hydrant. There are several steps involved, and I’ve been trained on how to do it, but frankly, I’ve only helped with this once on a real fire scene and only done it by myself in training. So this scenario was good practice!

As soon as I had finished at the hydrant and radioed the pump operator that I was ready to flow water, I went to the truck to see what else I could do. We always have some water in the tank on the truck to start fighting the fire, but establishing a reliable water flow/source is very important. Back at the door of the pretend burning building, the “first up” team who had been doing search and rescue was just coming back out, so I was teamed up with another fire fighter to go in and continue the search. This was great — I had only learned about search and rescue a few weeks ago, and had never done it. I did everything I learned to do — followed my teammate and held on to her boot (it is often so smoky that you can’t see your partner so you have to go by touch), I had a tool (like a long crow bar) that I swept the floor with as we crawled, and I kept in verbal contact with my partner. Wouldn’t you know it, we found a casualty — Rescue Randy, a crash test dummy we have for training purposes. Man, that plastic dude is heavy! My partner, who is a petite-but-tough woman, and I started heaving Randy’s body out of the building. We didn’t have far to go, but we got some help from another team member when we got tired. He spelled me off and then I took over from my partner. It was exhausting work, and Randy only weighs 165 lbs. I was dripping in sweat by the time we were done.

What can I say — my team rocked! The chief and deputy chief said I did the hydrant perfectly, and we not only put the fire out, we found the casualty and got him safely out of the building. We had a little room for improvement in communication, but otherwise we had all done a great job! The second scenario was even more fun, and we rocked again.

This time, we were the second fire truck on the scene and our job was to back up the first crews. We were to immediately set up a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), so that if anyone inside the building gets hurt, lost, or runs out of air, we go in and help them. We always make sure when two people are in the building, two people are outside standing by, just in case. Sure enough, just after we got all our gear out, the first call for help came. The team hauling out the casualty needed help. So, in went the first two people. My friend Colin and I were on the second RIT team, so we became next-up. A couple of minutes later, we got the call that part of the (pretend) building had collapsed on the two people who had been fighting the pretend fire. We quickly grabbed the RIT bag (which has an extra air tank and face mask) and went into the building. Colin totally rocked that situation! He confirmed that they were still with their hose line, so all we had to do was follow the hose to find them — an important detail that made our job much easier. In the scenario, they weren’t far in the building, but in real life, they might be around corners, up or down stairs, and following the hose is the easiest way to locate them. Once we found them, one guy, just to make it more fun, said “both my legs are broken.” Below the knees. Oh, geez. So, Colin coordinated how we would carry him out of the building and we did just that. I’m sure we jostled him a little and he would have been in some pain, but heck, when you’re in a burning building, you gotta be fast! Then, to go back in and help the other fire fighter out, Colin turned to me and said “how’s your oxygen?” Since we weren’t actually on oxygen and I had no idea how much time had elapsed, I just kind of went “uh, I dunno.” So, he grabbed my helmet with one hand on each side, looked me in the face and said “are you okay to go back in?” So I said “Yes!” and we did. We helped the second fire fighter, who could walk on his own, and the scenario was over.

Again, dripping with sweat. Exhausted. Happy! Sore knees (almost all the work in the building was crawling). But happy!

I learned a lot about how a complex situation like that would be managed, and I also really enjoyed actually doing many of the things I’ve been learning about. So there ya go! I was just a chattering away when I got home, and I still get excited when I think about it. 🙂 That’s how I know I’m doing the right thing for me — I’m excited every time I go on a call or go to practice!

My First Fire Fighting Calls

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As I mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, I joined the volunteer fire department in September! It’s been an amazing experience, and a few days ago I went to my first call(s), so I thought I’d write a little about that, since this blog is “Adventures with Teresa” and it was sure an adventure!

Our fire department has the reputation of being one of the best in Alberta, and I can see why. There are 30 members, all volunteer, and one paid fire chief (who also has other duties in the town office). There is lots of training before you can go on calls, and when calls come, everybody scrambles to get to the hall as fast as they can. Along with all the other new recruits, I’ve been going to both Monday night practices and orientation classes. Some of the orientation is classroom-based, and some is practical. I used to feel so out-of-my-element, a fish out of water, but now I am starting to feel more comfortable. I know some of the people better. I know where to find stuff in the hall. I know how to do basic tasks. I have learned how to:
– wash trucks (I had previous truck-washing experience!)
– squeegee the floor (ditto)
– wash, dry, and wrap up hoses
– lay hoses in the trucks (the basics)
– rescue people who’ve fallen through thin ice (read about it here)
– stabilize cars or trucks that have been in accidents so that anyone trapped inside can be rescued
– use hand tools and power tools to safely cut cars or trucks apart to get an injured person out
– use a breathing apparatus — put it on, breathe with it, change and refill tanks
– understand and interpret fire behaviour
– use ladders
– use, inspect, and store various equipment, from light stands to use at night, to heavy pry bars

Even though I have learned a lot, there is so much more still to learn. I still don’t know where a lot of the equipment is kept. But I’m starting to feel strangely comfortable now. What I’m doing feels natural. When I used to go to VSU calls, there was usually a lot of anxiety and a good chance that I’d “take it home” — I’d still be thinking about what I saw or did several days later. We were dealing with people in the worst of situations, and a lot of it was emotional and psychological. I learned a lot in those times! And they were never comfortable. I feel like with more training, fire fighting (and all the other work that goes with it) will not be as stressful in that way. Yes, my heart pounds a little when the pager goes off, but it’s hands-on excitement and work, which appeals to me.

I am also really enjoying the camaraderie. The gang at the hall are such neat, great people — I’m really enjoying getting to know them all. My fellow fire fighters are getting to know me a little better too, which I think makes us all more comfortable around one another. It’s great when we see something that needs doing and all just pitch in… I mean, isn’t that the way our society is supposed to work? People working together can accomplish so much!

Anyway, I got to go on my first call, a motor vehicle accident, a few days ago. I can’t share too many details of the call. It was a head-on collision on the highway, and at first all we knew was there was a person trapped. Then we heard there was a vehicle on fire. Then that it was a gas truck. Hoo boy! Then we heard about 4 different versions of what the truck was carrying, but it turned out to be a propane truck. Not good! The cab was burning fully when we arrived on scene, so we quickly got some water on it to cool it down, and overall, we were really lucky it didn’t blow. If we had been even a few minutes later or had a few less gallons of water, it might have blown.

Just after we had finished putting all our hoses away and getting the tanker refilled, we got a call for a plane crash at the airport! Gads! So we turned around and high-tailed it back to town (the accident was about 50 km south of town) and as we went we got more details. It turns out it wasn’t a crash, yet, just an airplane with damaged landing gear. Well that’s a whole different story! A couple of minutes after we got to the airport, the plane came into view — sure enough, he was missing a tire on one side of his gear, but he still had one good tire. The pilot eased it down and landed uneventfully — except that he had an audience watching: about 5 cop cars, 4 fire trucks, and 5 ambulances. Pretty much all of High Level’s emergency services!

What a day! But you know what made my heart really pound out of my chest? As we were screaming through town — sirens wailing, air horn blaring — a person in a mini-van either didn’t see us (!) or decided to try and cross the highway in front of us!! SH*T! We had to brake and swerve a little, on roads that were slippery, not to hit this, ahem, person. (Insert string of curse words here.) What saved us was that there was so little traction, the mini-van couldn’t really get onto the road… but then when it braked, it slid about a foot. Sheesh! So please, if I may say — Give way to emergency vehicles when you see them! Don’t do anything stupid, like try to “beat them!” Be alert so you see them in the first place. Okay, that’s enough of a rant. I’m sure none of you, my wonderful, intelligent readers, would ever be that stupid. My heart pounds just thinking about it — creaming a mini-van with a tanker loaded with water going highway speeds.

So there you have it! You wanted adventure and you got it! Get out there and live life to the fullest! 🙂

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