Forest Fire Branch: WOR 2019 Day 5: Muscle Memory

6 minutes for security - Week of Remembrance logo

This Week of Remembrance is dedicated to all those who fell in the performance of their duty and must be an opportunity to renew our commitment to the health, well-being and safety of forest firefighters.

What does muscle memory mean and what does it mean for us firefighters?

Muscular memory, by definition, is "the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetitions of this movement. Typing, for example, relies heavily on muscle memory "

Without conscious thought… Let's look at the benefits of doing the best on the field at all times. This is an example of positive application of muscle memory. The strength of muscle memory for learning 10 and 18 years is that we apply these steps throughout the day without thinking, and these lessons help us make better decisions on the line of fire.

"Over time, with continuous practice, actions as complicated as riding a bike, knitting or even playing a melody on a musical instrument can be done almost automatically and without thinking." – Oxford University Publication
Practice develops muscle memory and this can be beneficial for us. Even though we may not be aware of it, the body is implementing muscle memory on a continuous basis. While we repeat actions that we first need to think about to execute properly, our brain builds shortcuts allowing us to act faster and with less awareness. The actions we train to do, practice and implement repeatedly become second nature to us. The other advantage of this muscle memory is that once we have it, we can think of something else … like the gorilla (do you remember this video of a few days ago?).

Annual Recycling RT-130, Incident Land Fire Prevention Training, asks each firefighter to practice deploying their fire shelter. The Jolly Mountain incident as part of a Rapid Lesson Sharing (RLS) concluded that "Training can create an excellent muscle memory that will be invaluable for performance during periods of intense stress," such as the stress that we feel if we find ourselves one day in a deployment situation.

Consider the action involved with the E in LCES. Identifying evacuation routes is not enough, it's the way forward that is developing muscle memory do the routine. From GAP Fire Tree Strike RLS – "Always have a planned escape route, establish a physical connection with it by taking it out. muscle memory in your efforts. This practice could make the difference between reaction time and results.

Prevent complacency

  • ANALYZE small mistakes, not just the serious ones.
  • You think you're too complacent?
    • TRY place visual reminders in your field of vision, for example a photo of a loved one.
  • DISCUSS the dangers of your work with the members of your crew.
  • SHADOW someone in a job different from you because they identify the dangers.
  • LOOK for signs of complacency in others. This will increase your awareness of this.

Can muscle memory lead to complacency? An article from Lessons Learned's Center on Complacency explains how the routine of doing something every day can create blinkers. Muscle memory built from repetitive actions such as doing the same exercises several times a week can make us forget the subtle changes that can escalate into significant events. So, how can we change our muscle memory? Active effort is required. The left-hand guide "Prevent Complacency" provides suggestions on how to adjust what we see, actively modify our muscle memory and function with more awareness. Exercise your brain every day, become aware of the dangers that may become invisible and safely and successfully leave the line with every shift.

How do you and your crews develop muscle memory? Has muscle memory already "failed you" at a critical moment? What are some examples of negative muscle memory?

How can you honor through learning?

NWCG Wildfire Remembrance Week topics, review and resources were developed by the Forest Fire Lessons Learned Center, the NWCG Steering Committee and many other experts in the field.

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