Marshal Training

I wish there were more marshal training opportunities.

Facebook Groups as well as Ten-Tenths Forum is still abuzz with discussion and outpouring of condolences for the loss of life at the Canadian GP. Yet, save for a moment of silence at few upcoming events, I haven’t seen much said in regard to improving the marshal training initiatives. The attitude in North America is, from what it seems to me, “we are professionals, we know what we’re doing.” I take issue with that sort of thinking because even after working 35 mostly-pro weekends last year I have yet to pull a pin on a fire extinguisher. And I have been nagging people in my local SCCA region (and division), as well as New Zealand last year before I moved back to the US to see if I can get fire training done. But its not just fire training. Especially at pro events, organizers go out of their way to keep the marshals away from competitors or their cars. But when incidents happen in the middle of the race, we are expected to jump and resolve things quickly as if we engineered those cars and knew exactly how to handle them. Everyone in this industry needs an attitude adjustment.

The training I have received so far has been invaluable in my opinion. People laughed at me when I said we had classroom training in Singapore where I started marshalling. But what’s wrong with that? Knowing the theory prepares you to formulate an approach to problem solving when you are faced with the situation in real life. Singapore has also provided me with crane / recovery training on site at the Manitou SG facility where we learned how to properly hook, walk the car to a safe spot, and lift it on a flat tow. Many lessons from that experience are still fresh in my mind, like keeping constant eye contact with the crane operator. The fact that one person can safely balance the car which shouldn’t be raised above eye level when moving so that you can see where you’re going without straining, not getting caught between the swinging car and the crane, etc. These concepts were later reinforced at Mid Ohio when the Holmatro crew handled a beached Indycar in one of the run-offs where I assisted.

In New Zealand where I volunteered to work recovery every time there were more flaggers than safety crew, we even learned how to handle a V8 Supertourer in case of emergency. One of the teams demonstrated the kill switch, where to use the jaws of life on a roll cage and even how to take the driver side door off without destroying the car (there’s a small latch that releases the door which can be easily lifted off the car with one hand). This demo again was invaluable because you, as a first responder, knew exactly where to go responding to an incident instead of trying to figure it out and wasting valuable time during race conditions.

At my second V8 Supertourer event in two years, again working rescue, we were shown how to work with medical crews to extricate a driver. Not only did the team volunteer a car for this demo, they even lent us a driver to go with it, fully suited and wearing a helmet.

I was extremely fortunate in my short marshalling career to be presented with the opportunities I had, especially overseas. I learned how to flag in Asia Pacific, specifically during my time in New Zealand. But I also learned how to work as part of the rescue crew. Which has been especially valuable in North America where marshals are expected to work all positions from flags to comms, to safety and rescue.

But I have yet to do a new or refresher training course, like the one I’ve been eager to do for fire training, back home in the states. I am constantly getting invited to join the local marshals at their social dinner, what seems like every other month now. But instead of sitting around and bullshitting about this and that, and how close someone came to getting hit, or how fantastically they handled an incident. I’d rather put my $85 annual membership to better use, why can’t they just offer training instead of the monthly socials?

To the reader I’m sure this post sounds like a criticism, but it isn’t intended that way. I am very proud of all the events I’ve been fortunate to participate in North America. But having a baseline to compare them to overseas, specifically Australia and Singapore, I think more can be done for worker safety. In fact, both Singapore and South Korean GP’s saw marshals practicing recoveries before marshal meetings or during the downtime (and there is always plenty of downtime at pro events). It really doesn’t take that much time to assemble the relevant people and run a short refresher demo to make sure everyone is on the same page during the fast paced events that happen in an actual race. Get a team involved, let them bring a car so we can see it up close, touch it, get instructions on how to handle it without causing damage to it or to us, etc.

In closing I really want to reiterate the point that I feel we need more training. You never stop learning in this hobby, and number of years of participation is no gauge for experience. You can be doing this for ten years but if you’ve never had an incident with a fire it won’t help you with proper fire extinguisher handling. Similarly, in North America where we pay hefty membership fees just for the privilege of being a volunteer, I would like to see those fees go towards training rather than insurance (which so many people have pointed out to me as a massive benefit of being a member). For $85/year I would rather prevent an injury rather than rely on some form of minimal compensation later. Be safe everyone!

daytona 24 crash APR

On the job training at the 24hrs of Daytona 2013, car impacted my station, you can see white uniform and yellow flag in the background (Tim and I were on flags at that time)… this was one of five times we had to run off station to take cover and than run back to put the yellow flag out.

Photo credit: APR, full story on One Hot Lap: