Did you notice in my headline I didn't say, "Do you take time to train?" There's a reason for that choice of words.
Taking time to train sounds pretty random to me.
Making time means you are in charge. It means you make a decision to conduct training. Not only do you have to make the decision, but then you must make it happen.
Let's not get too far away from the real issue here, which is whether you train, but this first point is important. In fact, it is so important that if you don't take the first step, and it is a mental one, no training will be conducted. So, back to the original question: Do you make the time to train? Well? Do you? You are probably sitting somewhere by yourself reading this column, so you can answer this question honestly.
The answer to this question, as I see it, is a big fat no! That's because I'm not talking about the training materials out there, the seminars you see being conducted and all of the excellent fire service training websites. I am talking about firehouse training — on-duty, in-the-station, at-the-academy training.
Whether you are a volunteer or career firefighter or officer, there needs to be organized, effective, regular mandated training. Yes, I said mandated. I said that because not everyone is training on their own. I talk with firefighters and officers from all over the country and few describe a regular (scheduled and expected), effective (relevant and practical) and mandated (somebody makes it happen) training program in their departments. On the other hand, all we read about in every fire service magazine is the importance of reducing firefighter fatalities and injuries. Here's a news flash, folks — training is the answer! Yes, the more you train, the more realistic it is, the more you repeat training sessions, the safer your firefighters will be and, an even bigger news flash, the safer your community will be.
So who exactly is responsible for firefighter training? It is the company officers and chief officers. Whether you studied for a civil service exam and were promoted to your current rank, won an election in a volunteer company or were appointed to an officer's position, you are responsible for training your firefighters.
Let's talk about the chief's job first. The chief is the person who can mandate the training. Set a new policy, establish a new routine or make a new rule. Let it be known that training will occur every day or every training night or whenever and wherever you believe it will be best conducted. Mandated means the chief must make sure it happens. Set the policy, stick to it and make sure all of the company officers do the same. That is step one. The next job the chief has is to provide the officers with the tools and equipment they need to conduct effective training. Provide Internet access to your officers so they can research and find interesting and practical training materials. Provide training books and audiovisual materials along with props for hands-on training. Support and empower your officers to get the training done.
Company officers have an even bigger job; they have to actually get the job done. Company officers are the people who will realize the benefits of having a well-trained crew. It is their job to make sure their firefighters are ready to face any challenge they encounter. It will be the company officer who will figure out what subjects or specific tactics need to be practiced and learned. Obviously, an engine officer will concentrate more on engine work than a ladder company officer might. They both need to do some cross training so every firefighter can perform the basic skills of both engine and ladder companies.
Once an officer or a team of officers has determined what training subjects will be covered, they need to put together a drill or training schedule. A drill schedule can be developed, printed and posted so the firefighters know in advance what the subject of an upcoming drill will be. Alternate between classroom training and hands-on training so the firefighters will receive proper and correct information, followed up with an opportunity to actually start performing each of the learned tactics.
Training is the single most important activity officers can provide to their firefighters. Good gear, equipment and apparatus are important, but they are useless without training. If you are a career officer and you are not training for an hour or more each time you work a shift, you are not doing your job. Spare me the excuse that you are too busy doing other required activities. Make the time to train and you will be preparing your crew for the dangerous work they do, and you will be providing a higher level of service to the people we are there to serve.
JOHN J. SALKA Jr., a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 28-year veteran battalion chief with FDNY, the commander of the 18th battalion in the Bronx. Salka has instructed at several FDNY training programs, including the department's Probationary Firefighters School, Captains Management Program and Battalion Chiefs Command Course. He conducts training programs at national and local conferences and has been recognized for his firefighter survival course "Get Out Alive." Salka co-authored the FDNY Engine Company Operations manual and wrote the book First In, Last Out — Leadership Lessons From the New York Fire Department. He also operates Fire Command Training (www.firecommandtraining.com), a New York-based fire service training and consulting firm.