Welcome to the inaugural column for Telling It Like It Is. This column will be dedicated to honest discussion about the issues and events that confront the fire service today. We'll have open and frank discussions that may upset some of you because they will take a "truth at all costs...
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How is it that several, highly respected training institutions and colleges have transformed firefighter training into an entirely online learning experience? They make it sound pretty simple. Apply, be accepted, log in and take online multimedia-based training, follow all reading assignments, have your practical skills checked off by your own fire department, complete a final exam and you can go from untrained civilian to a fully certified Firefighter II.
Can you believe it? You can be a fully certified Firefighter II without ever stepping foot in the classroom! Who are they kidding? We believe in the value of online training. It is convenient, easy to deploy and can get critical information into the hands of the fire service in a very short period of time; however, it is not a replacement for the classroom experience. Online training should be used to augment not replace.
The job of firefighter is now and always has been a physical job. Donning gear, pulling hose, forcing doors and windows, bracing for the back pressure of a straight-tip, throwing and climbing ladders and operating power tools are all tasks that require hours of practice in order to develop the type of muscle memory necessary to perform them in the middle of the night without a second thought. A proper school will provide a small amount of classroom knowledge and then drive that knowledge into the student through hours of practical, physical training.
These training institutions contend that the practical skill verification is the sole responsibility of the firefighter's department. How many departments have the time or are properly equipped to spend hours with a rookie firefighter driving home the didactic learning that he took on the Internet? Let's be realistic; if most departments had the time and the equipment, why wouldn't they just conduct the classes themselves?
This does not begin to address the fact that, outside a physical classroom setting, the online student has nobody to verify that homework and workbook assignments were completed. There is nobody to verify that they read the required chapters or are following any type of a physical fitness standard.
In an online environment, the newbie learns nothing of dedication and discipline. Does he report to class on time and prepared? Are his ears open far more than his mouth? Does he cut corners? Does he go the extra mile? Does he cheat on the exams (nothing stops an online candidate from making every quiz an "open-book quiz")? Does he participate? Is he engaged? Nobody is present to ensure that the trainee learns the proper attitude necessary to make him successful. Nobody is even there to evaluate that attitude.
Given these shortcomings, why do these institutions offer such classes? From their perspective, they are extending training out to those who could not otherwise access it. Whether that access limitation is schedule induced or geographically induced, these institutions will tout that they are extending the reach of traditional training.
Consider this, though. If you are a physical training institution, your main limitation to revenue growth is the number of interested students within a commutable radius of the school. The only way to increase revenues is to extend the reach of the physical location of the training institution so that students living outside a commutable radius have a reason to send the institution money. The value of a real, physical-classroom experience is that this is where a firefighter learns to be a firefighter. It is more than the transfer of knowledge. This is the place where a firefighter learns to value tradition, respect the chain of command and fully understand the commitment it takes to do this job. They will learn the "Three R's" of firefighting: Reverence, Responsibility and Respect.
No web browser can do that.