Money and Its Impact On Fire Service Training Operations

An important part of every fire officer's responsibilities involves teaching and training people to do their jobs properly. This is a difficult and challenging job, but one that ultimately is rewarding. Success requires an intimate familiarity with the communications skills you need to get your points across to the students. However, nothing is ever as easy as it seems.

Everything we do in the fire and emergency services involves money, or the lack of it. Look at the problems that fire departments face because government lacks adequate funds. In more and more instances, fire instructors are being brought into the budgetary process and asked to justify their needs. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I do not want you to be caught unaware at a critical time. I want you to be able to justify your critical programs. For that reason, I will revisit the fiscal issues involved in preparing a training budget.

For a fire department, preparing a training budget involves the critical task of deciding what you want to accomplish. You must first come to grips with the range of services that you intend to deliver to your community. I would hope that you have created an effective organizational structure and that your department has developed the necessary mission statement, goals and objectives to guide your members in determining their role in the department. If you do not know what it is you are supposed to do, it will be hard to develop a training program to meet those unidentified, nebulous intentions that you think you have. If you cannot spell out what you wish to do, I would further suggest that you would be unable to create a price tag for that unidentified range of tasks.

The fire department is one part of the emergency services puzzle in your community. To create an understanding of what you are going to do, you must know where you fit. Your town has things in common with all other communities. Your town may also have things that are unique. You must build your local fire department around both and tailor it to the needs of your community.

Once you have decided what your department's role is and what services it intends to deliver, you can then begin to decide what your training program should involve. Once this organizational tasking has been done, you can begin to create a realistic price tag for your fire department. It is at this point that you can begin the budget battle from a rational starting point.

Most of us like to concentrate on the normal firefighting tasks with which we are so familiar. However, there is a wide range of service opportunities that must be considered. It is important to explore what exists in your community and what might be missing. How can you deliver an effective emergency service if you are not aware of the hazards in your community? You must look in order to see them. Travel through your community, asking questions of the people in charge of various occupancies. Build a solid database of knowledge on which to base your operational decisions. Become well known to the plant managers, school principals, store managers and landlords of your municipality, county or fire protection district. Once you have determined what the hazards are, you will be better prepared to create a training program that meets the actual, identified needs in your community.

Creating a training program is not easy. Many levels of need must be addressed, some internal and some external. In the first instance, you must develop a list of the mandatory training programs to be delivered. Every state will have certain subjects that require annual training. Investigate the mandatory requirements in your state. I would hate to see you waste money on fines that could have been used to pay for training.

Once you have outlined the mandatory requirements, you can begin to hone in on what you must review on a recurring basis. The list will be long, and you may never get to every subject, so I urge you to be innovative. All of us in fire departments must use certain skills on a recurring basis. We use tools, apparatus, hose, ladders and a wide range of ancillary equipment, and we must drill on these tools and talents. Set up a recurring training curriculum based on standard fire service training texts. List the subjects that the texts cover and lay them out in a timeline. It is hoped that you can cover the topics at least once every two years, but this may too ambitious for most of us. It is critical, however, to write them down to keep reminding you of the things you need to teach.

Many fire departments also deliver emergency medical services to their communities. The continuing education requirements for this subject area are usually covered by statute, so you cannot ignore the expenses involved in ensuring that your personnel maintain their skills. This can create a sizeable financial requirement to be addressed every year.

A similar issue exists in the delivery of rescue services. Some agencies provide a wide range of rescue-related services, such as vehicle extrication, technical rescue, and urban search and rescue. Each of these has a skill set that must be exercised on a continuing basis. Bear in mind that specialized programs come with a much higher price tag, so you must be able to prove the need for them so that you can substantiate the increased cost.

You are now at the point where you can begin to create a training program:

  1. List your mandatory programs.
  2. Decide what skill training programs you need.
  3. List the resources needed to supplement your programs.
  4. Decide which programs will be developed and taught locally.
  5. Decide which subjects will be taught by outside resources.
  6. Determine whether these courses can be taught at your facility.
  7. Find out where are these programs are available, if you do not have the tools and talent to teach them in-house.

This exercise now brings you to the point where you have an idea where you are headed. You now must place a cost on the program you are seeking to develop.

You need to ask the following questions:

  1. What level of training exists?
  2. Will new training be needed to accomplish our goals and objectives?
  3. Will we need new audiovisual tools?
  4. Can we take advantage of the new computer-based technologies to create and deliver our training programs?
  5. Do we have a training facility? If so, is it adequate?
  6. Do we have the talent to deliver our training programs?
  7. Where can we go for help?

To do this task properly, you will need to brainstorm for new ideas and new approaches. You must not consider conducting business as usual. If you are not moving forward, you are headed for failure. In training, there is no such thing as preserving the status quo. Be worried if you hear either of the following two phrases:

  1. We have always done it this way.
  2. We have never done it that way.

These two phrases are indicative of a mindset mired in the mud of the last millennium. It is critical for you to stand up, take responsibility and point the way to the future.

The next step is to determine the cost of the product you wish to deliver. The following are important steps in your budgeting process:

  1. Come up with dollar estimates for each area you have identified.
  2. Put them into the format required by the budgeting system used by your agency.
  3. Create a strong and detailed justification for each item. Show what you wish to accomplish and how it will benefit the department and your community.
  4. Create a solid defense for each request.
  5. Arm yourself with facts, figures and friends (lots of friends).

As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day - but it was built over time according to a plan. If you fail to plan and budget, you will never achieve training success.

DR. HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is the former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. Dr. Carter is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Currently chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is vice president of the American Branch of the Institution of Fire Engineers (MIFireE). He recently published Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip, which was also the subject of a blog. He may be contacted at