Company Officers: The True Trainers of the Fire Service

Training in this decade will be different from the last. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 made a significant impact on the training of fire service personnel. Other incidents over the last seven years have changed our training philosophies as well.

It is imperative that we change how we do training to meet the changing needs of emergency services. Responses have changed over the years and will continue to change significantly as we move forward into the future.

So, who steps up to the plate on this one? Well, it might be argued that it is the fire chief's responsibility. Others may say it is the training officer's job. This may hold some truth to each, but who truly trains the fire service today? If you guessed the training officer, guess again. No, it's not the famous instructor at a major conference. It is the company officer.

That's right, the company officer! They have more of an impact on the education of the fire service than most care to recognize. It is the day-in and day-out constant preparation of members that is the backbone of the fire service training.

So, how do we prepare company officers for this task of training the fire service for tomorrow? The base area we need to address initially is the attitude towards training. That's right, training is about attitude, but what is attitude? Lets take a close look at several areas that hold the answer to this question.

Realistic Training
First, we must evaluate to ensure our training is realistic. Training that is not realistic will not prepare the personnel for what could occur. They will not have the knowledge of tactics that work and don't work; they will have not made mistakes to help develop information for cued decisions.

Secondly, is your training progressive? To prepare personnel to respond to emergencies and properly mitigate them safely, we must provide training that will help them be prepared for the tasks at hand. Keep in mind that we can do progressive training like high-angle or confined space. But is it realistic? If you have no confined spaces in your district, this training is progressive but not realistic.

The other extreme is teaching the use of booster reels for vehicle fires. This is not a standard tactic any more due to the changes that have occurred to the designs and powering of motor vehicles. However, to be progressive we must cover the immediate training needs of your response area and then begin to train for the future changes that are destined to occur.

As company officers/instructors, we have to change the mindset of "it has been done this way for 25 years, why do we need to change it?" Good change is excellent. No change is to regress. If it is not broken, let's break it...Let's find a better, safer and more efficient way.

Keep It Interesting
Training must be interesting or it will not be effective. So, how do we make training interesting? If you ask most firefighters they will say that hands-on makes it interesting. Reality is that not all training can be hands-on, some must be didactic. How do we make that interesting?

First, come up with different and exciting ways do cover the material. The use of digital programs and pictures enhances any lecture. The presentation of real case scenarios that have occurred where firefighters can see tangible results is a good way also. Most of all, put some energy into the presentation instead of being that guy up front who really doesn't want to be there.

Finally, every portion of your training should be centered around meeting and fulfilling the mission statement of the fire department. It gives you a direction to expand your training into new areas and programs.

Evaluating Your Training Program As A Company Officer
In evaluating your training program you should ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Are you prepared for the changes of tomorrow?
  2. Are you prepared for what you are destined to face?
  3. Are you willing to change to meet these new demands?
  4. Are you meeting your current training needs?
  5. Are you preparing to meet your future training needs?
  6. Are you innovative, resourceful, and willing to supersede all existing boundaries?
  7. Does your company have the right attitude?
  8. Is your training really something else...just killing time or a paper chase?

These questions will tell you quickly if you have a training program for the company of the millennium or if your company is living in nostalgia. The fire service as a whole must bring training from the past to the future. Times have changed significantly in the last decade and will most likely change even more in the next.

Each year, over 100 firefighters are killed on duty. How many of these were due to inadequate training? Could training make an impact of the reduction of these deaths? Could your company be the catalyst that starts a new profound trend in your department?

So, what does it take to have a company training program that is ready to meet the demands of the new millennium? First, we need to address three areas -- leaders, instructors and students.

Leaders -- better known as officers -- must take a proactive approach towards training. Instructors -- officers plus other members of the crew -- must set the tempo in changing the traditional mindset of training. Students -- all of us -- must be willing to be open minded to new types and styles of training.

Officers will need to develop a proactive rather than a reactive approach towards training. The efficiency of this direction is controlled at the company level. If you, as an officer, foster the proactive approach it will be contagious. This will set the appropriate attitude of the group. Along with being proactive, it is necessary for leaders to be innovative as well as traditional in today's world of budget cuts.

Officers must find new ways to provide premier training under limited budgets and time constraints.

This leads us to being resourceful. You will need to utilize all of the resources at hand to ensure that the training program is progressive. Finally, they must be supportive of the training program and not detrimental. This support will carry along way and will guarantee that the attitudes are progressive and proactive.

Remember, company officers are the true trainers of the fire service. Knowledge is power...share it!


DOUGLAS K. CLINE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a 28-year veteran and student of the fire service is the training commander with the High Point, NC, Fire Department. Cline is the first vice president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and is a well known international speaker presenting a myriad of programs. Chief Cline is also a highly published author, including Company Officer Test Preparation Guide Book with a scenario training DVD and served as the technical content adviser and contributing author for several Delmar Cengage Learning texts. Chief Cline is the host of Firehouse.com's Training & Tactics Talk podcast series and was a guest on The Leader's Toolbox podcast on Radio@Firehouse. To read Douglas' complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Douglas by e-mail at dcline11@triad.rr.com.

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