It Hasn't Been a Great Year for Training

An e-mail from one of my fabulous readers set my mind to whirring. This fellow spoke of the problems he faced as the chief of his department. As you might expect, one of the major problems he asked me to address involved the ways in which he might convince his members of the need to train regularly.

I guess the key to answering that question involves creating a love for learning within your department. Here is an area where you must truly learn to lead by example. If you want your folks to learn, you must be a solid learner yourself. If you want your folks to devote countless hours to learning, you must do so yourself. You also need to insure that your drills and classes are relevant and engaging. That is the advice I shared with him.

As most of you know, I have been a vocal advocate of training for many years now. Many have been the commentaries I have crafted which were designed to inspire you to train harder. I have never been a proponent of the "do-as-I-say: not-as-I-do" school of fire service leadership.

It is with this thought in mind that I feel a personal confession to each of you is in order. They say that confession is good for the soul. This has not been a year of which I am proud when it comes to fire service training. Oh, I have been to a number of seminars at the major conferences, and have taught a few. However, my hands-on drill-ground experience this year has been woefully inadequate.

As you might expect, my life has been very busy. I guess it is a function of a number of different influences. There are the consulting jobs, the major conventions and of course, my 30-day road trip in July. However these are nothing more than a series of excuses, not an explanation or a justification.

Perhaps the number one villain has been my traveling. I have been on the road for more than 80 days this year. My life has been blessed with a number of significant opportunities, however each of these has demanded that I go on the road to enjoy and explore them. My annual commitments to the Fire Department Instructor's Conference, Firehouse Expo, and Fire-Rescue International are just the starting point.

Perhaps the greatest drain on my at-home time this year was my 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. For one month, I traveled the highways and by-ways of our country to visit with people who were blessed to receive funding from this important federal grant program. This was time well spent, but it cannot count as training time for me.

My buddy Jack Peltier and I got to meet scores of really great fire people. However I touched neither hose nor ladders during this time. Neither did I attend any of my fire department's drills. Truth be told, I need to spend some serious time catching up on how we conduct our firefighting business in Adelphia.

Let me also mention that my consulting practice has seen a marked increase in the number of opportunities to work with clients in a variety of places. My work has taken me to a number of different states, and the range of projects has broadened to include a number of things that I love to do.

However each new undertaking has taken me away from Adelphia for varying periods of time. I would hope that you understand the need for me to share what I have learned over the past 40 years. There are a lot of college loans to pay off and I am working hard to do just that. Thanks to new terms granted to me by the money lenders in my life, I will have all of these debts paid off by my 88th birthday in 2035 (if I live so long).

Another culprit in my lack-of-training malaise is my love for the tuba. Seven of my travel days were devoted to traveling to Florida back in January to play my beloved instrument as a member of the Windjammers Unlimited, a circus music preservation association. I just love the fast paced circus music which serves as the central focus of our organization's reason for being.

However, business is business. I missed the Windjammer's summer meet in Iowa as a result of my road trip, and I will have to a pass on this coming January's trip to Florida because of the volume of consulting that is coming my way, not to mention two books that I am working on. But you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be journeying up to Kingston, Ontario for our summer meet in 2007.

My community band activity is taking up an increased amount of my time. Three nights of the week are devoted to my musical hobby. One or two Sundays a month are also taken up in making music with my band buddies. However in the midst of all of this I have taken the advice of a dear friend. I have never given up my day job in the fire service.

One of the major problems in meeting my drill schedule commitments arises from the fact that our fire company drills are usually held on Wednesday evenings. As a matter of fact, all of our company functions are held on the same night. Let me share with you the fact that I have no one to blame for this but myself.

Many years ago I led the fight to consolidate all of our functions on Wednesdays, so as not to take too many nights away from our families. As you might imagine, that was in the days before my love of the tuba came to the fore.

As I have mentioned on more than one occasion, I have opted out of the more physical aspects of our firefighting operations. I love to drive the apparatus, so I am still able to contribute to our departmental operations, especially during the critical daytime response period. However, I feel like I am cheating my fellow members by not attending our training sessions.

Let me share with you that I am one again on the road. I have chosen to write this commentary on an Amtrak Acela train headed for Washington, D.C. I am writing this now because the idea came into my head while I was waiting for the train at the Metro Park station in Edison, New Jersey. I wanted to capture the essence of my guilty feeling while they were fresh in my mind.

By the time you get to read this, I will have attended the National Fallen Firefighter's Foundation (NFFF) reception at the Library of Congress and served on the Department of Homeland Security's FIRE Act Strategic Review Panel. It is also my intention to be out of town once again at the end of October when I will be traveling to Emmitsburg, MD, to work on a course development project with the NFFF.

Each one of these activities plays a part in the overall success of the fire service in our nation. Unfortunately they take time away from my at-home activities. I don't know my friends, but perhaps the time has come for me to move away from the shiny red vehicles and the bursts of adrenaline that such things bring and limit my activities to actions of the mind rather than activities of the body.

Nah! I wouldn't be me if I wasn't doing something that involved fire trucks, smoke, and rescue operations. You know me folks, I am tougher than that. It is my intention to suck it up and try to make as many of our remaining sessions as possible. Given the scheduled opportunities listed on our bulletin board, I should be able to do it.

I believe that my efforts as an active firefighter bring greater validity to my work as an educator, teacher, trainer, and consultant. I do not want to be perceived as a guy who talks a great game, but doesn't know where the stadium is located. I guess this is about the old concept of walking the walk, rather than just talking the talk. I shall keep this thought in mind as I attend our live fire training drill this coming week.

As I approach the 40th anniversary of my graduation from the U.S. Air Force Firefighting School back in November of 1966, perhaps I am getting a bit sensitive about my role as a long-time fire service veteran. Perhaps it is like the aging football player who doesn't want to hang up his cleats. But I guess it is like my darling wife said nearly 20 years ago, "face it Harry, you ain't Superman."

Maybe not, but I am a man with an agenda. Maybe I do not have to hang up my firefighting gear yet, but maybe it is time to make a better attempt at going from player to coach. Anyway, one of my hopes for January of 2007 is that I will remember to share with you the outcome of my make-the-drills goal for the closing months of 2006.

What I really mean here is how can I urge you to train harder if I am slacking off? That is not my way of doing business. So I will work to make up my training shortfall. I owe that to each of you. Take care and have a great week.

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