A small fire department with a good reputation for professionalism at incidents is sure to have a strong training program as one of its attributes. Training as a means to proficiency sounds easy. Sit new firefighters in a classroom, then give them some hands-on experience and you've got firefighters...
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2. DEPARTMENT MEMBERS SPEARHEAD TRAINING
It's unfortunate, but an often-held outlook that cripples viewpoints of the training officer position is that it is an unglamorous and thankless position.
Given the vast implications inherent to training in the small fire department the training officer's position is immensely underrated. Ask any veteran firefighters who most influenced them in their firefighting vocation and invariably they will mention a training officer or two. Many who become involved in small fire departments as training officers end up as chiefs. The training world is always on the cutting edge of new things influencing the fire service and serves as a conduit for progressive, forward-thinking individuals in the fire service. Additionally, those who commit themselves to training find it quite rewarding. Seeing a volunteer firefighter progress from an all-thumbs plebe to a knowledgeable and experienced firefighter and knowing you had something to do with that transition carries a special kind of satisfaction.
"I encourage every fire department to seek out an experienced cadre of instructors," says Chief Ed Kirtley of the Diamond, OK, Fire Department. "Every department needs two or three members to become certified instructors who can get some experience and then go after training programs to bring back to the department."
Kirtley's statement carries a lot of credence. For the small fire department with volunteers on a variety of schedules and myriad obligations, training needs to be accessible, flexible and accommodating. What this means is the training program shouldn't be the burden of just one individual. One person may be in charge, but having two or three people involved increases the cadre of skills, abilities and the availability of training opportunities.
Every small fire department also faces the challenge of having a body of firefighters who are at levels 2 through 9 on a scale of 10 in skills and capabilities; then you've got the new recruit you're trying to get past level 1. In a larger department it's easier to separate firefighters by skills and job classification and then cater training specifically to their needs. The training officer of a small fire department, however, deals with firefighters spread across the full spectrum of skills and knowledge and a spectrum just as wide of attitudes and motivation to train. Again, having more than one person involved in training helps the small fire department contend with the challenges inherent to the diverse group of individuals who make up the department and the broad variety of services they must perform.
The bottom line is that in order to focus the attention on training that is deserved in a small fire department, a concerted effort must be made to find those firefighters in the ranks who have an interest in training and supplying them with all of the support and resources they need to get the job done.
"To make training as effective as it needs to be you need to establish a defined group of people who will be taking care of the training rather than just showing up on drill night and making assignments," says Ex-Chief Don Wood of the Radnor Fire Company in Wayne, PA. Wood instructs at a variety of levels, including as a contract instructor with the National Fire Academy. He was chief of the Radnor Fire Company for 12 years.
Some small fire departments are fortunate to have top-notch instructional talent on the roster. If you're department seems to have a void of instructional talent, don't let that be an inhibitor. Even instructors who don't have the most polished instructional technique can succeed in getting the message across. Some co-instructing with other, more seasoned instructors will help them get off to a good start.