Training: Pathway to Excellence For Small Fire Departments

Steve Meyer shows that a fire department with a reputation for professionalism at incidents is sure to have a strong training program as one of its attributes.


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...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

The fire service is also great about sharing. A training officer from a neighboring fire department is often more than willing to travel to the department next door to help with training. This also serves as a motivational tool for getting firefighters to train. It's part of human nature, but an instructor from 50 miles down the road with a laptop computer and PowerPoint presentation qualifies as an expert in many firefighters' minds and tends to draw a crowd.

All jokes aside, PowerPoint is a widely available training tool. The benefits of a slide program as a teaching aid are immense. PowerPoint is easily mastered and the LCD player needed to project the image onto a screen can often be borrowed or rented for a nominal fee. A small fire department training officer can use PowerPoint to enhance presentations and training programs while at the same time developing a training program that caters to a department's specific needs.

The Internet is full of training resources. Do a search and you'll come up with a plethora of lesson plans and contacts. The website www.firehouse.com publishes MFRI's "Drill of the Month" program.

Assigning a mentor is a training technique and a good approach to use with new members. A unique quality about firefighters is their willingness to share and pass on their knowledge to others. You don't find that quality in corporate America where the edge in job competition means you don't share your knowledge. In the fire service it's different because your life depends on the person next to you when you're facing an inferno and you need the assurance of knowing your comrade won't bail out on you.

5. FIREFIGHTERS RECEIVE TRAINING THAT CATERS TO THEIR NEEDS

Time is precious to volunteer firefighters, making it all the more important that training time is maximized.

"Many volunteer fire department's have their training program based upon the individual's ability to attend," says Chief John Buckman of the German Township, IN, Fire Department and a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). "I believe the right training program based upon performance is more important than attendance. Asking a firefighter who is paid to sit through a four-hour class may be a waste of their time depending on the subject, material and instructor. Asking a volunteer to sit through a four-hour class that really only needs one hour, but there is some organization that has arbitrarily set rules for a four-hour class, in my opinion is a tragic waste of a finite resource - TIME. Volunteers should not waste their time in training that does not produce the desired results for the department where they practice our craft."

Many volunteers are leaving the ranks due to time constraints. Often, those constraints have to do with training requirements. Three decades ago, training basically consisted of water application, pump operations, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and rescue techniques. Officer training was beginning to make a presence in training curriculums. Two decades ago, all the "methyl ethyl bad stuff" that had been killing firefighters for years started to influence training. Lawyers who chase ambulances and sue fire departments for negligence and bad driving brought about a concerted focus on driver training and medical training. Add into the mix diseases now recognized as threats to firefighter health and safety and we've got blood-borne pathogen training. Now, after 9/11, we have terrorism-related training.

In brief, the bar has been raised substantially as far as the training a small-town firefighter needs. Training to meet the requirements requires a lot of time from the small fire department member and also a broader base of knowledge as far as instructors are concerned (another reason every fire department needs a cadre of training officers, not just a training officer).

"Any training developed must be relevant to the community," White says. "You must train to meet the needs of the department," an observation shared by many others. There is no need to train extensively in fire suppression systems when there isn't a sprinkler head or fire department connection in the fire district. Likewise, there is no need to spend hours training in high-angle rescue when the tallest building is two stories and the fire district lies on land so flat you can see clear across the county.