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Headaches and Solutions to Company-Level Training – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at some of the frustrations of training at the company level. In Part 2, we’ll take a look at how the company officer can enhance the safety of his or her company, while at the same time enhancing their own career prospects.

For the frustrated company officer, what does he or she do when faced with the roadblocks of troops who have absolutely no interest in company training? For our purposes, we will remove the tools of transfer and termination. Disciplinary action can be a tool in the toolbox, but like we said in Part 1, you cannot order someone to be “interested.” We are talking about companies, or even specific shifts of companies, who are not looked at as premier units.

Elite companies, such as rescue and squad companies, or even more traditional engine and ladder companies, who have very prestigious reputations, have pride in their work and ability. Training is constant and usually members have to volunteer for these “5-star units.” You may at present have the opposite extreme, but in time, you may be able to convert your present assignment into one of these sought-after units.

But for now, we are talking about situations where there are very few tools to help the company officer! Also, remember that training should never be used as a punishment! Training people because you know it will cause them duress may open up another can of worms.

For the company officer who loves the job, you cannot lose that desire, no matter how stressed and aggravating the situation becomes.

You have been dealt a hand that will test your very interest in a profession you care about and are good at. The fire service needs good people. You cannot be driven away from this field because of the personnel assigned to the company. Therefore, the first step is one of a proper mindset. The fire service is a fascinating profession; the headache that you are faced with is going to be just part of a chapter in your career. Learn from it so you can help others in similar situations in the future. Don’t lose that motivation and initiative that you have; know that there are answers and solutions to your problem.

Use the tools of empowerment.

Empowerment can be very successful in many cases. Give it a try. Find those members that may actively want to give a presentation on a topic of interest. Be overwhelmingly supportive and let your people grow and evolve into true professionals. Their entire demeanor may change and they’ll become the shining stars of your department. There is nothing better than watching a department member evolve into a world-class professional.

But, be prepared to be told outright that they’re not giving any presentation; they’re not certified instructors, they don’t want to speak in front of their colleagues, and if you force them to do a presentation, it will amount to a waste of time and very poor effort on their part. Again, you cannot “order” someone to be interested! We’ll discuss more about the tool of empowerment later.

The company still has a role to perform and an obligation to the residents and fellow department members. Therefore, as the company officer you had better know what you are doing!

Ok, the situation may be so bad that the time presently allotted to training may be nothing more than a waste of a very valuable commodity. Yes, time is a commodity that cannot be squandered!

Use the time you have to maximize the company’s success by training yourself more than ever. This means that since you are ultimately the one under the microscope, you had better know what you are doing. More so now than at any other point in your career! The reason is somewhat disturbing. In those high-performance companies where each member is heavily into the job, you always have people to fall back on, and extra sets of eyes and ears, and 3 or 4 “thinkers.” Now you may not have that same luxury.

You have to constantly be into the books and the various training videos, after-action reviews, and fire critiques that are available on the web. Training time that you felt was being wasted in traditional company drills must be used a bit more creatively! But for now, you must learn all you can; get out of your comfort zone and take your knowledge to the next level! The after-action reviews will show you how your colleagues have been injured and killed. Learn these lessons well!

Is there special equipment that your company must be familiar with? If so, then you should learn everything about it! Read all the specs on it; know the abilities, limitations, and components. Know your assigned equipment like the back of your hand. At emergency scenes, your troops might need some extra help and you’ll have to provide that needed guidance.

In addition to your academic studies, know your response area. Study your maps and hydrant locations. Study department standard operating procedures (SOPs) and standard operating guidelines (SOGs). Make every response a learning opportunity for yourself, at the very least! Always be thinking about building construction and potential fire spread characteristics every time you walk through a building, no matter what the nature of the response!

Never forget, your people have to be protected more so now then ever, simply because they may not know about certain dangers due to their lackadaisical interest in wanting to learn. So make it a point that you are better than you were for the simple reason that you have to protect your crew from the dangers out there until you can get a handle on the issues you’re facing.

Communicate your orders clearly and make sure your people are always teamed up.

Make sure you communicate your orders clearly, preferable face to face, and that those orders are understood. For units that are less than combat effective, units that exhibit serious effectiveness issues, team up your people for every task, including those outside (such as hydrant hookups) and even for other less critical tasks such as bringing in a piece of equipment during those more mundane responses. The buddy system works wonders and is a key safety factor.

Master the art of the radio report. Perception is reality!

Your radio communications can make you shine and it shows how much you “bring to the table.” Impressive size-up reports, exceptional progress reports to command, and being able to articulate the situation to your supervisors, will ultimately make you in demand even though you have some “issues” to deal with. This point is huge! You become the face of the company. Master the basics of initial reports and progress reports and become good at them. This will pay dividends to not only you, but also the way your company is looked at! But remember, to be able to make such impressive radio reports, you must know what you’re talking about!

Try to train your people using a more unorthodox strategy. This can include fireground critiques immediately after a fire, yet before you have departed the scene.

This is always an effective teaching tool and should always be used to maximize fireground learning experiences. Keep the tidbits of information short and to the point with the troops you’re having the problems with. Start with the basics, depending on the issues you’ve been having. An example could be as simple as pointing out exposed balloon-frame construction and how fire used it to travel vertically in a void. You can point out that a fire can travel unnoticed via this path and the need for “opening up.”It’s a simple point that only takes a minute, but learning took place!

Write for the various fire service periodicals and websites.

Another way to beat the frustration you are faced with every shift is to pass on your contributions to the various websites and monthly periodicals that are available to the fire service. The fire service needs authors who have something to share and contribute. Not only will you experience a great sense of self-fulfillment, but you will be noticed both in and out of your organization. Just make sure you cross your T’s and dot your I’s, because writing is a double-edged sword that could come around and bite you if you error.

Become an instructor at the regional, county or department level.

Let’s say you’ve got the role of an educator down pretty cold, but you still encounter the headaches during company level training that we talked about earlier…what then? You have all the necessary abilities as an educator, but your company training still falls on deaf ears; maybe its time to venture out from the company level and into a more regimented routine. Training at the department, county or regional level might be an alternative, even if it’s only part time. Basic training of new firefighter recruits is a huge opportunity to create the right atmosphere and instill professionalism in each new candidate.

Continue to build your network, both above and below the chain…sincerity and charisma, coupled with really knowing the job, will do wonders for your career.

A great deal of your success is based on your personality. Sincerity and charisma go a long way to achieving your goals and objectives. Always continue to build up your network. This includes people at every level of the organization. Create a network of allies of all ranks that can back you up and support you even when you’re not in their presence.

Go out and solicit the best and brightest to work in your company. Even one will be a start!

Be a “headhunter.” Go out and solicit other like-minded and motivated people who share your enthusiasm and attitude for the fire service. You could have troops right now that abhor working for you and will tell you, “I didn’t join the Marine Corps.” Seek out those who would enjoy a disciplined and hard-charging atmosphere. Even having one staunch ally in your midst will boost your morale dramatically. You are only as good as your people, so start building your network right now. Start creating an environment where the best and brightest gravitate towards you and the less than motivated troops gravitate to others more in line with their desires and interest.

In Part 3 of this series, we’ll take a look at different ways we can foster initiative and create solutions in companies that may not have a lot of motivation or where unit pride is rather low.

ARMAND F. GUZZI JR. has been a member of the fire service since 1987. He recently retired as a career fire lieutenant with the City of Long Branch, NJ, Fire Department and is the deputy director of the Monmouth County, NJ, Fire Academy where he has taught for over 20 years. He has a masters degree in management and undergraduate degrees in fire science, education, and business administration. He can be reached via e-mail at or