As fire academy instructors, whether you are training volunteers or career personnel and regardless of whether you represent a large regional training facility or the training academy of a municipal department, your primary goal is always the safety of your students. This emphasis on safety begins during basic training and it’s this foundation that will prove vital to our students for the rest of their fire service careers, whether paid or volunteer.
The key to this effective foundation is the instructors responsible for recruit training. Without them, the fire service is in serious trouble. But, to have an effective training program requires a unique character to deal with personnel just entering the fire service. Many of our recruits are not familiar with the paramilitary structure that is the fire service; many may be just out of high school, for example. Their level of discipline and regimentation may not be exactly in sync with the fire service, so it is through recruit training that this change takes place.
Effective recruit training requires an instructor cadre that can mold these civilians into firefighters, but this requires a strong command presence and an authoritative personality on the part of our training officers. Authoritative yes, but bullies, no!
This article will explore the process of turning recruits into firefighters from the perspective of what makes a good recruit-training instructor.
Order from chaos
Without order, there is chaos. When chaos reigns, we have an environment that isn’t conducive to learning. Without an environment conducive to learning, we are sending our students out into their careers ill prepared for what awaits them. As such, we must incorporate a foundation of knowledge, ethics and values, which can reward our firefighters in more ways than one.
Remember, it is the foundation that we create during basic training that our students will remember for the rest of their fire service careers. They will build on the knowledge, values and ethics that we create in their basic training. Thus, we have no choice but to develop and ingrain into them this culture from Day 1. If this foundation is strong and of quality, then these members will become company- and chief-level officers with a strong background from which to build on.
Fire service knowledge that builds on safe practices is obviously the core of what we are responsible for teaching, and we’ll cover that in a bit more depth later. But we can build on that with other attributes that will make the “job” a better place. Some of the ethics and values that we ingrain into our students can be taken with them and used every day for the rest of their lives, whether they are volunteer firefighters or career firefighters. Values that emphasize
- Coming to work / school on time
- Doing more than just the minimum; giving a hard charge!
- Showing respect, decency and courtesy to their peers and others
These attributes can only set our students up for success no matter what they end up doing in their lives. The culture we create can be life changing in many cases.
Think about it, when not engaged in “combat” how many times have you had issues with members coming to work late? Or, do you have high maintenance employees who argue with you (as the company officer) because they only want to do what they choose? Or, do you have troops who don’t give 100% whether it’s in the station, on the training ground or on the fire scene? How many times do others have to pick up the slack for these people?
Yes, the fire academy can be a place that can set the stage for an entirely new generation of first-class fire departments. The finished product that we turn out will eventually become the next generation of company and chief officers, so our performance affects an organization for generations! We have a significant responsibility.