The Firefighter Recruit Instructor

Effective recruit training requires an instructor cadre that can mold these civilians into firefighters, but this requires a strong command and authoritative presence. Authoritative yes, but bullies, no!

With this in mind, we can begin to see how and why we must act the way we do while conducting training.

Basic training is a potentially very valuable tool that can keep our students alive once they are assigned to their companies. After training, they will be in a world that has no built-in safeties and no “reset” button for mistakes. Therefore, a certain degree of seriousness must form our basic-training program.

The balances of wisdom, sincerity, humanity and strictness are the core attributes for our instructors.

From the very first moment, create an environment of strictness and humanity. You are not a thug, you are not a bully; you are someone responsible for helping these students stay alive.

Injuries can occur in training, especially if chaos rules the day. Therefore, strictness has to be ingrained into you culture.

The first meeting with your students should always be stern but humane. Set the stage of a command presence from the very first meeting. Commands to the group that demand instant action, such as “out of your chairs and on your feet!” create an interesting dynamic. By seeing who can react instantly and who does not says a lot about how they will react on the fireground.

If a simple order such as “get up” is problematic, how will this student perform in a live fire setting when you say “Get down!” Or how will the student react once he or she goes to a line company and the officer issues a directive to be carried out instantly? The purpose is not to subject someone to your will because you’re on an ego trip; rather there is reasoning behind these actions.

I think a student’s ability to follow directions in a relatively safe setting leads to a student who can then perform admirably under stress. But, by the same token, those who cannot perform as directed in a secure setting will be a threat to not only themselves, but also to their classmates.

Our basic training can still be a still a potentially dangerous environment. There is always a threat of falls when operating from ladders or upper floors, potential burn injuries that could be incurred if students are careless or ignore safety protocols, or even the chance of traumatic injuries due to improper hoseline use or failing to raise a ladder properly and dropping it on a nearby inattentive student. Discipline and order create for a much safer environment.

Therefore, sincerity and strictness are two critical attributes of the instructor. The students should not be in fear of you but rather should be made aware that there is consequences for their actions…just like on the fireground!

During your first session with the new recruits, let them know the game plan, let them know their responsibilities and what is expected of them. Rules and regulations that will govern their actions should be read, reviewed and distributed to each of them and then they should sign for them to indicate they did receive the rules and that they are aware of them. I have also found that distribution of Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration (OSHA) regulations that govern facial hair as it relates to respiratory protection is another valuable tool in the tool box for those who may not tend to proper grooming standards the way they should. Again, the responsibility is placed on the student to carry out the expectation.

In other words, the burden of responsibility has shifted. The students are now held accountable for their actions. This is something we don’t see a lot of today and it is a great way to introduce our students to the fire service culture. After all, we are a paramilitary setting and we operate in an environment that is unforgiving.

Another powerful tool in the toolbox is a guideline detailing disciplinary action. A tiered system for infractions might include a four-tiered system of disciplinary action. It could look like this: