As new officers (and as we become more experienced), we should prepare to have a teaching style that promotes educating and engaging our firefighters, not dictating and preaching to them. In my history of teaching, when teaching/preaching to students/firefighters (lecturing down to them), the response and retention is less likely on the first and second time. When the teaching style is more sharing and discussion (lecturing engagingly), the retention rate the first time around is higher. This isn’t to say that there aren’t times when an instructor needs to dictate a lesson to students, but many times engaging learning is more constructive than preaching.
A negative connotation for a new officer is to come across as a preacher, or someone who will only provide information on their terms, and not receive feedback from some of the best sources of information, our experienced members. It’s better to bring everyone together, present the material and use it more as a group learning situation as opposed to you being the only one to share information. Generational gaps can exist in fire departments, and if you open the floor to discussion and questions, your topic has now taken on a life that experienced and newer members alike can all contribute to the topic.
The ability to issue orders on the fireground to firefighters, and have the confidence and ability to do it, comes over time. Firefighters first must understand what you know, and have faith you are acting in their best interest. They must also have confidence in their officers that they are continuing to learn and are doing everything in their power to keep their firefighters safe. Building credibility through educating your firefighters is a task that, when done properly, can be easy and greatly beneficial.
Credibility begins on the training grounds, and officers should embrace every moment they can to help improve their firefighters understanding of how to fight ever-changing fires and how to stay safe.
SEAN WILKINSON is a captain and drill instructor with the Snyder Fire Department in Amherst, NY. He is a police dispatcher for the Town of Amherst Police and is the manager of an Urgent Care Center. He has a Bachelors of Arts in History from the University at Buffalo, and is currently completing the requirements for his Masters in Secondary Education at the University at Buffalo.