The training officer plays an integral part in the success and safety of everyone in the department. However, many departments do not place enough emphasis on the role of the training officer. Continuing education is of paramount importance to today’s responder, and the training officer is responsible to make sure that all members know the responsibilities that each of them play on the emergency scene. It is a constant task that requires diligence and commitment, resulting in continued education and skills for all of the department’s members.
Serving as an instructor and training officer for many decades, I have found that there are certain points of consideration that aid the training officer in developing a successful training program for their departments. Here are a few in no specific order:
1. Do not underestimate the value of training: Many different professions are able to practice their crafts each day just in the performance of their daily responsibilities; we are not fighting fires every day we show up to work. We are not stretching hoses, cutting cars, tying knots or throwing ladders every time the bell goes off. So when the opportunity comes to train, it is not to be taken lightly; capitalize on the time spent to hone your department’s skills.
2. Do not forget the basics: Over the last two decades, the fire department has become a provider for more services than just fighting fires. But, the numbers still confirm that an overwhelming amount of our responses are for reports of fires. So while your department may provide a broad array of services to the community, remember that your primary responsibilities are fire prevention, education and suppression. That means training on the tasks that we take for granted, like personal protective equipment (PPE) usage, donning self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and tool maintenance (see Photo 1). While they may not be as glorifying as other topics, these still need to be addressed.
3. Train as you respond: To handle the training officer’s job correctly, that means taking a hands-on approach along with the students. Be sure to dress for the part; whatever is required to safely perform the training evolution, be sure to set a positive example and dress appropriately. Your students will follow your lead.
4. Practice Transformational Leadership: The training officer must view the operations of the department from within a position of “Self-Realization”; in other words, where does the department excel? Where does it fall short? What skills seem to be weakest during department operations? Defining the vision of where the department functional level should be will identify areas that should serve as the primary focus points for the department’s training schedule (see Photo 2).
5. Know your topic: Standing in front of a room full of your peers demonstrates “power” so to speak: Expert Power and Information Power. Expert Power is directly correlated to the instructor’s perceived knowledge and skills, and is what draws the learner into the class. That knowledge is what provides the Information Power. It takes only mere seconds to erase a career’s worth of credibility. Moreover, much of our hands-on training can place the member in a significant amount of risk. Trying to pass off information that is incorrect will destroy any integrity the instructor had prior to the start of the lesson, and could lead to significant injury and liability. Remember, you may fool the spectators, but you will not fool the players.
6. Invest in proper preparation: Make it a point to be familiar with the area that the training will take place in; control the lights, adjust room temperature and block out any distractions that may interrupt the session. Make sure that all of the audio/visual aids are in working order and are compatible with the technology that the program is supported by. Become well-versed in the topic to be discussed; that means looking at the lesson plan prior to the session for as long as it takes to be able to speak on the topic without reading from the slides (see Photo 3).