How to Engage Your Firefighters During Training

As firefighters we consider the term engagement as our way to attack a fire, or to put a pump into gear. In this article, “engagement” is going to cover a different topic; we are going to discuss engaging firefighters in training. Creating a drill...

Visual learners are those learners who need to see how something is done in order to understand what they are being taught. However, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Putting a picture of the entire concept in front of a visual learner isn’t effective because there is minimal engagement, passive or active. They need a series of pictures like a step-by-step guide, or a live presentation to truly learn what is being done. This learning style is best accommodated with either pictures, video clips or with a hands-on demonstration.

Auditory learners learn best by hearing. Straight forward lecturing to audio learners isn’t an effective method; the engagement in learning isn’t there. Auditory learners can benefit from a step-by-step auditory lesson for them to learn. Discussion, in depth-description and group sharing are good ways to accommodate those with this learning style.

Kinesthetic learners are people who learn best with their hands. Kinesthetic learners, much like audio and visual, will learn over time through other means, but their engagement comes from doing what is being taught. Many times a kinesthetic learner will need to take the equipment being discussed in their hands and learn by doing so that they are engaged, sometimes a challenging feat for an instructor. A way to accommodate this learning style is to break up a drill into part lecture and part hands on.

An example of a drill using active engagement and including all three learning styles would be practicing a hose stretch then cracking open the line and putting a knock on a fire. While demonstrating physically what you want the participants to do, you are able to show the visual learners, and describe to the audio learners, while the kinesthetic observe both. When the drill begins and is in action, you will cover your kinesthetic learners, by getting them involved.

An engaging drill has multiple parts, and takes a large amount of prep work ahead of time. It is rewarding as an instructor when you are able to see the engagement and the understanding in the actions of your firefighters. Passive and active engagement occurs throughout the lesson, but needs to be controlled so as not to bore everyone at the drill. To achieve both kinds of engagement, an instructor must cover the three learning styles. The key to attaining both passive and active engagement is when you have the direct attention of one learning style (doing a visual demonstration is active engagement for visual learners, but passive for auditory and kinesthetic) and are able to passively engage the others. This will allow for more firefighters to learn from the drill, and get better results at the end.

A question for the readers, what do you do in your departments that cover this kind of topic? What drills do you hold that seem to be the most popular, or the least popular? If you have questions or would like feedback, feel free to contact me at

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.