Change the Culture of Firefighter Training – Part 1

Erik Wood examines the current culture of firefighter training, including how it is approached and accepted.

Learning does not stop at the classroom. This is where company officers and senior members can really bring home the training that was taught during a formal class. This is the place where you make a difference in the training culture. Talk about calls afterwards. Discuss why we did this and not this, why this decision was made. During slack times show them the equipment, discuss recent training and go over practical skills. Show them you care about their knowledge base. That goes a long way to building firehouse cohesiveness, effectiveness and unit tightness. If, as senior members and officers of the department, we take that training seriously and instill the importance of doing so to our newer folks the attitude will change. “Attitude is a reflection of leadership….” (Yes, I did just steal that from Remember the Titans.) If you have a poor attitude about training, so will everybody else.

Delivering Training

How an instructor delivers the message can also have a very large impact on how the crews or your department view the training. We will get into that in the next article.

Why should you change the training culture in your department? You should do it because you want to. You care about and love your profession, yourself and your brother/sister firefighters. You should do it because your life and their lives depend on the training you both get inside and outside the classroom. I do it, and I take it far more seriously perhaps then I used to, because I have two beautiful kids, and a wonderful and supportive woman at my side (I love you Sara, Alyssa and EJ). I am smart enough to know on more than one occasion my training has saved my life, the lives of my brothers/sisters, and meant the difference between me coming home or not. A very recent incident has brought this to the front of my consciousness and renewed my dedication to training, and renewed my dedication to crew safety.

You cannot walk into the training room tomorrow with a different outlook or attitude and expect results that day. It takes time, and culture change. You have to hold yourself accountable. You have to walk into that room, and say to yourself, “I want to be here. I want to make a difference. I want my crewmates and brothers and sisters to be safe and to learn, and even though I have been through this training 408 times in the last 25 years I am going to take it seriously, because everybody needs to take it seriously.” The first day, or week, or month you may not see a change. But the truly devoted to our profession will see and observe the change. Person by person the culture will change. As a Captain, I can only control how seriously I take the training. I can order my crew to pay attention. I can order them to be in the room. What I cannot do is order them to process and use the knowledge that somebody is trying to impart to them. All that I can do is show them how I take it seriously. I can show that I need practice just like anybody else, even after my 16 years of attending fire behavior classes and fighting my fair share of fires. All I can do is show them and give them the reason and rationale for taking it seriously. In the end, the change is theirs to make.

Be the agent of change! Don’t stand around while the instructor talks to the junior folks. Be the first to show them a practical skill and stand with them to help them learn it. Don’t sit in the back of the class disengaged, crossing your arms, texting, sleeping or talking. Engage. Listen.  Be seen contributing. I love when senior members of the house ask questions in training they already know how to answer. They ask it because the new people need the information.

Train because you want to. Change the culture because it needs to be changed, and because you want to and you can be that agent of change. Do it so you and your brothers/sisters all go home. Do it for your family and do it….because this is the best damn profession in the world!

Stay safe!

Erik Wood is a 16-year veteran of the fire service and is currently a captain with Shawnee County Fire District #2 in Auburn, KS. His responsibilities include supervision of department probationary personnel, development and instructing the department’s “rookie class” and general oversight of the department’s training program. Capt. Wood has been an IFSAC certified instructor since 2005 and he has served as an associate instructor with the University of Kansas Fire & Rescue Training. He is a member of the Kansas State Firefighters Association, State Capital Area Firefighters Association and the International Society of Fire Service Instructors.