Firefighter Training - Keep It Fresh

Remember when you were in school, maybe in math class and you felt the seat get so uncomfortable on your behind? Remember when the words that the teacher would say began to run together and you did not hear another word that was said. In years past, this is just how we had to learn, some old guy up front in his shirt and tie spitting out the rules of math and testing us on them later. How many of us had trouble learning because we were so bored it wasn't funny? I think many of us would agree we had issues just like this that made learning hard, but we just didn't know it then.

If you go to the local secondary school in your area today and stop by a math class you're going to see some weird stuff. You may find kids sitting on the floor, playing games, laughing and having fun. The next thing you may see is the teacher down on the floor with them or playing the game and wearing jeans. In addition to these weird things you will find that these kids are scoring the same or better on the math tests than we did. Why has this happened? Because someone realized a long time ago that learning can be fun and fresh, and by keeping it that way people learn more. 

I would submit to you that today's firefighters have the same sore rear-ends that we had in math class. The problem is we continue to do the same old thing day in and day out with no change. We need to freshen up our training to make it more enjoyable. Your next question is "how can this be done without great expense?" The answer is simple: to understand the problem and involve your firefighters in the solutions. If you go back to the basic principles of adult education two facts are well established. First, adults learn best when they can relate the topic to experiences. Second, adults learn more when allowed to identify areas in which they need improvement.

During informal discussions with firefighters, boredom seems to be a biggest reason they do not get anything from their training. For example, how often does training staff use the same old NFPA 1410 drill of the live burn? Your training probably goes like this: roll in and establish a water supply, put out the fire and roll it up and you are done. The same scenarios done the same way every time serve to make firefighters complacent. I would bet that if you stop and think about this type of drill in your area you would agree that often times it even involves the same scenarios and the same individuals preforming the same duties. These types of drills can lead to boredom and inattention by our firefighters.

How do we prevent this type of training? How do we keep our men and women interested and hungry to train and learn? Simple: keep it fresh! Take that multi-company drill that we do over and over and break it down by task. Simple techniques like job task analysis can be used to identify specific areas where the firefighter can improve. Take the time to evaluate the individual tasks used by firefighters to work a problem on the training ground. As you observe the evolution, identify which tasks are poorly performed and plan training around those tasks. Another method can be a simple handout asking staff to identify areas in which they feel a weakness related to fireground operations, rescue operations and even specialty areas such as hazardous materials exists. Challenge yourself day in and day out to come up with innovative ways to train for your department; this includes trainers, officers and firefighters. Talk to your neighbors see what they are doing, find out what is working for others and adapt it to your use. Be willing to exchange ideas with those same departments on a regular basis. But most important, involve your people in the planning process.

By involving your personnel in the identification of their needs you can build stronger training programs with better outcomes.