I was listening to a few firefighters talk the other day and they were fussing about the training their department was providing or not providing. One guy asked the other if he had seen the catalog of courses for the fire academy this quarter. Firefighter "A" said "it's not my responsibility to train off duty, if I need it they have to provide it." This set me back a little bit; I couldn't understand why someone would feel that way. The more I listened to them; Firefighter B told A that he was going to start some advanced courses and maybe even some officer level and instructor courses. Firefighter B laughed and said "we don't need that we are "just firefighters."
As soon I as heard this I was taken back to an exchange that occurred between one of my fire service hero's and I. I was an 18-year-old volunteer firefighter attending a fire school sponsored by one of the local counties and was taking a truck company operations course. I was just out of basic fire training and felt bigger than life. I felt like I knew it all. The instructor entered the room with a big smile on his face and said "good morning folks. I hope everyone is ready to have fun and learn a lot." Next he introduced himself. "I am Capt. Matt Jackson with the Charleston, WV, Fire Department and I am here because this is the greatest job ever."
Then he instructed us to go around the room and introduce ourselves and identify our department, our position and why we where there. I was sitting in a seat that made me fourth from the last so I got to hear most of the class introduce themselves. For whatever reason when it was my turn I stood up and said, "my name is Chris and I am just a firefighter." I didn't even state my department like I was supposed to and I just sat down. Capt. Jackson said, "excuse me son come up here and stand with me."
I was scared to death at this point, standing there listening to the last few introductions. When the last person was finished he turned to me and said let's try this again, re-introduce yourself. Did I take this opportunity to shine and do it right? No, I did the exact same thing again my name is Chris and I am "just a firefighter." I remember Matt looked dead in my eyes and said there is no such thing as just a fireman. He went on to say that every job on the fireground was as important as the next and without each firefighter from chief to rookie we couldn't blow out a match. He then told me the reason I was there was there was to learn and take responsibility for my own training. He shook my hand and told me and the rest of the class that next to safety there is nothing more important a firefighter can do than take responsibility for their training. That statement has stuck with me all these years.
Do you take responsibility for your training? Can you think of ways you can be more responsible for your training? Face it, in today's fire service you cannot get everything you need with stock department training. Training officers are so busy trying to meet the needs dictated by various federal, state and local government agencies they run out of time for much needed individual training. Even those training officers that prepare packets that are given to company officers to complete with staff can't get it all done sometimes. This is not to say your training department isn't doing its job or is inadequate, it simply means that with our call loads and other work there isn't enough time.
There are several things you can do to take responsibility for your training. While some will require a little extra work on your part, most are very common sense items that are easy to incorporate in your day-to-day schedule.
Be prepared: look at what your training division has scheduled for your company ahead of time. If you look at the subject matter you can take time on your own to read the department related SOGs and be prepared. You can look back and review the basic skills involved in what you will be doing so that you can be ready to perform. A little preparedness can go a long way and make training easier on you and the rest of the company. Training officers, this means that you have to schedule in advance. Don't make the officers and firefighters track you down to ask what is planned on that day. Put out your schedule in advance so they can prepare.