Firefighters need to advance their education, even if they are not paid for it. It can be found at local and national conferences, in magazine and on web sites.
Photo credit: Photo by Glen E. Ellman/Firehouse
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.
Actively participate: When it is time to train there is nothing worse than personnel standing around waiting to be told everything that needs to happen. When the instructor, training officer, company officer or whoever is leading the session gives instruction, dive in and do work.
Read: each time you complete big training courses such as Fire I, Hazardous Materials Operations, or any similar course you leave with the student manuals. We have many of these books lying around that we wonder should I keep these. The answer is easy. Read these books often to review skills or procedures to ensure we are current. Concentrate on those that you do not do often or topics that have been of recent interest to your department in some fashion. Go to the chapter objectives and review questions and see if you can still answer the questions as well or better than you did when you went to the class. If you can't, you have created a reading list. You do not have to read every day or even every week. Set a goal for yourself: one hour, two hours whatever you can afford in your schedule and stick to it. Other great sources for reading include trade magazines. Fire and EMS both have a wealth of these publications available to the service.
Use the Internet: the Internet provides many opportunities for firefighters to train. An example includes the FEMA EMI web site. Some of these courses can even be used for continuing education credits and in college courses. Subscribe to various blog sites and fire service-based web pages. These sites can provide videos to watch related to equipment, skills and critiques from calls around the country that we can learn a great deal from. They can also provide articles based of research done nationally or locally that can be beneficial.
Go to the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program web site and read the reports from incidents that have had a bad outcome. When you read these, ask yourself "how can I prevent these things from happening to me or my crew." Use all of this information to be proactive to a situation and not reactive after something has already happened.
Attend offered courses: This is an area that can cause contention with some firefighters because they often do not get paid to go to courses away from the department. Some firefighters feel that if they do not get paid, they should not go. You have to ask yourself if this is taking responsibility for your training only you can answer this question. All fire departments have access to this type of training at some level. Go to your training officer or your chief and find out how to get to these programs. Most states have a fire academy or state agency that manages this training. Look at the listed courses and see what is out there. Choose the courses that will help you advance through the fire service in the way that you want to. You can choose advanced firefighter courses if you are new to the service or take instructor level courses if you want to move into training other fire and EMS providers. Attend the officer level courses if you want to be a fire officer at some point or if you just want to understand more about the responsibility officers have.
All of these seem to be very common sense things to do and they are. However you choose to take responsibility for your training is fine, just do something. Try to challenge yourself to always find new ways to train and better yourself. Train often and never be "just a firefighter".