New Ideas Overcome Obstacles to Great Training

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Hood River (Ore.) Fire Chief Devon Wells knows how difficult it is to keep firefighters engaged in training and how challenging it can be for a training officer to come up with new ideas, as well as handle all the paperwork involved...

There's never anything like real training, however, Wells said. While virtual reality training has it's time and place, firefighters still need the actual, hands-on training. Driving simulators are great, Wells said, but apparatus operators will still need to feel how apparatus handles to be proficient at driving.

He also said that training officers might want to consider creating mnemonics for training that will help planning and keeping firefighters on track. He suggested things like "mandatory Monday" where firefighters review all the required training like CPR; and "Tactical Tuesday" where fire tactics are taught; "Wounded Wednesday" for EMS training, "Think it Through Thursday," for challenges and critical thinking exercises; "Frightening Friday" for review of LODD reports; "Scenario Saturday" where photos of fire scenes can be reviewed and discussed as learning prompts; and "SOG/Safety Sunday," where fire department policies are reviewed and discussed.

"You might get laughed at initially, but they'll come around," Wells said, noting that firefighters in his combination department know that if it's Wednesday, they'll be talking about emergency medicine.

Wells also stressed the need for documenting all training exercises, especially in the "litigious society we live in."

"Liability is huge," Wells said. "That's why documentation is so important."

He offered some hints about how to keep track of firefighter training with matrixes and charts that are easy to follow, once implemented. He also recommended folders for each firefighter that are separate from their personnel files. Training records, even on individuals, are public documents, but things like spouses names, addresses and other personal information is protected.

"You don't want to get caught in a situation of handing someone a file with that personal information in it," Wells said.

A well-operated training program is an asset to any department, he said, and once firefighters get on board, they'll want to train and be more engaged in their professions or in the service as volunteers.

"Keep your eyes open for opportunities," Wells said. "Your firefighters, especially volunteers, come from all kinds of backgrounds in the corporate world and other places. They have ideas and if you listen to them, or let them teach, you'll have a friend because you listened to them."