Firefighter Training, Leadership

April Roundtable: Company-Level Training

By John “Skip” Coleman

As with many things in the fire service, training has evolved over the last 50 or so years. 

My dad was chief of training, as was I. Before I came on, dad talked about major training programs that he was working on. He developed the first bomb squad and water rescue unit and coordinated the first paramedic class for the department. These were the beginning of technical rescue for the Toledo (OH) Fire Department.

He left and I came on in 1975. I remember the first hazmat training and the hazmat unit was initiated at my old station, Number 7, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. 

All of these programs were technical in nature and the “ordinary” company officers were students, not instructors, at this stage of the game.

When I came on, company officers generally created and conducted their individual companies’ fire training. The training bureau developed a list of topics that were to be covered in a specific year. There were fewer topics than there were months in the year. This allowed the officer to work on the evolutions that he deemed necessary after observing his crew at fires. 

Occasionally, the chiefs would require that specific topics and evolutions needed to be addressed after fires as well. These wasn’t much of a formal schedule back then and, for the most part, if you did your job well, you were not required to drill much unless you had a recruit assigned to your company.

By the time I retired, that chapter of training was rewritten out of necessity, mandates (almost all unfunded), and the courts. 

The coming of EMS work in the fire service, along with its unfunded state required training, changed the face of training for us and most other departments. After September 11 mandated homeland security, WMD, NIMS, and other acronym-based requirements were also thrust into the mix. If your department wanted to survive, technical rescue entered the picture as well, along with its own specific training requirements. All in all, the days of “you trained if you messed up” were replaced by “too many training requirements and not enough time.”

With all the mandated requirements looming, there is little if any time for individual company officers to conduct training on their own. The good-to-great officers that actually get it always find the time to train their crews. The best of the best even develop plans and include adjoining companies when it’s needed. Other officers only do what’s required. 

That brings me to this months question: Does your department require company officers to develop and deliver their company-level training?

CLICK HERE to e-mail us your reply. Please keep your response to 250 words and include your name, rank, department, city, and state.. Replies are due by April 25 and will be published in a subsequent article later this month.

John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).