By Dave McGlynn
How do you build an effective organization? The answer is training. Without training, we wouldn’t know how to prevent emergencies, we wouldn’t understand code enforcement, and we wouldn’t be able to effectively offer the operational services we are expected to provide. Training is not only the foundation but also the backbone of every successful organization. We may agree that training is important, but there are still instances in which we live inside of our comfort zone or safety net and, unfortunately, train only on that with which we are comfortable. In turn, we become complacent in our training, making our skill set unsatisfactory during operations. Networking is one way to help ensure your organization does not train in its “comfort zone.”
Foundational Elements of Networking
Following are three types of networks that have proved effective.
• Mentorship. This approach involves branching out to a leader outside of your organization. That leader’s role is to gather information and build a methodology of suggested steps to improve and build a progressive organization. These mentors can evaluate training evolutions, review policies and procedures, and even direct you to a resource to assist you in a venue in which they don’t consider themselves experts. The “meat and potatoes” of what’s important in the mentorship network is having a non-bias spectrum based on facts and knowledge gained through evaluating. This is helpful because although we may be able to point out what we think are our strengths and weaknesses, having another person’s perspective, suggestions, and guidance will help us identify gaps possibly overlooked.
• Resource. Building relationships with neighboring departments, businesses, politicians, and stakeholders can help market your mission, make other agencies familiar with your department, and be prone to assisting you in your needs when chaos strikes. Extend an invitation to the station for a presentation, a tour, or a training event.
• Training. This is the most important. It should consist of passionate players willing to set egos aside and come together to develop a vision for the future of fire service training. From that vision will come suggestions, shared training materials, lesson plans, and–most importantly–the development of a practical training plan that works. An effective training network has an organized strategic plan that is diverse and full of expert information because it was built by a multitude of subject matter experts from all spectra of the fire service.
Training Network Strategic Plan
This plan should include the following steps:
1. Recruit your team. The training network members will develop the plan. They should represent every background in the fire service.
2. Establish a vision and mission statement. The training team should discuss the goals that should constitute the organization’s vision and then create a mission statement that summarizes the desired accomplishments. Example: Our vision is to establish a seamless plan that builds the future of Fire and Emergency Services training. Our mission is to provide the best format for offering the technical knowledge needed for operational preparedness of our Fire and Emergency Services members through our core values of education, readiness, pride, and passion in training.
3. Recognize training needs. Answer the questions who? what? where? when? and how? We can dream all day, but unless we plan how we are going to accomplish those dreams, they will remain just dreams.
4. Develop your priorities. Now that you’ve built your team, established goals, and figured out what you need to accomplish those goals, it is time to prioritize. Discussing with your teammates what matters the most or what needs to be done first is vital to the success of your plan.
5. Acquire resources. Resources include the groups or organizations that will help you with your training needs. Building an effective plan depends on who is listed in your directory of resources. Business owners, politicians, and neighboring agencies are resources. Reach out to them for help.
In summary, your strategic plan should lay out in detail these steps, list the members of your network and their responsibilities, and the organization’s vision and mission statement. Include also the prioritized training needs with proposed completion dates and a list of resources and the services and assistance they can offer. This plan will not only help ensure that your department will have a well-rounded training program but will help develop a positive relationship between mentors and the department.
When I first became a training officer, I was assigned to develop a plan for a well-versed mission. I was overwhelmed and felt that I was in over my head. In the first few months, I had no idea of what I was doing. I reached out to some good mentors, who provided guidance. I began started to understand my job and was able to develop a practical plan of which I am proud. I soon realized that I was able to accomplish this because I reached out to those people. If I had been too proud to ask for assistance, I would have failed in my responsibility to the organization and those people for whom the plan was intended.
Networking is the key to success. Surround yourself with visionaries and experienced people, as President Woodrow Wilson has done. He stated: “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” Your network members may not have all the answers, but they know how to work in a group with a circle of trusted mentors and team players who also want a network that works.
David McGlynn has been in the fire service since 2001 and has served in municipal and federal fire departments. He is the chief of training for the West Point (NY) Fire Department and a Pennsylvania State fire instructor. He is the lead instructor for Passion in Leading and a regular blogger on the Fire Engineering community.