Firefighter Training Records and Organizational Liability

By Tim Hyden

Fire departments unwilling to embrace the fact that our service is no longer (and likely never will again be) what it was just a few short years ago are running the risk of being left behind, with the end result being a potential loss of organizational funding, personnel, equipment, and morale. Today’s economic environment necessitates an open mind, open eyes, and open ears to what is going on around us, even as we maintain a constant awareness of the level of organizational risk to which we are willing to be exposed. An agency must remain willing and able to quickly and efficiently take action against any challenges that may affect its ability to function; such action could literally mean the difference in its long-term survival.

THE CHALLENGE

As a training officer, an area that has become more and more of a concern to me is the importance of record keeping and the methods used to track operational training. I can clearly remember the days when the extent of most training record systems involved little more than sign-in sheets being completed and filed away in a manila folder marked “training.” Those days are, or certainly should be, long gone. As with so many risk-management issues, the excuses “we didn’t know” or “our system does not allow us to do that” can no longer be used. Fire departments must ensure that organizational liability when it comes to verifying training hours is kept to a minimum.

If an investigation regarding an operational issue ever takes place, the office that the investigator will be visiting after the chief’s is likely going to be that of the training officer. Records will be pulled, and reports will be run to confirm the level of training and proficiency of an individual or an agency in a task or an operation. That confirmation will need to be verified beyond any doubt. So how do we best track what is being accomplished?

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

We all know the infinite expectations placed on the fire service today. If “it” happens, regardless of what “it” may be, our personnel are going–period. It doesn’t take much to feel overwhelmed by the great extent to which our personnel need to be trained to protect themselves and their organization, let alone civilians. If ever faced with the choice of training quantity vs. quality, it may very well be worthwhile to ensure that our officers are fully capable of managing the chaos we often find in the early (and sometimes ongoing) stages of an emergency scene.

If we research the times when the causes of injuries, fatalities, and equipment or property loss can be attributed to a lack of an adequate command structure, it becomes painfully obvious that there is work to be done, particularly within those agencies faced with reduced or dwindling resources to accomplish their training objectives. Locally, we have worked extensively with National Incident Management System (NIMS) training directives to establish some consistency in the methods by which our scene commanders run their operations, and we have seen some decent progress over the past three or four years. The tactical, company-level training is left largely up to shift officers to coordinate and implement, which leads me back to the tracking methods used to capture that training.

REFERENCE MATERIALS

A good starting point in the establishment and implementation of an internal tracking system is to determine exactly what information is needed. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1401, Fire Service Training Reports and Records, is an excellent source for this information, and prosecutors? would very likely use it as a reference if there was a ¬†need to establish (or disprove) an agency’s efforts to comply with documented guidelines for minimum training hours. This document goes into great detail on the subject and is one with which every training officer should be familiar. NFPA Standard 1410, Training for Initial Emergency Scene Operations, is also useful for providing information and ideas on the types of training that might be implemented.

Although I do not want to get into a detailed analysis of either of these documents or attempt to dictate what any particular agency’s training program should or should not consist of, suffice it to say that being able to proactively refer to the content and purpose of these documents will certainly put your organization in a more positive light in an audit or investigation.

But even if you reference and follow these two documents, it is essential to have one user-friendly method of entering information into your department’s computer system, calculating I, and presenting it in a quick-reference, easy-to-understand format. This allows personnel to see where they are on a periodic basis throughout the year. This is where the Insurance Services Office (ISO) requirements, as stated in their fire suppression rating schedule, can come into play. With many departments today looking toward their ISO rating as a type of “report card” indicator of their internal operations, complying with the training hour portion makes good sense and can fall in line very well with organizational training requirements and efforts.

Let’s look at how to track the training performed under the guidelines of these references. We’ll also look at how that tracking system can be used to guide personnel in accomplishing their individual and shift training goals.

TRACKING SYSTEM

Figure 1 shows a spreadsheet used to track the specific areas detailed in the ISO rating schedule. You can use this to track as few or as many personnel as needed down the left column and to list each category and minimum ISO requirement across the top. Most training reporting systems used by crews to record their monthly training can be set to correspond with these categories, making the question of where to record what that much easier to answer. In fact, I suggest you create a category definition “cheat-sheet” to ensure certain training hours are entered under the correct category.

Anyone familiar with the ISO training credit schedule will note the correlation to the column titles across the top of the spreadsheet. Although it’s clear we need to follow those guidelines for ISO credit, it’s equally clear that we need to develop a suitable method to ensure complete tracking and overall compliance with NFPA standards, as mentioned earlier. Aligning this spreadsheet to your department reporting system can help achieve that objective.

Firefighter Training Records and Organizational Liability

Figure 1. Click to enlarge.

The spreadsheet can be formulated so that after certain category minimums are met, excess hours are also automatically credited over to company training, thus ensuring that all hours are captured and appropriately credited. Also note the “% of minimum” column at the far right, indicating where an individual stands with regard to the ISO 20-hours-per-month company training requirement. The figure in that column is adjusted on a monthly basis with the goal of its always being at 100 percent. Reports can be run and posted periodically so personnel can determine their progress as they work toward the annual requirement.

***

The most thorough effort to develop, implement, and maintain an effective training program will be only as verifiable as the records that prove its existence and use. There are many very practical methods for tracking personnel training hours. I have shared only one example. Whatever system you use, it is imperative that you ensure the protection of your personnel through the completion of adequate monthly and annual training objectives along with an accurate recording of that training. Your organization will benefit from the attention to detail that a good training record tracking system will provide.

REFERENCE

“Fire Suppression Rating Schedule” Insurance Services Office. 2003. Print

Tim HydenTim Hyden is the training and safety officer for East Manatee (FL) Fire Rescue and a 19-year veteran of the Florida fire service. He has an associate degree in fire science and an advanced technical certificate in fire science administration, and is a graduate of the Florida Fire Chiefs’ Association Emergency Services Leadership Institute. He holds several state certifications through the Florida Bureau of Fire Standards and Training; is a contributing writer to Florida Fire Service and Fire Engineering magazines; and speaks on leadership, motivation, officer development, risk management, and marketing.

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