Fire Instructor 101

By Tom Kiurski

Training and instructing firefighters are important tasks in every fire department. Without them, we would experience numerous headaches in the future. A program that provides regular and effective training improves our chances of success on the fireground. The instructor plays a vital role in teaching the firefighters what they need to know. Although instructors may come from any position within the organization, all have to consider a few things before conducting a class or drill. Every fire department instructor has no doubt heard of the four-step method of instruction, described below.  Although not all-inclusive, it gives instructor a list to check off in their mind as they prepare for the class.

Preparation. This is the step in which the instructor builds the class session to fit the topic to be covered. The material for this is prevalent: It can be researched on the fire Web sites and in fire trade magazines, books, and seminar notes, to name a few sources. It is best to add some “real-world” examples to drive home points during the session, if applicable. This is not sitting around telling “war stories” but taking an incident that brings home the point of the lesson in the class. 

The instructor decide
s if the class will cover any classroom material or if it will be a hands-on training class. The materials for classroom presentations can come from local pictures on file or from any of the above sources. Trust me, it looks bad when you are ready to begin a class and you don’t have the materials where you need them. Make sure you are comfortable with all the instructional materials, audio-visual equipment, and any other tools and appliances you use.


Presentation. This involves delivering the information to the students Your students will probably range from new recruits to seasoned officers, so make sure you don’t lose the new ones or make it too simple for the older vets. 

Do your research
, and be prepared for any questions. If you present a class, it is your job to know the material thoroughly. Take ownership of the class; make it yours with personal stories or pictures. Be enthusiastic about teaching; it can be infectious. If you have ever been in a class that started with the instructor’s saying something about not wanting to teach the class, it didn’t exactly build enthusiasm for the class, did it?        
If the class is a hands-on skills class,
allow enough time so that every student will get the chance to practice the skill it is done perfectly. Ensure that they can perform the skill in the field prior to ending the session. A good training tip in this case is, “Don’t practice until you get it right, and practice until you can’t get it wrong.”


Application. This is by far the most important step in the process. In this step, the student learns when to use the information learned, how to use it, and how to do it correctly. Also, the students learn how to apply what has been learned to the job. 

Note: When the class has ended and the
students are doing their jobs, when the situation arises, will the students react in the field the same way they did in training? In some cases, it may take time to change the way a department does things. We often revert to the way things have been done for years. The new skill may have to be revisited during subsequent training sessions to make it a permanent behavior.


Evaluation. Here, we see how effective the training program was. Instructors should ask themselves if they feel the class was well received and if they are confident the skill can be performed correctly in the future. Again, it may take several training sessions to cover this procedure, but it can be part of a different training session and be presented as a review. This review helps keep the skill in the front of the students’ minds. After some of our training classes, I put together a “Department Quick Drill, “–a single sheet of paper added to a notebook at each station that is also available on the computer network.  In the drill, I include a few pictures of the training session, along with the main points covered.

The steps outlined above do not cover every possible detail that may need to be considered for your next class, but they can serve as a checklist you can review to make sure you are planning a successful training class.


Tom Kiurski is training coordinator, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999), is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.



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