Firefighters maintain proficiency with saws using a portable flat roof prop in a fire house parking area. Maintaining skills at the company level should be part of all training programs. (Photo by author.)
By David DeStefano
Without strategic planning for objectives, curriculum, method of delivery, and scheduling, a fire department training program will lack continuity, direction, and effectiveness. Members will lose interest and motivation in training, and the department will have difficulty maintaining proficiency in skills and mastery of new material.
The chief of department, training staff, and other officers must set the strategic goals for the department training program. The administration must initiate the budget and number of hours invested in training as well as departmentwide continuity. However, the members at the “tip of the spear” whose lives may depend on the content and quality of their training often have little influence over any aspect of instruction they receive. A plan that allows for involvement by all stakeholders and maintains the structural leadership necessary to avoid chaos and ensure a measurable achievement of goals may be the best way to establish and implement an effective training strategy in a fire department.
The chief of training or another supervisor in the Division of Training should work with the chief of department and other members of the senior staff to determine general goals for training as well as validation and maintenance of skills. Once the objectives have been set, there may be multiple courses of action that will achieve the desired results. Sometimes, plans that appear to be workable from an administrative perspective translate into unmanageable and confusing directives at the service delivery end of the fire service. Also, the perspective of skill mastery is usually most keenly observed on the front lines.
For these reasons, the members expected to perform on the fireground and to participate in training and drills should have input into some of the content and delivery mechanisms used to provide training on new procedures and practice current skills. The training staff should meet with firefighters as well as company and chief officers assigned to the Operations Division to find out what skills they feel need exercising and what emerging trends are happening at the service delivery level.
Further, the type of presentation is key to maximize the effect of the message. Not all topics can be presented as scenario-based training or hands-on skills. However, considering and accommodating the type of delivery for a lesson will increase the chance members can relate to and enjoy the topic.
Most departments can conduct many company-level meetings with the training staff to discuss the content of the training program. Although firefighters and company officers cannot decide on all training, their suggestions are invaluable in helping to determine the needs and desires of the members. You can pair these suggestions with overall department goals to achieve the most effective use of training time. Often, department goals will be broad requirements for training in certain disciplines, while suggestions from the companies may help narrow the perspective and pinpoint subjects or skills to reinforce.
Just as fireground operations only succeed as a team effort, our training programs should reflect the best knowledge, skills, and experience of the department. Acknowledging this fact and gaining the buy-in of as many members as possible will maximize the effectiveness of any training program.
David DeStefano is a battalion chief for the North Providence (RI) Fire Department (NPFD), where he has served for 28 years. He is also the NPFD’s chief of safety and training. He was previously the captain of Ladder Co. 1, where he also served as a lieutenant and firefighter. Additionally, he was assigned as a lieutenant in Engine 3. DeStefano is an instructor/coordinator with the Rhode Island Fire Academy and lectures on fire service topics throughout Southern New England. He was also an FDIC International 2017 presenter. DeStefano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.