Setting Your Training Program Up for Success

Indianapolis fire recruits at the fire academy
Photo: Indianapolis (IN) Fire Department

Whether you are starting a new training officer position or think it’s time for a refresh, there are several very important steps to take to set your training program on the right path.

Make Your List

Identifying the direction of a firefighter training program is a difficult and cumbersome task. Start with making a list of the services you provide to your community; this can be as simple as listing the types of calls your department responds to and the specific skills that are required to successfully mitigate those incidents. List the expectations of your on-duty crews. If you have your crews doing basic fire inspections and public education visits, include those in the list of required skillsets. Examples include the following:

Do the Research

Once you have compiled your list, it’s time to dig into the standards to set baseline hour requirements for each of those skills. Some of them might require quarterly training, some annual, and some might be once every two or three years.

Start with checking on National Fire Protection Association standard recommendations and Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. Check with your State Fire Marshal Division or other state training certification board for guidance on training and continuing education requirements on a statewide level. Check with your city or fire boards to see if there are any expected human resources-related topics that need to be incorporated into your department training. Check in with your regional partners on their training requirements. If you are ever involved in a lawsuit, the court may look at the established training standards of the like communities around you and you will be held to the same expectation of skill level. You don’t want to find that out when it’s too late. Do the investigation on neighboring expectations and practices before you establish your new path.

Organize Your List

Once you have your list and the expectations, identify overlaps. Categorize topics under standards or requirements; include how much time you will need to devote to each of those topics quarterly, annually, and so on. If possible, list them in order of skill development to layer and enforce skill development. Examples include the following:

  • Ladder basics–ladder deployment–search and rescue–VEIS.
  • Roadway safety–apparatus positioning–extrication skills–patient care–advanced extrication–patient care in extreme environments.

The skill progressions listed above might happen over a two- to three-year period but, if conducted in that order, will layer the previously learned skills with the new skills to increase student retention.

Take a Critical Look at Your Existing Program

A big step in developing a comprehensive training program is to conduct a training analysis. Identify where your department is now and think about where you want it to be in three to five years. Identifying the steps (or gaps) in between is the process of the needs analysis. You may need to develop a department survey or conduct interviews. You can also use observations on scene to assess the working knowledge of your crews when responding to calls.

Interview the chief officers of the department to assess their expectations of the working crews when they give assignments. Interview the company officers to assess their expectations of their crews, and find a way to establish a department baseline for those skill expectations. You may still have individual captains and crews who go beyond those baseline expectations, but having clear and well-established skill expectations for all crews will benefit your department and your on-scene response across the board.

Identifying shortcomings in your training program is a difficult process. This may be better done by an outside observer—for example, a neighboring training officer or an outside consultant. Having an outside party identify the gaps is sometimes better because it takes the history and personalities out of the equation, allowing for the program to be evaluated properly.

Develop a Calendar

You are now in a place to develop your short- and long-term calendars. Start by entering in the required training sessions like EMS and recertification topics. Next, identify the topics to address at a specific time of the year—wildfire refresher should happen just before wildfire season, ice rescue should be scheduled during weak ice times, and so on. You can then start entering in the training starting with basic skills and have the next related/layered skill the following quarter so it’s close enough to reference and retain the basic skill to carry forward into the new skills being introduced or visited.

Have a multiyear planning book so you can show the progression of those skills. Sprinkle in basics throughout the multiyear calendar so that you reinforce the department’s expectations.

Keep the lecture training to the months when the weather doesn’t usually cooperate. In Minnesota, January and February are great times to do inside skill development and lecture-based topics; June and July are great times to get outside and leave the classroom behind.

Leave room in your calendar for adjustments. You may have to coordinate changes because of weather or other issues, or you may find you need to spend some time reviewing specific skills that were lacking on a recent response or incident.

Review the Overall Process

Involve others in this process. No one really knows the lengthy progression of establishing a comprehensive training calendar until they get involved in the process. Having more voices will help generate new ideas and will also afford an opportunity to build buy-in within the different levels of the organization. It will also provide development and mentoring opportunities for those who may be interested in a training division role in the future.

On completion of the short-term calendar, set your goals for the next calendar so that you can make sure you keep yourself and your officers accountable for the progression. Clearly articulate your goals for the training program, along with the reasons you are working on the skill development each step of the way. Be open to new ideas, but don’t let every new idea presented allow you to be derailed from the overall goals; find a way to work those new topics or skills into your existing plan. If that’s not possible, evaluate the plan and start the process over so that the training program is focused and organized.

Becki White, assistant chief of operations for the Chanhassen (MN) Fire Department, has served more than 17 years in the fire service in every level from firefighter to chief officer. She has a master’s degree in education and Executive Fire Officer designation from the National Fire Academy. Her business, Elevate Learning Consulting, specializes in developing and delivering presentations, training program management, and instructor and leadership coaching. She also serves as an advisory board member for FDIC International and the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education.

Becki White will present “Developing Dynamic Presentations” at FDIC International 2021 in Indianapolis on Thursday, August 5, 3:30 p.m.-5:15 p.m.

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