The Troop Leader’s Checklist: Adapting Military Methods to Hands-on Training

BY BRETT BROWN

NO ONE SAYS A WORD AS YOUR RIG BACKS INTO the engine house. Although it may go unspoken for the moment, everyone in the rig knows that a serious mistake was made on this run. This mistake may have gone unnoticed by the public and possibly other crews, but your crew knows. However, everyone returned without an injury and the fire went out. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong.

You have just been presented with a training opportunity. So, newly promoted officer, how do you approach this need? It may be the first time you have been required to organize a training event. As a firefighter, you already have participated in numerous training sessions. Several of these sessions stand out, but others tend to blur together. What made a certain training session unique? The answer is, the session was well organized and carefully resourced.

IF AN IDEA IS GOOD, IT WILL BE COPIED

While on active duty in the United States Army, I discovered something interesting: If an idea is good, it will be copied by others many times. “Cutting and pasting” phrases, spreadsheets, or entire documents is a common practice in the military, even encouraged. The concept is simple: If the information will save lives in combat, it must be shared without regard to the source. A good idea is a good idea; while people are dying in combat, there is no time to pat one another on the back. Get the information out there.

With this in mind, I want to introduce you to the Army’s Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs). These steps are meant to be completed in order.

  1. Receive the mission.
  2. Issue a warning order.
  3. Make a tentative plan.
  4. Start necessary movement.
  5. Recon the site.
  6. Complete the plan.
  7. Issue the order.
  8. Supervise.

These TLPs are designed to give soldiers a road map to follow when ordered to conduct an operation under stressful conditions. Many experienced fire department trainers already follow these procedures. Remember those outstanding hands-on training events? Chances are the instructors followed these steps based on experience without really giving much thought to what they were called.

So how can you take advantage of TLPs without the military jargon clouding the intent of each step? Here are the same seven steps modified for fire department training:

  1. Recognize a training opportunity.
  2. Alert your crew about the coming training.
  3. Make a rough training plan.
  4. Request resources and prepare coordinations.
  5. Go to the training site.
  6. Finish your detailed training plan.
  7. Conduct the training.
  8. Supervise.

Recognize a Training Opportunity

The goal is to determine which elements specifically need additional training. Many times this is a no-brainer, but sometimes you will need to investigate to find the root of the problem. For example, was the training issue caused by an individual or the crew, or is it possibly a departmental problem?

Alert Your Crew About the Coming Training

Emergencies will occur on any given shift, and they do not provide any prior notice. Do not add to this stress; recognize that training is needed. If you as the company officer recognize this, so has the crew. Here is what the crew deserves to know: Who must attend the training? What material will the training cover? When will the training occur? Where will the training be located? Why is the training necessary?

Make a Rough Training Plan

This third step is as simple as taking 15 minutes to sit down and write out a general plan. The intent here is to brainstorm possibilities, not to nail down a final plan. The final plan may not look much like the rough plan in the end, but the rough plan will at least point you in the right direction. You should not spend too much time on this step. The remaining steps will tend to change much of your initial plan.

Request Resources and Prepare Coordinations

This step is crucial. Your training event will reflect your enthusiasm and care for your crew. If you don’t care enough to have the right resources or coordinate the training with a realistic training site, the training will be worthless. Use your imagination and you will be surprised. Call local merchants that have a stake in this training and request the use of their facilities. The only way to make sure your plans are successful is through follow-up; one phone call is not enough. Depending on the time you have, call a month before; then make a reminder call a week before; finally, call the day before, because people forget and the best laid plans can fall apart. Follow-up will save you much stress and embarrassment.

Go to the Training Site

This is probably the second most important step after preparing coordinations. You must physically go to the location where you intend to train. If you have time constraints, you must at least look at a map of the area. Everything you have planned to this point could fail because of something unforeseen at the training site: There may be no hydrants nearby for master stream training, or the car you planned to use for extrication may have been dropped in the wrong location. A quick visit to the training site may solve these kinds of problems and allow for detailed planning of items such as rig placement and hoselays.

Finish Your Detailed Training Plan

Be a detail person. Small things like posting a timeline on a dry-erase board or drawing a bird’s-eye view of the training site will pay off. Know the radio channels you will use. Plan a rotation for multiple training tasks and multiple crews. Although you can’t plan for every possible problem, detailed planning will show your crew that you value their time.

Conduct the Training

If you have followed the above steps to this point, the training session should be smooth and effective. The hard work is done, so let the session unfold. One effective technique is to talk through what will happen at the training before you do it. Once at the training site, have the crew perform the training slowly and deliberately. When mistakes are made, immediately stop the training and make corrections. Finally, when the crew is ready, have them perform at full speed without guidance. You will be amazed at their improvement, and they will build greater confidence as a team.

Supervise

Do not forget that you have designed this training session-you are in charge. If the training is not being conducted correctly, stop what is happening and make the necessary changes.

As an officer, you owe your crew good training. Anything less is not an option. If you choose not to provide organized and resourced training, you must accept the consequences. The families of your firefighters also will be affected by these consequences. Never forget this. ●

BRETT BROWN has served eight years as a lieutenant in the Fort Wayne (IN) Fire Department.

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