Training Officer 101

Developing a training program is not an impossible task. Utilizing this basic four-step process will help you on the way to delivering a quality program to your members.


As A NEW OR SEASONED TRAINING OFFICER OR instructor, you must have found it difficult to figure out how to put all of the many pieces of the training puzzle together. Developing a program takes time, effort, research, and a lot of introspection into what is happening or not happening within your department. All of that planning takes you away from where you want to be-out there training and working with your firefighters to build and enhance their skills. Is there a magic program out there? Is there help available that will get you out from behind the desk and onto the training ground? Developing a master training schedule may assist you in ensuring you are doing your job and allow you to get back to the basics of training firefighters.

Hitting the ground running as a training officer is possible if you use these techniques taught in the Illinois Society of Fire Service Instructors Training Officer 101 course. The course was developed to help training officers meet the many regulatory requirements of the Insurance Services Office (ISO), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and other state and national agencies that recommend or require specific types of firefighter training. These same practices can be applied to EMS, technical rescue, and other operational areas simply by plugging in the necessary information.


There are four key components of the Society’s department training program development process: determining training needs, prioritizing training needs, developing a master training schedule, and record keeping.

Determining Training Needs

Ask yourself five questions:

  • What is essential to our mission? To start developing a training program, examine the department’s mission. This does not necessarily mean a formal, written statement hung on a wall but instead determining what services the department provides. The training officer should consider not just the type of responses handled but also what type of responses may be required in the future. General topics will be identified at this point; they will be more specific later. Examples include fire suppression, EMS, technical rescue, and fire prevention.

Consider specifics of each item. For example, under fire suppression, consider the following: To what type of occupancies do we respond? What is our water supply situation? What level of staffing do we realistically have at the scene of an incident?

  • What training is essential to ensure member safety? This includes three categories that are essential to keeping members safe:

-Firefighting skills: ladders, SCBA, hoseline advancement, forcible entry, and building construction.

-Apparatus and equipment: pump troubleshooting, hydraulic calculations, apparatus placement, and power tool maintenance.

-Safety and survival: escape from entanglement, SCBA safety checks, breaching walls, and rescuing an injured firefighter.

Consider each category with this thought: If our members train on nothing else this year, what topics are essential to their safety?

Training and preparing firefighters in survival skills such as escape from entanglement hazards are critical and should be part of every department’s program. (Photo by Rudy Horist.)

Each topic is further divided into more detailed, specific topics that consider the department’s particular needs, local conditions, and any applicable state-level curriculums or requirements.

Training that is key to member safety and survival must be identified, and the training officer must ensure that all personnel are well trained in these techniques and policies at a mastery level. Many of these life-saving techniques (such as those in the Illinois Fire Service Institute’s “Saving Our Own” program) must become second nature to firefighters so if they are needed in a hostile situation, they can be recalled instantly. This mastery comes only from repeated exposure and practice.

  • What training is mandated by law or department policy? From a regulatory standpoint, OSHA is one of the major agencies with which training officers must comply. Depending on your state, public sector employees may be covered directly through a state OSHA plan or a separate agency (e.g., the Department of Labor in Illinois).

Major training areas covered by OSHA or other state-level regulations include

  • SCBA,
  • Driver training,
  • Bloodborne pathogens, and
  • Special hazards
    -Hazardous materials
    -Technical rescue (e.g., confined space, trench).

Depending on your state, the following training areas may be required:

  • First aid,
  • Overhaul/asbestos,
  • Airborne pathogens,
  • Water rescue,
  • Wildland, and
  • Incident command.

Any state-level agencies with authority over firefighter training or certification and the requirements of your department, EMS system, mutual-aid association, or other agencies must be referenced.

  • What is listed in the applicable NFPA standards? NFPA standards provide a valuable resource for structuring a program in line with national standards. A large number of the standards are either directly related to training or have sections that deal with training issues. Many state certification programs are also based on the appropriate NFPA standards. Some specific NFPA standards that should be reviewed include the following:

-NPFA 1000 series, Fire Service Professional Qualifications Accreditation and Certification Systems-2000;
-NFPA 1401, Fire Service Training Records and Reports-2001;
-NFPA 1403, Live Fire Training Evolutions-1997;
-NFPA 1404, Fire Department SCBA Program-1996;
-NFPA 1451, Fire Service Vehicle Operations Training Program-1997; and
-NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program-1997.

Additionally, one of the most valuable NFPA standards related to training programs is NFPA 1410, Training for Initial Emergency Scene Operations-2000. This standard identifies 14 separate single- or multiple-engine company evolutions and is an excellent resource in identifying training topics.

Federal, state, and local training standards can be part of the program if your department recognizes a need for that type of training. For example, the NFPA 1400 series includes some guidelines that may help determine the content of certain areas of your program. NFPA 1404 details specific types of SCBA training that should be included in your program.

  • What areas of training do our members desire or need? Our final question (or level) deals with the importance of providing our members the opportunity to provide input into which training topics are covered. Doing so can assist in getting that critical “buy-in” to your program. This may be determined through

-surveys (formal or informal),
-skill evaluations (such as those in NFPA 1410),
-personal observation,
-injury and accident reports, and
-incident critiques.

Each question is a level of progress in the department’s training program development process, which resembles a pyramid. The department’s mission is the foundation; the succeeding levels build on and refer back to that mission. Each successive level is the next step of training program advancement. Only after evaluating the department’s current program against the five questions or levels will the training officer know where to start. This maintains the focus on ensuring that we address the department’s mission and the safety of our members first.

In reality, for many departments working up to the higher levels of the pyramid (including regulatory compliance) may be a long process. With that in mind, the process does not indicate how long it will take to advance through each level. That can be determined locally only after examining where the department currently is and what it possesses in resources and support for training.

Now that the five questions have been identified, the training officer needs to sit down with a blank pad of paper, references and standards, and any individuals who are to be part of the process and begin identifying training needs.

Working through the preceding five questions will produce a training topics list that addresses the areas essential to your department and the safety of your members, will help ensure compliance with mandates, and will allow for input and suggestions from the firefighters and officers.

Prioritizing Training Needs

Just as there are many ways to determine training needs, there are also many ways to prioritize training topics. Using a basic approach, each topic can be listed under one of three categories:

-Must know. These topics include essential skills that members must train on at least annually (if nothing else); legally mandated training required by federal, state, local, or other agencies; and other topics determined to require annual training.

-Need to know. These are topics that should be covered every two to three years, including equipment maintenance and readiness.

-Nice to know. These items need only be covered once or every four to five years.

Outside of the legally mandated items, the process will be very department-specific. For example, alternative water supplies may be a critical issue (a “must know”) for a rural fire district but only a “need-to-know” topic for a department in a large urban area. Although all the items mentioned previously will assist with these decisions, the bottom line is that just as an incident commander makes a risk/benefit analysis at the fire scene, training officers must perform a similar analysis in deciding which topics will be covered and which will not during a particular year or training cycle. Using the process outlined above will assist the training officer in maintaining focus and making those decisions.

Develop a Master Training Schedule

Using this process, a training officer can create a master training schedule that will be the backbone of the training program. This schedule can easily be created using a word-processing table program that allows you to list the necessary training subjects and the months of the year. Training can be distributed over the year, allowing for the inclusion of department-related issues and training and adjusting the amount of training to specific events such as weather or a busy schedule.

For example, our department is very busy during October because of Fire Prevention Week activities and annual pumper service testing. We try not to schedule any really heavy training topics for that month and simply use the subject areas in NFPA 1001 and NFPA 1002 for public education and pumper service testing for our regular training sessions. The master training schedule becomes a great time and management tool by alerting the training officer to any of these busy time periods. Most departments’ master schedules will look different because of varying maintenance cycles and other issues.

Target Training Matrix. After incorporating the five key elements listed above into the master schedule, you can create the target training matrix. This is a companion to the master schedule. First, enter the required training into a monthly training calendar, then add the subjects within a specific target to balance out the rest of the calendar. To develop this matrix, look at the services offered in accordance with the department’s mission. Then, determine how frequently training should be scheduled in those service areas. These services (targets) become the duty areas under which the training officer will place subject matter. These targets are similar to the duty areas the NFPA uses in writing the professional qualification standards. For example, if your fire department has an engine company, a truck company, a rescue company, an EMS company, a haz-mat company, and support services operations, once the target areas have been set up, insert the subject or topic areas that will cover training in that particular job duty area. Subjects may be duplicated under several duty areas, depending on what in that subject is pertinent to the particular duty area. For example, ropes will fall under multiple duty areas. Under engine company duty, rope subjects include tying off hoselines. Under truck company duty, rope subjects may include hoisting ladders or equipment. In technical rescue, the knots used for lifting operations or other systems may be covered. The subject coverage depth is entirely up to the training officer or instructor. The target training system allows you to spread subjects out over a year to make sure your program is diverse and covers all of the subjects during the year.

Record Keeping

In setting up a record keeping system, the training officer should refer to any state agencies with authority over firefighter certification and training. Additionally, there may be other state- or local-level agencies that deal with public records. In Illinois, for example, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Illinois Secretary of State have regulations that stipulate the information required in training records and the amount of time the information must be maintained. NFPA 1401 re-quires that the following basic information be in training reports: names and signatures of students; names and signatures of instructors; date, time, and location; hours of training; and the subjects, equipment, operations, and objectives covered.

Other agencies such as the ISO and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)/International City Management Association (ICMA) Fire Service Accreditation program also provide guidance relative to the information that must be maintained. Individual training files should at a minimum contain practical training records, copies of certifications, course completion information, and a yearly list of training that has been completed.

When developing a training program, the key elements will determine what should be included and how frequently. This may take a bit of research. A sample form is available from the Illinois Society of Fire Service Instructors Web site at

To aid in tracking these regulatory issues, the Training Officer 101 program includes a form that allows the training officer to document when the regulatory mandated training is completed for each firefighter in the department.

For example, the Illinois Department of Labor requires that firefighters receive initial and in-service training on a variety of topics throughout the year. A firefighter designated to don SCBA and enter immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) atmospheres must receive initial SCBA training and fit testing and must complete four quarterly training sessions per year. NFPA 1404 could serve as a guide to help determine exactly what is to be included in these sessions.

Developing a training program is not an impossible task. Utilizing this basic four-step process will help you on the way to delivering a quality program to your members. More importantly, it will allow you to spend more time working with the individuals and companies the training officer position is meant to support.


RUDY HORIST is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with the Elgin (IL) Fire Department. His experience includes 15 years as an instructor and five years as training and safety officer. He is an instructor with the Illinois Society of Fire Service Instructors, the Illinois Fire Service Institute, and the Elgin Regional Fire Academy. Horist is president of the Society and a developer of the Training Officer 101 course.

FOREST F. REEDER JR. is a 23-year veteran of the fire service and battalion chief and director of training and safety with the Pleasantview (IL) Fire Protection District and director of training for Southwest United Fire Districts. He is a field staff instructor for the Illinois Fire Service Institute and coordinator of the fire officer program for the Illinois Fire Chiefs Foundation. Reeder has an associate of applied science degree in fire science technology and will complete a bachelor’s degree in fire department administration from Southern Illinois University in December 2001.

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