TRAINING NOTEBOOK ❘ By STEPHEN F. SHAW JR.
Every time my department cuts a hurricane-reinforced overhead garage door at a local company with whom we have a strong relationship, I think of the quote, “You never know what you’ll get unless you ask.” When it comes to the resources available to your department, especially when budgets are tight and resources are scarce, this statement should be gospel. However, to ask the question, you need to know your resources. To know your resources, you need to get out and network. This is just one great example of how relationships can develop into training resources for your department.
My Early Struggles
Most people who arrive at the Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Rescue (FLFR) Training Bureau come in not only ready to work but also with a project they would like to see come to fruition. For one, it was officer development, for another, it was driver-engineer training.
When I started, for whatever reason, I wanted to make cutting up garage doors with a rotary saw an art. Perhaps it was because when I was newly hired, the first time I was asked to cut open a garage door at a structure fire, I looked like an absolute buffoon who appeared to have never picked up a tool in his life. However, I had a plan, and I started researching the local resources that could assist.
(1) Heavily reinforced garage doors are common in South Florida. When your resources match your needs, you have a match made in heaven! (Photos by author.)
Nine years ago, I met with the owner of a local garage door and metal gate company and showed him my plan. I told him I wanted to build a prop that could hold a sectional garage door for the purpose of forcing entry with our power saws. After he helped me see that my rudimentary sketch was, to be kind, not going to work, he redrew my simple sketch to a more robust wooden design. (To top it off, he even built it for us!) I also asked what the chances were of him giving us the old doors he was going to throw out or recycle, as he did have an abundance of used garage doors. Whenever his company installed a new hurricane-rated door, the old door was basically scrap, with just enough residual value to put sodas and snacks in a vending machine. So, he agreed to give us the company’s used doors; in turn, we would simply chop them up and make it easier for them to load into the dumpster. Everyone wins!
Since that time, we have cut more than 100 garage doors of varying difficulty for the FLFR’s new hires, on-duty crews, neighboring fire departments, and the Fort Lauderdale Fire Expo. In summary, one person’s trash became our treasure.
Without reaching out and networking with those around us, the relationship would not have been established. Moreover, without establishing the relationship, this phenomenal training resource would never had been developed. Some resource-related questions you need to ask yourself follow.
What Are Your Agency’s Relevant Needs?
A thorough needs assessment will help determine your company’s needs regarding training and resources. For example, in South Florida, we have hurricane-rated, heavily reinforced sectional overhead garage doors all around us, so our need was obvious. Hurricane (impact) glass is also huge in our neck of the woods. Being able to force entry through impact-resistant glass is a must down here.
One of our battalion chiefs introduced us to a local impact glass company down the road from our office that routinely offers multiple panels of impact glass that were just waiting to be thrown in the dumpster (miscuts, incorrect dimensions, and so on). Once again, their trash was our treasure.
(2-4) Members train on garage door props. As a result of the strong network we created, crews have a continuous supply of old overhead and garage doors to use for training.
Is This Partnership Sustainable?
If this situation is a one-time donation or something similar, great; just check with your agency’s Policies and Standards Manual to make sure you don’t conflict with the “Gifts” or “Donations” sections.
If what you are working on can “go the distance,” make it official. Check with your legal department about the paperwork and permissions needed so that when you leave, are promoted, or move on, the structure is there for your successors. This is the ultimate goal: to have resources that keep on giving!
Will Your City, County, or Agency Approve?
When you approach your city’s legal department, explain what you plan to do so as not to make the attorneys apprehensive. Remember, they are not firefighters. When I first approached the assistant city attorney with my plan to cut up garage doors, he looked at me as if I had something growing out of my forehead.
“No, the sparks will not ignite the building on fire.” “No, the cutting of garage doors will not affect the structural integrity of the building next to it.” Have answers like these ready for as many questions as you can anticipate. I explained to this attorney in detail what our training would entail and that the city would incur no costs (something they typically like). I also ensured that every safety precaution was being upheld (something risk management loves to hear). The attorney simply wanted to make sure the city was added onto the insurance plan (an easier task than I originally thought). A release form was signed, and we were in business.
What Can You Give Back?
Giving back can take many forms, but your default setting should include giving thanks to those with whom you have built relationships. Some partnerships may require loads of red tape as well as having you provide a training class, attending meetings, and so on; some things may be simpler. Sometimes, all that someone wants is a letter of appreciation to hang on the wall. Always go the extra mile without crossing boundaries.
This is also potentially treacherous territory. Will the partnership you have made work against the Procurement Division when it comes to being fair to all bidding parties? Will your relationship be seen as showing favoritism? These aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but you must discuss and mitigate these areas of concern to protect the agency from legal pitfalls.
Grants are drying up. We are constantly reminded that budgets are a “pie” and there are only so many pieces to go around. Financial priorities constantly change direction. We must continue to find creative ways in which to discover training resources. The relationships you develop are strong ways in which you can help make this happen.
STEPHEN F. SHAW JR. is a 26-year fire service veteran and the assistant chief for training, emergency medical services (EMS), and special projects for Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Rescue (FLFR). He is an accredited Chief Fire Officer and the chair of the EMS Subcommittee for the Fire Chiefs Association of Broward County. Shaw is also the FLFR’s hazmat team coordinator and the vice chair of the South Florida Local Emergency Planning Committee. He is an IAFC Hazmat Committee member and a hazmat specialist for USAR Task Force 2. Shaw has presented at multiple conferences on topics including leadership, officer development, EMS, and training.
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