Will Your Training Report Help You or Hurt You When Talking to an Attorney?

Firefighters on a ladder

By John M. Buckman III

When you complete firefighter training, hopefully you are taking care to provide an accurate and detailed report of the training that was conducted. The quality of the documentation is important if you receive a call from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) or an attorney in the event that one of your students who were in your class once upon a time is injured.

I encourage fire instructors and students to document using photographs of hands-on training activities. Photographs are in addition to paper/electronic documentation.

Documentation can identify the everyday practical skills that were conducted. As the instructor, you may consider some of the training you provide to be pretty basic, but without documentation you can’t prove what you did was to a standard or not.


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We live in a litigious society. When one of your students is seriously injured, you will be contacted to give a deposition. Depositions are providing a sworn oral statement in a court case. Depositions are given by witnesses to the training to verify whether what is in the existing documentation was actually done and performed in accordance with a standard. The deposition is trying to establish information from a witness and preserve that information so that it might be used in a courtroom proceeding. The overall intent is to let all interested and involved parties to learn all the facts of the specific situation.

What standard? The most used standard in the fire service is a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard. If there are certain NFPA standards that have been legally adopted into law, you should use those standards in the delivery of your training.

Documentation of instructors’ work is also critical for effective communication with each other and with other disciplines.

Documentation is sometimes viewed as burdensome and even as a distraction. High quality documentation, however, is a necessary and integral aspect of the work of training officers and instructor in all roles and settings. This requires providing training to officers’ and instructors’ nurses with sufficient time and resources to support documentation activities.

At a time when accessing, generating, and sharing information in public safety is rapidly changing. It is particularly important to articulate and reinforce principles that are basic to effective documentation of public safety activities. But the attendant issues of accuracy, confidentiality, and security of documentation, in accordance with law, guidelines and mandates, are and will remain paramount, whatever the technological platform. These enduring issues inform and underline the principles and recommendations in this publication. Clear, accurate, and accessible documentation is an essential element of safe, quality, evidence-based firefighter training.

Best practices across all levels of training is a critical component of quality.

Documentation also provides a basis for demonstrating and understanding the contributions by the instructor to the student. Documentation also provides the fire department with documented outcomes that improve the viability and effectiveness of the training.

Instructors document their work and outcomes for a number of reasons: the most important is for communicating within their organization and providing information for the student professional development records. Today’s training records also have value when an ISO inspection is conducted as well as when a fire department considers  accreditation credentials. In other cases, training records can be used in proposed legislative activities.

To have value, training records must be accurate, timely, contemporaneous, concise, thorough, organized, and confidential. Information is communicated verbally and in written and electronic formats across all settings. Written and electronic documentation are formats that provide durable and retrievable records.

One method to evaluate and improve the quality of the training activity and the outcomes of the training is to audit training reports provided. Audits of training reports are part of the quality control process and performance improvement. Documentation is the primary source of evidence used to continuously measure performance.

Documentation involves the following instructional steps:

  • Assign someone to “photo document” aspects of the training event.
    • The amount of photos to be taken is dependent on the complexity of the training session.
    • This should not be a distraction to the training itself.
  • Identify activities that are high-risk/low-frequency events.
  • Use a training report that complies with NFPA 1401 recommended practice for fire service training records and reports.
    • Name of instructor.
    • Signature of instructor.
    • Name of who participated (assistant instructor/evaluator).
    • Name(s) of who was in attendance.
    • Who was included in the training (individual, company, multi-company or organization).
    • If students are not from my department, where are they affiliated.
    • Subject covered.
    • Type of equipment utilized for training – both for instructor and student use.
    • Was a practical skill evaluated, if so what is the skill listed.
    • The objective of the training session listed.
    • Date training session was conducted.
    • Location training took place.
    • Reason for training (OSHA requirement, ISO requirement, department policy, etc.).
    • Method of training used for delivery (lecture, demonstration, skills training, self-study, video presentation, mentoring, drills, other).

Documentation is a key component of risk management. The United States Fire Administration Risk Management Practices in the Fire Service – January 2018 identifies the five principals of risk management steps:

Step 1: Identifying the risk

Step 2: Evaluating risk potential

Step 3: Ranking and prioritizing risks

Step 4: Determining and implementing control actions

Step 5: Evaluating and revising actions and techniques

Instructors should be concerned about risk management. Risk management is a system, not a solution. Preplanning and preparation are key components of a risk management plan.

Developing a risk management plan is the foundation of conducting safe high hazard-low frequency events. But like any other plan, when it is developed it must be embraced by all and implemented. Risk management plans are designed to identify actions and circumstances that create a risk to firefighters. Risk management involves people, actions, apparatus, equipment, and facilities. Each component can impact safe training events.

The evaluation of risk potential by breaking down the event to determine the likelihood of an injury or unpredictable or unforeseen event and the potential consequences that will result if something goes wrong. Probability and possibility are two key components of a risk management plan. The fact that you have conducted this specific training repeatedly is not a good indicator the risk factors. Complacency is something that instructors and students can’t allow to become part of their attitude. Many times training accidents happen at everyday training events.

Having an adequate amount of staffing is important in risk management. The span of control for high-hazard events is usually greater than training sessions that are not high hazard.  A recommended span of control for high hazard events may be as much as two students to one instructor.

The role of an instructor is complicated. Don’t take things for granted and don’t let your guard down.

JOHN M. BUCKMAN III has served 47 years as a volunteer firefighter and 35 years as chief at the German Township (IN) Volunteer Fire Department. He was president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in 2001-2002. He has presented in all 50 states, Canada, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and China.


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