You’ve just been named the new training officer for your volunteer fire or rescue department-what are you going to do? Many volunteer fire and rescue department training officers experience difficulty in developing and implementing a training program. In establishing your program, consider the following:

  • training audience and their needs;
  • training session frequency;
  • training program design;
  • training delivery method; and
  • training program evaluation.


Your audience may not be as obvious as you think. New members need basic knowledge and skills training, which may include pre-basic or rookie training programs conducted in-house so new members can respond to the scene and participate in a limited way.

More experienced members may not realize they need refresher training to maintain knowledge and skills and keep them up to date on new information and technology.

Aspiring apparatus drivers need some form of initial emergency vehicle driver training; thereafter, they should participate in a periodic reevaluation program to document their knowledge and skills maintenance.

Officers need not only technical/tactical training but also operational and administrative management and supervision training. Unfortunately, many times, a department’s training focuses on emergency scene management while devoting little attention to the nonemergency side of the department, which is more important in retaining members and maintaining morale.

In looking at your training audience, there are individuals with various knowledge and skill levels who might not feel they need specific training or training in general. The bottom line, however, is that everyone in the operational and the administrative areas needs training.


Scheduling training in your organization can be challenging, and training frequency should be the first item on the agenda. Although it may be difficult to get members together at certain times of the year, the department should schedule at least monthly training in addition to any formal training (i.e., training delivered by a state or local training agency such as Firefighter I) that is already in progress.

Scheduling goes hand-in-hand with frequency. Consider members’ availability, individual/department needs, and other departmental activities. Think about repeating activities to maintain flexibility and ensure attendance by as many members as possible. If you want to ensure that the department has properly trained members to provide service, take some initiative and be creative in making training available in various modes or at times that will enable you to reach as many members as possible.


The initial training an individual receives is generally formal training such as Firefighter I, basic emergency care, basic rescue, and hazardous-materials operations. Your department or an outside agency such as the area fire academy may provide the training. Determine if formal training is needed to supplement in-service training to bridge the gap between formal training and specific department needs.

Don’t rely solely on formal training to prepare your members to operate in your department. Ensure that department and formal training are consistent to avoid confusing members.

In examining the department’s training needs, divide them according to the services provided. First, consider maintenance of basic fire, rescue, emergency care, and haz-mat operations knowledge and skills.

Also consider knowledge/skill recertification requirements related to bloodborne pathogens, haz-mat emergency response, SCBA, and basic and advanced life support. In addition to basic knowledge/skills maintenance, you will need to provide initial and refresher training to address any new services the department initiates, such as confined space rescue, trench rescue, and haz-mat technician.

Figure 1 contains a list of suggested training topics for the various service areas. Note that monthly training topics are progressive and build on each other and various topics are drawn together at the end of the year. If your department provides more than one service but only conducts in-service training once a month, consider mixing the topics to meet the various needs of the department. Solicit topics from members.

Training delivery should be sequential with a logical flow of material. Once you select a topic, identify the objectives and develop an outline or lesson guide to use in delivering the training. Document what was actually delivered.

Conducting a scene analysis of past incidents or operational problems, emphasizing deficiencies or improving efficiency, is a good way to determine department needs. Don’t allow your department to become complacent; there’s always room for improvement.

Another method for determining needs is to conduct a periodic skills evaluation to determine each member’s proficiency level. Figure 2 contains a sample evaluation.

In many organizations, the department constitution and by-laws provide guidelines for training. Such documents stipulate the courses members must take and a time limit for successful completion to maintain their membership. Departments should review such requirements to ensure that they are reasonable and realistic. Training and other officers should encourage members to meet these requirements by providing a positive training environment.

In addition to fire department requirements, certain jurisdictions may mandate specific training. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, such as NFPA 1000, Fire Service Professional Qualifications Accreditation and Certification System-2000, and NFPA 472, Professional Competence of Responders to Hazardous Materials Incident-1997, are professional qualification standards. Training is also required to meet 29 CFR 1910. 120q, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation covering emergency response to haz-mat incidents and NFPA 1500, Fire Department Health and Safety Program-1997.

Analyze audience needs because individual members have different needs and interests. The training provided must have some relative practical application, must provide information, and should relate to the individual interests and needs of members and the department. Realize that in trying to reach everyone, one size does not fit all in training.

To increase participation and interest, make sure your program is planned, is organized, and addresses long- and short-term goals; it should not be haphazard and without logic or sequence.


Think about separating the various audiences in your department according to age, experience, and rank to personalize and deliver training to segments of the department with common interests and needs.

What method will you use to deliver training? Will you use lectures involving group interaction, practical activities with hands-on participation, demonstration, or a combination of methods? Whatever you do, keep your audience in mind. Keep them interested, and make sure everyone can see and hear what is happening.

Address practical activity management and adequate resources for hands-on training. Experience shows that individuals preferred to get involved rather than sit and listen. Remember, good information can fall on deaf ears.

Although you may not be responsible for delivering all the training, sessions should be delivered by qualified presenters with instructional ability and technical knowledge on the topic. Use other officers or nonofficers in your department or outside personnel who can fill your training needs. Using senior department members allows them to get involved in training.

Arrange the logistical support for outside presenters well in advance. Identify and address the speaker’s needs. Planning your in-service training program well is the key to successful delivery. Lack of planning and coordination will show up very quickly in a training program and may produce negative results, regardless of the speaker’s ability or subject.


Quantifiable and qualifiable stated objectives are important to measure your training program’s effectiveness. There should be an identifiable way to determine whether the desired outcomes were met. Oral or written questions, written examinations, or skills demonstrations are all ways to evaluate a program’s effectiveness.

It’s also important to provide feedback to participants regarding their success or failure in meeting stated objectives. Use reasonable and realistic measurements, substantiated by nationally recognized standards, texts, or practices.

Training documentation is important for determining minimal training levels for continued department membership, as proof of knowledge/skills proficiency for liability protection, to recognize individual and department training participation, and as part of an insurance rating review.

* * *

A well-organized training program attracts participants and reduces the need to mandate attendance. A training program’s bottom line is safety, and that is not negotiable. You must follow generally accepted safety practices, guidelines, and standards.

The actual emergency scene should not become your members’ training ground because of inadequate prior training for their duties. You owe it to the citizens you serve to have the best-trained personnel delivering the best possible service. They expect nothing less, and you should be prepared to meet their expectations. Failing to maintain knowledge/skill levels may make a member a safety hazard to himself and others.

CLARENCE E. WHITE JR. has been a member of the fire service for more than 35 years, currently serving with the Guardian Hose Company of Thurmont, Maryland, and the Citizens Truck Company of Frederick, Maryland. He is chairman of the Training Committee for the Frederick County (MD) Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association and has been a field instructor for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute since 1974, teaching fire, rescue, and hazardous-materials courses.

Figure 1. Schedule of Training Topics

Firefighting Skills
January Basic fire behavior and fire chemistry
February Personal protective clothing and safety
March Hose and hose appliances
April Water supply and water movement
May Hand tool identification and application
June Engine company ground ladders
July Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA)
August Ventilation theory and practice
September Forcible entry practice
October Basic hose and ladder evolutions
November Basic engine company operations and scene organization
December Interior fire suppression

Rescue Skills
January Introduction to hand tools
February Introduction to pneumatic tools
March Introduction to electric tools
April Introduction to hydraulic tools
May Vehicle stabilization
June Scene operations
July Support operations
August Vehicle construction
September Stabilization and hand tool practice
October Electric and pneumatic tool practice
November Hydraulic tool practice
December Putting it all together

Emergency Care
January Basic anatomy and physiology
February Infection control and safety
March Primary patient surveys
April Airway management
June Bleeding control
July Secondary patient assessment
August Fracture management-extremities
September Spinal immobilization
October Soft tissue injuries
November Hot and cold conditions
December Situational analysis

Hazardous-Materials Operations
January Terminology
February Recognition and identification
March Using reference materials-ERG
April Hazard and risk assessment
May Personal protective clothing
June Basic control and containment
July Scene security and operations
August Basic decontamination
September Basic metering-combustibles
October Working with hazardous-materials teams
November Emergency medical considerations
December Putting it all together


Figure 2. Practical Evaluation Problems

Officer Date    
______ ____ 1. Select the tools and explain or demonstrate the procedure for making entry through a double-hung window with multiple panes.
______ ____ 2. Select the tools and explain or demonstrate the method for making entry through a metal-covered fire door equipped with a mortise lock.
______ ____ 3. Identify the major parts of positive-pressure self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
______ ____ 4. Don and put into operation a positive-pressure SCBA within one minute while attired in full personal protective clothing (coat, pants, hood, helmet, boots, and gloves).
______ ____ 5. Identfy the hydrostatic test date on a positive-pressure SCBA cylinder and refill the cylinder to the appropriate pressure using a cascade system.
______ ____ 6. Demonstrate the method for checking the condition of lifeline rope and explain what is being checked.
______ ____ 7. Tie a bowline, clove hitch, half hitch, figure eight on a bight, becket bend, and safety knot, all within two minutes.
______ ____ 8. Hoist a pike pole, halligan bar, smoke ejector, and roof ladder to a height of at least 20 feet using the proper knots and safety practices.
______ ____ 9. Working alone, cover an arrangement of furniture using a salvage cover that has been folded in a one-person fold.
______ ____ 10. With another firefighter, fold a salvage cover for one-person use.
______ ____ 11. Explain the application and operation of a double male, double female, gated wye, Siamese, fog nozzle, and solid-stream nozzle.
______ ____ 12. Using a modified flat load, pull and advance a preconnected, 150-foot, 11/2-inch, 13/4-inch, or two-inch attack line. Once pulled, demonstrate the position on the nozzle and application of the water for interior firefighting using the direct method of attack.

______ ____ 13. Lay out and charge a three-inch, four-inch, or five-inch supply line using a hydrant valve.
______ ____ 14. Advance 150 feet of preconnected, uncharged 21/2-inch hose up an extension ladder. Exit the ladder and secure the hose to the ladder.
______ ____ 15. Connect a section of 21/2-inch or three-inch hose with 21/2-inch couplings to a section of 11/2-inch, 13/4-inch, or two-inch hose with 13/4-inch couplings.
______ ____ 16. Working with another firefighter, lift, carry, and raise a 24-foot extension ladder. Once the ladder is raised, each firefighter should alternately climb, take a leg lock, and foot the ladder.
______ ____ 17. Working with two other firefighters, lift, carry, and raise a 35-foot extension ladder.
______ ____ 18. Working alone, demonstrate the method for carrying a roof ladder up an extension ladder and placing it on the roof.
______ ____ 19. Working alone, bring a simulated unconscious victim down an extension ladder from a height of at least 15 feet.
______ ____ 20. Working with another firefighter, conduct a search of a small room filled with smoke (such as a bedroom), and locate or remove any victims or simulated victims found.
______ ____ 21. Demonstrate the placement of a positive-pressure blower for removal of smoke from an interior room.
______ ____ 22. Explain the operational procedure for venting a house to relieve a backdraft condition.
______ ____ 23. Demonstrate the method for carrying and using an ax, a pike pole, a pressurized water fire extinguisher, and a halli-gan bar.
Note: All tools and appliances will be at the appropriate station. IFSTA Essentials, Fourth Edition, will be the acceptable reference manual. All the skills identified are required for Firefighter I under NFPA Qualifications, 1997 edition.


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