Passing The Torch: Training and Traditions for the Next Generation of Firefighters

Article and photo by David DeStefano
 
Evaluating and monitoring the progress of those under his command and the effectiveness of the unit as it relates to the larger organization are among the responsibilities of every supervisor. Developing and implementing a plan to continuously improve knowledge and proficiency in individual and group expertise are important roles for a supervisor.

In the fire service, our supervisors are company officers and the various levels of chief officers, depending on the size of the department. Our units can be fire companies, battalions, divisions, or bureaus, again depending on the activity we are engaged in and the structure of our department. To ensure a transfer of knowledge and to prepare members of all levels to advance to their fullest potential, an organized effort must be made to pass along not only information but also a system to perpetuate development and increased responsibility. Using the basic unit most common and familiar throughout the fire service, the fire company, let us review techniques leading to the progression of responsibility in the fire service.

(1) One way to stimulate interest and increase the responsibility of firefighters is to enable them to plan and conduct periodic company drills. This allows them an opportunity to showcase skills they have mastered and pass along valuable information to other members.

BUILDING RESPONSIBILITY

First, a young firefighter looking to improve his trade and seek future advancement should seek out a company officer with a solid reputation as a skillful firefighter, a strong leader, and a willing teacher. Company officers looking to fill a vacancy in their unit should inquire about young firefighters who show promise. Those who have good records in their training academy and good reports from senior firefighters with whom they have worked are prospects for a “sit down” with officers looking for a new member for their company.

Once the officer and firefighters in the company are established and a good fit is determined, the officer should begin a plan for forward progress with his company. A good start is a company meeting to determine the wants and needs of the members as well as what is best overall for the company. Some firefighters may want support in studying for a promotional exam. Others may desire to get to the drill yard for review of practical evolutions. Members new to a particular battalion or district may want time out in the street learning the ins and outs of the response area. Whatever the need may be, the company officer owes it to his members and the department to see that they constantly hone their skills and make progress toward reasonable goals.

When working toward your goals or improving the effectiveness of your methods, you will eventually veer off course. Companies must meet to reflect on their progress and possibly realign their goals as needed. Officers should realize when firefighters are ready for a new challenge.

A valuable teaching device for the company officer is the gradual increase of responsibility. When an officer is satisfied that his firefighters are proficient in their basic skills and routine company operations, they may be ready for more of a challenge. In this role, the officer becomes more of an advisor, giving fewer direct orders and more general direction. But it is important that the company officer not abdicate the role of leadership or responsibility.

A practical example of increasing responsibility is allowing members to plan and initiate some of the company drills. This activity reinforces the expertise and confidence of the firefighters and allows them to develop their own methods for communicating their skills. Other instances where officers may assist in the daily development of their firefighters center on discussion of tactical options. Whether in the firehouse kitchen or in the field preplanning your district, listening to the observations of the firefighters and asking for their opinions on tactical issues will help them develop the skills necessary to conduct proper size-up and make appropriate decisions in the future. Firefighters who know their ideas are valued may become more productive members of the company.

This type of company mentoring and in-house leadership preparation has been a hallmark of the fire service for generations. However, the importance of “passing the torch” to newer members can sometimes be overlooked in favor of certificates and degrees. Although higher education is a necessity in the modern fire service, we should never forget the tried-and-rue methods of passing along practical knowledge at the company level.

David DeStefano is a 22-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at dmd2334@cox.net.

Author

  • David DeStefano  is a battalion chief with the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he has served for 29 years. He is a shift commander in the operations division. He was previously chief of training and safety and has also served as a captain, lieutenant, and firefighter in Ladder Co. 1 as well as a lieutenant in Engine Co. 3. DeStefano is an instructor/coordinator with the Rhode Island Fire Academy and lectures on fire service topics throughout Southern New England. He was a presenter at FDIC International 2017 and 2018.    

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