By Brian Zaitz
Congratulations! You were just appointed training officer. You are excited and ready to change the organization for the better. Before you take over the world, take time to “STRETCH” and remember what it was that you wanted from your training officer. Following are a few tips for success during your first year as the new training officer.
This sounds simple, but it can be more difficult than you think. The key to understanding the training needs of your organization is to stay involved and in tune with what is going on in the station and on the fireground. Do not be afraid to ask questions; remember, you do not know everything nor should you. The fire service is a team effort. Go to alarms and observe, conduct your own impromptu needs assessment, see where your crews are excelling and where they are lacking, and coordinate your training efforts around those areas. Also, stay involved at the industry level; surround yourself with good people who are on top of the changes going on around us. With today’s information super highway and social media connections, it is easier than ever to stay in contact with people. Asking questions is the only way to learn. The only dumb question is the one that wasn’t asked.
As the training officer, YOU must train as well. Never ask your crews to do something you have not nor will not do yourself. Training with your crews keeps you both mentally and physically ready for the job as well as builds a rapport and trust level with your crews that you will need as you begin to advance in your training programs. It is easy to step back and be the instructor, and sometimes that is necessary, but when you are able be a participant, take advantage; it will pay off in the long run (photo 1).
(1) Photos by author.
Being the training officer does not mean you have to teach everything. You have a talented pool of members within your organization that likely have a greater knowledge on a topic than you. Tap into that resource and empower them to teach. Having your members assist builds a feeling of teamwork and pride amongst the department and membership. The key here is balance; you cannot simply pawn off all your responsibilities on the crews, use them for areas of expertise, and still make the effort a crew effort to create a win-win situation.
Educate + Attend
Educate yourself. Go out and take formal education classes. The knowledge gained in these courses is only one part of the equation. The out-of-fire service-networking that will occur will expand you mind and show you the world beyond the firehouse bay doors. In addition, you will learn about a variety of topics that will make you well rounded and better suited for the job.
Also, make it a priority to attend at least one national fire service conference, and make this an annual tradition. Attendances at events such as the Fire Department Instructors Conference are critical for professional growth; the course offerings are from industry leaders on the current topics facing the service. In addition, the networking that occurs after the class is over is second to none. Likewise, attend the National Fire Academy; there you will find a host of courses designed for the fire service instructor AND the fire service professional. Networking is key. The problems and issues you are facing or will face have already been encountered with likely solutions, no need to reinvent the wheel just ask.
Today’s society lends itself to technology. Almost everyone has a smart phone or tablet. Use them to your advantage. Training Web sites—either stand-alone or built in—will augment your program and keep your members involved. There are countless resources on the use of technology as a training tool. If you are not familiar with how to do these things, take a class and learn. Use bar or QR codes on equipment (photo 2) as prompts for videos related to specialty equipment. This is an inexpensive method to prompt quality company training. Post videos on the Web site of fires within your department as well as others. Again, these will prompt discussion among the crews.
As with anything, communication is the key to success. You must communicate at a high level regarding the training topics, objectives, and the calendar. Training is the second highest priority next to alarms. However, today’s fire service is much more than just these two tasks. Providing time frames and topics for training and their overall objectives will allow crews to come to training prepared and afford you the opportunity to conduct efficient and effect training.
Make training a habit! You will know you have created a successful training program when training becomes daily (photo 3). You might be lucky enough to already have that in place in your department, so nurture it because once lost, it will take exponentially longer to get it back. Once your crews and department accept training as fundamental daily aspect of the job and make it a habit, you will see improved safety on the fireground, creativity in the station and apparatus, and an overall improved morale for the organization.
The training officer position is one of the most rewarding and challenging positions in the fire service. The job can take on many facets. But remember, the key is to improve efficiency and effectiveness to create safer firegrounds for the crews and citizens which you protect. Before you take over the world as the training officer, take time and STRETCH!
Brian Zaitz is a 14-year fire service veteran assigned as the captain-training officer with the Metro West Fire Protection District. He is an instructor with Engine House Training, LLC as well as an instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy. In addition, Zaitz is a safety officer with the FEMA USAR team Missouri Task Force 1. He has a masters of science in human resource development from Indiana State University, a bachelors of science in fire science management from Lindenwood University, and an associates of science in paramedic technology from St. Louis Community College. Zaitz also has several certifications including Fire Officer II, Fire Instructor II, and is accredited as a chief training officer.