By Robert J. O’Brien
Fire departments have been tracking training records since the ISO began rating them. Most organizations today electronically track these records today through integrated records management systems (RMS). Depending on the department’s practices, the responsibility of documenting training records can fall to the company officer, training officer, the employee, or a combination. Regardless of who is responsible, the employee completing any training and the department must ensure the accuracy and validity of these records.
Licensed personnel such as paramedics and certified personnel such as EMTs typically keep track of their continuing education records. Failure to do so usually results in the employee’s inability to work. Fire department management must also closely monitor these records to ensure personnel providing patient care have current certifications or licenses. There is nothing worse for a fire department than to have one or more personnel providing care while not having current credentials, especially if the individual becomes involved in litigation relating to an emergency response.
Training records are a fire department function and must be a priority. They provide proof of education provided to the employee and need to be as complete as possible should they ever be called into question. Personnel need to understand their responsibility in the documentation process but must also understand the value of taking the time to document correctly. Emphasis should be placed on educating the employee as to how training records play a role when the department is being evaluated; is audited by an outside agency; or is being investigated as part of a workplace-related event such as an accident, harassment issue, or patient care situation.
In the unfortunate event that your fire department experiences an employee injury or death, you can be sure training records will be thoroughly reviewed by OSHA, other government agencies, and attorneys. They will be looking for all training records for the injured, those who may have been involved in the incident leading to the injury or death, and the entire organization. Any discrepancies will be exposed and exploited by those seeking damages or attempting to prepare disciplinary proceedings. Just ask any fire department officer who has gone through an OSHA inspection or investigation, and you will find that it may have been the most unpleasant and eye-opening experience of his career.
Hopefully you or your fire department will never have to produce training records as the result of an investigation or litigation. A common sense approach to records management must consider this possibility, however. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Training records must be stored in a secured environment.
- They must be easy to retrieve for those with clearance.
- Records must be accurate and never falsified.
- If personnel are allowed to enter their own records, the records should be monitored for accuracy and completeness-don’t allow employees to “pencil whip” their records.
- Ensure mandatory training is documented.
- Summary reports should identify those in attendance, training date, scores or completion verification, certifications issued (including expiration dates), hours trained, instructor information, and reports identifying those not receiving mandatory training.
- A synopsis of the course or identification title or training code.
- Any other support documentation.
In addition, any training program conducted in-house by your department, a partner organization, or private contractor must be thoroughly documented and retained with class rosters and support documents in accordance with local regulations or department policy. This is a good insurance policy and may be your or your organization’s only line of defense should an unfortunate situation arise where employees’ skills, knowledge, and abilities are called into question.
Paramedics know from their training that when it comes to documentation, “If it wasn’t written, it wasn’t done.” Protect yourself and your agency by taking the time to properly record your training records, and consider this task as one of your core responsibilities as a professional rather than as a chore you are required to do.
Robert J. O’Brien is the EMS division chief for the Fremont (CA) Fire Department and is a 27-year veteran of the fire service. He is president of the California Fire Chiefs Association, EMS Section. O’Brien has an associate of arts degree in fire science, has fire officer certification with the State of California, and graduated from the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. He graduated from the Stanford-Foothill paramedic program in 1986 and maintains a California paramedic license.