Make the Most of Your TRAINING AIDS

Make the Most of Your TRAINING AIDS



Giving your firefighters the best training you possibly can benefits not only them, but you, your department, and the public as well. And classroom and practical training sessions can be made more interesting and successful with the proper use of training aids.

These aids can be visual, i.e., transparencies, slides, videotapes, etc., or practical, i.e., models, simulators, actual products, etc. The more imagination an instructor uses in his training aids, the more students will have a tendency to remember key ideas.

There are normally four basic categories or stages of learning:

  • “Tell me what you want me to know.”
  • “Show me how to do it.”
  • “Give me the tools to perform the task.”
  • “Get out of my way and let me do it.”

You must first give your students a good overall idea of what it is you want them to know, passing on the information in some logical order and explaining and emphasizing all the important factors to remember.

After you have given your students a thorough explanation of what it is you want them to learn, then show them how to perform the particular task, using training aids to highlight all key points.

Next, give the students the equipment necessary to execute the task and supervise them through it. Then stand back and let them practice what they have learned on their own. Make sure that you point out any mistakes tactfully so as not to belittle your students but to make sure the exercise is performed properly.


Although there are many highquality, commercially made training aids available, these are not necessarily the best choice. In some cases, handmade training aids can be a better learning tool.

One of the easiest and cheapest aids to make and use is the overhead transparency. The basic materials can be obtained at most business supply outlets for relatively little cost. A few important factors you should remember when making your transparencies are:

  • Don’t make the lettering too small. Normally the smallest lettering you would want to use would be approximately ¼ inch high so that it can be seen on the screen from the back of the classroom.
  • There should be only one main idea projected per overhead, with no more than four or five key points supporting that idea. Try to keep everything on the overhead as brief as possible to eliminate confusion and clutter.
  • While color transparencies can enhance your presentation, don’t use colors that are too dark because they’ll make reading difficult. Also, the reverse image technique is not often recommended since in an average lighting situation the transparency will be very difficult to see. Remember that your teaching environment and conditions will not always be the most favorable.
  • If you are going to be talking for a while in between overhead transparencies, either turn the lamp off the projector or tape a piece of paper or thin cardboard to the top of the lens and flip it down in front of the lens to black out the screen. A blinding white screen with nothing displayed often takes away from the instructor. The student may miss a valuable piece of information simply because his attention is on the blank screen.
  • Try and keep the overhead transparency straight so it appears even on the screen. The easier it is for the student to see and read, the easier it is for the instructor to get the point across.
  • If possible, frame the overhead transparencies to keep out unnecessary light from around the sides that again might take away from the overall presentation. Frames are relatively inexpensive and can enhance the quality of the product; but they are not essential if expense is a problem.

Overhead transparencies give a graphic view and/or written key points to enhance your presentation. However, remember that overheads are only to point out key ideas and not necessarily to be used for your entire presentation.

Another type of visual training aid is 35mm slides. Again, just about every type of training program available can be obtained on 35mm slides. Some of these programs even come with cassette tapes that narrate the program and are often electronically coded to automatically advance the slides.

However, you may find it more beneficial to make your own slide programs that utilize your people and your equipment or the equipment that your students are expected to learn. You can usually get started with a basic 35mm slide camera system for under $500. Film and local processing costs are relatively inexpensive. If you do decide to purchase your own system and make your own slide programs, there are a few basic guidelines you should follow:

  • Make sure that you purchase a system that is not overly sophisticated and difficult to use. Even though you may be familiar with complex systems, everyone else may not be, and would not be able to operate the system effectively.
  • Make sure that you purchase the appropriate film for the appropriate light. The 400 asa slide film is a good all-around type film that is good in daylight hours and especially good with night shots where lighting may be a problem.
  • Pick out one particular subject
  • for each slide and focus in on that subject, keeping out as much background and non-related material as possible.
  • Store your slide programs in a cool, dry place so that they won’t warp and the colors won’t fade so rapidly. Slide trays can make your programs easier to store and catalogue, saving set-up time before each class.
  • Review your slide program before each presentation and remove any irrelevant information or update information as needed. This can make your program flow smoothly and retain student interest.

As in the use of overhead transparencies, slides can be a very valuable teaching aid, but, again, should only be used to help point out key ideas. If you use slides exclusively in your program, you may bore your students, causing them to lose the overall intent of the class.

One of the most effective visual type training aids available today is the videotape. Usually, videotape programs are somewhat more expensive than overheads or slides, but can be a very effective training aid. And, like overheads and slides, can be homemade.

Making your own video programs may be a solution to cost problems and be of better value to your department. Initial expense in obtaining a video system is the worst part. You can get set up with a good all-around basic camera, recorder/player, and color monitor for around $2,000. After this, blank tapes are fairly inexpensive. You can now record up to eight hours on one tape, depending on the type system you purchase. Learning to use the system is relatively easy, but, again, there are a few basic guidelines that you should follow:

  • Like the 35mm camera equipment, don’t get a system that is too complex, but rather one that is easy for all to learn to use. Expensive systems are not necessary to make a good production.
  • Before you purchase your system, check if there are other departments in the area that have videotape equipment. Sharing videotape presentations among several departments with compatible systems can help cut expenses.
  • Proper lighting is extremely important when making your tape programs. Normally, daylight is no problem but nighttime shots can be difficult without adequate lighting. When purchasing your camera equipment, look at a camera that doesn’t require a great amount of light to make a good production. A camera requiring 10 to 15 lux of light is very good for low light situations. You can make effective tapes with cameras that need more light than that, but just remember to have good exterior lighting available.
  • Key in on one point and try to stay with the subject without zooming in or out too much or panning too rapidly. You can lose your students’ interest quickly if they can’t keep up with the subject matter that you are trying to point out. As with all training aids, practice makes perfect.
  • Moisture can be very damaging, so store your tapes in a cool, dry place to not only prolong their use, but to make it easier on your recorder/player equipment.
  • Routine cleaning and maintenance is essential to prolong tape life as well as to continue to have high-quality video programs. Carbon deposits from the tape buildup on the play/record heads and drive mechanisms, if not cleaned off periodically, can permanently damage your equipment. There are many commercially made cleaning kits available to clean your equipment, but I recommend taking the equipment to an authorized dealer for periodic maintenance since they can clean areas that the commercial cleaners can’t.

Although I have mentioned only three types of visual type training aids, there are others such as 16mm movies, flip charts, chalkboards, and many more, all of which can be a valuable asset to the instructor if used properly.


The proper use of practical skill or hands-on type training aids are a definite benefit to the instructor and a learning enhancement for your students. Students benefit more from a training program if they are given the chance to practice what they have learned or at least see the item being used.

One of the hands-on type training aids available are models. These are useful in showing students key points or proper use of a particular piece of equipment. They can also help an instructor clarify certain items that may have been confusing for the students. Models give students an opportunity to see a scaled-down version of a piece of equipment from all angles.

Models do, however, have their limitations. They are normally good only for small groups. If you are trying to show something to a large group, you may find it necessary to walk through the classroom to point out items of interest so that everyone can see. If you do use models in your presentation, there are a few points you might want to remember:

  • Make sure the model is relevant to the information. When trying to clarify a point, you must have an exact model of the item that you are explaining. If not, then it’s best not to use anything at all to eliminate confusion.
  • The model should be as simple as possible. If you can take a complex item and simplify it so that it works effectively, the students will have a tendency to want to learn more about the item. If you overwhelm them with something complex right from the start, you will lose them.
  • Models, in many cases, can be something the instructor or, preferably, the student makes. The more you can get your students involved in the learning process, the more they will learn. The more student feedback you get, the better your means of gauging progress.
  • Make sure that the model is large enough so that everyone can see it without having to strain. If the model is small, make sure that you either pass it around or take it to different areas in the classroom for all to see what it is you are talking about. While this is taking place, make sure that you do not begin discussing another subject until everyone has seen the model. The students will be busy looking at the model and not listening to what you are saying.

Another good training aid is simulators. The use of simulation to create actual situations can be one of the best learning tools available. You have to realize, however, that simulation is very time consuming and is one area where you don’t want to cut your students short. Therefore, you must allow yourself adequate time to effectively use this training aid. If simulation is done properly, the students will encounter very realistic situations and learn invaluable lessons. Some important factors that instructors should remember when utilizing simulation are:

  • The simulator should be adequate enough to accommodate all of your students, as this is definitely one area where you want to involve everyone. Simulation allows a given situation to be handled in a variety of ways and with a variety of viewpoints. After the simulation is over, the students and instructor should then sit down and discuss what was done and what possibly could have been done a little better.
  • If the simulator or simulation you are using is quite large, you may find that you will need more than one instructor to keep up with all of the events that are taking place.
  • When using simulation, start out with simple operations and build on complexity as you go. You don’t want to teach a strategy and tactics class and then throw your students to the wolves by giving them a simulated multiple-alarm fire right off the bat. You want to allow them an opportunity to build confidence and become familiar with how the simulator operates.

Simulators can be of many different types and varieties, from velcro or magnetic type boards, to table top, to multiple projector, to full classroom type. All can be effective training tools depending on the size of your class and the amount of money you have available. With a little ingenuity, you can build an effective simulator out of plywood, paint, and a few models that you can buy at almost any drugstore or hobby shop. The simulator doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective.

Probably the best training aid available, but often the most difficult to utilize, is the actual item you are teaching. The reason for this is due to the availability of equipment. If you want to teach your students hose practices, for example, and you have a group of 30 students, you can see that it would be very difficult to give each student an opportunity to practice with the nozzle and become familiar with operating a hoseline unless you had more than a couple of sections of hose and one nozzle. The use of additional instructors and the availability of the proper amount of equipment are essential in these circumstances.

In a hostile environment such as a smokehouse, you would need several more instructors or instructor aids to assist you. You would not want to place more than four or five people at a time on a hose line and take them into a smokefilled environment, especially if it is their first time. You would like to have one instructor at the beginning of the group to help lead them and direct the inside operations, and one instructor at the end of the group whose prime purpose would be safety officer in case one of the students should encounter a problem while inside. The remaining students outside the structure could assist in advancing hoseline to those inside, and prepare to go in when the first group comes out. It would also give the additional instructors a chance to talk with the remaining students to advise them of what will be expected of them once inside the smokehouse. The additional instructors can also provide relief so that there is no instructor burnout from exhaustion, as working in a hostile environment can drain an individual very rapidly.


As you can see, there are many effective training aids that instructors can use to enhance their training programs, all of which can be a valuable asset to the learning process if used properly.

Training aids can either make or break an instructor, depending on how familiar he is with and his methods of using the aids available.

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