Manual Fulfills Local Training Needs

Manual Fulfills Local Training Needs


When I first joined a volunteer fire department I had hundreds and hundreds of questions. Unfortunately, whenever I started to ask questions, the basic attitude seemed to be, “Keep quiet kid. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will learn from experience.”

Over the next 20 years I did learn from experience—probably more so from becoming chief and having to explain to others than from our training sessions and drills.

Information gaps

Some of the difficulties associated with obtaining detailed, factual, and complete information over the years were as follows:

  1. All books and manuals were normally kept locked up by the chief. I was convinced this was done so that the men might not get to know more than the chief.
  2. All literature, books, manuals and correspondence our department received somehow became each chiefs personal property and vanished when he left office.
  3. With typically four, two-hour formal training sessions a month, it would take years to become fully knowledgeable and proficient with exceptional instructors and even longer with average instructors.
  4. Commercial textbooks were not normally provided. However, I purchased. a copy of every book that I felt might be of use. Unfortunately, most such books contained little information which was directly, applicable to our department and our equipment.
  5. The various manuals provided by equipment manufacturers were seldom straightforward. The “owner’s manual” for our major apparatus were combinations of manuals and pamphlets by the manufacturer for each of the various components which went into the truck. For example, an engine manual by Detroit Diesel, a transmission manual by Allison, a brake manual by Bendix and so forth. Each manual would list a variety of the models, styles and versions made by that manufacturer. If you were lucky, you might be able to find some information on the specific (unmodified) model installed (with modifications) on your particular vehicle.
  6. Conflicting explanations would be given by the various officers. Sometimes even the same officer would contradict himself.
  7. Whenever the department bought a training text (which did not immedi-
  8. ately become the personal possession of the chief), it would be lent to one of the officers—never to be seen again.
  9. Whenever a volunteer made a mistake, the usual answer was that he had never been told or that he had been told otherwise.
  10. State and county fire schools frequently were taught by instructors (selected for other than their technical or educational qualifications) on other than our equipment and using procedures our department did not follow. For example, every pump class I ever attended spent considerable time on the details of positive displacement pumps which were not widely used in the fire service in our area.

Possibly the above observations are unique to volunteer departments in general and specifically to my department. While this might be the case, I rather suspect that many of the above observations are common to all fire departments.

Opportunity to learn

One of my major objectives upon becoming chief was to remedy this situation. The basic goal was to give each member the opportunity to readily learn most of what the chief knew. While this would cease to make the chief almighty expert, it would enable each man to, in effect, become an expert (if he so desired). In an all-volunteer department this is extremely desirable in that even the newest recruit might be the “chief’ (and the only member) during any given emergency—at least during its initial phases.

To satisfy this objective, I proceeded to prepare a formal training manual for the department. As a first step, I wrote for literature from all manufacturers of each piece of major equipment we possessed. In general, the responses to such requests were prompt and adequate. This material was extracted and combined with various locally prepared materials and formed into a 400-page manual. Copies were printed and each member was provided his own personal copy.

Extracts from the table of contents, together with comments, are given in the Table.

The advantages of having such a manual are numerous. For example, it can be used for required reading by all new men and used as the basis of written and oral exams for all members. Frequently, the new men are gung-ho and will study the manual without being told. In addition, having such a formal, authoritative source of information helps maintain uniformity in the department.

Of course, there are some disadvantages associated with such a manual. One is that books alone don’t make good fire fighters. There is no substitute for real live hands-on practical training and actual fire fighting experience. Another big disadvantage is the time, effort and cost associated with preparing such a manual.

Regarding the time, assistance was required of our line officers, particularly in the preparation of building pre-fire plans. In addition, several of our members assisted in verifying details on maps and in reviewing drafts of instructions and procedures.

Extracts of printed materials

For our first issue, much of the text consisted of extracts directly from other printed materials (commercial texts, state motor vehicle code, sales brochures, catalogs, etc.). This approach held typing to a minimum. For our second issue, however, the entire text was rewritten and then retyped by members’ wives and by secretaries in local businesses—usually gratis.

We were fortunate to have our first issue printed by the local school district and our second issue printed by a local business, using today’s copying machines. In both cases, the bulk of the expense was donated.

Our experiences with these manuals have been highly satisfactory. New members are brought up-to-speed considerably faster than heretofore. Having such a bible around improves our uniformity and it is frequently used to settle arguments. It is also possible to readily refute the prior excuses of “I was never told,” or “I was told otherwise.”

Most of the men truly appreciate the manual and the opportunity to learn, and they take full advantage of it. At all training sessions where the subject is announced in advance, it is quite apparent that many of the men have reviewed—if not studied—the related material in the training manual.

Personally, it is always a sense of pride and accomplishment when I see men using the manual individually or in groups or when I hear frequent quotations made from the manual.

I know for a fact that our new members today acquire knowledge far faster through the use of our training manual than they did without such a manual. It is hoped that our experiences with such a manual might be of value to other departments that are striving to improve their training and operations.

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