Training—Do You Have Classes or Programs?

Training—Do You Have Classes or Programs?


AL Mehltretter’s

While a training program may consist of one class or a series of classes, not all classes or series of classes automatically make a training program.

A class, even one with properly developed objectives and methods, will not necessarily be a help to the student and thus to the department if the department has not established an overall training program.

Most officers assigned to training are both meticulous and diligent in designing good, solid lesson plans that meet the needs of the class being taught at the moment.

It is my belief that breakdowns in training result from instructors and program planners not looking at the overall picture. If fireground strategies consist of establishing the objectives and priorities to successfully mitigate an incident and tactics utilize individual skills to achieve these objectives, then maybe we should look at training from a similar viewpoint.

Any reasonably competent training officer can, in a fairly short time, teach firefighters an individual skill, such as operating a pump. After a two-hour class, the trainee can obtain pressure on the pump each time he pulls this and pushes that in the cab, goes to the pump panel, twists this, and slides that.

Presto! Another pump operator is born of the lesson plan designed by the training officer. The firefighter is now placed on the department’s roster of “pump operators.”

At this point, that training officer and I would have a serious discussion. Very, very serious, as we thrashed about on the floor, forcefully stating our views on the matter.

You have probably guessed that I have reservations as to whether we really do have a pump operator. You may say that you are going to have the firefighter drive, spot hydrants, and operate one or more lines. My reservations remain. The fact stands that nothing has been done to bring this pump operator into the overall scheme of things.

The lesson plan was faultless and the evaluation or skills checklist was excellent, but the pump operator can only push this, pull that, and so forth. He is not in the overall operational picture and, not surprisingly, he is having difficulties on the fireground.

It is my belief that this has happened because of one major problem: Although the class was conducted properly from start to finish, the course did not encompass all of the tasks that make up the job of pump operator. In other words, lesson plans (tactics) had been employed but a training strategy (program) had not been developed. And because no clear cut strategic training objectives had been developed, the pump operator could not carry out all of the duties expected of him.

The true job of pump operator goes beyond simply engaging a pump, it involves maintenance, driving, apparatus positioning, etc. If this concept is not understood, fireground operations will not be as safe, efficient, and successful as they can be and should be.

Training officers must always keep in mind that successful fireground strategies are based on a series of jobs being properly carried out; they must make it understood that each of these jobs generally consists of multiple tasks that must be mastered.

Back to our pump operator. This is the time to establish a complete training strategy, a program that will allow our pump operator to be totally prepared to carry out any job assigned to him. In other words, what do you want your pump operator to be able to do?

Please do not think that the following areas of training are all inclusive. They may not even begin to meet the specific needs of your department. The key is to analyze and define what you need in your own situation:

  • You may wish to start with a lesson plan dealing with in-quarters maintenance. What better way to get our pump operator to know not only the rig, but everything on the rig?
  • The next class(es) could be start-up procedures dealing with an on/off switch check, any required radio procedures, checking that all auxiliary power is disconnected and, finally, determining that all firefighters are in their assigned places and have donned protective gear.
  • Next could come practice driving. Don’t forget your department’s procedures for complete accident forms. No one likes it, but rigs do get bent, particularly in large communities.
  • You also may want to have a lesson plan for both in the classroom and on the street to cover arrival procedures for first-, second-, and third-due units on first-, second-, and multiple alarms.
  • Operational procedures at the incident scene, including multiple line operations, may be another area of training.

Back to square one. Maybe you feel that any pump operator must first master fire pump theory then hydraulic theory. Be my guest and do it that way. You know the particular needs and requirements of your department, I don’t.

What I’m saying here is that I really don’t care where you begin, what sequence you follow, or how you divide the tasks. I very much care that you look at a training program as an overall strategy and properly set the objectives to accomplish what you really want to accomplish before you try to deal with lesson plan tactics.

I have used a pump operator as an example of setting up a complete training program, but this concept of strategic training should be used for all areas of training, such as: proper donning and benefits of turnout gear; self-contained breathing apparatus maintenance and use; basic search and rescue operations; special search and rescue problems; rescue drags and carries; aerial operations; etc.

Of course, designing your training programs in this manner will be more time consuming, more demanding, and will require more soul-searching than you may be used to. But try it, you just may like it. The rewards are fantastic. Firefighters will have more confidence because they know that they are prepared to accomplish their assigned tasks; your commanding officers will see that operations are being carried out more efficiently; and you will be secure in knowing that you have done everything that you can to give your firefighters the knowledge and training necessary to operate as safely and effectively as possible in the conditions under which we work.


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