Budget vs. Training Needs

BY JOHN “SKIP” COLEMAN

T hroughout my 32-year career in the fire service, two truths became evident. The first was “the police get everything.” The second “truth” was that in tough budget times, training was always cut first. An anemic budget can affect training within a fire department, but we in the fire service can “invent” many ways to overcome or work around the budget shortfall.

Question: Has the budget crisis affected your department’s ability to train? If so, what are you doing about it?

THE RESPONSES

I was surprised by the number of responses that said outright or alluded to the fact that their training programs were not affected (10 out of the 22 respondents). Twelve of the 22 stated or implied that they had to alter or reduce their department’s training program.

Respondents offered numerous creative ways to overcome budget shortfalls. A few are shared here.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York:“The majority of the ‘real’ learning in the fire service occurs in the field at fires and other emergency operations. It is here that the principles learned in recruit school or in chief or company officer training sessions are refined by practical hands-on experience. In addition, we make a real effort to teach personnel while they are still at the fire scene. Tools, procedures, building construction, and other topics are most effectively learned at an on-site critique as soon as a fire or other emergency is placed under control.”

Jim Mason, lieutenant, Chicago (IL) Fire Department: “Training at the response level continues for companies in the field. It never really stopped. This may be the most important training of all. At the company level, we are continuing to preplan and inspect buildings to which we will potentially respond. Thankfully, this is not affected by the budget.”

More than 25 percent of the respondents help overcome budget deficits by training more with neighboring departments, sharing instructors, equipment, and expenses. Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department: “We’ve done some joint training with our neighbors and shared the cost. Sharing instructors, equipment, props, drill sites, videos, ideas—it all works.”

Robert Metzger, chief, Golden Gate Fire Control and Rescue District, Naples, FL, agreed: “This includes numerous joint training sessions with neighboring providers that may have resources we lack. The most recent example of this was a countywide effort to review high-rise firefighting skills in the county’s government center complex. The training committee of the county fire chiefs’ association conceptualized and coordinated the training.”

Gary Seidel, chief, Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department not only drills with but also covers for other departments while they train: “In addition, we occasionally work (prescheduled) with our neighboring departments to assist with covering stations so we can accomplish specialized training. We are also videotaping several of our training sessions and providing the DVD to our companies to view at their stations.”

In trying times, fire departments learn to improvise and take commonsense approaches to problems. Brian Cudaback, battalion chief, Arlington (TX) Fire-Rescue: “We are also very fortunate to have Tarrant County College nearby. Its Fire Services Training Center provides most of our special operations teams with operation-level certifications in the state-of-the-art training facility.”

Several people said they are cutting back on training costs by using their own personnel as instructors. “We are trying to send one or two people to what we consider ‘high-quality’ training so they can come back and train the rest of the department,” says Mike Bucy, assistant chief, Portage (IN) Fire Department.

Along the same vein, Richard B. Gasaway, chief, Roseville (MN) Fire Department, notes: “One creative way to help develop staff is to share the cost of training programs. Instead of incurring the expense of airfare, hotel, rental car, and meals to send two or three members away to school, try pooling local/regional resources and bringing a national speaker to your locale.”

FUNDING IDEAS

One creative funding idea that put responsibility on the student came from Matt Weil, captain, North Oakland County (MI) Fire Authority: “We have a reimbursement policy in which members put up five percent of the cost of the class for outside training. If they do not attend or fail to pass/earn certification, they must pay the entire cost of the class. Once certified, they get the five percent originally advanced back. They are expected to give us service in good standing for a period of time. In these times, we need good bosses who will stand up for us to have training resources.”

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To read all of the responses, visit our Web site at www.fireengineering.com.

John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author ofIncident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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