Training Officer

By S.J.Kelley

One of the toughest jobs in the fire service, whether being career or volunteer, is training your personnel for the worst case situations. What makes a training officer? Did you attend specialized training at the Academy? Or is this a STEPPING STONE (?) to reach Assistant/Deputy Chief? Your motivation to take a position of Captain/Training Officer will determine how successful your term will be. Let me explain. If your fellow peers know that you are motivated for the job and not the title, then they will be motivated too. The time and effort you put into your training will greatly pay off. It is the ideal way to gain supporters/followers for when you get promoted or elected to the next officer level.

The make or break situation- One of the biggest votes of confidence is having a successful training program and challenging your members’ abilities to the peak. The complete opposite of a successful training is having a terrible program and for there to be no learning taking place. How can you move to the next step if you can’t master this one? You will lose confidence in your members and they will question if you can handle tough situations as a Chief Officer.

Below are a few successful tips that have excelled my training program:

  1. Communicate- People feel more prepared knowing what they are being trained in and are invested while the training is going on. I cannot tell you the countless stories I have heard of firefighters showing up for training and nothing is going on, or the infamous great training is going on and no one knows about it. My solution to this is to gather everyone’s email addresses and create a distribution list. Make a monthly Excel calendar (it’s a free online program) and send it out. Mostly everyone gets emails to their phone. It’s an easy and convenient way to communicate.

  2. Satisfy- Not all training has to be an annual and mandatory event. There have been many times when members came to me asking if we could conduct a certain training evolution. Listen to what they are saying. If they are telling you this, it means they do not feel comfortable when the emergency situation occurs. Remember you are preparing them for the real incident or a worst case scenario.

  3. Put them to work- Having firefighters master a skill by just watching is extremely pointless. When teaching a type of skill, show it to the student and then have them perform it. You retain more by hands on training than just watching, and then thinking you can perform the skill under duress.

  4. Reduction in class time – Don’t get me wrong, I love power point presentations. It’s a great training tool, but keep in mind that it is important to reduce your classroom time to the essentials courses, preplanning, and building construction awareness. If you think a power point presentation will deliver the necessary information for a skill or preparation for a class then use it. However, remember you retain more by doing than seeing.

Validation- This is one of the words I live by and that is the reason why I left it for last. I have been training as an Instructor for the last 10 years, attending numerous seminars, academy courses and Instructor conferences. Does this give full validation to my peers that I can teach a subject? In all honesty, it’s only half. Not all Training Officers can take the time out of family and work to travel across the state to learn new subjects. It is nearly impossible in the volunteer world. The other half of the validation is the experience of responding to those emergency situations, such as fighting a few fires and using the jaws of life in chaotic situations, for example. In my eyes, validation is the key to a great Instructor/Training Officer. How can you teach new firefighters to search a building and fight fire when you never have yourself? I am sorry to give light to this situation but learning how to fight a fire in a concrete non-combustible burn building only goes so far.

I have dedicated my life and career to training others. Take my ideas and put them to use. They have made my training program successful, and will surely do the same for yours.

Writer’s experience

-18 years with the Port Ewen Volunteer FD

Current position of Captain/Training Officer

-13 years as an Industrial Firefighter for IBM EastFishkill

Current position of Training Officer