How to choose firefighting instructors

John Buckman III

Whether volunteer or career, having capable and safe firefighters comes down to how well they are trained. Fire chiefs need to build not only a good training program, but find good instructor who can execute that program.

For effective training you must choose good instructors who teach important, relevant subjects. The training must be real world and practical. Adults must be engaged mentally and physically to learn at the optimal level.

When possible, choose instructors who love the topics they teach. These instructors will use fewer lectures and more participation when teaching adults.

Eight training pitfalls:

  • Failing to take training seriously.
  • Allowing chiefs to discount training.
  • Deciding training starts and stops at the facility door.
  • Teaching adults like children.
  • Evaluating trainees too timidly.
  • Ignoring the technology of training.
  • Concentrating on things rather than people.
  • Defending the perimeter.

Look for an instructor who will train on the problem areas of your firefighters, talk about mistakes and take corrective action. There is nothing to be embarrassed about when a mistake is made unless you ignore the mistake — good instructors understand this.

Videos are a great training tool, but they a supplement not a substitute for a good instructor. If your instructor uses video to supplement training, they should be no longer than 10 minutes.

Simulating reality
Simulations are another effective training tool.

Properly performed, simulations provide firefighters experiences that they will at some point go through on an actual fire or rescue scene. When that occurs, you will know your training is working.

Scenarios are the instructional vehicles for simulation. Their creation, format, and control is more an art than a paint-by-numbers approach. To exploit the learning and evaluation capabilities of a simulated environment, the instructor must use judgment in designing scenarios and in evaluating trainees.

No matter how good or bad a situation may be, a good instructor knows that it can always be improved upon.

Reason and consistency
A good trainer will help firefighters know why they should learn. People learn best when they understand the purpose and expected outcome of the training activity. Relevant training allows the firefighter to use their personal experiences in the training session.

A good instructor will also reinforce the learning process by repeating the right way to do things.

There is often a gap between what we say we do and what we actually do; this is not effective on the fireground. A good instructor will train firefighters like they will be expected to perform at an emergency.

Training programs should be based upon an analysis of the critical tasks required for firefighters on your department. Critical tasks are those tactical functions every firefighter must be able to complete.

If one member of the team is not able to fulfill their part of the game, the team will fail and someone may get hurt or die.

Measuring performance
Learning can be done the hard way; experience without lesson is a poor teaching method. Street smarts can't be learned from a book, but a good instructor can relay experiences through stories that will give firefighters confronted with a similar situation the power to make better decisions.

A training program should focus upon skill development, maintenance and improvement. Every program needs performance standards; these are important for the organization and the individual.

A good instructor will measure performance, not attendance. In many cases, when you measure attendance you measure firefighters' ability to tolerate the instructor, not that they learned something useful.

In order to measure training the system must be developed through an analysis of critical tasks and careful analysis of the department.

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