Sometimes as a company officer or a training officer—with the responsibility to reinforce prior learning or introduce new concepts—you can feel like an elementary school teacher working with a group of third-graders. Most fire department training uses a style that dates back hundreds of years. We sit firefighters down in a classroom and feed them information until they can’t take it anymore—sort of the old “the beatings will continue until morale improves” thing.
Although I can draw some similarities between firefighters and third-graders, the truth is that firefighters are adults, and as adults, they learn differently and should therefore be taught differently.
There are volumes of information and studies on adult learning, and this research is beginning to change the way we teach—and think about teaching—adults. As training and company officers, we need to redirect our focus and remember to whom we’re trying to push information out.
Even the way we conduct our recruit training may need some redesign, because even if we do think of them as “kids,” they’re really “young adults” and need to be taught as such. Maybe even more concerning is that they’re part of Generation Y, and they see and respond to the world around them much differently than we did, in part because they have an increased use of and familiarity with communications, media and digital technologies.
Here are a few important points to think about when developing drills and training for our “adult” firefighters:
- “Self-directed” means focusing the process so that the students can take control of the learning goals, such as what methods or resources to use.
- Adults prefer single-concept classes that apply the concept to relevant problems. No fluff; just get to the point.
- Adults want to integrate new information with what they already know.
- They want it in a straightforward, how-to format.
- Most adults like information broken down into small pieces that can be retained easily.
Taking in to account how adults learn, let’s look at how to give them what they want. Every segment of the fire service has different needs related to when and how they deliver training. Volunteer and combination departments are always working hard to deliver training to their members because the members’ work schedules and family obligations make attending training sessions very difficult.
Career departments are facing their own issues, with short staffing or layoffs or just the fact that many departments have stations that are geographically far apart, making it difficult to get together for a short training session.
One training method that can address the needs of both groups, but especially volunteer and combi departments: recipe cards. I don’t remember where this concept came from, but it’s a great method to get short, pointed training topics to the masses.
Recipe cards are 3" x 5" colored cards that highlight the steps needed to perform a specific skill (see examples in this article), such as putting the pump in gear or using a fire extinguisher.
As an officer, it’s probably been a while since you actually had to put the pump in gear or use an extinguisher; the same may be said for your members if they’ve been on the job for a long time. But even with many years of experience, your members occasionally need to refresh their skill sets. This type of training also allows you to address problems before they crop up at incidents—what Gordon Graham refers to as “pre-incident verification of knowledge.”
Recipe cards can be used in a lot of different ways. Some company officers pass them out to their members once a month and let them work on their skills throughout the month at their own pace (self-directed). At the end of the month, the members must demonstrate the ability to perform the skills at skill stations that correspond to each of the recipe cards (pre-incident verification). This allows you to log a lot of valuable training hours during the month without having the entire department on hand to conduct standard classroom training.
Recipe cards can also be clipped to members’ PPE lockers in the station or even e-mailed to members’ personal e-mail accounts—which may work well for younger firefighters.
If your department is working hard at improving its Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, you know that training hours are a huge part of the program. It’s a big job trying to get the 20 hours per month of training that the ISO would like to see. Recipe cards are a great way to help you reach that 20-hour mark.
As we learn more about the ways adults learn, we must rethink how we teach and/or push new information out and reinforce skills that we have but may not have used in some time. Remember: You’re reaching out to adults.
Skill: Pump Gear from Tank Water
Time: 1:15 min.
- Shift apparatus to neutral from drive
- Set brake
- Shift pump into pump gear
- Shift apparatus back into drive from neutral
- Make sure you have two green lights on the pump shift panel before exiting cab
- Set wheel chocks
- Open tank to pump valve
- Select discharge and open
- Throttle pump to desired pump discharge pressure
Skill: Dry Chemical Extinguisher, Class B Fire
Time: Determined by size of fire; order of steps is most important.
- Select proper extinguisher for the type of fire
- Approach fire from upwind and uphill
- Pull pin and test unit for operation
- Point nozzle at base of fire
- Squeeze handle to discharge extinguishing agent (water, powder or dry chemical)
- Sweep nozzle from side to side at base of fire
- Back away from area after knock-down is complete
- Watch for re-ignition
- Place operational-ready extinguisher back on apparatus