Our focus during training should be mastery of the skills and techniques that our personnel are performing. (Salisbury Fire Department photo)
The importance of training cannot be overstated in the world of emergency services. Where life safety is at risk, competence of the responders should be paramount. When the citizens in our community call for help, they expect and deserve the very best from us when we respond.
To provide the best services to our community, we must first understand what it is that we do. This should come from your fire department mission statement as well as from knowing what services you provide. This broad statement of what we do helps us meet the expectations of our community and sets the tone for the department. Our training must help us meet and support this mission statement.
The purpose of our training is to ensure that we can provide the very best service possible to our community. We accomplish this by doing consistent, relevant, and quality training of our personnel. Our overall goal in training should be to support the services our members provide through a safe and effective training program. This helps them provide those services in a safe, efficient, and effective manner. To ensure that we provide the highest level of service to our community, we must provide training that consistently maintains and enhances the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our members.
The average fire department does a good job with company level training. This means the bulk of the training is handled at the shift or work group level by the company officers and is driven by needs determined through operations. Simply put, the types of incidents that we respond to guide the training that we do. Working closely with their personnel, the company officers ensure the training that we do is relevant. Training must meet the needs of our personnel at the operational level. This is where the “rubber meets the road” and you will see the results.
Principles to Train By
There are several factors that should be incorporated into the training that we do. These factors are Safety, Effectiveness, Efficiency, Relevance, and Training to Standard. These principles will help ensure that we provide the very best training for our personnel. This is not to say that we aren’t doing good training. We are doing a good job with company level training. We also incorporate most of these principles into our training already. But how much do we think about these principles as we develop our training? The key is to understand why they are important and ensure we build on the good training we already do by ensuring we incorporate these principles. This will help us take the good training we are already doing and improve it.
Safety. As a factor in training, safety is important for obvious reasons. The job we do is dangerous; some of the training we do also has an element of danger built into it. It is one thing to have an injury occur on the scene during operations where the environment is not a controlled situation. It is quite another to have it occur during training. On the scene, there will always be an unexpected factor that we cannot control. During training, we must ensure that it is as controlled an environment as possible. Ensuring a safe training environment is a top priority for those conducting the training. During training, our goal should be realism that is tempered with an element of control to ensure safety.
Our focus during training should be mastery of the skills and techniques that our personnel are performing. This requires company officers to be familiar with the skills and performance levels of their personnel. Company training should work to maintain those skills and allow for them to improve. Scenarios must be realistic enough to allow the students to think through the problem, apply their skills and learn from what they are doing. This will give them the competency to perform effectively and safely during a real incident where the element of danger cannot be eliminated completely. The evolutions they perform should challenge them but not hurt them.
Effectiveness. For training to be effective, it must focus on the needs of the department and its personnel. The department must be able to effectively serve its community. This means our personnel must be able to effectively provide the services our citizens need. As a department, we must ensure training is done that supports the services we provide. We must also make the training effective for our personnel. It must be focused on them--not just their needs but their existing skill levels. If their existing skills are not maintained and then improved on, the training has not been effective. If the citizens don’t see the members of our department performing effectively on the scene, our training has not served its purpose.
Efficiency. Training must be done in an efficient manner. This simply means keeping it focused enough to be manageable and meeting a stated objective. There are only so many hours in the day, and training must fit in with many other duties that we have to perform. Longer, elaborate training drills require more planning and can be scheduled appropriately, but the bulk of our training should address a particular skill or objective. We must break our training up and focus on what we can effectively accomplish in small drills.
Relevance. The training we do must be relevant. This means it must support what we do and meet our operational needs. The calls that we respond to will dictate what items we train on. They will reveal our needs, as those types of calls will dictate required proficiency. They will also show where we have weaknesses and a need for improvement.
The knowledge, skills, and abilities on which we train must be related to the jobs we do on the street as closely as possible. The relevance can best be measured by how our training can make us safer, more effective, and more efficient at the jobs we do.
Training to Standard. This can carry a dual meaning. The first part of this is that we must train to meet the applicable standards where they exist. The standards exist for a reason. In fire or rescue training, the skills and evolutions we do should meet the applicable standard. In EMS training, we must meet the applicable standards and ensure we meet criteria established under medical protocol.
The second part of this is simple: Ensure your training meets a high standard. Don’t set a low standard or low example for your personnel. Ensure that when you train, you train toward a purpose and set high expectations. Do not waste your people’s time with poor training.
David L. Haines is a 26-year fire service veteran and the training captain with the Salisbury (MD) Fire Department (SFD), where he has served since 2003. He began his fire service career in 1993 as a volunteer with the Berlin (MD) Fire Company, where he rose through the ranks to become a lieutenant. He also served on several committees before retiring in 2012. Haines teaches numerous classes and programs for the SFD Academy. Since 2005, he has taught fire and rescue classes as a field instructor with the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, serving at the Lower Eastern Shore Regional Training Center.