Who is Responsible for Your Training?
Having served this great profession for thirty-two years and now retired for well over a year, a lot of idle time has led to quite a bit of personal reflection, ultimately creating many thoughts I will probably continue to ponder and then possibly choose to write about. For this, my first, I have been thinking about training and wondering who firefighters believe are ultimately responsible for their continued professional training. Do they believe it falls on their department, the training division, firefighters themselves? OR is it a shared responsibility? So yes, it is a rhetorical question…Of course it is a shared responsibility, however, let’s dissect this a little.
With all of the mandatory training required these days for topics such as blood borne pathogens, diversity, sexual harassment, workplace violence, Firefighters Bill of Rights, EMS continuing education, self-directed Target Training Modules with little or no crew interaction, just to name a few, very little time is available for street drills or table top drills covering many basic firefighter skills that are critical to master in this most dangerous profession. When the weekdays were taken by the training division, I remember having to schedule company drills and larger battalion drills on Saturdays and Sundays, only to have some of those days taken by the training division to get the mandatory training requirements met. Many firefighters in today’s fire service are frustrated by not being able to have the necessary time to hone their basic skills they learned in the recruit academy or even expand their level of knowledge on the job due to conflicting training priorities. So, rather than remain frustrated, we should take action and fill the void ourselves!!!
For mandatory training, policies and procedures etc, the Department/Training Division is of course responsible to ensure you are properly trained, however, even in that, you have the responsibility to engage. Company officers and chief officers have a shared responsibility to do what they can, collectively, to ensure firefighters are prepared and safe, but once again, we all have the individual responsibility to engage and also participate in continuing education by studying and training whether on duty or on our own time.
So what is at least one answer to solving this? Well, I am putting it on you! Yes, I get it, what have many of us done on our own over the years to get the extra training we want and need? We attend workshops, seminars, expos, hands-on-training, and for many firefighters over the years, their departments would provide tuition reimbursement, or cover the cost of such training which made it an easier decision for all to make in whether they attend or not.
What you may or may not be aware of however, is that attendance at all regional and national workshops and seminars are at historic lows from years past and there may be more than one reason for this. A disturbing development and fact known by those that manage workshops and seminars is this, departments with under one-hundred, one-hundred, three-hundred or even five-hundred members or more have anywhere from zero to one, two or a small handful attending workshops and seminars. How can this be?
One reason for sure is the economic downturn that has impacted individual families, companies and fire departments who have virtually eliminated any and all cost sharing that they participated in, leaving the firefighters to pay their own way. So many chose not to do so. Now, I certainly realize that many firefighters continue to pay their own way for plenty of training and maybe always have, and they are to be commended. If you have at least twenty-years in the fire service, you will recall that we did not have an option and were required to pay for all of our own training outside of the department we served, but then during the good years, may have been reimbursed. However, like me, you most likely looked at that as a gift and never held reimbursement as an expectation. An additional thought on this is that many older firefighters have been retiring; you know, some of those great mentors and motivators you had the privilege of working along side. Remember those Brothers and Sisters who kept the younger, less experienced firefighters a high priority, and encouraging their teammates to attend those workshops and seminars and make it an outing together!
As I write, what excites me is this, the fact that you are reading an article on a website indicates that you are one of those firefighters who is already a leader in the fire service regardless of your rank, a motivator, and that you are one that stays current. But, what about those you work with day in and day out? Are they staying engaged and accountable for their training and taking responsibility for their own safety? Are you one who promotes career development to those around you or just hope they figure it out on their own? Is it time to reflect on that one person that positively impacted you as you were being raised in the fire service, and now take the lead in encouraging others to become better at their craft?
As the title of this article reads, “Who is responsible for your Training”? Ultimately, YOU ARE!! Remember, we already talked about the shared responsibilities, but YOU are the one who controls your destiny while on this earth. If those who used to go to workshops and seminars attended and benefitted from the great training, but enjoyed more, the fact they were being reimbursed for their training, and now decide they are not going to attend because departments are not paying their way, who gets hurt here?
Departments are struggling with budget cuts, layoffs, shortfalls and all the rest. I would not say for a minute that your employer does not care about you, so I hope you are not taking that position, rather, recognize times have changed.
What has NOT changed however, are the hazards we face as firefighters, in fact, many elements of our profession are more hazardous and require our attention, respect and action!
Many of us might recall what our friend Gordon Graham says: “Everyday is a training day”. Do you practice the “6 minute drill”, one great training suggestion Gordon promotes? Even in those busy days packed with all the mandatory training we discussed earlier, challenge yourself to take a shot at the 6 minute drill, around the table, in the street and while driving around your district.
My dad has shared quite a bit of wisdom with me over the years, and on the topic of training, I remember him saying, “every day something changes in our business that will require you to read and/or train in an effort to stay current and safe and if you don’t you will fall behind”. When dad was working, he would read and type out flash cards, (I still have them), on a myriad of topics while waiting for the “Box” to come in, and where he worked it went off regularly. He also subscribed to WNYF and other periodicals to stay current. We all need to stay current right up until the day we walk out of the fire station and into retirement, otherwise bad things can happen, and even when we are on top of our game, tragedy can strike one of our own. We know that possibility is an inherent part of our career choice. Even after retirement, some of us may choose to continue to share our experiences, stories, and mistakes with our sons, daughters, relatives working in the fire service or by submission to fire service periodicals like Fire Nuggets or Firehouse. We may also even present at workshops, or seminars all of which is in an effort to “keep firefighters safe”!
As you contemplate what your position might be on this topic, certainly know one very important thing… Your family wishes, hopes and prays you are safe and wants you home at the end of every shift and whatever you need to do to fulfill this wish is something I am sure they will support. So the next time an opportunity presents itself to participate in an off-duty workshop, a local seminar, registering for a monthly periodical or even self-paced career development through a website like this one, I hope you will consider jumping in with all four and encourage others to join you in those self-paced events and even take a Brother or Sister you care about with you to those workshops and seminars, regardless of who is paying your way… YOU deserve the training, your family deserves that you are well trained too. We as firefighters rarely, if ever, tolerate excuses; we do however, embrace action behind the words, so let us join together and take ACTION when it comes to our personal training and safety.
And let us not forget about the many Brothers and
Sisters that continue to keep you a high priority in
their life by taking time off work, being away from
their families and travelling all over this great
country presenting technical information, theory and
experienced based “nuggets”, all intended to improve
your operations and ultimately keep you safe! We
owe each and every one of them our respect and
The Enemy Is Lurking – Ted Corporandy
Put Fear in Its Place – George Burk
The Company Officer: Some Thoughts on Engine Operation — Rick Kolomay and Bob Hoff
Engine Company Functions — Dave McGrail