A few months ago a few members of my fire department along with the engine company engineer and the assistant chief approached me about setting up live fire training for the department being I’m an instructor at the local fire school. I asked them a few questions about what areas they’d like to focus on in the live fire training. They’re response was, “it’s in your hands”. Perfect. Now I have more wiggle room to develop scenarios based on research, our response area and the manpower attending and not have it too generalized.
Shortly thereafter, I went through the proper and legal channels at the school to have the live fire training set up and scheduled at the school and notified my superior officer to let the crews know we have a date set. Once this was set, I started to in a sense “interview” the members that would be attending the training based on the sign-up sheet hanging in firehouse. Little did they know, each week I was analyzing their skills, how they handled the equipment during truck checks, behavior/awareness on calls and little quizzes myself and another firefighter from an urban department near Manhattan, NY would give them. Once I felt this was complete and had enough info, I wrote my lesson plan that would be used for the training and submitted to the school prior to the training date for recordkeeping and legal reasons.
My reason for these “interviews” was this; I wanted to see what they knew so I can strengthen their strengths and expose their weaknesses. I did not want these training evolutions to be basic and routine where the firefighters would be bored and not challenged all the while keeping them and the other instructors’ safe at all times. I want to challenge them not only physically but also mentally because most of what we do is a mental game. It doesn’t matter how physically in shape you are; this job can beat you mentally and break you down quicker than any physical beating can.
So the lesson plan was set, 3 live burn scenarios based on response areas in our primary response area, the “interviews” with each member attending (8 total firefighters), along with our manpower we usually have on calls (which is usually on the light side)
For the 8 firefighters who took place in the training, 5 of the 8 were relatively greener firefighters with 5 years or less. Prior to each evolution, the firefighter’s vitals were evaluated by EMS and then the scenario in detail was given to them so there were no tricks or surprises coming their way. Reason being, I wanted them to visualize the scenarios in their heads beforehand and develop their own plan of attack based on their assignments from the incident commander.
Here’s what I discovered:
1. In the first evolution, the firefighters used this exercise to loosen up a bit and get the kinks out. Both crews worked well separately but when communicating information to each other they were lacking.
2. After their “breaking in” evolution, the firefighters were open and honest with us and each other when critiquing their performance. This is key when training. Admitting mistakes and improving on them as you go. No one is perfect 100% all of the time. Mistakes happen and if you can identify them and improve on it, it shows you’re learning.
3. They challenged themselves to learn and try new techniques they weren’t taught in the fire academy. Although a little hesitant at first and after dry runs and drawings explaining “vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS), the firefighters each efficiently demonstrated this and admitted it is different yet effective if done properly. In this job, the way things are done are always changing and evolving. Continually education and training is needed to keep yourself safe, your crew safe and also the community you’re protecting safe.
4. As an instructor, we are too learning while we are evaluating the firefighters in training evolutions. It’s not just about us standing there watching and critiquing them. We too learn from each scenario. What we would do if we were in this situation and how we can improve on this and that. It’s training for instructors as well.
5. We learn more about each firefighter and what makes this one in a sense special is, it is the guys I ride with. I learn more about them and how they react to things, their strengths and weaknesses in given situations. Also, they learn about me. As an instructor and as a leader. Will they continue to go to me as a way to set up department training or will they look elsewhere? Can they work with me as a firefighter? These are questions that ran through my head as soon as I left the training grounds.
So my question to all of you in the fire service who are instructors at any level, academy, outside agency or your departments training officer. What do you learn from the training evolutions you set up for outside fire departments as well as your own?
Being a fire service instructor isn’t just about instructing others in fire service training; it’s also about leadership and getting the most out of your students and yourself. Leave your mark on fire service.
Until next time; work hard, stay safe and live inspired.
About the Author
NICHOLAS J. HIGGINS is a firefighter with 14 years of service all within departments in Piscataway, NJ. Nick has held the ranks of Lieutenant and Captain as well as being a township elected District Fire Commissioner for 1 term (3 years) in Piscataway, NJ. He is also a NJ State certified level 2 fire instructor. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from Kean University working in Corporate Taxation and is the founder/contributor of the Firehouse Tribune website.