Let no man’s ghost return to say his training let him down.
These words appear on signs at many fire-academy entrances and on their classroom walls. They’re words to live by, literally.
That simple phrase highlights the importance of training in the fire service. Career or volunteer—it doesn’t matter. The public and all our fellow firefighters are relying on us to be 100% proficient 100% of the time. The only way that happens is through training—every day, every shift, whenever and however you can.
We’re asking people to give up their time to do something that could potentially be harmful to their physical and mental health, and we’re not paying them anything for it. I wrote an article recently about the need to bring fun back to the firehouse; one of the more important ways to bring back the fun is to make the training more enjoyable.
Our firefighters must want to come to the station to participate, not look at it as a chore. Look at the demographics of your membership and see what they enjoy.
Do you have a lot of the X-box generation? Incorporate more videos and gaming into your training. Do you have a lot of former athletes? Make your drills a little more competitive. Maybe get some local merchants to donate some gift certificates and hand out prizes to the winners. Are many of your members married with kids? Invite their families to some of these competitive drills to watch and maybe even judge.
Of course, it can’t all be videos and games. We must practice the basics regularly: stretching lines, doing searches, getting dirty doing the hands-on stuff. Hopefully, if you’re like me, that is the fun stuff.
Time is everyone’s most precious commodity. All of our members are very busy with work, family and other commitments that compete with the fire department for their time. Training should be done as efficiently as possible, so our members don’t feel their time is being wasted. Have a plan and stick to it when you plan your training. Be prepared, start on time, set a time limit for your drills and finish on time.
Another way to best utilize your members’ time is to combine training with other necessary firehouse functions. If you need to hang Christmas decorations or wash windows, make it a ladder drill. If you need to wash down the parking lot, that’s a pump and hoseline drill. If you’re building a new storage closet, that’s small-tools and building-construction familiarization.
If you are a combination fire department, let the career and volunteer staff train together. It will help promote comradery and you can use each other’s expertise to further everyone’s knowledge. If you have a firefighter who’s also an auto mechanic, get him to help with an extrication drill. If you have a member who’s a carpenter, have him run a building-construction lecture. You want to find ways to keep all your people engaged and interested and to give them a sense of purpose.
Another important concept is to be consistent and to plan topics in advance. Let your people know exactly when your drills will be and what you’ll be doing. Try to schedule your training on the same day or night every week and at the same time whenever possible. This way, you can become the constant in their hectic schedules and they can hopefully schedule the rest of their lives around the fire department.
We’re all busy and always trying to find enough hours in every day to get it all done. It seems that something always has to give. Don’t let it ever be your training; it’s much too important.
I started with one famous firefighter quote and will end with yet another:
Don't train till you get it right; train till you can't get it wrong!
A lot of lives depend on it. Stay safe out there!