I suspect for most volunteer departments in this part of the country, fire training hasn't changed much in the last 10-20 years. When I talk with other training officers and firefighters from around the state and region, most people say the training is "OK" but it tends to be the same thing all the time. I am always looking out for something new and inventive to get more training out to our people without costing us a lot of money or requiring a great deal of resources. One of the things I wanted to do was use the power of the Internet and our website to offer online training for our members. That proved to be a little more difficult than I thought it would be.
First we had to find a website that would allow us to host all kinds of training information including recorded presentations, documents, demonstration videos and the like. I search through all types of hosting services, even attempting to setup a web server at our department. All of them offered some degree of success but none of the services really got me what I wanted, an online training center. Although I eventually found a website host with all of the things I needed to make a good training site, there was one thing I had not counted on, a lack of time.
Time is always working against us in the volunteer service. We have other obligations pulling us other directions, no matter how dedicated we are to the service. I found I could put together a nice training for a month or two but then I would fall short the next month, not able to get the presentation recorded or edited. The next month I might get the presentation up but I wouldn't have any supporting materials. I also had to come up with practicals for our regular training nights which meant designing lesson plans and creating all of the supporting materials. It became overwhelming at times. But when it worked, I could see it was worth it. Our members were getting better training and they could access it when it was a convenient time for them. It was a good idea, just not well executed.
When browsing the booths on my way out from FDIC this year, I briefly stopped by the IFSTA booth. It looked like they were giving away a free t-shirt. The gentleman at the desk mentioned a new service they were promoting called Resource One. Having never heard of it, I let him give me the pitch. It turned out to be a completely free, customized website designed for fire departments to offer online training and testing based on IFSTA books. There was no purchase necessary but they recommended the use of their manuals to make sure the students were getting the information they needed to be successful with the testing. The site allowed the instructors to add other information the lessons such as documents, links to videos and other sites as well as the ability to customize nearly everything. It sounded too good to be true. I took a card and gave the rep a call the next week.
What we have ended up with is our "Holy Grail". A free online website dedicated to the training of our members with accountability in the form of testing and quizzing, practical testing documents all ready created, custom setups and lessons, shared calendars to track department events and training benchmarks, the ability to have multiple training courses running at one time with their own events and testing. I couldn't ask for much more. It really has reinvented our training. We no longer have to spend our regular drill nights review dated lecture material. We simply download the practical testing sheets based on what chapter each student has completed and then proceed with those practicals. No bored students and no guess work for the instructors. If a member misses the training, they just need to make up the practicals. It couldn't get much better.
A big thank you goes out to IFSTA for creating a wonderful resource for departments like ours. I hope that other training officers and departments catch on and give this system a shot. It really might reinvent your training which can only be a good thing. Stay Safe!
Deciding on what to train for takes a bit of educated guessing. We have so many things that need to be done from live fire exercises to patient packaging. With our limited training schedule we can only do so many things during the course of our training calendar making the choice of what to do next even more difficult.
We set a calendar of training at the beginning of the year but it is more of a guideline than a rule. New information or training opportunities come up all the time. We must be flexible enough to take advantage of the opportunities presented and smart enough to incorporate new information and technologies into our training exercises.
As we move though the year, we will add to our training load but only to the benefit of our staff. We will cover the basics and then present other opportunities for training outside our events like the IFSI fire college coming up in June. It is up to our firefighters to look at these extra chances to train as their opportunity to benefit the department and community by gaining knowledge that might otherwise be available to them. And then bring that information back to the department and share it with everyone else. By doing so, everyone can take advantage of these excellent training resources.
It's always good to gather after the work is done to swap stories and generally just relax. But don't forget about the training opportunity this time gives us. As volunteer's we are always hard pressed for training time between our family obligations, work, etc. Sometimes, the incidents and the experience they provide are some of our best teachers. As a firefighter, take time to listen to some of the 'war stories' of older members. Look for the training message that might be hidden there. Sometimes a funny mistake or a close call can give you some much needed information so you don't make the same mistake.
Also, take time after the incident to discuss what might have gone right, and what might have gone wrong. This isn't a chance to bash a fellow firefighter or to make fun of someone else's mistakes, but rather a chance for all of us to learn from the work we do. Nothing good comes from making someone else look bad. We are all professionals, working for the better of the community. Even if some makes a 'bone head' mistake, it could be you the next time. Keep everything positive and look for ways to do our job better.
During a great Firefighter II practical class last night, there were a few instances where basic fundamentals were addressed. In a class like Firefighter II, we sometimes get so focused on the given objective that we forget our overall objective of safety. The use of seat belts, proper PPE and good work techniques can not be emphasized enough.
Early in the class we discussed the use of seat belts anytime an apparatus is in motion. Must of us understand the need for such safety measures but it does bear repeating. Too many firefighters and motorist for that matter die or are injured each year in motor vehicle accidents. The few seconds it takes to buckle up is well worth the insurance in your safety, not to mention it is required by law.
On another occasion during the class, the students were working hard loading supply line back on the apparatus after working an evolution several times. Everyone was hot and working hard. Several students removed their turnout coats to stay cool which, in this case, was perfectly acceptable according to SOGs. I also noticed a couple of students had removed their helmets as well. Of course, with the possibility of a head injury from falling objects while working overhead, this was not a good idea. After being reminded, the quickly corrected the issue. It is always good to be reminded of our surroundings and what is going on. Everyone knows our PPE can be very uncomfortable, especially when working hard. Always maintain the proper PPE according to your SOGs to ensure a safe, injury free working environment.
It seems instructors and officers beat the safety horse long and hard these days. Unfortunately it is still necessary. We are still loosing firefighters to safety related accidents every year. The more cognizant of our surroundings and the safety considerations that go along with it, we can all ensure we go home safe.
Now go learn something!
Lt. David Kramer is the Training Officers for Northern Piatt County Fire Protection District. Lt. Kramer heavily promotes education in the fire service, attending every training opportunity possible and then passing that information on to the members of his own department.