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!
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.