First of all, a quick correction to Training to Fail, Part 1; it appears I was wrong about Peyton Manning studying his enemy in preparation for the Super Bowl. I apologize, from now on I will do my due diligence...just kidding Bronco fans.
This short little blog is not meant to cure the fire service of the problems of training to fail, but to merely identify a problem, attempt to define it, and give a handful of ideas that seem to work for me in trying to contain this plague. I could list dozens of buzzwords that frame the context of quality training (i.e. relevant, realistic, repeatable, frequent, high-fidelity, stress inoculation, flipped-training, etc), but that would require books, and that isn't the purpose of this blog.
In Part 1, we defined training to fail and touched on the dangers that it can cause on the fireground. We left off stating that the sad truth is that almost all training can lead to misunderstanding and misapplication. So how then can we best prepare our members to excel? Well, unfortunately, it's not a simple, one-step solution...but it's definitely possible. Not surprisingly, the responsibility rests with the Training Division and the instructors.
The goal of all trainings should be to leave members with increased knowledge, skills, and/or abilities (KSA), with crews seeing, thinking, and acting as one on the fireground (and all scene). We should strive to impart passion and give members the tools necessary to become great at their jobs. We need to focus our efforts to make the time we have for training as productive as possible. To that end, when developing a class, some things that must be considered are:
The first step is to select and train qualified/knowledgeable/passionate instructors that are willing to put in the necessary time to prepare the members to the level which they, and the shareholders deserve. Obviously, right? You'd think so. For too long, in too many departments, the Training Division has been the island of the ignorant, indifferent and infirmed. Nothing has as big of an impact on a topic, a class, or even a department as a great instructor. Think about the best classes that you've ever taken, I'd put money that these were some of the best instructors you've seen too...coincidence?
The Training Division must perform a needs assessment (speaking of buzzwords) and decide what information and skills your department needs (i.e. SFD fire response). Ask the department members for their input too, after all they are the boots on the ground and must be respected and listened to. I'm sure there will be no shortage of topics that get bought up, so utilize this information to the best of your ability. Much like a fireground size-up, a needs assessment should be done continually; because just like a fireground, your department and community are dynamic and constantly evolving. Once your initial needs assessment is complete, focus on what specific objectives (stretching and advancing a primary attack line, search, VEIS, etc) you want to achieve, and cognitively/purposefully design your training to meet your intended objectives. This step is too easy to overlook, so don't pencil whip this, it's hugely important. How can you be a great department if you don't look at what you need and adapt accordingly?
No matter how clear and succinct you may think part of your class is, some are undoubtedly going to get confused and will need further clarification. Understand and accept this fact. Don't get frustrated...plan for it. You may have to repeat the main message(s) multiple times, and in different ways, because people learn differently and will hear it differently. Again, don't get frustrated; just keep trying until they get it. By deconstructing your lessons and focusing on the "why" (and also the "who", "what", "when", "where" and "how") you will anticipate where the program will stall, and like Gordon Graham so famously states, "predictable is preventable".
Every instructor must be open and honest with students. If you don't know an answer to a question, don't pretend that you do. Just tell the class the truth and then follow up with them after you find the answer. It takes someone about 10 seconds to fact-check you with their phone. In a sentence you can lose the students...and your credibility. Along the same line, define the context and limitations of your class prior to training. No training is perfect, and nothing occurs in a vacuum, so make sure that you understand and communicate these to the students. Since we are all limited in the time and resources that we have for training, give the members some ideas and resources to further their development (UL FSRI, Fire Engineering, Fire Training Toolbox, NIOSH, etc).
Get as much feedback on your classes as you can. Watch your game film together. Record your classes, drills and working jobs and watch them together as the Training Division to see how you can improve. Honesty is important here, remember that we're all adults and should be able to handle constructive criticism. Oftentimes it's difficult to see our shortcomings as instructors, so watching ourselves can be a great tool to improve our delivery and our content. This is the Training Divisions version of checks and balances. This step is not done enough, but it can be invaluable to your development and your department.
Make it fun. Too obvious? I know, but if you tell your brothers and sisters that you have training today, what's the first syllable out of their mouths? If it's "Uhhh!" then we have some work to do. Well then how do we make "work", fun? The following are a couple of quick items that have worked for me. Try to add an element of competition into training. As a collective, we're all hyper-competitive, so let's use this to help motivate each other. If we're training on stretching and advancing lines, VEIS, forcible entry, etc, then at the end of the training have a little competition. There is no faster way to have crews focus than to tell them they are going head-to-head against their brothers and sisters. Also, not all trainings have to last eight hours. Sometimes the most effective training can be done in 30 minutes on the apparatus floor...and no one can bitch about a 30-minute drill. Another undeniable point is to have fun while you're instructing, because just like yawning and monkeypox, fun is contagious. The opposite also holds true, the fastest way to turn off a classroom full of firefighters is for the instructor to be miserable being there. Lastly, incorporate technology into your training. Seriously, it's 2014. I don't want to repeat myself at all, so for more on this, check out Firefighter Renaissance.
The Training Division must understand and accept the huge honor and responsibility they have been given, and take training seriously...it is important! Understand and accept that this is a (career) long process and change won't happen overnight, so view everything through this prism. This is the job that we all chose, and we took an oath to do it well, so why not be great at it and help our brothers and sisters become great as well? Now let's go get sweaty.