Anyone who has read my writings knows that I believe training and education are extremely important for operating a fire department that desires to provide outstanding service. This is challenging for all departments because it requires time, resources, and commitment. Additionally, organizations are accepting more responsibilities, creating more subjects and topics that require training and/or education. Many are turning to technological solutions to address their training issues. Organizations must resist the temptation to abandon traditional group training by exclusively turning to other methods because of convenience and cost. There are benefits to live, in-person training that allows for interaction and common delivery. There are times when everyone needs to hear the same story and know how individuals view certain job responsibilities and job tasks. Only through live, group training, and education can this be accomplished.
Training and education methods have adapted to the times and both are using more technology to vary delivery in order to help with the challenges presented as people get busier and have fewer resources. For example, I completed my Master’s program course work using an online format. This provided convenience for me, as my schedule was not conducive to traditional attendance. I enjoyed the experience but do not believe I maximized my learning because I did not have the opportunity for in-person interaction with other students and my professors. Still, I was able to do something that I wanted to do within the constraints of my personal and professional life. I did learn and grow, so I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think I benefited. I am just pointing out that there are limitations with distance learning.
Many fire departments are embracing technology to enhance and improve training and education. There are Webinars, video conferencing, online programs, and other options. The goal is for firefighters to get the training they need while minimizing the cost and time out of service in their first response district. There is also an element of convenience that makes it easier for all firefighters to participate. There is no doubt there are advantages. But, and there is always a “but,” organizations should not abandon classroom learning opportunities. There are too many benefits that can’t be duplicated with virtually all of the technological methods.
Let me offer another view. A friend of mine coaches junior high football. At the start of a recent season he asked the players what position they preferred. One student said he wanted to play quarterback. My friend asked if he had ever played before. He said no but he knew he would be good because he was really good on his video game! In spite of the fact that he did not physically throw, catch, or run, he thought by just playing a video game he could translate that to actual action. In some cases, we in the fire service must recognize that actual “doing” must take place, and not everything can be done through videos or on-line.
Hands-on training is essential for many, if not all, of the skills required of a firefighter. Simulation has its place and is valuable. Certainly there are other professions that have demonstrated this, such as the airline industry. Pilots can use simulation to replicate dangerous situations and practice their trade without endangering themselves, others or expensive aircraft. No one can dispute this benefit and it certainly demonstrates that other risky occupations can benefit from its use. This is not to imply that everything can be handled in this manner.
Training and education require well-rounded programs. There is no simple solution that can be used if a department is truly interested in the outcomes. Everything should be evaluated on the basis of the end product and whether or not performance has been improved. Collecting meaningless certificates (or degrees for that matter) does nothing to address the goal of better service to the community. I realize that funds are limited, and easy solutions are available for some of the challenges. But, there is a cost to doing business, and organizations must pursue funds to enhance their capabilities.
I realize that I don’t always embrace the advances offered by technology as quickly as others do. But I sometimes think that we are too hasty in changing from tried-and-true methods that are absolutely essential. Traditional classrooms and training grounds will always have their place, and organizations must find the balance. The pressures to lower costs and make things more convenient have always been a factor, but excellent organizations find a way to approach these challenges to make sure their firefighters are prepared to deliver the highest quality possible while offering as much safety as they can. Don’t succumb to the easiest and cheapest. Do what needs to be done to be effective and efficient.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.