Teach How They Learn

Editor’s Opinion Chris Mc Loone
 

 

Chris Mc Loone

I don’t usually touch on training topics here since this magazine is primarily about fire trucks and firefighting equipment.

However, at fire-apparatus-related events, discussions often turn to the mechanical end of our rigs. There’s no doubt that many of the firefighters coming onto the job today, whether career or volunteer, are not as mechanically inclined as the senior members of the department. Because they often are not as mechanically inclined, there seems to be a mindset that there is no way they can understand what’s going on behind a pump panel or underneath the cab. This isn’t a very accurate statement, but we are not a fire service that does its own work on vehicles anymore. In large municipalities, there is usually a fleet manager, and rigs are brought to “the shop.” On the volunteer side, these days, many departments will send the apparatus to local authorized service shops for work to be done. Early in my career we were still changing the oil ourselves at my fire company. Those days are long gone.

But when you think about it, cars are different these days. There aren’t as many teenagers poking their heads under the hoods of their cars. The complexities of today’s vehicles result in not as many kids learning to work on motors when they are young. It’s not a good or a bad thing, it’s just the way it is.

But, these kids don’t lack the mental capacity to understand these things. They could easily learn about what goes on behind the pump panel or the hydraulic systems that raise and lower ladders. Where we are failing our younger firefighters is that we are not teaching them according to how they learn.

It is not only the fire service where younger people are learning differently. For example, kids don’t learn their times tables like they used to. The curriculum today has them learning them in different ways than memorizing them. My mind, the minds of other firefighters my age, and many who are 20 to 30 years older than me were conditioned very early to memorize. It is just not how our younger firefighters came up and how our future firefighters are going to come up.

When I started what was Firefighting I back in 1994, the instructor used a mechanical slide projector. We didn’t have smartphones or PowerPoint® back then. The mechanical slide projector has transitioned into PowerPoint slides. I can say without hesitation that our incoming probies are not built for PowerPoint slides. The time has come for instructors across the fire service to change how they are teaching and adapt their lessons for how younger firefighters learn.

I was troubled one night as we were wrapping up our training and a few members returned from a pump school they were taking. At least two complained that they didn’t learn anything that night. And, I remember thinking that they sat in the classroom for three hours. How is it possible to not learn anything during that time? But, when I stepped back and thought about how my kids are learning, and how and when they excel, it became clear that whatever was going on in that classroom, however the lesson was planned was not built for them.

I have yet to find someone who does not excel at the hands-on portion of the training. They can all do the job but are sometimes being held back from continuing their fire service education because they aer struggling to pass the written tests and can’t meet the prerequisites. And, I believe this is because we are not teaching in a way that is designed for how our younger firefighters learn. Engagement and interactive lessons are the keys. Our young firefighters are far more inquisitive than we often give them credit for. They don’t want to memorize the formula for friction loss in a five-inch line or a 1¾-inch line. They want to know where that formula came from. They want to know how and why it works the way it does.

The days of lecturing by using a PowerPoint presentation with key points accompanied by imparting the knowledgebase we have built up after years in the fire service are gone. As instructors, we must find a way to connect with our newer firefighters and teach them in a way in which they are accustomed to learning. It’s not going to be an easy shift, and a lot of our curricula will have to be reworked. But, we owe it to our future leaders.

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