By Peter Sells
Nov. 7, 2013, Toronto – I read with great interest the news item by Laura King on the auditor general’s report, titled Improving the Administration and Effectiveness of Firefighter Training and Recruitment within Toronto Fire Services. The main objective of this audit was “to review TFS firefighter training and recruitment activities in order to identify opportunities for improving the management, administration and effectiveness of firefighter training and recruitment programs.”
By Peter Sells
Nov. 7, 2013, Toronto – I read with great interest the news item by Laura King on the auditor general’s report, titled Improving the Administration and Effectiveness of Firefighter Training and Recruitment within Toronto Fire Services. The main objective of this audit was “to review TFS firefighter training and recruitment activities in order to identify opportunities for improving the management, administration and effectiveness of firefighter training and recruitment programs.” Although the audit covered the period from Jan. 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2012, and I retired from TFS in 2009, I believe that I can offer some perspective on the audit, its recommendations and the responses to those recommendations from TFS management.
Mention is made in the audit of firefighters’ lack of completion of online training assignments. I was the district chief responsible for TFS online learning management system from its implementation in 2007 until my retirement. I regularly produced detailed quarterly completion/compliance reports for each platoon chief, which allowed them to identify which firefighters had not completed which lessons. I also did specific inquiries for any platoon chief who made requests by lesson, by district, or by any criteria they needed in order to do their job. I can only assume that this level of quality assurance continued into the period covered by the audit. What is lacking in the audit is perspective on why a firefighter may be consistently missing assigned lessons. The records examined by the auditors showed that only 54 per cent of firefighters completed online training by assigned due dates. The due dates are somewhat arbitrary, with lessons grouped into quarterly training plans. Multiple factors are not taken into account when using “completion by due date” as the sole indicator of program effectiveness; factors such as:
• How many firefighters were absent during the quarter, and for how many duty shifts, due to sickness, injury, vacation or other legitimate reason?
• How many of the firefighters were in fact acting officers for some duty shift or shifts during the quarter, essentially moving from station to station on a weekly basis?
• Were firefighters assigned to other training courses, such as two-day or three-day mandatory training programs, during the quarter?
• Regardless of reason, how many of the firefighters were identified in compliance reports, and completed their quarterly lessons on a remedial basis within 30 or 90 days of the assigned due dates?
The audit also refers a number of times to the TFS compliance with the requirements of the trainer-facilitator designation from the Ontario Fire College, without showing a complete understanding of what that designation represents. The trainer-facilitator designation on its own does not indicate that an instructor or officer has the necessary technical background or instructional skill to conduct effective training sessions for firefighters. A trainer-facilitator is, in fact, assumed to have the appropriate technical background or firefighting experience, and is then qualified through a trainer-facilitator workshop to conduct and administer the specific skill evaluation portions of the Ontario firefighter curriculum. The trainer-facilitator designation was conceived as a means of implementing the curriculum across Ontario by making use of existing company officers and training officers, not as a stand-alone instrument for instructor training and professional development. The previous Toronto Fire Department (TFD) was among the earliest adopters of the trainer-facilitator program. I co-administered the first recruit class in Ontario to use the curriculum, with training conducted and evaluated by qualified trainer-facilitators, with then Chief Training Officer Glen Duncan of the Vaughan Fire Rescue Service in 1997. Vaughan was hiring 20 firefighters to staff a new station, and contracted the TFD to provide training services at the Toronto Fire Academy. The standardized modules of the provincial curriculum allowed such co-operation to exist, but more importantly the instructors were all experienced and professionally certified. We had already undertaken, since 1995, to certify TFD instructors to the NFPA 1041 Standard for Fire Service Instructor through the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute, since no such mechanism existed within Ontario at the time. We made it a regular practice to continue with trainer-facilitator workshops for training officers and arranged provincially proctored curriculum exams for all recruit classes from that time forward.
The past is the past, but I include those reflections to make a point. I had adequate staff – 10 training officers plus myself, as well as two full-time administrative personnel – when I was promoted to chief training officer in 1995 to conduct the training programs for a department with approximately 1,100 front-line firefighters and officers and to ensure the professional development and proper oversight of my staff. Fast-forward to 2011/2012 and TFS has apparently lost this capacity, as is shown by the audit.
This brings me to the point about having your cake and eating it too. In the 2013 TFS operating budget, TFS eliminated the training section dedicated to recruit induction, resulting in the loss of a total of six captains positions and one district chief position. Also, there are no longer any administrative support staff assigned to any section within TFS professional development and training.
Given that most of the audit recommendations focus on proper administration and record keeping, adequate staffing, instructor qualification and effective program oversight, how can TFS management say with a straight face that it is addressing the identified gaps with fewer resources than were available during the audit period?
Retired District Chief Peter Sells writes, speaks and consults on fire service management and professional development across North America and internationally. He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Windsor. He sits on the advisory council of the Institution of Fire Engineers, Canada branch. Peter is president of NivoNuvo Consulting, Inc, specializing in fire-service management. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @NivoNuvo.