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Hands-on training: Probationary development team unites veterans and new firefighters

Probationary development team unites veterans and new firefighters

December 11, 2007 
By Rob Evans

Like many volunteer fire departments, Redwood Meadows Emergency Services (RMES) in Alberta went through a difficult time with recruitment and retention late in 2005. Not only was there a problem getting people to join but those who did seemed to have a tough time fitting in.

New recruits became frustrated waiting to be allowed to respond to incidents. That fall, senior firefighters recognized a need to have a more structured approach to the training and development of new members and approached the officers with a draft Standard Operating Guideline (SOG). Under the  proposed SOG, firefighters would take a more active role in the progress of new members and help them become full-fledged participants in department functions.

The more senior members of the department had witnessed more freelancing and saw a potential for injury. The proposed SOG would address increased safety awareness for recruits and all members of RMES. After some fine tuning, the SOG was introduced to the membership and a competition was opened for members who were interested in becoming a part of the new probationary development team or PDT. After the competition closed and the members were chosen by Fire Chief Ed Bowen, the team got down to work.

Lt. Devin Teal, who is in charge of recruiting for RMES said, “It’s brought more people into the hiring process. Not just one person decides on whether or not someone advances any longer.”


Firefighter/EMT Gary Robertson said the PDT set up a one-year probationary period for all new recruits. “In this year, the recruits would be expected to attend as much training as possible and attend as many calls as they could.”

Over the year, the probationary firefighters undergo two performance evaluations. The first, at the six-month mark, provides feedback to the probationary firefighters on what they are doing well and what they can improve on, Robertson says. “Then, the one-year evaluation is designed to assess the recruits’ development over the year and ensure they are ready to be promoted to firefighter.”

The initial program was developed as a 15-week course with each week covering a new module. Each week’s program was structured to build on the last module taught. The initial outline for the PDT basic recruit training program was  as follows:
•    Orientation
•    Operations and SOGs
•    Radios and mapping
•    Equipment familiarization
•    Ropes and knots
•    Ladders and roof operations
•    Equipment hoisting
•    Breathing apparatus
•    Primary searches
•    Firefighter rescue
•    Medical assist
•    Traffic management
•    Vehicle extrication
•    Hoses and hydrants
•    Driver training

Each recruit is given a quiz following the module to ensure they understand what they had covered. Remedial training is given to any recruit experiencing difficulty.

Early in the process, it was recognized that the advanced training sessions that seasoned firefighters received weekly were a little too much for recruits. In previous years, more than one newcomer was intimidated to the point of leaving the department. To combat this, the PDT decided that it was best to train the recruits separately for their first 15 weeks.

“It can be very intimidating for a new recruit to show up to training and we are going over pumping and doing friction loss calculations,” Robertson said. “This separation also allowed the rest of the department to train at a higher level, while the recruits focused on the basics.”

The instructors for the first class felt that time spent with the new recruits produced firefighters who have been given the proper training to be efficient and safe on the fire ground. The program is being revised, and because it was designed using the module format, modifications can easily be made for the next class.

The program has been condensed into 10 weeks and will look like this:
•    Orientation
•    Operations and SOGs
•    Radios and mapping
•    Equipment familiarization
•    Ropes and knots
•    Ladders and roof operations (includes equipment hoisting)
•    Breathing apparatus
•    Primary searches and firefighter rescue
•    Medical assist
•    Traffic management / vehicle extrication

“Our first class has graduated and I am confident in their knowledge and abilities. These individuals are now responding on calls and are giving us on-scene proof of the program’s success,” said Robertson.

The PDT has evolved into a great program for new members of RMES and serves as a stepping stone for veteran firefighters. Chief training officer George Low said, “One of the greatest benefits of the probationary firefighter development team has been its effect on the team itself, as opposed to the probationary firefighters.

“They are judged by their peers, not only for the job they do as firefighters, but also as trainers. In order to meet that challenge, they tend to put more into their own training.”

This attitude, coupled with the improvement in their skills, has resulted in huge gains in leadership capability, Low said.

“As a result, this program designed to rapidly bring our new recruits up to speed, has also become our best ‘officer training program’.”

The PDT SOG and modular program is available for any department that wishes to review it by contacting .

Rob Evans is deputy fire chief in Redwood Meadows Emergency Services, 25 km west of Calgary.

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