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Trainer’s Corner: August 2018

My wife and I own and operate a horse ranch in Southern B.C..  We raise Foundation Quarter Horses as well as managing an equine retirement, rescue and rehoming program. I mention that part of our life as a bit of background to this column.

July 16, 2018 
By Ed Brouwer

Chief Fire Instructor ED Brouwer says 4D and Illustrated talks are a great way to get a fire department motivated and working together. He said they also give opportunity to present information effectively.

Our rural area is deeply involved with a wonderful youth organization, the 4-H program. For more than 100 years, 4-H Canada has been one of the most highly respected youth organizations in Canada with more than 25,000 members, aged six to 25, and 7,700 volunteers.

Recently I was asked to judge our local 4-H Demonstrations and Illustrated talks. These 10-minute demos were very well done. And I was again reminded how effective these methods of presenting information are.

I thought about the role of the fire service training officer. Each week across this land we prove that people learn faster and remember longer if they see as well as hear. However, I think the greatest value of demonstrations and illustrated talks, is to the person who plans, prepares and presents.

I know this is true in my case as I am sure it is in yours. When I was asked to be a training officer almost 30 years ago, I was just a rookie with no fire or instructor background. Brother, I read a lot of books, watched a truck load of VHS tapes (I know I’m old) and attended my fair share of seminars. But it was in the researching, preparing and the presenting of our Monday night practices that I grew in both knowledge and confidence.


So, what if we got our members to prepare lessons to be presented on our practice nights?  With that in mind I combined the 4-H Demonstration (doing) and Illustrated Talks (telling how with the aid of visuals) idea to be another tool in our department’s training program.

I hope to make it mandatory for each of our members to participate in at least one “Learned Skill Demonstration” annually.

I asked our members to pair up with someone they were prepared to work with. I handed out a signup sheet asking each team to choose a fire service topic (preferably one that interested them) and write it down by their names. I did not allow duplicates, thereby avoiding eight lessons on Knots.

Once a topic was chosen they were given time that night to begin planning and preparing their presentations. The actual presentations would be spread out over the upcoming months, with one or at the most two per practice. They were to let me know once they had completed their research and felt prepared to present their 10 to 12-minute firefighting skill demo. I would then schedule them in on a regular training night.

This was not an overnight homework assignment, in fact they were given several months to prepare.

I gave out handouts explaining the following criteria:

Introduction: appropriate intro that catches the audience’s attention.

Subject: information must be accurate – must show evidence of thorough study / research.

NFPA: must have appropriate NFPA reference numbers

Presentation: you will be judged on your enthusiasm, confidence and interest shown for your demonstration.

Workmanship: demonstrators should share equally in speech, and work.  Demo should be well organized and presented in a logical manner.   Equipment and visual aids should be used effectively.

Summary: Closing comment impact—summary should have an effective impact.  Be prepared to answer questions, you should repeat the question asked by the audience so that all can hear.  Answer to the best of your ability and honestly.

General: Time should be 10-12 minutes (question time extra)

Several points to remind your members of:

  1. With a time limit it is good to remind your members to emphasize the essentials.
  2. People learn in different ways, so the presentation should include both verbal and visual information. (Please do not just read from a book)
  3. Plan illustrations – you will need to practice.
  4. Present material in a logical sequence.
  5. Talk to, not at, the audience.
  6. There is power in a good summarization.  A good summary is short, concise and pertinent.

When I judged for the 4-H I noticed that at the end of a presentation the 4-H members asked the audience if there were any questions. Questions clarify points not covered or those someone in the audience failed to hear.

The 4-H member who was answering questions repeated the question in case all the audience did not hear it and I thought that was helpful. Remind your members to give only correct answers. And if they do not know the answer, admit it and offer to find the information.

One last important addition, after the question time if the subject allows, get everyone involved in a hands on manner. Example if the topic is the use of fire extinguishers, get each member to effectively use an extinguisher.

It has been well said; I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand. We are spreading these demos out over the course of the year. At this point we have had two LSDs (oops, didn’t think that acronym through); Fire Extinguishers and Spontaneous Combustion. Both had some issues, which we reviewed, but were for the most part well done. One team researched their subject well, but unfortunately read their information, and forego using any visuals. They did however end up with a hands on demo.

The other team put great effort into their topic and combined it with some comic relief. It was wonderful, except they decided to use a green board and white chalk (very difficult to read). But here as well we are learning better ways to communicate our message.

I realize this is a bit different than our usual column, but I see great value in getting our department members actively involved in the training program. Who knows, you may discover your future training officer.

Stay safe out there, and as always remember to train as if lives depend on it, because we know it does.

Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., deputy chief training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue, a fire warden, wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor and ordained disaster-response chaplain. Contact Ed at

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