Fire Fighting in Canada

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Developing, sustaining training programs

December 13, 2007 
By Jeff Weber

This time let’s talk about not only developing training programs, but the sustainability of training programs This ultimately leads to the sustainability of any service a fire service offers to the public.

We all know the benefits of training. With the number of fires continually decreasing more of our skill and experience is becoming dependent on good training opportunities. The fires to which we are responding can become more dangerous in less time than ever before recounting the need for good decisions and actions that can only be based on experiencing real situations. The seasoned firefighter crowd is now standing and cheering saying, “Finally these eggheads have recognized what the school of hard knocks has done for us.” (I must admit sadly I don’t belong to that group. I was hired into the system much too late to be included that group. Something about a dream involving golf course maintenance. I can still grow a mean stand of bluegrass.)

These are guys who had little or nothing for recruit training or college education. They were pointed to the back of the rig and told to stand there. They had to learn on the truck. They had to learn by experience. They had to learn at incidents how to make proper decisions and take action quickly. They also had the fires to learn at.

Since the advent of smoke detectors and an increased awareness of fire safety, fires have steadily gone down. The next generation of firefighters stands to be the most hard done by if action isn’t taken quickly to take advantage of the skills and experience of the seasoned veterans we still have in the fire service. These veterans started in the early 1970s and are due for retirement soon. They learned from seasoned veterans who started 30 years ahead of them. A lot of these guys were also war vets and went to another school of hard knocks. They learned to make decisions and take action quickly based on what they saw, what they knew about stuff, and what worked in the past. We have to learn from these guys before the torch is passed to us.


Live training necessary
Most of the inquests and investigations that have been written in the past few years indicate the need for increased training especially real simulations providing “live” experiences. I say “live” experiences to indicate getting out and getting dirty in the field. We realize that this is now the best way to learn to do our job. We don’t get the experiences that the senior members did in real incidents. For this reason, training programs need to include a huge portion of “DO” training.

Developing a good training program is multi-layered. There are gap analyses to do. There are acceptable levels of service to determine. There are commitments of budget to consider. Without getting into the all of the details of developing training programs let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the actual training program itself. What should it include? What should it look like? How is it used? How does it evolve from initial training to review cycles?

Training plans
A good training or lesson plan should be able to be picked up by anyone capable of instructing the topic at hand within an acceptable timeframe and that person should be able to instruct the topic without missing a beat. A learner shouldn’t know the difference. That is the amount of detail that should be included (see sidebar on page 28).

Sustainability of training
I would like to continue with a bit of a darker subject. The sustainability issue has been looming for a long time now. How much can a firefighter be responsible to know, first of all? No matter what, we are still going to be called out to the incidents. It would be even more irresponsible of the fire service to only train on certain aspects of the job. We say that we have become spread so thin and we can’t possibly stay familiar with all of the aspects of the job, yet when the time comes we will be called and we will respond to do the best we can. Better to go prepared that to not be prepared at all.

I’ve seen all over the fire service what I call the “blitz-style” training of a topic. A department will offer a topic of training and have a person, crew or committee dedicated to providing this training to the troops. Once the training is done that’s it. No review plan, no schedule of returning to the topic in an annual training program and no plan of how to do that. Would that be acceptable to the firefighters or the department if it were fire training? If a firefighter said to his or her superior that a review of ventilation practices is needed, it would be done and it is done on a consistent basis with fire skills. Is this always the case when it comes to more specialized training?

Training for new services
When a department considers a new service how is that decision made? Is it just an interested lobby group that inspires the change? Is it a matter of a flavour of the year? Is it the pressure of council and ratepayers that forces a department to offer new services? It really doesn’t even matter what the service is. It doesn’t matter how it comes about. When a new service is added a consideration of planning must be undertaken by the department to ensure that the service is not only a success, but the service and training is also sustained for as long as required.
Aspects to consider
Here are some of the aspects to consider:
1. How soon is the service to be offered? What is the expectation of having this service available in the community? What is the need? What have your own incidents indicated about this service? It may be why you’re already considering this new service. Realize what has to be put into motion prior to getting this service on the road. It can’t just be put out there when the equipment arrives and is placed on the truck. Procedures must be put into place, paperwork and checklists for command must be created, and of course training must occur prior to using the service. This only ensures all will be able to work safely.

2. What equipment is required to properly offer this service? Seek the advice of experts. I can guarantee you’re service is not the first to go through this in North America. The thing firefighters like to do next to doing their job is talking about it. Get advice on what equipment is needed and what they use on a consistent basis. You’ll get more bang for your equipment buck if you spend wisely. Get the equipment you need for your level of service. Don’t try to operate with less or sub-standard equipment, and don’t waste the budget on stuff that is a nice to have, but never used.

3. Who will provide the service? Is the department of the size and sophistication to be able to provide the service from a specialized crew? If the department is of that size how many personnel per shift will need training to what standard? What will the rest of the firefighters get for training? Will all your firefighters be providing the service? How does that affect your training pie? These are tough questions to answer. Does your department have specialized crews for firefighting or any other rescue? This is a road you have to walk and determine on your own. Specialized teams are costly ventures. What they offer in consistency of service and level of training may be overshadowed by the commitment of the personnel to that one discipline. Personnel may grow tired, complacent or disillusioned if calls are infrequent. On the other hand to train and maintain the entire department at a consistent level either using in-house trainers or outsourcing can be costly and unattainable over a long period of time. By the time the training is done on the last members it is time to start over with review, but what about all of the other subjects. What about the training-weary instructors? When do they get training on their subject of expertise let alone any other subject? It is a difficult dilemma.

4. What training is required initially to get the required personnel to the point that the service can be provided? How long will it take? What resources are required? How much will it cost? All good questions to be asking when planning training prior to deployment of the service.

5. Are there standards, certifications or delegations to consider when offering this service to the public? There are numerous issues to be taken into consideration here. Bill C45 has been discussed a lot recently when speaking of claims against supervisors, directors or persons having authority in a department, when a person gets hurt on the job. I know that NFPA standards are not mandatory here in Canada but they are, however, recognized standards and if there is a lack of such a standard, regulation or code in Canada you can be compared and measured by an applicable recognized standard, which could include the appropriate NFPA one. With that said there is also the consideration for taking every reasonable precaution for the protection of a worker. To what standard are your personnel trained, and to what standard are your instructors trained? If you are outsourcing what credentials does that company bear? You may never have to worry about this but you had better be prepared to ensure that it is ready just in case.

6. Who is providing the training? Are you training trainers from outside sources, or bringing in outside trainers to train all of your personnel? There are again advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Training your own trainers is great as long as a commitment is struck up front. Training personnel, even just on your own shift or station, can be a daunting task to maintain, especially if there are infrequent calls involving the discipline being trained in. Shift trainers need to be supported and provided the opportunity to get together with other trainers in the same discipline to share ideas and ensure consistency. Shift trainers also need to be supported by their officers, not challenged and criticized.

Cost of training
•    What we have been talking about involves a lot of cost. Here are items to consider when budgeting for training.
•    Initial cost of training trainers = tuition, reference materials, travel
•    Salaries of trainers while on course
•    Coverage staff for trainers while on course = overtime (OT)
•    Development of initial training package = salaries for development time
•    Deployment of initial training = trainer salaries while training
•    Coverage for trainers = OT for replacement staff
•    Development of review package = salaries for development time
•    Retraining or recertification of trainers = tuition, reference materials, travel
•    Salaries of trainers while on recertification courses
•    Coverage staff for trainers while on course = OT
•    Training day for all trainers for consistency = OT
It can be a very costly venture if it isn’t measured and planned in the first place. And this is just for one discipline. Imagine eight more. The costs can soon outrun the budget. Solid factual planning for the provision of a new service is the only way to ensure that the department can prepare for such costs. Don’t get caught up in the middle of a program and then consider what it will cost the department in cash as well as personnel. Be sure you’re informed.

Capt. Jeff Weber has been with the Kitchener (Ont.) Fire Dept. for 14 years and moved from the suppression division to training in 2003. He is an active member of Kitchener’s high/low angle rope rescue committee, water rescue committee, haz-mat committee and confined space committee. Weber holds a teacher/trainer of adults certificate from Conestoga College.

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