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Change Agent: August 2014

It is training night again and common themes echo in the station and on the training ground: This is a waste of time. Why do we have to do this again?

August 1, 2014
By Tom Bremner


It is training night again and common themes echo in the station and on the training ground: This is a waste of time. Why do we have to do this again?

The saying “What we do does matter,” is true and it applies to training. If we are going to take the time to do something, let’s get it right and as close to reality as possible.

First, we need to give credit and respect to the numerous men and women who take the lead in training and provide – week in and week out – training sessions to improve our skills, safety and response outcomes. Hats off to all of you.

On the other hand is the question: Does our training provide a real understanding of what the live situation will be like, or is it just a session to make us feel we can do something safely, only to learn later that we have set ourselves up for failure? 


The changes we have faced in emergency services over the last two decades are numerous: construction methods, rules and regulations, tightened budgets, greater human-resources issues, more public awareness of and interest in what we do. All these factors have forced us to revisit, revamp and wake up to what we traditionally have done and what we now must do to exist professionally and proficiently.

Training to a standard is critical. However, training to real-world situations is even more important.

Too often, we hear trainees complain about training. My first reaction to correcting this behaviour is to go online and review situational awareness guru Richard Gasaway’s views and comments about training – how we train and how we need to change training so that it is real.

Our priorities must be safety, good-quality training, enhanced service-delivery methods and better management of our everyday activities and resources. 

We have all attended training at which the outcome of the session has been less than professional or real. The abilities and presentation skills of the instructors are so important. If you find that a course is less than productive, stand up and, in an appropriate manner, let it be known. Don’t just accept this less-than-stellar effort and walk away. 

We have come a long way over the last several decades and this progress must continue. The responsibility for safety, training and positive outcomes on the fire ground rests heavily on management, training officers and, of course, the firefighters.

Training needs to be dynamic and our members must understand and value the importance of modern training methods. We can have fun with training as long as our actions are safe, monitored and understood by all.

Training cannot be a blame game or a power struggle; it must be an understandable and communicative process that is professionally managed and delivered. The quality and experience of the trainers, their planning for the training program, and their understanding of the students becomes the most valuable assets you as a fire-service manager can create and provide.

Who knows what Canadian fire services will face in the moments, days or weeks ahead. Being able to train and understand the value of the training is huge, although it is, admittedly, boring at times. But as the saying goes – suck it up, buttercup! Certainly there are some training topics we just don’t like or enjoy. But in many cases we don’t get to choose them – we must deal with them the best we can. That said, we should also expect to be trained in a professional and respectful manner.

As we learn in life, tough love is sometimes the only way to handle the reality of a situation. The goal for the training provider is to ensure the quality and respect of both the instructors and firefighters.

It is easy to poke fun at and ridicule an instructor, but have you ever stepped up to the plate to lead a training session?

As we gain more experience in this service we all realize there is only so much we can do to reduce risks, and training is the most important option. To do something well, we need to spend 10,000 hours practising it over and over. How many hours have we each spent on any one topic? I hope you get the picture.

The next time you hear complaints about training, take a moment to set the record straight and provide leadership. What we do does matter. If we are going to take the time to do it let’s get it right and as close to reality as possible.

Tom Bremner is the fire chief for Salt Spring Island, B.C. Contact him at

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