Conducting Company Level Training: Obstacles to Success in Small Combination Departments

The planning and coordination of company level training is complex at best.  With the ever expanding duties and responsibilities we take on finding time to plan, develop, and conduct training is challenging for even the most organized company officer.  This duty is compounded even more when looking at the smaller combination fire departments.  Most do not have the luxury of having separate bureaus for prevention, safety, maintenance, etc.  These duties are typically accomplished by line personnel on the various companies. 

The first obstacle in training is planning.  The company officer must first implement any department-wide training that may be required and then conduct a needs assessment of the company personnel.  The element in most departments that makes this difficult is the staffing make-up of the department.  In an all career department needs assessments can be conducted at longer intervals due to having the same personnel assigned to the company consistently.  This allows the officer to plan weeks and months ahead of time.  In volunteer and combination departments utilizing a large work force of part time and volunteer employees this requires much more planning and coordination.

With combination departments the make-up may be any mixture of career, part-time, or volunteer personnel.  Typically the part-time and volunteer personnel do not work standard rotations.  They may work with A Shift on one day and not work with A Shift again for several weeks.  They may even split tours of duty into six or twelve hour segments.  Due to the ever changing schedule the company officer is forced to conduct needs assessments at the beginning of each shift based on the personnel assigned to the company for that tour.  If the scheduling procedures permit it may be possible to do this a shift or two ahead of time if the company officer knows what his crew make-up will be; however with the ever changing schedules of combination departments this can be difficult at best. 

Training development is another obstacle for small combination departments.  Without a separate training bureau small departments relay again on line personnel to develop and manage department training.  Even with the most experienced instructors training development takes time and time is at a premium in small departments due to the many hats that one must wear. 

To combat this, the company officer cannot be afraid or unwilling to utilize “canned” training.  Customized training programs are great and provide department specific information; however we must not try to reinvent the wheel when it is not necessary.  

There are many training resources that are easy to obtain for little or no cost at all.  There are scores of training topics shared on trade magazine web sites, and web sites developed strictly for the purpose of sharing training among fire service educators.  Get on the net and browse.   Something as simple as an article from a trade magazine can turn into a quality training opportunity.  ISFSI members have access under the “Members Only” section of the web site which contains Instruct-O-Grams, Drills of the Week and Power point presentations. Reviewing a NIOSH report and discussing the LODD incident outlined in the report is another easy training topic.  Walk through local construction sites and review building construction with your crews.  Network with your peers and share training outlines, you are likely to find many outlines available just by using your counterparts.  Finally do not be afraid to use your imagination. 

The final obstacle I would like to discuss is finding the time to conduct company training.  This discussion is best started with a question.  What priority is training in your company’s daily schedule?  I ask this because it seems that when the schedule gets tight with inspections, public education, emergency responses, pre-planning and the whole host of other activities that need to occur, training is often the item cut from the agenda.  Why is this? 

All of the other activities are important, but what suffers when training takes a back seat?  Our efficiency, our readiness and quality of service we provide to the citizens we protect?  All of these areas suffer, but our safety also suffers.  Remember we are number one and everyone should go home at the end of the shift. 

How do we deal with this?  First of all make training a priority.  Look for something else to take that back seat when the schedule if full.  Set specific times that training is to occur.  Do not change these times unless called to respond to an emergency or under special circumstances only.  Keep training time to a realistic length.  Train as long as you need to accomplish the objectives, but do not over do it.  The other duties we perform are also important and time needs to be allocated for them as well.  Remember quality is better than quantity.  Finally develop good time management practices.  Firefighters are typically poor time managers; make an effort to maximize your available time to fit your work load. 

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