Elevating Your Fire Service Training to Improve Capability and Capacity

Have you ever experienced the issue of having personnel or teams that are trained to a standard, yet struggle to effectively apply their training when necessary at an actual incident? Perhaps the issue is not that there is a need for retraining, the issue is in applying what they have learned. As an instructor, you may now need to lead your personnel or teams to understand the difference between the elements that constitute "training" compared to the "next level" abilities that we strive to provide at an incident. The remainder of this article will provide one way to consider how to move beyond basic training.

A simple definition of fire training may be "the process of teaching the basic knowledge and skills required to perform basic all hazards task level activities." Successful completions are competency-based, in which the individual has proven they have the basic knowledge and skills required in the workplace.

One problem may be that the individual still does not know how to apply these skills on the fireground. Secondly, the performance of such competence (as described in competency standards) reflects performance based on what others have done, in the past, in different contexts, situations, and environments. Lastly, competency does not describe what a Firefighter must do, in their context or environment, in the future. The Firefighter still needs to learn the ability to apply what they have learned in the real world.

These same issues may also be familiar to teams, whether companies that work a shift schedule together or departments that need to assemble a crew of personnel at a moment's notice. In summary, skills-based training is:

  • Topic-based
  • Learned with repetition and coaching
  • Understood by persons with various levels of knowledge and experience
  • Constantly changing
  • Easy to access, but not of its practicality


Capability Development

Capability development is the process of advancing the aptitude and expertise that can be developed in a person or team. Capability Development in the Fire Service differs from training in that capability is not basic skill development; it is advancing and applying the individual or team's previously learned skillset to a situation, in the form of action, to affect the desired result. The good news about capability is that it is not static; capability has the potential to be further developed or improved.

More specifically, capability development advances our personnel's "ability to do something." It is significant to emphasize "to do" from "to know," which is more associated with simple training. Improving the capability of our personnel "to do" strengthens the service delivered. Likewise, capability is also a term used to describe a future ability. The timeframe of future ability might vary from hours to weeks or longer, depending on the starting point of the individual or team. When developed and maintained, capability is the command of skills and knowledge that are possessed when acquired and as we advance. The possession of such capabilities means being able to apply them effectively when required in the future.

In Capability-Based Training, instructors and trainers don't simply dole out information; They grow the skillset and close the gap between what a person or team knows and can do now and what they need to know and do to perform at a higher level. 

Capability then may be summed up as:

  • Defined around actual job activity and outcomes
  • Involve technical, social, and behavioral skills
  • Developed through experience & context
  • Advanced in an environment
  • Assessed through actual performance

Capacity Building

Capacity Building is a valuable by-product of Capability Development. Capacity is defined as the number of an object, the amount or volume of an item, or the ability to meet a demand. The advantage of Capacity Building to our fire service is that through Capability Development, we will have more of a variety of personnel resources capable of performing at a desired level of ability. Instructors who lead the endeavor will have the satisfaction that through the process they have maximized the abilities of both individuals and crews and strengthened the capacity of the department.

On the individual level, it may mean we have more personnel that have proven to have a wider assortment of specific capabilities to perform at an incident. On a company level, it may be seen as the shared capability to perform in more situations with more abilities as a team. A few examples may be more personnel or companies who have the capacity to perform as a hazardous materials, technical rescue, or other specialized team. In a simpler form, increased capacity may be as simple as a higher number of personnel with enhanced engine or truck company capabilities.

The importance of Capability Development and Capacity Building will undoubtedly vary within the department's system. A department with a dedicated training academy in-house may be better suited to build these foundations. Departments that send personnel through outside training, smaller departments, and those who provide or rely on mutual aid regularly have a more urgent need to build these elements into their structure to become as proficient as possible. In either case, it is imperative in today's fire service that when the apparatus arrives and personnel deploys to work, the personnel are trained and capable of functioning to the highest level in the hazardous environment. 

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