How to Get Firefighters Engaged in EMS Training

Many fire departments operate as dual response departments, meaning they perform both firefighting and EMS duties while on duty. Even though they pride themselves on being competent at both, most fire service members gravitate towards the fire suppression side of the profession.  One theme that is very common among these types of departments is that many did not join the fire service to do EMS). It's just part of what they deal with in order to do the thing they love, fighting fires. The issue with this belief, not matter what type of fire department you run for is that you will still encounter medical responses and often times more you will experience these calls more than all of the other types of calls combined. With that said it is essential that we as firefighters remain competent in all of the skills that we use. 

So how do you make EMS training interesting to a bunch of firefighters? You BEAT it into them. Now I know what you are thinking, beating anything into some one seems counter-productive and would not have good results, but let’s discuss what BEAT means in this instance. 

B - Believe in the Mission

E - Encourage Competition

A - Allow for Mistakes

T - Train as a Team


Believe in the Mission

Most people in the fire service will agree that it is important to have a common goal or value from which to operate from. If there is not a common value or goal, we often find ourselves going in multiple directions. In the fire service the main goal typically has something to do with timely response, providing excellent customer service and being the best we can be at our job. So why would providing medical care to the community be any different? Whenever you are putting together an EMS training for firefighters, lead with the WHY and tie it into the Mission of the department.

So how do we lead with the ‘why’? It is essential when teaching a skill to someone that they understand why they are doing the skill and what kind of consequences come from not doing it effectively. When talking about the "why" use a story they can relate to by drawing from their previous experiences or by discussing a run they had to help with context. Now that they understand the "why" of what they are doing, show them how it  ties into their departments mission if they have one, if not just use the general mission of the fire service as we discussed earlier. Getting someone to believe in what they do will result in more engaged training and better outcomes. 

Encourage Competition

One goal should be to increase learning and improve overall engagement during trainings. To accomplish this,  make them fun by creating some competition between crews. Nothing will make a firefighter work harder than the opportunity for some good old-fashioned bragging rights.  There are several ways that this can be accomplished, and it is important to think outside the box to keep things interesting. Some examples would be to place a manikin inside a car upside down and have crews intubate. See how long it takes them and compare times. Place an IV arm in a hard to reach location and have the member start an IV with their non-dominant hand. Create an obstacle course of skills and have each station compete for time. These are just a few ideas of how to make training more interesting. 

Allow Room for Mistakes

One significant limiting factor to successful and engaging training is an environment that has no room for error. It is impossible to train for competency without being able to fail from time to time. Failure is and will always be a part of the training process. One of the most impactful times for an instructor are the teachable moments that result from failure. This is when you can have the greatest impact on someone’s ability to cope with failure, fix the deficiency and move forward. This is an essential skill as a firefighter and as an adult in general. By allowing for mistakes and providing correction in these teachable moments, we will teach our people not to be nervous when training on a skill that they may not be the best at. This will result in more engagement instead of avoidance. 

Train as a Team

Few careers rely on teamwork more than the fire service. The ability to operate as a cohesive team is an essential part of a safe and effective emergency response. In the fire service we rarely respond to incidents as individuals. So why do we always test competency that way? When creating scenarios for EMS training, make them robust enough that it requires a team approach. Practice the response just like it would be in real life. If the officer on the engine typically deals with the family and does the report, then have them practice that as part of the scenario. If you typically respond with two on an engine, then practice the scenario that way. Also, if you work in an area where EMS is provided by a second service, then coordinate periodic trainings with that service provider to build rapport with their teams and become familiar with their  response and equipment. 

In a world where fire departments are often called upon to do more with less, it is essential that we are making the best use of our time. Doing training for the sake of training just to fill the required hours that are imposed upon us benefits no one. We must constantly be looking for ways to make training more engaging and impactful for our people. The one thing in the fire service that is constant is time and there is only a set amount in a day no matter what we do. So, make the most of what time you do have. 

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