ISFSI Member Spotlight: Jason Powell

Member Since: January 2016

Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service.

I am forty-four years old, and I have been in the fire service since I was eighteen years old where I started as a volunteer firefighter in Roan Mountain, TN; however, my fire service career began working as part-time as a dispatcher for fire, police, and EMS as well as a part-time EMT. I have been married to my wife, Maggie, for sixteen years and together we have a twelve-year old son, Eli. After I graduated from East Tennessee State University (ETSU) in 1997, where I majored in Mass Communication with a specialization in Public Relations and a minor in Speech, I took a job with the Johnson City (TN) Fire Department. During this time, I also attended Northeast State Community College where I obtained my EMT. During my college years, I volunteered as a firefighter in Elk Park, NC. While in North Carolina, I obtained my North Carolina Firefighter I and II, and officially became a Fire Instructor in 1996. I worked part-time for the North Carolina Department of Insurance as an instructor in the community colleges of Western North Carolina.  In 2001, I obtained an Associates of Applied Science Degree in Emergency Medical Technology and obtained my National Registry Paramedic. After five years as a Firefighter/Paramedic in Johnson City, I was promoted to the Training Division where I was responsible for all in-service training. Eventually, I was appointed as the coordinator for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Fire Training Academy’s Recruit Program; a consortium of all the municipal fire departments and one industrial fire department in the upper eight counties of Northeast TN. We were conducting two recruit academies each year and averaged about 40 to 45 students annually. I continued this until 2006 when I returned to the fire company as a Lieutenant. I spent seven years as Lieutenant/Paramedic, as well as an interim Captain/Shift Commander and Interim Assistant Chief of Operations before being promoted to Captain and assigned to the Training Division. This time, I oversaw the entire division. I remained in this position until January of 2018 when I transitioned to the role of District Chief on a suppression shift. Currently, I am assigned as the District 2 Chief on B-shift. Since 2004, I have worked as an adjunct faculty instructor for the Tennessee Fire and Codes Academy where I teach classes ranging from basic firefighting to safety and Chief Officer. I am one of two instructors who teach Instructor Methodology in the state of Tennessee. I have taught over 30 Fire Officer I and II courses across the state. I have taught in departments as small at 10 members up to the Memphis Fire Department with 1400 plus members. In 2016, I obtained my Masters in Business Administration from Milligan College and am currently enrolled in the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. I will be attending year-two in July of 2018.

Who or what has inspired you to transition into a role as an instructor?

The inspiration to be fire instructor came when I was a volunteer firefighter in Roan Mountain, TN. We responded to a fire in a tax payer building with four apartments. I had only been a member of the department for a couple of months. The fire was significant, and it was far more than we were staffed, trained, or equipped to handled. However, we tried our best to control the fire the best we knew how. We had very little training and very poor equipment. My brother and I were operating on an interior line in one of the apartments, searching for the fire and victims. The conditions rapidly deteriorated, and we experienced a flashover as we moved to exit the room. I also fell from a ladder that night while trying to open an exterior wall. It was not until approximately three years later that I recognized we were in a flashover. Due to our lack of training, we believed a kerosene heater had blown up. We were in a training class in Avery County, NC when the instructor described the rollover and flashover we had encounter that night. Immediately, I was scared to death. I was scared because I had no idea how close we came to really getting hurt or killed, and I was scared for all the others who had no idea that such a thing could happen. My brother and I had been lucky not to get hurt or killed that night. We were not really qualified to be spectators that night, but we were engaged in the firefight. I knew this was common in many departments in Northeast TN at time. Due to the availability and no-cost, I continued my training in North Carolina. I was taught by several great instructors. None were better than Boyd Biggerstaff and Bob Garland. These guys were volunteer Fire Officers in Western North Carolina. These guys really inspired me to become as knowledgeable and skilled as possible. They also inspired me to help others not end up in the situation that my brother and I ended up in. I then attended a Fire Instructor Methodology course that was taught by Mr. G.E. Freeman. G.E. was volunteer firefighter and a pastor. He really inspired me to be the best instructor I could be. He really demonstrated a passion equal only to Chief Garland and Chief Biggerstaff.

What are some things you are currently working on in your department?

In August of 2017, we got a new fire chief from Florida. When Chief Stables came on board, he really wanted us to utilize technology to assist in keeping our personnel trained and current. He wanted us to do this to help keep our training at the highest levels while leaving the companies in their first due areas. This was very different from the congregational training we were accustomed to. We have spent a great deal of time dealing with this process, and we are finally seeing the fruits of our labor. We have learned so much in these short few months about the positives and negatives of distance learning, hybrid training, instructor-led remote training, and self-paced learning.

Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

My most significant project was development of training programs and records management process and controls for training that assisted in my department being awarded an ISO rating of 1. I lead the development of a career-ladder program that directed training at all levels of the organization. The program defined training that was needed to move to the next level as well as continuing education for each level. This program helped us to insure all our personnel were more than adequately trained for every level in the organization as well as certified.

What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor?

I hope to be able to inspire others to continue the often thankless task of fire instruction in the future to help insure the safety of our future generations of firefighters. I hope my dedication to teaching instructor methodology and other classes allows me the opportunity to demonstrate how important it is for the current generation of fire instructors to be a conduit for information, knowledge, and wisdom from the past as well as inspire future discovery. As an instructor, we have to demonstrate the behaviors it takes to be the best. I hope to continue to do this for years to come.

When you are gone, what do you want other people to remember you by?

I hope I can be remembered as a good teammate and team player. I want others to remember me for the importance I placed on knowing my craft. While I understand, I cannot be the master of everything the fire service does, I want to have a working knowledge of all aspects of the fire service. This means I have to continue to be a learner before I can be an instructor. I want people to remember that I trained from the beginning of my career to the end of my career. I then want them to remember me for my willingness to share this knowledge with everyone who would listen. I truly see myself as the connection from the past to the future through my role as a student and then as an instructor. 

What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started?

The diversity of experience and the increase of higher education in the fire service. Today’s fire service is an even more diverse group of people than when I came in to the business. This diversity should allow us to really examine ourselves and look for blind spots that have gone unnoticed for years. The lack of diversity allows you to continue to go through your career not knowing what you do not know. As diversity increases these areas are going to be uncovered. We need to be willing to address these areas and not try to defend our short-comings. We also need to take advantage of the teach-ability of future generations. The individuals entering the fire service today are versed in technology, and they are conditioned learners. We need to involve these people in developing our delivery strategies for our training and maintenance of knowledge and skills. This generation has the most experience with learning significant amounts of knowledge in a short period of time by using modern methods. We need to embrace this as an option for our training methodologies. We also need to remember that many of these individuals will lack the hands-on skills and practices that we have taken for granted for years. We need to rethink our training strategies to spend more time with the hands-on and trust the students to get the cognitive information through alternative methods.  

What is something that most people don’t know about you?

When I was 16 years old, I suffered an accident with a lawn mower. In the accident my right foot was damaged and there was concern I might lose my ability to balance. I never believed I could let this happen. I learned to stay positive and put in the effort to keep on doing all I could. This situation really changed my understanding of the power of positive thinking and a positive attitude.

What advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor?

Just as being a good leader means you need to be a good follower first, being a good instructor means you have to be a good student first. You need to learn to learn. Then you need to experience diversity in instructors. This means you should take classes inside and outside of emergency services. As you are learning the information presented in the class, you need to be paying attention to how the instructor is teaching and connecting with the students. You should look for those traits and skills that seem to have the most positive affect and those that seem to not affective. You can then develop yourself to do those things that are positive and avoid the negatives. You also need to remain humble. You do not and will never know everything about everything. You should always be willing to listen the students no matter how much or how little experience they have. Students like to learn best from a knowledgeable, humble instructor. Talking about our experiences, war stories, are not a bad thing. You just need to use this experience to support class, not to sell yourself. Students will respect you more for your humility and sincerity than your knowledge. Always maintain your passion and be willing to show passion. Students like to learn from instructors that really care. You cannot fake it as an instructor; you have to work at being an instructor. Lastly, you need to teach. As with any skill, you will lose this if you do not exercise it.

Recent Stories
ISFSI Member Spotlight: Michael McLeieer

ISFSI Member Spotlight: Kuntz Family

ISFSI Member Spotlight: Covington Fire Department