ISFSI Member Spotlight: Donna Noble

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

My name is Donna Noble from Ponoka County in Alberta Canada. I started my fire career in 2005 becoming a fire instructor in 2016. It was not my original intention to be a firefighter. With the increasing need for proper documentation, I accepted an Administrative Assistant position supporting the Ponoka Fire Department. To better understand what was on the call sheets, and what the members were referring to, I started taking fire courses. As with most Volunteer Rural Fire Departments, daytime response may be limited, I found myself getting on the trucks - haven't looked back since. I started with the Ponoka Fire Department (disbanded in 2018) for 10 years until moving to the newly created Ponoka County Regional Fire Services in Fall of 2015. I have the pleasure to represent both departments within our regional system as a result of where I reside - Captain and Lead Instructor on the West District Fire Department / Firefighter and Co-Instructor on the East District Fire Department.

2. Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor

I had great mentors (senior firefighter, fire chiefs – past and present) throughout my career who encouraged me to pursue it. Very comfortable in a classroom and the more one instructs a course the easier it becomes. I continually get inspiration from my students. They learn from me and ironically, I learn from them. Each class is a new experience with new learning techniques based on each student. I observe fellow members or my own course instructors to improve delivery experience. While in high school my math teacher (who was fire chief on what is now West District Fire Department) suggested I pursue a teaching career. At the time I couldn’t see myself as a teacher and instead pursued a drafting technologist career. I now reminisce on how fate made a full circle.

3. What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that

As with any rural volunteer department the need to evaluate the types and possible frequency of the calls in the response area is a proactive approach for a positive experience. By identifying the possibilities allows the opportunity to incorporate the necessary skills into the training. By reviewing past incidents (photos/discussions) or utilizing a tabletop style scenario into the instructional component, a real-life perspective is brought into the education. Open discussion assists to make all members feel they are part of the team and can make a difference. Skills on paper are just “static” until put in “motion”. As we are truly unable to predict what types and magnitude of the calls we will receive, having the knowledge and skills to identify the needs as a team will result in the best outcome each time. Practicing the skills during training nights helps the senior members an opportunity to assist the new members. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have strengths and weaknesses. By incorporating the skills into a practice situation these can be identified without putting a member into an uncomfortable situation. There is always a job to be done- knowing in advance is a win-win for everyone.

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

I continue to ensure as a training instructor all the members have the skills/training needed to respond safely to a call. Lately I was able to become a Master Trainer for Grain Engulfment Rescue. Whether responding for a rescue or recovery, ensuring the members have the knowledge to help those in need but also recognize the risks associated to the fire members. With any skill or equipment – it’s nice to have it and not need it then need it and not have it.

5. What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor

I want to be remembered as someone who was committed to ensure the residents, visitors and community were protected to the best of our abilities. As an instructor I feel it’s important for everyone to feel comfortable, no matter where they are and that they know its ok to ask questions; it’s not a sign of weakness but more of a strength in themselves.

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

My willingness to go the extra mile, no matter what and always be there for questions or extra help. Showing you care you will get the same in return.

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

The changes in the way the NFPA skills/courses are presented and content. The history of the fire service and how the rules evolved was at integral part of NFPA 1001. The content has been replaced by firefighter wellness and safety. Social media and the changes in generations seemed to move the focus in the new direction. With an increase in cancer and mental wellness now becoming more prevalent in the fire service from past exposure, the focus seems on prevention. The call numbers and risks associated with new technology are increasing. The days of “it’s nothing” are no longer there. Debriefing and watching out for each other is becoming more apparent. Cultures are changing and the mind set of the fire service needs to adapt to maintain a healthy atmosphere. This change not only affects the members but can be reflected with their families. As much as we try, a little part of every call we attend, goes home with everyone of us in some way. Being willing to listen and recognize will help keep a healthy work environment. Social media and internet can be an asset as well as a hinderance.

Going hand in hand with the training and course content is the importance of documentation. Whether for personnel files, training schedules, on scene reports, photographs, etc. the need has increased. Proper complete documentation can be a time and life saver.

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

My love of photography and capturing memories. That passion helped to keep memories alive for me when 3 years into my fire career I experienced something we respond to everyday but hope never to experience ourselves. April 9, 2008, my daughter, and only child, was tragically killed in a school bus accident on the way to school. It left an empty void. Jenny was always there to help at any of the community events we organized as a fire department. One month after losing her, in conversation with the Fire Chief at the time, I went back on the trucks with the belief “I couldn’t help her but maybe I can help somebody else.” I may never truly know if I’ve made a difference, but in my heart believe I have. Although at the time I was a member on a neighboring department, mutual aid was not requested. Always grateful for the EMS and fire members who responded and were there for Jenny when I couldn’t be. As fate plays out, I now have the pleasure to be an active member, instructor and captain on that department working alongside members who were there. I continue to try and make a difference no matter how difficult it may seem.

8. If you could choose your title (other than the generic Training Officer or Firefighter) that uniquely describes you in your position, what would it be and why

If there had to be one – Mentor. Truly any title I have, whether Mentor, Captain, Firefighter, Training Officer etc. just needs to remind others I’m no different in the goals and outcomes. I like to remind I was in their chair on the other side of the table too at one time. I am always there for them, and the only “dumb” question is the one not asked. None of us will ever stop learning. A title is just a name – it’s truly the person not the title making the person who they are.

9. And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor

Lead by example and be true to yourself. Adapt to accommodate the different learning styles by the different generations. Everyone deserves the same opportunity. We are a true team in the fire service – rely on each other for our lives. By treating everyone equal the strength and weaknesses will balance.

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