ISFSI Member Spotlight: Jeff Cielocha

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

I have been a career firefighter for about 10 years. I started my public safety career as an EMT in 2001 and followed that up with becoming a paramedic in 2005. I have worked for multiple services throughout my career. My current position is the Training Captain for the Andover (MN) Fire Department. I have been in my current position for about two and a half years.

My uncle is a Chicago Firefighter and that is what started the drive to be one also. I knew from about 12 years old that firefighting/public safety was where I was supposed to spend my time. I have many other hobbies, but nothing has come close to being a career the way firefighting has.

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

I have always liked teaching. I have not always been good at it. I have had some amazing mentors throughout life. Some were great teachers, and some had their own way. All shaped me into the man I am today and the instructor I have become. I believe it is important to pass along knowledge gained from life and trainings. There are many things life can teach us that translate easily to the fire service.

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

I am currently working on building and buying props to provide as realistic of training as I can. We do not have a burn building or anything like that, so it is difficult. Currently my training props fit into a 6x12 trailer. I am confident that will not be the case come next spring. I have taken lessons learned by others and continue to apply them to what I teach and how I teach. There are many out there who have built props before me. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. I am hoping once I have props built, I can improve on them and/or make them applicable to my department.

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

I am currently developing my own class and curriculum to focus on vehicle operations. Although, my biggest accomplishment to date would be completing my bachelor’s degree and moving onto my master’s degree. I have taken great pride in these two things. These have also helped me understand what I need to do to be effective while in my current role and how to be successful in the future.

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

I would like to have a class I can teach or is taught throughout the country. The class I am developing is one that I have not seen out there. I would like to teach it at functions like FDIC and have people be able to take parts back to their departments to help them operate in a safer manner.

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

There have been many changes since I started my career in public safety. One of the biggest is the focus on mental health. Through a public service person’s career there will be many things seen that cannot be unseen. Those events take a toll. It does not have to end in PTSD. I believe those events are what end up driving some instructors. They want to help from lessons they have learned. Mental health has only recently come to the forefront of conversations where it is ok to not be ok. Firefighters need to understand there will come a time where they need help and the time for it to be a badge of honor to just “brush it off” is gone.

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

I am a huge garage gear head. I have two project vehicles that I am working on. One of them will end up being a frame-off restoration. This hobby is one of my stress releases. There are times I have gotten away from it, and I am always drawn back in.

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

Driver. This fits my mentality for many of the different hats I wear with the Andover Fire Department. I am helping to drive change that is needed to evolve with changing times. I am driving the changes we need to have with the current pandemic we find ourselves in. I am driving to get realistic training to my department and my region, so we are better prepared when we have a structure fire or major event.

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

Treat everyone nice and remember where you came from. Often what we teach is something we are very knowledgeable about, and it is very easy to talk down to someone who does not have that same knowledge. I have been guilty of this and probably am at times still. I make a conscious effort to remind myself of that every time I teach. We do not talk down on purpose or do it in a mean way. However, it can be interrupted as being mean and condescending. Us as instructors need to remind ourselves from time to time that the students are in our class because they want to know what we know, not because they already do.

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