1. Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service
Like most little boys at the time, I always wanted to be a "fireman". Twenty years later, I joined a small-town volunteer department on April 2, 1977. A group of friends were all members and kept encouraging me to join. Frankly it did not take much encouragement. It was a classic old ways volunteer department. Lots of fund raising, lots of fun times, and not much training. But what little training I received created an appetite for a lot more! As time went on, I was "hooked" and saw that there was a lot more to learn than what I was being taught. Taking training classes to be the best I could became a passion! And 45 years later I'm still taking classes, reading, studying, and learning! In the early 1990's I became an Instructor for the Massachusetts Fire Academy and shortly after moved to Uxbridge, MA where I joined their combination department as On-Call. Uxbridge was great! They trained, were progressive, professional and we had a lot of calls and many fires. (Check out on YouTube the Bernat Mill Fire). Plus, it was a great group of people! I stayed with Uxbridge until I retired in 2014.
Around 2008 I left the fire academy and started my own training company primarily focusing on volunteer, on-call, and other small departments. I am a firm believer that the volunteer service does not get the training we really need! Think about it, most training programs are "one size fits all". This is not right! We are all different and the training should reflect that. We are not all from large urban departments and the training offered should reflect that.
In 2008 I started my own training company Cross St Associates and focused on Firefighter basic skills, Rapid Intervention and Officer training for the Volunteer and on-call segment. This last one is key! There is little else offered for us, we are lumped all together with large career and small volunteers. Don't you think something is wrong with that picture?
In 2018 Chief Bill Kessler, Mendon, MA pulled me out of retirement and made me his Deputy Chief of Training. He had just become the Chief and the department was in a bad way, as it had been run by the police chief for over 15 years. Members quit, training was lacking, and the poor leadership was affecting all. It has been an incredible journey working with these dedicated men and women rebuilding us into once again a fine and capable department.
2. Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor
Early on as I became more knowledgeable, I offered to my VFD to share what I was learning. The focus at the time was FFI/II basic skills. Eventually I became the Training Officer. A lot of the old timers did not like it, they were "all set" but the newer and younger members wanted to learn and develop strong capabilities. This inspired me to share and share all I could. In the early 1990's the Massachusetts Fire Academy recruited me to a apply for an instructor position. I took the required classes, exams and hand on testing and went to work for them for about 15 years. While there I met my soon to be mentor or as I called him my "fire service dad". His name was Jack Peltier. Jack was a retired Asst Chief from Marlboro, MA. He was Yoda to my Luke Skywalker! Every time we were together, I was learning. As my knowledge increased, he made me recognize that I had a gift for training. He said it was not only my knowledge but also how I delivered every class with such passion that the students had no option but to learn! I have been training for about 35 years now and it still is fun and very rewarding. What better motivation does one need than to know that their teaching skills are making a difference, and as long as I can continue to make that difference, I will continue to teach.
3. What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that
I would like to share more of what I have done and continue to do. I feel it is of more benefit. To begin with, training is the most important thing we do! It prepares up, keeps us safer and makes a difference when called to action. When we train our volunteers, we need to keep a few things in mind. First off, don’t waste their time. Begin on time, not "about" or "a little late", etc. We all have crazy schedules and family obligations today. Acknowledge their importance and worth by not wasting their time. Secondly make sure the instructors are well versed in whatever they are teaching and are well versed in how to successfully teach and present. Not all are capable and that reflects in how the students learn and retain. To get people to buy in and become truly dedicated to training it has to be worthwhile, well delivered, appropriate to what is needed and also it should be fun! Yes FUN! People are giving of their time and family to be a member, it should have some fun elements to it!
4. Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career
First off, I have recently been announced as the 2022 recipient of the George D Post Fire Service Instructor of the Year by Fire Engineering and the ISFSI! This is huge!! It appears I am the first Volunteer ever. Many others started as volunteers but were career members when they received the honor. I accept this award in the name of all Volunteers who are dedicated to training! The presentation will be at the FDIC this April.
I am the Author of 2 fire service books, Managing Risk in the Volunteer Fire Service (Fire Engineering Books, and Rapid Intervention Crews (Jones and Bartlett). Both are great books and written so that everyone can learn from them. No complexity, no intellectualism, just good straight forward training.
As for a training accomplishment I have always operated under the premise that no one should ever be denied quality training. In 2 separate instances I was approached by Fire Chiefs and asked if I could produce a full Firefighter I/II program that would prepare their firefighters for ProBoard certification. I thought it through, figured out what it would take, ensured capable instructors, and developed a price that was fair to all. It both cases it was highly successful! The 2 locations were Cheshire, MA and Oak Bluffs, MA. Note that Oak Bluffs is on the island of Martha's Vineyard. No access except for ferry or boat! Both of these classes were almost 200 hours each. Most people would see nothing but obstacles, I saw an opportunity to help my volunteer community with training they needed and were being denied.
5. What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor
Continue to train as many firefighters as I can and to instill within them the proper attitudes about training and reducing their risk exposures.
My biggest focus these days is Volunteer Officer Training and Risk Management training. Risk management for the volunteer fire service is an important subject that all need to learn. I have been going around conducting seminars on this topic and it is being received very well! I am determined to spread this message and understanding risk can save lives.
5a. When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by
He truly cared about us and our training!
6. What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started
Well first off, I think training is the true constant in life. Change is always going to happen. Today's changes are more technology based and that is something our young members get and us old-timers (like me!) perhaps struggle with! Change for me was things like Nomex and PBI gear, bunker pants v. Pull up boots, hoods, Required SCBA use, PASS devices and it goes on and on. All things that today no one would question, but in my day, it was like our hair was set on fire, LOL!
7. What is something that most people don’t know about you
I love 60's rock (the real stuff, Hendrix, the Doors, Cream, Credence, Ten Years After, Beatles, Stones, etc. (can go on and on!!) and I am a HUGE fan of the Blues!
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
TEACHER. I am a teacher not an instructor. Instructors tell you how and what to do. Teachers inspire you, explain why, make sure you understand and help and nurture you to develop into what you want to be.
9. And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor
Take your position as a very serious one. You basically hold that student’s life in your hands. Your message, your attitude and your capabilities will directly reflect and affect the firefighters. Learn to inspire. Remember that enthusiasm is contagious, so share it!