1. Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service
My name is Michael McLeieer and I have been in the fire service for over 25 years. I decided to join the fire service in 1995 after I was informed high numbers of children were dying in home fires. The key reason for the deaths was due to children often panic during fire and smoke conditions or when they hear the sound of the smoke alarm. Children would hide from the fire (and the firefighters) and often were found deceased under the bed, in the closet or in the shower or bathtub. During Fire Prevention Week of 1995, I also founded a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity called E.S.C.A.P.E. Inc. (Education Showing Children and Adults Procedures for Evacuations) as a means to provide age and developmentally appropriate public education primarily to school-age children about the dangers of home fires. This education was designed to empower children to discuss fire safety with their caregivers at home and taught them to Get Out and Stay Out during fire or smoke conditions, create and practice their escape plan and go outside to their meeting place (a tree, sidewalk, neighbors house, etc.). At that time, there were few fire prevention programs in Michigan within small to medium size fire departments. Today, the curriculum we use follows Common Core standards which makes it easier for us to schedule time in the classroom and collaborate with educators to expand our fire safety outreach messaging. E.S.C.A.P.E. has educated over one million children and has a 98% success rate with the program where participants (adults and children) respond correctly during emergency situations.
2. Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor
In 1998, I joined the ISFSI and was inspired to be a fire service instructor because I found there was a disconnect in the delivery of information to our firefighters. While working with children and through the collaboration with educators, I learned about an Individualized Education Program. This written document was the standard in Michigan and most other states for students with disabilities ages 3 through 25. It outlined the student’s educational needs, goals and connected available resources. I found some adult firefighters struggle with traditional instructional methods and it caused them to not be successful in their fire academy or through additional professional development. I used my background as an early childhood educator to find the best ways to connect the message and delivery style with adult learners for the classes I teach in Michigan, Massachusetts, for Kean University / the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, at FDIC or at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
3. What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that
I started in the Michigan fire service in 1995. In 2000, I was hired by the Merrimac (MA) Fire Department as a firefighter and the director of community risk reduction from 2000 – 2018 (when I retired). While I was on the department, I also became a training coordinator for the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in Stow. My goal is to always learn new techniques and share the knowledge with others. The next generations deserve to learn from our experiences and knowledge in order to remain safe and injury free.
4. Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career
The most significant accomplishment in my career was to bring 47 communities together made up of firefighters, educators, clinicians, juvenile justice representatives, and mental health professionals to assist in the development of a multi-disciplinary collaboration to reduce and eliminate youth set fires in Western Massachusetts. This initiative began around 2010 and is still in existence and has continued to grow over the years.
5. What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor
My goal as a fire service instructor is to educate, empower and inform others so they can reach their fullest potential. It’s very rewarding when that recruit or tenured firefighter who is struggling through a topic or course is able to understand the outcomes and successfully complete what they set out to learn.
5a. When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by
When I am gone, I would like to be remembered as that person who was able to connect needs and resources together and get things done. Too often, we come across people who are great talkers but don’t have what it takes to step in, advocate, build a team of stakeholders and be a change agent. As a fire service instructor, we are always a role model and in the view of others. Always maintain integrity, honesty, respect for others and model caring and compassionate behavior.
6. What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started
The biggest change I have noticed in the fire service since I started in 1995 is the focus on professional development and increased training standards. Gone are the days of “tailboard education” where firefighters learn all of their basic skills on the job, and not through formal instruction at a fire academy. While online learning platforms have their place, it is still essential that we have in-person training, instruction and evaluation of skills. Today, firefighters are much more willing to help recruits be successful.
7. What is something that most people don’t know about you
Something others may not know about me. I’m an avid off roader (I love anything to do with trucks and quads mudbogging). When I’m not teaching, I’m out riding my Can Am XMR 850 Outlander 4x4 quad. I also work in broadcast television as the fire safety expert for a few Michigan TV stations.
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 I could choose my title that uniquely describes me in my position, it would be Fire Service Advocate. We must continue to stand up for what is right, all the time. Too often, I see people who are afraid to speak up when things are wrong or fail to do the right thing every time (even when no one is looking). Continue to build relationships (both internal and external stakeholders), reach out to informal leaders for advice and support and when it’s time to make changes, it’s more effective speaking from a unified perspective (multiple voices supporting the same cause, policy change, etc.). Get actively involved in state and national organizations like ISFSI. Keep an open mind, be respectful and accept and adapt to change.
9. And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor
My advice for other instructors is to remain humble and professional at all times. You have the ability to influence others in a positive way. You are there to facilitate information and get the learners to think of different strategies and tactics, not to tell war stories or pat yourself on the back. Be respectful of your audience’s time. Don’t waste it. Make every second count!