1. Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service
My name is Norm Bemis, and I am the newly promoted Training Chief for the Palatine Fire Department. Palatine is a suburb 30 minutes northwest of Chicago. I started with Palatine Fire in December of 1998. Before that, I had served two years with the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District. Before my fire career, I served in the US Coast Guard.
With Palatine, I have served as a firefighter, dive team member, Union President, Lieutenant, and soon to be promoted to Division Chief of Training. My father also served for the Palatine Fire Department, which fueled my desire to join the fire service. I had the pleasure of starting on the department and working with many who had served with my Dad. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to serve in the same department that I grew up in.
2. Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor?
I have drawn my inspiration from many different influences throughout my career. The first inspiration I had was my first Lieutenant that I was assigned to at PFD. His focus was always on making us better as a company and making me better as a firefighter. His approach to leading was that of a player-coach. He inspired the learning process in all of us within his company, and I have since modeled my leadership and teaching styles after him.
Additionally, my inspiration to become a fire instructor came from a desire to be a better firefighter and company officer myself. Teaching others allowed me to learn more about the job and take away knowledge from those that I was instructing. Being an instructor enables me to see and learn from others in the course of teaching. Instructing is an amazing conduit for passing on knowledge and skills and acquiring the same from others.
Lastly, I have had the privilege of getting to know and learn from Chief Van Dorpe. He has been a fantastic resource for me and ultimately inspired me to become part of this great organization.
3. What are some things you are working on in your department, and how can others learn from that?
Being that I am a brand-new Training Officer, I am still very much evaluating our needs within the PFD. However, I have focused on reinforcing our perishable skills through drills, deliverables within our learning management system, and bayfloor conversations with my members. Palatine is a very aggressive and proactive fire department with a strong interest in training. I am utilizing that and focusing our training on basic fireground skills, size-ups, tactical discussions, and company officer drills. I believe in reinforcing the foundational skills set and building our training off of that foundation.
4. Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career
Again, being brand new to the training officer position, I am looking forward to answering this question with a larger organizational accomplishment. However, I am very proud of my success as a company officer, the influence I had on each member of my companies in their development, and my achievements in building teams. I am looking to utilize these qualities I demonstrated at the company officer level in influencing my department on a larger scale.
5. What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor?
I am very much looking forward to reaching more members within my organization and influencing how the members of my department carry out their mission on the street. Additionally, I am looking forward to learning from the members of my department and utilizing all the skills and knowledge available to me to develop and deliver quality and impactful training to my department.
a. When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by?
When the time comes for me to step away from the PFD, my hope is that past, present, and future members of my department feel I was a good steward of our traditions and mission, and the influence I had in the training division provided them with the knowledge and skills to be better firefighters.
6. What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started?
The most significant change I have seen in the fire service is the emphasis and advancements in firefighter health and safety. The focus and attention that has been given to our overall well-being, whether we are responding to and operating on the fireground to our overall health, is a welcome and needed change. The attention that has been given to firefighters' mental health has also been a long-needed change and one that will help first responders with their well-being.
7. What is something that most people don’t know about you?
The one thing that most people do not know about me is my hobby of illustrating and design. As a teen, I had a published comic strip for my school paper. I also designed and made t-shirts to give to family and friends.
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?
Mentor. The greatest satisfaction I have had through my career is mentoring those I was assigned with. It didn't matter if they were newer members or more senior. Guiding others and passing on what I know in the fire service is a very satisfying role.
9. And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor
Again, being a new training officer, I am certainly looking to this group for the same advice. However, I would say that maintaining the ability to listen is an essential trait for an instructor. Listening to feedback will help you as an instructor move your program along and make the necessary improvements to ensure relevance for the skills and topics you deliver.