Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service
My name is Tina Cook, I am the Fire & EMS Education Specialist at HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College). I have been a volunteer fire fighter for 24 years and got into the fire service because many of my friends were members of the local departments. I am a local level suppression instructor and an adjunct suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. My husband (who is a fire fighter) and I have been married for 18 years, and am lucky to be the step mom of two amazing (and tall) boys, who are 19 and 23, both of whom have joined the fire service!
Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor?
During my 88 hour Essentials of Fire Fighting program, the lead instructor ‘Jim’ was the kind of instructor who made sure to know student’s names and who invested himself in his classes. He didn’t care about a paycheck. He was always willing to spend extra time with groups of students before or after class to answer questions or review skills. I have known a lot of amazing instructors, but he was the one early on who made the impression and made me want to be that kind of instructor.
What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that?
Right now, our department is not really doing much training. Some of it is due to covid, some of it is just the dept. not wanting to put too much extra pressure on the members and their time. I am the only instructor in the dept. (one of four instructors in the entire county), so I am working with the Chief and Asst. Chief on ways to start doing training both onsite and offsite more frequently. Since I just moved to the area about six months ago, I am definitely a newbie to rural operations, so I am using that as a reason to get out and train with me!
Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career
Prior to coming to work for HACC, I was the Fire and Life Safety Manager for the US Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh for ten years. When I first started, the building had 70+ tenants over 8,000 people onsite daily. One of my responsibilities was Floor Warden training of building tenants. All of our training used to be in-person, every year, twice a year. The people who wanted to be there were there and were committed, but it was a lot of time. About five years ago, I converted our Floor Warden training to a blended format and put everything on CourseSites which allowed my Floor Wardens the option of total traditional training OR they could watch videos of the training and take their quiz online at their own pace, and then come to class with questions, and for the information about the upcoming building drill. This was very successful and adopted by other buildings in town.
What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor?
I want to be a good fire instructor. I want to be the kind of instructor that other instructors want to work with, and who students want to learn from. I want to be helpful and make sure all are included. When I came up through the fire service in the late 90s, there were people that didn’t think I (female) belonged, and some instructors and students made that clear. I don’t want anyone to feel that way. There is room for everyone, in some capacity, in the volunteer fire service.
When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by?
I want them to remember that I pushed them to be what I knew they could even when they didn’t believe it.
What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started?
People are more accepting of those that do not look and think like they do.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I LOVE to fish. Moving out east, there is a lot of river fishing (not lake / pond), so I am learning all over again!
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?
Fire fighters and newer instructors will occasionally call me a mentor. My mentors have been some amazing people, and I don’t see myself as someone qualified enough to have that title yet. I just try to do the right thing and help those who ask. So I guess I’ll choose helper.
And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor?
To the newer instructors, this is not easy. You need to be ready for anything! You must give 200%. When a student comes to you for something, they are trusting you and your answers – give good answers! Sometimes you have to do things that are tough, it sucks, but do the right thing! IT IS WORTH IT!!