Member Spotlight: Chris Velzen

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Chris Velzen. I am a career fire Lieutenant with the City of Wyoming Public Safety Fire Division, Wyoming, Michigan. I am entering my 23rd year full time with the City of Wyoming and fifth year as a Lieutenant. I am a third generation firefighter in the City of Wyoming. I had the pleasure of working with my dad full time before he passed away from cancer in 2008. I am married to my wife Jenn of 21 years and together we raise five children (boy, four girls).

Who or what inspired you as a fire instructor?

My first fire lieutenant was an active fire instructor in who knew his subject matter, receptive to questions, and desired his students to excel. I attended enough classes early in my career from bad instructors, convincing me that I could present the same curriculum in a more professional manner.

What are some of the things you are working on in your department and how others might learn from that?

Our Department desires to start up business safety inspections by on duty fire personnel. I am collaborating with City fire inspection, IT, Clerk, and PD staff on a centralized database of business information. This information can then be updated through business license registration, safety inspection, fire report, police report, etc and placed on CAD for public safety access. This information will also tie into FD RMS for fire reports.

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

Myself and other members of our department created a FD field training manual in 2014. This manual involves 41 basic fire skills according to the department’s operation. Since it inception, personnel must show proficiency on an annual basis of specific skills as chosen by the department leadership. Our personnel now have no excuse for knowing basic skills for our operation. The manual is constantly being scrutinized and changed as time continues.

What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor?

My goal in instructing is teaching firefighters the basic curriculum as well as emphasizing the on-going changes through scientific research, online videos, my career experiences, and LODD reports.

When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by?

I want people to remember me as a person who tried to balance family and work, but when he worked, he gave 110%. I want people to see me as one who desired to learn, pass that knowledge to others, and one who accepted criticism and learned from his own mistakes.

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

The opportunity to visually see and learn about different aspects of the fire service through the internet. About the time I was becoming a fire instructor in 2005, use of the internet for fire service application was beginning. I watched, read, and learned from the use of online information. I still do to this day.

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

Enjoy coaching my girls in softball and watching them compete in high school sports. Skiing is still a hobby. Competed in a few endurance tournaments 10 yrs ago. Camping with family out west in national parks is also a family favorite. Glacier NP is my favorite.

What advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor?

Find out in your Department or area who participates with a fire academy. Begin to observe and learn from the instructor(s) who look at their audience, don’t read the material on the screen, who limit the use of phrases like, “ah, um, like, such as, obviously,” and finally teach you something new every time. I did not start teaching till my 10th year and that gave me a good foundation of experience to draw on for examples relating to the curriculum.


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