Member Spotlight: John Foster

Tell us about yourself.
My name is John Foster and I am just getting started in my career in fire service instruction. I have been a fire fighter for about seven years. I started my career by participating in a volunteer academy at the Big Sky Fire Department. I remember taking Thursdays off from being a carpenter to take part in drills and learn from the training officer at the department, Seth Barker. Some of my earliest memories in the fire service include me dropping my tools bags to get to the station and help on calls. From early on I remember wanting more training and experience. Shortly after this I got a job working at a local private fire brigade. It was there that I first was able to bring back information from trainings I attended on my days off and pass it along to the guys on my shift. To see eager minds seeking out new ways to solve problems was eye opening to me. I worked hard from their to get a career position at the Big Sky Fire Department where I was still volunteering. In 2013 this became a reality. Most of my instruction experience has been informal up to this point, but I am looking forward to more instructional opportunities in the future.

Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor?

My inspiration in the fire instruction come from many places. Our fire training officer Seth Barker has set the bar very high in our organization. Along with this I have been passionate about teaching my whole life. I have spent time as an instructor of several different musical instruments and skiing as well. My point of highest inspiration always come from that moment when the student gets it. It's like a little light goes off behind their eyes and all of a sudden they completely submerge themselves in the topic. With beginner students in music you almost always have to hound them to practice, then one week, they come in with some materials they found on their own. It's like you have lit a fire in them.

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

Our department has been lacking in a fixed training facility since its inception. We get by with training at our stations, though the wear and tear on this is fairly high. Occasionally we have had a mobile facility from the state of Montana that we have been able to train in, but those times are rare. I have been working over the past several years on creating a training facility for our department. This has changed several times and has taught me to stay fluid throughout the process. If we were able to create a fixed facility I think that would be a great legacy to leave my fire department. Another thing I have learned from this process is to persevere. The times I have backed off working on this, it either becomes stagnant and gets forgotten or gets molded into something that isn't as useful to the department. Another project I am working on is developing a building construction course directly aimed at my department. We protect a resort community and it isn't uncommon to find a 5,000 square foot single family residences. It is also common to find steel homes made to look wood and wood homes made to look steel. I believe there is strong opportunity to discuss the specific challenges formed by such an area.

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

The thing that most people don't know about me is that I want to start a Montana pipe and drums group. As a state small in population and small in total fire fighters (around 620 or so), we don't have a group that is available for honor guard duty. I have always had a large interest in music and look forward to learning the bagpipes, though I'm guessing my neighbors aren't as excited.

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

I have never been a person that is too concerned about my legacy, though maybe that will change as I get a little older. I want to be remembered as someone who did the right thing, worked hard and was all in all a good person.

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

I feel like this is a bit of canned answer, but the biggest change I have noticed has been the prevalence of technology. I think we all knew that technology would become a factor in the fire service, but it seems like it moved quicker than anyone thought it would. What is available in online training has gone from some youtube videos on hose lays to several large training and training tracking software systems. This leaves instructors with a directive that they must embrace upcoming technology or get left behind.

What advice would I give to other instructors?

I feel as though I am eager to read this answer as told by people with more experience than I, though I will share what has been on my mind lately. Don't hesitate. I have dragged my feet for a long time waiting to jump into instruction. I have known that I have a lot to add to fire service in both my attitude and general knowledge but I have waited to get serious for random reasons. Maybe part of it has been that we already have a robust training program at my department. Maybe it has been that as an introvert in a sea of extroverts I didn't want to speak up. What ever it was, I wish I could go back and tell myself from the beginning to not hesitate and to jump in right away. No more hesitation.

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