No Exceptions Leadership for the Fire Service Instructor

When I developed this class, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of the uses it would have for the fire service instructor or training officer. After taking the time to consider the parallels of general fire service leadership that might apply to the company or chief officer, I realized that the philosophies were just as relevant to the fire instructor and training officer.

Just like any other leadership position in the fire department, training officers and instructors play a critical role in the development of its members and can have an incredible influence on the direction of the department as a whole.  With sound decision making and providing a clear direction, the training officer and instructor will bring the best out of firefighters.

As utopian as that all sounds, it’s far from easy or comfortable.  The challenges that company and chief officers face on a day-to-day basis are the same ones that training officers and instructors face when trying to implement programs and curriculums in their respective departments.  There is nothing easy about leading people with differing ideas and motivations.  But, there are a few steps that can be taken to ease the frustrations and to get the most of your members.

The first thing that needs to happen is the setting of expectations. For the company officer that should be what and how we do daily; how we expect our members to meet and interact with the public; how we expect them to look and present themselves; and how we expect them to carry out tasks and direction.  These are all a part of setting expectations. Sharing these is the easy part, enforcing and offering consequences for not doing so is the hard part.

As a chief officer, I took all of these expectations and grouped them into five simple expectations that encompasses everything we do and how we do it.  These can easily be translated over to the training division or to the fire instructor with no problem.

Be Professional
This is simple but we frequently see things get “loose” on the training and drill ground.  Require a level of professionalism that you set the example for. It’s fine to have fun, but when actions and inactions reduce the effectiveness of the content and delivery—that is a problem.  The fire instructor or training officer must be professional enough to stop actions and to keep things moving.

Look professional and kept, and keep in mind there is always somebody watching, whether the members or the public.  Your language and appearance matters; what you don’t require of yourself will be difficult to require of your members and students.

Be Constructive
Never demean or humiliate members and students; yelling and screaming does not solve or fix whatever problem you’re dealing with.  Trust me, the person you’re making feel bad is not suddenly going to have things “click” because you’re screaming and demeaning them.  They probably feel bad enough.

If you need to make a big impression, think about responding instead of reacting. Responding takes consideration and thoughtfulness.  Reacting is typically emotional and not a well thought out response, that may cause you to have regrets. Additionally, reacting can create more problems than what you started with.

Be Productive
Solve problems; don’t wait for somebody else to deal with your issues or those of a class that isn’t going so well. Find ways to get things done. As a fire instructor and training officer this means putting in the time to make your classes and training sessions relative.  You must keep the classes and drills to the point and on topic.

When you make session a certain number of hours just to meet time requirements, the content typically falls short.  Build your programs to be efficient and productive by building courses and drills based on content and desired outcomes. Don’t waste the time of others just to get a number on a check box.

Be Generous
How this applies to the fire instructor and training officer is no different from the company officer or chief officer.

  • Give your time; don’t put off others with questions or someone who needs extra time.
  • Share your knowledge and experience; your challenges especially are important to share. It is arguable that your challenges are more important to share to learn from than your successes.
  • Share what you learn from classes or other instructors.

Be Aggressive
This is simple—push the envelope a little in a way that will challenge your students and members. Do something different that is not contemporary, if it has value. Create some competition between shifts, houses or crews in a fun, productive way that will create some pride.

The more aggressive you are with your training, the more aggressive your crews will be. 

In the end, set expectations and be the example.  Keep in mind what your job is---to make those around you better—sometimes at your expense.

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