Firefighter safety and competency is predicated on many important factors—proper equipment, relevant resources, proper staffing levels, cognitive acquisition, and sufficient psychomotor/hands on training to master the abundance of task level skills firefighters are required to perform for successful hazard zone management. All are inter-dependent with control varying from the company officer to city/county officials who control the allocation of financial resources to the fire department.
High performing company officers ensure crew success by ensuring education and training takes place continuously at the company level. Some describe this as a bottom-driven strategy to firefighter success. This approach is used often in fire departments.
A second strategy that leads to firefighter safety and competency involves a middle- down approach. This strategy relies on the intense involvement of the battalion chief to assist in orchestrating training, and education. When this strategy is taken, it ensures that all members across all battalions/shifts within an organization receive some level of continuous training/education in order to perform his/her expected duties.
The middle down strategy results from a number of approaches. The approach that the author of this article uses is one that is based on collaboration, and a keen focus on basic firefighter skills that are commonly executed in the hazard zone.
The collaboration part requires involvement by the company officers, and his/her crew. Company officers seek input from their subordinates on drill/exercise types that can be incorporated into both company and battalion level training. The author facilitates battalion training monthly on weekends. Company officers are expected to provide training and education at minimum during shifts that fall on weekdays.
The second component involves an assessment of potential hazard types in a particular battalion. This assessment encompasses structure types, and specialty resources that are part of the battalion. The author works in a “downtown” battalion that encompasses all types of structures from single-family dwellings to high-rise structures. The battalion also includes a port, above/below grade train system, wildland/urban interface, and a rail system transporting both people and a multitude of commodities daily with an origination point at farthest end (port hub) of the battalion.
The third and final component involves a review of trends and salient topics associated with the profession. These trends and topics revolve around health issues in the fire service (Cancer, and PTSD), modern fire-behavior research, latest trends in building construction, and recently released LODD reports. Articles and reports are sent to company officers at the beginning of each month. During roll call, company officers are expected to hold short discussion sessions on a given report/article.
As company and chief officers, it is our responsibility to ensure our people are properly prepared to carry out their responsibilities as professional firefighters. This is not the responsibility of the fire chief, mayor, or city council! Start with a plan, expect some resistance; however, stay focused on the mission and always explain the “why.” At the very minimum, newer and engaged firefighters will appreciate you looking out for their well being and professional development.