The Power of the Training Officer

Most training officers begin their teaching career with the desire to help their fellow firefighters get better. You probably got into the fire service to help others and teaching becomes a natural extension of the ‘help others’ mindset. Most of us take a path starting as a novice, achieve some measure of technical competence, then see some shortfall in the general skill-set or otherwise spot an opportunity to help someone get better. Maybe you started by helping the probationary firefighter who came on just after you. Maybe an officer saw something in you and challenged you to lead a drill. Eventually these opportunities led you to the decision to making teaching others part of your fire service path. So now you are teaching others and it’s time to recognize, accept, and embrace the power you have as a training officer. 

Let me tell you about the impact a training officer had on me when I began my career with the Seattle Fire Department.  During my hose & ladder training, I had great instructors; however, one particular engine training officer had a monumental impact on my learning experience during the academy. Over the course of eight weeks, I was able to demonstrate competence in the tasks of stretching a hose from an apparatus to a target objective, calling for water, and advancing the hose into the training tower. All of this occurred on bright shiny days with a concrete floor and full visibility. When the class transitioned to live fire training at the state academy, we each had our turn to make a fire attack. Now this was just a four-pallet fire in a concrete burn building, but the dynamics were significantly different from my point of view. Having never had the smoke, the heat, and the high expectations all resting on my shoulders at the same time I was apprehensive about what would happen. Did I have the skill? Would I get injured? Would my partner be ok? All of these questions and uncertainties were running through my mind. It seemed impossible to focus on what I was supposed to do. 

What happened next was a piece of instructional mastery. As we started down the hallway with the instructor right next to me, he said, “I’ll be right here.”  Now this may seem a small thing, but, throughout the course of training, he repeated those same words every time I advanced a hose line on the training ground. That simple statement provided me the confidence level that I needed in order to perform the evolution.  My body did the same thing it had done dozens of times on the drill ground. I opened the line, moved forward while flowing, and made my way into the fire compartment. As soon as I was there, my fellow recruit partner, broke off and completed the vent and search evolution and in that moment,  I transitioned from being a civilian to a firefighter. I owe that transition, and the opportunities that followed, to the power of that engine training instructor. 

What I recognize now, as an instructor, is the brilliance, dedication, and foresight of my drill school Lieutenant. He was there every time I made a fire attack on the training ground, and with every member of the team. He constantly fed us information as well as assuring us, “I’ll be right here”. Using those exact words every time. He built our skill-set while, at the same time, preparing us for that one moment, in the hallway, in the smoke, in the heat, when he knew we would experience doubt. He used his power as an instructor to set the stage for a simple phrase to give me, and each of us, the confidence to make that fire attack successfully.That, right there, is the power of the instructor. The power you hold to see the future of your students. To understand the impact that the knowledge, skills, and abilities you are providing today will help them provide excellent service tomorrow. You are teaching them how to save the lives of others. You are probably teaching them how to save their own life in a mayday situation. It doesn’t matter what you are teaching you have the power to influence the outcome for others. That is why we do it. That is what the call to be a teacher is. 

Recognize that the power you have as an instructor requires that you dedicate yourself to mastering the craft associated with the profession, and the science of effective instructional delivery. As part of your professional development, complete an instructor development class (Instructor I & II. Learn to teach live fire according to the NFPA 1403 standard. Watch how other instructors approach their craft and take note of both the positive and negative aspects of their teaching. Discuss teaching approaches, demonstration approaches, how to incorporate a new video, new skill, or new idea in a positive way. Spend time every day honing your craft as an instructor, so you are ready to use your power for good and create a positive outcome for your students. You are teaching the future of the fire service. You have the power of the instructor. Be a great instructor and wield that power for the good of the profession.

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