Recently I had the opportunity to attend research tests conducted by UL. As Director Kerber and his crew conducted multiple fire tests, the crowd of firefighters from across the country mingled sharing stories and asking questions as they witnessed the research being conducted. It was very honoring and rewarding to share the day with fire service professionals and it was awesome that they all took the time to come witness the research process. With that said, there was one significant observation that hit me like a ton of bricks: we (the American Fire Service) are under attack with Data and Training Sources. The attack of all the information and training sources is not a bad thing, but what I noticed was, we as a fire service are struggling to identify, qualify and utilize all the training sources available. My visit spurred this article which will focus on identifying training sources, how to qualify the source and utilizing the information to improve your training programs.
A recent Google search of fire training resulted in over 26,000 sites that provided some sort of fire training. Wow, 26,000 sites; how do we process all that information? As most of you have probably recognized there are no shortages of internet experts in the fire service. There has been an explosion of new training resources through social media, YouTube, podcasts and web pages. This isn’t a bad thing at all; these instructors are passionate about the fire service and want to share their experiences, opinions and knowledge with us. The first question I have is, “WHY”? What has caused the explosion of new fire training experts? Have local, state, and national training organizations failed to meet the needs of today’s fire service? Are the traditional training programs under siege similar to the taxi cab industry? (UBER and LIFT caught the traditional taxi cab companies off guard by providing what today’s society wanted and needed in transportation.) If you look at your own training program, your state training program and the national training programs, have you evolved to meet the needs of your organization or are state and national programs outdated? (Some of those programs need to continue.) I don’t have the answer to the question of “Why” the explosion in sources. My solution is “How”. How do we identify what sources to follow and utilize. The system that I use, consist of three questions:
- Complete your own research on the instructor. Does the instructor utilize their teachings in their department?
- Is the training information peer reviewed or vetted through research. Or is it just opinion of the instructor? We all have opinions, so opinions must be vetted by our peers with data and factual research.
- Does the training source fit your organizational values, culture and needs? There are differences in the needs of organization based on the community, resources and threats. Make sure the source you are utilizing fits your organization.
These three questions are not the solution, but one system to help you weed through the volumes of sources found. Just taking an instructional class because it’s cool, sexy, or appealing is neglect. Do the work to make sure the information fits your individual, organizational values and culture. It is easy to focus only on the “cool” stuff, although the cools stuff is fun it might not be what will benefit your organization and community the most. There are different training needs based on the size of your organization, resources available and type of community. The tactics and training that large organizations conduct are heavily based on resources, staffing and their community. Smaller organizations can’t conduct the same training or operations simply due to staffing and resources. However, this doesn’t make smaller organizations weaker or less effective, they just need to train within their capability. Identifying training sources that fit their capabilities is imperative.
During our visit, one of the questions asked was “where can I locate the data and research results?”. Although it was impressive to see all the professionals attending the training (hats off to them for taking the time), I was shocked that a vast majority were unaware of the vast amounts of data and research that has been produced in the fire service over the last 30 years, in particular the volumes of data that UL and NIST has produced in the past 15 years. With that said, obviously if you are reading this article you are a member of ISFSI and you are most likely in the small percentage of the fire service that has read or is aware of the research available. The challenge to us as ISFSI members is to share our sources and to connect more members to ISFSI and other organizations. Here are a few key sources for fire dynamics that all of us should share within our region and organizations:
These are all great sources to further educate your organization and region on fire dynamics and fire behavior. Our fight has changed and so should or training and training sources. Just a note, published training manuals are struggling to keep up with the ever changing data and research associated with our profession. The websites above are updated regularly as new data and information is produced.
The next question is how to effectively utilize all the information. This is more challenging than it sounds and to fully develop a plan on how to implement or utilize all the new data and sources would take a lot longer than this article would allow. However, there are a few key things that we have found that aided us in implementing the new stuff.
- Assess what is working for your organization today and what is not working. Caution, it is easy to think everything is ok or everything is broken. Be honest in your assessment and ask your members or community to help.
- Once you identify your needs match the needs with similar organizations and build a relationship with other organizations to see what they are doing. To find other similar organizations I suggest stepping out of your local neighborhood and reach out to organizations in other states. Search the internet, the fire magazines and social media to find progressive similar organizations. Note: Be smart with who you study, find organizations similar in size, resource and community.
- Identify qualified training programs, instructors and information that meet your needs. Focusing on high rise operations in a community with one five story building would not be cost or time beneficial for you, the organization or staffing; it might be cool and fun, but not time effective.
- Truly create a culture of open minded thinking firefighters that are willing to learn new things. My suggestions on how to do this is:
- Recognize the need to evolve
- Create the vision of why and how
- Involve both the informal and formal leaders
- Stay committed and dedicated to the vision
- Review the effectiveness
- Start slow and take small bites at the new stuff…. My suggestion here is maybe take one category. Example, you have had a recent increase in attic fires, utilize the UL attic study and assess your tactical operations and implement the study in new tactical operations. Creating a successful change will assist you in evolving and incorporating other training resources.
- Stay consistent and ask for help from leaders from across the country. Build your support network through relationships with leaders of the research or key instructors that have gone through the battle.
The impact of the volume of fire training sources is daunting. Don’t be afraid to seek new information and validate the sources available to you. The worst you can do is nothing at all. It is an exciting time in the American Fire Service; embrace the opportunity to positively impact your training because that impact will affect your firefighter safety and service to your community.