Considerations When Implementing a Mandatory Training Program

By Cameron McCamley posted 02-28-2024 12:00


As instructors, we are always looking ahead and most of us are currently planning for the next calendar year's training cycle. Occasionally instructors are tasked with developing and implementing a training program department wide. While developing the topic and determining the training requirements are straightforward, several unforeseen pitfalls such as time, logistical concerns, and cost need to be examined beforehand to ensure the training is successful and the costs incurred are within the budgeted amount.

Each fire organization and employee is different. The time requirements for an instructor-led class vary based upon the complexity of the training, the existing knowledge of the topic, and the requirements of the class. These factors will determine how the instructor will need to break up a class to achieve maximum learning, hands-on skills, and any written tests. If conducting a training session with on-duty staff, the number of department stations, personnel on duty, and the geographical size of your jurisdiction will play a significant part in determining the time required to complete a single, or multiple, training evolutions. With these items in mind, an instructor may need to break up a single drill into several smaller sequences. This method allows for a singular task or tactic review and practice, however, breaking a training evolution into small pieces does have a distinct disadvantage of needing multiple practice sessions to achieve the desired training result and several shifts may be required to achieve the desired level of competency.

Furthermore, special attention needs to be focused on the location of the training. The location of hands-on evolutions has the potential to play a significant role in travel time, units out of service, and the logistical needs of the agency to continually provide response capabilities. If in-service units and equipment are involved in the training, instructors may need to consider delayed response times. This situation can be somewhat mitigated, however, by using units and equipment not needed for a daily response. The best-case scenario is to bring in one or several off-duty companies to provide the daily emergency response during the duration of the training. This will allow the training to continue while minimally impacting daily operations, however, there will be a cost with this option that will potentially impact the amount of training dollars available.

The costs of a training session are one of the biggest concerns for both fire administration and training staff. Typically, employee training costs are determined by looking at an employee's overtime rate and estimating how many hours the class will take per employee. However, these initial figures can be inaccurate, and instructors need to make a concerted effort to have accurate cost estimates. Training staff should begin each training cycle with a thorough review of training compensation contractual language in the agency Collective Bargaining Agreement. Instructors will need to investigate and determine contractual or policy language that affects compensation for the training program. This specific language will determine if personnel attending will receive overtime, straight time, comp time, or another compensation mechanism. Compensation can also change for personnel attending training versus the instructors conducting the training. These compensation differences can be a substantial cost or savings for the training based upon specific FLSA language agreed upon in a Collective Bargaining Agreement. Training staff should also investigate any new certification pay for personnel who successfully complete the training along with the costs of certification renewal. These two areas will be an ongoing cost for the agency to maintain the certification and personnel proficiency.

The above consideration of time, logistics, and cost can potentially make or break a training program's success. A complete time, logistics, and cost assessment will empower the training instructor with the best information possible when presenting a class idea to the Fire Chief or Training Chief. While the list and ideas above are not all inclusive, these are areas I have struggled with previously as an instructor. I hope identifying some of these will be of value to future fire services instructors.