Tell us about yourself and why you decided to join the fire service.
My name is Nathan Hollway, and I am the Assistant Chief of Training for Fort Walker Garrison Fire and Emergency Services, a United States Army Installation Fire Department near Bowling Green, Virginia. I joined the fire service in 2000 while enlisted in the United States Air Force and have spent most of my time in the fire service working abroad for or with the Department of Defense.
I grew up in Massachusetts, surrounded by old industrial communities, mainly old textile mills. I remember going to massive fires at old factories with friends and family to watch the local fire departments in action when I was a kid. Everyone in our community knew at least one of the firefighters, so watching them at work was admirable. I believe that’s when the seed was planted in my head that I wanted to be like them. As I entered my teenage years, I participated in many sports with other teenagers who desired a career in public service – either police or fire. Being surrounded by like-minded people at that age solidified my decision to be a firefighter. Many of my childhood friends are still firefighters today.
Who or what has inspired you as a fire instructor.
My first real experience as a fire instructor was in Djibouti, Africa, co-teaching the Firefighter I curriculum to a fantastic group of locals. Their hard work and desire to master the hands-on skills – while learning in their second language – motivated me to be the best instructor I could be, to make them the best firefighters they could be. I still have that motivation today. When I see coworkers trying to better themselves, it drives me to help in any way I can.
What are some things you are working on in your department and how can others learn from that
When I assumed the position of training officer at Fort Walker, I conducted a needs assessment of the training division to try and find any gaps, areas of improvement, or where I could add value. I was brand new to the department when I assumed the position, so I was starting with a clean slate. What I found was an amazing group of talented and dedicated firefighters with an immense amount of institutional knowledge. I was amazed by the amount of experience and information they had about this installation. I made it one of my priorities to capture this information and develop site-specific lesson plans for all topics in this year’s annual training. When I say “site-specific,” I mean detailing all training topic lesson plans to how we operate. It’s a challenging, time-consuming endeavor; however, I have supportive buy-in from the company officers, which has made this effort attainable. I feel site-specific lesson plans will provide the necessary solid training foundation for years.
Tell us about a project or training accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
I was fortunate to be the Accreditation Manager of my previous department, Naval Support Activity Bahrain Fire and Emergency Services, during their inaugural Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) accreditation cycle. The inaugural process took our department over four years to accomplish, but the amount of improvement and professional growth the department achieved was well worth the hard work. The accreditation process taught me a lot about organization and planning, and those attributes have carried over to my current position as a training chief.
What do you hope to accomplish as a fire service instructor
a. When you are gone, what do you want people to remember you by
As a fire service instructor, I aim to better those around me. You don’t fill this position for personal accolades; you fill this position to see others achieve success. That is what I hope to accomplish every day at work.
I want to be remembered as a fire instructor dedicated to all department members, focused on continuous improvement, and enabled personnel to reach their peak performance and capabilities. People rarely remember tangible accomplishments when you’re in certain positions, but they remember how you treated them and how much you cared. Treat people fairly, with courtesy and respect, and your relationships will help you be a better fire instructor.
What is the biggest change you have noticed in the fire service since you started?
The most significant change I’ve witnessed since joining the fire service is the paradigm shift from reading textbooks to electronic learning. The amount of digital firefighting content on the internet is endless and growing and changing by the minute. Additionally, it can be a precarious time we are living in because anyone with a cell phone can quickly provide a listening audience with advice on a topic - that may be misinterpreted. One of the reasons I love ISFSI is that the online continuing education and webinars are well-researched and professionally delivered by instructors with relevant experiences.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I have a large personal library of current and vintage firefighting books and magazines. They are all properly organized and shelved, so I haven’t hit Collyer status yet. Collecting firefighting content has been a hobby of mine since the early 2000s. I enjoy vintage fire magazines to see how the profession has evolved over the years and how things stayed the same.
If you could choose your title (other than the generic Training Officer or Firefighter) that uniquely describes you in your position, what would it be and why
I would choose the title of skills developer and education facilitator. I know that’s a long title, but it accurately describes my position. My role within my department is twofold: to ensure that all members meet mandated training requirements and to confirm that their skillsets meet the needs of their position description, the department, and the community. If I can identify a knowledge or performance gap with a company or individual, I will work with them to help shore up that weakness.
And finally, what advice do you have to give another instructor or to somebody who is just starting out as an instructor
There are three pieces of advice I would offer to somebody just starting out as an instructor:
Stay organized and plan. Whether teaching one class to a small group or planning an annual training plan for your department, stay organized and plan. Find an organizational system that works best for you and stick with it. Plan backward with the end goal in mind, and always give yourself extra time to execute your plan to counter any urgent/important obstacles or emergencies that may pop up.
Teach with learning objectives in mind, both performance-based and cognitive-based, and evaluate those objectives at some point in your class or lecture. If you’re delivering a lecture, ensure you factor in enough time to handle student questions. If you’re providing a class, ensure you are evaluating that learning occurred.
Lastly, never stop being a student of the profession. Schedule time to read, research, and learn about your department and the fire service. Most importantly, share the knowledge that you have learned. One of my favorite quotes is from Aaron Fields, “knowledge is power when it is shared freely. When it is lorded and hoarded, it is divisive and destructive.” Don’t be a fire instructor who acts like a know-it-all; be a fire instructor who shares everything they know and works together to advance everyone forward.