August 2023 Leadership Message From the ISFSI President: Seth Barker


As instructors we all need to find our voice. We have a passion in our profession to share our knowledge of what we have learned or experienced so others can become better. That voice can be expressed by written words, lecture, or demonstration of a technique. Once we find that voice, it is important to craft it in a way that is digestible. What I mean by this is that the voice has to be easily understood and conveyed in a way that is positive. I have been told this is the “instructor voice”. I have experienced multiple different kinds of “voices” within my career. Some were good, some were bad. One of the times I experienced this was when I was teaching with another ISFSI instructor outside of Cincinnati. He is a very soft spoken, kind, and tremendously experienced firefighter. Once he started speaking, it was as loud as thunder, commanded respect, and demanded attention. I saw the students almost snap to attention with laser focus. His “instructor voice” was impressive to say the least. I listened to every word he said, forgetting what I was supposed to teach. He took command and never looked back.

I share this story with you because I believe that instructors get caught up in finding their voice and delivering it. We focus so much on crafting our message and how to transfer it, we lose what is probably the most important part of our job – Listening! I have been making a conscious effort in the last 3 years of listening to everyone around me. I have been listening to my family, friends, employees, co-workers, colleagues, mentors, and peers.  I have been trying not to comment, critique, or tell my story after listening to truly digest what is being communicated to me. In the last 3 years I have learned more in the fire service than I have in the 19 years before that just by listening.

As instructors, we need to conduct somewhat of an ego check and try not to be the loudest voice in the room. We need to listen to what our students want and need to ensure competence and understanding. Recently, I was honored to be part of the Engine Company Operations – Hose Line Advancement and Water Application H.O.T. Program delivery in Provo, Utah. I was surrounded by a tremendous cadre of instructors. We trained 21 instructors from around Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho to deliver the program back in their jurisdictions. Prior to this training, I spent countless hours reviewing the curriculum, skill sheets, and ULFSRI Safety Series to be the best prepared for the students. During the training, I listened to the training cadre deliver the Train the Trainer program to the students, and the following day I listened to our new instructors deliver the program to new students.  While listening to the program from different voices, and not worrying about what I was going to say, I learned an extraordinary amount of new information.

Let’s also not forget about our first classes we took as brand-new firefighters. How we felt when an instructor took their time to explain a subject in a different way to make the connection for us. How a seasoned officer showed us a technique that has been proven to be effective in real time. How we listened with enthusiasm. How we connected and learned from our instructors. How the instructors listened to us and how that made us feel.

Take the time - Listen.

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