As our responses have grown in complexity, we’ve turned to pre-planning for critical hazards. This is a great way to prepare for a significant event. But is your fire department pre-planning for training? Training is as important now as it has ever been. A volunteer fire chief recently informed us that their fire department’s training program essentially involves seeing who turns up for a drill on Monday night and they “go from there.” Even worse, some volunteer fire departments do not have set, regularly occurring training times.
Time is too valuable to be wasted. We must maximize the limited time we have our firefighters together, especially as we continue to do more, with less. If your department hasn’t already done so, you must arrange an organized, consistent, and well-thought out training program. Here is how to get started:
1). Develop a fire department drill calendar (or schedule)
Start by developing a drill calendar for your fire department. Literally print out a physical calendar that you can write by hand on. If your tech savy, use the digital calendar in your email system, (like Outlook). You can also create a schedule in Excel or Word and format it as a calendar or table. We find that people are visual and recommend the final product is in calendar form. Hopefully, your fire department already has a set time and day it meets each month to train (i.e. every Wednesday at 7pm). If not, now is the time to set that standard.
Next, determine what period of time you will be able to pre-plan training for. Can you develop a 12 month training calendar? Or would a quarterly calendar be more suitable for your organization? The answer depends on what will work best for your organization. Ask yourself, “will I be able to get instructors to commit to a majority of drill dates so far out?” The farther you plan out, the less time you’ll have to spend doing preparatory work. However, you do not want to plan so far out that it’s unrealistic to manage and your system loses credibility.
2). Assign an instructor
This is critical. Once you have set training dates, you must assign an instructor to be responsible for each training session. It may seem like a pain to get members to commit to different days, but it will be much easier to manage your training program. Instructors can plan ahead to be available for their assigned evening. While you will likely have much overlap in instructor assignments (we only have so many people), you can spread out responsibility to better match their needs and needs of the department.
Members also bear responsibility for managing the training program. For example, if I’m assigned the second Wednesday of next month, but had another obligation come up, I’m the one that will find coverage for my evening. Maybe I’ll swap nights with someone else? And when making assignments, base them on expertise.
3). Assign a topic
With instructors able to commit in advance of a drill night, you can assign a topic for each drill date. This exercise allows you to easily assess the department’s areas of strength and identify training deficiencies. You can ensure basics are covered, like dressing fire hydrants, equipment locations, and ladders, while also including training on more advanced and specialized operations. Be cognizant of spreading out classroom versus field training and balance among topics (ie fire science, ladders, hazmat). Firefighters can provide feedback and you can adjust the schedule accordingly to focus in on areas of need or interest. Assigning topics also makes it easier for members to meet department requirements and address their personal training deficiencies. For example, it might be difficult for a member to make both drill nights one month, so they look ahead and see which night would be best for them to attend. Or if they have to earn a certain amount of live-burn hours per year, they can look ahead and attend the best session offered throughout the year to meet the requirement.
4). Publish your calendar
For firefighters to get the benefits of a planned out training program, they need to see it. This may seem obvious, but often Chiefs (or Fire Training Officers) have already completed a significant amount of the work mentioned above for their own planning purposes, but haven’t shared it with the rest of the department. Everyone on the department will benefit from publishing the training calendar.
Make it easily accessible.
Print it out and put copies in common areas, like a drivers’ room or lounge.
Email it out to all members.
Post it on your department website (digital versions that can be accessed by all members are great, because they change live as you make changes).
Training is too important to not be well planned out. A drill calendar is the perfect way to start a well-managed, successful training program for your fire department. If your fire department doesn’t have one, we recommend you get started as soon as you can. We’ve laid out general steps of how to get started, but remember, tailor concepts presented to best meet the needs of your own department. Regardless of department size, we all have the same job to do in this complex world, and a drill calendar must be part of your department’s program.
*Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes. You must always consider your own safety and department policies.