If you have had any experience as an officer that has been assigned with the task of delivering training, you more than likely have heard your fair share of negative comments that simply do not represent our true mission. These comments lead to attitudes, and these attitudes can be detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish. In this series of short articles, we will tackle these outrageous quotes. We will help you understand where they come from, how to identify what they represent and give some simple methods for dealing with them.
Whether or not you are in a large city or a small town, every year your local government budgets hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for annual fire service. Historically, these bean counters hate the fire service. Bean counters hate the fire service because the fire department budget line is like no other item in their neat columns. What makes the FD budget line item different from all the other line items is the fact that services to be rendered by the FD are an unknown.
It might not be inconceivable that in some smaller communities entire year(s) could go by without a significant fire, yet every year the fire department receives tax funding as well as a budget line for the following year. Fire Departments and firefighters are never paid for what they do, they are funded and paid for what they might have to do.
We could say the same for our training programs. A good training program doesn’t just focus on what we do; it must also prepare us for what we might have to do. A good training program will balance time commitments between what we do and what we might have to do. Tasks that we perform everyday need very little training, so long as those tasks are being performed proficiently. (More on this in an upcoming article on Risk Management.)
Tasks that we seldom have to perform need more attention from the training program. That dusty compartment on the rig that contains the unit’s assigned “Special Operations” or that tool that we carry but we don’t talk about because no one truly knows what it is used for. Or how about that MAYDAY training? Now we need to have common sense here too. If your rig carries elevator keys, but there are no elevators for a twenty-mile radius, then take the keys off the rig.
However, in general, when we as instructors are faced with this type of comment, it is usually generated by fear. The most prominent fear that lives deep in the bowels of firefighters is not so much the fear of the unknown, but as in this case, the fear of not knowing. Typically, the firefighter that utters this type of comment fears the object of training because they know little about the topic. This usually comes from a mid-level member; someone with five to fifteen years on the job. Members at this level typically want to be heard and show their knowledge, not their lack of it. Here is where the magic of a good instructor comes into play.
To overcome this negativity and stop a potentially contagious attitude, we are going to use the outspoken firefighter. The best way to end the fear in this firefighter is to build their self-confidence. Self-confidence always follows overcoming a fear. To overcome this fear, we are going to reinforce the member’s strong point; their knowledge.
While they might not know everything about the subject, they do know something. The key here is to ask them direct questions that are very basic, very answerable and geared to their known knowledge. Use these answers to build on the topic. Always reinforce what the member has already stated. This method can be tricky and will require some effort to perfect. However, if this training session goes relatively well, you might just have a secondary private conversation with the outspoken member. During that conversation, be sure to mention that you were impressed with their knowledge and ask if they would be willing to put together another short training session on the topic. More than likely, they will be more than willing. Follow this up in a month or so, and before you know it, you will have a new topic expert!
– Todd Smith