How fire instructors can teach modern adults

Learn how to train firefighters using adult-learning principals and a tiered system driven by mastered skills


Company officers and instructors are faced with meeting the training needs of a multi-generational and culturally diverse firefighting work force.

Firefighter psychology, adult-learning principles, marketing and training mechanics are all critical contributing factors for fire service instructors to get their message through to that work force.

And that’s why Lt. Scott Kraut and Capt. David Barlow, with Fairfax County (Va.) Fire and Rescue, will discuss the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to conduct productive, meaningful and purpose-driven training at the International Association of Fire Chiefs' Fire-Rescue International conference in August.

Their seminar, "Modern Training Techniques for the Company Officer," will be held Aug. 26; you can register for the conference here.

These two are no strangers to teaching adult firefighters.

Lt. Kraut is currently assigned as a lieutenant on the Tower Ladder at Company 40. Before that, he held a three-year position at the training academy, where he was responsible for and in charge of training 1,400 career and volunteer personnel. He’s a graduate of the West Point leadership program and teaches leadership qualities in all aspects of training from firefighter to battalion chief.

Capt. Barlow is responsible for command competency at the training division for Fairfax County Fire and Rescue. Prior to that, he was in charge of field training. He began his fire service career as a volunteer in 1995 and was appointed to Fairfax County Fire and Rescue in 1998. He has been a fire service instructor since 2002 and teaches habits that promote operational safety and effectiveness.

Their session will cover a variety of proven techniques to get your training programs off the ground and running.

Firefighter learners
Firefighters come into the fire service typically as adults and have usually already continued their education after high school. However, there are also younger firefighters, especially volunteers, who come into the profession right after high school graduation — others sooner if a junior firefighter program exists.

Lt. Kraut's and Capt. Barlow's methodology is based on Malcolm Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory. In 1980, Knowles made four assumptions about the characteristics of how adults learn that are different from the assumptions about child learners.

Their training methodology, derived from many models, including the Knowles theory, relies heavily on both psychology and physiology.

When departments look at training firefighters, they need to differentiate between the adult learner and the younger learner because they require different motivation, Lt. Kraut said.

"They will both have some internal motivation … but we as fire service instructors can build upon that," Lt. Kraut said.

The firefighter's role in the fire service also gives instructors a basis for developing a curriculum specific for that role.

"The adult firefighter learner desires problem solving and direct application more than lecture," Lt. Kraut said. "This makes our practical application much more important and often times priority over lecture."

The training process
Lt. Kraut's and Capt. Barlow's process is multi-faceted, but is based on a tiered system that allows the student to move independently through the process. It does not allow students to progress until they have mastered their current tier.

"There are techniques such as play calling and stress exposure that we use to assist them throughout and also continuing education and recertification to ensure their skills aren't perishable," Lt. Kraut said.

Their session also focuses on the ideal mix of training — whether it is lecture, hands-on or exam-oriented.

"In today's fast-paced, technologically savvy environment, you have to use all of these platforms combined with social media and video to capture the audience," he said. "I would say that lecture is a dying breed, but it has its place depending on the subject and the audience."

Their training techniques, they said, are easy and adaptable for fire chiefs to get their company officers on board with their way of training firefighters. They'll also show attendees video and statistics of their program so they can go back to their department and pitch the training.

"This training can be adopted by any size department, with any size training staff, and the smallest of budgets," Lt. Kraut said.

Both Lt. Kraut and Capt. Barlow are hoping attendees will walk away with a better understanding of proven firefighter-training techniques and take the lecture a step further by implementing their teachings at fire departments across the country.

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