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How to buy fire training products

By Michael Petroff
Retired battalion chief/training officer

News reporters use the memory jogger of “Who, What, Where, When, Why and How” to gather information for articles. This memory aid can be used as a needs assessment tool for fire and EMS trainers in the selection of training programs. Whether the program requires a textbook only or a complete curriculum with multi-media presentation, an objective selection process must be conducted.

Here are the main things to consider when buying fire training products.

WHO: Determine the attendees for the program: entry level firefighters, driver operators, medical technicians, safety officers, etc. Attendees should have a student resource package available that may include a workbook, skills checklist and study guide. Once the audience is identified, then the instructor is selected. This may be predetermined by the departmental policy. Consideration must be given to allow technical specialists to teach within their discipline. Be sure that the instructor is familiar with the training objectives, materials and delivery method. Again the publisher should provide resources including lesson plans, instructor guide, AV materials, correlation guide and a test bank (either for study or for certification).

WHAT: The “what” is the subject matter and final goal. If the subject is Firefighter 1 & 2 certification for all entry level firefighters, following your state or local certification and licensing procedures, then ensure that the publisher provides a curriculum that meets the applicable standard. A correlation guide to the standard should be provided. The text and supplemental resources should be directly linked to the standard or, in the case of EMS licensing, the state requirements. In the case of my Fire Officer 1 course, the text and certification test did not correlate. Ask the publisher if the package can be customized for your needs.

Some departments may decide to deliver Firefighter 1 separate from the Firefighter 2. The publisher should be able to provide two distinct packages, rather than one package that must be “dissected” by the instructor. Problems like this should be addressed during the “what” phase. Another caution: Great emphasis is being placed on “specialty” training such as HazMat, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. While this training is needed, consider a risk benefit decision process. If a HazMat specialty team is available to respond from a neighboring community, determine your departmental need to expend training time and funds to duplicate existing response capabilities. Consider training to an awareness level versus the technician level.

WHERE: This decision may seem unnecessary, but AV considerations, electronic (computer) issues and practical evolutions must be considered in “where” the course is delivered. With new electronic media, the latest software version needed to deliver the course may not match the latest software on the training academy computer. Another electronic consideration may involve self study at the firefighters’ homes or in station during stand-by time. Consider access issues and security — is firefighter “A” really the one completing the lesson or is this a group effort at Station 2? Publishers should provide software and other technical support. Address these potential issues during planning, rather than after purchase.

WHEN: This portion of the process has been addressed somewhat in “where.” But deadlines, computer access time and weather conditions should be considered. If the course is delivered online, will busy stations have adequate time to complete course work? If a practical evolution is part of the course, will weather be a factor and impact completion deadlines such as recruit class graduation dates? Another factor to consider is continuing education. After the course is completed, is the package suited for refresher or continuing education training? Does the publisher provide resources for this?

WHY: Asking “why” the training is needed is probably the most important step in the process. “Why” is the needs assessment, goal-setting part of the decision. During the “why” phase, long-term goals can be impacted. In most states, the certification process is a progressive one that builds certification on one after the other. The foundation is Firefighter 1 & 2. Emphasis should be placed on receiving certification. The certification process involves an outside agency that monitors the process and validates the resources to the applicable standard.

A publisher should provide the correlation grid to the applicable standard and verify that the certification test provided is validated to the standard. The certification test must be generated from a separate test bank than the study tests used during the course. Take a long term look at your department; look at certifications available (not all certification is exclusively available from state agencies). By selecting a package that leads to a certification, the professionalism of the department will be enhanced.

HOW: “How” is where the rubber meets the road. This step puts all of the other factors in play. Selection of attendees and delivering a quality program that leads to professional development can only improve the capabilities of the department.

Do not be swayed by marketing techniques that may not suit your departmental needs. Conduct a process (using any method) that helps determine critical factors. Consider established publishers.

The National Fire Academy also provides on-line, local delivery and resident courses. Use national standards as a benchmark for determining needed content and consider certification as a valued part of the training. The end result of any training should be increased firefighter safety and better public service.

  • Any other suggestions? Anything we missed in the list above? Leave a comment below or e-mail with your feedback.

Michael Petroff is a retired battalion chief from the Ferguson Fire Department of St. Louis County, Missouri. BC Petroff served for more than 32 years, progressing through the ranks. He served on the St. Louis County Overhead response team, and is an instructor for national, state and local fire agencies. BC Petroff is a former western region director for the Fire Department Safety Officers Association, a member of the National Fire Protection Association 1021 Committee, a member of the Thomson Delmar Fire Advisory Board, and serves as the region VII regional advocate for the Everyone Goes Home Life Safety Initiatives Program.

Learn how to lead your department’s safety initiatives in, ‘S.O. Sidelines,’ the Fire Department Safety Officers Association’s FireRescue1 exclusive column. The FDSOA, an 18-year-old fire safety organization, teaches important lessons in how to be an effective fire department safety officer.