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How firefighters can continue to train in a time of social distancing

Training ideas that incorporate online learning and refocus training academies


Firefighters are an adaptive group, and many organizations are building new programs and adjusting their current training models to adapt to our current situation.

Photos/Jason Caughey

With our world scrambling to address and overcome a devastating worldwide pandemic, many organizations are struggling to find their “new normal.”

For emergency services, the call for service doesn’t stop, and the need for training and upkeep of skill proficiency is a must for us to continue to provide continuity of service – our communities expect it.

Social distancing guidelines can challenge our ability to train members, and many organizations have simply halted training altogether while they figure out safe options. So what or how do we continue to maintain our members’ training and skill proficiency during this unique time in history?

I don’t believe we need to halt training. Firefighters are an adaptive group, and many organizations are building new programs and adjusting their current training models to adapt to our current situation. Keep in mind that many fire organizations have been utilizing alternative delivery methods, such as video conferencing, web-based training and small group training for years.

Online firefighter training options

As we must follow social distancing guidelines, let’s focus first on online training.

Web-based training comes in a variety of formats, and organizations like the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and your local state training offices offer a variety of web-based training programs. Lexipol, owner of is also making available online courses free of charge during the national emergency. All of these options can be used to augment your internal training programs.

Here are some online training ideas departments can employ to keep members engaged:

Use Google Hangouts or Zoom to conduct local training sessions: This format allows you to share PowerPoint or video while interacting with your members. The use of a web cam and mic are essential. If you choose to use this format, limit classes to 30 minutes. If you try to cram long sessions into a video format, student will lose focus and get distracted.


Use Google Hangouts or Zoom to conduct local training sessions. This format allows you to share PowerPoint or video while interacting with your members.

Photo/Jason Caughey

Pre-record training sessions: Pre-recorded training sessions are great for specific task or tactical training. For example, a review of the different saws and saw blades that are carried on your engine might be valuable 10-minute training session that you can record and share through social media site or through your email system.

Create a Quibi: A Quibi is a 10-minute TV episode. You can create your own Quibi in house and share it electronically to your membership. If you are going to make your own, I suggest using a gimble with stabilizer for your phone or camera. We have all tried to watch a homemade movie and felt seasick afterwards. A gimble with stabilizer allows you to record smooth video. You can purchase a gimble on Amazon or other sites for a reasonable price.

Develop homework: Use Google Documents to create quizzes and interactive assignments that your members can complete at home. These documents allow you to assess the knowledge of basic items inside your organization. For example: Create a Google doc quiz that’s 5-10 questions on a particular tactic. These can be fun and engaging ways to interact with your members.

Adapting training academies

Training academies are also being impacted by social distancing from this pandemic.

Michael Patterson, executive chief and training academy manager for the Front Range Fire Consortium in Northern Colorado, recognized that the spread of COVID-19 in Colorado would significantly impact their ability to deliver their recruit academy in a traditional, time-tested format.

Chief Patterson explained how the department shifted gears: “Our current academy class is made up of 36 recruits, from seven member agencies, across three northern Colorado counties. As positive cases became confirmed within our counties, a decision was made to take a tactical pause in the physical meeting and hands-on training to evaluate the health of our recruits and to determine the continued availability of our training facilities and module instructors. Recognizing the time already invested in this class, we opted to move to an online delivery format for three weeks to continue their training while their respective agencies evaluate their ability to both continue providing essential emergency response, and to provide the necessary instructors to the academy.”

Patterson shared that they have been using Google Classroom for many years to manage academy classes, but as a result of the pandemic, they have switched to a three-pronged approach to training. Specifically, they use Zoom video meetings to deliver subject-specific lectures; they activated IFSTA ResourceOne to provide additional content to supplement IFSTA’s “Essentials of Firefighting” textbook and to deliver weekly exams via an online format; and they use an online training site to deliver content and assignments to all recruits.

“We were successful in implementing this approach very quickly due to the efforts, knowledge and skills of individuals within our diverse group of member agencies,” Patterson said. “While not optimal, this online delivery approach proved effective in continuing the learning process and allowing us to plan for and restructure the hands-on training portion of our academy going forward. Our plan moving forward is to break up our academy and return the 36 recruits to their home agencies where they will be able to continue the hands-on training and testing in a smaller group, company-level format.”

Continue to reach members

As our world identifies the new norm, we as a fire service can react quickly to continue to maintain our proficiency through training. By utilizing digital format and new training mythologies, we can continue to interact with our members.

Jason Caughey is the fire chief of the Laramie County Fire Authority in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and an adjunct professor for Laramie County Community College, where he teaches on the principles of fire behavior. Prior to arriving in Cheyenne in 2011, he was the fire chief of Gore Hill Fire Rescue in Great Falls, Montana. He also spent 10 years working for the Montana Fire Services Training School as a regional instructor and regional training manager for the state of Montana. Caughey has been an active member in the “Kill the Flashover” project, led by Joe Starnes. He is also a current technical member of the UL Positive Pressure test committee and a lead instructor for the Ottawa Project “Knowledge to Practice.” Caughey has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University and is working on his master’s degree in public administration. He is currently attending the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer program. Connect with Caughey on LinkedIn or via email.