How to get the most from an outside trainer for your fire department

Potential vendors should be questioned about quality, cost and relevance to the service needed by the department


The need for qualified trainers that can provide cost-effective, necessary training for fire departments continues to rise, as departments increase the scope of their service delivery. This expansion of services and supporting technologies also requires that fire department personnel have the training necessary to work safely, effectively and efficiently.

More and more, fire departments are employing trainers and instructors from outside the department because they lack the subject-matter experts necessary to develop and deliver the necessary education and training. In preparing this article, I posted the following message to my connections on LinkedIn:

“Hypothetical Situation: If you were a customer looking to hire an individual or company to provide training for your public safety organization, what evaluation criteria would you use to ensure you received quality training at a fair price?”

The need for qualified trainers that can provide cost-effective, necessary training for fire departments continues to rise, as departments increase the scope of their service delivery. (Photo/Cobb County Fire Department Training Division)
The need for qualified trainers that can provide cost-effective, necessary training for fire departments continues to rise, as departments increase the scope of their service delivery. (Photo/Cobb County Fire Department Training Division)

The response to my inquiry was gratifying, as several of my connections in the training-delivery business provide some interesting insights on the topic.

Know what you’re looking for in a subject-matter expert

Drew Jurkofsky is a full-time police officer and the founder and president of Petauro Systems, a Fort Collins, Colorado, company that provides education and training in the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by public safety agencies.

Jurkofsky says the process should begin with the organization’s leadership answering some internal questions to develop some realistic expectations from a potential vendor:

  • What do they want to get out of the training?
  • How much time is reasonable and necessary to learn the topic and/or acquire proficient skills?
  • What is the normal cost for training within the profession?
  • What is the training budget?
  • Is there adequate funding available?

Gather information about potential vendors for outside training

Once the organization has a good understanding of what it needs, and how much it can afford to spend, it should reach out to vendors and assess what is being offered. Jurkorsky suggests that organizations ask potential vendors the following questions:

  • What is the curriculum, and can they provide a detailed course syllabus?
  • What is the desired class size and instructor-to-student ratio?
  • How much time will students have to practice skills and develop proficiency?
  • Is there a testing or certification component?
  • Can the training be provided with the same equipment the department intends to use?
  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Are the instructors familiar with the topic and the industry?

“The UAS industry is very much like the Wild West right now,” Jurkorsky said. “New companies open every day offering products, services and training by people claiming to be experts in the industry. There are few standards and, as a new technology, few client expectations.”

Jurkorsky frequently engages with law enforcement and other public safety agencies seeking UAS training for their personnel.

“Few understand what it is they want their pilots to know, and some aren’t clear about what they intend to do with their aircraft,” he said. “Many have unreasonable expectations about how long training should take and what it should cost.”

Jurkorsky lamented the fact that many times he’s found agencies willing to compromise training time, or allow their pilots to train with aircraft different than what they intend to operate, just to meet a budgeting or time constraint.

Another consideration is the method by which a potential vendor will deliver the training.

“Ask what method and resources are used for training, and what's the time frame for training,” advises Amy Roosa, a safety specialist with Airgas, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“Adults want information in a clear, concise and timely fashion, and most employers don't want training that eats into productive time,” adds Roosa, who previously worked as a team lead and training specialist with the Iowa Department of Transportation.

A sample of internal departmental expectations for outside training

Jurkorsky provided an example of what a department’s internal expectations might look like for a law enforcement agency when researching education and training for their personnel to operate a UAS. This would be similar to a fire department’s expectations for a similar training:

  1. Our pilots will be using unmanned aircraft to map traffic accidents and crime scenes, provide operational over-watch and use thermal imagery to locate people at night.
  2. UAS training needs to include instruction on scene mapping (flight patterns, software, best practices), teamwork and communications (crew resource management, visual observers, radio procedures) and the use of thermal imaging cameras. A detailed course syllabus should be provided to show how training for these topics will be delivered.
  3. Our pilots must train with the same aircraft type they will operate for the department.
  4. We want our pilots to have as much attention and practice time as possible, which means the class size should be smaller and the instructor-to-student ratio should be higher. We recognize this will likely increase the cost of the course as there are more instructors and fewer students.
  5. Most certification courses in our profession (bicycles, motorcycles, accident investigation, SWAT) require at least 40 hours of training. We expect the same level of training for UAS pilots.
  6. Most 40-hour certification courses in our profession cost $500 to $1200 per student, depending on class size, necessary equipment, location, subsidies, etc. We expect to spend about $1000 per student.
  7. We want our pilots to undergo some form of testing and receive a certificate of training.
  8. We want to work with a reputable company that has been working in the UAS industry for at least three years and that can provide references from previous customers.
  9. We want to work with a company that understands the law enforcement industry and preferably has trainers with law enforcement backgrounds.

What is a reasonable cost for outside training?

The cost and quality of training that a department receives was the topic addressed by several other LinkedIn connections in their responses.

“Ask how they price and what their fee schedule looks like,” says Tim Nowak, founder and CEO of Emergency Medical Solutions. “And if they're low, or the lowest, ask why they believe they are lower than their competition.”

Bianca Bourbeau, a fire safety officer at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, agrees that a low price point isn’t always indicative of the best choice: “Look at pricing; the budget is important,” she says. “If they are significantly lower than anyone else, there is a reason.”

With this information, fire departments should be able to better assess potential vendors for education and training deliveries for their personnel. An informed and educated consumer is in a better position to know what they need and can afford upfront. They’re also in a better position to ask good questions of potential vendors and sort through the hype.

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