What Is Your Training About?

Learning happens and teams perform better when everyone knows and understands the theme of the training drill

One day, back when I was a district chief, I was talking to a crew of firefighters after they had returned to the station from department-wide training. They had participated in a drill that measured their time for performing as a rapid intervention crew (RIC). Obviously, one of the most important tactical skills performed on the fire ground and one that requires consistent training. But was this training (learning) or was it a test?


I asked them a simple question: “What was the training about?” Yes, I knew they were expected to complete a task (move through an obstacle course, find and remove the dummy) while competing against a stopwatch (and the other crews there), but I wanted to know what they really learned from the training? What was the theme?

Here’s what they answered: “It was like a race, and we didn’t win!” “It wasn’t realistic; we wouldn’t be able to do it by ourselves.” “We made lots of mistakes because we felt rushed.” “It was like a firefighter challenge race.”

Time to task is critical when completing any tactical assignment, especially one that rescues one of our own. And it’s specifically important for successfully achieving a strategic goal, like finding and removing a downed or injured firefighter.

A rapid intervention incident is a rescue event that requires the coordination between command and several tactical teams, all while the original operations continue. It’s not a race or a competition. It’s rare that it can be done with only one crew. The tactical component will not execute effectively without the strategic element of command. Both the command team and the tactical teams must be operating with the same strategy, or theme in mind: to remove a downed or injured firefighter to safety.

Learning happens and teams (command and tactical) perform better when everyone knows and understands the theme of the training drill.

Know what your training is about. Understand the theme.

Ask yourself, “What’s the message here?”

Looking Ahead To 2016: What’s Next For The Fire Service?

Open-mindedness and a far-reaching vision will keep the fire service in the game

From data-driven decisions to a rise in prevention, expanded duties, and increased threat response, the fire service will continue to change in the upcoming year. More rapidly than ever before.

Change is happening more rapidly than ever before.

Change is happening more rapidly than ever before.

Yes, “continue to change” is something the fire service, reluctantly, will do this year. And this change will begin to accelerate more because of the unique nature of our fast-changing and complex world. Keeping pace with technology and the increased demands and challenges in our communities will drive us even more to make this change. A “status quo” strategy will not work; open-mindedness and a far-reaching vision will keep the fire service in the game.

A far-reaching vision will keep the fire service

Open-mindedness and a far-reaching vision will keep the fire service in the game.

Revisioning The Fire Service

Threat Response

After several unexpected, mass-civilian attacks on U.S. soil in 2015, the fire service will have to provide a more unified response to these new security threats. More use of a rescue task force approach combining law enforcement, fire, and EMS will be required. That means an even better relationship between those services and much more practice together to work out the kinks!

A Rise In Fire Prevention

The community sees us fighting fire, but they rarely see us preventing fire through inspections, code enforcement, and education. Fighting fire is, and always will be, needed. But our overall mission to save lives and protect property should have just as much, if not more, emphasis before the fire.

Data Driven Decisions

More decisions are made by data today. Data provides a better picture of past history and future trends that can identify safer practices, more effective strategies, and lower operating costs. Expect more radical approaches to the long-rooted staffing and deployment models to meet changing needs throughout the communities and peak demand times.

Expanded Duties

Saving lives and protecting property is why the fire service exists. But it will mean more than just fighting fires. Fire departments can expect to be called on and used for more emergency and non-emergency situations than ever before. More education to increase situation awareness and decision making combined with a strong skill-based training will be required to meet a multitude of dangerous and chaotic situations.

More information. The need for more prevention. More things to do and more threats coming our way. Open-mindedness and a far reaching vision will keep the fire service in the “game of change” this year.

What changes do you see coming in 2016? How will you address them?

Are You An Obstacle?

Clear the path for your people to succeed

dilbert-removing obstacles

What stands in the way of your firefighters doing their job? Take a minute and look at your fire department; the rules (policies and procedures), how your firefighters learn (training), how they work (teamwork), and what they have to work with (tools, equipment, and facilities). Now take a look at you, their leader. Does your fire department and your leadership provide a clear path for your firefighters to work safely and effectively (don’t confuse effective with efficient). Are they able to achieve the organization’s objectives, and just as important their personal goals?

How can you, their leader, remove the obstacles that clutter their path to success?

Picture their workday: A workplace full of modern technology that can be confusing and sometimes difficult to operate. Policies telling them what they can’t do and procedures telling them how to do everything. Training and continuing education pulling them in different directions. Individuals with personal agendas or a lack of passion for the job. Facilities, tools, and equipment that must be inspected and maintained. And then there is you, their leader, and your requirements and expectations. There’s more to learn, more to do, and less time to get all of it done.

How can you help your firefighters get past all of those obstacles and accomplish their goals? And the Department’s goals?

As their leader, your goal is to ensure your firefighters’ safety and enhance their performance while enriching their personal satisfaction by focusing on their motivation, and all of this while completing your fire department’s mission. Your challenge is to use a leadership style that best meets their motivational needs, one that makes the path to their goals clear and easy to travel through coaching and direction.

Simply put, the role of the leader is to provide the necessary information, support and resources over and above those provided by the fire department to ensure both your firefighters’ personal satisfaction and a safe and effective performance. As their leader, you must work with your firefighters to define goals, clarify the path to reach those goals, clear the obstacles from that path and then provide the support needed to accomplish the goals.

A firefighter’s day is filled with many obstacles: responding to emergency calls, training requirements, rules and regulations, station and equipment maintenance, new technology, and many other potential hurdles. Don’t be one of those obstacles.

Clear the path for your firefighters by carefully assessing each of them and their tasks and then choosing an appropriate leadership style to match. As a leader, I always tried to remove myself as a fundamental part of the equation, so that the great people on our team could do their very best work without me getting in the way. Getting out of the way was hard to learn, because self-awareness is really tough to develop.

Remove obstacles for your team, for your staff, and by doing so you’ll remove obstacles for yourself as well. Imagine that.

We Determine The Outcome Of Any Action Or Situation

The human element (you and I) determines the outcome of any action or situation. The world is not a safe place, and I’m not referring to natural disasters or terrorism. I’m talking about human error that changes or destroys lives everyday.


Everyone of us is touched or affected by the decisions or actions of others. Maybe it’s an incorrect dose of medication given during a routine medical procedure, or just stepping on the gas and speeding through a red light. Many people are harmed every day as a result of the errors we make.

Daily life in our complex world is all about us (people); it’s not about technology. Everything we use, whether technology (tools, machines, equipment, etc.) or systems (training, processes, procedures, etc.) is controlled, influenced and/or operated by us (people). Therefore, our performance determines how well the technology and systems will work, and how safe and effective we will be.

From the error of a moment, comes the sorrow of a lifetime  ~Chinese proverb

How do your decisions affect the actions of others? How can you improve your performance?

How Do We Control Chaos?

Performance is reality. And in uncertain and turbulent times how we perform makes all the difference between success, and sometimes death or injury. Performance is about task, accuracy, speed, and accomplishment. It’s the connection between actions and goals, and having a sense of what matters to you most gets you closer to accomplishing your goals. Performance is about “getting things done.”

Gulfstream Hotel fire mural in exercise room at PBCFR Station 91.

Gulfstream Hotel fire mural in exercise room at PBCFR Station 91.

Here are some nuggets on improving performance through leadership and understanding the human element.

There is nothing in this world constant, but inconstancy. ~Jonathan Swift

The world isn’t what it used to be:

There is less stability.
There is more technology, and it grows faster every day.
There are more demands and expectations.
There is less job security and more worker demand for “empowerment.”
There is more complexity.
There is more danger.

We face awesome challenges in our chaotic and constantly changing world, and it will continue at a rapid rate. As world demands and instability increase, it’s clear that the current complexity and danger is not going away. Change will continue to be the only constant.

There is a call to arms by many for better performance everywhere, all the time. It’s time we improve individual, team, and organizational performance. It’s time we start controlling chaos.

We may not control the outcome, but we can control the input – our effort. ~UCLA Basketball Coach, John Wooden

Our world and our work demands that we have an acute awareness of what’s happening, the ability to adapt to changing situations, and the skill and will to make critical decisions, and fast! We have to design and implement ways to help control the chaos of information, time, and space in today’s complex world.

What Is Chaos?

Chaos can be defined as complete disorder and confusion, or behavior so unpredictable so as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions. It usually carries a negative connotation involving undesirable disorganization or confusion.

How Do We Control Chaos?

We control chaos by becoming thinking and adapting leaders. We learn to transform unproductive confusion and disorder into controllable challenges. We study, practice and build the following:

  • Our Human-ability beginning with what’s happening above and below our neck (the mind-body link and stress) and personal “error control center”
  • Our Sense-ability by overcoming our blind side and learning to believe what we’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting
  • Our Think-ability by making sense of the information at hand and developing a TEMPO to move at the speed of the decision needed
  • Our Team-ability by physically conditioning and our preparing ourselves, and strengthening our mental stamina and support of each other

Learn to use use all of these abilities to plan your work and adjust to shifting priorities and demands, and you will be able to bring order to chaos.

What are you doing to control chaos?

Patience, Persistence, and Positivity!

The inner workings at a fire department can be complex and confusing. Observing and understanding the real-time issues, then making decisions and executing can be slow, grinding, and mysterious. And for an organization filled with firefighters who are ready to act, it can be very frustrating.positive

Working in a bureaucratic organization like a fire department requires patience and persistence, but also another important characteristic: positivity. Keeping a positive outlook is absolutely essential for moving a fire department into the future.

Sometimes you’re made to believe that change is impossible. Well, you just shouldn’t stand for that. You must learn to believe in the possible, and you have to be serious about making it happen.

All fire departments are fraught with a never-ending list of things to do and no one doing them, which frustrates everyone to the point of depression. It wears you down and gnaws at your mindset as it begins to distract you from your real objectives, your mission.

Remaining positive, even during the most difficult times, is a must. Getting help when you need it and partnering with the right people (other positive people) is a way to stay focused on your mission.

Appreciate the low-hanging fruit, or small wins, and the small moments of excitement that comes with them. Celebrate them when they happen. Remember, you’re a member of the fire service for a reason – don’t forget it.

Accelerating the OODA Loop

The speed must come from a deep intuitive understanding of one’s relation to the rapidly changing environment.

Robert Coram from Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed The Art of War.

What Questions Should We Ask After Going To Training?

What was learned at training and how will it be applied to real incidents?

What was learned at training and how will it be applied to real incidents?

Your firefighters just completed scheduled training delivered by your training division. Field supervisors (company and chief officers), for a variety of reasons, may not be able to attend every training session with their firefighters. You were not at this one to observe how they were trained and what they learned. Someone else (your training division or maybe even contract instructors) was teaching and coaching your firefighters.

If you are a front line supervisor (company or chief officer) and you send firefighters to training, you are responsible for working with them to determine what was learned, who needs remediation, and how best to apply what they learned on a real incident. A critical role of the officer is coaching their firefighters to ensure that their work is safe and effective.

Whether you were at training with them or not, here are a few questions supervisors can ask (or you can ask yourself) after firefighters have completed training:

  • The purpose of this training was to ________________ ; HOW was _______________ accomplished?
  • WHAT have you learned?
  • HOW will you apply the training to your specific role/area? To your team’s role/area?
  • WHAT other lessons did you pick up?
  • Do you need more training? WHAT kind and HOW much?
  • (Supervisor) HOW can I support you in doing and applying what you learned?
  • HOW can we measure the impact of the training on our current work?

How do you get feedback on your firefighters’ training performance? How do you expand and improve on what they learned at training for better performance at a real incident with you?