Want to know an easy way to judge the quality of a fire department? Look at how much they train. Career, volunteer or combination, fire departments become successful through training.

Yet all training is not equal. Focus too much on hands-on training (HOT) and you could be missing important legal and compliance updates. Lean heavily on web-based training and you may fail to identify shortcomings in skills proficiencies. Keep students confined to a classroom and you may lose their interest quickly. Not surprisingly, a balance of all three types of training is needed to produce competent, empowered firefighters.

For this article, I was challenged to think about what’s missing from our current fire training programs. As I thought about the varied way we approach fire training, three issues jumped out at me.

  • Base training on facts and statistics
  • Take advantage of new technologies
  • Incorporate policy into your training

 

Survey the fire department members to determine the types of training they want or feel they need
Your training program should also be strong in the types of calls you respond to most

Base Training On Facts And Statistics

If your department has a robust training program, outlined by a calendar of various topics and employing a mix of HOT, online and classroom training, you’re ahead of the curve. But even in departments with well-developed training programs, training is often based on preference or habit, not data.

Think about the topics in your training program. Do you know why they’re included? Do they match your call make-up? Are they targeting specific skill shortcomings? (And yes, we all have them!)What’s missing from many fire department training programs is a detailed needs assessment

What’s missing from many fire department training programs is a detailed needs assessment that in turn establishes a factual basis for the year’s training topics. The needs assessment should include:

  • Surveying the members to determine the types of training they want or feel they need.
  • Measuring firefighter proficiency on basic tasks, such as NFPA 1403 drills, NFPA 1710 drills and EMS patient assessment skills audits, to assess personnel by mandate or by industry best practice. This will identify skills deficiencies to address through training.
  • Incorporating call volume statistics and details. A significant percentage of the calls fire departments respond to are EMS and vehicle extrication But I’d venture to guess the training programs of most departments don’t match those percentages. Yes, you need to train for the high-risk, low-frequency tasks. But your training program should also be strong in the types of calls you respond to most.

Incorporating these “facts and stats” into your training program will help you keep it fresh, relevant and interesting.

But you don’t need fancy simulators to incorporate technology into your fire training program
Firefighters can use their phones and tablets to access department training information and complete training assignments

Take Advantage Of New Technologies

There is something to be said for back-to-the-basics, keep-it-simple firefighter training. But it’s a mistake to ignore technological advances. From teaching safe apparatus backing procedures to practicing hoseline deployment and Vent/Enter/Isolate/Search (VEIS) tactics, instructors have more options than ever before.

Some instructors regard simulators as second-rate to “the real thing.” Certainly, simulation and other forms of technology-driven instruction can’t replace the value of hands-on experience. But they can augment it in important ways.

Driver simulators, for example, not only save money because apparatus don’t have to be taken out of service or sustain wear and tear; they also provide an environment where firefighters can learn without risk of injury. If sitting behind a computer isn’t your kind of thing, live-burn simulators, vehicle fire simulators and hazmat simulators are available—and they all significantly boost training efficiency.Technology will never replace hands-on instruction, but it can facilitate it

But you don’t need fancy simulators to incorporate technology into your fire training program. Learning management systems (LMS) are another important tool that can increase training program efficiency. Although they’ve been around for a long time, LMS continue to improve.

The ability to integrate with mobile devices is huge, allowing firefighters to use their phones and tablets to access department training information and complete training assignments. Leveraging this technology can allow you to more efficiently manage information, schedule training and free up valuable time needed for other important tasks.

If you’ve attended some of the larger regional or national fire conferences recently, you may have had the opportunity to see audience response technology in action. By capturing the firefighters’ responses to questions in real-time, instructors can adjust the material to reflect students’ knowledge level. Audience response is also simply a great way to keep firefighters engaged.

Technology will never replace hands-on instruction, but it can facilitate it. If you’re using training methods that haven’t changed in decades, something’s missing from your training program.  

Training on policy helps departments address the issues that so often get firefighters into trouble
Without incorporating policy into your training, you’re only giving your firefighters half the equation

Incorporate Policy Into Your Training

I saved the biggest and best for last. When I work with fire departments across the country, I repeatedly discover the failure to incorporate policy into training.

Think about it: Training curricula are almost always designed around procedures—the how of doing something. But isn’t the why just as important? And that’s what policy is all about. Without incorporating policy into your training, you’re only giving your firefighters half the equation.Inevitably firefighters will encounter times when following the procedure isn’t possible

Inevitably firefighters will encounter times when following the procedure isn’t possible. That’s when policy training kicks in—firefighters understand the fundamental objective, and they can think on their feet about how to achieve it.

Training on policy also helps departments address the issues that so often get firefighters into trouble. How many of your firefighters really understand your department’s social media policy? What about the rules surrounding sick time usage? These are things that trip up firefighters time and time again. If you’re not training on policies, it’s unlikely firefighters remember them.

. If you’re not training on policies, it’s unlikely firefighters remember them
How many of your firefighters really understand your department’s social media policy?

In addition, normalization of deviance is a risk to every organization. When personnel fail to follow policies and no negative repercussions result, it can quickly establish a new normal. Policy-based training resets the “normal” and makes sure that members of the organization comply with the policy and not what they think the policy says.Most line-of-duty death reports cite failure to comply with policy or lack of adequate policy

Fire instructors often avoid training on policy because they regard it as boring or unrelated to what really matters—firefighter safety and survival. Yet most line-of-duty death reports cite failure to comply with policy or lack of adequate policy as contributing factors in the incident.

If you’re worried that policy will make your training program dry and uninteresting, link it to real-world events. An online search provides lots of examples of when things went wrong and how adherence to policy might have produced a different outcome. And limit policy training to small chunks. Take out a 10-page policy and go through it line by line, and your students’ eyes will glaze over in seconds. Instead, look for ways to enrich your current training by bringing relevant pieces of policy into it. Your firefighters will be learning the department’s policies without even realizing it!

Focus On Continuous Improvement

Fire chiefs and fire instructors have a challenging job. Budgets are tight, and training is often one of the first things to be cut. Yet we need firefighters to be proficient in all-hazards response. Every department has a long training wish list. But if we focus on continuous quality improvement, we can get a little better each year. Looking for opportunities to incorporate statistics, technology and policy into our training is a good place to start.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

Author profile

Bruce Bjorge Fire Training Coordinator, Lexipol

Bruce Bjorge’s 33-year fire service career has included command and training positions with career, combination, volunteer and military fire agencies. Currently, he serves as a paid-on-call Battalion Chief with the Western Taney County Fire Protection District in Branson, Mo., and as the Fire Training Coordinator for Lexipol.

In case you missed it

How Is Digital Adoption Helping To Improve Fire Safety In Construction?
How Is Digital Adoption Helping To Improve Fire Safety In Construction?

As Grenfell remains a chilling reminder of the importance of fire safety in construction, new digital methods are now being adopted to guarantee the safety of end users. But how is digitization helping and how will this further advance fire safety during the wider construction process? There’s no doubt that the past five years have had a profound effect on the construction industry. Events such as the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire disaster have forced the industry to sit-up and rethink the processes it currently has in place. Campaign for a complete system overhaul The result has been a campaign for a complete system overhaul. Advocates for change, such as Dame Judith Hackitt, are now speaking at length of a ‘broken industry’ and how without major reform, the construction industry will never reach acceptable levels of safety. Yet hope is on the horizon and as is often the case with such events, they can and must serve as a catalyst for major change. Hackitt’s inquiry into building regulations and fire safety, following Grenfell, revealed a need for greater fail safes and a requirement for what Hackitt termed as ‘The Golden Thread’ of information. This is an accurate record of a building, providing a timeline of what has gone into the structure, from design to occupation and its ongoing maintenance. By having this in place, the industry can then deliver full transparency and accountability to help keep end users safe. Introduction of new building safety regulator Hackitt’s inquiry into building regulations and fire safety, following Grenfell, revealed a need for greater fail safesA further response has been the introduction of a new building safety regulator and new construction product regulator, both of which represent a landmark moment not just in fire safety, but improved levels of safety across the board. The first, which is under the Health and Safety Executive, will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings with a new, more stringent framework for higher-risk builds. The latter, (the construction product regulator), will be aimed at manufacturers to ensure that their products are safe, before being sold and that they abide by pre-determined levels of industry safety. If products aren’t deemed fit for purpose, these stricter measures will grant the regulator the power to remove products, revoke building safety certifications, as well as prosecute those who attempt to side-step rules. Building Safety Bill Speaking at the Construction Leaders’ Summit in February 2020, Hackitt explained that the Building Safety Bill and the creation of the new regulators will help the sector to change both technically and culturally, moving away from decisions that result in the ‘cheapest solution’, to one where safety and quality become paramount. Hackitt also warned that the regulators will have real bite. She said, “It will not look to see you have merely followed the rules, but check the building is safe from planning to occupation and you’ve done everything in your power to ensure this.” New laws post building regulations and fire safety review New laws have also been introduced since Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety New laws have also been introduced since Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety. In April of 2020, UK Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick announced a series of measures comprising of what he called ‘the biggest change in building safety for a generation.’ These were changes that applied to multi-occupancy buildings of 18 meters and above, or six stories, whichever is reached first. For buildings in-scope, a duty holder regime will apply, with a Client, Principal Designer and Principal Contractor. The contractor and designers will have to demonstrate that the building is safe and the ability of the duty-holder to choose which building control body to oversee the removal of the construction/refurbishment. To make sure the regulation is followed, there are gateway points at various stages, requiring regulator sign-off before the project can move forward. The sign-off procedure can then only take place once the right evidence is in place. Before residents are allowed to occupy the building, a full digital documentation will have to be provided which includes drawings and datasets and any design changes will need to be amended, signed-off and recorded. The need for digital adoption It’s clear that with so many changes coming into play that a new way of working is needed, with the needle pointing towards digital adoption as an answer to these issues. One of its main benefits is that it gives specifiers, contractors and residents the ability to access extensive datasets on specific fire related products. This feature plays a huge role in guaranteeing the safety of buildings and end users, by supplying them with the most up-to-date information and the latest in industry laws and regulations. If the industry is to iron-out the risk of products being ‘mis-specified’, then architects must be given a vehicle to access this information as easily as possible. Rise in use of digital tools, 3D and data Another example is the recent changes to the RIBA Plan of Work – the industry blueprint for the process management of a build. While this still remains as the ‘go-to’ map for how a construction process should take place, digital innovation continues to transform many aspects of its project workflow. This can be seen in the likes of ‘Part 3 – Changing Processes’ where the use of digital tools is helping to shift the balance away from 2D information towards 3D and data. Digital site surveys are also becoming the norm, using cloud surveys, photogrammetry, lidar sensors and the ability to mount cameras on drones, to help with the success of projects. BIM (Building Information Modeling) BIM can be used to improve the design, construction and operation of buildings, making them safer for end users Feeding into this is also the greater use of BIM (Building Information Modeling). This digital approach can be used to improve the design, construction and operation of buildings, making them safer for end users. Again, it’s a concept that has been around for some time, but the recent shift in perceptions has allowed this way of working to flourish, with three quarters of specifiers now using BIM, compared to just one in ten a decade ago. Digitization – The only way forward It’s obvious to see that shifting to digital has an immeasurable benefit to the future of the construction industry. Not only do digital tools improve standards, reduce mistakes and improve record keeping and auditing at every stage, but it also keeps costs down and drives up quality. From previous history, we’ve seen that the construction industry is notorious for dragging its heels when it comes to change, but as we’ve seen so far, the quicker it adopts this way of thinking, the quicker improvements in fire safety and compliance can be achieved. ‘Build Back Better’ We’ve heard the government talk of ‘Build Back Better’ and the digitization of the industry will hold all the keys to ensuring this is possible. If nothing else, the construction industry owes it to the victims and survivors of the Grenfell fire tragedy to make sure that all is being done to eradicate the chances of future mistakes from happening again.

How Immersive Tech Will Change Emergency Services’ Learning And Development
How Immersive Tech Will Change Emergency Services’ Learning And Development

The rapid pace of technological advancement in the learning environment offers huge potential for the emergency services. The way the emergency services approach this new technology has the potential to transform the provision of learning and development in the sector.   Perhaps the most exciting new tech for the emergency services is immersive technology. Using the likes of interactive video and VR, immersive technology shows huge potential for not only changing the way learning and development is done, but also improving its effectiveness.  Why immersive tech will be so important  We know that interactive learning is an incredibly effective training method. It leads to higher knowledge retention than conventional classroom training because of its immersive nature; it stimulates multiple senses, helping the brain record the activity with accuracy.   The latest report from Ofcom highlights that in an education setting, that students remember approximately 30 per cent of what they hear and 20 per cent of what they see. Compare that to virtual environment technology, where students remembered 90 per cent of the material they were taught.  Virtual Reality leads to higher knowledge retention than conventional classroom training because of its immersive nature What’s more, immersive learning comes with the huge added benefits of large scalability and lower cost thus making it incredibly appealing to the public sector in particular. The investment in the tech itself is not as large as one might think and once purchased, it can be adapted and rolled out across multiple geographic locations, making it more cost effective than arranging physical trainers.   Key for the emergency services is the opportunity immersive tech presents for safe learning. For firefighters, for example, training requires extensive on-the-job hours and simulations. But immersive tech can accurately reflect the sights and sounds of countless work-based scenarios. And, the programming can be amended to allow for unexpected consequences of the user’s actions, creating and presenting a new problem or obstacle to overcome.   VR provides immersive training OpportunityThe immersive approach allowed them to test their knowledge and explore their decision making in a safe environment.    There are many options available to the user, from full headsets to smart glasses. The user can be transported to a highly realistic and interactive training scenario — anything from chemical fires, to multiple vehicle accidents, to medical emergencies. The immersive nature of the training means that it feels practically real, making it an excellent method of training emergency services team members.   We live in an increasingly digitized world, so the technology is already familiar to many of us in one form or another. This means it doesn’t require specialist knowledge to make use of the tech; anyone with a smart phone should be well able to manage the experience.  Why vR training is important for the emergency services We all know how quickly things can change in the emergency services’ sector. Decisions must be made in an instant, with wide-reaching consequences — both good and bad. Adequate learning and development is one of the ways the sector can best prepare its staff for the realities of the job. Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of technological development and adaptation massively.  At Near-Life Tech, we recently worked with North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) to create a virtual dispatcher experience, with the learner playing the role of dispatcher presented with real-time decisions to make around resource allocation. All the video footage was filmed in the NWAS call centre, making it completely authentic, using a mix of real staff and professional actors to play out the scenarios.  This particular training project was created following a change in national guidelines around dispatch priorities, so call handlers were being retrained. The immersive approach allowed them to test their knowledge and explore their decision making in a safe environment.  How covid-19 has changed the demand for Virtual training   Covid-19 has completely changed the way learning and development is done. It’s not currently possible to host group training sessions, and it’s difficult to manoeuvre trainers around the country. But training must continue, with statutory requirements unchanged and the need to deliver an excellent service ever-present.   But Covid-19 has also ramped up the world’s reliance on technology, and that shouldn’t be any different for the emergency services. Whether it’s video conferencing or virtual workspace sharing, many industries have had to become au fait with new technology and now use it day in, day out. Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of technological development and adaptation massively.   The future of VR and immersive training Tech is evolving all the time, but in this sphere specifically some of the most exciting developments will come as product development seeks to encompass more senses into the existing immersive experience. Spatial sound technology is already available, but not widely used, while social touch technology offers incredibly exciting opportunities. Social touch includes that ‘sixth sense’ that someone or something is nearby — incredibly important in the emergency services world.   More and more industries are adapting immersive tech into their L&D and the emergency services sector is one that stands to benefit the most from this exciting technology.  

Lithium-Ion Battery Fires In Electric Vehicles Pose Danger To First Responders
Lithium-Ion Battery Fires In Electric Vehicles Pose Danger To First Responders

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is seeking to address fire dangers from electric vehicles that use high-voltage lithium-ion batteries. At risk are first responders who may be injured by electric shock or uncontrolled increases in temperature and pressure that can reignite the batteries. The risk of shock and fire arises from the ‘stranded’ energy that remains in a damaged battery, says the NTSB. A safety report from the U.S. federal agency documents their investigation into four electric vehicle fires that involved high-voltage, lithium-ion batteries. Emergency response guides Three of the batteries were damaged in high-speed car crashes, and then reignited after firefighters extinguished the vehicle fires. The fourth occurred during normal vehicle operation and did not reignite. NTSB noted inadequate emergency response guides from vehicle manufacturers, and gaps in safety standards and research related to high-voltage lithium-ion batteries involved in high-severity car crashes. Crash damage and resulting fires may prevent first responders from accessing the high-voltage disconnect Crash damage and resulting fires may prevent first responders from accessing the high-voltage disconnects in electric vehicles. The instructions in most manufacturers’ emergency response guides for fighting high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires lack necessary, vehicle-specific details on suppressing the fires, says the agency. Mitigation measures are needed for thermal runaway and the risk of battery reignition, and for the risks of stranded energy during emergency response and before a damaged electric vehicle is removed from the accident scene. Damaging battery modules Guidance is also needed on how to safely store an electric vehicle with a damaged battery. The investigated crashes caused damage that extended into the protected area of the cars’ high-voltage battery cases, rupturing the cases and damaging battery modules and individual cells. The non-crash fire was caused by an internal battery failure. In each case, emergency responders faced safety risks related to electric shock, thermal runaway, battery ignition and reignition, and stranded energy. On the basis of its findings, the NTSB makes safety recommendations to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to the manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries, and to six professional organizations that represent or operate training programs for first and second responders. Applying extinguishing agents In late 2011, NHTSA began working with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to assist first and second responders in handling lithium-ion batteries after a crash and was working with vehicle manufacturers to develop post-crash protocols for dealing with vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. The guidance also highlights the difficulty of applying extinguishing agents directly onto burning cells The NFPA emergency field guide states that large, sustained volumes of water are required to extinguish a high-voltage battery fire: “It could require over 2,600 gallons, depending on the size and location of the battery.” The guidance also highlights the difficulty of applying extinguishing agents directly onto burning cells because of the batteries’ protective cases. High energy density It further states that applying a large volume of water might cool the battery enough to prevent the fire from propagating to adjacent cells. A high-voltage lithium-ion battery is designed to resist water, but water is critical for cooling overheated cells to stop thermal runaway and further combustion. As the NTSB concluded its investigations, international incidents concerning other vehicle manufacturers came to light, including three high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires in Europe. Lithium-ion batteries have been chosen for battery electric vehicles (BEV) because they have high energy density (allowing them to store large amounts of energy for a given volume), a low self-discharge rate (allowing them to retain a charge), and excellent electrochemical potential (allowing high-power discharge).

vfd