Last weekend, when every one was getting ready for Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC 2014) in Indianapolis ID, my fellow lieutenant and I were heading to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD. We made the 250 mile trip from Connecticut to take Training Operations in Small Departments and maybe a visit to the Ott House Pub to add our company patch to their collection of 1000s from all over the world and maybe partake in a libation or two. We had a great instructor for the course: Jerry Clark. If you’re a career fire officer in NY State you know his work: he designed the course curriculum for the fire officer program.
One of the major points of the class curriculum is keeping your firefighters motivated. I realized, while in class, my core group of guys consists of hard chargers. They know who they are: the Steward, Mongo, Lamppost and the rest. These guys are clearly motivated and to their credit, the harder the training, the greater their drive. But it got me thinking, what about the rest of the crew? How do we get them motivated? We have tried a number of enticements: bribery, food, contests for bragging rights. These inducements all resulted in so-so and short-term outcomes.
So I asked myself if, maybe, is it a cultural change? I consider myself an engine guy and a student of the engine company world. I know this may seem strange, considering I co-administer a page called Truck Floor Training. But I’ve been on an engine in my department for almost 18 years and a lieutenant for about 10 of those years. We are a small volunteer department: six square miles with about 18,000 people in a suburban area. I’ll never get the nozzle time that a Lt. Ray McCormack, with 31 years in the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and all around engine company guru, is going to see, but does that mean I should be any less prepared than him? So why would it be acceptable to not train to an equal level. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “this isn’t (insert local career department here).”
How can we accept this? Because the culture may accept this? Has our culture become complacent? “It won’t happen here” “They’re only volunteers” Fortunately I haven’t heard this in a while. Cultural change? Maybe. Is it possible with the right motivation the attitude has begun to swing for the better? Remember the customer doesn’t see career or volunteer only fire department.
I’ve also heard when it comes to some training “my guys aren’t ready for that yet.” Well let’s get them ready for that. If we keep challenging them with harder and more complicated training events, maybe it will keep them motivated. Sometimes failure can be a great motivator. If you can’t get an obstacle completed in training but your buddy can, well, you won’t be able to walk into the firehouse with your head held high until you finish it; it’s not worth the joking. If you can’t get it done don’t forget we are a team we’ll help, you may get some teasing but we’ll get it done.
I’m not certain what the answer is but it’s out there, and I’m sure it’s not just in small New England departments.
I’m blessed to have a great crew and two co-administers to keep me on track. I can’t forget a captain and a training chief who are almost always on-board with my next crazy training idea. Also, the truck company in my department is highly skilled and good at what they do, so I can keep to humping hose and out of their way.
Thank you again for letting me get on my soap box.
Lt. Jay Fainer