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The Importance of Quality Content for Fire and EMS Training Featured

Wednesday, 28 June 2017 00:00 Written by  Super User
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Guest blog written for ATS by Robert Avsec

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On-line training and education. Buzzwords in today's fire service training circles. Fire departments, large and small, are leaping into the on-line training and education "pool" as a solution for their every-changing training and education needs for their members.

Training and Educational Needs

Many fire departments across the U.S. and Canada struggle with meeting their training and educational needs because of many factors such as, but not limited to:

• A body of knowledge that keeps expanding for the multitude of services that fire departments deliver to their citizens, e.g., fire suppression, EMS, hazmat, and technical rescue (incumbent staff training).

• Multiple generations of members in their organizations, each with their own learning characteristics.

• Increased demand for training and educational deliveries created by members retiring from career departments (creating entry-level training demands).

• Increased demand for training and educational deliveries created in volunteer departments who successfully recruit new members and to replace members they've lost (entry-level training again).

• Decreasing financial support for training and education due to budget reductions or drop-offs in citizen donations.

Public Expectations for the Fire Service

When people watch Chicago Fire (one of today's most popular TV shows) or any number of the reality "ride along" shows available across the cable TV channels and on the Internet, they see fire trucks with lots of firefighters responding to emergencies. They see those firefighters and their massive arsenal of firefighting equipment arriving within minutes and quickly putting out the fire and rescuing trapped occupants.

Sure, you and I know this is "Hollywood" and its entertainment because we know how it "really is." However, to quote a former deputy chief of mine, "Perception is reality to most people." Especially when those holding those perceptions have not been informed and educated otherwise.

Such high expectations can only be met by firefighters who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to provide the services that a department provides in their community.

To meet these challenges, firefighters—and the officers who lead them—have a great need for quality training and education that is: (1) current; (2) accessible; and (3) affordable.

• Too many departments lack the resources to develop their own training programs to meet new threats, while keeping the programs they have current regarding new information, technologies, and methods (Current).

• Many departments lack the resources to handle training "in house" and must depend on state or provincial fire training programs to obtain the necessary training. At the same time, most state or provincial agencies have had significant reductions in their funding and their ability to deliver programs to meet the growing needs of local fire departments (Accessible).

• Lastly, many departments have seen their operating budgets reduced, or they have not kept pace with the demands placed upon the organization. Training programs are frequently the first target for budget cuts by a department (Affordable).

On-Line Training and Education

While on-line training and education is a growing space in fire and EMS training, on-line training is not new. On-line Training Version 1.0 (e.g., Blackboard and other educational portals) provided dedicated e-mail systems, electronic "drop boxes" for assignments, and PowerPoint slide presentations. But those systems were pretty much about "inserting" technology into the teacher/student relationship. The technical advances in content creation and development and delivery processes for on-line training are revolutionizing the industry.

Online Training Version 2.0 has demonstrated tremendous potential to give students a more interactive learning experience. The technology can give students the ability to interact with course material in ways heretofore unimaginable. The use of video, 3-D modeling, and modular curriculum that requires the student to demonstrate that they've learned before allowing them to proceed in the course are just a few of those technological advances. But how does a fire department truly know that its members are learning the KSAs that they need to do their job safely, effectively, and efficiently?

Why Learning Matters

The goal of occupational training should be for the individual to acquire new KSAs or improve upon previously learned KSAs. The desired result is the individual's capability to do a new job or improve their job performance in their current job.

The acquisition of new knowledge and skills are both important. However, the organization and the individual truly benefit when training results in the ability of the individual to apply their new knowledge and skills to real-world situations and problems. That is, the student learned something of value.

Fire departments can ill-afford to continue investing their precious resources—time, money, and people—in training where learning is not taking place.

Where On-line Training Version 2.0 is "Missing the Boat"

Two words: Quality content. The true capabilities of the on-line training delivery platforms are not being maximized. Why not? Because in many cases it's the same information that's been displayed on a screen using PowerPoint slides during instructor led training for years (And who hasn't heard the phrase, "Death by PowerPoint"?)

This lack of new and pertinent information has a negative impact on both entry-level and incumbent staff training. For example, if both of those student populations are not learning about the hazards of smoke exposure that put firefighters at an increased risk of developing cancer, how can we expect them to follow departmental SOGs regarding the appropriate use of PPE and SCBA on the fire scene? How can we expect them to comply with SOGs regarding the cleaning and storage of their PPE following exposure to smoke and fire gases?

Those are just a couple of examples for sure. Others include transitional fire attack, risk assessment on the fire scene, "two in and two out" and RIT, the effects of on-the-job stress, and sexual harassment in the fire service.

One local fire department training chief expressed his frustration—a frustration likely shared by many other training chiefs—like this. He said that they were using on-line training provided by a good company, and although it was great for training records management, the course content was terrible.

He went on to say that the content he had been using was very dry and didn't keep his crews' attention very well at all. This training chief—who oversees the planning and delivery of training across all fire departments in his region—said he wanted his students to be engaged in the material being presented, yet many companies were just using slides or a person talking on the screen.

When asked what he really needed, he said they would love content with high quality video production that focused more on demonstrating skills. He wanted to use it as ongoing and recurrent training in conjunction to hands-on training. But most importantly, he wanted to see on-line training that included the capability to assess how well actual learning is taking place.

So, when deciding on issues regarding training content and delivery, be sure to find a provider that is willing to work with you to meet your needs. Ask for a demo, try the system, and most importantly, be sure your crew is going to be engaged and properly educated.

When it comes right down to it, the public expects your responders to have the proper knowledge, skills and experience to help. At the end of the day, high-quality/competency-based training over simple compliance training will significantly benefit everyone involved and keep both your crews and community safe.

References
ATS. Fire & EMS Training: Compliance vs. Competency. http://www.action-training.com/blog/item/54-fire-ems-training-compliance-vs-competency
Avsec, R. Why On-line Training is the Future for Fire Service. http://www.fireemsleaderpro.org/2014/12/11/line-training-future-fire-service/

For more information on Action Training Systems video resources call 800.755.1440 ext 3 or email info@action-training.com

Robert Avsec

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an active instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state, and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Since his retirement in 2007, he has continued to be a life-long learner working in both the private and public sectors to further develop his "management sciences mechanic" credentials. He makes his home near Charleston, W.Va.

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