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Fire departments have a tremendous responsibility to respond to a variety of emergencies in their communities. Firefighters are held to higher standards than ever to ensure they can do the job well. “There are always more challenges,” Training Officer Mike Tavalez said with a laugh. “It’s a lot of work just to maintain certifications and make sure that everyone gets the hours they need to renew.”

Tavalez has seen the demands on the Southwest Adams County Fire District in Denver, Colorado rise since he started as a volunteer in 1999. Since then, the fire district has changed from a primarily volunteer organization to a primarily career organization, and they also started their own EMS service in 2003. Although these changes have lowered their turnover rate and improved their overall service to the community, they also increased the priority on more training hours and certifications.

Tavalez sought Action Training Systems DVDs to aid his classroom lectures with visual reinforcement. “Visual learning means so much to what we do,” Tavalez said. “The videos fill in a lot of the gaps to make it more of a comprehensive presentation for students. They show how a firefighter functions, the students watch it being performed and then they go out and do it themselves.”

“We have to get a minimum of 80% on any test that we take,” Tavalez added. “We have all the specialized certifications like the technician-level HAZMAT, and the state is putting together rescue technician certifications that are coming out very soon. There are actually a few things coming our way, including a live-fire instructor certification for 2013, so that’s all coming down the pike as well.”

In addition to the ProBoard certifications, the state of Colorado also applies the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) accreditation system to all firefighters in the state. The tests in general are challenging, but the HAZMAT Operations test was Tavalez’s greatest challenge.

“Our state HAZMAT Operations test here is a really tough one,” Tavalez said. “Most of the folks I talk to who work in training are looking at a 50 to 60 percent passing rate. I’ve had everyone from HAZMAT technicians to industrial hygienists that have complained about how rough the HAZMAT Operations test is. I don’t know if you’ve seen the IFSTA book for it lately, but it’s about as thick as a phone book, and the test is only 50 questions, so there’s very little margin for error.”

Tavalez needed to overhaul his training library to keep up with the testing demands. He purchased the Action Training Systems HAZMAT Series in addition to Firefighter I & II and the Fire Officer series.“The (HAZMAT) videos that came out really help drive the point home by describing the containers and showing what they look like,” Tavalez said. “And they can support the instructor’s lecture or bring up topics that they may have forgotten or weren’t a part of the discussion. So the students are looking at something modern and they’re seeing modern equipment and they can relate to it a lot better that way.”

Tavalez believes that Action Training Systems was a great help. “Right now, we’re sitting at about an 80 percent pass rate for first-timers taking the test, and I definitely think the videos have a lot to do with that,” Tavalez said.

“I had eight students that came through in my last academy and all eight passed Firefighter I and six out of eight passed the HAZMAT,” Tavalez added. “None of the folks had any prior experience, so they were truly green. To go from zero to firefighter in a 20-week academy is pretty quick.”

For more information on the Southwest Adams County Fire District, visit their website at: http://www.swacfire.com/