The “bravest”. That is what our cities call us. The bar of expectations is set very high by our communities. But, do we fully understand that level of performance? That level of expectation?
Looking back at your days in recruit academy, do you remember having high aspirations and being full of initiative? Most of us do. We daydreamed about heroic acts, saving lives, battling infernos, and becoming the “salty guy” one day.
Was our dream realized? After all, how do we become the best, the “bravest”? Zig Ziglar once said, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great”. Nowadays, a typical firefighter recruit academy is 6 months (960 hours) of training, competency, and evaluation, just to know the basics. From day one we are taught that training saves lives, both the citizens’ and our own.
But when we graduate to the operations division, do we continue to train constantly? Sadly, no. Training is often reduced or neglected altogether, leaving a feeling of dissatisfaction. The fact is, many departments aren’t providing the kind of training personnel need to be successful. So, the question arises, is training actually a priority for you and your organization?
To honestly answer that question, look at the competence level of personnel. Employee competence directly reflects the level of customer service delivered to the community and the reputation of the department. All personnel have strengths and weaknesses, although some lean more to one side or the other. A good training program can reinforce those strengths, and more importantly, strengthen the weaknesses.
“If we’re going to expect professionalism and proficiency from our personnel, then we should support their journey.” – Captain Judah, Clermont Fire Department. Take time to invest in your organization’s greatest resource, its personnel. Training, developing, and educating employees will help them realize their dream, provide a higher level of customer service to the community, and create a more safety driven organization.
Organizational Investment. Fire departments are under constant pressure to improve operational efficiency, customer service, employee retention, and hiring practices. Investing in training and education can accomplish all of these. Yet, I often hear the remark that training is too expensive, or our budget just won’t allow it.
There are many reasons why departments are reluctant to help their personnel develop their skills. Ultimately though, what we need to ask ourselves is; would we rather have mediocre employees or highly-trained ones? For one, inadequate training can expose the organization to significant risks. When we study firefighter LODDs and injuries, we find that a lack of, or improper, training often contributes to the outcome.
However, there are several ways in which training can pay for itself.
Promotions: If we continue to put personnel in leadership positions who have done nothing to develop themselves, we can’t act surprised when they fail to develop others. Developing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of personnel helps create a pool of competent and qualified promotional candidates. Personnel who are well-educated in the organizational structure and operations of the department can complement its goals and help others see the mission and vision.
Engagement: When personnel are given opportunities to train, inside and outside of the organization, they emerge highly skilled, creative, and confident, thereby increasing their participation and motivation at work.
If personnel see the organization’s willingness to spend resources for higher-education, specialty courses, or conferences, they will tend to show loyalty right back. The department’s willingness to invest in personnel’s training and development will prompt them to invest their time and effort back into the department.
Succession: Trained and qualified personnel can remain a constant in your organization if you plan ahead and invest in the future. Our industry, and the world around it, constantly change, requiring both our organizational culture and services to change with it. Succession planning creates an invaluable safety net and allows a department to remain adaptive.
This investment needs to be more than just the second-in-command position. To ensure future organizational success, reviewing talent should be as regular as reviewing your budget. A fire department has multiple positions, find a successor for all of them. Build your “bench” strength.
Individual Investment. The fire service has evolved and will continue to do so. It is no longer a purely physical, on-the-job training profession. Fire science and business dynamics makes change in our profession a constant reality.
Knowledge, abilities, and career advancement are our responsibility. Investing in our professional development will only increase our credibility and give us a competitive edge over our co-workers.
Have a plan of action for your professional development. Where do you want to go? How fast do you want to get there? What are your weaknesses? Answer these questions, set goals, and focus on them. Invest in your dream.
Training and development should be a shared responsibility among personnel, supervisors, and the organization. When planned and implemented correctly and consistently, the benefits gained can spur considerable growth at both individual and organizational levels.