The first taste of leadership in recruit academies is seen by trainees through the instructors and officers they have. As a young officer one of my mentors told me this little secret, “A true instructor is a leader of the future.” With that I had to ask how? My answer was, “you shape the minds and careers of many firefighters through education. By doing so you are leading the fire service of tomorrow.” It was not until much later that I could truly understand what this great leader was talking about. I have found it to be true that you lead tomorrow’s firefighters through instruction today.
An officer/instructor profile needs to encompass several areas to be able to meet these challenges and changes that we will face. First, we must find new motivation, motivation that exceeds all levels previous. We must bring new found excitement to the instructional programs we deliver. The excitement level that comes with the officer carries over and motivates the student to the same level or higher. We as instructors must enter the education setting that instruction is to take place with a true teaching attitude — not one of just doing the minimum.
Officers need to develop the right attitude about instructing. Attitude starts with evaluating whether you are meeting the mission statement of the fire service and your department through the training that you are performing. Secondly, you must evaluate whether your training is realistic. That is, realistic for your operations and equipment. Higher levels of training are great and have their place, but are we meeting the needs of the departments we serve? If not, we need to reevaluate what and how we are teaching.
We must find new ways to deliver quality training in a society where budgets are being slashed to below acceptable levels. This will require you as the officer/instructor to be innovative if you are faced with a substandard budget. There are many resources that are available to a department and an officer if we just look for and seize the opportunities that are available. One opportunity that is not utilized by the fire service to the level that it could be is the National Fire Academy and the Learning Resource Center located there. The quality of education provided by the National Fire Academy is one of the ultimate learning experiences you could encounter.
Finally, is your training current or out dated? I know that this is a big argument in every department as you hear, “We have done it this way for 30 years.” That is well and good. However, is there a more current, more progressive or better way?
Leaders and Students
The officer/instructor for this generation is a three-part process that starts with the instructor as I have shown above. It does have two other key components, such as leaders and students. Leaders must take a more proactive role rather than the typical reactive role. Change is easier when affected from the top down rather than from the bottom up. As a leader of a department you must ask yourself several questions:
- Are we prepared for the changes of tomorrow?
- Are we currently meeting our training needs?
- Are we ready for what we are destined to face in the near future?
- Are we, as a group, willing to change to meet these new demands?
These are some key questions that not only leaders must ask of themselves, but also of each department and its members. Remember, talk is cheap and your actions will speak louder than words. These actions may be the spark that starts or revitalizes motivation in the organization.
The students also play a significant part in the training process. A student today must recognize that changes are imminent and concur. This starts with the willingness of a student to be motivated to new levels by their officers, their peers and by themselves. Motivation is the starting point for change. This motivation should bring new or revived energy. This new energy should be focused towards learning new ideas, concepts and techniques. This will require the student to explore new realms of the fire service and the knowledge that is directly associated.
Exploration often times means traveling to different areas of the state, region or nation to find new information and ideas. Large symposiums and conferences like FDIC are excellent examples of this travel where you can meet and learn from individuals worldwide. Travel can occur and you never leave the station. When fire journals arrive, do more than just look at the pictures.
The availability of information on the World Wide Web is only a simple search away. Read and study how different departments handle responses and situations. Read the articles for more than just leisure reading. Once in these setting you must be willing as a student to explore new ideas. We often forget as instructors that we are also students. Each time you teach, you should be learning. All of these concepts are important, but without discipline to recognize and participate, change will not occur.
As officers/instructors you have an obligation to provide quality education. The future of the fire service depends on the utilization of our talents as educators. You see, the attributes of good instructors coincide very closely with good leaders. Company officers are the true leaders of the fire service.
Knowledge is power, share it!
Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations and fire ground safety and survival.