The first taste of leadership in recruit academies is seen by trainees through the instructors they have. As a young instructor 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 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 newfound excitement to the instructional programs we deliver. The excitement level that comes with the instructor 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 minimu.
Instructors 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 instructor to be innovative if you are faced with a substandard budget. There are many resources that are available to a department and an instructor if we just look for and cease 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. The quality of education provided by the Fire Academy provides for 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. “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?
The instructor for the millennium 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 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 destine 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 each department and its members must also do. 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 an intricate 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 the instructors, 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.
Exploration often times means traveling to different areas of the state, region of nation to find new information and ideas. Large symposiums and conferences like FDIC, Firehouse Expo and others 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. 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.
Instructors have an obligation to provide quality education. The future of the fire service depends on the utilization of our talents as educators. See that the attributes of good instructors coincide very closely with good leaders. Knowledge is power, share it!
Douglas Cline, is a 29-year veteran and student of the Fire Service serving as Training Commander with the City of High Point (NC) Fire Department and Assistant Chief of Administration with the Ruffin Volunteer Fire Department.