Perform a Needs Assessment to Determine the Right Topics for Your Fire Department Training

Blog by Jacob Johnson
Lieutenant with Pearland Fire Department in Texas
It’s natural for a fire service instructor to wonder if they are delivering the right firefighter training for their personnel. They may wonder if they are focusing on the right things. The answer is simple: As training administrators, we need to focus on what needs to be covered, as well as what our personnel are requesting us to cover.
This can be accomplished by performing a “needs assessment” for fire departments that center on training “needs” vs. training “wants.”
The most important question instructors face is what type of training should they deliver? They may wonder, “Should I focus on the basics or should I focus on advanced training?” Here is my stance: Are the basics of firefighting important? Yes, they are very important and much needed to survive in this profession.
The fire service, however, is prone to focusing too much on the basics and not nearly enough on the more challenging firefighter training or skills we need to improve. By completing a needs assessment for fire departments, you can use those results to determine whether you should be focused on the basics, or pushing into the more advanced training material.
My personal goal as an instructor is to give a firefighter training class that is challenging to my audience and makes a difference in their performance. If that goal is accomplished in every class, everyone is happy. Now, sometimes a simple building construction class is challenging to some members of the department. But at the same time, it is taken as a refresher for some of the other members and not really much of a learning experience. It’s important to remember training is all about learning and what new skills your students can extract and spread to the rest of their crew or department.
Unfortunately, many instructors don’t train enough themselves. They become so confident and comfortable teaching the “basics,” they become lazy and even begin to think they will look bad if they teach outside of their comfort zone. They may be afraid they won’t have all the answers to all the questions, or they may be challenged by someone more up-to-date, making them look bad.
We can’t let ourselves become “paper-stack instructors.” Meaning, we can’t become an instructor who piles up certifications (aka: a paper stack) and then forgets what we were taught, and even worse, didn’t bother to learn more.
In order to give a challenging fire department training class, which will truly benefit our students, we must take classes that challenge us and make us better – giving us the confidence and knowledge we need to be effective. After all, it’s on us, as instructors, to make firefighter training as impactful as possible.
About the Author
Jacob Johnson works for Pearland Fire Department (Texas) as a driver/operator. He has been in the fire service for more than 11 years. He has taught at extrication schools, recruit academies, and several suppression schools. His certifications include: FF Intermediate, Driver/Operator, Fire Officer 1, Fire Instructor III.

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