Been on my Fire Dept for 5 years now. We are a Small Town Volunteer Department, we average 20 calls a year, 50% of them being medical assist with the local ambulance the rest being run of the mill fender benders, grass fires and not savable structures. We dont get paid per call and our pat on the back is literally a steak dinner and a t-shirt every year. I`m happy with that.
What scares me is I`m 27 years old, currently the new Assistant Chief/Training Officer and highest trained individual on our department because I completed a FF1 & 2 = Hazmat Awareness and Passed the state test. Granted this is on paper and there are guys with experiance on my department that training cant trump till I gain the experiance. I have a desire to learn, eat, sleep and breath anything to do with the fire department. I even get pumped to go to the ICS classes no one wants to attend. I realize not everyone can have that same desire and isnt less effective if they don't.
We do not train very often (1-3 times a year) and we havent had a real savable structure/rescue since I joined. I dont know what my guys can do and they should feel the same about me. Reason being is even if its possible to know everything thing there is to know about our job they or I don't know eachother skill level because we havent needed them or tested them in training. I lack the confidence in knowing my fellow FFs are equipped to perform safely and effecvtivly and they dont seem to desire to know this about myself or 5 other newer FFs on our department.
I thought having the position would be easy to get others motivated. Last night I got really scared. I brought up the thought of training 1 time at least, and picking a set day and time. Some feedback I heard was "What do we have to train on that much?" "This will never happen" "We are already busy enough meeting for business 1 time a month" "Whats wrong with the way we have been training?"
Currently we are sitting with 5-6 Guys Under the age of 35. 5 Guys between 35-50 and all the rest (12) are over 50. And almost no one to fill a spot let alone the potential spots that could be left open by guys who are thinking of retirering. So we can just say "Train or Leave" Expecially when majority rules and I`m in the minority.
We haven't been taxed buy a serious indecent, and I`m afraid someone is going to get hurt or even die. It isn't always going to be a cake walk and I'm looking for any advice I can get. I don't want to turn a blind eye or wait for fate to reveal itself. I`m sick to my stomach and don't know what to do.
Mike, who put you in charge? Is this a voted in position or were you appointed by the Chief? I would discuss your feelings with the Chief. If he supports your concerns then go with it. If he dosnt then start looking for a new Dept. Your beating your head against a cold stone wall Bro. Yes, regardless of the types or numbers of calls you need to train on a regular basis. Your right, you need to know what your fellow firefighters strengths and skills are as well as them you. How would that be accomplished if you dont train? Bottom line, if you dont train your not prepared and thus YOUR NOT TRAINED!
We have a ladder system for advancement in the department. Your voted on as a secretary/treasurer/officer by willing to do the job. After 3 years your given the chance to move up to Asst. Chief/Training Officer if the other members feel your up to the task. If someone like the past Chief or Officer would like to step in and resume the Asst Chief/Chief position a vote is made to decide who is who. If no opposition you move up under an assumed unanimous vote.
I feel with a little support from the past Chiefs, Officers and my progressing ability to lead I will be a good Chief in 3 years. I hate to say it but the current Chief is a title chaser and I don't feel he has the leadership we need. I did not realize this until as an Asst Chief I started to press some training problems and got immediate pressure back from him.
I will not take the position in 3 years and will step down from my current position if my call out for more training goes unheard. I will not be responsible for injuries or worse from lack of training.
The thought has crossed my mind to find another FD, I`m young, but I have planted roots with a home and family in our community and its easier said than done. I really want to make a change in our Dept for the sake of my guys and people in our district.
Tough situation to be in. I have to agree with Fireyladd however I would take it one step further, as with any small town dept. it's not only your neighbors lives/property you've sworn to protect but it's also your own life/property. If the chief isn't concerned ask why because I'm sure it's the chiefs neighbors as well and if he doesn't give a rip about being well trained when the time comes to help them then what's he in the business for, we don't do it for the pay but to help our community out and drive the big red trucks.
I will drive this point home with my own dept. when something comes up and everyone balks, what if one of our own needs help with their fire or life hmmm. Oh but we only get 20 calls a year so we'll never have THE BIG ONE, wrong, sometime it'll happen whether it's in 6 months or 6 years and if you're not trained you're caught with your bunkers down.
You're caught between a rock and a hard place but keep your head up and the enthusiam. Training can be made fun and help make up for lack of a large amount of calls by keeping your skills sharp. Everyone always has a boss even the chief, their called your customers (the neighbors and community you serve).
I am an asst. chief (16 years on the dept. last 4 as chief and then 1 asst. chief) on a small rural dept. that averages 200 calls a year with 28 firefighters/ems personnel but we don't quite have the same amount of 50+ members as you do so it'll seem like you're pushing a rock up a hill to get them excited to train so my advice is forget them and work on the younger ones. Ask the chief if you can have regular trainings at least once a month and who ever shows up thats what you got to work with, it's not ideal but adapt and work with it. The ones who show up to train are the ones who'll know what to do when the bad stuff hits the fan while the others stand around with the deer in the headlights look.
NEVER let them tell you "we're just volunteers". I wish you the best and welcome to the brotherhood where we all put our bunkers on the same way, one leg at a time.
Sounds like you have taken over one heck of a situation.
As Training Officer, you will be one of the mebers of your department, along with the Chief testifying in court as to why your members did not meet, at least, some type of an internal training/performance standard and why they did not train on a regular basis. And depending on the laws in your state, you could be sued civilly as well, and you could lose your house, vehicles and a large chunk of your paycheck until the lawsuit has been paid off.
I fully understand what you are going through as I have been a volunteer imn a small depament where the mebers didn't want to train, and the department didn't train. Of course, that was 20 years ago, and as we all know, the fire service was a different animal back then in a very different regulatory and legal enviroment. Not training today, and not having standards, can get your department and you, as the Training Officer, into a lot of trouble if things go bad.
My advice would be to develop a framework for where you want training to go (how often, topics, minimum requirements) and talk to the Chief about what you have in mind. Talk to the Chief about performing a skills evaluation on all members to see where they stand in terms of basic skills, includung a time goal for each skill. And then develop a set of minimum performance standards that new members (as well as any existing members that did not meet them during your testing) must meet within a specific time frame.
If the Chief does not go for increrasing training to an absolute minimum of once per month and insistiuting minimum attendance standards in accordance with some type of performance testing, I would seriously think about your position as training officer, as you may be exposing yourself to some serious liability, depending on state laws.
2011 we had 25, 2010 we had 11, So far for 2012 we have 5.
This is NW Minnesota population density in our county is 10/sq Mile. 435 sq/Miles. The City I live in is a population of 270 people. So Yeah are call volume is low.
Where are you going with this?
Wow, Mike!! I can sure relate. We have very similar departments. 2011 we ran 10 calls. We cover around 300 square miles with about 1500 residents. We don't do medical unless EMS requests us. 50% grass fires, 20% structure (usually unsaveable), 20% vehicles, 10% misc.
Due to the area, we have 2 stations. Each station has about 18 personnel. You can count on 4-6 from my station to oshow up on a call.
I was promoted to Captain in 2009 - we have 1 chief for the department, 1 deputy for each station and 1 captain for each station = 5 officers total. My Deputy doesn't seem to be around and I'm essentially running the show at my station.
We try to meet 2 times each month, but attendance is horrible. I'm doing everything I can to try to spice up the training: Emails ahead of practices, quarterly newsletter to the community, newer DVD's, older VHS tapes, etc.
There's a lot of the old "everything has worked fine until now....why change it?" attitude.
The one thing is being sure that basic skills are kept sharp if you have a training night or day maybe aleast once a month at that.
Where I am we could run 20 runs a day, fire or medical. Our nights for training is every Monday but the first Monday depending on holidays is meeting nights and the last Monday is a board of directors meeting while the others train.
Sometimes we have special training nights from our county or state training providers.
We just had a Mayday training night with training props that make firefighters think about what to do if they get hung up inside a fire and have to work at getting themselves out and calling for help and what others have to do to get to the down firefighter.
One thing I would wonder if you dept lost anyone from your dept because you don't train and they just left or went somewhere else?
Mike, As a guy on a small department and we only run about 35-40 calls a year. we run no ems because we have a paid ambulance service in are town.We have 35 members and 16 are SCBA certifited. We have our meetings 1st monday of every month and practice the other 3 mondays. Here i go with knowing how you feel. 5 years ago i was working nights along with 8 of the other guys on the department. I mentioned to are Chief i would like to run a day time practice for the guys that work nights. I thought he was going to have a stroke for me mentioning such a thing. So because we are a Village department i went to our mayor and explained the situation and behold the next week we were practicing mondays during the day. The chief told me i would not get anyone to show up; but i went ahead any ways. The first week i had 3 show up. When word got out that we were doing this with in a month we had anyplace from 10-20 firefighters practicing. ( Lot of neiboring departments were sending members of their own down to practice.)
I believe we fight fires the same way we practice. You need to get your people to grasp this concept. A old chief told me once" We don't practice to get it right; We practice so we can't get it wrong. When the siren goes off and we are wetting our self 's from excitement we do not think. But if we practice the same way we are going to do things on a call and enough we don't have to think we just do." I would say just start a practice and see what happens. My guess is you will find others will start showing up just to see what they are missing. Never give up on what you know is right. I can unsure you i'm not the most poplar officer on our department but i never waver on the safety of our firefighters and what is right and wrong. Good luck to you and please keep us posted on your progress.
Are you in a state that requires a certain number of hours of training? How much credit did you get for training hours on your last rating? Do you have members that have haz-mat Awareness that are not getting the required amount of haz-mat refresher hours each year?
These are all things that I would bring up to the Chief if he asks you why the department needs to train.
I fear you won't like my answer but here goes.
You need to sit down with the Chief and tell him you concerns, tell him you need HIS support to improve training for the department. You also need his support to establish a minimum level of training, such as Firefighter 1, and maybe even Driver Operator for anyone that wants to drive, and Officer certification for anyone wishing to be an officer.
If he is unwilling to support additional training, or setting any kind of minimum standard, resign your position and just go back to being a grunt. There is no point in hanging your neck out just to have it chopped off of something goes horribly wrong. That isn't being a quitter, it is protecting yourself and your family against finacial ruin against odds you can't change.
Good luck, I hope you can open the chief's eyes. If you can't you know my advice. Because I have been there, done that, and have effected change. But believe me, if it hadn't happened I would have resigned just like I suggested you do.
I feel for you man! Thats a tough one. But, as far as the "We are already busy enough meeting for business 1 time a month" all I can offer is our schedule:
Maintenance "meetings": EVERY Tuesday night
Trainings: Every Thursday (except for night after monthly business meeting)
Roll Call meeting: 2nd Thursday of the month (can do what ever business needs to be done in the middle of the month, touch base with everyone etc...)
Monthly Business Meeting: Last Wednesday of the month
This doesn't include any of our other "projects" or commitments that come up nearly every other day of the week. (Right now we are practicing for a charity basketball game against the neighboring towns FD on Monday and Wednesday evenings.) This week we had a Operations Division meeting, new officer pictures for the paper, opened the station to and assisted the HS basketball teams (boys and girls) with team photos on the apparatus, and on Friday we are assisting with a fire drill at a local elementry school. This is the way it is every week!
Our department also runs 300 +/- calls per year so we do operate a lot more often than you do, but that's all the more reason to train once-twice a month, in my opinion. If your not using your skills you lose them.
We are right now just starting to really work on these "we don't need to train or participate in maintenance because...." guys now with our newly elected Chief. We have 38 members and 6ish that participate in everything that we possibly can.
I know that there wasn't really any helpful information in all this, but I just wanted to give you an example of why these guys aren't "...busy enough meeting for business 1 time a month" Heck, my wife and kids would LOVE if I was only busy once a month...
Best of luck and stay safe!