Be a Better Fire Service Trainer

John Milton Gregory first published his seven laws of teaching in 1884. His template for teaching promises “a clear and simple statement of the important factors governing the art of teaching”. This classic work and these principles are still applicable today.

I consider myself to be a “conference junkie”.  I thoroughly enjoy the, seemingly endless, conferences, seminars, and training opportunities that the the fire service has to offer.  This also means that for every really great presentation that I have listened to, I have had to endure two or three not-so-great presentations. Applying these seven laws of teaching will improve any fire service trainers delivery and program.

Law 1. Law of the Teacher -- “The teacher must know that which he would teach.”

Simply put, know your material. Teach what you know, do not try to over-reach your knowledge and experience. Spend plenty of time studying the material, make it fresh every time you teach. Do not be afraid to use other books, and outside resources.

Law 2. Law of the Learner -- “The learner must attend with interest to the material to be learned.”

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.  The extrinsically motivated learner is there because he was told to be, is required to be, needs the class for certification or promotion, or someone else is paying the price for them to attend.  

Intrinsically motivated learners are in the class because they have a desire to know and learn what is being taught, they want to enhance their career knowledge, and they are genuinely interested in the material.  No matter how great the instructor is the extrinsically motivated student will not receive the lesson to be learned.  Transversely, no matter how bad the instructor is, the intrinsically motivated student will still take away value from the presentation.

Law 3. Law of the Language -- “The language used in teaching must be common to teacher and learner.”

Use common fire service language and terminology.  Also, keep in mind that everybody has a unique learning style. Some people learn best by reading and seeing and others by listening.  The most commonly encountered learning style in the fire service seems to be hands-on training. Knowing this, and knowing the audience, you can prepare a lesson that utilizes a common language and the most effective teaching style.

Law 4. Law of the Lesson -- “The truth to be taught must be learned through truth already known.”

Apply new concepts to past experiences of the student.  Allow the students to reframe the lesson in their own words.

Law 5. Law of the Teaching Process -- “Excite and direct the self-activities of the pupil, and as a rule tell him nothing that he can learn himself.”

Find the point of contact between the students current situation and application of the lesson being taught.  Teach students to explore themes and ideas themselves.  Teach them to ask, “what? Why? How? Where? When? By whom? What of it?”

Law 6. Law of the Learning Process -- “The pupil must reproduce in his own mind the truth to be learned.”

Help students take on the role of an “investigator” and work with them to reach the desired conclusions, or lesson to be learned.  Encourage students to pursue life-long learning and a constant pursuit of excellence, knowledge, and truth.

Law 7. Law of Review and Application -- “The completion, test, and confirmation of the work of teaching must be made by review and application.”

The most common method of evaluation is through the use of Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation:

Level I - Reaction
This assesses the students initial reaction to the course.  This is most commonly conducted through the use of a course or instructor program evaluation form.  From these documents, the instructor can gauge whether the students received value from the training, and can receive feedback on course elements to add or remove.

Level II - Learning
This is conducted through an end-of-class examination. This level of evaluation is meant to assess the amount of information that the student has learned and retained.

Level III - Transfer
This evaluation occurs between six weeks and six months from the end of the class. This is to assess how much of the material the student has retained from the classroom to practical application in the field.

Level IV - Business Results
This occurs between six months and two years after the training program. The ‘business results’ evaluation allows the instructor to assess the financial impact and return on investment of the training program. This should answer the questions of, “Is what we are doing making sense?” and “Is it cost-effective to continue this line of training?”

The study and implementation of these laws and principles will set any instructor on the path to successful training, that provides value and enhances a departments educational program.

Additional Resources

Conducting Home Visits

The most important component of community risk reduction (CRR) is strategic contact with the public. A strategic contact consists or much more than handing out stickers or plastic hats at the mall.  The strategic contact is a contact made that meets the objectives of the communities CRR plan, and is immediately beneficial to the person contacted.  This can most effectively happen in fire department home visits

The purpose of the home visit is to make residents and home owners aware of any fire hazards that may be present in the home, and ensure that smoke and CO alarms are installed. These visits and reports should be considered confidential. It is not the intent of the home visit to "punish" the resident, or cause problems within their community.

NFPA 1452, Guide for Training Fire Service Personnel to Conduct Community Risk Reduction, outlines some basic factors for conducting home visits and provides an example home visit form. This information and form can be found in Chapter 11 and Annex A of the document.  The form example provided is basic. A Google search will turn up multiple home visit articles and resources. However, there are two that are ready-made, and freely available that I would recommend.

This documentation packet includes a form that a fire department can use to assess the communities risk reduction needs. It also includes a great questionnaire for individual properties.

Fire-Ed also offers a free, 5-part e-mail series that provides a blueprint for bringing proven fire and life safety education to your community.  You can sign up for this, here --> provides a free PDF home visit form.  This form can be filled out electronically, or they can be printed and completed manually. This home visit form is more extensive and includes the ability to submit the results directly to Vision 20/20

Knowledge Management for the Fire Service (Part 6)

Knowledge encompasses more than just data and information. Knowledge is the beneficial application of  a mix of information, experience, and context. Of knowledge there are two types, uncodified and codified. Uncodified knowledge resides in the heads of individuals, this knowledge becomes codified when it is shared through discussions or documentation.

Knowledge management is the term used to describe the systematic process by which this knowledge can be collected, accessed, and utilized in a way that adds value to the organization.  Knowledge management is taking advantage of what is known to maximize an organization’s value, or a department’s value to the community.

The consulting firm of McKinsey & Company is known for its dedication to learning and the value placed on knowledge management.  The fire service can benefit from applying these knowledge management principles from the Firm.

Don’t re-invent the wheel. Somebody, somewhere, has most likely experienced the same problem that you are experiencing.  They have already done the mental exercise of thinking through the problem, and performed the hard task of creating a solution. For practically any problem there is an abundance of reports, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or graphs that can assist in the solution implementation.  Search out these documents.  Additionally, there are people within our organizations who are experts at different things. They have different skills in the fire service - rescue, operations, tactics, prevention, command - and outside of the fire service that may be applicable to your problem.  Know your people, and utilize their strengths.

As various issues arise or occur, the solutions should be documented and made accessible. No doubt, many of these ‘problem-solution’ combinations are saved on multiple e-mail inboxes. A simple spreadsheet could be a good start in assembling this information.

Talk to your people, or review their resumes to see what other skills they have. As with the documentation, a simple spreadsheet of individual and skills can be created and searched when needed.

Develop a rapid response culture. When I started out in my public service career as a fire inspector, I was amazed at how easy it was to, “wow” people with my customer service. I didn’t do anything extra, all I did was return phone calls and e-mails, and follow-up on what I said I would. I thought this was normal human behavior.  I quickly learned, it was not.

It is very frustrating to be tasked with solving a problem when the people you need information from for the solution are  unresponsive. Implementing something similar to Mckinsey & Co.’s,  “24-hour response policy”  can quickly decrease the time and work it takes to reach a conclusion. Any inquiry, in person, by phone, or e-mail is required to receive a response within 24 hours.

Acquire external knowledge. Search out and use experts outside of your organization. As an AHJ or fire code official, you may not know every intricate detail of a specific fire alarm or suppression system.  However, those contractors that work with these day in and day out, are intimately familiar with their product. Use them. For pre-planning activities, involve the building managers, they know the structure and its processes better than anyone else. Maintain documentation on the information they provide, and add the individual to your database or spreadsheet of experts to consult.

Promote knowledge accumulation.  Knowledge management should be promoted from the top ranks all the way down. Incentivize rapid response and the support and development of others within the organization.  

At the completion of big projects or problems, bring the team together to summarize lessons learned, processes involved, and take aways for other operations. In the fire service we may utilize an AAR (after action review) to identify concerns and compile lessons learned after a fire incident.  When members return from conferences or training sessions, bring them together or put what they learned into a shared document, so the whole department can benefit from their experience.  When new buildings or new systems are introduced to the community, bring the building management, system contractors, and fire department personnel together to learn about the structure or system.  Maintain and distribute any related documentation.

This is the final post in the, McKinsey Method for Fire Protection Solutions, series. The goal of this series was to promote a consultative approach to solving fire protection problems.  In all the steps, and lessons learned, knowledge management plays a critical role. Knowledge management, “knowing what”and “knowing who”, is an essential skill for reaching effective and efficient solutions.

Big Water, Little Water - How To Determine Your Need

Ian Keating, "Fire Hose (Yellow & Orange)"

The basics of fire extinguishment come down to this, "big fire, big water; little fire, little water". But, how can you know what amount of water you will need?  The fire service stresses the importance of pre-planning. How can you pre-plan your water need?

A good tool for determining minimum water supply can be found in NFPA 1142, Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural FirefightingThis standard provides a simple formula than can be used to determine the minimum water supply that will be needed for a given structure on the fireground.

MWS = [(total volume of structure) / occupancy hazard)] x construction classification x 1.5 if exposure hazard

In short, the formula can look like this:

MWS = (TCF / OH) x (CC) x (EH)

Step 1. Determine total cubic feet of the structure (TCF).

This can be done by multiplying the length by the width, then adding the height of each floor plus 1/2 height to the ridgepole. 

TCF = (L x W) x (height of each floor + 1/2 distance to ridgepole)

Step 2. Determine the occupancy hazard classification number (OH).

The occupancy hazard classification should be based on the number and description as assigned in, NFPA 1142, Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Firefighting. 

3 - severe hazard occupancy
4 - high hazard occupancy
5 - moderate: combustibility of contents expected to develop moderate rate of heat and flame spread
6 - low: combustibility of contents expected to develop low rate of heat and flame spread
7 - light: combustibility of contents expected to develop light rate of heat and flame spread

Step 3. Determine the construction type classification number (CC).

The construction type classification should be based on the number and description as assigned in, NFPA 1142, Standard on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Firefighting. 

0.5 - Type I construction
0.75 - Type II construction
1.0 - Type III construction
0.75 - Type IV construction
1.5 - Type V construction

Step 4. Determine if there are any exposures.

If exposures exist, the final step of the formula is to multiply by 1.5. However, the total MWS for buildings with exposures can never be less than 3,000 gallons.

Step 5. Complete the formula.

Plug the appropriate numbers into the correct spot on the formula. Work the simple math.  The number produced will indicate the minimum amount of water needed for extinguishment.


Sample problem:

The dwelling has the following characteristics:

  • 20' x 20'
  • single story - 10'
  • pitched roof - 4' to ridgepole
  • wood frame construction
  • one exposure
(TCF / OH) x CC = MWS

20 x 20 x 12 = 4,800 cu.ft. (TCF)
     4800 / 7 (OH) = 685
          685 x 1.5 (CC) = 1,028
               1,028 x 1.5 (EH) = 1,542 gallons

The minimum water supply needed for this structure is 1,542 gallons. However, since there is an exposure a minimum of 3,000 gallons of water must be available.