Building the future fire officer and re-enforcing the capabilities of current ones.
Professional development in any career field is an important process for the stability and growth of the organization. The fire service tends to lean internally when it comes to promoting officers; this makes the practice of professional development a critical one. Our firefighters absorb specific operational knowledge about their response area over time, that knowledge becomes a brain trust which is invaluable to a department. The local operational knowledge required to be a fire officer in any given jurisdiction
is nearly a necessity. For that reason, it’s important for a fire department to develop the people they have as opposed to bringing in new officers from the outside. With clear expectations of your officers and a comprehensive development program, fire departments set the stage for their members to be successful while creating the foundation for a well-tuned and morale-rich fire department.
Professional development in the fire service can encompass many facets of leadership and management. As with everything, the scope of a professional development training program should be defined in writing. This definition could include educational requirements and address or defined a wide range of topics and resources for study such as:
- customer service
- conflict resolution
- communication (radio & routine)
- disciplinary action
- role playing sessions
- public relations
- ethics and holding a position of public trust
- personal life conduct
- social media conduct
- local incident command
- health & wellness
- applicable state and federal laws
- recognizing the signs of suicide and when to reach out
- creative problem solving
- diversity and cultural sensitivity
- handling customer complaints and much much more.
The list could be nearly endless. The core idea behind professional development is to identify the knowledge and skills your department finds desirable in an officer and create functional training around those topics. Training on each topic could be in the form of custom online multi media courses using a Learning Management System (LMS) (see Revolutionize Your Volunteer Training) combined with in-person training sessions. Building multi media classes around each topic allow the members to complete the assigned training on their own time, in their homes, at the ball game or in the air. No LMS? Classroom works just as well. Knowledge gained through LMS multi media courses should always be re-enforced with practical or even a role-playing session in the classroom. Some fire officers are unsure how they will react given a specific situation. Role playing puts the officer in that uncomfortable position allowing him to use his communication skills to resolve the problem. Coaching and mentoring during the role playing session helps to develop the officer’s skills in managing personnel.
Professional development training resources should be readily available to everyone within the department. The program you develop should be assigned to officers and used to refresh current skills as well as providing firefighters with the opportunity to learn and later promote. If utilizing a multi media LMS platform, a department could theoretically link course completion with potential for promotion when positions become available.
I’ve always held the belief that achieving certifications and/or education is just the beginning. It’s what you do with that education once you’ve completed it that makes all the difference. You can complete a driver operator course certifying that you understand the basics of driving and pumping a fire apparatus but does that necessarily make you qualified? Practicing the craft of being a good driver operator is essential to successful fire ground operation as the incident typically pivots on the pump operator. (See here) Similar to the driver operator analogy, simply learning about the aspects, principles, and processes of leadership and personnel management isn’t enough. The information and the knowledge you learn in classes require development and practice because that is the essence of being a professional.
It’s important to recognize that professional development is a process and it’s ongoing. There is mentoring and coaching that takes place throughout the officer’s tenure. As officers and future officers encounter situations and scenarios they aren’t quite equipped to handle, the act of walking someone through the steps to achieve the desired result will often help to form and develop a functionally more intelligent officer.
Every step of the way officers should be encouraged to own their role and not be afraid of making mistakes. There should be a mild expectation that we’ll all make mistakes at some point. We’re all human. Mistakes and missteps should be viewed as learning moments and an opportunity to develop skills and proper behaviors. As leaders, we should look at ourselves objectively and recognize that we’re all just practicing. Similar to how physicians practice medicine, we, as fire officer’s practice the art of leadership and our craft.
Without question, building a professional development program for your fire department will have a long lasting effect on the health and morale of the organization. If you or the members of your department do not possess the skills to create a professional development program or are not well versed in the topics requiring development, reach out to members or leaders within the community. It’s likely someone in your response area has the ability to help re-enforce customer service skills, conflict resolution skills and the like.
If you have any specific questions regarding anything in this article, please feel free to comment, and I’ll do everything I can to point you to some helpful topic resources.
Good Luck and Be Kind.
Other articles in the Thoughtful Leadership series include: