By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Fire departments in many communities across North America are truly the only 24/7/365 service that citizens can call upon in just about any emergency. Don’t know who to call? Call the fire department.
Such an awesome responsibility—and the accompanying expectations that the firefighters who respond will know what to do—can only be met by firefighters who are knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced in a wide variety of subject matter that includes, but is not limited to:
- Fire suppression
- Emergency medical care
- Rescue from auto crashes, collapsed trenches, confined spaces, etc.
- Hazardous materials spills and releases
- Response to the consequences of natural disasters, e.g., tornados, hurricanes, winter storms, floods, etc.
In order to meet these challenges, firefighters—and the officers who lead them—have a great need for quality training and education that is current, accessible, and affordable. The body of knowledge for each of those disciplines above alone continues to grow, yet for fire departments the challenge of providing the training that meets those three criteria is becoming increasingly difficult.
- Many departments lack the resources to develop their own training programs to meet new threats and to keep the programs they have current regarding new information, technologies, and methods. (Current)
- Many departments lack the resources to handle training “in house” and must depend on state or provincial fire training programs to obtain the necessary training. At the same time, most state or provincial agencies have had significant reductions in their funding and their ability to deliver programs to meet the growing needs of local fire departments. (Accessible)
- Lastly, all department across the fire service have seen their operating budgets reduced, or they have not kept pace with the demands placed upon the organization. Training programs are frequently the first target for budget cuts by a department. (Affordable)
On-Line Training and Education
On-line training is not new. On-line Training Version 1.0 (e.g., Blackboard and other educational portals) provided dedicated e-mail systems, electronic “dropboxes” for assignments, PowerPoint slide presentations, etc., but such systems were pretty much about “inserting” technology into the teacher/student relationship. However, the huge technical advances in the content creation and development and delivery processes for on-line training have revolutionized the industry.
Online Training Version 2.0 brings the interactive experience of learning into the picture. The technology facilitates the student’s ability to interact with the material in ways heretofore unimaginable through the use of 3-D modeling, modular curriculum that requires the student to demonstrate that they’ve learned before allowing them to proceed in the course, and much more.
The “Rub” (And there’s always a rub!)
The fire service in general has been slow to adapt to new work methods, apparatus, and technologies. (Yes, I’m going to say it, “200+ years of tradition, unhampered by change.”) The technology is here today that can allow an individual to obtain the necessary knowledge of firefighting to successfully complete the knowledge-based portion of certification testing. What’s not here today is the widespread acceptance that an individual can learn to be a firefighter using a computer or tablet. Why is that?
People are earning under-graduate and graduate degrees through on-line learning every year. Doctors are diagnosing diseases and treating patients conducting the research to find cures for diseases every day using computers. Architects learn how to design buildings and engineers learn how to build them every day through on-line learning.
A Brave New Dawn
We should embrace this new capability to teach a person what they need to know to be a safe, effective and efficient firefighter, officer, inspector, investigator, instructor, or public fire and life safety educator. Doing so would free up our most precious teaching resource–the knowledgeable and experienced fire instructor–for the critical task of teaching that person the skills that they need to be a safe, effective, and efficient firefighter or officer…It would also enable us to use our diminished financial resources to pay for those instructors to conduct skills development training, i.e., how to be a firefighter.