The Influence of Fire Department Training   

By: Susanna Schmitt Williams, Fire Chief, Carrboro (NC) Fire Rescue

Note from Chief Avsec: Recently, while cleaning up some old files and drafts of blog posts that never quite “matured”, I came across a Guest Blog that Chief Williams wrote while at her previous job as the Training Division Chief for the Jacksonville (NC) Fire Department. I think you’ll agree that this one has matured nicely and is very relevant, no?

Training teaches what Operations Does and Operations does what Training Teaches

Merriam-Webster dictionary online defines training as “a process by which someone is taught the skills that are needed for an art, profession, or job”. (Encyclopedia Britannica Company, 2014)  Training in emergency services is just that…and then some.

At its basic level, training in emergency services encompasses several things:20160808_Firefighters

  • Learning new skills when one is new to the profession (whether as volunteer or career member);
  • When one adds additional skillsets, for example when promoting to driver or officer; and
  • Honing/fine tuning previously learned skills with your crew (company drills).

The “and then some” is the Training Division’s influence on many aspects of an organization.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

I believe it is safe to say there are not many emergency services personnel who would deny that training is paramount to successful operations on incidents.  However, there are some whose actions would show otherwise.

Think of training participation and design on a bell curve distribution.

slide1There is sometimes a divide when it comes to training and its influence within an organization.  DiNolfo, et al. addresses this very issue, noting how fire service instructors are often placed to the side in a “Training Division” on an organizational chart creating a sense of isolation.

“Firefighters and even some fire officers are often seen as resisting or even obstructing the training process, because all too often those within the operations staff do not view training as having a high priority.”  (DiNolfo, et al., 2009)

What many don’t realize is a training division’s ripple effects have far reaching influence on the organization in many ways.  A few areas immediately coming to mind that stand to be impacted are Operations and Entry-level Training.


Training not only reinforces foundational knowledge learned early on in one’s career (volunteer or paid), but also Fireground meetingexpands upon that introductory knowledge.  For instance, with the latest research being conducted on fire behavior we have seen new techniques developed (or revisited) for initial fire attack.  With change, however, comes turmoil and we’ve seen and heard resistive voices in the fire service concerning this research.

Training can help change operational tactics, but only if the training is delivered at a pace the organization can handle.  The approach I took with my organization was a slow introduction after seeing the national resistance and hearing some “scuttlebutt” in my own organization.  Over a three-month period, I introduced articles and videos as part of our monthly training objectives.  This preceded any actual drills.  Had I jumped immediately into drills, this would have stalled or even prevented our adding these new procedures to our operational tactics toolbox.

This an example of where a training division must be aware of the pace with which an organization is ready to accept changes as it will heavily influence the acceptance of, or help drive, changes in operational tactics.  Following this introduction, we started on practical drills and developed operational polices to add these new initial fire attack tactics to our toolbox.

Entry-Level Training

Entry level training (new hire/ new volunteer, call it what you will) is another area where a training division can have remarkable influence.  With good design and implementation, entry level training can build commitment to an organization in its newest members.  It can set the foundation for good customer service and the conduct of the new personnel (member).

In evaluating our new hire training when I started as Training Chief, it was designed in a way that allowed for building commitment.  New personnel have the opportunity to train with multiple shifts, stations, officers, and firefighters throughout their training program.  This emphasizes the organization’s commitment for mentoring, guiding, instructing, and leading by all incumbent members for its newest members.

Our volunteer program functioned in much the same way, but it wasn’t always like that.  When I first assumed the

Young girls learn about the fire service, while instilling confidence at Camp Blaze.  Learn more at

role of Training Chief, my evaluation of the volunteer training program revealed that the Training Chief was tasked with always delivering training to volunteers.  That was “how it was always done”, but it didn’t allow for volunteers the opportunity to train with multiple shifts, stations, officers, etc., like their career counterparts.

Today, that volunteer training program has the volunteers rotate stations each month for training and training is led by the Company Officer at that station.  These are the personnel our volunteers will need to work with on an incident, not the Training Chief.  The current training format allows the volunteers to build the needed relationships with officers and firefighters.  It also allows for them and our paid personnel to see where everyone fits in on the team.

This commitment to all being involved in training reinforces our city’s “Customer Service is at our Core” motto.  Providing great internal customer service leads to great external customer service.  Providing that internal customer service with training is one piece of the puzzle towards our personnel exhibiting great external customer service.


While functioning in a training division we may sometimes feel as if we are on a deserted island not sure if our efforts are having an impact.  I challenge you to sit back and observe the ripple effects.  You may be surprised at how far they extend out.   I touched upon a few areas where I believe there is training division influence that are at the top of my list: operations and entry level training. I encourage you to keep the conversation going and share your ideas.

Works Cited

DiNolfo, S. H., Hirst, B., Klingensmith, B., Krizik, B., Larson, K., Peterson, D., et al. (2009). Fire Service Instructor Principles and Practices. Burlington: MA.

Encyclopedia Britannica Company. (2014). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved September 3, 2014, from Merriam-Webster:



About Susanna Schmitt Williams

Susanna Schmitt Williams is the Fire Chief for the Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department in Carrboro, North Carolina. She has 17 years of experience in the fire service having served as Firefighter, Master Firefighter, Driver Operator/Firefighter, Administrative Captain, Volunteer Program Coordinator, and Division Chief. Chief Williams holds many fire service certifications, has earned two Bachelor degrees and a Master's Degree in Public Administration (concentration in Fire Service Administration). She is currently enrolled in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is working on her CTO credentialing. Chief Williams is also an instructor for the annual FireHouse Software Education Training Seminar and coordinates a regional seminar held annually in Wilmington, NC.