Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Training Tip Archives

2000  2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006 2007 2008

December 2002

Different Voices Many smaller departments have one training officer who teaches virtually every class. While that person might be highly knowledgeable and an excellent instructor, people can still grow tired of always hearing the same voice delivering information. Consider varying your training voices with the following:

  • Assign specific training topics to other members of the department and have them co-instruct a class.
  • Invite outside speakers from other departments or agencies to talk about their areas of expertise and interface with the fire department.
  • Use short videos in training classes.
  • Design training tasks that involve small group discussion and presentation. 

November 2002

Separate or Together? Some departments routinely train uniformed and non-uniformed personnel together for non-technical subjects. Others never do. What are the pros and cons of each choice? Consider:

  • Joint training allows people to interact who may otherwise have little contact with one another.
  • Joint training is an opportunity for the issues of different groups to be heard.
  • Separate training allows for a specific focus that may get diluted if the minority group (usually non-uniformed) is trained with the majority group (uniformed).
  • A history of bad relations or poor communications may derail the training session if good facilitation is not available. 

October 2002

Exchange Students Adults tend to learn best by doing. Inter-departmental exchange programs can be great learning experiences. Consider:

  • Doing ride-alongs with police officers to see emergency scenes from their perspective.
  • Cross-training as dispatchers.
  • Working for a day with the water department to better understand the water treatment and delivery system.
  • Spending time at the senior center to gain insight into the issue of older citizens.
  • Shadowing someone from social services to gain appreciation for the role they play.


September 2002

What They Want to Know How do you choose training topics? Is it only as a result of required certifications? What do your employees want or need to know? Consider:

  • Do a survey of training interest among employees.
  • Identify skills among members and those who might be willing to act as "adjunct instructors."
  • Tap into timely issues to make training more relevant.
  • Use local news footage to debrief recent events on your own or other departments. TV stations often have extensive films that they don't use that they may be willing to lend to you for training.


August 2002

Handling Handouts Most classes include some sort of handout material. Consider the following to make your handouts more useful:

  • Use bullet point or outline format instead of large blocks of text.
  • Include graphics and diagrams as appropriate.
  • Provide something new in the handout, rather than just a rehash of the presentation. Think twice about simply giving out copies of PowerPoint slides.
  • Include references and Internet links. This provides the means for interested participants to follow up on their own.
  • Keep it brief and focused. Include in the handout what you think people might actually use again after the class has ended.

July 2002

Use Your Resources! Most organizations have vast internal resources available that they never access. The individuals on your department have skills, experiences, and knowledge that can benefit your organization overall. Find ways to access these resources and improve your effectiveness and ability to serve your community. Consider the value of the following:
  • People with language skills or knowledge of cultural practices in the community
  • Rock climbers, kayakers and other athletes with technical knowledge that can be transferred to rescue situations
  • Mechanics and builders who can train others in these areas
  • Former teachers who understand how to put together a lesson plan
  • Computer hobbyists who can write programming or debug your systems

June 2002

Thinking Beyond Training If people need to learn something, set up a class, right? Although formal training is useful and necessary for many type of educational needs, you should not use it at the exclusion of other forms of learning. Consider:

• Have teams of firefighters run a charity event, using the ICS system.
• To enhance teamwork, patience and communication, have firefighters coach children’s sports teams.
• Have department members write a FEMA grant proposal as a team.
• Set up a community mentoring program, matching firefighters with young people from diverse communities.
• Run people through a ropes course or other team building experiences.
• Set up a firefighter exchange program, where departments trade firefighters for a period of time.

These are just a few suggestions that may inspire creative approaches to developing teamwork, scene management ability, appreciation of difference, and new ways of dealing with problems.

May 2002

Death By PowerPoint PowerPoint and similar presentation graphics programs have revolutionized training. Unfortunately, the influence hasn’t been entirely positive. PowerPoint is often used excessively or inappropriately. Here are some guidelines for avoiding misuse of presentation graphics programs:

  • Let the slides support the lecture, not be the lecture. If all you’re doing is reading the slides to the audience, you’re not really needed.
  • While it is okay to occasionally turn to look at the slide being shown, this should not be a habit. When you are speaking to the screen, it is very difficult to be understood by those in the audience.
  • Keep it simple. Cute sound effects, "fly in" transitions, mini-movies– they all tend to be more distracting than entertaining.
  • More is not necessarily more. Keep slides to a reasonable number.
  • Avoid long slide presentations right after lunch. This is truly death by PowerPoint!

April 2002

Learning By Doing Adults learn better by doing than by sitting and listening. Even traditional classroom sessions can incorporate a "hands on" component. Consider:

  • When training on departmental policies, have the class work in groups to develop an ideal policy for the topic being discussed.
  • To enhance training about department equipment, have members spec out a new truck.
  • Have firefighters work in groups to write a grant proposal to support a community education program.
  • Have firefighters explain the department's incident command system to a mock city council meeting.

March 2002

Teaching Decision Making Do you want people to learn to make better decisions? Then you have to let them practice. True empowerment means giving people clear guidelines and then letting them do what they think is right. Consider the Phoenix Fire Departmentâs seven principles of employee empowerment:

Ask yourself:

  • Is it the right thing for the customer?
  • Is it the right thing for our department?
  • Is it legal, ethical, and nice?
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it on your organizational level?
  • Is it something you are willing to be accountable for?
  • Is it consistent with our departmentâs values and policies?

If the answer is yes to all of these questions, donât ask for permission, JUST DO IT!

Source: Phoenix Fire Department and the Sunday Tribune, December 23, 2001.

February 2002

Outside Trainers Most fire departments prefer to use in-house resources for most training needs. Using department members as trainers is easier and more cost-effective than bringing in outside trainers. But sometimes an outside person is exactly what a department needs. Consider:

  • Departments may lack internal expertise in a specific subject area.
  • Internal instructors may be stretched too thin with many training obligations to get a particular training initiative done in a timely manner.
  • Department members may benefit from a new spin on a much studied topic, such as tactics or communications.
  • Outside instructors can be neutral and objective in presenting sensitive material.
  • Bringing in outside experts can add credibility to the training program.

January 2002

The Comfort Zone It is very hard for people to learn when they are physically uncomfortable. Consider:

  • Control the temperature of the classroom. Avoid frigid air conditioning, stifling heat, or annoying draftiness.
  • Make sure lighting is adequate. Poor lighting can lead to eyestrain, headaches and sleepiness.
  • Make sure people can hear in the training space. Provide microphones for instructors if the class size is large.
  • Donât allow training to run over into normal meal times. Provide snacks for longer training sessions.
  • Provide water and sports drinks when doing physical training outside.
  • Arrange for dry gear for people who get soaked during fire training.
  • Donât be afraid to postpone training if the conditions are unsuitableö too hot, too cold, or inadequate ventilation or heat in the training room.



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