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Virtual training creating virtual firefighters

The word change has probably created more anxiety than any other word in the fire service. Regardless of the reason for change, we should always evaluate it to see if the desired outcome took place. Take computer training for example. With the infiltration of computers into our training world, have we yielded better firefighters as a result? In some areas, yes and in other areas, no. It's time to evaluate the change that computers have created in your training.

Strategy and tactics is an area where computers have aided in improved training. Simulation software and Youtube videos give us the ability to get multiple repetitions on tactical decision making in a short period of time. This can be done by a single person or multiple people at one time. Another benefit of the computer is training on our department policies. These can be accessed easily, updated as needed, and printed out if wanted.

But what about the rest of our training? Is there value in watching hose evolutions, large area searches, auto extrication, and forcible entry for example? There could be value in this if you watch it first, then go outside and practice. Here’s the problem; it’s too convenient to put all of the training on the computer, watch it or read it, then sign off your training. Nothing can replace hands-on training.

Firefighters need to get in their gear, pull the equipment off the rigs, and use it. These are also opportunities for company officers to practice tactical leadership and choreograph crew efforts in various evolutions. At minimum, hands-on training strengthens muscle memory. We talk about making things second nature so we can do it at zero-dark thirty. So how do you suppose things become second nature; through practice and practical application, not watching a computer screen. So, yes, there is value to computers when it comes to fire service training. Just don’t let it infiltrate your organization so much that it becomes the vast majority of your training. Nothing can replace “training like you fight, and fighting like you train.”

Paul Strong is a 24-year veteran of the fire service. He is currently a shift captain at the Valley Regional Fire Authority in King County Washington and owner of 3 Sixty Training. Paul has served as a Shift Captain, Department Training Officer, Incident Safety Officer, Medical Program Specialist, Haz-Mat Technician, and Technical Rescue team member as a Rope/Dive Rescue Technician. Paul continues to present the 3 Sixty series classes at conferences, training officer’s associations, and individual fire departments. He is the Creator and Lead Instructor of RIC for REAL, The Road to Fire Service Leadership, and Fire Ground Practices - First on Scene. He has lectured at many conferences including IAFC Fire Rescue International, FDIC-Indy, and Washington State Fire Training & Safety Officers Association. Paul has taught and consulted for numerous agencies and has been published in Fire Engineering Magazine. His approach to fire service education and training is effective, thought provoking, and intense. For more information, please visit

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