While teaching at the Ocean City FOOLS Conference a group of instructors and I were discussing how many training businesses were popping up and how the term “instructor” is thrown around in the fire training community. Through the page Tactical Advantage Training I frequently get people asking me, “where should I go to get trained on (enter subject here). Honestly, it is nearly a full time job on keeping up with all of the available companies and trainers out there, so it is really no wonder why people are asking for help.
So, how do you pick a trainer or training company to teach you? This is my opinion, but hopefully it will help guide you in the right direction.
What are you looking for? If the prospective company primarily teaches a given subject, is what they normally teach transferable to you or your department? Are they teaching you more than textbook techniques? Do they believe in the basics? Maybe they go way beyond the norm, for the more advanced firefighter, by going into the realistic methodology of the particular subject. As cool as the glam sounds, you really need to know how to conduct basic operations or learn the “why’s” of the skill to be effective and efficient. Let me be clear, I’m not knocking this training if you can find it useful, but you really have to first self-access what you anticipate taking away from the training before enrolling. There is no point in spending hundreds of dollars on a class (not including travel, lodging, etc.) to return with disappointment and an empty wallet. Think smart by training right.
What is your personal learning style? Over the years, I have been very lucky to have a department that allowed me to travel nationally to attend a whole host of classes. During this time, I had the opportunity formulate my own personal opinion and teaching style that I am most receptive to. For me, instructors who are a SME coupled with street experience in the particular subject are better suited to test their teachings by putting their practice into action. For others students this may not be the case.. Personally, I feel if you try to master everything you eventually become the master of nothing. This happens all the time in the normal workforce (meaning non-fire community), so it should not be much different here. Bottom line is, if the company you’re looking into has obvious identity issues, you might want to seek training elsewhere.
Who is teaching? In my opinion, this is one of the most important determining factors of any training company. Anyone can read from a power-point presentation. The way I see it there are two types of presenters; subject matter experts (know their particular subject matter) and instructors (typically are SME’s but have the skill and street experience to present information and make it applicable to students). Unless instructors know how to engage their students in the lessons they have prepared, expertise in the subject matter counts for very little. The point is, just because they are called an instructor/training company does not mean they are all available are created equal. When asked, this is how I often explain it. If you had the option to pick a surgeon to perform a risky lifesaving surgery on you, would you choose the surgeon with book knowledge that works at a minute clinic or the surgeon with book knowledge combined with years of hospital experience as a surgeon in a busy trauma center? It would take me about 2 second to decide. If you ask me, I will not teach anything that I don’t do commonly. For example, you won’t see me flying to Kansas to teach on basement fire tactics when I work in an area with little to NO basements. That’s just me…
Ask questions. Don’t be so caught up in the excitement that you forget to ask questions. Some of these training companies or instructors are considered “celebs” within their respective industries and many students neglect to ask what’s being taught exactly and who the training is best suited for. There is no point in becoming a fan-boy, just to train with a particular name. Sure it’s cool to post photos of you with them on Facebook to impress all your friends, but seriously, take it from me…they’re all are human just like the rest of us. They have daily lives, families, bills, stress and they make errors just like you and I. My point is, don’t get caught up staring at the shiny thing; ask questions before enrolling to make sure that you are doing the right thing.
In closing, look at all your options out there and research what you are getting, the background, and how it’s applicable to your department.
I will gladly go out into the field of battle and find success by any means at my disposal.