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Training someone to perform the duties of a firefighter is one of the most important responsibilities of the community hiring them. There are so many skills to learn to be safe and potentially save the life of another. When you get hired as a firefighter with no experience, you will be sent back to elementary school to learn the fundamental lessons for the job. This is typically done in a classroom setting with an experienced firefighter walking you through a series of topics focused on the common tasks we use on the emergency scene. One day you may be talking about scene safety, and the next, you are climbing a ladder and learning how to carry someone down from it. If done correctly, there is a mixture of cognitive and kinesthetic learning being offered to you. Most of your learning will likely come from the hands-on portion when you are put in personal protective equipment and allowed to work with the tools you learned about.

Minnesota fire departments have a variety of ways to train their firefighters. Larger departments may hold their own "academy" and train their staff on their own. This allows candidates to learn using their own tools and with the people they will be working with. Smaller departments may use a technical college or vendor who specializes in firefighter training. This allows new candidates to work with people from around the region and broadens their perspective on how different departments work. Trust me when I say, fire departments are not the same. Each one is different in its own way.

Fire Chief John Cunningham talks to students of his fire academy
Elk River, MN Fire Academy

If you are hired as a firefighter, there is no cost to you for the training you will receive. In fact, some departments pay you to go through training. The certifications you receive can be converted to credits towards a degree as well. Your role in the training process is to learn as much as you can to become an active member of the department when you graduate. Along with training, you may be able to respond to calls with your fire department so you can put your new skills to use and visualize how they are applied.

There are many certifications you can achieve as a firefighter. To begin your career, you will need to obtain a certification as a Level 1 firefighter. This learning area focuses on the basic skills of a firefighter, such as; firefighter health and safety, communications, tools and equipment, fire behavior, water supply, and more. As you progress in your training, you may move up to a Level 2 firefighter that educates you in areas such as fire investigations, public education, and establishing incident command. To achieve these certifications, you will have to demonstrate your knowledge and skills by taking a written exam and demonstrating your abilities to a tester from the State Certification Board or Fire Marshal's Division. This tends to be stressful for new students, but hundreds go through it each year and do well. If you read the book assigned to you and follow along in class, there should be no problem passing these. Remember, everyone wants you to achieve these certifications, so the focus is on learning the skills and eventually passing the test.

As a firefighter, training is the key element to your success for as long as you remain a firefighter. It is so important to learn new skills and enhance your old ones. Imagine this; you are driving down the road and witness a two-vehicle head-on collision. You stop and see people severely injured. You call 911 and wait. And wait. And wait. Time feels like it slowed down, and people are screaming for help. What do you do? How can you help? Without the proper skills to know what to do, panic may set in, and you may be no help at all. As a firefighter who takes training seriously, they can approach the scene differently than the average citizen. When the fire department arrives, someone on the fire engine takes over the scene and conducts a "size-up" to determine what resources and who needs the most care first. This person is known as the "Incident Commander." He will assign tasks to the crew he is with and communicate to those coming to the scene via hand-held radio, assigning what needs to be accomplished when they arrive. The priority may be to stabilize the patients and treat their injuries while they are in the vehicle. Maybe the person is trapped under the vehicle's dashboard due to the high impact of the collision. If so, hydraulic tools need to be deployed to lift and cut the vehicle off the patient. An additional ambulance may need to be requested, and fluids from the vehicle may need to be cleaned up. There are so many things to consider when dealing with emergency incidents. As a firefighter, they are equipped with the tools and equipment needed to assist the patients quickly. You do not have that as a citizen.

As a trained firefighter, you have to stay abreast of the basic skills of a firefighter and all of the new technology that is changing our workspace. Electric vehicles, wind generators, building construction, and hazardous materials are a few areas changing rapidly. Once you become a firefighter, plan to train frequently with your department. And if your department is training to the level it needs to be, train on your own! There are many avenues to learn new things today. Youtube, podcasts, virtual training, conference, seminars, and the like have changed the way we learn and are accessible by our phones and computers. Never stop learning!

Becoming a firefighter is an exciting time and will add value to your personal life. If you were off duty as a trained firefighter and witnessed the crash mentioned earlier, you would approach it differently and add value to the outcome. As a new firefighter, your first mission will be to attend basic training. After that, you will likely attend events at your assigned fire station and learn about the world of public safety. If you get the opportunity to serve, remember that everyone would be doing it if it were easy. Focusing on training and being good at your job will earn you much respect in the community and help calm your nerves when everyone else runs away.

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