I’ve struggled for a number of years and thought about posting this topic or a very similar one for quite some time. “Why training plans matter,” is a topic that crosses over from fitness training right over to fire training programs and the importance is almost identical. While I was out in Seattle for my 10th competition in the Scott Firefighter Stair Climb and surrounded by people with a strong desire to excel through planning, I decided it was time and had the life experience to speak about it.
When I started the journey to a #FIREFIGHTERFIT life back in 2004, I didn’t know the complexity and the extent of where it would take me. The explanation could be confidence based, the unknowns, the doubt, the lack of knowing how to get from Point A to Point B, but looking back at it now the problem kind of sticks out. While I had a “plan” which was “work out” that’s a very loose plan that lacks structure, direction, goals, and benchmarks that are all important for success. I knew I had to run, but maybe I didn’t truly understand why I needed to do something specifically or why I needed to look at technique. I knew cardio was important and I needed it, but didn’t understand or utilize the benefits of intense interval training and how that could add to success in my endeavors.
Working out or training was sometimes “showing up” and simply “going through the motions,” and while I felt like I accomplished something I didn’t always see the improvements. I wasn’t all in, and all dedicated to a plan that had a direction. In fact it really wasn’t a plan at all. It was show up, get the job done and go home. Does this sound like maybe your plan, or sometimes your department? We’ll get to that in a few paragraphs…
What a plan did for me…
Fast-forward several years to when I started to see times improve, weight fall-off, body fat reduced, and a much healthier lifestyle. What was the difference you ask? A plan. Sure I had dedication to a point, but adding a plan and being dedicated to it drove me into positive directions and I began to reap large rewards. Planning it out was more than just writing it down and executing it, it also involved educating myself more on techniques, sorting fads from successful methods, and evaluation.
My plan was one that not only included daily goals for steps, floors, activity, and what workout was going to happen, but goals on a monthly basis and even further out. Part of that plan was how to reach the goals and the journey that I was going to take. I wrote it down, because when you have to put it to paper or on your blog, its hard to miss and pretty hard to back down from.
Even more importantly if you are married or have a family and other obligations, by writing these down you can share with others that this is a 45-minute training, or this is going to be a longer night, or this night is my rest night. Have you ever come home from a workout to find your wife unhappy that you were an hour late and she cooked your favorite meal? The lack of sharing that plan sometimes has some adverse affects around the house that put stressors on relationships.
Plans require organization…
The first time I began an organized fitness program with an instructor, we sat down and did roughly an hour long session wherein we discussed my goals, did measurements, tests, and setup a plan. When I worked continually one-on-one with a trainer, they almost always had a book, a clipboard, or a tablet with what we were working on, and I loosely knew before attending what exactly we were going to do that session. When I attend group classes with a fitness instructor, I know exactly from the schedule what training was that night, what different clothes I may need, equipment I may need, or preparation that I might need. It’s a plan and something that I keep and work with. I modify it for training for some events or at different parts of the year, or indeed on competition day like in Seattle I have a plan for that event as well.
The cross over to your house…
Where does this cross over to the firehouse you ask? Imagine if you will what it would be like to only “go through the motions” in your firehouse training, or simply “show up” and figure it out” without any plan? “Just showing up,” lacks almost all accountability and shows no type of plan, direction for the future, goals to achieve, or structure. This is where I make a transition to talking about the importance of firehouse training. Does that sound successful or that it would drive any type of performance? Does it sound like a true dedication of leadership to your organization, firefighters, their families, and the community that you serve?
When you lack planning, direction, goals, communication, and dedication, you lack key ingredients to a successful training and have nothing more than a gathering of people. Just so we are clear, that training I am speaking of is not just physical fitness, but overall fire/rescue/EMS training as a whole.
We as firefighters are athletes, and arguably many would even throw out the word warriors. When I think of athlete I think team, and when I think warrior I think of the Navy SEALS. Do you think that either of these programs gained success at achieving their goals without plans for training, plans for missions and game time, or in everyday operation? Imagine where the two teams from the Super Bowl would be if both simply told their guys, “hey just show up and we’ll figure it out tonight.” Would they be successful? Would the missions of our military elite be successful if they “just showed up and figured something out”?
Going back to that training plan.
Having a mapped out plan enables your firefighters to recognize that you as leaders have a solid direction and they will feel as if their skill building and training to improve are important. The phrases “training is important, and “we take training seriously here”, are thrown around so carelessly sometimes. If training is that important and serious, then you need to have plans for it.
If some of the largest fire organizations around the world have figured out regimented training programs, then we already know its possible. Whether you are a full-time, part-time, combo, or all volunteer house, having a plan is important. For the full-time house, you have a more captive audience if its occurring on shift, but for the volunteer house where they are taking additional time away from family, jobs, or other duties, its even more critical.
When I mentioned sharing that personal training plan with your family being important, in the life of a first responder, having a balance with family is highly important. Your family doesn’t need to know every intimate detail about training that night, but knowing a little information can help them plan accordingly. Have you ever came home before training to find a well cooked meal, only to tell your spouse that you can’t eat a heavy meal tonight? Has your family ever made plans, only to find out that training changed for this night and is short and they could have spent more time with you.
To take it a step further here, this next statement goes right at the training officers, line officers, chiefs, and those handing the planning of said training. As leaders in the fire service, you need to take into consideration that your planning, or lack of, not only affects your firefighters, but you affect their families as well.
Warriors are hungry…
Of course we are hungry, the food aspect at a firehouse goes without saying, however I mean a deeper kind of hunger. We are hungry to be challenged, we are hungry to train, we are hungry to be empowered, and we are hungry to excel. If you aren’t “feeding” your firefighters enough when it comes to the training aspect, you are setting your house and your mission up for failure. Not only are your firefighters going to become complacent about their skills, but also that complacency spills over to other aspects of the firehouse and fire ground.
If you as officers or those over training can’t take this seriously, how do you expect your crews to? When you fail to plan well enough and provide adequate training you jeopardize not only mission, but losing your firefighters as well. Gradually over time you will see them become more and more complacent at the trainings, maybe opting to train at another house or perhaps look to train at outside resources or events. Worse yet, they not only will seek the training elsewhere, but if they aren’t getting out of it what they seek, you risk losing them to another house.
How to plan…
By doing something you are moving forward. Seems really simple, right? Maybe the issue is that you have great training plans for those weekly or bi-weekly training nights but no one knows? Simple enough fix, put together a calendar that details like this:
- March 1st week – Classroom: New vehicle concepts and considerations
- March 2nd week – HOT: Pump operations / tanker shuttle w/ Mutual-aid
- March 3rd week – HOT: Live burns at training house
- March 4th week – HOT: Search and Rescue
The above sounds like a nice month to me as a firefighter, but do you think that there are some difference things that your members might do to prepare for each of those? Different clothes, gear, meals/hydration possibly? Maybe they have to miss one of those training nights and are trying to make plans at home. If they just went to a class on vehicles, maybe they can skip that class, but attend the other three.
Maybe the issue is a little deeper than just listing your training ideas for the month, and mapping out the calendar year. Maybe you have training officers, but they just randomly pick something and put little organization into the training and what this will do to improve the skills of your department? This is a much bigger issue that is going to take more than writing some ideas on the calendar, its going to take some coordination between training officers, and the brass above. Its time to have a lil’ sit down and put some heads together.
As the training officer do you have the support from above and have clear expectations? If not, then you need to hammer expectations out and then build your training plan from there. Do you have certain fundamentals that you want to hit every year and split the year with other specializations? Maybe part of that plan is bringing in a major speaker or guest instructor every year, but regardless these are all pieces of the plan if you want to see success and keep interest.
From the largest house to the smallest its just going to take communication and dedication from those involved to make the plan functional. Look out, when you get this rolling, you’re going to experience changes. Changes in motivation, attitude, performance, ability, morale, and just maybe it will change from going through the motions to being the warriors.