| Chief's Tip of the Month
Being Successful in the Fire Academy
by Dean Guccione - August 1, 2020
I get a lot of questions from my students who have made it through the hiring process and have been given a date to start the fire academy/rookie school with their new department. And that question is “what is the best way to be successful in the academy?” This is a legitimate question that many new firefighters ask themselves once they have been given a start date, because there is that fear of the unknown. What is it going to be like? What is expected of me? How can I be successful?
I believe there are three basic pillars of success that you’ll need to employ in rookie school, and they are being a leader, listening and following directions exactly, and studying during your off hours. If you can put all three of these pillars into practice, you will be well on your way to not only passing the academy, but finishing at or near the top of your class.
Being a Leader
If you’ve ever seen the movie The Guardian, with Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher, there is a scene near the beginning of the movie where all the candidates are treading water and if anyone touches the side of the pool, they are instantly terminated from the program. There is one candidate (the strongest physically in the class) who is having problems staying afloat, and Ashton, who is right beside him, doesn’t give his teammate assistance, and that teammate swam to the edge and was terminated from the program. When Kevin Costner later asked Ashton’s character why he didn’t help his teammate, Ashton’s reply was, “I wasn’t aware we were working as a team.” Kevin Costner’s response was, “We always work as a team.” And this is the point I want to make with you.
From day one, everyone in your class is your teammate. It is your responsibility to not only ensure your success, but to help ensure the success of your classmates. This is where your leadership comes in. It doesn’t matter your age; the instructors in your academy want to see leadership from you. What does that mean exactly?
Leadership, in the academy does not mean supervising your teammates or telling them what to do. That’s not what I’m talking about. It does mean, however, setting a positive example for your teammates. It means jumping in first when there’s crappy jobs to be done, and trust me, there are plenty of undesirable jobs to do throughout your academy tenure. It means supporting, encouraging, and being there for your teammates. It means helping your teammates if one of them is struggling to learn a particular skill, whether it’s tying knots, or throwing ladders, or donning their PPE in the required time, or if they are having trouble academically.
You need to inspire your teammates by telling them they got this, or that they can do this. Your teammates need to know you have their back and that you’re there to help and support them, if needed. If you lead by example and help and inspire your classmates, then when you need help with a particular skill or academics, your teammates will be there for you, which is going to help you be successful.
Additionally, the academy instructors will see your leadership, and this will not go unnoticed. It may not seem obvious, but they are taking notes and they know who the leaders are in the class. This will not only have a positive impact on how you finish the academy, but also how you are viewed for advancement in the future.
Listening and Following Directions
Another pillar that will help to ensure your success is your ability to listen and follow directions to the tee. If you have limited firefighting experience, it may take several attempts before you start feeling comfortable performing a particular skill that you’re learning. The same may be true if you’re unlearning skills you learned in a previous department. You may be fumbling around at first trying to learn the skills you’re being taught. Just remember that training is the repeated performance of the skills and evolutions the correct way, over and over, that you will be responsible to learn. So, you must ask for assistance if you’re having trouble with any of the skills or material that you’re learning.
When the instructors see that you have the ability to listen, the ability to follow directions and the ability to be trained to perform all of the complex skills that are required of you, as a probationary firefighter, you’re well on your way to being successful. But more importantly, when you master the skills of listening and following directions exactly, that shows the instructors that you are capable of listening and following directions when the world if falling down around you on an emergency incident.
Studying in Your Off Hours
The third pillar to your success in the fire academy is the time you dedicate to studying in your off hours. More than likely you will be studying for a couple of hours every night during the week and at least 4 to 6 hours, or more, over the weekend.
There is so much material and information you will be responsible to learn, and it’s just not possible to absorb it without off hours study.
The fire academy is going to take up the majority of your life for 14 to 28 weeks, depending on your department. It’s vital that you have a support system with your spouse, family and friends that allows you the time to study in the evenings and on weekends.
Remember, it’s only for a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an extremely important time. You must pass the academy to begin your career and the time you put into studying on your off hours will help to ensure your success.
A Final Thought
When the instructors see that you are learning your job, learning the skills they are teaching you, setting the example, displaying a strong work ethic, and inspiring and helping your classmates, this will display your leadership ability and show them (the instructors) that they were right in selecting you as one of their newest rookies.
When you couple your leadership with listening and following directions, and studying in your off hours, you’ve set the foundation for success in the fire academy. At first, you will be learning at a rate that will be like drinking from the proverbial fire hose, and you will feel overwhelmed. But that will subside. Don’t worry. As you learn the routine and what is expected of you, it will get easier each week, and as it gets easier, you will gain more confidence as your competence increases. I promise you that.
I hope this helps you to see what you can look forward to when you’re finally offered the job and get your start date. As I always say, you can do this. I know you can do this. You just have to believe it and see yourself in your new career as a full-time, professional firefighter, and it will happen!
Be safe out there,
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