«By: Stephen R. Shebeck Assistant Chief Solon Fire Department Solon, Ohio An applied research project submitted to the Ohio Fire Executive Program 15 ...»
Use of Competency Based Training/Evaluation Techniques
for the Probationary Firefighter
By: Stephen R. Shebeck
Solon Fire Department
An applied research project submitted to the Ohio Fire Executive Program
15 July, 2004
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TABLE OF CONTENTSCERTIFICATION STATEMENT
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Study
BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCE
Solon FD Administrative Policies, Rules & Regulations, and Fireground SOG’s...........12 Fire Service Publications
Private Sector Publications
Definition of Terms
APPENDIX 1 – Performance evaluation
APPENDIX 2 – Training prop
APPENDIX 3 –Orientation form
APPENDIX 4 – SCBA Knowledge test
APPENDIX 5 – New Firefighter/Paramedic Training Manual
Statement of the Problem In the eighty years that the Solon Fire Department has existed, the vast majority of the training for new members was done through traditional methods of mentoring. This task was almost always assigned to the most senior members of the organization. Due to expansion of the Solon Fire Department and changes in technology, this outdated method of indoctrination is no longer sufficient due to attrition of older members and increasing size of the ranks.
Should a probationary firefighter not grasp the requirements of the occupation, how can an organization consciously terminate a probationary firefighter without documented reasons?
In the past, this rare decision was solely based on recommendations of particular individuals. The need for a more objective process is necessitated due to the movement toward litigation and changes in the employment law.
Another area is a reduction in risk assessment. As we train members, performance of common tasks is routine under ideal conditions. The area of weakness in training is performing those same tasks under adverse conditions similar to typical fire ground activity.
The problem this study will address is how new member orientation can be improved to ensure that all members of the Solon Fire Department are given the basic elements of training necessary to function as an effective member of their team.
Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is to develop a system that can be implemented to document the competencies needed to provide an unbiased constructive evaluation of the probationary firefighter. As the probationary firefighter progresses through an orientation process, periodic assessment is needed to ensure that proper training is being offered to the individual so that at the end of the process they can function as an effective team member. The records generated during the process will be used by the Solon Fire Department to document the deficiencies of the probationary firefighter and assist in development of an individual action plan for improvement.
The research questions this study will investigate are:
1. How to objectively evaluate the progress of probationary firefighter’s ability to adapt to Department operations?
2. Can competency based training effectively be effectively used to evaluate probationary firefighters is Solon, Ohio?
3. When should probationary firefighters be reviewed?
4. What Department knowledge should be included in a training program?
BACKGROUND AND SIGNIFICANCEThe Solon Fire Department is an organization deep in history and tradition. As most fire departments located in communities of similar demographics, this organization has evolved from a volunteer service to one that is comprised of career personnel. The Department services a population of 22,800 residents and roughly 26,000 employees of businesses in a response area of twenty-two square miles. Geographically Solon is situated in the Southeast portion of Cuyahoga County and borders the Counties of Summit, Portage and Geauga. We are a full service, career paid, Department with a staff of sixty-two personnel working out of three stations providing the area with ALS Emergency Medical Service and Fire Protection. In the era previous to 1990, members were added to the department staff at a scare pace mainly due to attrition and not to expansion of the ranks. The orientation training of the recruits was a managed process, although not through a formally documented program, using a form training that closely resembles the industrial apprentice programs of the past; show as you go.
The progression of the department’s growth during the early nineties was in response to the expansion of the Community which resulted in the need to expand the operations of the Department to serve the community and reduce response times. A second station was added to the department operation in 1991 to serve the northeastern area of the district which contained a mix of residential and industrial/commercial occupancies. At that point in time, the staffing of the current organization was doubled to accommodate this additional facility. The first of any formal documented orientation program was introduced to facilitate the introduction of the new personnel. It consisted of a documented two week, eight hours per day, curriculum that was designed to familiarize the recruit with the basic operation of the department. Simple in design and content, it was meant to orientate the new hires to the organizations operation; most of the new hires were from existing departments in the Northeastern Ohio area who were seeking an improvement in service community demographics. This factor and the lack of an age restriction on candidates provided the Department with many seasoned firefighters during that expansion.
All of these elements made for an easy orientation due to level of experience with most of the hires since they merely required an adjustment to operational specifics of the Solon Fire Department. The few exceptions to this that were hired and lacked prior experience could easily be managed in the existing traditional format. The result of this expansion provided no motivation for major changes but did allow for the addition of a checklist of items that the recruit was introduced to during the two week orientation period. The only formal testing that came from this program was a documented test of district street knowledge within the district. The philosophy at this point was to ensure that each recruit knew were they were responding to on emergency calls. Basic operational knowledge was assumed in most cases based on past experience and each shift was left with the task of training their personnel on the operations related to the department.
As the department continues grows in size, we begin to have fewer senior members that can personally mentor recruits. Therefore we will no longer be able to personally account for member proficiency as we have done in the past. In the past, most every firefighter personally knows the abilities and limitations of a shift member that they would work with on a regular basis. With a larger department membership, regular assignments become less frequent and all members tend to float from station to station dramatically changing the dynamics of crews. This is driving the need for objective operational evaluation to ensure proficiency and reduce potential risk to operating crews.
Recently the Solon Fire Department is in the midst of an expansion of its operational force which was required to support the addition of a third station in our community. Current regulations mandate to use the guidelines of Civil Service for selection of recruits, and the existence of age restrictions on hiring, one cannot be guaranteed that the recruit will bring some, if any, expertise or education to the department. Furthermore, in most cases, the potential hire is not from the community or even remotely familiar with the community geography requiring us to additionally evaluate their knowledge of the response district. As we grow our ranks, how do we effectively evaluate the progress that new members are expected to gain and how do we measure the same? The result of this question is what drives my research questions for the project. This measurement is a task that the Administration of the Department must complete during the probationary period of the new hire. If we fail to effectively evaluate and measure the progress of the recruit, we can potentially impact the effectiveness of our operation thereby putting the Community at risk. Termination of employees for non-performance of job requirements requires supporting documentation of such a charge.
Another aspect of improved documentation of job performance requirements will assist in risk reduction of the overall department operation. Documented proficiency of these members will eliminate an area of suspected failure should an accident occur. Due to the size of the Solon Fire Department, one might think we could easily hide our mistakes within the ranks however staffing dynamics and demands to run with minimal staffing make this impossible. We need to measure our investment in our employees. We owe it to our shift commanders and department members that these new recruits be measured and reviewed in a manner that is fair and equitable;
a manner that can quantify their progress and growth into an effective member of the organization. Documented weakness can then be addressed and professional development can be focused on those areas.
This tool will be used during each recruits probationary evaluation and then during a yearly evaluation. It could be used as a coaching tool and can offer subjective evidence of progress or lack of and provide direction for the training officer as to what type of classes the member should be requesting. Our goal is to grow these recruits into members of the Department with the necessary knowledge to act within the community as well as during any emergency that may arise.
LITERATURE REVIEWA literature review for this project will encompass three specific areas. To start the research process will be a review of existing Departmental policies and procedures applicable to training. Second will be a review of fire service related documents that specifically relate to existing programs. Lastly will be a review of private sector or educational related documents pertaining to training programs of this nature.
Solon FD Administrative Policies, Rules & Regulations, and Fireground SOG’s A review was conducted to evaluate the requirements of training currently documented within the operation of the department. The Administrative Policies of the organization do not contain any specific requirements on training other than the compensatory element should a member attend outside training. This section was drafted to add clarification to the Collective Bargaining Agreement requirement to permit members to attend outside training should they desire. The elements are not mandatory but merely provide a documented method of how the approval process works in order to insure hourly compensation and tuition payment.