Blog by Brian Ward
Officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia

Looking outside the box is critical when a firefighter is implementing training. For instance, learning from other individuals in different geographical locations can greatly influence how we mitigate certain situations. We may never be able to use 100 percent of the expertise we’ve learned from an individual operating 1,000 miles away, but we can take parts and use them in our own department.

Working in a fire department is similar to a scavenger hunt. There are pieces of the puzzle lying all around us. It’s our job as training officers and instructors to find the pieces that will make our departments stronger, the things that will keep us safe and reduce injuries and deaths.

In 2008, Chief John Salka came to our department at my request to speak on rapid intervention and to deliver a hands-on training day. This small idea of mine to have Salka come down turned into the first Gwinnett County Leadership and Safety Conference. Chief John Norman, Chief Rick Lasky, Chief Kelvin Cochran and others have since come and brought their own area of expertise to the conference, which not only benefited my department, but many others throughout the Atlanta-metro Area.

Something of this magnitude had never been attempted before in our region and it took a tremendous amount of help and determination to put together. The financial need for this endeavor was not allocated by the department during budget time, and finding sponsors was a tough task. One of the greatest benefits of bringing speakers into a central area is that it allows multiple departments to become involved and share the cost.

If your department is interested in putting together an event like this, here are some of the lessons I learned in the process:

>> Create a plan that includes who, when and where. It’s very important to answer all of the obvious questions prior to soliciting sponsors or buy-in from outside departments.

>> Look at all possibilities and combinations, especially when considering time of year, speaker times and event sites. You may choose to run two separate locations: one for classroom and one for hands-on-training.

>> The first mistake I encountered was time frame. I was under the impression this conference would be up and rolling within four months. About nine months later we had our first conference.

>> When looking for sponsorship, think way ahead. Potential sponsors have an annual budget similar to the government. Sponsors cannot allocate money at the drop of a hat. Get on their radar prior to their conference scheduling and budget meetings.

>> Advertising is key, especially if you are looking for participants to help share the cost. Look for mutual benefits with publishing companies, such as cross advertising for each other. They have a very large distribution system, use it. Also, advertise with all local fire department associations.

>> Get help. Lots of it. The smartest thing I did was entice one of our administrative assistances to help keep the financial documents and registration. This allowed me to look at everything else and get the big picture of what was going on. You can expect problems and questions to come your way. You need to be ready to handle them.

>> Don’t be afraid to follow through. Big risk equals big reward. The greatest accomplishment of that conference was receiving e-mails six months later saying how a firefighter changed their way of thinking or operating because of something that was said by a speaker.

As always, train hard, take care and be safe.

About the Author
Brian Ward is the training director for Georgia Pacific in Madison, Ga. He previously was an engineer/officer with Gwinnett County Fire Department in Georgia.