Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Front Seat: Breaking through writer’s block to craft engaging firefighter training

By Jason Clark   

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Photo: martin-dm / E+ / Getty Images

We train for when we hit roadblocks in the fire service and how to overcome them. We pride ourselves in how quickly we can approach a door that is locked and gain entry to a house fire or cut apart a vehicle to get access to a patient. There are tools that are specifically designed to deal with obstacles that we face on the fire ground – and we train with those tools.

But what happens when you hit an obstacle whilst in a training role, specifically as the person who coordinates and programs the training? If you talk to anyone who writes music, or literature, the dreaded writer’s block can hit and cause a creative lock-up, which is often defined as a “psychological inhibition that prevents a writer from producing new material”.

I don’t consider myself an author or a writer on a major level, although as someone who oversees training on several different levels, I have been a victim of ‘writer’s block’, and it can leave you staring at a blank screen not knowing where to start. Sometimes finding the right tool or set of tools is complicated to crack the code of writer’s block.

Where I found that writer’s block can set in is when you are in a situation of training both probationary firefighters and senior staff in your department. You need to keep both groups engaged and attempt to find a common ground where everyone will be able to participate, but one group won’t get overwhelmed, and the other group won’t get bored. Of course, you also need to have both groups take something away from the training.

I’ve been in many discussions about training with other fire instructors and one phrase can stir up a discussion: “Back to the basics”. Some other instructors have told me, “We should never go back to the basics, because we should never leave them”. I agree but also understand we can get sidetracked with various forms of training and drift away from the basics.

“Is it probable or possible?” When I try to plan a training session, I use that as a guide.

If you don’t want to lose your basics, keep your newest members or probationary firefighters in mind when you start your lesson plan and then think of a senior member. Add in your standard operating guideline or policy that supports your ‘why’ behind the lesson, and call on your senior members to understand and know those guidelines – especially if they are thinking of promoting. Use training to build your succession plan for your next officers.

Every year when the weather gets cold, I make a point of giving a carbon monoxide lecture and I incorporate our standard operating guidelines and air monitoring numbers that need to be remembered. 

Taking the basic plan and adding a situation or a scenario where it could be used on the fire ground with both the recruits and the senior members, showing how they would work together, is a great foundation for your lesson plan. A carbon monoxide alarm scenario with levels reading 120 parts per million and a gas dryer malfunction is starting simple but could involve both recruits and senior members.

I try to avoid the insanely complex scenarios—I leave those to our emergency management groups. It’s great training, but it usually involves command structure and triage, multiple agencies, etc., and it’s just somewhat out of my wheelhouse.

Aaron Fields, a Seattle firefighter, once said in a lecture, “Is it probable or possible?” When I try to plan a training session, I use that as a guide. Is it possible for a plane carrying HAZMAT materials to make an emergency landing and skid into a gas refinery? It is possible. But is it probable? Sure, great takeaway operational skill sets could be learned from that training scenario, but I’d argue we would have a higher probability of getting a call for a motor vehicle collision with a medical emergency that requires patient extrication.

Be careful when trying to program the super scenario versus the simple scenario. Writer’s block is a very real thing when it comes to planning a training session, but it can be beaten. Just bring the right tools to break it down and don’t focus on writing the next blockbuster movie. 

Jason Clark has been a volunteer firefighter in southwestern Ontario since 2007. Having made the transition from firefighter to captain, Jason shares perspectives on roles in the fire service and riding in the front seat. Contact Jason at or @jacejclark. 

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