Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Between Alarms: July 2014

Arjuna George   

Features Hot Topics Opinion

This column is not about Las Vegas, or gambling or the Golden Nugget hotel chain, but it is about betting on success.

This column is not about Las Vegas, or gambling or the Golden Nugget hotel chain, but it is about betting on success. The golden nugget is a tool for use by of the fire service and may prove to be a game changer for your department’s training and operations. 

At Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue, the nugget program may be one of the smallest changes we have made, but it has provided big results.

If you Google the word golden, you will find adjectives such as richness, radiant, and shiny. Searches also describe golden as the greatest value of importance, prosperity, favourable, and assured success.   

If we explore the word nugget, we find terms such as great value, lump of something precious, bite-sized, and something small but excellent.


The two words – golden nugget – create a powerful combination, and the defining terms reflect the true meaning: a rich, valuable, bite-sized chunk that delivers success. 

So, what is a golden nugget, and how will it lead you and your team to success? Let’s delve into how we at Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue have created this concept and watched it grow.

Each morning, the staff and any paid, on-call firefighters who were at the hall would meet for a few moments to lay out the day’s game plan and determine who was where and doing what. These meetings provided us with a much-needed kick-start to the day, but we all craved something, we could take away from the meetings to help us feel we had become better firefighters. This is how the nugget was born. I introduced the golden nugget as a simple idea to help give some more value, depth and collaboration to our daily crew meetings. Now, months after we introduced the golden-nugget concept, crews look forward to a new nugget each morning.

Our initial goal was to cover a new topic at the end of each crew meeting, incorporating an element of training or pre-planning. For our golden nuggets to be successful, they must be topics that don’t drastically affect our daily duties.

We have found that short information sessions, running 10 to 20 minutes, that involve everyone, work best. Although these sessions are not meant to be full-blown training exercises, they often lead to more lengthy discussions that involve blearning moments.

Nuggets should be simple and specific to a single topic; nuggets can be geographical, or building nuggets, or pre-plan scenarios – the possibilities are endless. The beauty of a nugget is that you can revisit it months or years later to update the topic or re-familiarize yourself and your crews with an issue.

We have found that maps, drawings, and pre-incident plans all helped to enforce the learning and understanding. We mix it up: sometimes we use a printed Google map; other mornings we use the iPad connected with the Apple TV for a different media experience. The iPad does allow for some pretty interactive discussions and visualization. Google Maps is an excellent and cheap pre-planning and familiarzation tool. The street view function on Google Maps is a simple and powerful tool for conducting a virtual walkthrough of a neighbourhood. These sessions often generate healthy discussion regarding strategies and tactics as we digitally walk the streets. The concept is to share valuable nuggets of information, rather than a slick presentation; the value is in the information, not the medium.

Since we started doing golden-nugget sessions, we have covered hydrants, buildings, wildfire plans, major-event plans, new tools, new technology, new apps, tactics, and road familiarization.

The nuggets really click when we take a few moments after the meeting and actually visit the location of the day’s nugget. So, if we review hydrants in a certain neighbourhood, we take the engine to see the hydrants and drive the roads. Visiting the locations enforces the learning, and the information becomes engrained in our minds if we need it at 3 a.m.

The key to the nuggets is to make them shareable. After the crew meeting, we create a short handout to share with all members. Not all members can attend the crew meeting, so in order to have the entire department on the same page, it is crucial that the message and the lessons learned be shared. A PDF can be emailed, posted in the fire hall, or uploaded to a secure learning management system. Be creative; find ways to grab the attention of your firefighters so they all have the opportunity to learn. A picture says 1,000 words, so make your nuggets visual: use photos, maps and diagrams. 

You can also include links or QR codes so firefighters can further explore the topic. A QR code can lead to a video, a pre-plan, or a website that extends the learning from the nugget session.

Now that we have a small collection of nuggets we have created a binder for the lunchroom that contains all the latest nuggets. Accessibility is important; don’t let these valuable nuggets go to waste on a shelf somewhere. Show them off.

Daily nugget sessions will help you discover gaps in your operations, new ways to work, strategies for handling certain issues, and ideas about equipment. These sessions work in career halls, composite halls, and volunteer stations; the structure might be different but the concept is the same. 

We have already noticed a difference in our operations from our nugget sessions; responses to a number of emergencies have gone more smoothly.

After each morning meeting, we assign a member to bring forward a nugget the following day. Empowering firefighters to take the lead produces a real team-learning environment.  Make every day a learning day.

Arjuna George joined the fire service in 1997 and is now the deputy chief of operations on Salt Spring Island, B.C. Email him at and follow him on Twitter at @AJGeorgefire.

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