Consolidate training departments: Can it work?


 
 

PAUL G. LANDREVILLE | | Tuesday, June 26, 2007


To establish and sustain proficiency, we must constantly train. Scheduled training ensures responding crews remain skilled, organized and safe while working in the field. Training may consist of reviewing prehospital guidelines, standing orders, continuing education for certifications and familiarization of seldom-used equipment.

This approach seems clear enough, but if the EMS provider is an EMT/firefighter, the training situation becomes more complicated. A large or well-funded fire department may have separate training chiefs for EMS and fire, a separation that allows each chief to remain focused in their own field. However, volunteer or paid, on-call departments may use the same chief for EMS and firefighter training. This situation can work well if the training chief has the credentials in each field and the time available to teach each subject.

The personnel void

When an EMS training chief steps down from the position, it creates a large void that the administration is obligated to fill. The selection process can be an unpleasant task because of a lack of qualified applicants. Formal education for candidates may include a two- or four-year degree, current state certifications, instructor ratings in CPR/AED, bloodborne pathogen training, etc.

Further department qualifications may consist of a thorough knowledge of department protocols, prehospital guidelines, standing orders and an abundance of field experience in EMS. Preferred qualities such as strong organizational, leadership, communication and instructor skills will serve a training chief applicant well. (In fact, many chief officers running quality emergency services organizations began their careers behind that door stenciled: TRAINING DIVISION.)

However, the most qualified and dedicated individual may avoid applying for the position because of the additional responsibilities ƒ including long hours preparing training sessions ƒ tacked on top of a full-time job, family obligations and personal commitments. It takes time, energy, creativity and dedication to run a successful training division. The time commitment may be the largest drawback for the most qualified candidates.

As a result, individuals who should be applying for the position, on the basis of their experience, qualifications and natural leadership abilities, don_t or can_t apply for the job. On the other hand, the marginally qualified will continually solicit the position. Those personnel, who want to be EMS/training chiefs, will be knocking on the administration_s door, begging for an opportunity to fill the post.

The money pit

The administration is likely confronted with two problems: In addition to a lack of good applicants, the department may not have money in the budget for a full-time training chief. Presenting the seriousness of this situation to the city administration may generate sympathy and concern, but produce no more funding that the budgeted part-time position.

At this point, an administration has few options. It could disregard the whole idea of a full-time EMS training chief as too expensive, or it could modify the job qualifications. Modifying the position would open it up to a larger pool of candidates, ensuring the position gets filled. But there_s actually a third option: Get creative.

Outsourcing

After scrutinizing such items as jobs, budgets, services provided benefits and health care, many city administrators and chief officers are running out of ways to keep their budgets in check. Thus, outsourcing jobs to a third party can be driven by affordability. A 2004 study of large companies by Deloitte Consulting found cost savings to be the number one reason for outsourcing work 65 percent of the time; access to knowledge was the second, at 39 percent.

When long-term funding is not available, short-term funds for a specific project are often on hand. Instead of hiring a person as a permanent full-time employee, the contract worker ƒ or Temporary Project Specialist (TPS) ƒ is put on staff for a specific undertaking. When the project is completed, the employee leaves. These TPS employees are experts in their field, and their specialty is in demand but only for a brief period.

EMS providers and fire departments use TPSs on a regular basis. Guest speakers, visiting physicians, instructors or company technicians are TPSs. They_re invited to instruct a class or drill in their area of expertise. At the conclusion of training, their obligation is fulfilled and they leave. The organization received what it paid for ƒ an expert ƒ for a specific period of time.

The TPS/outsourcing approach has desirable qualities that may appeal to an administrator seeking a full-time EMS training chief. Outsourcing the position fills the void without adding the cost of a permanent full-time employee, and a TPS would have the educational requirements the department demands. At the end of the term, the TPS may leave or renegotiate another contract.

Resources next door

Neighboring medical services or fire departments are likely experiencing the same problems of tight budgets and a lack of qualified candidates to fill a training position. The time may be right to select the best qualities of each and, with neighboring organizations, consider establishing a full-time Contract Training Instructor (CTI).

Each department participating in the CTI program generates funding. All budget allocations for the part-time EMS/training chief position are consolidated and used as payment for the CTI. The total investment, by any one department, would be a fraction of a full-time employee. Obvious benefits to each department are the absence of a salary and benefit package and the existence of a negotiable contract.

Many volunteers are hired because they_re willing to work an irregular shift and also respond during daytime hours. However, when it comes to training, they can get shortchanged when drills occur only during certain hours. However, a qualified, accomplished instructor, with good organizational and time efficiency skills, will ensure no training time or opportunity is wasted. A full-time instructor is more accessible to teach whenever students are available, for day and evening drills and more than once a week.

Further, a full-time CTI who works with neighboring organizations can provide even greater service to the region. Without compromising quality, neighboring EMS organizations and departments could gather to form a sizeable class in a central location.

The added benefit of gathering responders together for training is proficiency. The shortage of full crews or additional help from within the same city generates mutual aid, a common daytime occurrence. Because these crews will have trained together under one CTI, everyone will be working off the same page. A valuable benchmark has been reached when a limited number of day-available, well-trained EMS/firefighters can get help from neighboring EMS/firefighters of the same caliber. The training advantage, to every EMS/firefighter, will affect the organizations and communities they serve.

The details of a CTI

Drafting the qualifications necessary for CTI applicants will require flexibility, cooperation and harmony on everyone_s part. Cities that are in close proximity, are similar in population and development, and have a history of mutual aid could make the negotiations less painful than they sound.

With a list of negotiable and non-negotiable items, the administrators can sit down and formulate a comprehensive job description. This clear, concise, detailed job description should make certain the CTIs perception of the job matches the reality of what_s expected. A good document also prevents one department from dominating the others.

Again, close proximity of the involved departments and the understanding the CTI is on a renewable contract by each organization can provide a strong incentive for multi-organization collaboration. One city not participating in the CTI program places the joint effort in jeopardy.

Once on board, the CTI and department heads can discuss the direction of future training sessions. Knowing short and long-term goals, expectations and demands of each organization will give the CTI a blueprint of where each organization wants to be and by when.

A supportive network

The prompt selection of a training staff can assist the CTI in moving forward quickly and smoothly. The interview process for training officers could be traditional with a blend of questions regarding policy, fireground operations, formal education, experience and scene scenarios. But regardless of the selection procedure used, the new staff must be enthusiastic and optimistic. The right candidates will most likely be experienced, disciplined, self-motivated and confident. Under the direction of a new CTI, training officers can expect many challenges, and expectations will be high. Remember, though, that sometimes the best talent doesn_t step forward until the bar of expectation is elevated.

Experience is valuable when selecting a training staff. Nevertheless, some junior officers must be brought into the division and groomed. Becoming an experienced training officer is not the result of a few exciting events. The experience is gained through years of responding to incidents ƒ some being fast-paced, chaotic and dangerous, and others painfully boring, or lasting hours or days. A balance of field experience, along with formal schooling, department involvement, proper attitude, good character, even temperament and creativity make a good training officer.

Put it in action

The addition of a CTI should be treated like past additions or changes in operations. A thorough evaluation should be performed on a regular basis and following a specific timetable.. If an honest evaluation proves too difficult, due to the time invested in the new position and developing friendships, an outside evaluator could be brought in. Although honest, unbiased evaluations may be painful, they are the only way to truly assess a new program so that necessary changes can be implemented.

Bringing on a CTI will undoubtedly upset some individuals. The significant change in tradition may offend someone in particular who wanted the position but didn_t meet the preset qualifications. To ease tensions and concerns, you can suggest they use the first term of the CTI to acquire the missing educational requirements and get involved with the training staff to gain vital experience for future opportunities.

Summary

To some administrations, taking part in a CTI agreement is completely out of the question. Other administrators may be open to it but fear the joint effort will expose their lack of qualified individuals. Or perhaps they may not like the idea but view it as their only way of acquiring a full-time professional using part-time funds.

Regardless of the different obstacles, developing new and successful programs with multiple organizations is difficult for any administration, and blazing trails under a tight budget is even more challenging. Nonetheless, with today_s budget cuts getting more painful, what harm is there in sitting down with neighboring departments and tossing the idea out for discussion?



Paul G. Landreville is a 17-year veteran of the fire service. He is a former company officer and training captain. He currently serves as an NREMT-B for the American Red Cross in St. Paul, Minn.




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