you want to be af fire instructor
By: Lt. Jake Rixner
||The question comes up during almost every
fire class I teach, “How do I become a fire instructor?” Some of
the students asking the question are so young, it is hard to get my point
across without hurting feelings or more importantly, dampening their enthusiasm.
What are the secrets of good teachers?
How can you contribute more to your fire company? When should you back
off from teaching firefighters?
The most important point of being a fire
service instructor is being a master of the subject you intend to teach.
During my earlier years, I was assigned to Engine Company 5 in Richmond’s
Jackson Ward neighborhood. Each of the eight years I was there, we were
the busiest engine company in the city. There was a waiting list
of 30 people who wanted to get into the company. In other words, it was
an elite unit with highly motivated people who loved going to fires, putting
them out, and saving lives.
During this period of time, the City came
up with a career development plan that required going to state, federal,
and local community college classes to advance. During many of these
mandatory classes, it was obvious that many of the instructors teaching
these classes had far less practical experience than those of us who worked
Some taught outdated or false information.
They used words like “always” and “never” which in the streets, are two
words that will come back to haunt you on the fire ground. Nothing
does more damage to the creditability of the instructor than not knowing
the subject. On the positive side, I made up my mind that if I was
ever blessed with a class full of students, I would make the learning experience
one they would never forget.
Capt. Richard Emerson, retired,
Richmond Bureau of Fire, Engine Co. 5, the first Captain and a mentor of
||We are all a product of our experiences.
The things we have done and learned in the past shape our views and beliefs.
We must inventory these assets and utilize them for the good of the fire
service. A couple of months ago, I was in the State fire training office
in Richmond, Virginia, when a phone call came in from the Roanoke office
and they asked me to teach a class on water rescue. Although this would
mean a weekend away with all expenses paid, I declined. I am a basic
bread & butter fire instructor. I have no passion for water rescue;
therefore I knew that I wouldn’t do a good job teaching the class.
My true passion is in engine & truck
company evolutions and honing the skills to develop a great team at the
company level. That’s the real level that the work of our business gets
Building construction is another subject
that receives far to little attention in most fire training programs.
As Frank Brannigan says, “The building is your enemy, know your enemy.”
Many firefighters work construction as a side job and these people are
assets for training classes. If you know how buildings are put together,
you can predict how they will come apart during a fire. One of the most
important things anyone riding the officer’s seat of a fire truck should
know is building construction, as well as the unique buildings in your
Know your business. If you understand and
have done the things you are teaching, then you can add a personal side
to the book knowledge. A good “war story” helps to illustrate what you
are teaching, however don’t rely entirely on war stories to teach the subject
matter. Too many instructors think that one good story deserves another.
Remember the old adage, “all things in moderation.” Use your “war
stories” and personal experiences to reinforce and illustrate the important
points in your lecture.
Jake Rixner, and one of his
mentors, Tom Brennan
||Early in my career, I noticed that some
firefighters told excellent tales at the kitchen table, tales of heroic
deeds. However, many of these same guys exhibited questionable performance
on the fireground. I’ve found that it is usually the quiet guy in the corner
with his nose stuck in a book or newspaper who performs best on the fireground.
It’s important to learn who you can trust in a burning building, and stick
with him. He will teach you more than you ever thought possible.
Some folks call these people mentors.
If you’re lucky, you will have several
during your career, and perhaps one day, you can continue this cycle by
being a mentor to someone else. Mentors illustrate the fact that
learning by doing is much more effective than learning by listening. A
good mentor can be one of the most valuable instructors a firefighter ever
An effective instructor is a teacher who
has walked the walk (not just talked the talk.) He balances the use of
life-experiences in conjunction with necessary and important book knowledge
to help create a team of well-trained, motivated, and competent firefighters
that can handle almost anything the “enemy” throws at them. Good
luck on your journey, if you want to teach someday, transfer to a busy
unit in your department that also has great leadership.
Jake Rixner is a
fire Lieutenant with 20 years service in the Richmond, Virginia Fire Department.
He previously worked as a firefighter in Washington DC. His fire service
career started as a volunteer in Monroeville, Pennsylvania in 1978 at Company
#5 (the busiest in Alleghany County). He has had articles featured
in Fire Engineering Magazine and has instructed at the FDIC. He is an instructor
in Virginia. Lt. Rixner holds an associate's degree in Fire Science. Lt.
Rixner still volunteers in Kentland in Prince Georges County, MD.