Since I started in the Fire Training world I have heard the argument a hundred times, usually from very experienced instructors, that there is no way to learn firefighting online. “Computers are for administrators,” the saying goes, and “you won’t ever use one to put out a fire or cut someone out of a car!”

Let me be perfectly clear, as a “new generation” firefighter in the making, and after being the firefighting worlds periphery for 6 years, I completely, 100% agree with that statement.

I am the IT branch of Stillwater E-Training and Records Management. Many folks would assume my attitude to online firefighter training would be exactly the opposite of the above statement. Those folks would be wrong. In this article I want to clarify why that is, and why Stillwater has taken a very different approach to firefighter training and lifelong learning in the fire service.

Computers are for administrators, and you won’t ever use one to put out a fire or cut someone out of a car!

The pace of change has always been a factor in determining how firefighters train and how they maintain records of their competence. As the world progresses both in time and technology, there is a greater and greater demand put on the fire service to deal with, well… everything. From new car technology, new home construction techniques to fashion trends using new materials, these things have a direct impact on how the fire service operates and trains safely.

Over the last 30 years, the pace of change has accelerated dramatically. Perhaps a 1000 fold as computerization and abundant internet access has permeated society. New ideas turn into new materials and new products in a fraction of the time it used to take. Trends come and go in days, not months or years, and a constant drive to improve creates new standards and forces changes to existing standards almost daily.

Much can be learned from institutional learning systems, which “E-Learning” and “Online Learning” originated from. The organization of teaching material, structures of learning and measured delivery and competence have real value in the fire training world. We can’t turn our backs on centuries of University and Collegiate style instructional design, but we can’t wholly embrace it either.

The gap is in the practical, the physical, and the psychomotor.

Firefighters use tools. Unbeknownst to many outside the fire service, we use these tools in a highly strategic fashion. The fire service has progressed well beyond the old style tactic of “surround and drown”. Often we can control the fire and manage it to improve the chances of saving viable life and property and use less resources in the process. We have used fire science to become more effective and efficient.

So simply sitting in a class, reading a few chapters on using tools and the strategies and tactics behind putting out a fire or cutting someone out of a car, is not going to work.

We saw that training in the fire service had to start changing, to become more efficient, just like we did strategically and tactically.

We recognized a gap between the classroom and the training ground. Now what could we do about it?

Well first we had to become adult educators and that meant going back to school. Understanding how to teach adults was key in many of the decisions we made in creating the Fire Learning Management System.

Looking at how training was tracked and recorded, we clearly saw another gap. You are never going to cut patient out of a car with a computer, but you certainly are not going to be able to store, index, crosslink, and back up your training records (or run reports on them) with a halligan. Computers are made for this type of work. Plus, getting any timely information and feedback on where firefighters are in their lifelong learning process is not impossible, but extremely time and resource intensive working from paper.

You are never going to cut patient out of a car with a computer, but you certainly are not going to be able to store, index, crosslink, and back up your training records (or run reports on them) with a halligan.

We analyzed what could be done. What key resources, if managed more efficiently, (and that we could actually measure) would have the most impact on training in the fire service, and what could we do to actually implement it?

We quickly came to understand that it’s really about time.


If we were going to keep pace with the rest of the world, we knew we had to go digital. Paper based training and record keeping works, but it WILL eventually become too slow, cumbersome and risky to keep up with the avalanche of new information and skills the fire service needs to master to be safe and competent operators. Firefighter records reporting, gap analysis, NFPA 1401 compliance, and meeting and exceeding health and safety standards are just a few of the training and records retention functions that become easier and use less resources when digitized.

There is also a large mitigation of risk and liability by moving away from paper record keeping and training systems. The simple act of getting records off a single copy of paper saves thousands of dollars and makes losing that data practically impossible when backed up correctly.

Holding digital records of firefighters, supervisors and employers sign-offs on physical skills make all of it reportable and effective and timely for gap analysis, not just liability risk mitigation. With the FLMS, departments can see exactly where their firefighters are in their life long learning journey, and can make better strategic decisions on how and when to train, saving time and resources.

This is no longer E-Learning, it is Firefighter E-TRAINING. 

6 years and 3200 firefighters later, we are seeing the value of managing that most fleeting resource. TIME. One of the biggest challenges in modern firefighting is making time to learning everything we need to learn, so we can be safe and effective firefighters, and still have time to do the work and lead productive lives.

The Fire Learning Management system is simply another tool that the fire service can use strategically to manage and improve the training timelines, efficiency and effectiveness, and use less resources in the process.

And you can’t do that with a halligan.

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