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Comprehensive Firefighting Education Program Thriving in Calgary (Alberta) Department

Residents in Alberta’s largest city count on emergency services for protection and care in times of crisis; a responsibility the Calgary (Alberta) Fire Department (CFD) doesn’t take lightly. In fact, the department’s thriving comprehensive continuing education program keeps firefighters in top-notch shape, making them one of the most proactive departments on the continent.

Serving over one million people within the city of Calgary (726 square kilometer coverage area [451.12 miles]), the CFD consists of approximately 1,200 firefighters operating out of 36 stations throughout the metro area. An expansive fleet—comprised of 48 engines, 13 aerial apparatus, 13 emergency rescue vehicles, nine watercraft units, and four tankers—are equipped with virtually all Waterous pumps and Eclipse™ CAFsystems.

“We’ve used Waterous since the dawn of time, and have generally been pretty exclusive with them,” says Trevor Sommerfeld, training coordinator at the CFD. “But in the 1990s, we went virtually all Waterous. Their product is bulletproof.”

Climbing on board with Waterous’s CAFsystems in 2004 established the foundation for the CFD’s comprehensive education program. “We purchased four compressed air foam engines, which was an entirely new concept for us,” Sommerfeld says. “At that time, Waterous factory trainers came to our facility and presented the instructor’s version of a product orientation education course. They laid out the groundwork and provided reams of material for us to build our own program.”

Today, the CFD staffs 16 full-time educators and regularly schedules comprehensive product orientation and education coursework for new recruits, as well as driver/operator classes for all department members, which include engine education, pump orientation, and specialized operations.

“Our program curriculum was established on the educational foundation provided by Waterous,” Sommerfeld says. “Now that we’ve made it specific to our needs, it’s become pretty unique. We’ve even provided some of our processes and curriculum back to Waterous to enhance its developing programs.”

New recruits are the main participants in an especially rigorous 12-week program at the CFD. “Last year we had 168 recruits graduate, and they all received orientation and education on compressed air foam, engine, apparatus and mechanical operations, interior tactics, and water supply management,” Sommerfeld says. “It’s a lot of information for these new recruits.”

Seasoned firefighters benefit from the CFD’s education program as well, as incumbent courses are becoming more and more prevalent. “Every two years we conduct focused apparatus and pump operator courses for all 600 driver/operators, and the specialization changes each session,” Sommerfeld says. “For example, this year’s focused course featured high-rise pumps and water supply operations.”

In the off years between specialized operations courses, the CFD implements ladder company education and new product orientation for incumbents. “Our education programs almost never stop,” Sommerfeld said.

The CFD remains proactive in implementing firefighting education and product orientation courses for many reasons, not the least of which is safety. “We’ve witnessed many unfortunate situations in the past where the fire service in general has mistakenly lacked the due diligence to properly train firefighters,” Sommerfeld says. “It’s like someone said ‘here’s your fancy truck, off you go!’ The consequence of that unfortunate practice is that running equipment improperly can lead to catastrophic consequences such as destroying the truck and harming individuals.”

In addition to safety, continuously reestablishing best practices among firefighters is another reason the CFD exhibits such dedication to continuing education programs. “One of the most difficult things to do is untrain a firefighter,” Sommerfeld said. “It takes more time to break down preconceived notions and correct poor habits than it does to educate. We decided to be proactive and develop better practices among operators from the beginning. We have a very dynamic program, and it’s much easier to keep positive practices in place with ongoing education.”

While the CFD maintains a thriving continuing education program within their department, they maintain close contact with Waterous’ education personnel. “Whenever we update our apparatus, we always bring in Waterous just to make sure our programs are up to speed and course material is still relevant,” Sommerfeld says. “Our programs are so solid, but it works incredibly well to maintain that partnership with factory representatives who are also experienced firefighters.”

And as many departments may not necessarily possess resources for comprehensive education programs like the CFD, Waterous’s education staff works will departments of all sizes, ensuring quality education and proper product orientation are available to any fire department throughout the world.

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