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Learn How to Learn Better

Monday, October 13, 2014  
Posted by: Tamara Matthews
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NAFED has recently established NAFED University to help train fire and life safety professionals on the latest techniques and regulations within the industry. The facility boasts state-of-the-art classrooms and hands-on training areas. Beginning in October 2014, NAFED will host three-day introductory and two-day advanced classes at the training center based in Indianapolis, Indiana, in cooperation with Koorsen Fire & Security.

Because this type of training is key to the proper maintenance of fire suppression equipment which can save property and lives, trainers and students must be vigilant in their respective roles. To gain a better perspective on training, we've reached out to two training professionals who both possess many years of training know-how and expertise in the field.

First we spoke with Craig Voelkert, VP of Sales, Special Hazards, at Amerex Corporation. Craig's training experience stretches over 20 years. Craig has instructed industrial firefighters at the University of Nevada/Reno Fire Protection Academy and has served as a chief instructor at the Texas A&M Industrial Fire School.

Q. What can students do to get the most out of fire protection training?

A. Keep an open mind. A lot of the training that I've conducted has been on-the-job so the students are already working in the field. And oftentimes a seasoned tech is handing out knowledge and their experiences to a younger tech or trainee. The tech may already have field experience, and the reality is that they may not have been doing something the correct or recommended way. So keeping an open mind to change is key.

Q. How do you avoid distractions during class (smartphones, work related issues)?

A. You've got to set the rules upfront about distractions and make sure that everyone, including me, follows the rules. When I teach classes, I'll see people with their heads down and their hands in the laps, and I know they're using their smartphones. Then what always happens is that those same people will ask questions during the break that I already covered during the class.

Q. How can you make sure you retain the information you learn?

A. To me it just comes down to taking notes. I still have notes that I took in some basic classes back in the 1970s, and I still refer back to those notes. It always helps me to retain the information by simply writing it down.

Q. How do you make sure you stay alert and present?

A. I go in thinking that there’s going to be something new or different and there always is, so I need to pay careful attention so I don't miss it. I always anticipate that the next subject or the next topic or the next example is going to be something I’ve never heard of before.  

Q. Any other advice you can give to students?

A. Ask the questions. I always find that in groups, particularly larger groups, people tend to shy away from asking questions even though they've been told to ask questions when they arise. Then during the breaks the trainer is hounded with questions, and most are great questions which should have been handled in class where the whole group could have benefited from the answer. In my mind the only stupid question is the one that's already been asked and answered and the student wasn't paying attention.

Next, we reached out to J.R. Nerat, Technical Manager for Badger Fire Protection, for his advice on training. He’s an in-demand consultant to various national and state organizations and has lectured at various industry-related functions, including the International Industrial Fire School at Texas A&M University where he serves as a “Master Instructor.”

Q. What can students do to get the most out of fire protection training?

A.  Block out the proper amount of time to attend the whole presentation. Students arriving late or needing to leave early not only disrupt others but it also could result in missing the most important part of technical presentations, the introductory lead-in and summary wrap-up.

Q. How do you make sure you stay alert and present?

A.  Get a good night’s rest prior to attending a class. Showing up tired or impaired with a hangover obviously not only reduces the student's ability to comprehend new material but also represents a poor potential return on any benefit that might have been expected.

Q. Any other advice you can give to students?

A.  Make arrangements to have your calls and messages held or forwarded while attending a course. Leaving classrooms to make or respond to calls not only presents disruptions but also often causes students to miss key information and later generates unnecessary questions to address material previously covered in the class.

Training is a critical component of the fire and life safety industry. Technical advancements in equipment and new government regulations must be reviewed and explained and NAFED continues to lead the way through our training efforts. Taking a class, seminar, or training session is more than just showing up. Active participation and getting in the right mindset can help you get the most out of training.

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