As public servants, firefighters are relied on by the community during all kinds of disasters and emergencies. Giving primary medical care, being first at the scene post storm, and putting
out fires are just some of the essential services that they provide.
With such a great responsibility on their shoulders, it is important
for fire rescue teams to be trained in a wide range of skills. New
developments in emergency medicine, building construction, hazardous materials, and firefighting tools and technology require teams
to keep their skills sharp at all times. This is not only to ensure the
best possible outcome in every situation but to keep firefighters and
civilians as safe as possible.
Since individual firefighters carry out these many tasks together, each
member of the team must ensure the continuous fine-tuning of their
skills to keep the entire group in top shape. But continuous learning
need not be done alone; it can also be a team effort. More specifically,
firefighters can support fellow firefighters in their professional development, through an approach known as reciprocal peer coaching (RPC).
Here, I will describe RPC as well as explain how it can help fire rescuers
reflect on current practices and refine new job skills.
PEER COACHING DEFINED
In the field of education, peer coaching has been used extensively
to help students support each other through the learning process.
Teachers themselves have also employed the same model to share
knowledge and best practices with fellow educators. Pam Robbins,
author of Peer Coaching to Enrich Professional Practice, School Culture,
and Student Learning, defines peer coaching as a process through
which colleagues work jointly to accomplish some professional goals,
including (but not limited to) the following:
• Reflect on and analyze current practices and their effects.
• Develop or fine-tune new skills.
• Share ideas and learn from each other’s experiences.
• Share resources for personal and professional development.
The goal of peer coaching relationships is to support each other’s
continued learning and not to provide critique on one’s job performance. It is meant to complement the team members’ formal
CHARACTERISTICS OF RPC
Peer coaching is a flexible model that can be adapted to the needs
of any organization. Its structure can be as collaborative as the team
wants it to be. Each peer group or pair can set whatever learning goal
they like, whether this is advancing one’s vehicle extrication skills or
finding creative ways to train primary school kids to “stop, drop, and
roll.” Matched peers can choose almost any work-related objective.
RPC is also nonevaluative. The interaction between peer groups or
pairs is meant to be a way to share each person’s own thoughts and
experiences of various aspects of the job without fear of being criticized
or judged. Despite the use of the term “coach,” individuals largely take
on the role of sounding boards. Any evaluation that is done is essentially self-assessment after having bounced ideas off one’s peer coach.
RPC is also a confidential process. Communication lines between
two peers need to stay open, but any discussions must be kept
between the individuals.
Strategies for supporting professional
development in the fire service
BY NICOLA DAVIES
RPC is a way for
firefighters to help one
another for it is fellow
firefighters who are
in the best position to
understand the unique
challenges of their work.
(Photo by Pixabay.)
Reciprocal Peer Coaching