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Fire chiefs are often unfamiliar with learning management systems, so there is a risk of partnering with an LMS vendor that is not suited to their departments, or is inferior to other options

When fire departments face a budget crunch, training is often a line item that’s adversely affected.
Training not only has its own costs, it also has the opportunity cost of taking firefighters off the street.
And those training challenges greatly increase when the department is volunteer or paid on-call. However,
failure to train becomes a liability issue, so fire departments are looking for alternative avenues to get their firefighters trained, but at lower costs.

One of the options trainers and administrators are turning to is online learning management systems.
But because they are unfamiliar with this emerging technology, there is a risk of partnering with a vendor
that is not suited to their department’s personnel and needs or selecting a training system with an inferior
set of features.

Here are four questions fire departments should be asking as they evaluate a learning management
system partner.

1) Do you have certificates of completion?

Just like in the offline world, individual firefighters and departments need to show proof that training has been completed to meet mandatory training requirements. Many firefighters and officers keep a binder of their training certificates, and many departments have an administrator who maintains file cabinets full of such documents. In the online world, most learning providers have certificates or records — either actual documents in PDF form that can be printed out or electronic records of course completion.

A top issue for your end users, firefighters, officers and chiefs, is accessibility and availability of those training certificates. It must be easy to find and share proof that training has been completed with a
host of possible stakeholders — everyone from the compliance manager at a risk pool to the state fire marshal’s office to members of the court system.

Another issue with certificates of completion is portability of that documentation. Can individual firefighters easily access their certificates not only for use at their department, but also to verify their
training and credentials for any secondary fire service jobs such as a regional training instructor or as a two-hatter for another department that requires proof of the same training?

2) Is your training approved for state credit?

State-approved training can vary from state to state. Some learning management system providers do have content that has been reviewed by the state oversight authority and has been approved or accredited, but some do not.

In fact, in some cases, states have simply indicated that they do not approve training courses — online
or offline. Instead the state sets criteria for training and empowers a fire marshal or fire chief to approve training.

As a potential purchaser, the training officer should know what the requirements are for their state and their discipline, and that can help inform them on which learning management system is right for their
department. Because many departments, through their fire chief, can approve their own internally developed and locally instructed training programs, it is critical to know if the training department can
upload its own training records to the LMS.

3) Who are you working with in our state?

Just as you would seek to get the opinion of a neighboring department when purchasing any other sort of fire apparatus or turnout gear, administrators should ask for contacts at other departments who can testify about the learning management system solution. Here are some questions to ask those references:

  • How easy was it to implement the system?
  • What is the support like when you have a problem?
  • What do you think of the training content?
  • How easy is it to access
  • Were there any unseen or unplanned fees after initial setup?

4) What is the fee structure and are there any hidden charges after setup?

Pricing structures can vary for LMS solutions. Some vendors offer multiple options to choose from. There
could be an offering that is a one-time flat fee for an unlimited number of users or there could be a per user/per-year subscription option. Some offerings have a tiered- pricing structure for different levels of support after purchase (silver, gold, platinum, for example), which impact the total cost.

The key is to ensure that the vendor is completely transparent about the absolute total cost. Ultimately,
the learning management system your agency selects will need the features and functionality you deem the
most important. But using these questions as a guide at the start of your planning will be key to the overall success of the program.

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