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By, Alan Rufer, MBA
I have learned a great deal over the last 22yrs in the fire service because of the people willing to share their knowledge with me. They took me by the hand and showed me how to do this great job (sometimes they had to show me more than once). When I completed my firefighter I certification I quickly began planning to begin my firefighter II. When that was completed I began to plan for motor pump operator, and then fire inspector, fire instructor, fire officer, my bachelors, and finally an MBA.
 At this point most would say they are done taking classes but I still attend roughly 100hrs of training annually outside of my regular department training. Personal development is an ongoing event. There is always more to learn.  Personal development is a journey, and like a good steak it should be taken slow, fully enjoyed, and appreciated.Success Sign
 The key to personal development is to have a plan. I know if you are new to the fire service it may seem overwhelming to create a plan for personal development when this is not your primary career. Nonetheless, creating a personal development plan is important in assuring your success within this business. The personal development plan is dynamic in nature, changing as you change, it does not need to be complicated and can be as short or long as you would like.
 The key is to have a plan. Start by writing down some short term goals, a chart like the one below works well for me because I can see where I am at and it is easy to update or change.

1 Year 3 year 5 year
Extrication Class Firefighter II Fire Officer I
Ropes & Knots Hazmat Operations Managing Operations
Building Construction Strategies & Tactics Fire Instructor I

 
When creating your personal development plan think of classes that will strengthen your weaknesses and not just about classes that are of interest to you. While in rehab at a class I was taking recently I overhead another student say that it was his sixth time taking the class. I asked him why he had taken it six times and he replied “because I enjoy it”. The class was a back to basics class and focused on live fire and interior operations. I thought to myself, WOW – who wouldn’t enjoy this, but this guy is really cheating himself, and his department. Instead of having six years of experience he now has one experience six times. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to taking the same class more than once. In fact, if a class is really good, covers advanced skills, or has been improved, I think that taking it again is a good idea.
I only have two rules for my personal development plan. First, it should at some point take me out of my comfort zone. At least once a year I take a class that I know relatively little about. This challenges me to grow as both a person and a firefighter. Second, I don’t let any individual instructor account for more than 30% of my classes in a given year. This helps to assure that I am exposed to a number of positions on any given topic and not seeing the profession through only one set of eyes.