Enhancing Readiness: an Exploration of the New Zealand Qualified Firefighter Programme
Volunteers significantly contribute towards the operational capability of many organisations, including New Zealand's national fire service: Fire and Emergency New Zealand. Ensuring that volunteers are trained to attend the diverse range of incidents a contemporary emergency service faces is not straightforward. Training must not only deliver the operational requirements of the role, but also address the added complexities of different adult learning styles, need for support and competing demands on the volunteer's time. To qualify for the next rank or learn a new skill-set, volunteer firefighters undertake a programme of study that typically involves a three-phased approach consisting of a pre-course distance learning phase, an in-person block course and a consolidation phase. For a volunteer to successfully complete a training programme, they need to commit a significant amount of time and energy, often calling on the support of other brigade members to achieve the programme requirements. Therefore, understanding the experiences and needs of students engaged in these training programmes is critical to ensuring that they are well supported throughout their learning journey and achieve a successful outcome. This study explores the experiences of firefighters enrolled in the qualified firefighter (QF) programme. It examines the support mechanisms that students received during their enrolment, their engagement with the programme's e-learning component and how the programme structure and design influenced their learning journey. A qualitative descriptive methodology was used in this study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 13 students and four trainers involved in the QF programme. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim, and data were thematically analysed. Key study findings centred on four key themes: the learning journey, competing demands, speed bumps and support. These themes highlighted practical and time constraints faced by the volunteers, as well as the need for additional support networks. This research exposes the large variability in the current volunteer training programme with 'success' largely influenced by personal resilience, use of independent support networks, and access to supportive learning environments. The findings of this study highlight that 1) providing support is critical to the students' learning journey, 2) certain adult education approaches are appropriate for volunteer firefighters and 3) the programme design informs the perceived credibility of the qualification. These findings may help improve the learning environment and experiences of students enrolled in this, and other first responder training programmes.