Create an Account - Increase your productivity, customize your experience, and engage in information you care about.
Austin Burns (left) has been the Minot Fire Department's training captain for two years.
Capt. Austin Burns has learned a lot during his two years as training captain for the Minot Fire Department – especially about himself.
“It’s taught me a lot of leadership, administrative and communication skills,” Burns said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I needed to work on to be an influential leader for our younger firefighters.”
Burns, who was recently named the instructor of the year by the North Dakota Firefighter’s Association, will end his two-year stint as the department’s training captain in December. Capt. Devin Walter will take over training duties, and Burns will return to shift work.
“It will be fun. Now I’ll be able to manage three or four people instead of working with 60 people and I think that will allow me to have a greater impact on those individuals,” Burns said. “I’ll be back in the game, back on the truck. I’m excited to learn more.”
Burns will soon turn his focus to simply being the best firefighter he can be, without the endless emails and scheduling he’s dealt with for the past two years, not to mention the countless training sessions he’s prepared for and conducted.
“In this position, you’re the organizer and the scheduler. You have to be the go-to person for any question. You have to understand the entire process from top to bottom, which I think is cool because you’re in the middle of everything,” he said. “But there’s also a lot of responsibility. If you don’t want that responsibility, this might not be the job for you.”
Burns, originally from Moorhead, Minn., completed his fire science degree from Lake Superior College in Duluth.
“When I was a junior in high school, I did a ride-along with the Moorhead Fire Department and it was awesome,” said Burns, who went on to earn a scholarship through the Moorhead FD to attend college. “I got into it and it was fun. Once I went to fire school, in the summer I did ride-alongs with the department to keep up on my training.”
He’s been with the Minot Fire Department just over seven years. “There was an opening in Minot, and I honestly just came up here to test and go through the process, and I got offered a job,” Burns said. “So I finished up school and I’ve been here ever since.”
For the past two years, Burns has been the department’s training captain, a position created by Fire Chief Kelli Kronschnabel.
“It takes a special type of personality to do this job because you’re on the forefront of a lot of different things,” Burns said. “I don’t know everything, but I consider myself to be pretty well-rounded, and I thought the job would be a good fit for me. Plus, I knew the department needed someone to step up.”
As trainer, Burns has been tasked to work with his superiors on the general direction of the department, then implement that training with the crews.
“I think it’s a very important position within the department because you have a lot of influence on the younger firefighters and the senior firefighters, but you’re also there to support your chief officers in whatever they need,” Burns said. “It’s middle management, so you’re always between a rock and a hard place because you get feedback from the crews, but you also get direction from upper management.”
What about the training captain position appealed to Burns?
“It’s a challenge. I like challenges. I never, ever saw myself sitting at a desk, but the department needed someone to do this job, and I knew I had the time to dedicate to the position,” Burns said. “I want to help everyone become successful, because success builds confidence.”
Burns has attended numerous seminars during his two years as trainer, some designed to train the trainers, while others have focused on not-so-obvious skills.
“You are at the forefront of every change that happens in the training world. Not everything is boots on the ground training; there’s leadership training, officer development and other things like that, too,” he said. “If you don’t attend these seminars to learn new things, it’s hard to get buy-in from your fellow firefighters.”
In mid-September, as Burns conducted high rise training at Minot’s fire training facility, he quizzed crew members on which direction the wind was coming from that day, then gave them some advice.
“You should already know that,” he said calmly of the wind direction. “You probably drove past 20 American flags on your way to work today. Look at them. That way when you get to the scene of a fire, you already know where the wind is coming from so you can worry about something else.”
That attention to detail has helped Burns be successful while conducting a wide range of training sessions, including water rescue, high rise rescue, hazardous materials training, auto extrication, live fire, and a host of other specific training topics.
“This year, we’ve been focused on fire operations because that’s the basis of everything we do. We’re called the fire department for a reason,” he said. “Yes, there are other skills and techniques we need to learn, but a lot of those are for incidents that are low frequency. Ultimately, we need to be good at fighting fires, because that’s what we do.”
With the extensive and ongoing training of a firefighter, Burns finds it impossible to take off his work hat when he’s not on the job - even on vacation.
“When we stay in a hotel, I count how many doors there are in the hallway until I get to our room. That way if there’s a fire and we have to crawl out in the smoke, we can feel for the doors and we’ll know how many there are until we get to the exit,’ he explains. “It kind of drives my wife crazy, but it’ll come in handy if there’s ever a fire.”
It’s called situational awareness, Burns said, an it’s part of everyday life for first responders and emergency personnel.
“When I’m at someplace like a restaurant, I don’t sit with my back to the door because I want to see what’s happening if there’s an active shooter or some other incident. When I’m in a public building like a stadium, I want to know where the AEDs are located. On an airplane, I know people will likely head for the same door they came in if there’s an incident. That means I’m heading to the exit where there are fewer people,” he explains. “Situational awareness is something we preach and it’s something that’s second nature.”
“It might seem unnecessary, but that’s how we’ve been trained,” he adds. “This isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle.”