The trainer's reward: Students' most heart-stopping stories

The best compensation for a trainer is a gem of feedback from a student that motivates continued training


From my earliest days in Law Enforcement, I wanted to become a trainer. Most of us have had a feeling we were "destined" to do a certain thing in our lives, and the best police trainers I know think of their avocation as a "calling."

While some police trainers certainly make a living at the endeavor, few will ever get rich from their passion. I know from experience that the richest reward a trainer can receive in compensation will be a gem of feedback from a student which will nearly stop their heart … and will keep them training for a very long time.

I received my first such feedback years ago when a deputy sheriff called me one day and said "that close-combat shooting you showed us on the range last month saved my life last night."

Wow! A reward like that is much more valuable than money.

I asked some of the best trainers I know to relate their "reward" moments. I've known and worked with some of these trainers for years, and a couple of them I just recently met but quickly saw in them the same level of passion for what they do. I fired out a "shotgun" request to a number of trainers, most of whom are very, very busy.

So, I expected only to get enough responses to just about fill a column. Instead, I got a dramatic and enthusiastic response from everyone, which illustrates my point much better than my feeble words. Police trainers don't train for the money, they train for the non-monetary rewards grateful officers use for pay — their appreciative words.

And, those words are so powerful I ask you to humor me and read a couple of columns on the subject — I simply couldn't leave any out. Here are the trainer stories of my friends — Part one...

Vincent Faggiano — My "Cousin Vinnie" is a retired Patrol Commander from the Rochester (NY) Police Department and the finest entertainer I've found among skilled police trainers. Cops learn best with a dose of humor and Vinnie is the best!

He developed the "model city simulator" in conjunction with BowMac Educational Services, and anyone who has stood "in the box"at his simulator is a better officer and leader for the experience.

"I had just completed training a First Responders course as part of the New York State Supervisors Certification Course. Two days later I picked up a newspaper and read about a passenger train derailment, which had occurred in a nearby community. Since several new supervisors from that community had attended the course, I felt sure one of them had to have been on-scene.

One of the case studies in the course involved an airliner crash where a major difficulty responders had to deal with was a grid locking of the scene. The only access was a lane and one-half roadway and that became totally clogged with emergency vehicles, impeding the swift removal of injured passengers from the scene. As a result of the case study we discussed the need for good perimeters and staging areas.

Sure enough, about two days after the train accident I get a call in my office from one of the newly appointed supervisors who had attended the class. They had been the first law enforcement supervisor on the scene of this passenger train derailment. The supervisor, recalling the difficulties they had observed in the Avianca case study, immediately limited access to the scene with a good inner perimeter for everyone including emergency vehicles.

Working with the Fire Commander, staging areas for EMS units were established and gridlock never occurred. As a result, 118 injured passengers and rail employees were transported and treated for injuries. The supervisor credited the lessons learned in the class with the quick and efficient removal of such a large number of injured people. Among the numerous calls, emails, and letters I have received through the years this instance remains the most memorable."

Dave Spauding — Dave is a retired Lieutenant from the Montgomery County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office, with an extensive background as a tactical and firearms trainer. Dave is regularly an advisor to firearm makers and I have been honored to be on the same “list” as Dave a couple of times when new toys were rolled out to writers/trainers.

“I had been transferred from the training unit after being promoted to Lieutenant and was then the commander of the Violent Crime Investigations Section. I received a call from the Sheriff asking me to go to the local TV station and give commentary on a police shooting caught on cruiser video.

I went to the station and was told the video was of a shoot out that had occurred the day before in a nearby county involving a Deputy Sheriff and a Neo-Nazi. The TV reporter was critical of the deputy’s performance and immediately started asking questions about his performance. It turned out the video was the now famous Kehoe Brothers shoot out that occurred in Clinton County/Wilmington, Ohio. I immediately corrected the reporter and told him the deputy had done everything right.

He asked how he could have possibly missed the suspect so close and I replied, "He didn’t…see how the suspect folds back? He was hit and wearing body armor. That deputy did a hell of a job!" I then explained about tunnel vision and the other physiological/psychological factors that occur in a critical incident and the reported immediately backed off. They asked me to appear on the news that evening and explain all of this which I did. Criticism of the deputy by this and other news outlets stopped immediately.

A year and a half went by and I was the commander of a multi-jurisdictional drug task force and headquartered in a building away from HQ. Dispatch tracked me down and transferred a call from a deputy in Clinton County who needed to talk with me. I took the call and the deputy told me his name was Rob Gates and that I had him for firearms in the basic academy several years before. He took a few moments reminding me who he was and once I did I asked him how he was. He told me, "I’m great but I am calling to thank you…you saved my life." I asked how so and he replied, "I was the deputy at the Kehoe Brothers shoot out and everything you said would happen happened! Your training, especially the FATS Simulator training, made all the difference. I can’t thank you enough."

I was stunned at first and then asked him to tell me more.

He went on, "The night and day after the shooting was pretty rough…I wasn’t sure that I had done everything right…I was afraid that maybe I had screwed up. Then I saw you on the news explaining what happened and why it happened as it did and I knew that everything was going to be all right. What you said meant everything."

I spoke with Rob for another hour and a half and debriefed him.

Interesting stuff!

Since then he has given any number of interviews detailing what happened. After almost 30 years on the job, this is one of my fondest memories. Not only did I have a small part in helping a very brave deputy 'rise to the occasion,' it was in one of the most famous shoot outs in history. A great day, needless to say…

Dave Smith — The legendary “Buck Savage” needs little introduction to PoliceOne readers. Dave is probably the most-widely-known police trainer in the United States, and deservedly so. I didn’t meet Dave until a few years ago when my affiliation with the Police Marksman magazine brought me into the PoliceOne fraternity, but we have shared some close friends in common for many years.

Dave’s comments refer to this article.

"I'm always grateful when someone comes up to me during training and simply shakes my hand and says “This is the third time I've heard you speak, thank you." It's not just the catastrophic, spectacular events that make an impact, but a handshake, a word of thanks, a pat on the shoulder, a quick email make it all worthwhile."

"I will forever cherish the phone call I received last November from Sgt. Brandon Rollins, not because he remembered what he'd learned in my 'Winning Mind' class, but because he took the time to tell me about it. Brandon saved his own life, with the help of his team, but because he reached out to me that day we've formed an unbreakable bond, and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to come to know Brandon and his family."

Betsy Brantner Smith — A retired Sergeant from the Naperville (Illinois) Police Department, Betsy was an accomplished trainer in her own right, even before she partnered up (personally and professionally) with Dave Smith.

Betsy and I share a passion for training dispatchers, who are often ignored in the LE training game.

"Being a law enforcement trainer is an incredible opportunity to help the people and the profession we all love. Having said that, spending over 42 weeks a year "on the road," away from my own family and friends and waking up in cookie-cutters hotels wondering what city I’m in can take its toll. Student feedback is the nourishment that keeps me heading to the airport, eager to train with one more group of crimefighters.

The emails and phone calls that I receive are truly priceless. From the Midwestern officer who sent me a photo of his baby girl who "still had a daddy" thanks to my "Street Survival" presentation to the Texas officer who remembered me saying "Keep Fighting No Matter What!" during an underwater fight for his own life, these stories feed my soul. But it's not just the tactical survival stories that touch me, very often it's the "career survival" revelations, like the one below:

"I did some major "gut checking" during your course…and I realized that I was sabotaging my own career and well as my own health by becoming the "lone wolf." The tactical information hit home, and you provided me tools to look at myself and make significant changes while showing me that I was not alone."

Training is not as easy as it looks, but it’s more rewarding than you can ever imagine."

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
— Henry Adams

About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn

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