Customer Story

Train like your life depends on it: How Ventura County firefighters put learning first

Imagine if you came into work without knowing what job you would be doing—every single day.

That’s true for the more than 450 firefighters at the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) in Ventura County, California. The team responds to nearly 45,000 calls for service each year, which extends beyond fires. It includes medical emergency calls, hazardous response, animal rescues, swift water and ocean rescue, and more. In the last five year, VCFD’s has experienced a 27% increase in its annual calls for service.

“Firefighters really don’t know what they’re going to be called to do. In our line of work, you wait and prepare. Your life depends on a diverse mix of training,” says Vaughan Miller, the now-retired Deputy Fire Chief who spent 35 years with VCFD.

Being an effective first responder comes down to completing 700 hours of extensive training before getting the job. One year later, new firefighters acquire 600 additional training hours, which is maintained each day on duty for the rest of their career.

Firefighting remains a relatively lower percentage of VCFD’s annual incidents, however, it’s where firefighters spend 56% percent of their time on scene. In California, the size and severity of wildfires is growing rapidly each year.

In this heavily regulated industry, VCFD wanted an online learning management system that could help prepare its firefighters and employees to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of its communities. Using the Cornerstone Learning Suite, VCFD eliminated the need for its previous paper-based curriculum and brought training online with the intent of bridging communication gaps, providing consistent training and enhancing accessibility. Now, firefighters can access important learning content any time of day from their mobile devices or computer no matter their location.

Training That’s More than a Job Requirement

There’s a saying in firefighting: “Train like your life depends on it, because it does.”

“Firefighters definitely train more than most professions,” says Marisol Rodriguez, a Fire Captain at VCFD. “It's very important because we're responding to such an array of emergencies.

At VCFD, firefighters train four hours per day, across their 10-day, 24-hour shifts. Rodriguez says her team trains for everything from search and rescue, to deploying a firehose, to a variety of vehicle extrication scenarios.

Before implementing Cornerstone, Rodriguez and other leaders at VCFD tracked the training progress of their direct reports manually. It was a slower process, Rodriguez says, and difficult to see the status of a firefighter’s training records and compliance requirements.

Cornerstone’s Learning Suite offered an opportunity to change that, with the ability to track and manage not only records of the training, but also learning content. However, initial adoption of the platform by firefighters and their supervisors remained low.

For this reason, VCFD hired a dedicated Cornerstone Project Manager, Quane Huff, and employed a blended team of firefighters, organizational leaders, and communication experts to develop a user-friendly learning environment and drive Cornerstone’s adoption.

A learning platform designed for firefighters

Quane Huff has a degree in organizational leadership, and he’s spent his career implementing and supporting development programs at different companies. His first experiences with organizational learning, however, came while he was an electronics technician in the Navy.

The key, he adds, is to keep things simple. And his first order of business when he started at VCFD? To simplify Cornerstone for the firefighters, starting by organizing VCFD’s information on the platform. He also developed a new Learner Home page to feature the most important things the firefighters could do with Cornerstone (like upload their training), making it easier for firefighters to understand the platform’s uses. The result of these two initial changes came quickly, with the number of users on the platform tripling during Huff’s first year at VCFD.

Today, Cornerstone’s Learner Home is critical to VCFD’s training program. It includes instructor-led training, on-the-job training, eLearning, simulations and crowd-sourced training, among other modalities.

All new firefighters are given an iPad pre-installed with Cornerstone, and microlearning courses are available to accommodate learning between emergency calls. Courses are also available on mobile devices, so firefighters can learn in the field—whether it’s a refresher on hazardous materials or readiness training for fire season. It helps the VCFD team stay ready for every call.

“If you don't use [your training], you lose it,” says Rodriguez.

Huff now leads a Cornerstone working group of 15 civilians and firefighters dedicated to improving the platform for VCFD—whether it’s a software fix or the implementation of new Cornerstone functionality.

“We have that process in place now where user groups reach out to us and say, ‘we need Cornerstone to do X,’” says Huff. “My team prototypes and designs in our testing environments. We get all of these groups to agree to the new changes, and then we launch new change.”

Keeping Compliance Up-to-Date

While the importance of learning and training for firefighters is centered on the ability to make life-saving decisions, VCFD also has compliance standards to complete annually—including certifications for OSHA, EMT and Paramedic Programs, and the California State Fire Marshal. Cornerstone’s Learning Suite has been instrumental to track and manage completion.

Before Cornerstone, says fire captain Trevor Johnson, tracking compliance in real-time was challenging, especially using a paper-based system. Firefighters respond to calls all day and night. This constant on-the-go environment makes it hard to complete compliance and log training before the end of your 24-hour shift.

“Cornerstone offers a way for me to check-in on people’s compliance status and provides the tools I need to help the team be successful,” says Johnson. “If a firefighter is overdue on their learning activities, the system automatically sends a reminder with the specific areas they need to complete. The result? Higher compliance rates finished on-time across VCFD.

Helping VCFD’s firefighters meet their potential

The success of Cornerstone’s Learning Suite for training and compliance has spurred VCFD to use the platform to meet other needs, too. They have recently implemented performance reviews and career tracking through Cornerstone’s Performance Suite—a program that’s not only new to VCFD, but relatively unique to fire departments nationwide.

“I want to know each person I work with, what they're interested in, and where they want to grow,” says Johnson. “Maybe they're an engineer looking to promote to a fire captain or a new firefighter interested in becoming a battalion chief one day. Cornerstone offers a variety of advancement classes, training materials and certification tests to support firefighters throughout their career.”

This is a major benefit not only for the individual firefighters’ career mobility, but also for the health of VCFD as a whole. Like many public service organizations, VCFD is seeing an increase in retirees. With Cornerstone, firefighters can proactively ready themselves to step into more senior roles, and existing leadership can assess who fits those roles.

Altogether, Cornerstone’s tools are powering the potential of VCFD and its firefighters to continue to meet the needs of the community it serves.

“A person might call 9-1-1 one time in their life,” says Johnson. “When I show up on that call, it might be their first and only interaction with the fire department. And often times, we help them on their worst day. That’s why I strive to provide the best care and compassion for the person in need.”

It’s safe to bet that Cornerstone has inspired a firefighter-driven organization to embrace online training solutions, go beyond compliance and create a culture of continuous learning and development. VCFD trains hard because your life – and theirs– depends on it.

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

 Cornell University chose Cornerstone to provide a true enterprise system dedicated to promoting learning in a large, decentralized educational environment

Customer Story

Cornell University chose Cornerstone to provide a true enterprise system dedicated to promoting learning in a large, decentralized educational environment

Cornell University chose Cornerstone to provide a true enterprise system dedicated to promoting learning in a large, decentralized educational environment. As a leading higher educational institution, Cornell University needed a way to promote learning for its own staff in a large, decentralized educational environment. The team at Cornell initiated a comprehensive search for a new Learning Management platform, which included a review of 400 vendors and products. After shortlisting the field to 11 candidates and extensive demonstrations and customer interviews, Cornell chose Cornerstone. Administrators were impressed with what they called a "robust system," but would users adapt to the new LMS? After a thoughtful implementation, the team was pleased to see that its learning audience flocked to the new system and quickly began taking the training courses they needed. New employees were onboarded. Administrators now had access to new data beyond completion metrics so they could make strategic decisions. Cornell's learning team said that Cornerstone's user interface won employees over with the platform's focus on learning and "one-stop shopping." No other websites or products are needed to complete training and onboarding. Cornerstone at Cornell University is a true enterprise system dedicated to promoting learning in a large, decentralized educational environment.

City of Durham: Expanding Training Access, Evolving a Learning Culture and Improving Employee Satisfaction

Customer Story

City of Durham: Expanding Training Access, Evolving a Learning Culture and Improving Employee Satisfaction

Why Cornerstone Sharon Williams, manager, onboarding and professional development, for the City of Durham, began the search for a new LMS that would enable Durham to better manage training and support true development opportunities for every employee. “Cornerstone was brought to our attention by Regina Youngblood, Durham’s HR Director. Once we saw Cornerstone in action, we were thoroughly impressed,” said Williams. “It came down to Cornerstone and one other competitor. We felt that Cornerstone was the partner that would be the most innovative, supportive, and creative. They also had prior experience with our video-based content provider (an added plus).” The relationship with Cornerstone was solidified at the outset. Prior to launch, selected LMS administrators participated in an onsite boot camp. “Training was completely high touch. More importantly, Cornerstone was still there after training was over. The night before launch, we ran into a problem at 9 p.m. Our Cornerstone contact responded within minutes and stayed on the phone with us for an hour,” said Williams. “The level of support that we’ve had and the amount of nurturing has been absolutely phenomenal.” The Results Strengthened brand. Durham branded Cornerstone as City U Learning, which was paired with City U Engagement and a push-pull strategy to drive platform adoption and ensure message consistency. “Branding the Cornerstone LMS as City U Learning has really helped us market the message to employees that it is up to them (‘all about you’) to learn,” said Williams. “We’re challenging employees to lead from where they are by taking charge of learning and using knowledge to advance their career.” Improved employee satisfaction scores. “Employees are excited that there are now options to access learning via multiple modalities (videos, webinars, workshops, etc.) from anywhere and at any time. There is still work to be done, but our employee satisfaction scores are improving.” Increased training completion rates. Currently, the city’s training completion rates are between 65-100 percent, depending on the department. “The Police Department has used City U Learning extensively since rollout. They have their own LMS for technical training but utilize the City U Learning platform for business skills development." “I went to see the Police Department’s senior leaders before rollout. They saw the benefit of having Cornerstone and additional video-based learning options for business skills development. They are now our highest user with a 90+ percent completion rate for core values training.” Delivered learning to thousands with a staff of two. Cornerstone makes it feasible for Williams and one other dedicated training resource to manage learning and development for thousands. “We could not track and train 2,500 people without Cornerstone. We have a broader reach and can be more high touch. Cornerstone enables us to do everything more efficiently and effectively.” Engaged millennials. With Cornerstone, The City can deliver just-in-time learning, crucial for creating a millennial friendly work culture. “Thanks to our City U learning management system all employees can learn anywhere, at any time, even waiting in line or sitting in a doctor’s office.”

Denver Public Library: Putting Learning Front & Center for Employees

Customer Story

Denver Public Library: Putting Learning Front & Center for Employees

Established in 1889, the Denver Public Library (DPL) serves almost 4 million visitors and circulates 9.5 million items a year. Employee learning has always been integral to the library’s operations; DPL has had a training program in place since its founding. Yet with only a small learning program staff of two, keeping up with the demand for training—and high volumes of paperwork—was challenging. All training was done face-to-face, and it was tracked through an Access database, which never delivered a comprehensive view of learning across the entire organization. One person was also tasked with producing an expensive, paper-based training calendar four times a year. “We were doing 300 face-toface classes a year and processing 2,500 paper registrations by hand,” said Jennifer Lay, learning program specialist at DPL. “It was time consuming, and the mountains of paper were ridiculous.” Why Cornerstone In the search for a solution, the library received proposals from 12 vendors and conducted an in-depth review of four learning management systems (LMS). Cornerstone OnDemand’s flexibility was a significant factor in DPL’s final selection. “What really shone for me with Cornerstone was its versatility,” said Lay. “It was the only product we looked at that gave us the flexibility to handle our multi-faceted training program.” While reviewing the Cornerstone Learning Cloud, DPL also connected with other Cornerstone users. “I heard that Cornerstone was continually improving and making functionalities available based on customer feedback,” said Sandra Smith, learning manager at DPL. “My network was telling me that Cornerstone listens to customers and is responsive to their needs.” DPL conducted a creative rollout of the Learning Cloud, sending out top ten lists, creating an e-learning scavenger hunt and conducting in-person classes. On launch day, they took balloons, snacks and user guides to every department. “We used different styles for our rollout to meet different styles of engagement, for baby boomers and millennials and those in between,” said Smith. The Results Dramatically increased training opportunities and attendance. With the Learning Cloud, branded myTRACKS, the library has increased training opportunities by 700 percent. Employees previously disinterested in training are taking advantage of the expanded offerings, and DPL has seen a 435 percent increase in training attendance. “The number of employees accessing training has skyrocketed,” said Lay. “They love the ability to do e-learning in house.” Even the facilities staff are getting involved. Recently, an HVAC technician volunteered to teach library employees about the intricacies of their 538,000 sq. ft. Central Library. “People who were never engaged before are now interested in training,” said Smith. “With Cornerstone, they can find things on their own. They don’t have to wait for a paper product or a face-to-face class to start learning.” Advanced engagement of millennial employees. The Learning Cloud has been a critical tool for engaging the library’s millennial employees. “Millennials want to be motivated and challenged in the workplace,” said Smith. “Cornerstone allows us to give them an individualized learning portal. It’s a one-stop-shop for them, where they can not only learn but also share that learning with their colleagues.” More efficiently tracked training. Now managers can assign training key to improving on-the-job performance, as well as create real-time reports showing which trainings have been completed and when. “Previously, managers couldn’t review statistics,” said Lay. “The Learning Cloud’s reporting capabilities allow us to see who is being proactive in their skill development.” Put learning front and center. By increasing on-demand and face-to-face learning opportunities, and providing an easy-to-use individualized tool, DPL has communicated the importance of ongoing learning for all employees. Employees also know that they are responsible for their professional growth. “Cornerstone helps us put learning front and center every day,” said Smith. “We’re giving employees the opportunity to develop new skills and be prepared for changes coming in the workplace.”

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022