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Stopbad: August 2014


August 1, 2014
By Gord Schreiner

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The fire service is like no other industry. We need to be constantly training for our next incident, without knowing what it will be, when it will occur or where it will happen.

The fire service is like no other industry. We need to be constantly training for our next incident, without knowing what it will be, when it will occur or where it will happen.

Great firefighters train constantly, including physical training and reading fire-service publications. Great firefighters learn from others both around the fire hall and by reviewing recent line-of-duty death and injury reports. Big changes are happening in the fire service; we can’t always do what we always did.

What makes us firefighters? Well, it is not the hats and t-shirts. It’s not our uniforms or personal protective clothing, not our fancy rigs or bumper stickers, not our expensive equipment, our fire stations or our badges. It is our training. Training is what made us firefighters, and constant training is what continues to make us firefighters. A firefighter who doesn’t train is just another civilian.

It is too late to train tomorrow for the incident to which you are responding today. You should also never operate beyond your level of training. That is to say, if your department has trained only on defensive skills, then do not try to operate in an offensive posture as you will probably not be successful.

In all of my travels, I have yet to meet a firefighter who doesn’t agree that training is the single most important thing we do. I have met quite a few, though, who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk; they’re quick with lots of excuses as to why they or their departments don’t train much – small budget, too cold, too wet, not enough time, I already know everything. There is really no excuse for not training. Get out and train as if lives depend on you getting it right the first time, because they do!

Training resources are abundant. The Internet is full of fire-service lesson plans, scenarios and ideas and instructions for training props. Other fire departments will bend over backwards to share their training programs with you. There is a lot of great software out there for training, and a lot of it is inexpensive. In my department, training goes on almost every day. We added some training components to our on-board iPads so that each rig and officer has our latest lesson plans, complete with photos and videos. We built our own training centre, which includes dozens of props. I challenge my firefighters to keep thinking up new ideas that are practical yet don’t cost a lot for our training centre. Even if the firefighters don’t come up with any new ideas, they probably learned something about fire service training through their research.

We recently added a sauna for dummies. We heat up our rescue dummies in a small room and then place them in a cooler room in which we search for them in smoke using thermal imaging cameras (TICs). The hot dummies provide a great thermal signature. We have created several other props like this just for TIC training.

What’s wrong with hitting a hydrant, stretching a line, donning SCBAs and throwing a ladder on a false alarm run? If your firefighters are on the rig, why not ask them to practise one of their common procedures to ensure they are not getting rusty? We just started doing this and our firefighters love it. It only takes a few minutes to stretch that pre-connect, flow water and put it back in place for the next call. That next run might involve a trapped child – and then those precious seconds really will make a difference. Wouldn’t it be great for you to get it right?

Once you have the basics nailed down, expand to other techniques. In my department, we recently added vent-enter-isolate-search procedures to our toolbox. Our firefighters embraced it and, I must say, are very good at it. I hope we never need this procedure, but if we call for it I know our crews can deliver.

Good training really does pay off in successful incidents. Victims are rescued, fires go out more quickly and, most importantly, our firefighters are safer. After some of our recent fires, firefighters commented that the incidents were very much like recent training scenarios. We practise like we play and we train as if lives depend on it, because they do. We keep our training challenging and exciting. I find that reminding our firefighters that lives depend on us helps to keep them motivated.

Remember: if it is predictable, it should be preventable.


Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Chief Schreiner also serves as the educational chair for the Fire Chiefs’ Association of British Columbia. He has a diploma in fire service leadership and has traveled both nationally and internationally delivering fire service training. Contact him at firehall@comox.ca and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire


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