Editor's pick 2016: Stopbad

Seconds count so train for speed
December 22, 2016
Written by Gord Schreiner
Those of you who know me know that I am very passionate about the fire service. I have completed 40 years of service and I can’t wait to do a few more. I am excited about the future of fire services, despite our many challenges, and I believe this future is bright; in fact, it has never been brighter.


I have had the honour of travelling all over this great country (and other countries) delivering training and learning a lot from the many fire departments I visit each year. I have seen remarkable improvements in equipment, technology, leadership, training, firefighters and safety.

I am often impressed with some very small departments doing some very big things when it comes to training. I can honestly say that today’s fire services are in good shape. Can we get better? Well, of course we can and we will.

In my column in the May issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, I discussed the importance of consistent, meaningful training. In my department we train, train and train. If you know me, you also know that I hate excuses. When it comes to training I have heard them all: it is too cold out; it is too wet; we don’t have enough firefighters here to train; we don’t have enough money to train. Forget about the excuses and get to work training as though lives depend on it, because they do. Some of the best-trained departments I have seen are ones with small budgets, big hearts and lots of desire.

My department, Comox Fire Rescue in British Columbia, has several training buildings with dozens of training props, but it is our desire and great training programs that make the difference. One of our newest training programs is called Seconds Count.

The very nature of our business is that we must be able to deliver many of our services in an urgent manner. Our citizens do not make appointments for our many emergency services.

The Seconds Count training program is designed to enhance the speed of delivery of some bread-and-butter tasks that are common at emergency scenes. Firefighters are training to increase speed, while at the same time maintaining the department’s requirement for a high level of safety. Some of the short drills in the training program can be run with one or two firefighters and can be run inside or out; there are no excuses. The drills can also be run morning, noon or night.

Comox has developed a couple of dozen of these timed drills and we practise them during regular training sessions at the beginning, throughout or at the end. During some of our two-hour training sessions we might do a series of Seconds Count drills, most of which are fewer than five minutes long, so on a good night firefighters will complete several different ones.

I have seen a huge improvement in the efficienty of our well-trained firefighters as they worked toward completing these tasks in a reasonable timeframe while ensuring safety is still their No. 1 priority. As our firefighters become more and more efficient at these individual drills, we combine two or more of the drills into a timed scenario.

The tasks for these drills are simple: donning PPE and SCBA, stretching a line, throwing a ladder, setting up a fan, deploying an AED, performing VEIS (vent, enter, isolate and search) and so on. These types of drills make it easy to keep a record of individual firefighters as they complete the various Second Count lesson plans.

The key to great training is to be organized and have several plans (lesson plans) ready for each training session. The trainer can then tailor these lesson plans to suit the circumstances of the session. A firefighter who is participating in meaningful training is a happy firefighter. A well-trained firefighter is, of course, a safer firefighter and is more likely to make a positive difference on your fire ground.

Remember, without effective on-going practice, a firefighter is just another civilian. Training saves lives – maybe even your own.

Please feel free to contact me for a copy of the Seconds Count lesson plans. We are more than happy to share.


Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. He is a structural protection specialist with the Office of the Fire Commissioner and worked at the 2010 Winter Olympics as a venue commander. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire


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