By Gord Schreiner
By Gord Schreiner
Training is a vast subject and is, of course, vitally important to the success and safety of a fire service. I often say that without on-going training a firefighter is just another civilian.
When it comes to hands-on training I always reference what I call the big four: four topics I believe that all firefighters must know inside out before they move on to other subjects. Don’t get carried away training on specialty areas when you can’t do the basics.
No. 1: Donning PPE and SCBAs. Know your personal protective equipment (PPE) and your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Practise putting on your PPE in a hurry; lives may depend on it. My department, Comox Fire Rescue in British Columbia, operates a fire-training centre and we often see students who do not have basic skills.
Fire-service leaders need to make sure their firefighters know SCBA basics and practise them often. In my department we hit the SCBAs hard; we wear them all the time. I would be very surprised if any of our firefighters had not donned an SCBA at least 50 times last year just for training. We time our firefighters donning their PPE and their SCBAs; they must be able to do this quickly, but also properly. We ensure our firefighters know how to manage their SCBAs during failed-open or failed-closed events and have them practise conserving air (mayday event). Using techniques to conserve air can give firefighters more time to solve their problems or for the rapid-intervention team to find them. We ensure our firefighters can manually turn on and off their PASS alarms and know when and how to use them.
No. 2: Communicating. Perhaps one of the most important skills but the least practiced by firefighters is communicating on portable radios. Radios are not often used during training as everyone is working face to face or nearby; but they should be. Firefighters should be comfortable using radios all the time and know how to talk on them. We do not have the time to teach radio skills at 3 a.m. when we are trying a save a life.
Departments must have a communication plan. Comox Fire Rescue uses the four Cs of communication – connect, convey, clarify and confirm. Using and practising the four Cs model has greatly increased our safety and effectiveness during practices and on fire grounds. Our firefighters are taught when they should talk on the radio and what to say. If there is a call for a TAP report (team, air, position) or a roll call, our firefighters provide the correct responses.
No. 3: Throwing. How quickly can your firefighters throw (raise) a 7.3-metre (24-foot) ladder for rescue or deck/roof access? Comox firefighters practise throwing ladders over and over again. A call for a vent, enter, isolate, search (VEIS) to a second storey window must be executed like clockwork. We practise VEIS several times each week and most of my 50 firefighters have done the drill dozens of times. This single drill can make a huge difference and lead to a positive outcome. Of course the success of throwing skills are diminished if firefighters can’t get their PPE/SCBAs on in a timely manner.
No. 4: Stretching. Great firefighters do a lot of stretching, and by that I mean deploying hoselines. Can your firefighters pull a pre-connect and flow water quickly and effectively. Believe it or not, this is a weak point for many departments (career and volunteer) because of the time and effort it takes to replace the lines after they are deployed. During a practice session, typically, the first team will deploy from the rig, but subsequent teams will just pick up charged hoselines and spray water. Firefighters can go for months without ever having deployed from the rig. My department has designed hose trays in which to pack our pre-connects so that, after one team deploys a line, firefighters can pick up their hose and repack it in a tray while another fully loaded tray is placed on the rig. The next team can then deploy from the rig, and so on. During a typical two-hour practice we might deploy 10 pre-connects; that way we get more hands on training and more practise doing things right. Once lines are deployed we ensure our firefighters can quickly replace a fail length or extend the line. We also practise purging the line and adjusting patterns for different applications.
This is a very simple explanation of my big four, but you get the point. Make sure your firefighters can nail these skills every time before they spend too much time on other drills. There are many, many other very important skills but these are a great foundation from which to build. Without effective, on-going practice, a firefighter is just another civilian. Training saves lives (maybe even your own).
Gord Schreiner is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire