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Trainer’s Corner: February 2014

The lessons that we learn in life help us to develop and to grow, and often become the foundation for good decision making.

February 10, 2014 
By Ed Brouwer

The lessons that we learn in life help us to develop and to grow, and often become the foundation for good decision making. That is why I push for hands-on training. An old Chinese proverb says, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

trainers corner  
Training night activities can range in skill level and difficulty. One activity that everyone on the department should know is how to properly don PPE.  
Photo by Laura King


I have come to understand that to be an effective training officer one must be committed to continued learning. We never know it all. With that in mind, I’d like to share a training experience from our last practice night.

My objective was to complete an assessment of our last year of training. However, rather than create a 60-question exam, I designed a unique hands-on skills test. The first thing we did was divide into four, four-member crews. Each crew was made up equally of veterans and rookies. The evening consisted of four sets of three-question exams and four skills tests. The following is an excerpt of the instructions we handed out to each crew.


Answer the questions on review sheet 1. When done, present them to the training officer. If you are 100 per cent correct, he will hand you an activity envelope.

When you receive an activity envelope, open it and follow the instructions.

When you successfully complete the activity, the training officer will give you review sheet 2.

We followed this same pattern four times. The last instruction was, When you successfully complete activity 4 sit in a straight row according to your years of service.

The following are the questions we used, but I would suggest that you customize them to suit your training program. Some questions were certainly easier than others, but the key was to get the crews working together as a team.

■ Review Sheet 1

  1. There are at least eight factors that limit the duration of air supply. List four.
  2. List five warning signs of backdraft that you might see from outside a building.
  3. Define the term flashover.

■ Review Sheet 2

1. Describe what the following smoke readings signify:

    a.    Black, thick, fast
    b.     Black, thin, fast
    c.    White, with speed
    d.    Uniform speed, colour from many places
    e.    Turbulent

2. Place the correct fire extinguisher class beside the corresponding compound:

    a.    Wood
    b.    Propane
    c.    Plastic
    d.    Acetylene
    e.    Magnesium

3.     Name two types of attack methods  for a vehicle fire.

■ Review Sheet 3

  1. Name six things that make up our arrival report to dispatch.
  2. One cubic foot of water equals how many cubic feet of steam?
  3. Name and give a brief description of the stages of fire growth.

■ Review Sheet 4

  1. What are the three essential elements of combustion?
  2. Materials are found in one of three forms or states. Name them.
  3. What are three modes of heat transfer?
 trainers corner photo 2  
For the communication activity, prepare a triangle, a square, an X and a circle on the floor using duct tape. One firefighter acts as an incident commander, guiding his or her crew through the exercise.


The crews were not allowed to move on to the next phase until the questions were answered 100 per cent correctly. When a team handed in a review sheet, I did not indicate which of the questions was wrong, if any; I simply said, “No, that’s not correct.” The crew would then go back to the drawing board. It was encouraging to see members brainstorming; I had told them to think outside the box and use the tools we had given them over this past year. At first firefighters didn’t catch on, but then one asked if they could use the cheat cards kept on the visor. I replied, “You bet.” Then there was a mad dash as firefighters ran to get the smoke reading and arrival report cards we had placed in each apparatus.

As a trainer, I have no problem providing cheat cards; whatever works to get the job done. Our ability to retain information is limited, so why not make it easier if we can?

As each crew completed the review sheets, I offered them a choice of one of four envelopes. Inside each envelope, I had placed instructions for a particular skill test.

The following are the four skill tests we used, but again, customize the ideas to work for you.

■ Activity 1

PPE: All members don their PPE. Once you are satisfied with your results, present yourselves to the TO for inspection.

■ Activity 2

Ventilation: Set up for a ventilation operation at the front door of the fire hall.

Once you are satisfied with your results, call the training officer using the radio for an inspection.

■ Activity 3

Entry team: Set up for the search and rescue of a smoke-filled apartment on the second floor of the fire hall. Once you are satisfied with your results, call for an inspection by the training officer.

■ Activity 4

Communication: Choose one crew member to be the incident commander. He or she takes the sealed envelope and a radio into the engine bay. The remaining members will don complete PPE with BA. They will stage at the top of the stairs in the fire hall.

Training night activities  
Training night activities can also include review sheets for items that can’t be practised. For example, one review sheet can ask firefighters to describe what fast, white smoke might signify on the fire ground.  Photo by Olivia D’Orazio


Inside the envelope, the incident commander finds the following instructions:

Use your radio to give directions to your crew members. They will find these patterns (triangle, square, X and circle) made with duct tape on the floor. There will also be two chairs nearby – your crew must place the chairs on the triangle and on the X in order to pass. When you think you have it, radio the training officer for an inspection. Good luck.

I was quite impressed with the enthusiasm each crew showed. All in all, it was a great night. An interesting byproduct of this practice was the development of relationships as crews worked together, helping each other through each phase.

As always, train like their lives depend on it, because they do.

Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., and Greenwood Fire and Rescue. The 24-year veteran of the fire service is also a fire warden with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, a wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor/evaluator and an ordained disaster-response chaplain. Contact Ed at

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