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Trainer’s Corner: Rookie training

March 20, 2023 
By Ed Brouwer

March already? I’m sure by now you all have your 2023 training calendars put together and posted. I am more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” type and I found planning out the year’s training schedule was tough.  

Our practice nights were usually one and a half to two hours. And with the average year allowing for 42 practice nights, that is only 63 to 84 hours annually to cover the basic firefighter training requirements, which should include a live fire exercise and a driver training drill. It becomes a real juggling act if you include MVIs (extrication), first response medical, first response hazmat and wildland urban interface training.  

 And did you notice I have not yet mentioned rookie training? I found the only way to make all this work for me was to have rookie training during a set time. Our department’s rookie training took place through the first three months of the year.  

All of our members were required to attend these training sessions. Yes, veterans and officers alike. Reviewing the basics is never a waste of time for any firefighter. As a benefit to this group training, the rookies got to see how we all work as a team and the incident commanders were able to see the strengths and weaknesses of the newbies.  

In my opinion, when departments compartmentalize their rookies there are missed opportunities for team building. Sometimes I would assign a veteran to a rookie – like a big brother program.   

Rookie training is between 10 to 13 weeks and covers:  

  1. Department history, the mission of the fire service, role in the community, fire department organization and firefighter job descriptions
  2. Incident Management and command structure
  3. PPE: bunker gear
  4. SCBA: respiratory hazards, effects of toxic gases, limitations of SCBA and emergency procedures
  5. Communications: proper use of radio, Arrival Reports
  6. Fire Behaviour: chemistry and physics of fire, BLEVE, stages of fire, states of matter and classes of fire
  7. Fire Hose and Appliances: care and maintenance, hose tools, hose appliances, coupling and hose lays
  8. Nozzles, Fire Streams and Foam: operations, stream application, hydraulics, friction loss and hose streams
  9. Fire Suppression: flammable gas, flammable liquids, fire extinguishment and fire extinguishers 
  10. Ventilation: fire control
  11. Forcible Entry: tools, safety, maintenance, doors and breaching walls
  12. Cold Weather Firefighting: frostbite, hypothermia, hydrants and chimney fires 
  13. ICS 100: application, primary functions and command

I designed a PowerPoint presentation, averaging 30 slides for each of these topics. Most topics have a written exam (20 multiple choice questions) specifically designed to the topic and our department. A passing grade is 75 per cent. We review each exam with the students so they know which questions they got wrong. I’ve shared this before, but just telling a student they got a passing grade, without showing them what they got wrong, does not help them understand the topic.  And isn’t that the main objective of fire service training?   

If I noticed a large number of firefighters got the same question wrong, I took that as a sign to readdress that segment of the topic.

I also designed in house certificates so each topic completed gets a seal – there are no “participation” awards. You either pass or you don’t. 

 There have to be practical evaluations. Sometimes it is a simple demonstration such as having firefighters donn and doff their PPE. I remind you this was not just for our rookies; our officers and veterans were expected to participate. Each were given two attempts to successfully complete the training objective.     

Each member should be able to safely demonstrate the ability to perform the following. These are just a few examples. 

  • The proper procedure for entering a fire building
  • Proper ladder handling techniques, including laddering the side of a building and safely securing the lanyard, climbing the ladder and demonstrating leg lock, demonstrating sounding the roof, and how to lower and stow the ladder
  • Demonstrate the starting and safety procedures of a chain saw or reciprocating saw and PPV fan
  • Demonstrate the steps to rescue a downed firefighter wearing SCBA.
  • Demonstrate the deployment of a pre-connect and participate in loading a pre-connect
  • Demonstrate knowledge of SCBA use, the donning and doffing of SCBA, and troubleshooting of the SCBA
  • Demonstrate the following hose rolls: straight roll, single donut roll, double donut roll, locking donut roll
  • Demonstrate hose appliance knowledge by extending a hose line using a hose clamp and replacing a broken hose section
  • Describe and or demonstrate the proper use of gated wye and hose clamps
  • Demonstrate the knowledge of the following hose lays: forward lay, reverse lay, split lay and hydrant lay  

I also had great success using evolutions and scenarios to tie together individual core skills.

Once we completed the rookie training portion, our practice nights went back to our regular training. There is a lot of ground to cover seeing as rookie training only covers the basics.  

Further considerations: 

  • Think through each practice objective  
  • Follow your department’s SOGs  
  • Always use the incident command system so it becomes automatic in your response operations 
  • Have a “STOP” procedure (usually a blown whistle) 
  • Assign a safety officer for any hands-on drills or evolutions

Now and again, I’d throw in a “fun” night where I would bring in snacks and we would play Firefighter Family Feud on PowerPoint.  

You can customize these questions to fit the review objectives. I divided the members into two teams, being sure to spread the rookies evenly among the teams. You can keep score or just let it play out. One of our members made an electronic “buzzer” box, and with all the bells and whistles that come with the download it makes for a memorable event.  You can download your free template at Youth It’s now called Top 10 Answer Battle. Any time you can get your members to have fun learning, you as the trainer win!  

If you run out of training topics here are a few to consider:

  • Cold weather emergencies, pumping
  • Ropes and knots
  • CPR and AED 
  • Pre-plans
  • Area familiarization
  • Advancing hose lines and hose testing
  • Drafting
  • Hazmat operations
  • Vehicle extrication and fires
  • Below grade fires
  • R.I.T.
  • LPG emergencies 
  • Wildland fires
  • Interface fires
  • Down firefighter rescue
  • Arrival reports
  • Size-up
  • Water supply
  • Building construction
  • Salvage & overhaul
  • Firefighter survival
  • Mayday, disaster, and large incident response

 I encourage you to build yourself a soap-box priority list. Throughout the past three decades my “soapbox” hasn’t changed much: Train right! Exercise! Stop smoking! Seatbelts! Drink water! Don’t breathe smoke! But in recent years due to the recognition of an increase in PTSD incidents, I added, communicate! 

Thank you for all you are doing in the Canadian fire services. If I can be of any help to you, please feel free to contact me.  And as always, continue to train as if lives depend on it, because they do.  

Ed Brouwer is the chief instructor for Canwest Fire in Osoyoos, B.C., retired deputy chief training officer for Greenwood Fire and Rescue, a fire warden, wildland urban interface fire-suppression instructor and ordained disaster-response chaplain.  Contact 

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