Tim-bits: April 2019
By Tim Llewellyn
Numerous fire department-related articles and speakers have echoed the notion that in order for us (career and volunteer) to be as proficient as possible in our duties as firefighters, we must participate in some type of regular, realistic training or practice.
By Tim Llewellyn
This is a core condition of what it means to be a firefighter. If the public calls 911, they expect well-trained personnel to arrive quickly and assist them with whatever their problem happens to be.
The concept of “regular training” can sometimes get bogged down when we consider the enormous number of topics in which firefighters need to demonstrate proficiency on a regular basis. Even if your organization has a well-organized and disciplined training officer or training division, it seems there sometimes is never enough time to cover everything.
Hazardous materials training, EMS protocol updates, active-shooter response drills, technical rescue refreshers, department policy and guideline reviews, driver training, harassment and diversity awareness training … the list goes on and on, with topics that seem to put us in the classroom and take us off of the drill-field.
Add in department business, safety and other committee meetings, fundraisers, routine calls, nuisance calls, station visitors, station and apparatus maintenance, and, the “bread and butter” drill-field topics seem even farther away.
My intent is not to downplay the importance of any of those previously-mentioned training topics. I’m simply making a statement that, at times, it may seem as though there is no time or energy left for us to practice and hone our skills on other things.
One way our organization has found to help bolster and maximize our training time is to break a greater topic down into small, manageable chunks. For instance, one idea that came to us was found on the social media platform, Instagram. A seemingly well-trained fire department routinely posts images and video clips of its members performing various hose stretches in and around their service area, all for the sake of training. We have adopted this “daily stretch” idea and have consistently worked with our members in order to increase their proficiency at hose stretches.
These daily stretches can happen at any time – after a run is cleared or even while out on routine details like food runs or area familiarization. The overall goals of the daily stretch drill are simple: get the hose off of the rig, get it on the ground, and get it flaked out correctly so that the nozzle firefighter and the backup are able to get the line in operation with minimal disruptions.
Our daily stretches usually work in one of two different ways. Members will either work with the “front” 100 (the shouldered portion of a preconnected 200-foot or greater hoseline) or they will stretch the entire hoseline as it comes off the apparatus. This decision is typically made by the apparatus officer who considers the impact on the community and/or the crew.
We try to make these stretches as realistic as possible so, if the weather and conditions are favourable, these daily stretches are done out in the community. If it is a vacant structure or a relatively open area with better weather, the decision will be made to stretch the entire hose load.If it’s a more congested area and the weather isn’t great, we might just work on stretching and laying out the front 100 to speed things up and minimize exposure and inconveniences.
While stretches inside and around the station are always available, we use them as a last resort because of the familiarity of the members to the building’s layout and contents. We usually stretch the lines dry to speed up the training repetitions and keep the rig ready for any incoming incidents, as the wet-line drills can be saved for formal, full-length company drills.
If the rig is staffed with an adequately-sized crew, the daily stretch drill could be enhanced to include the driver/operator functions as well as the apparatus officer duties. While the firefighters are tasked with deploying the attack line, the driver/operator could get some good practice with connecting to, and dressing out, a hydrant connection and, at the same time, the apparatus officer performs an initial on-scene report and 360-degree walkaround (just make sure to switch the officer’s portable radio/handie-talkie to a local or TAC frequency to avoid interfering with other incidents.) Because all of the lines are stretched and kept dry, they can be repacked easily and quickly, and the entire drill should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.
This is just one idea that is designed to increase the total amount of training time we give our members. It is a quick and simple, company-level drill idea that can address a single skill (deploying the front 100) or it can easily be adapted to incorporate more personnel and different skills (entire engine going to work).
The main idea is to run quick and easily-repeated drills that increase the overall competence of the members. If daily stretching isn’t something that your company does, I challenge you to start today. Now get out there and do your stretches. The community is counting on you.
Tim Llewellyn is a firefighter for the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, Penn., and an instructor for a number of fire academies and training faculties. firstname.lastname@example.org