Practical Drills

By John W. Mittendorf

During my career as a company officer, I came across several ideas that enhanced training opportunities for company members. Although the following list is not complete, it may give you a few ideas to improve your training opportunities. Additionally, the following drills are designed to focus on practical fireground operations only and be practical, informative, and easy for you to implement with a varying degree of effort on your part. They can be modified to fit other types of scenarios and are listed in no particular order. Remember, when using buildings, Saturday and Sunday mornings are the best times (minimal traffic and people) to train.


  • Allow your firefighters to drive back from incidents and on selected emergency move-ups, EMS runs, etc.
  • Use the strengths and weaknesses of your crew to conduct periodic mini-drills (and to the best of your ability, do not deviate).
  • If possible, schedule formal drills at least a month in advance. How often DO you schedule drills with your company members AND conduct the drills as scheduled?
  • When driving back from incidents, periodically stop and discuss building construction hazards, what ladders or hose would be necessary to reach a specific objective, etc.
  • When conducting fire prevention inspections, use this time to look at a building from a team fireground operational viewpoint.
  • Take pictures (35 mm slides) of various buildings or hazards in your district and use in-house (particularly on rainy days) to discuss fireground operations.
  • Conduct a drill on "Injured On Duty" and "Not Injured On Duty" procedures and have a one-page summary for your crew to keep at home (be ready for members of the two other shifts who also want a copy!).
  • If you are assigned to an engine company:
    • Have your personnel operate all handlines and master stream appliances with various nozzles to refresh their memory on the capabilities of each combination. Sound simple? If it is, why are most fires (regardless of size) attacked with 13/4-inch line(s)?
    • Ensure your personnel are proficient in driving and pumping. That means you could justify their capabilities to a member of the legal profession.
  • If you are assigned to a truck company:
    • Ensure your personnel are proficient in driving and aerial operations.
  • Dump the apparatus of equipment. First, have each member select a piece of equipment and explain its use as applied to a specific fireground operation (i.e., forcible entry, ventilation, etc.). Then repeat until all equipment has been removed from the apparatus.
  • Select a building in your district. Park your apparatus in front and mentally build a fire with your crew (for example, wind is from the north to south, fire is in the rear of the structure with some smoke showing from the attic vents, etc.). While standing across the street, have your crew take the apparatus around the block and respond into the building. Your crew will then be responsible for completing an assigned fireground operation (i.e., vent, forcible entry, fire attack, etc.) without your involvement. After the operation is completed:
    • Have each member discuss their involvement and specific tasks.
    • Modify any tasks as necessary.
  • Vacant buildings that will be demolished are a prime training opportunity. Contact your building department to see if you can get a list of demolition permits.
  • If you have access to a drill tower and can set training fires, use this opportunity to occasionally benefit from live fire training. Rotate members through all positions (firefighter, engineer, company officer, etc.).
  • Dress members in full protective clothing and place a hood over their facepieces (members will see light but nothing else). Practice following hoselines and buddy-breathing techniques. During the drill, consider shutting off members' air and see how they handle the situation.
  • Develop a quiz on specific fireground items/considerations around your station (or applicable location). Let your crew take the quiz then take them through the quiz. A written quiz with some drawings of specific locations/items of consideration does wonders for this drill.

John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the books Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998) and Facing the Promotional Interview (Fire Engineering, 2003).

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