Lessons from the NIST Report on Fireground Field Experiments

By William R. Timmer

The Highland (IN) Fire Department has been doing individual competency testing as a part of our training program for the last 5 years. The program has worked well, however, our officers felt that more benefits would be produced if the training was somehow tied to a fireground team performance. As a part of an outreach program, The Center for Public Safety Excellence sent our department a copy of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Report on Fireground Field Experiments in April of 2010. The document was used to provide us with some guidance in developing a comprehensive instrument for measuring a number of fireground skills easily.

Each year we have our firefighters meet a minimum performance level on a predetermined set of skills our officers have deemed essential to safe operations on the fireground. Each year our officer corps selects 10 separate tasks each member must master. Every member is trained and then tested on these 10 basic skills. This program has been successful. The officers did feel that the team work and cohesive operations required on the fireground did not get exercised during our previous efforts. This year we used the company protocols from the Fireground Field Experiments to create three groups of performance events to test our skills during a simulated firefight in a residential setting. The three groups consisted of an attack crew, a water supply crew, and a ladder company. There are three firefighters, an operator, and an officer assigned to each crew. The three crews are directed by an operations officer during each evolution. The past competencies have involved individual skills tests in SCBA donning, hoseline advancement, hydrant hook up, ventilation, and roof ladder deployment. The goal was to build on individual skills and complete a measurable set of skills for companies involved in the initial attack on a residential fire.

The decision was made to use only three companies based on the information provided in the overview of the fireground operations in the report. The report includes a third engine company that was designated the RIT company. For the purpose of our training this crew was made up of firefighters not being tested. There was always a RIT crew on standby but no times were taken for that task. A total of 21 tasks were assigned to the three crews. Each crew was timed by tasks assigned and overall time. Engine 1 conducted a forward lay of 200 feet. The E-1 officer performed a 360 and directed the crew to position the attack line on the front side of the building. A forcible entry prop was used to simulate forced entry. The crew and officer advanced a 100-foot dry line through the SCBA confidence prop. After the line was positioned, the hose was charged. The second engine crew was held for two minutes, then two members hooked the supply line to the hydrant as the officer and the other crew member moved to the front of the building and advanced a backup line into the building. The hydrant crew rejoined the backup line crew and conducted a primary search by moving through the SCBA prop and searching a predetermined space. The ladder company was held for three minutes, split their crew, and placed a 24-foot ladder and a PPV fan in the front of the building. The fan crew advanced to a utility shut off prop and controlled electric and gas. The ladder crew advanced to the fire extension simulator and completed five rotations at that task. All of these tasks are detailed in the report and times were gathered and reported using a number of teams and other variables based on crew size. This information is provided in Appendix F of the report.

The challenge with our past competencies training has been to establish a measurable result other than simply pass or fail. The times measurements provided in the regression models (Appendix F of the NIST Report) help us establish that measurement. Each crew was assigned a set of tasks/competencies and the corresponding coefficient for a four person crew was used as the base time. The times kept on each crew for both individual tasks and an overall performance were then used to rank each group.

We are sure that the NIST team developed their report for reasons other than our performance measurement program. The information provided did help us to improve firefighter safety and overall fire department performance in Highland. We have currently tested about a third of our members. The project is more time consuming than our previous competency program, but the benefits produced in building skill levels and developing a better team approach seem to be worth the efforts.

William Timmer is the chief of the Highland (IN) Fire Department.

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