BY STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI
How many times have you heard this from your crews or personnel, “Let’s cancel training (or the drill tower) today because it is raining (or too hot)”? I have heard that numerous times, more times than I care to mention. Every Friday and Saturday, we hold a multicompany training session at our drill tower. Typically, four companies and one chief officer get together and simulate an emergency scene outside at the drill tower. However, on rainy days, it is not uncommon to have the drill tower exercise cancelled so we don’t get injured working outside in wet and slippery conditions. Or, it is too hot, and we do not want to overheat our personnel and dehydrate them. I can somewhat accept that from a safety standpoint, but is it not true that fires and emergencies occur in all types of weather?
Many times the rain, heat, or inclement weather brings an increase in call volume in the form of vehicle accidents, downed power lines, trees into structures, medical emergencies, and grass fires. I can appreciate the need to free companies from a drill to remain available in their first-due areas for response. However, there are times when the inclement weather does not result in a drastic increase in response volume. If that is the case, why does training have to take a day off? Shouldn’t we take every opportunity we can to train and keep training until we are needed for responses or other mission-critical needs or tasks? I think we should.
The Pacific Northwest area of the United States (Oregon, Washington) gets significant rainfall every year. Something tells me that the fire departments in those states do not stop training because of the rain. The East Coast and midwestern states can be extremely unbearable in the winter with snow and cold weather and in the summer with humidity. Many states such as Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico can have summer temperatures of more than 110ºF. Do all of those fire departments shut down their training division because of the weather? I highly doubt it. They learn to make do and function within the prevailing situations.
So, if you find yourself in the position of a company officer or chief officer who has to determine whether to cancel training for the day, I encourage you to think again. Nothing says you and your crews have to go outside in the miserable weather and risk the chance of injury. Instead, you can do numerous exercises indoors. Also, by keeping the training indoors, but still training, you can keep your personnel mentally and physically prepared to do the job.
Here are 15 quick drills a company officer or chief officer can use on an inclement weather day:
• Turnout Drill. Many departments strive to have a turnout time (the time it takes for the apparatus to start moving toward the call after the bell goes off) of less than 60 seconds. Although that sounds fine and dandy, how true is it? While the crew is at the station, get out your stopwatch and tell members they have 60 seconds to get to the apparatus, put on their structure fire turnouts (or wildland firefighting protective clothing), get in the apparatus, and start moving out the front door. I will bet you many crews will not be able to do this. I realize some people may argue that we do this every day anyway. Most of us do put on our turnouts every day; however, do we do it expeditiously and correct every time?
• Prefire Planning. Go into your first-due area and become familiar with the buildings and sites. Make it a multicompany drill. Have the first-due officer provide the facility tour and discuss the necessary strategy and tactics to combat a fire should one occur. Don’t just limit this talk to fires. Other emergencies, such as EMS, hazardous-materials, or fire-alarm sounding calls, may pose problems. There are numerous large facilities-shopping centers, high-rise buildings, apartment complexes, strip malls, and sports stadiums, for example-that will allow you to remain indoors.
• Size-Up Practice. Take pictures of some of the buildings and properties in your first-due area. If you are really creative, or have fire simulation software programs, you can add fire and smoke to make it more realistic. Don’t limit this exercise to your company officers; have all members take their turn practicing size-ups on various static pictures. Practice makes perfect.
• Strategy and Tactics Review. Expand on the size-up practice exercise above. After you are comfortable with their size-ups, have your crews expand to strategy and tactics. Remember, there is no one right way to do everything. Go around the room and have your personnel assign their resources and discuss their strategy and tactics. You may even learn something new by listening to others. If nothing else, you will have a chance to determine whether they understand your standard operating procedures/guidelines (SOPs/SOGs). If you have any personnel preparing for a promotional examination, this would be a great way for them to practice their skills.
• Radio Operations. Technology has rapidly progressed from the fire service of yesterday. In days past, there was only one portable radio on an apparatus and only one primary channel for dispatch, maybe one or two for command and tactical operations. Today, many departments are issuing portable radios to every person riding on the apparatus. Your portable radio should be considered part of your personal protective equipment and is a tool to increase your safety on the emergency scene. The radio of today may have hundreds of channels, in different zones, banks, or talk groups. Navigating from one channel to another can be quite a challenge for some. Your personnel should be able to operate their portable radio with gloves on, in the dark and blindfolded. Take the time to review how to use the radio, what each channel is used for, when to use each channel, and how to care for and maintain the portable and mobile radio. This is especially critical if your department responds with other departments for mutual aid or automatic aid.
• Binder Review. This is a catch phrase to cover all of the information we store in binders on the bookshelves: SOPs/SOGs, policies and procedures, rules and regulations, and mutual/automatic-aid procedures, for example. Take the time to review some of the more frequently misinterpreted or rarely used items and discuss them with your crews. Take the dust off those binders that get seen only when preparing for promotional exams.
• Apparatus Familiarization. Test your crews’ knowledge on what is contained in each compartment on the apparatus. See who can name every item in the compartment, based on memory. A good firefighter should know where everything on that apparatus is stored.
• Equipment Familiarization. Take out a tool. Ask someone the name of the tool, the use of the tool, the specifics of the tool, and so on. See how familiar members are with the equipment and how creative they can get. Every member of the crew certainly will learn something new based on the experiences and education of others.
• Street Familiarization. Write the names of all the streets in your first-due area on a piece of paper. Cut the paper up so that each street is on one piece of paper. This will take some time, but it will be worthwhile. Put all of the slips of paper in a coffee can and have someone randomly pick out a street and tell you where the street is, how to get there from the fire station, which way it runs (east/west or north/south), on which side of the street the odd/even numbers are, which way the numbers increase/decrease, the names of cross streets, and the target hazards on that street. Use your imagination. This can be a great way to increase everyone’s knowledge of the first-due response area.
• Mass-Casualty Incident (MCI) Review. MCIs can occur because of the weather. I can’t think of a better time to review triage, treatment, and transportation procedures relating to an MCI. Don’t forget to also review ICS, communications, and equipment/supplies necessary for an MCI.
• EMS Skills Practice. Take the time to practice your EMS skills such as childbirth, traction splinting, dressing and bandaging wounds, spinal immobilization, airway management, and patient assessment. Review county treatment protocols. Review seldom used skills.
• SCBA donning. This is something we can never do enough of. Has everyone donned their SCBA to ensure they meet the department time standard?
• Search and Rescue Practice. Black out the SCBA masks of the crew with plastic trash bags, and use the fire station as a house. Plant a dummy for your crew to find. Be careful, though; this event could damage the fire station if you are not careful.
• Fire Science Potpourri. This is your catch-all. We were taught many fire science subjects in the recruit academy that we may not completely remember. What would be a better time to review the basics of firefighting? You can do this yourself or assign each of your personnel a topic and have them spend 10 or 15 minutes on each. This can either be a lecture or a hands-on practice session. Try to break it up; some topics lend themselves to both approaches. If you assign topics to your personnel, give them 30 minutes or so to prepare. If nothing else comes out of the exercise, the preparation time should be very educational. Topics might include building construction; fire behavior; fire protection equipment and systems; fire prevention; fire investigation; hazardous materials; EMS; communications; fire extinguishers; forcible entry; firefighter safety; ladders; hose, appliances, nozzles, fire streams, foam; ventilation; ropes and knots; salvage and overhaul; fire suppression; incident command system; and hydraulics.
• Inclement Weather-Related Review. With the inclement weather comes an increased call volume related to the weather. Take the time to review certain procedures or tools/equipment you may be forced to use because of the weather: putting the snow chains on the fire apparatus, treating victims of hypothermia/hyperthermia, putting out flare patterns, highway/roadway safety during vehicle accidents, and wildfire basics and operations, for example. Determine the topics based on your local response area.
You can also watch fire videos/DVDs when all else fails. I left these until the end because when you run out of options, want to do something different, or just want to catch up on your sleep, the videos can be useful. I try to stay away from them because they tend to lead to nap time, especially if they are thrown in right after lunch. This is not to say that there isn’t good information to be found on a video or a DVD. Use it sparingly.
Now you have no excuse for canceling training because of inclement weather. Be creative and think outside the box; fires and emergencies occur in all types of weather, don’t they? Of course they do! I can understand that some departments do not like training in the rain or severe weather conditions because of safety and liability concerns. However, inclement weather does not mean all training has to stop. We need to practice and prepare for the real emergencies every day of the year, rain or shine. Our personnel deserve to be highly trained and prepared for the various types of situations they may encounter. Do not let the weather run your training division!
STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI is a 14-year veteran of the fire service and a fire captain with the Santa Clara County (CA) Fire Department. He is also the fire technology coordinator at Chabot College in Hayward, California, where he has been an instructor of fire technology and EMS classes for 12 years. He is on the board of directors for the Northern California Training Officers Association, currently serving as the first vice president. He is a state-certified chief officer, fire officer, master instructor, and hazardous materials technician, as well as a state-licensed paramedic. He has an associate’s degree in fire technology, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and a master’s degree in emergency services administration.