For years, countless hours have been spent developing general operating guidelines (GOGs) for the fire service. This is to ensure overall safety. However, has consideration really been given to establishing specific rules and regulations for the training of individuals, the training facility, and instructors?
The training center is where examples are set for new firefighters. There are several questions about the training center that must be addressed by the training division, including: Does the training center have GOGs? Are there procedures in place for training activities? Are there specific rules for the burn building and drill tower? Do instructors have specific criteria they are required to follow? Do instructors have the correct qualifications and experience to be teaching?
What follows are a few guidelines that the training officer and training division must consider implementing as GOGs are established. These will make the training facility safer and enable it to act as a model for new firefighters.
You can call them guidelines, general procedures, or just standards, depending on the preference of the training officer and the department. I recommend that the policies be designated as general operating guidelines (GOGs).
GUIDELINES FOR INSTRUCTORS
The most important element in any training center is its instructors. Instructors must be passionate about teaching and, as important, they must be qualified to teach. To ensure this, and to provide for safety on the training ground, it is recommended that there be a general instructor and safety GOGs.
The GOGs should be specific to the activities that the instructor is teaching. If, for example, high-angle rescue is being performed, an appropriately qualified instructor must be in charge. This would seem to go without saying; however, if it is not in writing, there is still a possibility that a nonqualified instructor could try to teach in an area in which he is not qualified.
The GOGs should specify that to teach high-angle rescue or another specific skill, the instructor must first provide a certification or show competence in that area. The instructor also must be proficient in all applicable National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards covering the subject he is teaching.
It is important to establish criteria for the burn building, including burn buildings that are configured for gas fires or burning of class A materials. Your burn building GOGs should specify who is allowed to operate and run drills in the building and who is allowed to assist. If the evolution involves live fire, only instructors qualified to the NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, level are to be in the building. (If the state does not have specific qualifications for instructors to do live fire, consider developing qualifications specific for the facility.) All 1403 requirements must be met for the evolution.
CRITERIA FOR BURN BUILDINGs
The guidelines should include a checklist for the instructors. Divide this into two parts: a preburn checklist and a postburn check list. The lead instructor should be required to go over the checklist with the student as well as with the other instructors who are assisting.
If the fire is not gas-fired and wood or pallets are used as a fuel source, set a limit on the amount of fuel that can be used. Never allow large quantities of fuel, and always check with the building engineer when setting the fuel-loading portion of the GOGs. The engineer should have designed the building with a given Btu output based on a specific amount of fuel. If a burn building is in the design phase, talk with the building engineer about what GOGs to include when the building is in use. Petition the engineer to review the technical portion of your GOGs prior to placing the building in use. If it is possible, write this into the building bid process.
When writing GOGs for burn buildings, always check national standards; obviously, NFPA 1403 must be used, but also consider other local standards. Establish a maintenance section in the GOGs to ensure that the building is kept up and not damaged. Millions of dollars have been spent on planning and constructing a burn building-the last thing anyone wants is to have some overanxious burn instructor damage the facility.
It is also very useful to include about 30 to 40 drills with your GOGs. These will help ensure that the NFPA and OSHA standards, as well as the burn building GOGs, are followed.
DRILL TOWER AND OTHER TRAINING FACILITIES
The drill tower should get as much attention as the burn building in the GOGs. Once again, consult the building designer or engineer prior to writing the GOGs to ensure that the building is properly suited for use. For example, rappelling hooks used for rescue training must have a weight rating in addition to a recommended loading direction. This information can be obtained only from the building designer or engineer. Any applicable NFPA or OSHA standards should be included with the GOGs.
Other training center facilities should have GOGs written for their use, even items as simple as a test pit. Guidelines should specify how many lines can be used with a 2,000-gpm pumper and whether a department or a company can use large-diameter hose to test its large capacity pump.
If the facility has extrication areas or urban search and rescue debris piles, GOGs should specify that these areas must be policed to ensure that all personnel have proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and are working in a safe and responsible manner.
ESTABLISH A “HOT ZONE” AND INDICATE THE MINIMUM LEVEL OF PPE THAT SHOULD BE IN IT
Finally, there are some general items in the GOGs that must be used for all parts of the training center. Always establish a “hot zone,” and indicate the minimum level of PPE that should be in that “hot zone.” If the minimum PPE is full bunker gear and SCBA, all instructors as well as the safety officer must enforce this.
All evolutions and training activities, regardless of location, must have a safety plan. This plan must include the identity of the safety officer, the terms for an actual emergency or injury, and the medical units that are on standby or readily available. Always establish a safety officer for even the simplest evolutions, and give that individual the power needed to stop and correct any unsafe act. Training is the place to stop unsafe acts in a controlled environment.
The goal of training center GOGs is to prevent injuries while making training as realistic and as safe as possible. The training center GOGs are intended to get all new firefighters, instructors, and training centers on the same page: the safety page.
GARRETT STONESIFER serves as coordinator of occupational extension of fire training at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he designed and directs the school’s firefighter academy. He coordinates the activities at the College’s Emergency Responder Training Center (ERTC), a regional training site for many of the area fire and rescue departments. He has been an active member of the fire service for more than 17 years as a volunteer and career firefighter. He is a volunteer firefighter with the Pinecroft-Sedgefield Fire & Rescue Department. He has certification as a North Carolina Level II fire instructor, Level III fire & life safety educator, and fire officer I.