How to Plan and Execute a Large-Scale Training Drill

By Jerry Knapp

The U.S. Army has a standard format that is very effective for planning and executing military operations. It is called an operations order (OPORD). This format and concept could be very useful to the fire service for planning and executing full-scale drills. Let’s examine how to use some of the highlights of an operations order to successfully plan and execute a full-scale water flow exercise. Clearly, this is not a replacement for the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) process, but rather a shorthand method when your time is limited and you have an exercise you need to plan and execute in a short time. For complete information on the OPORD process, see Preplanning for Incidents Involving Crude Oil Rail Shipments: Using the Military Planning Model as a Guide.


To be successful, you must do your preplanning. Let’s assume for the purpose of this article you have done that already. It includes all the traditional prefire planning information/intelligence gathered by site visits, determining any specific or unusual hazards, evaluating and understanding existing fire protection and detection systems, calculating fire flow requirements based on standard formulas, etc. Planning assumptions include: your assumed (anticipated) manpower and apparatus assignments and other information from your preplanning. A planning assumption is an important part of the process, use as a starting point what you “assume” to be true.


People will say all fires are different and make other lame excuses not to plan. General Eisenhower said if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. On the fireground it is much more effective to have a plan that you can modify and react to conditions at the scene rather than have to try to develop the entire plan on the fly and with incomplete information, with smoke and fire licking at your turnouts. A plan will also be a huge ally in court years after the fire. It showed you did what a reasonable person would do by developing then considering your options and testing the best one, and ultimately by showing you had a plan to begin with.


The preplanning info described above is used to determine possible courses of action for your first-due units. In the fire service case, which hydrants are best, how/where best to lay supply lines, feed sprinkler/standpipe systems, position hand lines, deliver water through master streams, etc. Plan out and brainstorm several courses of action, evaluate them and chose the best one.


Imagine you have been assigned the task of testing water flow (course of action you selected as the best and want/need to test) from the first two hydrants that will be used at the target hazard in your first-due area. Your preplanning and tabletop evaluation of different courses of action have been discussed and you have selected one to test.

RELATED TRAINING: ‘Hitting the Hydrant’ to Establish a Water Supply | Anthony Piontek: Essential Engine Company Operations | Kirk Allen: Real World Hydraulics

In this example, we have three engines, one rescue, and one quint responding. The goal is to deliver the most water we can with first-due units. The real problem: How do you convey your plan to officers and members of participating companies?

Here are a few key paragraphs that I have borrowed from the military method of planning operations and producing an OPORD. These will be your hand out in your planning meeting with leaders to explain your plan and answer any questions to ensure success at your exercise.

Page 1 of your OPORD may look like this:

Situation: Your Town Fire Department (YTFD) has developed a preplan for the Town Industrial Complex and we need to verify and measure the flow of water from the two closest hydrants with our first-due units. Town Industrial Complex is a target hazard that will require swift delivery of decisive amounts of water to preserve life and property when a fire occurs there.

Chief’s Intent: Develop a prefire plan for a target hazard, in this case a large industrial complex and conduct a full-scale exercise measuring water flow.

Exercise intent: Ensure our plan has tested and measured the maximized water flow from first-due units: Three engines, one quint, and a rescue.

Mission: YTFD conducts a water flow operation at the Town Industrial Complex on June 15 2019 0800-1030 hrs to both validate the prefire plan and to measure simultaneous water flow from the two hydrants that first-due units will use for working fires.

Page 2 of your OPORD shows how the drill will be executed with apparatus positioning, line placement, hydrants selected, etc. A picture is worth a thousand words. Firefighters are visual people. If you can show them the overall view of the operation it will make it clear in their minds what their portion of the exercise will be. Additionally, they may have suggestions and ideas that you and your planning team may have not considered.

Map of full-scale fire department training drill

(1) The planners for this exercise used an aerial photo to measure and display possible and chosen supply line lays for various buildings. © 2018 Google

Page 3 of your OPORD should contain coordinating instructions to show times and what cooperation/coordination is expected for success.

Coordinating instructions

  • Date: Sunday 15 June 2019 0800-1030 hrs
  • Purpose: Test fire flows for Town Industrial Complex
  • Flow goal is 2,000 gpm by first-due YTFD units
  • Phases/timing:

1. Drill briefing (on site): 0800-0815 hrs, directions, goals, safety, questions

2. Setup: 0815-0845 lay lines, set up monitors

3. Flow: 0845-0900, flow water, measure flow

4. Pickup: 0900-1000, pick up hoselines

5. Evaluation: 1000-1030 hrs After-action report/hot wash, on site

Supporting Units

YTFD members man apparatus and portable monitors

Your Town police: Traffic control points, per map

Mr. Waterflow: measures and confirms flows

Mutual aid: Engine and ladder to stand by

Your Town police agree to traffic halt for 15 minutes during flow test

Town Industrial Complex limits parking in main lot

The supporting units section details what and who you need support from to execute the drill. In this case, the police will shut down traffic for you when hoselines are across the roads and Mr. Waterflow will be responsible for providing flow measurements. Obviously, someone from your planning team has coordinated with them in advance.

At your planning meeting, use the three pages described above to convey the goals and execution plan for the drill to the members you will use to execute the drill. Maps and overhead views provide a clear picture of your plan and expectations for the exercise. You may also add a paragraph on safety considerations for your drill as well as a brief description of communication plan and of course the command plan.

This has been a quick review of a successful planning process that maybe useful tool for the American fire service. The key components are preincident intelligence, designing and brainstorming courses of action, testing courses of action, selecting the best option, and designing a drill to test the selected option.

JERRY KNAPP is a 42-year firefighter/EMT with the West Haverstraw (NY) Fire Department and a training officer with the Rockland County Fire Training Center. He is chief of the hazmat team and a technical panel member for the Underwriters Laboratories research on fire attack at residential fires. He authored the Fire Attack chapter in Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II and has written numerous articles for Fire Engineering.

Grab Jerry’s new book, House Fires, from Fire Engineering Books & Videos HERE.

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