BY STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI
Once a firefighter leaves the recruit academy, the company officer is responsible to be that member’s personal training officer to ensure that that person’s training needs are met and that he is continuously on top of his game.
For current and future company officers, I provide below 101 drills they can use to keep their training interesting and, most importantly, relevant to the needs of their personnel. Where did the number 101 come from? Well, besides being catchy, most company officers tend to work one-third of the time, based on a three-platoon system. Take away days off for vacation or for other department-approved reasons, the average company officer will work approximately 101 shifts per year. Thus, there is no excuse for not having a drill idea for every shift. Many of these drills can be repeated regularly, even monthly, depending on personnel’s needs. Once the year ends, you can restart this cycle or you can modify each item to provide some variety for the next year.
The officer is the company’s personal fire service trainer, similar to a personal fitness trainer at a gym. So it is critical that each company officer be very comfortable and, more importantly, very proficient at providing his crew with the necessary training, education, and mentoring. In addition to his training role, the company officer is also the critical link between the department’s training division and his fire company.
Many company officers think that the department training officer is responsible for providing all of the necessary training and education for themselves and their personnel. Nothing could be further from the truth, except at the fire academy, where a department training division member (who may not be the training officer) usually instructs the recruits. The recruit academy provides the newly hired firefighter with the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities to be a safe beginner and to function as a basic fire company member.
However, on graduating from the recruit academy, typically, a newly hired firefighter is sent out to a fire company to complete his probation under the direct supervision of a company officer. That officer will evaluate how well the recruit retained the information learned in the academy and whether he will successfully pass probation. Additionally, once the firefighter gets through probation, it is up to the company officer to ensure that that member meets all the continuing education requirements for the remainder of his career.
Before we review the 101 drills, let’s consider possible drill locations and instructors. In many fire departments, drills occur only at the training tower, the training center, or the fire station. Always training at the same location is one of the biggest problems I have seen in my career. This tends to program our personnel to always do things the same way and always know what to expect, since the drill site does not change much over time.
Do your personnel a favor: Break the normal cycle; use a variety of training locations that best meet your needs and, more importantly, your company’s needs. For example, the fire station, the apparatus bay, the kitchen table, the dayroom, the fire station property, and the entire station are good training sites.
Go out to your first-due area, where your crew can actually see and experience different target hazards such as shopping centers, elderly care facilities, apartment complexes, and hotels/motels to which your company will most likely respond.
Outside of your first-due area, but within your department’s jurisdiction, your neighboring fire stations may also have some unique target hazards not mentioned above, such as amusement parks, high-rise buildings, and stadiums. Your company might be called to assist at incidents involving these sites as well.
Outside of the fire department jurisdiction, your neighboring fire departments may also have some unique target hazards or locations. Again, you might be called to respond on mutual aid to this site in the future.
If all else fails, try your department’s training center.
You need not be the instructor; you may not be the best instructor for every subject or topic. Since I know I’m not an expert at everything, there are certain subject areas for which I would rather have someone with more expertise provide the instruction.
Take the time to encourage other department or station personnel to develop their instructional skills, which will also help develop their careers. More importantly, allow the best instructor to teach the subject matter. Consider personnel within your own fire station with a specific area of expertise, such as a paramedic/emergency medical technician (EMS), an engineer (apparatus), or a firefighter or an officer who is the resident expert in one area, such as tools and equipment or hydraulics. The battalion chief may offer some great career learning experiences; even a probationary firefighter could teach on virtually any topic he learned at the academy. Also, consider instructors from other fire stations, fire departments, or even outside of the fire service. For example, a local utility company technician could provide training on electrical or natural gas emergencies.
How could a probationary firefighter be an instructor? Although this member may not be a subject matter expert, given his limited time in the fire service, having a probationary firefighter give the crew a training class is a great way to test him on how much he knows about a certain subject. You wouldn’t expect that firefighter to know everything, but you would expect him to have a basic working knowledge. You and your other crew members could evaluate that knowledge and offer input.
As you can see, the company officer has one of the most important positions in the fire department, since he is the direct supervisor for the fire company that will respond to the person calling 911. The 911 caller will form an opinion of the fire department, most likely based on how quickly members arrived, how nice they were, and how well they solved the caller’s problem. Thus, it is easy to see how a company officer needs to ensure that his company is trained and ready for virtually any type of situation they may face.
Not all of the above drills may apply to your department, depending on the types of apparatus you may have or your jurisdiction’s target hazards. If an item doesn’t apply to your situation, find something that does. Even if an item does not seem to apply to your department, you could be called to assist another department with that situation through automatic or mutual aid.
The company officer is a critical component of training, educating, and mentoring fire service personnel. If this officer expects the department training officer to provide the necessary training for his crew, he is in for a huge surprise. Most fire departments lack sufficient training division personnel to provide all of the necessary initial and continuing education for fire station personnel.
Using the drills listed here, the current or future company officer can ensure that personnel’s training needs are met and that the company is prepared when the bell goes off.
101 Drills for the Company Officer
1. Review ladder terminology and maintenance.
2. Determine the appropriate length of ladder to do a job. One way to do this is to drive around your response area and point out different building features (e.g., roofs, ledges, windows, balconies) and ask your crew to quickly determine what length of ladder would be best for a specific situation.
3. Deploy the attic/folding ladder.
4. Deploy each size ground ladder (straight and extension) that the department carries.
5. Practice aerial device operation and placement.
6. Review hose terminology and maintenance, including hose streams, nozzles, and foam usage.
7. Deploy small handlines (one inch, 1½ inch, 1¾ inch) in a variety of situations.
8. Deploy large handlines (2½ inch, three inch) in a variety of
9. Deploy a portable deck gun/master stream device in a variety of situations.
10. Determine the appropriate hose length for a variety of situations (e.g., fires on the second or third floor, down a long alleyway, or inside an apartment complex or shopping center that may require a longer than normal hoselay).
11. Use hose and couplings to find the way out of a building. Inside a building, make the hose into spaghetti and then order personnel out of the building to see if they can determine the correct direction of the couplings and safely get out of the building.
12. Review SCBA terminology and maintenance.
13. Don the SCBA according to the department time standard.
14. Pass through a narrow opening while wearing an SCBA; this requires taking off the SCBA and putting it on again.
15. Determine how long it takes to drain one SCBA bottle.
16. Review emergency procedures while using an SCBA.
17. Refill and change SCBA cylinders.
18. Inspect and maintain a specific tool or category of tools (e.g., hand, power, or forcible entry tools).
19. Inspect, maintain, and operate each type of fire extinguisher.
20. Review fire behavior terms, and discuss strategy and tactics to use to mitigate each term.
21. Watch Dave Dodson’s The Art of Reading Smoke DVD.
22. Review the basic types of construction (Type I, Type II, Type III, Type IV, and Type V), especially as they relate to the buildings and types of construction commonly found within your jurisdiction.
23. Walk through a building under construction, identify the type of construction, and discuss appropriate strategy and tactics should you find yourself fighting a fire there.
24. Identify unique hazards relating to buildings within your jurisdiction (window/burglar bars, driveway gates, protective animals).
25. Review the strategic modes of firefighting (e.g., offensive, defensive), and discuss appropriate uses for each.
26. Review terms such as RECEOVS (Rescue, Exposures, Confinement, Extinguishment, Overhaul, Ventilation, Salvage), and REVAS (Rescue, Exposures, Ventilation, Attack, Salvage) or any other acronym or memory aid that best works for you in prioritizing what needs to be done on a fire scene.
27. Review the three primary incident priorities: life safety/customer service (firefighters and civilians); incident stabilization/hazard mitigation; and property conservation.
28. Review the basic components of size-up, including what to look for during the 360° walk around the building.
29. Practice making radio reports for different types of buildings and in different types of situations.
30. Perform the daily Department of Motor Vehicles pretrip inspection.
31. Review basic hydraulics/pump pressure calculations for a variety of situations.
32. Review basic and advanced pumping operations and troubleshooting techniques.
33. Practice basic and defensive driving techniques.
34. Practice spotting apparatus for a variety of situations (e.g., residential, commercial, wildland, and high-rise fires; freeway responses, vehicle accidents).
35. Identify the contents of each apparatus compartment. For each item, can your crew name what and where it is, its quantity, and its usage with the compartment door closed?
36. Pick a seldom-used tool (one per shift), and tell everything you know about it.
37. Examine other types of apparatus inside and outside of your department; show and tell.
38. Practice using the different map books carried on your apparatus, including common symbols, how to locate streets, specific addresses, and so forth.
39. Place ALL the street names of your first-due area, as well as the major street names of your second-due areas (one name per piece of paper) in a coffee can to pass around to see if your crew knows where the street is, in which direction it goes, in which way the numbers increase/decrease, the hydrant locations, the target hazards on it, and so forth.
40. Take the daily log book and review the responses from previous shifts; say the name of the street out loud and see which crew member can point in the correct direction first.
41. Review target hazards such as schools and businesses to which you may respond, including any challenges you may face and the locations and presence of items such as automatic sprinklers or standpipe systems.
42. Identify key address points within your first-due area. Start with the major streets and intersections, then move to the secondary streets and commonly traveled routes. Identify in which direction street address numbers increase and decrease.
43. Review the use of mobile and portable radios, including the capabilities and maintenance of each.
44. Provide a class on basic department paperwork, including tactical worksheets and commonly used maintenance or requisition forms.
45. Review proper radio terminology and etiquette.
46. Review one department rule, policy, or standard operating procedure (SOP) each shift. By the end of the year, you’ll have covered each binder.
47. Review the current labor/management agreement and discuss the importance and usage of the items within.
48. Challenge your personnel with a scavenger hunt to locate commonly used department policies (e.g., sick leave, trading of shifts).
49. Review inspecting and maintaining ropes.
50. Review knot tying, especially those knots you will likely use in your operations.
51. Use a rope to tie a tool or hoseline for hoisting to an upper floor.
52. Review mechanical advantage system principles.
53. Set up a basic lowering system for moving someone down a low-angle slope.
54. Convert that lowering system to a raising system (Z-rig).
55. Review commonly used water supply systems in your jurisdiction (e.g., hydrants, tanks, sprinkler components).
56. Spot the apparatus for a hydrant connection from various angles.
57. Practice performing forward, reverse, and split hoselays.
58. Practice drafting water from a static water source.
59. Practice water shuttle operations.
60. Practice relay pumping.
61. Pick a different emergency medical service diagnosis to discuss each day (cardiac problems, respiratory problems, altered levels of consciousness, etc.).
62. Pick a different medical or trauma treatment protocol to review each day.
63. Review basic triage procedures.
64. Practice a different National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) skill (e.g., patient assessment, splinting, vital signs) each day.
65. Review mass-casualty incident procedures.
66. Review ventilation principles and procedures.
67. Using actual buildings, discuss where and how to ventilate them.
68. Demonstrate inspecting, maintaining, and using each ventilation tool.
69. Review using, inspecting, and maintaining power and hand tools for vehicle extrication.
70. Review information on new vehicles and what challenges they may present (e.g., alternate fuel/power sources, occupant safety systems, construction materials).
71. Obtain a used vehicle from your local tow yard to practice extrication techniques.
72. Review basic hazardous materials awareness and operations level actions (e.g., providing for safety, isolating and denying entry, and making the appropriate notifications).
73. Review the latest Emergency Response Guide (the orange U.S. Department of Transportation book), and apply it to various simulated situations.
74. Practice setting up and using an emergency decontamination system.
75. Hold a show-and-tell session with your local hazmat unit.
76. Deploy wildland tent shelters under simulated fire conditions.
77. Practice taking the fire weather to determine spot weather forecasts and discuss the importance of weather in regard to wildland firefighting. If you can’t take the weather with a belt weather kit or similar device, take the current weather from the Internet and discuss how certain weather factors may help or hinder wildland fires, such as humidity, the burn index, and the ignition component.
78. Practice progressive hoselays.
79. Review the 10 Standard Fire Orders and the 18 Situations That Shout Watch Out. These are vital tools for increased situational awareness, more informed decision making, a more complete size-up process, and enhanced firefighter safety.
80. Apply LCES (Lookouts, Communications, Escape routes, and Safety Zones) to various situations. Although originally developed for wildland firefighting size-up, it is applicable to virtually any emergency situation.
81. Review key incident command system (ICS) positions for high-rise incidents.
82. Review high-rise operations, including ALS Base (first unit establishes fire Attack, second unit establishes Lobby control, third unit sets up Staging, and the fourth unit sets up Base).
83. Practice standpipe operations such as troubleshooting, pumping, and so forth.
84. Review maintaining and using various salvage tools and covers in a variety of situations.
85. Review vehicle firefighting safety operations.
86. Review firefighter fatality and near-miss reports, consulting Web sites such as www.fireengineering.com, www.firefighterclosecalls.com, www.firefighternearmiss.com, and www.respondersafety.com, and discuss the findings with your crew.
87. Practice donning personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure your personnel can dress quickly prior to getting on the apparatus.
88. Review inspecting and maintaining your PPE.
89. Review electrical emergency operations, including how to recognize and manage the most commonly found electrical hazards on the emergency scene.
90. Review rapid intervention team (RIT) operations, including terminology, tool caches, member assignments, radio communications, deployment issues, and so forth.
91. Set up a Mayday scenario that involves the RIT operations components above.
92. Review common ICS components, including terminology, command staff assignments, general staff assignments, position titles, position duties, usage of ICS field guides, and so forth.
93. Review search and rescue techniques, terminology, and challenges, and then practice in different types of structures.
94. Review forcible entry tools, techniques, and challenges.
95. Review operations for unique situations such as basements, parking garages, subways, railroads, trench rescue, confined space rescue, and water rescue.
96. Accompany a fire inspector on a fire prevention inspection. Not only will you learn how to better perform a fire inspection, but you also can educate inspectors on what your job entails, since many fire inspectors are not firefighters.
97. Have a fire investigator review basic fire cause-and-origin and evidence-preservation techniques. Since many company officers will be required to do basic cause-and-origin investigations as the first-due company officer, this is especially important.
98. Find videos, DVDs, and YouTube videos that can provide unique perspectives on a variety of subjects such as fire behavior (backdrafts/flashovers), strategy and tactics, ventilation, and firefighter safety, just to name a few.
99. Using fire service journals such as Fire Engineering, discuss current articles and fire service trends; use photos to discuss operations (you could have an entire discussion on the magazine cover photo alone).
100. Provide training or review on department computer operations, including completing an incident or fire report, accessing certain system features, sending e-mails, and so forth.
101. Review fire service history and, most importantly, your department’s history.
STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI is a 17-year veteran of the fire service and a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County (Los Gatos, CA) Fire Department, where he has worked since 1995. He was selected as the 2008 California Fire Service Instructor of the Year and has been an adjunct faculty member at Chabot College (Hayward, CA) since 1993, teaching a variety of fire- and EMS-related classes. Prziborowski has a master’s degree in emergency services administration and is enrolled in the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He is a state-certified chief officer and master instructor and has earned designation as a chief fire officer through the Commission on Professional Credentialing. He is the author of numerous articles featured in leading fire service publications and is a regular speaker and presenter at fire service events across the country.