“Hey, Lieutenant, where do you want to drill today?”

On-duty company officers can find that putting together a daily “information-gathering” session with on-duty or in-station personnel is a chore, to say the least (a nightmare for some). “What can I talk about? What will hold their interest? How can I start?”

Well, the main point is, do it! The company drill is a dying art in the fire service, and the dying part is beginning to show. Our injury and death statistics are riddled with examples of failing to follow basic fireground knowledge. And that knowledge comes from information gathering that is so repetitive that it becomes knowledge.

Of course, there is always the schedule provided to each company by the Office of Training and endorsed by the department heads. But, what about the other times–the “everyday” get-togethers? The times that the two- to five-year “veteran” always says, “We ain`t goin` to drill today, Lieutenant, are we?” (or worse)! Well, Boss, get them up and away from the resting area. Now, what?

Take a cover of one of the fire service magazines (or, God forbid, an article) and stick it on the wall. Find one in which firefighters are doing something aggressive. Otherwise, it serves no purpose to show someone else`s fire from which there are no lessons except that flames are big and can take on lots of colors.

Bring the members` minds to set on an area of their district or experience that is similar, and start the expounding session. If it is done right, you will have a tough time writing down the comments and ideas that can serve as many more drill sessions. Work at apparatus position. “Saddle up!” Get the firefighters on the apparatus and out of the station. When I was a member of my neighborhood volunteer department, Sunday morning drill always consisted of starting water in the pumper and “throwing” large-caliber water from the fixed monitor into the lot adjacent to the fire station. Do you know that to this day (25 years later) that lot has never caught fire! But, if it ever does….

Get everyone to help. “Take a hydrant!” Check the distance. Do it again. Have the other members try it. God forbid you train all your people to be backup chauffeurs. Get each member to get a line of sight from the pumper to hydrant so that the connections are the proper distance from the side as well as the front suction connections. Go to the narrowest streets. Being there on a Sunday will equate with being there at night. You will experience all of the same parking conditions–congested residential areas and barren commercial areas.

Raise the aerial. Go somewhere other than the fire station, and raise the aerial device. Always have the operating member set an objective before raising. Position at fires is crucial; and in the truck function, it is everything. Have the chauffeur set objectives for the turntable location. And keep approaching and stopping and critiquing until the driving member is able to get his individual line of sight from the steering wheel to the point of guide on the apparatus to the structure on the street. Here is where all members can help.

Preplan roof operations. Go to areas where roof venting will be a major part of operations–flat-roof areas. Go to the taxpayer (strip store) you always pass, and get to the roof. Take a look, and preplan. Get a “feel” for the rigidness of the surface when there is no fire. (You`d be amazed at how many firefighters can say “spongy” but yet do not know what “normal” feels like.) Survey and discuss the things found up there–skylights, scuttles, ventilator constructions, and parapet heights and stability. Don`t forget to make a mental note of where the fire walls are located. You never can see them from the sidewalk and through the smoke.

Review forcible entry problems. Take the team to the rear of the commercial building–especially the strip store (taxpayer) complex. Here you can spend hours: “How do you get here, and what can you do? How are these doors forced open? How many firefighters should be assigned to accomplish the task, and what tools should be preplanned and routinely taken there?”

The rear of these occupancies must be opened early in the firefight–if we are to save the structure and prevent firefighter injuries, that is. The rear of each of these buildings is a fortress.

Besides Sunday, this is an excellent drill to conduct when out buying the evening meal. It sure looks better if one firefighter shops and the others are gathered for a drill session. It is much better P.R. if the answer to a civilian taxpayer question is, “We are drilling for skill in serving the municipality better, sir,” than, “Aw, just getting da meal. Why?”

Take pictures. Take a slide camera with you, and take a supply of shots of facades, fronts and rears of structures, fire escapes, nightmare aerial positions, standpipe and sprinkler connections, entrances to large complexes, special operation facilities such as electrical supply stations, foam systems, overhead wire problems, long stretches, and short stretches that will always position the apparatus in a collapse zone.

Go to the center of town, and raise the aerial. Take “shots” of all the roof areas that come into focus. Then move the aerial device, and take some more. You can spend days discussing these photos. “What do you do third on this roof, Vinnie? What if the fire is on the top floor? What if it isn`t?” These photos will provide the only opportunity for you to see the blind shafts and alleys and the exposure problems of the sides and rear. Here is where you will “see” the additional problems of forcible entry, access, and security (razor wire and dogs).

Use the portable ladders. Take off the portable ladders and use them–after the firefighter identifies the objective and rapidly announces the ladder that will serve the purpose. There are many surprises here, especially when it comes to the position possibilities (or restriction surprises) of the 24-foot extension ladder, the windowsills that the 20-foot straight (wall) ladder cannot get to, the uselessness of the 25-foot straight ladder for any objective in most fire districts except for the roofs of strip stores and windows of East Coast brownstone buildings, and the alternative uses of the 16-foot roof ladder. Trust me!

Now, you have had your drill. You feel good about yourself. And it was fun! n

TOM BRENNAN has more than 33 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the City of New York (NY) Fire Department as well as four years as chief of the City of Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief`s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995).

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