Article and photos by David DeStefano
Fire departments of all sizes face the constant challenge of conducting realistic training on vertical ventilation techniques. Acquired structures that we can “shake up” are few and far between. Smaller departments often don’t have dedicated training facilities, and it can be impractical to schedule companies in larger departments for time at the training tower often enough to practice new skills or bring members who only recently transferred into the company up to speed.
Creating your own roof prop may be a simple, effective, and inexpensive solution. While teaching ladder company operations for the Rhode Island Fire Academy, Lieutenant Jeff Pacia and I have used a platform prop with which your company can train on the ground at your quarters or hoist to any roof on which you choose to train.
The simulator is constructed of 2 x 6s forming a rectangular box, strengthened with rafters running the short dimension as in a real roof. The box is built to accommodate a 4- x 8-foot sheet of plywood or OSB (oriented strand board). An open channel using 2 x 4s and firring strips affixed to the top of each 8-foot edge allows sheets of any thickness to be inserted and the spoils to be pulled out after use.
The frame is reusable and should last for many training sessions. The sheets used for cutting can be any thickness of plywood or OSB. Many times an enterprising company or training officer can scrounge slightly damaged sheets from a local contractor or building supply warehouse.
We have used this prop on the ground, making it easy for several members to safely observe demonstrations of new saws or techniques. On occasion, a building slated for rehabilitation becomes available to the fire department, with the stipulation that damage to the structure be minimal. In this instance we have hoisted the simulator to the roof and secured it with cleats, thus creating a very realistic training scenario with little impact to the structure. Keeping this prop in quarters with a few spare sheets of plywood or OSB makes it easy to conduct an impromptu drill to “knock the rust off” when a member is detailed or newly transferred to the ladder company.
Whether you use this simulator at the company level for drilling or in your division of training as a part of a complete ladder company training program, it will provide you with many sessions of the realistic hands-on training we all need to learn our trade or remain at the top of it.
David DeStefano, an 18-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, is a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine Co. 3, and a firefighter in Ladder 1 for 13 years. He is an instructor for the Rhode Island Fire Academy, where he teaches various topics including FAST operations and a ladder company program he co-developed.