Eric Hankins: Developing an Engineer’s Training Program

By Eric Hankins

The role of the engineer, or chauffer, is arguably one of the most important positions on the fire engine. Yet in today’s fire service, many departments still promote members to the position based on time served or as a reward. Given the weight and responsibility of the position, it is imperative that we provide consistent, comprehensive, and relevant training to both aspiring and current engineers. Engineer’s training is more than driving back from emergency medical services runs or pumping a single preconnect during a hose drill. There are many topics that must be discussed and reviewed prior to getting behind the wheel.

Most states require drivers to perform pretrip vehicle inspections each day before operating large commercial vehicles like fire engines. Most states also require the driver to perform this inspection as part of the testing process for an upgrade of a driver’s license to operate fire apparatus. Engineers must have a good working knowledge of their apparatus. Knowing how to check slack adjusters, drain the air tanks, and identify damage to suspension components is the responsibility of the engineer

Many firefighter injuries and several fatalities each year are caused by traffic accidents involving fire apparatus. Rollovers, collisions at intersections, and backing-up accidents are the big three. Engineers must be aware of these types of incidents and learn how to prevent them. Understanding and following department polices on driving apparatus can help reduce or prevent these incidents. Specialized Emergency Vehicle Operation Courses (EVOC) are designed to teach the students the proper procedures of driving emergency vehicles in a “Code 3” setting. Although many of these EVOC classes use smaller vehicles, the class allows students to operate vehicles in a simulated emergency setting where they must recognize hazards and react to unknowns while having to deal with the stresses of siren noise and radio traffic.

With the size of today’s fire engines, being able to maneuver in tight conditions is also important. Making tight right-hand turns or performing a three-point turn in an intersection are skills that must be rehearsed. Cone courses are great for this type of training. Find a large open space in which you can set up cones and have the students practice different types of maneuvers. Some of the maneuvers include diminishing clearance, left-side parallel parking, right-side parallel parking, measured right turn, alley dock, forward stop, and serpentine. Your state Department of Motor Vehicles usually has diagrams available to help with setting up the cones.

When it comes to pump operations, there is much more than memorizing a standard operating procedure (SOP) for a 150-foot preconnect. How do pumps work? What does atmospheric pressure have to do with drafting? What happens if you run away from your supply? These are the types of questions that aspiring engineers, as well as current engineers, should be able to answer. Pump theory training is a very important cornerstone on which all pump operation training must build. If you are able to explain pump theory and understand the working of the pumping system, you will be better prepared to handle any problems that may arise during an incident. In addition to pump theory, the engineer should know how to troubleshoot a pump. Knowing how to overcome problems while pumping will help keep the firefighters on the fireground safe. Identifying supply issues or overheating issues and knowing a way to resolve those issues can prevent a catastrophic pump failure while interior crews are inside a burning structure.


What type of pumping operations will your department face? Not all of us are fortunate enough to have high-rises near our communities. Likewise, others may not ever have the need to calculate the friction loss for a 2,200-foot progressive hoselay in a wildland setting. Figuring out what types of incidents you may respond to in your department’s district or mutual-aid areas will allow you to identify the types of scenarios to prepare for.

We can break down the training into a modular format that works for a specific department. Some modules are relevant for all departments. This format allows you to build a training program tailored for your agency. The modules include but are not limited to the following:

            • Pretrip inspections.

            • EVOC/drivers training.

            • Cones course.

            • Pump theory.

            • Basic field hydraulics.

            • Pump troubleshooting.

            • Pumping from a hydrant.

            • Rural pump operation (pumping from a draft of water tender shuttle).

            • Relay pumping.

            • Wildland pump operations (to include off-road driving).

            • High-rise pumping.

Once you identify the modules that apply to your department, you may begin to develop lesson plans and training evolutions based on your SOPs. The lesson plans can be designed to fit around your department’s training schedule. If you run a dedicated Engineer’s Academy, you simply plug in what you are already using with any new topic you want to add as part of your existing program. If you only have weekly, two-hour trainings, you can create a program that has different modules broken down into two-hour blocks. This way, you may maximize your training time without having to pick up where you left off the previous week.

The modular lesson plan format can be broken down further into sections. Many of the modules will require some form of reading assignment for the student. Whether it is a chapter from a textbook or a portion of a DMV commercial vehicle handbook, the student will have to take on the responsibility of prereading the assignment. Additional sections within the module may be video based, lecture, manipulative, and finally some type of review or exam to confirm the student understands the material.

A task sign-off sheet is a great way to track students’ progress throughout the training program. This sheet can be kept with the students if they go out to train with other officers or companies.Keeping the sheet (or a copy) allows the student to see what lessons still need to be covered in the training program. (If your department has a dedicated Engineer’s Academy, this will not be necessary.)

As you can see, it takes a great deal of training to become a true engineer. The engineer is the backbone of the engine company. Allowing individuals to simply ride behind the wheel not only increases your liability, but it could prove disastrous in a critical fireground scenario. Train your engineers to be the best at their job. Give them the knowledge they need to safely operate their apparatus.


ERIC HANKINS is a captain with the Yuba City (CA) Fire Department. His 21-year career in the fire service spans from rural fire operations to municipal fire departments. He has taught at various fire trainings across the country, including at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis.

No posts to display