THE RAPID DEVELOPMENT of downtown Sacramento, California during the past few years has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of high-rise buildings. In response to this trend, the Sacramento Fire Department conducted a multiagency high-rise drill last November. The exercise was repeated 15 times to accommodate the 1,500 fire service personnel from 17 fire departments throughout northern California that participated in the drill.

The department wanted to accomplish several objectives through the drill:

  • to make fire officers aware of their primary responsibilities when the Incident Command Structure is in effect;
  • for officers to understand ICS terminology thoroughly;
  • for officers to leave the drill with a working knowledge of all the command functions;
  • to give members of different departments the opportunity to work together in achieving a common goal.
  • to demonstrate the extreme physical demand placed on individuals operating at a multiagency high-rise incident. During the drill, three firefighters had to be transported to local hospitals for physical stress-related problems, and two personnel were treated at the scene for cuts and exhaustion;
  • for the officers and firefighters to leave with a positive attitude about the drill and have a fresh awareness of the need for continuation of this training within their own companies and departments.

Our department established two phases for the drill. During Phase I, chief officers, company officers, and investigators participated in a three-hour classroom session. We followed the department’s guidelines for fighting high-rise fires in developing this class, which concentrated on the five ICS function areas: incident command position, systems control, operations, base, and staging. A videotape, slides, and handouts emphasized the basic functions and responsibilities of the ICS. Other areas of discussion focused on stairwell support and division officer operations. Information was also provided on the drill building, with emphasis on the ventilation system and the built-in communications systems.

Phase II of the drill consisted of the actual hands-on firefighting evolutions, which involved a l4th-floor fire scenario. The movement of personnel and equipment throughout the city was handled with few inconveniences to traffic; arrangements were made prior to the drill with the police department, traffic engineering department, regional transit lines, and local merchants.

We used cellatex inside road barricade blinkers to give a simulated red fire appearance against the dark fire floor. To maintain consistency in simulating the extreme conditions found in a working high-rise fire, a captain was assigned the task of staging the rescue and fire problems. His job was to make sure that all safety items were being used properly and to ensure that all lines were advanced correctly in a simulated heavy heat, smoke, and fire area.

On several drill nights, we put into effect a multicasualty scenario. Local private ambulance companies were tested along with the firefighting personnel. Area children were made up to appear as simulated casualties with a variety of injuries. The added burden of a large rescue along with the fire problem tested the participants to their limits.



Drill coordinators were assisted each night by line captains in evaluating the basic function areas, and Sacramento Fire Department staff officers rotated through the drill to act as scene managers and evaluate the overall operations.

At the conclusion of each night’s drill, all areas of the exercise were discussed during a critique attended by company officers and above. Any negative comments were made in such a way so that no one person, company, or department was singled out. All chief officers were encouraged to evaluate the performance of personnel, the drill itself, and how operations could be improved.

We determined a number of critical areas pertaining to the drill, both positive and those of concern:


  1. Achievement of all drill goals;
  2. Excellent cooperation and coordination between departments;
  3. Positive attitude of all participants;
  4. Wealth of information shared during the postdrill critiques;
  5. Realistic conditions on the fire floor;
  6. Interaction that took place between different agencies during the classroom portion.


  1. Overall need for good physical conditioning;
  2. Radio Communication
    1. different agencies used different radio terminology
    2. use of only one common radio frequency
    3. lack of similar type of portable radio that could be switched to a tactical channel, thus freeing up the main
    4. frequency for important transmissions;
  3. Heavy fire apparatus traffic conditions
    1. problems of placing 20 to 30 pieces of fire equipment on a heavily congested traffic artery;
    2. possibility of a fire drill participant responding to a fire just prior to leaving for the drill or during the actual drill.

The following is a step-by-step approach to coordinating and facilitating a large multiagency drill:

  1. Determine the department’s immediate and long-range goals that need to be accomplished during the drill.
  2. Inform all local and outside agencies of the upcoming drill in a letter, providing dates and times.
  3. Procure a building or drill site that will enable the drill goals to be met.
  4. Obtain whatever help may be needed from outside agencies that are participating in the drill.
  5. Document the drill with still photos and videotapes.
  6. As the drill progresses, make the necessary adjustments to ensure a successful and smooth-running drill. Example: adding an extra tactical radio channel strictly for the drill staff to use to coordinate the exercise.
  7. At the conclusion of the drill, mail out any statistical information and note the drill’s accomplishments to all departments so that they may follow up with in-service training.
  8. Mail out a thank-you letter to every department that was involved. Many times a smaller department cannot easily absorb the loss of one or two companies at a time to attend a drill in another town.
  9. Prepare an in-depth report to all fire chiefs detailing all aspects of the drill. This report will be invaluable when a similar undertaking is considered.

The Sacramento Fire Department believes that the short-term goals of the drill were achieved. Similar large-scale exercises will be conducted in the future to build upon the lessons already learned from this drill.

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