By JERROD VANLANDINGHAM
How much repetition do your new fire recruits get from the recruit academy in moving hose into a structure, reading fire conditions, applying water to the fire, and performing searches under live fire conditions?
It is a challenge to put all these functions together under live fire conditions and give recruits enough repetition to develop their muscle memory. Most academies build up to a “burn week” where recruits put all of their newfound skills to work collectively over a five-day live burn period. This may seem like a lot to some, but the number of recruits in the class will dictate how many reps each individual will get to actually put water on the fire.
If you are a training officer, you know how much time, effort, and resources it takes to put on a proper live fire day. On average, a 20-person recruit academy can accomplish eight actual fires per dayfour in the morning and four in the afternoon. If you have five companies made up of four recruits each, each company will get only one or two evolutions on the nozzle, leaving two out of the four recruits to wait until the next day to get nozzle time. This is not enough repetition for soon-to-be firefighters.
You can speed up the process by minimizing your debriefing after each fire and having instructors or additional crews reload hose and reset apparatus. However, these measures will only help you squeeze out one or two additional fires per day.
Our recruit academy has designed a way for new recruits to get much-needed repetition throughout the academy, in addition to our traditional burn week. This academy, sponsored by a consortium of departments that serves as a training entity for nearly 700 career firefighters, is comprised of fire departments along the front range of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. These departments all send recruits to this comprehensive 16-week academy where instructors are also these departments’ training officers. The consortium conducts two academies per year and averages 15 to 20 recruits per academy.
The most recent instructor group has developed a rapid repetition (“rapid reps”) plan that is well received and gives the recruits more nozzle time than ever before. The purpose of rapid reps is to build muscle memory at the task level of firefighting so that the recruits’ minds will be clear to think about other concerns like safety, crew integrity, communication, and coordination with other fire crews when our traditional burn week begins.
The basic concept calls for only two core functions on the fireground: attack and search. When one company is attacking the fire, the other is searching the building under live fire conditions. The drill does not stop until each company member has had time on the nozzle or has had the opportunity to lead the search, depending on their function. We will typically keep the crew size to three instead of four because four reps would be pushing the envelope on the recruits’ physical capabilities.
The purpose here is to get repetition in moving hose through the building, applying water to the fire, and performing a search under zero-visibility and high-heat conditions. This is a very labor-intensive drill for the recruits and the instructors; a rehab station is imperative to provide fluids, calories, and medical monitoring.
To start, the attack crew enters the burn building (photos 1-3) and manages the hose to the fire room, where the crew attacks the fire. (It is a good idea to change the floor for the attack crew to allow for hose management in stairways.) The attack crew then backs out, managing the hoseline out of the building. The ignitions officer stokes the fire immediately after the attack crew exits the fire room so that the fire has time to build back up prior to the second rep. The recruits rotate hoseline positions and start back in. Repeat this until each recruit has had a turn at the nozzle.
(1) Photos by Brad Kobielusz.
The search team also enters and exits the building during this time, rotating positions so that each recruit has the opportunity to lead the search. Each team gives a personnel accountability report each time members enter or exit the building. When all recruits have rotated through all positions within their function, everyone exits the building, and the drill is terminated. All hose is left in place to allow for a quick transition for the next crew.
With companies and instructors rotating to stay fresh, the speed at which these drills are accomplished is incredible; each drill takes an average of 20 minutes instead of 45 minutes on a traditional live fire day during “burn week.” We can typically get each company through four full rotations in the morning and four full rotations in the afternoon for a total of 24 live fires. Our academy calendar allows for three of these rapid rep days before we get to our traditional burn week, which incorporates all other fireground functions. Because of the rapid rep concept, our recruits have built better muscle memory on these core functions and are more confident in their own personal performance.
Of course, all National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1403, Live Fire Training Evolutions, requirements are satisfied prior to conducting these rapid rep drills. An instructor-in-charge is designated and fills the role of incident commander. A safety officer is designated, instructors are put with each crew, a backup line is in place and staffed with instructors, a rehab station is set up, and an ignitions officer is designated and attached to a second safety officer armed with a hoseline. Additionally, these recruits have completed the NFPA 1403-required classes by approximately week four and have been prepared physically through our comprehensive fitness program.
The academy uses five burn buildings; all are set up to burn Class A combustibles. The rapid rep concept also works in gas-fired burn buildings, because they are a controlled environment. This concept is not intended, however, for acquired structures. Acquired structures, although predictable, are not always controllable and are not the best environments for training new recruits. Rapid reps give the recruit rapid repetition in a controlled and closely monitored setting.
Our graduates say these are some of the most physically demanding but rewarding days of their recruit training.
They also explain that the rapid rep days gave them the confidence to read fire conditions, taught them how the environment will react to different types of water application, and gave them composure under extreme heat and zero-visibility conditions.
JERROD VANLANDINGHAM is the training officer for the Longmont (CO) Fire Department and has been with the department since 1995. He is a certified fire officer I, a fire instructor I, a hazardous materials technician, and an EMT. He has a bachelor of arts degree and is working toward an MBA.