Roundtable: Company Drill Recommendations

By John “Skip” Coleman

I have been very fortunate in my career. Overcoming great odds (according to my high school principal) as it relates to my scholastic ability, I was able to eventually land my dream job and actually do it pretty well for 32 years! So well, in fact, that some people actually want to hear me talk about what I have experienced and learned. In fact, people actually pay my way to come to their department or area to listen to me.

During these “visits,” I am often asked many questions relating to “the job.” The question I am asked to most is: “Can you give me some hints on what to drill on at drill night?”

After answering this question hundreds of times, I have basically come down to two responses.  The responses are a compilation of all the previous answers to that question. They are derived from 59 years of association with the fire service (My father joined the Toledo (OH) Fire Department when I was two, so, in essence, I have been involved in it for 59 years) and talking to and listening to firefighters from all across the United States.

First, take a cover from Fire Engineering and throw it on the table and start picking their brain.  First off, we put the pictures on the cover for a reason. Executive Editor Diane Feldman and Editor in Chief Bobby Halton  get e-mails constantly from readers asking why we put pictures on the cover that show firefighters sometimes doing incorrect or unsafe things. The answer: They are put there to get you to talk and think, to start the discussion. Even when they put the perfect fireground picture on the cover, it is again there to spur discussion and to gain knowledge from it. So officers, go grab a handful of Fire Engineering magazines from the lounge or officer or station library and take them into your office. Look them over and come up with a few questions for the crew. Why did they ladder the building there? Do you think pulling a 1 ¾-inch line into that strip mall was appropriate?  How would we have handled that fire? You will be amazed at the discussion that ensues.

Second, you should know by now that I am obsessed with search. When you come back from the grocery store and the food is put into the fridge, sit the crew down and ask them how we would search that store on zero visibility (and whether you even would in the first place.) When you come back from your next EMS run, have the driver stop at newly opened restaurant around the corner. Do it when the restaurant is not crowded–first thing in the morning is good. Ask the manager if you can take a quick walk-through and then thank them and quietly leave. Back at the station, ask the crew how would they search that restaurant in zero visibility. Pull up floor plans of houses, apartments, strip malls, and so on off the computer, print them out and then ask them again: How we could safely and EFFECTIVELY search this in zero visibility?

I would like to deviate from the normal question this month and ask you for any suggestions on good, inexpensive company drills an officer can conduct at or near the kitchen table or apparatus floor. Let’s get a good list going on the Web for us all to refer to.

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Skip Coleman: Firefighting RoundtableJohn “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008) and Searching Smarter (Fire Engineering 2011) and 2011 recipient of the FDIC Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement

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