SCBA TRAINING MAZE ON WHEELS
The idea was approached as a timely and cost-effective way to deliver SCBA training to both rural and urban areas throughout the state. It’s worked so well that additional trailers are planned.
Virginia’s fire training program has always attempted to deliver programs to the fire service throughout the state in a timely and cost-effective manner. State training in Virginia is conducted under the authority of the Department of Fire Programs, Training Division. Classes are conducted annually for the approximately 700 fire departments, through 800 fire schools for 23,000 students. Instructors are part-time employees of the Department of Fire Programs, who are certified to teach using NFPA 1041 standards as guidelines. The program was recently granted National Professional Qualifications Board approval of its program.
However, an area yet to be addressed was fixed training facilities. A provision in the Code of Virginia for the past several years allowed approximately $100,000 per year to be distributed for local regional training facilities. This amount of money, while small for a state the size of Virginia, allowed much progress to be made in this vital area. Because of the large volunteer base in Virginia, approximately 17,000 persons versus 5000 career, this money was used as a materials resource, with labor and in some cases materials, donated by local fire personnel or community businesses.
A method was needed to deliver programs to all phases of the fire service from rural to urban settings. After much discussion a mobile concept was explored and several ideas were investigated to determine possible needs, and host fire departments were approached. Because of difficult economic times, money to purchase used trailers was at a premium. However, a system was negotiated using state regional training facility funds and local fire department labor to purchase four trailers and develop them into mobile training laboratories. One used 40-foot furniture van was obtained. Because of its extra room this was determined to be best suited as a self-contained breathing apparatus maze.
Members of the Fairfax City Fire and Rescue Services converted this first trailer using every available tool and resource at their disposal. This department has a Hurst rescue tool to perform body work where needed. The Fairfax City Fire and Rescue Services is composed of 39 career personnel commanded by Chief Harold E. Dailey. In addition to the paid staff, an active volunteer department is also present with 39 members. The Fairfax City Volunteer Fire Department furnished the first money for the trailer, plus purchasing a tractor to pull the two units. This combination department offers to the Northern Virginia community a full range of services including emergency medical services (ALS) and public fire safety education programs.
All members of the department caught maze “fever,” working long hours and contributing creative ideas. A residential area close to the fire station began to complain as projects continued late into night hours. Work scheduling quickly eliminated any hard feelings created, and people began to stop by to check on daily progress. A small cascade system was added to refill air bottles, and additional masks were acquired or donated to supplement small departments whose mask inventory was marginal or where air refill facilities were not available.
In order to prepare and present the best possible package to an individual student, a mini smoke-diver course was included in the maze course, with the final exercise being the successful completion of the maze in full protective clothing. The inside of the trailer is painted flat black to reduce visibility. Heat is not a part of the exercise. However, Virginia’s hot summer weather takes care of this for us.
In August and September 1982,1100 fire fighters completed the maze. One can easily imagine how this compares with a larger fixed smoke house.
The second trailer is also owned by the Fairfax City Fire and Rescue Services. It is a 45-foot standard box trailer which has been converted into a tactical simulator. This unit has been divided into two small classrooms at each end of the trailers, which are separated in the center by an equipment room containing 35mm slide projectors, overhead projectors and sound equipment. Each classroom is served by a rear projection screen.
In a tactical problem students can view both front and rear scenes of the situation. Communications is by closed circuit radio, and each student is provided with a microphone and headset. This system was designed and built by a member of the volunteer fire department. Instructors may talk directly to individuals or the entire group if they so desire. Also included is a small area for a dispatcher.
After the completion of the tactical simulator, several test classes were conducted and it was determined that without some type of air conditioning unit, this trailer with its projectors generating heat and the lack of insulation would render it useless in summer months. The union local purchased the air conditioning equipment and helped mount it under the trailer.
Furthermore, this unit has been used as a promotional evaluation for junior officers in the Northern Virginia area.
Additional trailers planned for the training division of the Department of Fire Programs include one additional tactical simulator in the Virginia Beach and Tidewater area, and one additional breathing apparatus trailer in Harrisonburg, located in the western portion of the state.
Also, in the first stage of construction is a sprinkler trailer that will include several sprinkler valves that actually operate and can be thoroughly examined by students. This trailer will be similar to the insurance company Highly Protected Risk (HPR) and Fire Protection Sprinkler Labs.
We have made much use of our mobile laboratory concept in Virginia. This change in program direction was forced upon us by changing economic times, but we also had the need and desire to provide and deliver quality training to a fire service that on a statewide basis is as diverse as any in the country.
Our new instructor’s manual also has a section for use of mobile laboratories and we require all instructors to attend an instructor upgrading course every two years. We plan to make use of two of these trailers at the 1983 sessions.
One question that is often asked is, “When do you have enough trailers?” Our goal has been to complete this phase of the Virginia program with six mobile laboratories. To have more would cause the existing fleet to be underutilized and not delivering an effective training cost per student. In addition, the use of fixed installations would also suffer from not being used as compared to the mobile concept.
Those departments desiring further information on the development and management of the maze trailer training concept may contact the Department of Fire Programs, 2720 Enterprise Parkway, Richmond, Va. 23229 (804) 2819441).