THE VOLUNTEERS CORNER
IT IS on the fireground that the truth about any fire department’s training becomes apparent. If the men and officers have learned their lessons well, protection of exposures, containment, extinguishment and overhaul will be an orderly procedure.
You’ve all seen the volunteer department that has more enthusiasm than training. Every man eagerly pitches in to do the job that first comes to his mind. Soon there are a number of men doing a multitude of disconnected tasks. If luck is with them, the fire is extinguished before too much unnecessary damage is done. But if things don’t jell, everything falls apart and the untrained volunteers wind up indulging in that fatal sport of chasing a fire.
Once the alarm has sounded, it’s too late to stage a training session. And yet you’ll still hear some lukewarm volunteers say, “You can tell us what you want us to do when we get to the fire.”
But it’s too late then. Either the men have learned how to fight fires through hours of thorough training, or they will become jokes in a serious business. When a department suffers from a deep lack of knowledge, then a training program must start with basic hose and ladder evolutions.
Many states have instructors on their payroll who conduct courses on the home grounds of volunteer departments. When there is close cooperation between the chief and the instructor, a department can quickly get a leg up the ladder through these classes—usually one night a week.
Once a department has acquired the fundamentals, then it is time for forming its own training program. First of all, a training officer should be appointed with full authority to institute a program. He must merit the confidence of the chief and there must be complete cooperation between them. A chief can be guilty of giving lip service to a training program and fail to utilize the benefits of the drills in fighting fires. All evolutions and theory taught have to be approved by the chief. The instruction has to pay off on the fireground, or it isn’t worth the effort.
Once you get a good drill program underway, there is nothing that will give it a boost as much as employing the evolutions at fires. When you hear men say after a fire. “Hey, the way we lined in tonight was the same as we did in last week’s drill!” then you know the training has earned the men’s confidence. From that point on. you can make real progress. Morale will rise as the volunteers gain pride in their performance, and they’ll want to learn more.
As the training sessions become more difficult, care must be exercised by the training officer. Sometimes enthusiasm leads to staging a session that is beyond the capabilities of the men and has no real purpose behind it.
Someone will suggest fighting live fires. Then the training officer must exercise great care to make certain that this j type of session doesn’t turn into a fiasco. First of all, the fires should never offer a challenge that is greater than the men can handle with confidence. Secondly, a level of instruction should be maintained. Fighting practice fires should not be | allowed to become an uncontrolled game. The effectiveness of various approaches, the protective characteristics of fog streams and the proper handling of hose lines should all be explained. Then the training officer must make the men attack the fires in a safe as well as an effective manner.
Whatever you do, don’t let a fire fighting session turn into a contest to see who shows the most foolhardy “courage” by risking burns. The men should be taught to let the nozzle do the work of extinguishing the fire and providing protection.
The same idiotic enthusiasm can ruin a ladder drill. Taunting men to climb where they fear to go doesn’t train men. It only endangers them. If a man is reluctant to climb a 50-foot ladder, start him on a 16 or 18-foot ladder and build up his confidence. This is the way to develop firemen.
It’s always a good plan to have drills scheduled well in advance, but it’s doubtful whether the schedule should be announced. The experience in many departments, including paid, is that men who most need the training will find some excuse for staying away from the drills. On the other hand, you’ll get a large turnout for an especially attractive drill. It’s better to intersperse favorite drills with the less popular evolutions. In this way, men will turn out for more drills so that they won’t miss the ones they particularly like.
If you are going to keep the interest of the men, relate everything you do to the problems the men can expect to face. When using high ladders, point out buildings in the area that would require such ladders. When going through engine company drills, explain why a certain method of lining in is necessary because of street and building problems peculiar to an area in your town.
This is the sort of related information that will give a point to a drill—and ensure that the evolution will be successful when it is needed on the fireground.