We often struggle with conducting in-service / in-house training, the reasons or excuses for not doing daily drills are wide and many! I've been asked by numerous officers over the years how to develop quality in-house training and what they should train on?
While we could fill a book with ideas and different drills, we will start with the how to develop a in-house training program that works. Please feel free to comment and add your ideas, we can all learn from each other.
Consistency is key! The first and most important step is to start doing training and the #1 failure in most programs is the lack of consistency. When we do not train on a daily/regular basis, your members will never buy in. They will quickly learn that this is just a check box event and nothing will come of it. In other words, they will just go through the motions, knowing they won't have to do anything next shift. You can consistently drill or consistently fail!
Start slow and build your program. Firefighters like to learn, they actually enjoy training on our craft, but you cannot start your program off with laying out 1000' of 5" in 90-degree weather and expect positive results. Start with a review of the basic skills we utilize at every fire. This can include everything from tools/equipment, PPE, SCBA donning and doffing, ground ladder basics and hose stretches. As members master the basics, you continually add to their skills and difficulty of the training.
Too much is just as bad as Too Little! Part of being consistent includes how much time we should spend on our drills? I think asking firefighters to spend 4-5 hours a shift drilling is ridiculous and can make your firefighters start thinking about smothering you in your sleep! 2-hours is great, this may go a little longer, it may be a little less based on the drill and what is going on that shift. Along with the length of the drill, think about what time of day we should drill? I like mornings and typically drilled between 1000-1200 each shift. This established an expectation with the company and became our everyday norm. Firefighters need a regular schedule and enjoy knowing what they can expect each day.
Be Flexible. We all know that while most shifts can follow some type of routine, there will be those days that are over-the-top busy or there are a thousand other things happening. This is easily overcome by remaining flexible with your training and subject matter. When you are just too bogged down with alarms or the dreaded mountain of paperwork, use other avenues to provide members training for that day. This can include; administration training, size-up at different calls, building construction discussions while driving to events or the store, radio procedures for Mayday events, territory study, apparatus placement and drivers training for new members. The options are endless if we can just remember that every call is a training opportunity!
Planning is critical. We have all heard the old saying "when we fail to plan, we plan to fail." This is particular true when building a training program. Let's start with the obvious, drills should be based on what your unit or units do. I had a daily and quarterly plan, the daily plan always involved some type of hose stretch and the quarterly plan would be based on a particular subject matter such as RIT and Survival or Search and Rescue. While we focused on our primary job as an engine, we also prepared for throwing ladders, searching from the hose line, drags and carries and of course survival techniques. Every fire is different and we must be prepared for a variety of duties.
Get creative. How many classes have you sat through and gave thought to jumping out a window? As adults we all want training that is useful, beneficial to my job and engaging. 8-hours or even 30-minutes of listening to someone read to us is absolutely brutal! To be engaging we have to be creative and this includes everything from building props, reenactments of different fires, to providing a history lesson in some cases. If you read or studied a fire that occurred in a different city, this could become a drill. Think about the Pittsburgh Drill for firefighter rescue as an example.
Practice like you play. Yes, there is a major difference in throwing ladders in uniform v/s turn-out gear. While the skill set is being practiced or if it's a new technique, uniform training is ok, but to truly master a skill members should be in full PPE. After we would work through particular skill set's, we would always end with a timed drill, combining different skill set's. Here is one example that can be adopted at any fire house:
2.5 to 1-3/4 extended stretch
- All members are staged in the kitchen and a simulated alarm is given. Members move to the apparatus and start dressing out and get on the rig. All members must be in full PPE, including SCBA.
- The driver ensures all members are on and belted, then pulls onto the street, parking lot, or ramp. Once the airbrake is set members are instructed by the Officer to stretch a 2.5 to the rear of the building (300') for knock down. Your crew should also bring the hose bundle and be prepared to stretch to the interior.
- The 2.5 is stretched, charged and flowing for 30-seconds. The officer then switched to an offensive attack. Members will shut down, and attach the hose bundle for an interior attack. Members must stretch the bundle, charge it, check the nozzle pattern & flow, mask up and advance the line into the building. Based on the station, the officer will decide when and if the line is flowed. In other words don't flood the Chief's office!
The drill is timed and the crew should immediately discuss riding positions, line deployment/advancement and what could be done differently to enhance their time. The reason we combine skills is because every fire requires us to! Look at the different skills we worked on within one drill:
Driver safety check
Hose bundle deployment
2.5 nozzle operation
1-3/4 nozzle operations
Reloading and re-bundling hose
Riding positions and assignments
This is also an opportunity to allow members who are preparing for leadership roles to act as the officer and work on their communication and command skills.
Remember that we train for THEM and for US!