By John Morse
Walk into any firehouse in the country, no matter if it is a big city like New York, or some little district in a rural area and you will find firefighters with less structure fire experience than firefighters had 20 years ago. If we don’t have that experience to learn from how are we going to learn what we need to know to put out a fire? There were always the older guys with war stories to rely on to show you how it all worked. The true story is that the number of structure fires has gone way down. Those experienced guys have retired, and we are all left to learn from someone who went to a class or read a book. Since we don’t get that experience it is even more important to get quality training.
There are a lot of different types of training out there. Some days it might be a PowerPoint presentation on building construction. Another day might be raising a ladder, and the next day will probably have to be some type of EMS training to keep up on those recertification requirements. While all of those topics are important there isn’t much there that resembles a fire scene. There might be some ladders put up at a fire, and some hose pulled, and someone needs to operate the pump. So if we do all those things in training won’t we be able to perform at a fire? The difference is that at a fire those things are all need to be coordinated, and done at a very different tempo.
I remember training sessions where we all could raise a ladder to the third story window perfectly because we knew we had to raise the ladder 8 rungs to hit that window sill. We all knew how many rungs to put that ladder up for every window in that training tower. Even after that training tower was torn down I still remember how many rungs for each spot on the building. When spotting a hydrant at that tower the first guy would set a rock on the ground where the front tire was placed and everyone else just pulled up to that rock and had a perfect spot.
A very valuable training tool was a live burn at a building that was being demolished. Fires were started and companies responded similar to a real fire. Tasks were done simultaneously and several fires were extinguished in one building. Today there are safety regulations that require everyone involved to walk through the building before it is burned. That takes a lot away from the drill, and many training fires are now done with natural gas fired props instead of old furniture, pallets and straw.
These changes make it extremely important to make training realistic and include the same tempo and coordination as a real fire. It is important that companies arrive in the same manner as they would at a real fire. Crews and manpower should be assigned exactly the same at a training session as they would at a real fire. The best training scenarios are not announced, or discussed before they are performed. The first arriving officer should perform a size up and direct each crew to perform necessary tasks. Too many times at training extra firefighters will feel they need to jump in and help. Unfortunately at a real fire those extra firefighters aren’t there to help. We need to learn to do the job with the resources we will actually have at hand at that fire.
I guess you could sum it all up by saying we need to practice like we play. That means we arrive at an unknown situation and need to handle that situation in real speed with whatever resources we would normally get on that response. The next time you train look around and see if your scenario resembles a real fire ground situation. Creating realistic training exercises is even more important when we lose that real fire ground experience.