Blog by Bill Sturgeon
Retired Division Chief of Training for Orange County Fire Rescue Department in Florida

During the 1970s, the fire service became involved in Emergency Medical Services. Then, during the 80s, it was Hazmat. And in the 90s, it was technical rescue. After 9/11, Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) became the new service everyone wanted to provide.

We trained hard and became proficient at delivering these new services. But there may have been some unintended consequences.

I recently retired as the chief of training for a large metropolitan department in Florida. The department has its fair share of fires and I noticed numerous times that critical errors related to fundamental firefighting techniques were being made.

Pulling the wrong line (too short, too long), hooking up to an intake instead of a discharge, not properly using forcible entry tools, poor ground-ladder deployment. The list goes on and on.

If this sounds familiar, read on! This is how your department can develop a low-cost training program, set performance standards, improve basic skills and have some fun in the process.

To begin with, fire chiefs must use company performance standards to measure progress. These can be internally developed standards or you can refer to NFPA 1410 (Standard on Training for Initial Emergency Scene Operations, 2010 Edition) and use it as the standard.

The bottom line is that this training must be supported from the top. All officers must get up, get out, and participate with crews.

Find out who are your strongest players. Find out who are your weakest links. And determine who your top company is so they can mentor and teach others.

Company officers must train and challenge their crews to meet or exceed standards (measured in time and accuracy). Drivers can review basic hydraulic skills, or you can develop a scenario to solve that includes a basic pumping problem.

Finally, firefighters should strive to master each task. Why? Because it is their job. Because they are the future leaders of the fire service (drivers, officers, and instructors) and they need to be capable of passing down knowledge to the newest members.

It’s better to learn these skills in the beginning of your career. They will serve you well.

Developing the plan:
1. Identify special requirements for your jurisdiction. Are there special circumstances you must consider when developing your training outlines?

2. Determine what standard you are going to follow. Is it going to be the NFPA 1410, your own, or a combination of both?

3. Develop necessary drills and use your reference materials.

4. Break down each task into a separate drill. No more than one sheet.

5. Set a time limit to complete the task or refer to NFPA 1410. This will be your performance standard for initial training.

6. Enlist some of your senior people to test the drills out (chiefs, captains, and commanding officers). This is the alpha test. Get some photographs of them in action and post them prior to having the company perform the drills. This creates buy-in. Obtain their feedback on how the drills can be improved.

7. Identify facilitators (instructors and/or mentors) and have them master the drills while troubleshooting any problems. This is the beta test. Now they are ready to begin teaching!

8. Start the drills.

9. All drills should be performed in the appropriate PPE. You are trying to get crews comfortable in their gear when operating at the scene of an emergency. It also will assist in acclimatizing personnel for inclement weather. Do not forget rehab!

10. Have each company pair up with another company in an adjoining district to practice and master the drills. Your facilitator, company officer, or chief should set up these training sessions. If meeting on the line between districts, keep one unit in service for response or use a reserve apparatus.

11. Have your mentors and/or instructors meet during regular intervals to review the training and teaching points. This is continuous quality improvement.

12. Publish each company’s drill times in a public area (the TargetSolutions platform is a great tool for this). This builds pride and competitiveness.

13. Document and share lessons learned. Explore new ideas and techniques.

14. Once all of the training is completed, develop the department performance standard and demand each company meet it. Require monthly training on the standards then supervisors should quarterly spot-check and regulate annual performance standard testing.

You will see dramatic improvement in basic skills if you use this approach. I sure did!

About the Author
Bill Sturgeon is a retired division chief of training for the Orange County Fire Rescue Department in Florida. Sturgeon was a 30-year veteran of the United States Fire Service. During his career, he served as a volunteer, military, municipal, and county firefighter and held many positions, including paramedic, EMS supervisor, company officer (special operations), safety officer, battalion chief, assistant chief and division chief. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy.