By Homer Robertson
Published Thursday, August 23, 2012
The new academy class of rookie firefighters graduated last night from recruit school and they start reporting to stations first thing in the morning. One of them is assigned to your station. As the station officer, how do you get the new firefighter off on the right foot and started into a new career in which their life (and potentially your life as well) depends on them getting it right?
There are not many professions that ask as much of an employee as the fire service. And depending on your department’s staffing levels, firefighters can be asked to perform at the highest levels without much on-the-job training. I’ve seen a brand-new firefighter, his first morning on the job, be asked to relieve another firefighter on a working fire. Talk about starting off with a bang!
Let’s review some tips for ensuring you’re ready to get new firefighters off to a good start.
Hit the Ground Running
As soon as your new firefighter reports to work, get them started right by taking them out to the apparatus and start with the basics. Don’t say, “Hey kid, we’ll look at the truck later.” Having that second cup of coffee or breakfast may mean you miss an opportunity to review the apparatus and everything that needs to be done at shift change. I know, they should have learned all of that in recruit school, but don’t count on it. Simple things that you’ve been doing for years are sometimes completely new concepts to them.
Teach new firefighters how to relieve the crew getting off and the information they should get from the off-going shift. I hate to hear someone get on the station intercom and say, “If you’re on the back of the engine, you can go home.” That’s not proper relieving. Always relieve face to face and ask a few simple questions. It shouldn’t take more than three to five minutes, but they could be the most important minutes of the day.
When you relieve another firefighter, don’t just ask, “Is there anything I need to know?” because the short answer is going to be “no” or “pretty normal day.” Have a set of questions ready to ask each time you relieve:
- Did you have any fires or other incidents on the previous shift?
- If so, what tools and equipment did you use?
- Are there any tools, equipment or supplies that need to be repaired or replaced?
- What’s the status of the apparatus?
- Did you do any training at the station level? What was it?
Blue Gloves & a Toilet Brush
More than likely on your first day on the job, you were handed a pair of blue EMS gloves and the toilet brush and told to clean up the bathroom and showers while the rest of the crew headed out to check tools, equipment and the apparatus. I understand the whole “starting at the bottom” thing with new firefighters—and I support it. But we have all day to clean the bathroom. The time in the apparatus room getting hands-on experience with seasoned firefighters in a low-stress environment is the best training in the world.
A good place to start is at the firefighter’s seat on the apparatus. Go over how your company responds and what their role will be in getting the apparatus on the road. Remember, this is their first day. Reviewing little things like laying out their personal protective equipment (PPE) on the truck and who closes the overhead door will make that first run go much smoother.
Riding assignments are a great guide for new firefighters because they take a lot of the guesswork out of what to do when initially arriving on scene. Riding position assignments should include the tools the firefighter should carry for each type of incident and the actions they should take. Post the riding position guideline in written form somewhere close to the firefighter’s apparatus seat so they can review it on the way to an incident and have it clear in their mind on arrival.
In addition, review how the firefighter should check their SCBA and PPE at the start of each day, reminding them that someone may have needed to use their hood or gloves since they worked last—with or without their permission—and forgotten to return them.
The Apparatus Check
Next, shift your attention to the apparatus. Cover each compartment and where the equipment and tools are stored. Ask the firefighter to focus on the locations of the tools and equipment until they can easily recall where each tool is stored. This is extremely? important because, as the newest member of the company, they’re often asked to retrieve some piece of equipment from the apparatus during an incident. If they have to go from compartment to compartment looking for the item, it’s wasting precious time.
Later in the day, take a piece of paper with the outline of the truck on it and ask the new member to list as many of the tools in each compartment as possible. Continue to test them each day until you’re satisfied that they know the name and location of every piece of equipment.
When going over the apparatus, also take time to cover the hose loads, focusing on sizes and lengths in each bed and how each would be deployed if needed. That way if you call for a 2½" to the A side of the structure, they should have a reasonable idea of what you’re asking for.
In addition, discuss the apparatus tank size and what situations would call for a supplemental water supply to be established. Many departments use some of their newest members to serve as the hydrant person in a forward lay. For a brand-new firefighter, being at the hydrant—800 feet away from any help, in the dark, by yourself, with the responsibility of the water supply on your shoulders—is intense. If that’s going to be their job today, make sure they have it down.
After you’ve given the new member the once-around the truck and feel comfortable that you can get through that first incident without too much difficultly, then take a little break and let them get a cup of coffee and get to know the crew.
Use Your Engineer or Senior Firefighter
The rest of the first morning, turn your new firefighter over to the apparatus engineer or senior firefighter and let them work together. Either of these more experienced personnel can offer some important insight into the daily duties to prepare the apparatus for the shift ahead. They also will be the best at providing the expectations of the company and commanding officer with regard to how the station is operated. These are some of the greatest mentors to young firefighters because they have experience and function as informal leaders of the company.
Time for the Soft Stuff
If you covered all these items—and a few of the ones I may have missed—you’ve had a busy morning with your new firefighter. Take some time in the afternoon between calls to sit down and get to know each other. This is also an important time to discuss your expectations of them and to open a clear line of communication. No matter how well they did at the academy, the learning process has really just begun. It’s your job to help them through the hard times ahead.
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