Hands-On Engine Company Training

The hands-on drills every engine company must perform to be fully prepared to respond to a structure fire

By Mike Kirby and Tom Lakamp
Published Sunday, April 1, 2012 | From the April 2012 Issue of FireRescue

What do you do, as the leader of your fire company, to ensure your personnel are ready for battle? This question is important if you’re an engine company officer with a company that’s working toward being prepared for firefighting duty. But training and preparation don’t stop once you determine that your crew is fit for battle. It’s your job as their leader to continually challenge your crew’s knowledge and refresh their skill sets.

Defining & Ensuring Readiness
The first and probably biggest challenge to any engine company officer involves building and maintaining a level of readiness in your members that ensures they’re ready for battle. So what is readiness? It’s being mentally and physically ready to face whatever challenges you’ll encounter. No firefighter should be on their way to the fire station or to an incident without being fully ready to work when they get there.

This challenge can be extremely difficult to overcome. People often have many things on their mind, so they sometimes cut corners, don’t train or think the little things aren’t important. With the right people, these issues can be easily dealt with; however; the “right” people aren’t always on our crews. What we want are people who come to work ready to work, which means that when they go to a fire, they shouldn’t be surprised to see smoke or flames upon arrival. We are the fire department and therefore need to be ready for the types of responses and responsibilities we’ll face.

To ensure your team’s readiness, you must establish simple expectations and communicate them to your people. Examples include:

  • Always give your best.
  • When you show up, be ready to do the job.
  • Challenge yourself and expect to be challenged.
  • Realize that you’re part of a team and may never see the actual fire, because you may be down the hall, around the corner or at the door, feeding and flaking the fire line.
  • Have a “can-do” attitude.

Hands-On Training
The most obvious way to ensure readiness is to train. There are several ways to accomplish this: through fire scenarios, preplanning evolutions, publication review, video training, etc. These are important, but nothing can replace hands-on training evolutions. This is the best form of training when trying to build skill sets and muscle memory.

On the engine company in particular, there’s no substitute for hands-on training evolutions, because at a fire, the role of the engine is to stretch and operate fire lines. You must stretch hose and place it into service if you’re ever going to knock down the fire; therefore, you must be completely aware of and knowledgeable about how to physically perform these duties.

Perform hands-on training during every shift and in full PPE and SCBA in order to develop muscle memory. You can do this with your crew, but also keep in mind that you don’t need to be an instructor or have special skill sets to arrange a company drill. Tip: If interested in arranging a company drill, take the time to write down some simple drills and locations where you can perform them. Also include a brief description of the evolution and list any goals you want to accomplish.

Where & How to Do It
As the company officer, you must survey your area to find suitable places to stretch fire lines. There are numerous possibilities: the fire station (especially if it’s a multi-story station), department training facilities, fire-resistive multi-dwellings, high-rises, vacant buildings, parking garages, open lots, dead-end streets, alleys, college dormitories during school breaks, grade schools, large playground structures, etc. Each of these locations offers an infinite number of opportunities to perform various evolutions. Note: Before you begin any training at these locations, ensure that your department allows you to conduct training in places other than fire department facilities.

Once at the location, we’ve learned from experience that it’s helpful to explain to a building manager or maintenance person that you’re there to ensure that you can respond to a fire in their building, and may only be stretching dry hoselines. If you’re careful, you can stretch lines to the point of service over and over again. Although this doesn’t address the charging and advancing aspects, it does provide you with valuable experience in the buildings that you’ll respond to in your area.

The best places to charge the hose are in the fire station, training facilities, parking garages, vacant buildings and some high-rises or government buildings where you have permission to stretch and water damage isn’t a concern.

Focus: Water Delivery
You should also include SCBA training, mayday training, survival training, firefighter rescue training, tool training and pump training in your evolutions; however, the majority of your training should focus on the delivery of water and the various ways in which you can accomplish that task. Following are some examples.

Front Door or Front Porch Stretch
Practice simple evolutions that involve deploying and flaking the hoseline so that you can make an attack from the front door of a single-family or multi-family residence where you’ll enter from the main entrance. This simple drill will build speed and help you develop tips and tricks to make future advancement easier.

To mix it up a little, try stretching in various directions from the engine; stretch short and long distances to assist in building distance estimation skills; position or use obstacles to complicate things; and use buildings that have steep front yards or multiple fences. Taking it even further, you could substitute 2½" lines for your 1¾" fire lines.

Apartment Stretches
Practice multiple evolutions to train on these more complicated stretches. First, attack from the stairwell by getting the hose in service and to the door of a protected stairwell. Then practice staging hose on the floor below or in an adjacent space to assist in advancement. Practice stretching a line up stairs and down long hallways to apartment doors, simulating that the door is still intact. These are also good evolutions to use when trying to estimate stretches and an excellent opportunity to control and chock doors while stretching.

Water Supplies
Perform simple evolutions that involve establishing water supplies with front intake hoselays, forward supply lays and reverse supply lays to develop the skills needed to assist in these evolutions. You can also perform these evolutions with a charged hoseline to get a feel for how you would proceed during a real incident.

Long Lays
There are almost surely multiple locations in your running area where standard pre-connected hoselines won’t reach the potential fire area due to the size or height of the fire building, or due to the horizontal distance from the engine to the fire building. To understand your capabilities, train on how you’ll get hose into service from your apparatus in these situations and make changes to your hose layouts, if necessary.

Master Streams
One often overlooked engine company training evolution involves developing competence in delivering high-gpm master streams from the apparatus and from remote locations. To train properly on this skill, focus on rapidly deploying the master stream in order to deliver maximum gpm. Another important skill: deployment of master streams and large handlines for immediate defensive operations and exposure protection.

2½" Hoselines
Practice deploying the larger 2½" hoselines and operating them in a variety of situations. Drill frequently inside commercial and industrial settings. Use obstacles to develop skills in handling, moving and advancing the line up stairs.

Standpipe Operations
If you may be called to operate within standpipe-equipped buildings or high-rises, you should practice standpipe ops often. Specifically, practice stretching a line from the standpipe riser on the floor below to the stairwell door on the fire floor, but also practice apartment stretches when the public hallway is tenable and you’re able to stretch to the apartment door. Note: You may find multiple buildings in your area with standpipe risers in public hallways that require more hose than you carry in your standpipe kits to complete a standard stretch.

You should also practice deployment of master stream devices from the standpipe riser, and hooking up to systems at the fire department connection and at the first-floor hose outlet. Tip: To avoid creating water damage when drilling on standpipe ops, perform stretches and advancement with charged hoselines from risers in parking garages or other public buildings.

Unusual Stretches
At times, you may encounter somewhat unusual situations, such as incidents that require you to stretch hose with a rope or via fire escapes. As with other types of hoseline stretches, you should drill on these types of scenarios on a regular basis to understand your limitations and fine-tune your skills.

Simulation Training
When the weather isn’t conducive to hands-on training, you can perform some simulation training. The best way to do this is to take pictures of buildings in your response area, and, using either a commercial simulation program or simply pasting images of smoke and fire onto the photos, you can simulate a building fire. This may spark a great deal of discussion on the building type, construction concerns, water supply, best methods of attack and hoseline size. This type of drill may also motivate your firefighters to investigate the buildings in your area more often.

Conclusion
Although we’ve provided you with a variety of methods and evolutions to better prepare you for your role on the engine company, it’s up to you to figure out what you can do within your system and department to challenge and prepare your firefighters. Our advice: Get creative, switch things up to keep your firefighters on their toes and use any and all of your available resources and buildings to provide training evolutions for your personnel. As their leader, it’s up to you to initiate realistic training evolutions to ensure an optimal level of readiness.

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For an engine crew, one of the most important types of hands-on training involves stretching hoselines. When working with charged hoselines, the best places to use them include the fire station, training facilities, parking garages, vacant buildings and some high-rises or government buildings where you have permission to stretch and water damage isn’t a concern. Photo Bill Tompkins

Hands-On Engine Company Training

The hands-on drills every engine company must perform to be fully prepared to respond to a structure fire firefighter training
For an engine crew, one of the most important types of hands-on training involves stretching hoselines. When working with charged hoselines, the best places to use them include the fire station, training facilities, parking garages, vacant buildings and some high-rises or government buildings where you have permission to stretch and water damage isn’t a concern. Photo Bill Tompkins