Time Management: Combining Company-Level Training & Public Fire Education

In today’s fire service, company officers and crews are asked to do more than ever, and as a result, company-level training seems to be squeezed in after everything else–and sometimes, it’s not done at all! With all of the non-emergent activities most departments are engaged in, we’re busier than we’ve ever been. Then we have to fit in equipment and apparatus checks, station maintenance and, of course, station tours and school visits.

My fire department has embraced the new fire service trend of community risk reduction, which includes school visits and public education. After doing some research and taking some classes, I came to the conclusion that most departments are already providing these services. In fact, one of my mentors has been preaching for years that one of the most cost-effective and important duties of a fire company is to provide such education.

Those who know me will find it very strange that I am choosing to write about anything other than tactics–and especially a topic focused on fire prevention. However, the other day while giving a fire safety talk at a local pre-school, I had a huge brainstorm: Why don’t we do a crew drill every time we educate the public? This is time management at its finest. We perform a very important part of our job when we teach kids fire safety, but we could also use those sessions as a chance to drill. In addition to the educational benefits for the public and our crews, we would also get to showcase some of our finest skills, which most people would never see otherwise.    

Getting Down to Specifics
Let’s use the above scenario–a fire safety talk at a school–as an example to brainstorm some opportunities for crew-level training:

  1. If a child lives on the second floor, we remind them that, if the building is on fire and their door is hot, they should wait by the window for us. So, when we explain this, why not pull the extension ladder off the apparatus and put it up to a window? Then, as training, we could climb the ladder and show the public just how and why we do what we do.
  2. Using the school itself as a drill building, we could have the engineer spot on the structure as they would at a fire.
  3. Crewmembers who are training for an officer position can give a radio size-up of the building.
  4. If you’re on an engine, pull a line and advance it. If the school has a standpipe, hook up to it and advance with your high-rise hose. Be sure to explain to the students and teachers how we get water to a fire if it is up a few floors or further away than our preconnects can stretch.
  5. If you’re a truckie, set up the stick to the roof or a window. Take the tools you would usually use to perform the task–and wear all of your PPE.

These training drills would give the kids a chance to see real firefighters doing evolutions in their gear, and crews would get the opportunity to train on buildings in their districts. This idea could work for engines and ladders alike. Just do your thing. It’s a good idea, of course, to discuss your training/education ideas with the teacher or building contact prior to doing any type of drill.

One thing to keep in mind while designing training drills like the ones above: Wasting time is a good way to anger a firefighter. If you set up training or a drill, it should be applicable, beneficial and it should make the crew better. I’m a big fan of efficiency, and each of the drills listed above should take less than 30 minutes from start to finish, including pick-up. This gives you plenty of time to capture the audience with an action-packed start and then to present your fire safety message. You could change it up by giving the fire safety message first and then driving home your point with the quick drill at the end of the tour. If you choose a different evolution for each fire safety talk or tour, your crew will be able to participate in multiple, quick drills every month.

Beyond the Drills
In addition to drills, take a little extra time to walk through the schools, learn about the building and meet the maintenance person. It’s always good to be on a first-name basis with the person who has the most keys on his belt. Ask to see the alarm panel, riser room and other building systems. Always take the time to talk to teachers and other staff. Ask about their evacuation plan, and what exits are kept locked from the exterior, etc. Make sure the school or classes’ plan match your crew’s strategy and tactics for the building.

If time management is an issue for your crew, try combining prevention and training to kill two birds with one stone. Obviously the crew will benefit from drilling, and you may give the public the best fire safety talk or tour they have ever seen. Instead of thinking of public education as “one of those things the chief makes us do,” embrace it and use the time to prevent a child from ever needing our help. Don’t use public education as an excuse to put off training. Combine the two, and see how far it takes you.

In Sum
Most firefighters and officers don’t need an excuse to train or get into our areas and learn something new, but every once in a while, we need a boost. EMS calls and public education events can give us the excuse we need to get into buildings we might not ever be in otherwise. Make sure to take a look around and make a mental note in the event that you’re called back there when the building is filled with smoke.

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