An expectant fire officer's role before fire truck delivery
Between order and delivery, there's plenty a fire officer can do to prepare the crew for their new baby
Few things in the fire service arouse the passions and spirits of firefighters like the impending arrival of a new piece of fire apparatus. Admit it, we become like anxious parents expecting a new child.
Even in departments that consistently purchase new apparatus from the same manufacturer, there are going to be many things about the new rig that differ from the old rig.
And that's true for a piece of apparatus that's replaced after only 10 years of service; the new rig is going to present a learning curve officers and firefighters.
For example, it might have electronic stability control or a more advanced foam system. Taking the perspective that the new rig is more than just a replacement for the incumbent rig, the officer should begin gathering as much information as possible about the new arrival.
Obtaining a copy of the specifications from the department's purchase order is a great place to start. Another source is the manufacturer's website as is a representative from the manufacturer or the vendor who sold the apparatus to the department.
With this information about the new rig's features that differ from the old rig, the officer can start developing a training and familiarization plan well before the new apparatus shows up at the station.
Lay the foundation
Don't procrastinate on this point. Many departments wait until the new apparatus arrives before beginning the training and orientation process. This results in valuable time being lost before the new apparatus can go into service.
Most of the major fire apparatus manufacturers can provide training and orientation videos and materials. The local vendor who sold the apparatus to the department can also be a valuable resource and perhaps can provide a demo model to give the crew a first-hand look at what's coming.
Get as much information disseminated and training done as possible before the new rig arrives. This will give the crew a good foundational knowledge of the new apparatus and you'll be able to get right to the necessary hands-on practical training once it arrives.
As part of the preparation for the new arrival, the officer should start preparing their people on the care and feeding of the new apparatus. This is particularly important if the existing apparatus is older and a bit beat up — or worse, a reserve rig.
Humans have a tendency to not provide the same level of care and maintenance to fire apparatus as it gets older and acquires more dents and dings. A good officer will recognize this and use it to improve the crew's perspectives and commitment to good apparatus maintenance and inspection practices.
The blank slate
The new rig will likely have new features and equipment that will influence the officer's tactical operations as well as the driving and operation of the apparatus itself.
Take the opportunity presented by the new truck or engine to review tactical operations and how they will be performed from using the new apparatus. You may be looking at new hose bed configurations, compartment design and orientation, crew cab design, etc., that will differ from that of the current apparatus.
Don't just look at putting everything from the old apparatus on to the new apparatus. Go through a process with the crew where for every piece of equipment and ask these questions.
- Do we still need this? If the answer is no, don't put it on the new rig.
- How important is it? Prioritizing equipment will determine where it should be placed on the new apparatus for safety, effectiveness and efficiency.
The new rig is a blank canvas; use it to your advantage and make the way you'll use it better than before.
Don't feel like you as the officer have to do everything. There's a lot of things that have to happen before the new rig takes its place in the fire station.
One time-saving strategy is to assign different mobilization tasks to individuals and groups within the department or station. This division of labor will better prepare everyone for arrival of the new apparatus and start the process of everyone taking ownership of the new rig.
Depending on the size and makeup of the particular department, working on compartment layouts can be an important item.
"We see a lot of people make individual compartments out of cardboard so that they can get a sense of how much equipment a compartment can hold and what will fit where," said Jim Featherstone, president of RedStorm Fire and Rescue Apparatus.
Doing this sort of planning during the waiting time for the apparatus to arrive can also reduce the amount of time that will be spent preparing the new apparatus for service once it arrives at the station.
It's also important to recognize another human characteristic: our innate resistance to change. Firefighters grow very attached to the apparatus that's been a critical part of their job.
For many firefighters, the process to learn how to drive and operate their assigned engine or truck was a rite of passage in their career development and a source of deep pride. For those firefighters, it's not just a truck, it's a close friend.
Recognize and appreciate that these bonds exist. One strategy for helping personnel let go of the old apparatus might be to hold a retirement ceremony.
Invite the battalion chief or fire chief to the station for lunch or dinner and then have everyone gather around the old apparatus for some pictures. Have a cake made up and get pictures cutting the cake and everyone having a piece to celebrate the retirement of an old friend.
Then post some of those pictures on your department's Facebook Page or website. Encourage your people to share the pictures on their social media accounts.
What are your thoughts and best practices for bringing a new rig into your fire station?
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