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Qualifying your fire apparatus drivers

Document firefighter apparatus training with task books to evaluate and improve operational skills


By Keith Padgett, FireRescue1 Contributor

Driving a fire truck is very serious business. If you ask anyone if that is a true statement, in or outside the fire service, I believe everyone would agree. However, quite often people are assigned to drive a fire apparatus who may not have the required training or have not demonstrated that they can truly perform the task.

Why does this happen? Sometimes staffing levels come into play and a company officer may put a non-qualified person in that position, which places not only department members at risk, but also the public that we serve.

Basic fundamental driving should be discussed early on in any firefighter’s career. (Photo/U.S. Department of Defense)
Basic fundamental driving should be discussed early on in any firefighter’s career. (Photo/U.S. Department of Defense)

Any fire department, career or volunteer, must have fire apparatus operators that posess the most rudimentary driving skills and can perform them safely. Basic fundamental driving should be discussed early on in any firefighter’s career, ensuring firefighters understand what is acceptable and what is not.

The NFPA 1002 Standard for Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications establishes the minimum qualifications for driver/operators and should be followed as closely as possible when developing a new driver-training program.

Test basic apparatus operating skills before advancing

Before they are allowed behind the wheel, an emergency driver training course (such as the Emergency Vehicle Operators Course) should be conducted to ensure the candidates have basic driving skills down.

Once we have department members that can operate fire apparatus safely, more advanced skills such as pump operation and hydraulic calculations can be taught. Frequently, departments will have a pump manufacturer or representative provide a training course on their particular fire pump to ensure that all questions can be answered accurately.

However, most departments have seasoned veteran drivers that are more than qualified to teach and mentor younger up-and-coming drivers. This same group can be utilized to develop drills that not only teach skills but also keep everyone safe as well.

Training to develop apparatus operation skills and safety

OK, now that we have new drivers trained in the department, this must not be the end of the training or evaluation. However, quite often this is where it stops. This should be where training not only continues but drills are incorporated to build that muscle memory and develop consistency.

The most basic drill would have the engineer (engine operator) spot the engine next to a fire hydrant, charge a pre-connected hose utilizing the booster tank, establish the correct pressure, then connect to a permanent water supply (fire hydrant). All this should be done in under two minutes. This drill, when performed over and over, will develop a skill that the driver can perform at any time of the day or night, without mistake.

It can also become a competitive drill between the crewmembers, by attempting to complete every element of the drill with the lowest time. Of course all your crew will serve as the referee, not letting you miss one item. So if you don’t put the wheel chock out or miss establishing the correct pressure, your cohorts will be glad to point it out.

Truck companies should focus on skill development like raising ground ladders or even develop aerial ladder drills that require the driver/operator to raise the aerial ladder and extend it to a specific floor for a quick rescue.

One skill that we do not always believe should be drilled on is actually driving the apparatus, as most feel that they are proficient in that area. However, there are some situations that must be developed and practiced to ensure that that specific skill can be performed. Other drills should be established to ensure all areas of operating the apparatus are covered and improved upon.

Measure and document success with task books

We have all heard of the old, salty driver assigned to drive Truck X for the last 10 years and what a great driver he is. However, when asked at a fire scene one morning to perform some type of operation with the truck, he could not carry out the task. Then we come to find out that he never knew that the truck would operate in that manner.

This is where task books come into play. Task books can be developed to document every aspect of what the driver and fire apparatus are expected to accomplish. This serves not only is to establish guidelines for driver training, but also to provide a means of documentation for annual job performance reviews.

Each driver in the organization receives a driver/operator task book that contains a detailed list of objectives the candidate is expected to meet. They review and drill to ensure they have knowledge, skills and ability to execute. They are evaluated to document performance and skill level. The task books are then added to the drivers file to prove their ability to serve in that position.

Driving a fire truck is very serious business, indeed. Once we make a decision to allow an individual to serve as the driver, we have committed to taking ownership –not just the driver, but the entire department has undertaken that responsibility. This is why it is so important to train, drill and document performance. We owe that to not only the public, but also to our own department membership. Drive safe!

About the author
Chief Keith Padgett currently serves as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services academic program director with Columbia Southern University as well as fire chief of the Beulah Fire District in Valley Alabama.  Having retired as the chief-fire marshal for the Fulton County Fire- Rescue Department, Keith is a 35-year member of the fire service. He has completed the Executive Fire Officer Program through the National Fire Academy. He holds a master of science degree in leadership with an emphasis in disaster preparedness and executive fire leadership, as well as the chief fire officer designation. Keith currently serves as a Specialty Educational Board member for the IAFC Executive Fire Officer Program Section. 

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