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4 more firefighter training drills not found in books

Videos highlight how some fire departments are thinking outside the box to make training both educational and fun

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In the Lifting Table drill, the table gives firefighters the opportunity to work on their fine motor skills while operating equipment that is used to lift objectives. It also requires teamwork, which includes good clear communication.

Training is a critical element of a firefighter’s job. We train to learn new skills, and once a new skill is acquired, we should practice until the skill is mastered.

While we normally engage in somewhat “standard” or foundational training drills, there are many more drills that aren’t found in our fire service textbooks or referenced at industry conferences. And many of these drills can be both educational and fun.

Expanding upon the original 7 firefighter training drills not found in books, here are four more drills to spice up your training evolutions with the crew.

1. Lifting Table: A drill for tool operation, problem-solving and critical thinking

I have heard this referred to by other names, but it has always been the lifting table to me. This drill is designed to improve firefighter skills in operating heavy rescue equipment, such as airbags, any type of pneumatic jack, or a manual lifting tool.

The Lifting Table is normally constructed to be 2 feet wide by 5 feet long, and can be made of either wood or metal. The table is designed to be a maze where a softball-sized rubber ball can roll around on the table throughout the maze as a corner of the table is lifted. There is a starting point, normally one corner and then a finish line at the other end of the table.

Some basic rules:

  • The table can only be lifted with tools that are assigned to an individual company, such as a truck or engine company.
  • The team cannot touch the table or the ball with their hands.
  • For every inch of lift, the team must box crib that inch.

Safety note: The team must wear protective gloves at all times even when operating a tool, such as an extrication device. Tools like airbags and extrication tools should be used with extreme caution to ensure all hands are clear and that only one tool at a time is moving the table.

Vocal instruction is highly encouraged between team members.

The table is intended to allow firefighters to work on their fine motor skills while operating equipment that is used to lift objectives. It also requires teamwork, which includes good clear communication. Firefighters will develop critical-thinking skills, as they will be required to observe and analyze the situation, interpret and evaluate the problem, and then provide a solution to ensure that the correct decision is made. This exercise can be challenging for even the most experienced crewmembers.

Check out this example of the drill in action:

2. In the Dark: A drill for improving tool operation and equipment knowledge

We have all seen that movie with the military soldier breaking down their rifle into many single pieces and then reassembling the rifle as quickly as they broke it down. They may have also been required to do this blindfolded to ensure they knew every part of the rifle and where it belongs and how it works. This entire ordeal develops that repetitive, muscle memory in the soldier, so they can clean or repair that rifle at any time – even in the dark.

Why shouldn’t this apply to firefighter gear? I’m not just talking about your turnout gear but all of the tools and equipment that you’re required to operate too. Maybe swap out the chain on a chainsaw or connect hydraulic lines to extrication spreaders and the power unit – and do it all in the dark.

You could start with a simple tool, maybe even rope and knots. Have them tie the knots behind their back or while wearing a blacked-out SCBA facepiece.

After this has become fairly simple, kick it up a little by selecting something more challenging, like swapping the air bottle out of an SCBA. Then move to exchanging the blades on the reciprocating saw utilized for extrication.

You will immediately find that there is a wide range of knowledge and ability, which will then drive future training sessions.

Check out these two examples of departments training using the “in the dark” approach:

3. SCBA Dodgeball: A drill focused on air management and equipment knowledge

We always want training to be where knowledge is shared and learning occurs, but sometimes it’s great to work in a little fun, too.

Air management is a vital skill that must be developed and evaluated. A game of SCBA dodgeball is a pretty simple training drill that focuses on crewmembers working in, or in this case playing in, their gear while developing their air management skills. It’s just a simple game of dodgeball with all team members in their turnout gear and on air.

Every time a firefighter is in their gear, they become more proficient at their job. Playing a game of dodgeball requires all members to move quickly, squat, bend over, raise their hands above their head and other basic motions.

At the beginning of the game, have someone start a stopwatch and watch the members’ decreasing bottle volume. This of course is measuring members’ ability to manage their air supply while being active, and gives the member real exposure to how long they can make an air bottle last while working at an elevated heart and respiration rate.

The one item that is different from a normal game of dodgeball is that when a team member is hit by the ball thrown by the opposing team, that team member must be rescue-dragged off the court by other team members. Once off the court, that team member is out of the game.

This is a fun event that trains members on an essential skill.

Check out one department’s members playing a game of SCBA dodgeball:

4. 2-Minute Water Supply: A drill for driver/operator skill development

One of the first and most important things that must happen at any fire is establishing a water supply. However, this is often done at 3 a.m., when firefighters were sleeping just minutes before arriving on the scene. So while this drill is not only exciting, it’s also serving as a repetitive practice to ensure that firefighters can still conquer this activity when they are tired.

The driver/operator who is assigned to drive the engine is aiming to perform the drill in less than two minutes.

To start the drill, the driver must spot the engine correctly to connect to the fire hydrant. When the parking brake is applied, the clock starts.

The driver must put the engine into pump mode, then quickly leave the cab of the truck. The chalk block is placed under the rear tire so the truck is secured in position. The engine crew during this time deploys an attack line (for this exercise, a 1¾ trash line will work). The driver must charge this attack line to the correct pressure utilizing the apparatus booster tank water. The attack crew will begin to flow the attack line operating off the tank water.

The driver’s job now is to establish a permanent water supply connected to the hydrant. A short section of 5-inch large-diameter hose (LDH) that is kept in a side compartment or in a small hose trey next to the pump panel is stretched to the hydrant and quickly connected. The hydrant is turned on and water flows into the pump. The drill is completed – and time noted – with the smooth changeover from tank water to the hydrant.

This exercise can become competitive, as the members will attempt to beat established times while the others take on the role of unofficial referees, making absolutely sure that no one cuts corners or misses steps.

Check out how two departments train on establishing water supply:

Time to mix up firefighter training

Training can sometimes feel mundane, which is why it’s great to mix it up with some not-so-common drills that engage members.

Stay safe and train hard!

Editor’s Note: What unique drills do you like to run with your crew? Share in the comments below or with the editors at

Chief Keith Padgett serves as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Academic Program Director with Columbia Southern University within the College of Safety and Emergency Services. A 42-year member of the fire service, Padgett previously served as fire chief of the Beulah Fire District in Valley, Alabama, and as the chief/fire marshal for the Fulton County Fire-Rescue Department in Atlanta. He is presently the Co-Chair of the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) EMS curriculum workgroup. He also served as a Specialty Educational Board member for the IAFC Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) Section as the chair of the Professional Development/Higher Education sub-committee as well as a director-at-large board member on the IAFC’s Safety, Health and Survival Section. Padgett completed the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program through the National Fire Academy and has a Chief Fire Officer Destination through the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). He holds a master’s degree in leadership with an emphasis in disaster preparedness and executive fire leadership and a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration. Connect with Padgett on LinkedIn or via email.