Do you have a 'parking lot' fire department?
There's a range of training options available to ensure firefighters are well trained for suppression efforts when it matters
A few weeks ago, an older firefighter – the kind with the long mustache and grizzled look – remarked at the kitchen table, "If there is ever a parking lot on fire, we are the best-trained fire department in the world."
The power of this statement is a sublime comment on our most common training modality — pulling lines and flowing water in parking lots.
Is your fire department a parking lot fire department?
As the amount of working fire activity goes down, the amount of training needed to maintain basic skill proficiency goes up. Many times, competing priorities emerge but the need to maintain basic proficiencies cannot be denied. Sometimes it is just easier to drive around to the back of the station and pull the lines off to test the probationary firefighter, but does that really accomplish anything?
The real fireground is full of friction, and friction is anything that can possibly interfere with the timely and efficient execution of tasks.
Training in the parking lot is like trying to apply high school physics to NASA rocket launch flight plans. In high school physics, most of the problems disregard normal friction and only consider how things behave in ideal conditions. However, firefighting occurs during less-than-ideal conditions ... and friction matters.
Training alternatives for pulling hoselines
Company officers need to consider friction as they map out training for their subordinates. Understandably, we do not always have houses or abandoned buildings that have passed the NFPA 1403 test to train in. Sometimes that same old burn building at the academy is more boring than it is useful. This is where creativity comes into play.
Consider conducting operations in parking garages on the weekends or at night. You typically have enclosed stairways to stretch hoses in, and these stairways mimic the tight spaces of high rises and apartment houses.
Another good choice for training is apartment complexes. You have to be careful of property damage from hose streams, but stretching to the front door of structures without actually entering can teach younger members how to estimate hose lengths, and stretching around fences and cars teaches teamwork with some friction or difficulty.
With a few phone calls to management, you can usually get permission to run dry hoselines in high-rise apartment buildings. Even without charging lines, your crews can get a good sense of the challenges involved with stretches on the upper floors.
With enough notice, management can post signs to let people know the drill is going to occur. They will usually ask that you do it on a weekday to lessen the number of people you disturb. A good idea is to also take the time to pass out some fire prevention literature when you are done, killing two birds with one stone.
On cold winter days, another option is hose drills in the engine room. Crews can practice coupling hoses with gloved hands and darkened facepieces to simulate low-visibility conditions inside of structures. If the engine room has good floor drains, you can even charge lines and practice following the hoseline with full gear and darkened facepieces.
Any way you look at it, the onus is on the station officer is to develop and maintain basic skills without creating parking lot fire departments. A little creativity can go a long way to creating fun and challenging firefighter training evolutions that are harder than stretching hose across the same old field but that don't require acquired structures or long trips to the training center.
This article, originally published January 26, 2011, has been updated.
Editor’s Note: What training tips do you have for hoseline deployment? Share in the comments below.