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What are your favorite firefighter training drills?

FireRescue1 contributors and board members share their top back-to-basics training

By FireRescue1 Staff

Your training determines your destiny on the fireground. Are you constantly practicing your bread-and-butter skills while learning how to handle new scenarios, or are you resting on your laurels, assuming your fire academy training will come back to you when needed? Your community expects the former – skilled and knowledgeable firefighters every time.

The 2024 Firefighter Safety Stand Down, June 16-22, emphasizes the importance of a solid, foundational training program with the theme “Fire Training: Back to Basics.” To help grow your sets and reps, we asked FireRescue1 board members and contributors to share their favorite drills – drill you can implement with your crews today. Check out their go-to training below.

Plus, we’re adding your favorite drills as well. Email the editor to with a short description (under 200 words) of your favorite back-to-basics fire training evolutions – and photo if you have one.

Eric Linnenburger: Deputy chief of operations, Westminster (Colorado) Fire Department

There is no greater difference-making tactic than Vent Enter Isolate Search (VEIS) for an engine or truck company. This is especially true for smaller resource-strapped departments or crews. It demands speed and efficiency and must be drilled on frequently if it is going to be in your arsenal.

Full VEIS evolutions should be practiced frequently, but you don’t always need a full crew or training structure to gain proficiency. Have crew conversations so roles are understood before the alarm. Train on the components separately. Time yourself pulling ladders from the rig and throwing to a pre-designated location. Throw ladders against walls if you don’t have a window to enter. Know the tools you need. Practice quick mask-ups, and be ready to shoot up the ladder right when it hits the building. Seconds matter, so find ways to shave them.

Kris Blume: Fire chief, Meridian (Idaho) Fire Department

Everything is at the mercy of cost, time and performance, so here’s an exercise that requires little time, zero cost and will improve performance – if not save your life in a low-air emergency. The wheel-breathing technique is a vital tool for managing stress and maintaining composure under pressure.


Photo/Courtesy of Kris Blume

I was introduced to the wheel-breathing technique, also known as circular or tactical breathing, by Ric Jorge. His “Warriors Breath” presentation describes how this technique is not just designed to help firefighters control their breathing and reduce anxiety, but also to enhance their performance during high-stress situations. The method involves a rhythmic, four-step process: Inhale deeply through the nose for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale slowly through the mouth for a count of four, and then pause and hold for another count of four before repeating the cycle. This pattern mirrors the spokes of a wheel, promoting a sense of balance and calm, and ultimately, better performance.

Incorporating the wheel-breathing technique into your drills serves multiple purposes. First, it aids in reducing the physiological effects of stress, such as elevated heart rate and rapid breathing, which can impair cognitive function and decision-making. Second, it provides a structured approach to stress management, enabling firefighters to remain focused and clear-headed during emergencies. Most importantly, the regular practice of this technique fosters muscle memory, ensuring that firefighters can employ it instinctively when needed.

Patrick Durham: Captain/training officer, Troy (Michigan) Fire Department

I like to use timed evolutions. The engine swiftly positions at the hydrant and mock fire address. The timer starts the moment the air brake sets. The crew promptly deploys a handline, and timing halts when the line is fully charged and the air is bled. The objective: water at the front door ASAP.

Vince Bettinazzi: Battalion chief, Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Fire Department

There were a few drills I loved to perform when I was assigned to an engine company.

One of my favorites was the “dual pull,” which was a simultaneous stretch of two preconnected handlines off the engine. We used this in the event there was a threat to exposures or needed several lines off the rig in a quick manner.

Another was the “one-minute flow,” which involved simply allowing the nozzle firefighter to work through the stream patterns and handle a hoseline for a minimum of one minute of flow time under the correct pressure.

Nicol Juratovac: Assistant chief, San Francisco Fire Department

This bread-and-butter drill takes less than 30 minutes from start time to bleeding and reloading the hose, and really gets the most bang for our buck from the driver to the firefighter, and how they operate as a crew. Everyone feels confident after the drill without feeling like we wasted time and energy.

The scenario: The engine pulls up to a working fire where they need to obtain their own uninterrupted source of supply from the closest hydrant. The scenario must have a hydrant that is no more than three 50-foot lengths of supply line (we in the SFFD run with 3-inch supply lines). The scenario is such that the second-due supply engine is not on scene or even close to it.

While the nozzleman deploys the preconnect (either the 150- or 200-foot 1¾-inch line) to the seat of the fire, the layout firefighter will assist in flaking it out, and the driver will charge the line to 100 psi upon being ordered by the officer, who is observing, conducting and participating in the drill. Upon charging the line, the nozzleman will operate the nozzle and flow water by opening the bale all the way. The driver now is pressed for time to ensure they secure a patent water supply all under the approximately 3 minutes they will have to do so before running out. That is the goal – to secure a water supply on their own before exhausting their tank water.

The driver can do this in one of two ways as it is up to them to decide:

  • Option 1: One option is to pull off three lengths of supply line, break it, and connect the female end to the Navarro (supply inlet), and drag this lengths to the hydrant. They must ensure that they have a spanner and an Ames device, which in San Francisco, is a cross contamination device required by the Water Department. Once at the hydrant, they connect and charge the hydrant all the way, return to the rig, throttle down to 60 psi, and introduce the hydrant supply, throttling back to the desired 100 psi.
  • Option 2: Another option is for the driver to pull off three lengths of supply line and apply the Hebert Hose Clamp 10 feet from the tailboard. They drag the lengths to the hydrant, ensuring they bring the spanner and Ames, connect and charge the line. They then return to the rig, disconnect the supply line beyond the clamp, connect to their inlet, loosen the clamp then kick it off, place the clamp to the tailboard so it is out of the way, throttle down to 60 psi, then introduce their supply, throttling back to the desired pressure of 100 psi.

Here’s where people mess up: Despite being drivers, they lost focus and would have to return to the rig because they forgot their spanner; they forgot the Ames cross-contamination device that our Water Department requires to be connected to all low-pressure hydrants, as it’s potable water; they ran out of tank water because they did not have a plan or failed to correctly estimate the supply line from the inlet to the hydrant, thereby running short, further delaying their ability to connect enough lengths from inlet to hydrant; or they would fail to apply the clamp correctly, thereby charging the entire hose once they opened up the hydrant.

The nozzleman has also messed up where they did not deploy the line properly. This is the time where you tell them that there are no bad loads, just bad leads, so they must know what loads they are leading. But the good thing about messing up a drill is that we do it again, and they nail it the second time around. The drill is so short that we can do it a second time so that everyone feels good about the drill instead of moping about it all day.

Trevor Frodge: Bureau chief of training, West Chester Fire Department, Ohio

When I think of back-to-basics drilling, nothing to me is more basic and more fundamental than stretching the initial attack line! Every firefighter must be proficient at hose deployment from their apparatus. Set a stopwatch and tell the firefighter to stretch, then time their performance. Make sure the nozzle and the first coupling back are married up at the point of entry and that the line is appropriately flaked with no kinks. For bonus points, start another timer and have the firefighter mask up for entry for time. The whole drill should be done in less than 2 minutes.

Keith Padgett: Fire chief (ret.), Beulah Fire District, Alabama

A firefighter’s first line of protection is their bunker gear. Properly wearing your gear ensures maximum protection from smoke, heat and flames. Knowing how to correctly don your gear is crucial for your safety and effectiveness. This is not about a “quick dress” competition but rather ensuring that you have your gear on correctly to remain safe, even if it takes a few seconds longer. At the start of every shift, take time to familiarize yourself with each piece of equipment, including the coat, pants, boots, gloves, helmet, hood and SCBA. Make sure that every item is in operational order. If not, immediately seek repair or replacement of that piece of your PPE. Practice donning and doffing your gear regularly to build muscle memory in a real-world situation, which could be in the rear seat of the fire apparatus. Always perform a buddy check to confirm everything is secure and functioning correctly. Remember, being proficient with your gear can make all the difference in protecting your life and the lives of others.

Greg Rogers: Battalion chief (ret.), Ridge Road Fire District, New York; content developer, Lexipol

Here are three back-to-basics drill suggestions:

Masking up after throw.JPG


The first few minutes: In terms of “biggest bang for your buck” drills, few are better than a “first few minutes” drill. In this drill, a company is given dispatch information and on-scene conditions of a structure fire and must complete initial fireground tasks as they would at a real incident. For an engine company, this includes advancing a handline, masking up, and entering a structure to confine the fire. While the firefighters are getting the line to the door, the officer should complete a 360. During the 360, the facilitator can update the officer on simulated conditions that may or may not affect the company’s priorities. If possible, the engineer should also establish a water supply. This can be accomplished from start to finish in just a few minutes and can be reset easily for personnel to train in different positions. As a bonus, this drill is modular, so additional companies can be added to increase the realism.

Engine company water supply challenge: This drill is intended to improve the engineer’s efficiency and practical skills while giving the rest of the crew some hands-on time for hose practices.

The engine is placed at a hydrant and two firefighters stretch a handline. The engineer charges the line, and the firefighters begin to flow water, uninterrupted. The engineer needs to establish a water supply before the tank is empty. With a 500-gallon booster tank and an 1¾-inch handline flowing between 150 and 180 gpm, the engineer will have between two and a half and three and a half minutes to meet the objective. This is a challenge but can be achieved with practice, and it gives the engineer an opportunity to refine their process. If the rig has a larger booster tank, a 2½ can be used to keep things challenging.

This quick drill can be completed in less than 5 minutes per evolution, and reset time is quick due to the limited equipment being used.

Rapid-intervention skills: Rapid-intervention skills should be second nature for everyone on the fireground.

Here’s a quick and simple single-company drill for this task. Find a room in your firehouse that has “obstacles,” like couch, equipment, chairs, etc. Utility rooms, storage spaces, and bunk rooms are some examples. Replace an SCBA cylinder with one that is half-empty or less and have a firefighter don that SCBA along with the rest of their PPE. Find a place where that firefighter will be partially hidden by furniture or other items. Turn off the lights and tell the firefighter to call a mayday and activate their PASS device. Then, send two firefighters in to locate and assist the downed firefighter. They should be equipped with hand tools and a RIC pack. The objective is to locate the firefighter, assess their condition, and refill their SCBA using the rapid-intervention crew connection. Firefighters will need to communicate with each other, provide a CAN report over the radio, and complete the task.

To make this more challenging, the victim can be positioned so that the RIC connection on their SCBA is blocked or is underneath them. This simple drill can be completed in just a few minutes and is low impact enough to allow for the entire crew to rotate between the different positions.

What it means to talk about safety and survival in an inherently unsafe profession

Learn more about the Firefighter Safety Stand Down on the official website, and visit the FireRescue1 Safety Stand Down resource page for more.