Planning and executing a viable and appealing training program is a daunting task. Funding and time are always in short supply and generating interest in the same old, routine subjects can be difficult. One way to counteract this is to work with agencies outside your department to conduct and support your training. These agencies offer much in the way of training opportunities and support. Unfortunately, there are many pitfalls that come with these agencies as well. Coordination needs are complicated and constant. Uninformed, mistrustful superiors must be educated to the possibilities and realities of working with other organizations.
In today's fire-rescue service, I doubt that there are many departments that haven't worked out a training or operational MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) with other emergency response agencies. Most of us understand that we are responding together and we must train together. In New Orleans, we have opened our special operations training (rope/confined-space rescue and the like) to law enforcement, medical responders and fire service agencies from several jurisdictions in our area. The biggest challenge has been making initial contact with these organizations. We use personal contacts, professional contacts, the Internet, written documents and word of mouth to promote joint training. We conduct joint water-rescue training (obviously a high priority in our area) with the New Orleans Police Department, New Orleans Emergency Medical Services and fire departments from other jurisdictions on a regular basis. New Orleans EMS has helped us teach our first responder course to our recruits, which has ramped up the course considerably. The largest and most obvious advantage of conducting this joint training is that it breaks down the barriers between the services. We have found that there are not a whole lot of walls between the street guys anyway, but those that are left come down pretty quickly when we all sit down at the same table and start to plan something that will benefit us all. One of the biggest advantages is that we make contacts, forge bonds, build bridges and open up a whole world of possibilities. I have rarely run into a problem so difficult that it couldn't be solved by contacting a friend in another agency with a different outlook, and an additional set of strategies, tactics and logistics to bring to bear.
One emergency response organization not to be overlooked is the U.S. Coast Guard. When the New Orleans Fire Department received 18 boats from the Leary Foundation, we had to come up with a training program for the crews. We went to the USCG Auxiliary, a volunteer adjunct to the active-duty Coast Guard that does everything the active-duty guys do except law enforcement. We turned their America's Boating Course into a surface boat rescue course. We have our people swim 50 meters in their duty uniforms (to ensure that no one goes into the water who cannot get themselves out of trouble), conduct several life vest drills, several water entry drills, and what I like to call "death by power point," on day one. On day two, we get out on a local lake and conduct navigation drills, man-overboard drills and person-in-the-water recovery drills. We also work with the active-duty side of the Coast Guard house. We have arranged with the local Coast Guard to conduct regular helicopter operations training and are conducting search and rescue (SAR) training days with the local active Coast Guard station. The result has been several "call outs" with the Coast Guard for SAR missions, as we add some depth to their lake searches by being able to get our 18-foot flat boats a lot closer to shore than their bigger boats. On one of these missions, our brothers in the Jefferson Parish East Bank Fire Department got a couple of saves.