Whether you're a full-scale career agency or a tiny rural volunteer operation, fire departments have one thing in common when it comes to training: keeping up with the latest in firefighting technology through formal education can be time consuming and costly. When the Coquitlam Fire Department...
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Whether you're a full-scale career agency or a tiny rural volunteer operation, fire departments have one thing in common when it comes to training: keeping up with the latest in firefighting technology through formal education can be time consuming and costly.
When the Coquitlam Fire Department (CFD) in Coquitlam, British Columbia, purchased a series of new compressed-air foam (CAF) systems, the majority of firefighters were unfamiliar with using the new technology. Protecting approximately 125,000 residents within an 80-square-mile coverage area east of Vancouver, the CFD operates out of three stations staffed by 136 firefighters. Receiving operator instruction on the new CAFS was essential, but educating 136 firefighters through factory orientation courses simply wasn't feasible.
To obtain the vital education, but save on costs and downtime, the CFD worked with Waterous Co., the manufacturer of the department's CAF units, and arranged product orientation and education courses for the department's emergency vehicle operators (EVO) committee, a group of eight select firefighters.
"All of our front-line engines are equipped with Waterous Eclipse CAFSystems," said Assistant Chief Tom Boechler, who coordinated the factory education courses. "Part of the purchase agreement with Waterous encompassed training on the apparatus, and we arranged for a train-the-trainer program. This option made the most sense, simply because it was too costly and time consuming to have the factory train all our firefighters at the same time."
Working with factory representatives, the EVO committee participated in an in-house education program that focused on the new apparatus, and then went on to educate their colleagues. The end result provided cost- and time-saving advantages, while creating a foundation for effective ongoing education for the Canadian department to keep its firefighters' skills up-to-speed — essential criteria in maintaining a fully capable staff.
The First Day of School
The CFD courses began with classroom orientation, then moved to hands-on activity and practice, all of which were facilitated by Waterous factory representatives with significant firefighting experience. Topics in the classroom included foam properties, CAFS components and operation, nozzle reactions, safety and troubleshooting.
"In the classroom we looked at the theoretical aspects of operating the CAF systems, then moved to practical components on the training grounds and in smokehouses," Boechler said.
After completing drills on the training grounds, the CFD used an acquired structure for a live burn, which let the firefighters learn to use the CAF units in a more realistic setting. Because of restrictions governing live burns, the acquired structure was a rarity, and provided a tremendous educational opportunity for the EVO committee.
"In our area, it's very difficult to obtain acquired structures, so this was a great training opportunity for our EVO crew," Boechler said. "The structure was a two-story abandoned house, and we put a number of sets in the structure to practice what we had learned in the classroom and on the training grounds."
Continuing to be cost-conscious and time-efficient, the CFD organized and facilitated the live-fire educational situation on their own without the assistance of the factory representatives.
"We didn't have an acquired structure available when Waterous came to do the orientation, and it's simply not cost-effective to have the experts come every time we needed training," Boechler said. "So once we had access to a suitable structure, we conducted the live-burn situation based on what they taught us in the classroom."
Implementing the classroom education, the EVO crew lit approximately 10 sets in the house, one at a time. The firefighters would let the fire build up, knock it down, then light another set in a different area of the home. Lighting isolated sets in an assortment of areas within the structure provided numerous opportunities for the firefighters to experience the capabilities of the CAF systems and learn a variety of suppression techniques for fighting fires under different conditions.