One of the most difficult things about becoming an officer in a small town fire department is realizing that not only do you have to show up for the drills but that you also have to plan them. This is not a bad thing, as a good drill is a learning experience for the person running it as well as the people doing it. Still, it can be a daunting task, especially in a tightly run department such as the New Milford, NJ, Fire Department, which has a very good reputation in the area, and very high expectations of its members. Drills also take on extra value in a quiet town where working fires come few and far between.
So upon being elected lieutenant, I began to scrounge around for drill ideas. Not the big, multi-hour drills mind you, those were the province of the chiefs, nor the department wide drills, which, in New Milford, are often run by a committee of ex-chiefs. My specialty was going to be the Sunday morning drill, the drill for members who showed up for breakfast and who did not want to spend the entire day at the firehouse.
The drills had to be relevant, they had to be to the point and, let's face it, had to be entertaining. These were not to be the mandated drills, whose percentages were carefully calculated and applied towards membership status, but instead were extra drills, ones that a member could miss without penalty. So if I wanted the members to work, they had to want to be there. My motto became "One skill, one drill, one hour." Resources were available: Going to Amazon.com and typing in "firefighting drills" gave me several excellent texts, as did a general search of the internet using the same phrase, including the website you are now visiting.
Firefighter One textbooks have sections on firefighting skills that can easily be worked up into drills, especially the excellent Delmar text. Another valuable resource that should not be overlooked is the members themselves. They know what works, and what doesn't, and many are only too eager to let you know which is which.
The firefighters who seem to complain all the time are all too easy to ignore, but often they are speaking the truth. Rather than tuning them out as complainers and whiners, a more valuable approach is to look past the tone to the substance. What also worked for me was simply exploring the engine, looking into compartments for tools and equipment that, in a small town, are rarely needed, but, when needed, are needed badly. Do it someday; you will be surprised at the amount of equipment you can remember using, just not in a long time. Thinking of ways to reintroduce the members to this rarely used equipment has given me several valuable drill ideas, which I hope to share with you in the coming months.
As for making them entertaining, I decided to make them competitive, forming teams and timing the drill. Nothing makes firefighters happier than a chance to talk trash to other firefighters.
Drill # 1: The Adaptor Drill
Objective: To teach how to attach hoses and nozzles of different diameter into one working hose length.
- A watch with a second hand or a stopwatch
- One engine
- 2 lengths of 1 3/4-inch hose
- 2 lengths of 2 1/2-inch hose
Setup: 10 minutes.
Arrange the four lengths of hose so that male ends cross over male ends and female ends cross over female ends. Alternate 1 3/4-inch and 2 1/2-inch lengths of hose. Have a male end of the 1 3/4-inch hose adjacent to the engine outlet. At the end place a nozzle you rarely use. I used a small Rockwood Navy nozzle with a piercing applicator next to a 2 1/2 female end. Extra hose lengths can be added to increase the complexity of the drill, but be sure you don't have more hose than you have adaptors to couple them together.