The primary purpose of conducting Multi-Company Training is for the purpose of introducing and modifying procedures, as well as maintaining consistency in operations throughout the organization. One of the most common questions addressed to me by firefighters upon arriving for Multi-Company Training has been, "How many times do I have to catch a hydrant?" This could be, and has been, a consistent valid question when conducting recurrent training. After all, if the companies are simply being put through their paces as a matter of meeting the department's training requirements (doing the numbers), or for achieving points for the Insurance Service Office (ISO) Rating Schedule, negative attitudes will soon develop.
Firefighters will quickly become concerned that the training sessions are not designed to enhance their performance, but rather to accumulate training hours for some type of credit. Sure the firefighters wish to contribute to the goals of the organization. However, if the philosophy of the training officer is, "Do as you are told to do," a misguided attitude which seems to have encroached upon our profession recently, the firefighter will soon resent having to participate in the drills. Training officers must be prepared to validate the worth and the contribution the training will have upon the individual firefighter as well as the organization.
Should this mentality of doing the same hose lays over and over each time the companies report for Multi-Company Training be allowed to continue, the organization, or even the individual training officer who cultivates this philosophy, is re-enforcing the negative attitudes! Of course it takes less time to prepare for a drill when using the same lesson plan as last year, and the year before that. The "Do as I say do," mentality is a quick manner in which to resolve concerns that the drills are accomplishing little more than that which might be just as easily accomplished while back at the station house. The training officer may also have a negative attitude because the fire chief has given him/her the directive, "Do it because I said do it!" Even so, the training officer must over come such adversities, and not allow this mentality to be transferred to the training participants. Bottom line is, the training officer must treat the participants with respect and as adult's; and appreciate the fact that adult's learn by problem solving.
As the training officer, ask the question, "How might we enhance the performance of the individual firefighter who will be participating in the drills?" Because, as soon as the memorandum announcing the schedule of the Multi-Company Training arrives at the station, the first question the firefighter will be asking is, "How will I benefit from this training?" In order to fulfill the individual firefighter's expectations, the training officer must become creative!
In my first years as a career firefighter, the majority of the departments' Multi-Company Training was conducted in a stadium parking lot. We had one hydrant and all the vehicle traffic we could dodge while rolling up the hose. Our training officers were great, and made the very best of the situation. Soon, we changed locations to new streets being constructed at different locations within the county. Now, rather than simply laying supply lines off the engine in a straight line as we did in the parking lot, the engine would lay out the hose from a hydrant, proceed down the street, and turn onto a side street. Therefore, the engine was no longer in the line of sight of the firefighter catching the hydrant; which is more realistic and presented a greater challenge to the company. This brought about a higher degree of difficulty during the training, we were performing tasks in the streets where we would be functioning during an actual alarm, and the change of scenery also enhanced firefighter attitudes.
Also of interest early in my career was the fact that we would routinely lay dry lines during Multi-Company Training. This was because the hose jackets during this time period were made mostly of natural fibers, which would mildew unless properly cleaned and dried. In addition, there was a concern that the Engine Company, which remained in service while participating in the training, would be delayed in responding to an alarm when flowing water. Thankfully, shortly after I was assigned to the training division, the introduction of synthetic materials for hose jackets had already resolved the fabric mildew problem, and the hose could be used for flowing water, then packed back into the hose bed. No, the engines were not pulled by horses back then, I'm not that old, but even now, it still amuses me!
This opportunity presented a new challenge for the firefighter's during Multi-Company Training, a continuation of consistency and standardization of hose lays, as well as allowing the engineer's to practice their pumping skills while performing in a more realistic setting. When the companies are performing in a more realistic time sequence, and actually flowing water and utilizing multiple hand-lines, or perhaps a master stream device, the firefighter's are tasked to establish the lines, and the engineer's are challenged to flow the appropriate pressures while maintaining a positive water source. The officer is challenged to coordinate his/her company, and blend their companies? efforts into the over-all operation.
Also, expect errors to be made while performing the drills. The result of which should not bring the wrath of the department down upon the individual firefighter or the company making the error. Training is the arena for such errors to surface, and the training officer should be prepared to cope with such occurrences through coaching and positive re-enforcement. I have had many discussions with company officer's concerning a poor performance of one of their firefighters (in complete privacy) and collectively arrived at a means of improvement while training at the station level.
As time progressed, we identified facilities in the community in which to perform Multi-Company Training. This proved to be one of the most advantageous methods of preparing for an incident at the given facility, or a similar type facility. It was surprising the cooperation local industry offered. Most wish to establish themselves as good corporate neighbors; joining forces with the fire department serves as an excellent example of this community-based commitment.
For example, one chemical company, when asked to allow our personnel to train at their facility brought in one of their leading safety experts from out-of-state to provide specialized instruction concerning the companies operation. During the training exercises, the companies? local associates participated in the drill, and assumed the role they would normally play should there be an actual incident at the facility. The safety expert would closely observe the drill, then offer suggestions to both the facilities personnel, as well as firefighters. Another facility shut down a large processing machine in its plant for three days; so as to offer our firefighter's, on all three shifts, an opportunity to conduct Confined Space Rescue training at their facility. This corporation also brought in out-of-town specialist's to instruct classes, and evaluate the drills. This cost the facility several thousand dollars each day that the machine was shut down, however, the team work between the plants employees and the firefighter's was well worth the effort.
As for the benefits of this type of training for the individual firefighter, this effort brought about an opportunity to participate in an on-site drill, within the environs where the firefighter may very well be called upon to perform an actual rescue or fire suppression function. The specialist at the industry shared valuable information concerning the uniqueness of the facility, as well as building a positive working relationship between private industry and emergency responders.
In my first article focusing on Multi-Company Training, I recommended that that the individual firefighter participates in such training at least twice a year. In doing so, The firefighter should expect to perform the basic tasks and functions essential to bringing about consistency and proficiency in the organizations operations. This is imperative for the purpose maintaining a high quality of minimum performance standards. In addition, the firefighter should expect and be prepared to be challenged by being presented with realistic and unique situations. The training officer should always focus on the firefighter expectations first, then the Engine Company as a team; and how the Engine Company contributes to the over-all operation. This methodology pertaining to training is imperative, because what occurs while training, will also occur during the actual alarms, when lives are on the line!
Multi-Company Training should focus upon the individual firefighter's expectations, and present a challenge that re-enforces: consistency of performance, introduces new and modified procedures, and creates a general atmosphere in which learning occurs. The training officer should utilize creativity when preparing the lesson plan for the drills. In addition, the training officer should design an instrument in which to evaluate the performance of the individual firefighter, the individual engine companies performance as a team, and how the engine company's performance contributed to the over-all operation. Should errors occur while training, the organization should fully appreciate the fact that this is the most advantageous arena for errors; and correct error's by coaching and using positive re-enforcement.