Introduction to Multi-Company Operations Training

One of the most important components of any fire department's training and development program should be Multi-Company Operations. There are a host of topic's which may be applicable when conducting such drills; but for the purpose of this session, we will focus on fire suppression. Perhaps in future articles, we'll broaden our scope into EMS, special operations, and SWAT/Criminal activity situations.

There are many reasons for conducting Multi-Company Training:

  • To present realistic challenges to the organizations officer's and firefighter's in a safe and controlled environment

  • To evaluate the performance of the individual members of a company

  • To evaluate the efficiency and performance of each individual working collectively as a member of a company

  • To evaluate the efficiency of a company functioning as a part of the fire ground team

  • To maintain a standard of over-all efficiency and consistency in the organization

  • To observe companies perform under realistic conditions

  • To observe the companies performing tasks in real time

  • To evaluate the efficiency and limitations of equipment and apparatus

  • To test the efficiency of the organizations Standard Operating Procedures (SOP"s), such as: communications, size-up, apparatus positioning, pumping procedures, hose lays, and command procedures

  • To introduce new Standard Operating Procedures, or individual changes in components of existing procedures

  • To introgate mutual aid companies into the Multi-Company drills - we must all work together to build trust. This is the best opportunity to learn what to expect.

How often should Multi-Company Training be conducted:
Based upon my experience, each individual firefighter should participate in at least two Multi-Company training exercises each year. This is for the purpose of maintaining efficiency and consistency within the organization. Such sessions should be an average of four hours in length, and include at least three separate drills. In Georgia, the climate in which to perform Multi-Company training is during the months of May and September. (October is actually more suitable, since this month records the least amount rain fall. However, the Atlanta Braves play in the World Series far too often for the instructor to hold the firefighters attention). Schedule the sessions Monday through Thursday for three weeks, and then allow the fourth week for make-up of those firefighters that may have missed their regularly scheduled training date (this schedule is for a department with an average of 150 to 300 members).

By conducting the training sessions using this schedule, the individual firefighter participates in Multi-Company training a minimum of eight-hours each year. (The Insurance Service Office (ISO) offers points up to six hours per year for night training; so maintain complete records).

Should Multi-company Training be conducted during the day or at night:
I much prefer conducting both sessions at night. My reasoning for this is simple. If a firefighter can perform the task under the most challenging of circumstances, darkness, performing the same task in "real life" and during day light hours will be simpler. Have the firefighter utilize all the equipment they would normally utilize during an actual event! This aquanauts the firefighter with the equipment in a controlled environment, as well as allowing for the evaluation of the equipment. If the equipment is going to malfunction, this is the time to learn of such, not when lives are on the line!

In addition, many departments' relay on non-paid professional firefighter's whose full-time positions require them to be at their post during business hours. Such training must be conducted during the evening hours, or on a Saturday.

Plan a one-hour briefing prior to the drills, include: safety guidelines, and an overview of the goals and objectives of each individual drill. Establish the time for the briefing to begin approximately one hour before nightfall, so that it will be dark at the conclusion of the briefing. Encourage the firefighters to utilize all emergency lighting equipment when responding, make it as realistic as possible. (This practice must be conducted in a controlled area, not on city streets with motorist).

Who should participate in Multi-Company Training:
The answer is simple, all certified firefighters in the organization. Let's explore the reason for this:

Fire Chief & Deputies:

Command Officers: Command Officers should be present at all drills involving their personnel. Allow the company officer's to perform their duties, establishing a plan of action, then set it into motion. When the timing is right, the command officer should come in and take over command functions, just as it will occur in an actual event.

Fire Investigator's/ Public Education Officer's: The investigators must be well versed in the procedures utilized by firefighter's when establishing a hypothesis concerning the point(s) of origin, as well as the manner in which a fire spread. You'll be glad you participated in such drills when a well-versed defense attorney drills you for such information in the midst of a high profile arson case.

Public Education Officers must explain the organization's procedures when making presentations, and the knowledge of conducting such drills will be reassuring to the public.

A noteworthy comment is warranted here: I'm not expressing that it be mandatory that personnel who function in these position's dress out and pull hose, but then again, it would be beneficial if possible.

All Certified Firefighters: As I have already expressed, all certified firefighters should participate in Multi-Company training.

Should Mutual Aid Companies Participate in Multi-Company Training:
Absolutely! If your organization responds to alarms with other fire departments, which most do, they should be included in the drills. This is imperative to building trust with the firefighters, as well as learning each other's equipment, apparatus, hose lays, and procedures. Do it!

Where should Multi-Company Training be Conducted:
If your organization has a training ground, this will be an ideal beginning. If not, locate a suitable parking lot, or block off city streets with the assistance of police. As such sessions become well organized, I would suggest approaching local industry, and other such target hazards in your community. Then conduct Multi-Company training, including the employees, at these facilities.

Should first-out equipment and apparatus be utilized in Multi-Company Training:
Absolutely! Practice like you plan to play. Train with the same equipment and apparatus that you'll be expected to operate on the fire ground! This includes breathing air from your SCBA's, and utilizing your portable radios on a channel so as not to interfere with the dispatch of emergency calls.

What about utilizing an Accountability System:
If your organization utilizes a formal Accountability System on the fire ground, and I hope this is true, the same system should be utilized during all training exercises! Use it!

Evaluating proficiency of the training and critique:
The training officers should develop a skills check sheet, including a time line. Utilize more than one training officer, or command officer not participating in the particular drill being conducted. Have them evaluate a segment of the drill, this may very from strategical, tactical or task, such as command procedures, pump operations, and hose lays. While the companies are taking up, the evaluators should meet, compare notes, and prioritize the focus of the critique. Remember! Use positive re-enforcement! This is a learning experience!

Should Live Fire Training be conducted during Multi-Company Drills:
I have utilized live fire exercises successfully, but only while utilizing our burn building under strict guidelines. I do not agree with the use of an acquired structure for such drills, even during the most carefully planned drills, the fire could flashover, and firefighters could be seriously injured or killed. Follow the guidelines of the NFPA standards, and other state and Federal laws. Have a separate command structure (creating a command structure within a command structure) with charged cover lines, and at least one safety officer in place; a totally separate command structure which envelops the command structure being utilized by the companies as part of the drill. By doing so, should there be a problem, the training command structure was already in place, and prepared to take control of the operation. Do this with the up most care, and utilize NFPA standards.

Multi-Company Training should be conducted on a regular basis and include all certified firefighters within the organization. The expectations of the training should be clearly expressed prior to the drills, with an emphasis on safety. First-out equipment and apparatus, as well as radio equipment should be utilized as it will be utilized during an actual event. Design an evaluation sheet, and critique performance using positive re-enforcement. Maintain these records for documentation of the training, as well as for future reference.