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The opening article in this series (Firehouse®, April 2013) introduced the idea that the success of the hoseline stretch is based on four phases – preparation, size-up, making the stretch and advancing the attack line to extinguish the fire. The purpose of this series is to reinforce the importance of knowing how to properly stretch and operate attack hoselines. This month’s article presents an in-depth focus on phase one – preparation.
Preparation, the first and most important phase, starts with basic training, the beginning of one’s journey as a firefighter. This is where the foundation is laid for future success. In my fire service career, no other training has had such a major impact and influence as my basic training. My instructors were confident firefighters who integrated real fireground experience into the lessons they taught.
The fire service at that time (the 1980s) was still training people at a mastery skill level. We drilled on stretching and operating attack lines over and over to the point that I would go home and have dreams about hose coming off the engine. My basic training took place in a much simpler time, when the teaching focused on developing proficiency in basic firefighting disciplines. Today’s basic training, however, isn’t so basic, as the fire service is evolving to keep pace with the changing needs and threats with which society and our culture confront us. Add to that an economic climate that is forcing many fire departments to serve their communities with fewer firefighters and less funding than before. Many departments are forced to balance taking the time needed to adequately train rookie firefighters with pressure to put people on the street quickly and cheaply.
All of these factors have forced many departments to abandon training firefighters to a mastery skill level; instead, basic training is governed by a minimum standard that merely introduces firefighters to the concepts and skills of firefighting, which is to say they may not have to prove they are proficient at performing the skills. When firefighters graduate from basic training and report to a station or a company, it is the job of the officers and senior firefighters to complete their training and ensure they are proficient in performing basic firefighting skills – and that includes mastering the stretch.
Officers’ training responsibilities
Set rookie firefighters up for success, not failure. Conduct an interview with each rookie firefighter:
- Take the time to get to know them. You need to learn about their character and attitude.
- Provide clear expectations for them. Be transparent to establish trust and open communication.
- Get involved in their training by taking a hands-on approach.
Provide each firefighter with a journal to keep notes and track progress:
- Establish training goals and priorities. Have them keep a training log in the journal.
- Check the journals periodically and track their progress. The journals should be organized and neat.
- The journals will be a valuable resource throughout their careers. Make sure they take it seriously.
Establish a hands-off period. There is a tradition of hazing and playing practical jokes on rookies:
- You want each rookie to focus on the task at hand, not what prank is waiting around the corner.
- It will be your job to finish their training and ensure they can perform basic skills.
- Remind the rest of your crew it could be their life in the rookie’s hands, so take it seriously!
Senior firefighters’ responsibilities
Be a role model for rookie firefighters. They are like sponges, soaking up all of your knowledge.
- They will be watching every move you make and doing everything you do.
- Remember that attitude and passion are contagious.
- Be humble and willing to share experiences and mistakes.
Coordinate training with the company officer to ensure consistency:
- Collaborate with the officer so you are aware of the goals and priorities that have been set.
- Involve the whole company to build teamwork.
- Report back to the officer regularly.