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Simple and Inexpensive Hands-on Training Drills

Training officers always hear a very common complaint from the rank and file: “We always do the same thing every drill! Why can’t we do something different?” It is difficult to continue to develop new training programs that spark excitement within the ranks, however, taking some basic training topics and providing a slight variation to the material can provide some change, and stimulate the interest of the troops. Here are a few examples for your next training drill:

Water supply/fire hydrants: While it can be difficult to increase the excitement of getting water, change the parameters of the drill; For example, change the direction of the lay, so that the gate valve has to go on different discharges. Additionally, include a second engine that has to pull water from the same hydrant: working around the initial supply line will require the second engine company to be more efficient in grabbing water (See Photo 1).

Stretching attack lines: As it has been said in the past, as the first line goes, so does the fire. This author has seen many instances where the first line off the engine has not been efficient to suppress the fire (See Photo 2). Stretching handlines is a critical fireground skill; the line must be in place quickly. For your next drill, take the larger handlines into the structure and lay them into position both wet and dry. The practice of taking the larger lines off the rig in training increases the potential of placing them into service on scene. 

Search and rescue: Finding different layouts for search drills has become a common complaint for realistic training. One solution to this issue is to construct a maze that can be interchangeable. This maze has five sections to it, which can be swapped into multiple positions to change the layout for each member (see Photo 3). Sections measure six feet in length and four feet in height, and contain various hazards within each section. They can be put into a long maze, or can be used as a single station each, to address the specifics of each skill.

Retired fire hose can provide assembly material for rescue mannequin construction. Our station utilizes hoses of all sizes, used to simulate victims of all sizes for rescue and removal (See Photo 4). Be sure to include proper patient care and lifting techniques when treating simulated victims.

Rapid intervention/survival skills: It is tough to find spaces to use to perform rapid intervention company or self-rescue skills; therefore it makes sense to invest a little money and some effort into constructing some props that can utilized in house. An online search can provide detailed instructions on how to build some common rapid intervention stations: wall breach propsDenver Drill props, and entanglement hazards can be built and easily stored at the station, and can be placed into service for the training session (See Photos 5 and 6). 

Rope/high-angle skills: Next time, take the “high” out of high-angle rescue. Ask your members what they would do if no overhead anchor existed when you needed it; the answer can prove to be an outside-the-box solution. Many times, anchors and directional anchors can be made from the basic equipment that is carried on the first-due engine (See Photo 7). 

Additionally, take the time to focus on patient packaging. Make a list of victim injuries and demonstrate how each injury would result in a modification in the packaging system used. Members should be able to perform each type of packaging needed for each patient. Include patient removal into the drill to reinforce the packaging skills.

Vehicle extrication: Vehicle extrication training does not have to include hydraulic tools. Hone the skills for on-scene operations prior to cutting metal, such as cribbing and air-bag usage. Many injuries on the extrication scene can be attributed to poor stabilization and high-pressure bag issues. For your next session, try lifting and stabilizing an irregular object, instead of a vehicle (See Photo 8). A trip to the local municipal yard can find a large irregular shaped block, barrier, tank or other object that can be used for a lifting and stabilizing lesson. The ability to lift and stabilize rapidly can prove to be critical when it comes to victim removal. 

Water/ice rescue: We are at the mercy of Mother Nature for proper weather conditions at the training site. Instead, our department took the advice from a fellow rescue instructor and constructed our own floating ice prop. The prop is a two-section raft assembly, connected by two hard links that provide flexibility and movement between both sections. A large hole is cut and reinforced from the underside, simulating a hole within the ice (See Photo 9). The prop is floated into position and members have to make their way out to the “ice” to retrieve the victim. 


Difficult economic times can result in limitations in department operations, and training is usually the first division to see budget cuts. That being said, it is still possible to create quality hands-on skill sessions that can benefit the members of your department with limited resources. The above are a few examples that can be developed with little to no monetary investments. A little creativity and imagination can go a long way towards a successful training program, and your department will reap the benefits time after time.

Until next time, stay focused and stay safe. 

MICHAEL P. DALEY is a lieutenant and training officer with the Monroe Township, NJ, Fire District No. 3, and is an instructor with the Middlesex County Fire Academy, where he is responsible for rescue training curriculum development. Mike has an extensive background in fire service operations and holds degrees in business management and public safety administration. He was named a Master Fire Instructor from the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. Mike serves as a rescue officer with the New Jersey Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 and is a managing member for Fire Service Performance Concepts, a consultant group that provides assistance and support to fire departments with their training programs and course development. You can reach Michael by e-mail