Company Level Training - The 20 Minute Drill: Part 1

Aug. 7, 2006
There are several, short 20-minute drills that accomplish numerous objectives and still keep the troops from revolting and commandeering the station.

We have all worked shifts when it seemed as though there were not enough hours in the day to get all of the things done that needed to get done. Between inspections, runs, cooking, cleaning and reports, you simply could not do it all. Fortunately, not every shift is like this. But you do have those days when the workload doesn't let up.

On days like that, it is easy to throw training to the side. I know because I have done it many times. How about the Sunday during March Madness when the year's best games are on television all day, the weather is just short of a monsoon, there is a chill in the air, and everyone just wants to lounge around and make the calls when they come in - nothing more, nothing less.

This is when a short drill, one that can be done at the kitchen table, comes in handy. Nowhere is it stated that drills have to be complicated, intricate and long-winded. There are several, short 20-minute drills that accomplish numerous objectives and still keep the troops from revolting and commandeering the station.

Remember, company level training is not earth-shattering material. It is the same stuff you get in rookie school. This training is simply a refresher of skills you already have, but don't get to use often. Some days, just doing anything is a victory in and of itself! So here they are:

  1. What's on the truck and where is it? This drill starts off pretty slow and mundane. Have personnel take turns asking each other where a particular item is located on the truck. You can make this exercise as specific as necessary, i.e. The fire line tape is on the left side, middle compartment. Or you can say, the K-12 is on the left side, middle compartment, bottom shelf, on the left side of the compartment.

    Requiring detailed responses makes it a little more interesting for the troops. The first one to miss three questions does the dishes for the day or washes the truck by him/herself the next shift. Make the drill competitive, and you will get a better response.

    Again, this is not an elaborate training drill. I think you will be surprised to discover how many firefighters do not know where everything is on the engine, truck or rescue the way they should. This is an exciting way to make sure that they do.

  2. Ropes and knots. There are so many knots in the fire service, and it is almost impossible to know all of them. You have to determine which knots are used most by your department and crew. First, gather some six-foot sections of cotton rope. Have your crew practice tying knots. Clove hitch, bowline, figure eight, figure eight on a bight, figure eight follow through. The list is endless.

    This exercise is a little different from the ropes and knots drill that I will give you in the future as it does not involve any tools. There is no hoisting or tying off to anything. You just want personnel to tie the knots in the comfort of the station. This is just an easy refresher of a basic skill that we all possess. Use it or lose it certainly applies to this skill.

  3. Cranking the power tools. Do you have a chainsaw? How about a K-12? Or any other power tool? When is the last time every member of your crew, including officers, started the power tools on your rig?

    We recently had a shift where we got hammered. The calls stayed steady all day long, and there was hardly time to do anything around the station. Dinnertime rolled around, and it was time for me to start cooking. I put the oven-fried pork chops in the oven to cook for 25 minutes. My crew had a game of ping-pong going in the truck room.

    I went out to the truck room and took the K-12 off the engine. I asked the guys to join me. We were all going to take turns starting the saw. I had everyone start the saw with a gloved hand. Practice like you play. We then took turns changing the blades from metal to wood and back again. This is a skill that does not often get practiced. Think about changing these blades at the scene of a working fire. Do you think you would be very proficient at it?

    I looked over, and one of my guys had pulled out the owner's manual to the saw. He started rattling off different facts about the saw. We all walked away from that experience having learned something new about the saw. This took a grand total of 20 minutes, which left just enough time to eat dinner and only get interrupted once. Have no fear, the ping-pong game continued after the dishes were washed.

  4. High-rise procedures. Some cities have more high-rise structures than one-story, wood-frame houses. Those departments know their high-rise procedures like the back of their hand. Those departments are the exception, not the rule.

    Fort Worth, TX, has only a handful of high-rise structures. My territory has none. This fact makes this training session all the more important.

    When was the last high-rise fire that your company fought? Was the scene mass chaos or did everyone perform the correct assignments, in the correct order?

    Pull out and dust off your department's procedures for fighting high-rise fires. What does the first-on engine do? What are some of the functions of Lobby, and who is responsible for Lobby? This involves a quick training session at the table, going over the assignments of the different companies according to their arrival sequence.

    Some companies, such as the one to which I am currently assigned, may never fight a high-rise fire in their careers. But it is always a possibility, one for which we all need to be prepared. When you're third on, with fire showing from the 21st floor, you do not want to be guessing if you are water supply or floors above.

As a company officer, you should participate in these drills. You are a member of the crew and are expected to have the same knowledge and skills. You should never ask anything of your crew that you are not willing to do. Remember the title of FDNY Battalion Chief John Salka's book, First In, Last Out. Your crew will be watching you. Set the tone for the shift.

I welcome your feedback on these articles. If you have an idea for a training session, send me an e-mail to: [email protected]. If you have a better way to train on any particular subject, send it to me. I will always give credit to any individual and their department for any ideas that get used in an article.


Larry Manasco has been with the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department for 11 years and has has served as a lieutenant for the past three years. He holds the classification of Fire Officer I and Hazardous Materials Technician. He currently works in one of the busiest engine companies in Fort Worth. He has worked for Firehouse World in San Diego where he was an assistant instructor for FDNY B.C. Salka's "Get Out Alive" H.O.T. class. You can contact Larry by e-mail at [email protected].

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