Can you teach an old dog new tricks? According to Paul Hasenmeier, the answer is yes. In his FDIC session “Train As If Your Life Depends on It,” Hasenmeier, a lieutenant with the Huron (Ohio) Fire Department, offered some useful tips for how to ensure that every member of your department—from the most seasoned “old dog” to the greenest rookie—gets the most out of training. In fact, he explained that what may initially seem like a training problem—having members with such varied levels of experience—is actually a quite beneficial, because all groups bring something unique to the table. Consider this: Although not super tech-savvy, the veterans can offer invaluable advice related to hands-on experience (or “manual labor” as one attendee called it); and although not very experienced with the hands-on work, the younger personnel tend to be great with technology, one of the fire service’s biggest resources—and challenges. So as you can see, everyone has a lot to learn from each other.
Now to the fun stuff. Hasenmeier presented a host of training ideas, all in the hopes of getting the attendees’ creative juices flowing. Here are just a few:
1. Forcible-Entry: Test your “baseball swing” accuracy with a donated telephone pole. Set up the pole and mark it with dots that your crew members need to strike with their tools. “It’s not about power. It’s about accuracy,” Hasenmeier reminded, adding, “It’s like a game. Some of the best training evolutions we do are things that are both fun and a great learning opportunity.”
2. Aerial Bucket Placement: Play the “Cone Game.” Do you have what it takes to properly position the bucket exactly where you want? Test your skills by tying a traffic cone to the bottom of the bucket with a 5-foot-long rope. Then place a second cone in any location, like the top of a building, and see if you can position the bucket and lower it just right so the cone hanging from the bucket is placed atop the second cone.
3. Maydays: Hasenmeier offered some ideas about how to simulate the real-life conditions firefighters are facing during mayday situations. You can send a firefighter into room with an obscured facemask and then, without their knowledge, shut the door and place a chock under it so when they try to exit, they can’t open the door. You can throw a tarp over a firefighter (again wearing an obscured facemask) and stand on the edges of the tarp to roughly simulate a collapse scenario. Finally, you can use a simple rope knot to simulate a firefighter’s SCBA getting caught on something. The drills may sound unnerving but they’re all intended to see how a firefighter responds when things don’t go as expected. Do they call a mayday like they should, or do they panic? “We instill how we operate during training,” Hasenmeier reminded. This is the place to teach firefighters how to handle difficult situations.
4. Stabilization: Most folks want to play with struts on the “big cars” as soon as possible, Hasenmeier said. But before you let them play in the big leagues, they need to start small. Have your firefighters set up struts to stabilize something as simple as a picnic table. When they’ve mastered that (the true test is whether they’ll sit on the top of the picnic table themselves afterward), then you can move to a car—a small car—and once they’ve mastered that, they can move to the truly big vehicles. Entanglement props are easy (and cheap) to make, Hasenmeier added.
5. Entanglement Props: Hasenmeier noted that most entanglement props seem to be designed to having firefighters (all clad in PPE and SCBA) maneuver their way through a series of ropes or wires. “But what are firefighters supposed to do if entangled in wires?” he asked. He reminded attendees that we should also train firefighters to first recognize the danger of being entangled in wires, stay put until help arrives if necessary, and avoid going farther into the obstruction.
6. Building Construction: How do you motivate firefighters to stay up to date on the “hard, boring stuff” like building construction, especially since most firefighters want to get their hands on stuff to really understand it? Hasenmeier suggested collecting as many types of building materials as possible (small samples work just fine), and grouping them in a box so firefighters can touch and work with them anytime they want a refresher on different types of lumber.
7. Foam: Need to convince certain members of your crew about the benefits of foam? Set up a simple experiment where you ignite two identical piles of straw and pallets. Use water on one and foam on the other and see which fire is extinguished faster.
8. Night Training: Hasenmeier reminded attendees of something quite obvious: Incidents happen at night too, so firefighters should train at night to best mirror real-life working conditions. One example of training his department did one night: Hasenmeier announced to his crew that there was a “victim” trapped under a heavy object. He first had them determine which truck they should take to the scene and why. And then once on the “scene,” they found a Rescue Randy that needed saving. The crew had to work through the entire response process, which included setting up air bags and cribbing, and extracting the victim.
9. PT: Get a large (and I mean large) tire, and have crews lay in a circle on their backs and do reverse push-ups in unison to lift the tire. They’ll need to work together and communicate well, all while getting a great arm workout. What’s better: Make a competition out of it. Get a few tires and pit crews against each other to see who can lift the most in a set amount of time.
10. Fitness: Sign up for the 5K running events in your community or at conferences. This time, don’t make a competition out of it. Wear your fire department T-shirts and run together. It’s a bonding experience—not to mention a good way to show your community the camaraderie among members of your department.
This is just a sampling of some of the creative drills Hasenmeier offered. He encouraged attendees to train on just about everything you can imagine: VES (vent, enter, search), ladder throwing, car fires, extrication, elevator rescues, drafting, bailouts, fire attack using acquired structures, structural collapse, trench rescues and so much more. Clearly, there’s not a lack of topics. But there can be a lack of motivation, which is why Hasenmeier says it’s critical to keep training fresh and fun. That way, he said, you can get the troops out of the recliner. “If you get one person out of the recliner, someone else will follow. It starts with one person doing something small and it builds,” he said. “Set the example. Your life depends on it.”
By Janelle Foskett, managing editor, FireRescue magazine