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Training Tip:  The Sunday Paper

Lt. Brad French


            Sundays in the firehouse at my department are the best days of the week:  Sunday brunch, football, and some down time from the hustle and bustle of all the other “business” days.  However, remember that to truly be effective as a company, every day (even Sunday) should be a training day.  At least for a little bit…

            One of the most simple and cost-effective training aids for a company-level drill on a Sunday morning is the local newspaper.  Beyond headlines and sports scores, the company officer should focus in on one particular area:  the real estate section.  Most Sunday newspapers, either for your own city/town or for the nearest major metropolitan area, have a real estate section filled with property transaction records, street names, pictures of houses, interior layout diagrams, apartment building descriptions, and other items of interest that can be turned into a simple but effective company-level review.  And the best part is, these are REAL houses in YOUR first-due jurisdiction.  These aren’t theoretical houses and potential interior layouts that a training officer dreams up to practice “reading” a building.  By using the local real estate section, you can provide your firefighters with realistic scenarios that you could literally respond to that same day.  Here are some quick tips for using the Sunday paper:

  • Start with streets.  Most real estate sections will have a list of property transactions grouped by jurisdiction.  Find your city or township, and even directly neighboring areas, and have a “street school” session with your crew.  What’s the best route to this address from the firehouse?  What if XYZ Street is closed on your route, then what’s the best alternate route?  What’s the quickest run to the typical hospital from that location?  How about for a transport to Children’s Hospital or some other specialty facility?

  • Next, flip to the individual real estate advertisements (the typical ones with a small picture and a paragraph or so worth of description).  Do some “street school” again to get to the address.  Now, once you’re there, size-up the structure.  This is a great way to practice reading the building.  How many bedrooms?  Where are they?  How many bathrooms?  Where are they?  Where’s the kitchen/dining area?  Where are the stairs?  Is there a basement?  Approximate square footage?  Using key exterior indicators such as number of floors, location of garage, and placement/size of windows, you should be able to get a reasonable idea of the interior layout.  Then, simply read the description below the picture and see how close you were!

  • From there, the possibilities are almost endless.  For example, use the home size to practice calculating fire flow estimations (L x W / 3, etc.).  If you’re in a rural area, figure out where the nearest fill site would be for a water shuttle operation.  Take it a step further and determine the number of tankers/tenders (based the water capacities of your mutual aid partners) that would be needed to sustain the required fire flow using variations in a simple Tanker Deliver Rate formula:   GPM = Capacity in gallons / (Fill time + travel time + dump time + travel time)

  • Use the different types and ages of houses throughout the real estate section to spark a discussion on modern vs. legacy building construction and the dangers of lightweight wood trusses, gusset plates, engineered I-beams, etc.  Discuss interior furnishings and Heat Release Rates (HRR) of modern fuels.  Discuss tactical options based on various fire/smoke conditions encountered upon arrival.  Quiz your crew on search priorities and likely victim locations.  The list can go on and on…

              So take your next Sunday morning coffee table discussion and toss in some realistic scenarios for actual houses that really exist in your own first-due jurisdiction.  Drawing pictures on the white board or using fire photos from a trade magazine is ok, but nothing matches the direct impact of looking at your own buildings that you could respond to on today’s shift.  Keep the training coming hard, and stop at nothing to make your engine company the best it can be.



Brad French is a Lieutenant with the Dayton (OH) Fire Department, assigned to a downtown engine company.  He is a 15-year member of the fire service and holds degrees in Fire Science and Fire Administration.  He is a lead instructor at the Dayton Fire Department Training Center and Sinclair Community College, and also serves as an instructor in the ISFSI "Principles of Modern Fire Attack" program.  Contact Brad at

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