It’s no secret that incorporating stress into a training environment has its benefits. It causes us to think and make logical decisions while we are battling increased breathing, heart rate, and auditory exclusion. The first place we can begin this type of training is with new recruits entering the fire service. Incorporating these stressors little by little throughout their practical training in my experience has been the best way to go with a grand finale if you will near the end of their training. This allows them to still learn and apply the basic fundamentals while being under slight to moderate stress. This could range anywhere from an instructor just being very vocal with them, making them perform in front of their peers individually, or having timed events.
I know I am always looking for new drills that I could use in the firehouse or in a recruit academy. I take a lot of what I see from members of the fire service sharing ideas, and I wanted to pass along just a few of the things we do in my organization when we are incorporating stress into new recruit training.
- Air consumption drill: Here we have the recruits in full turnout gear with SCBA and face piece in place. They go on air and crawl a set distance, usually about 25 ft. to a target. Once there, they perform 10 pushups to get them a little out of breath. Once complete they go to their knees, control their breathing and shut their bottle off. At the target is another recruit in full turnout gear with SCBA on their knees ready to assist. While the bottle is off, they control their breathing some more and focus on relaxing and harnessing the stress of a low air emergency. Their bell will begin to ring, and they will know what it’s like to have the mask suck to their face. Once that happens, they begin to remove their transfill hose and transfill with the recruit in front of them. If they cannot make the connection, they immediately drop to the ground to crack their mask, take a breath and place the masks back on. They continue to do this until their breathing is controlled and they have calmed down. This drill allows them to work on staying calm while working with that uncomfortable feeling of that mask sucking to their face. Over time, they become better with this drill and learn to work through the problem and get more air while remaining calm.
- Ground ladder drill: For this drill the recruit is tasked with throwing multiple ladders, three at a minimum, bit most times four. This drill works well when you have a large building with multiple windows or a burn building. If you don’t have either of these you can use what you have to identify targets. This drill is a timed event and the recruit must throw ladders of various sizes. Included we use the 35 ft. ladder, 2 extension ladders, and 2 straight ladders. They must throw a ladder to make the roof, one for venting a window, one for making a rescue and the other for egress with a potential victim that will be coming down it. This makes the recruits have to identify quickly the location the ladder will be placed, the priority in which ladder gets placed first as well as the angle in which they are set for specific operations. The added stress of being timed often times makes them skip the very basic fundamentals that we beat in their heads. We are able to take this stress and reinforce the importance of consistently applying the basics especially under a stressful environment. At the end of the academy the recruits become very efficient with this drill and almost have a disregard for the clock and focus on execution only.
- Burst hoseline: The next few drill are ones that we conduct near the end of their training. We use these stressors in a burn building without live fire and with little no visibility. This burst hoseline drill allows the recruits to think on their feet and react to a problem. We have them advance a line to a determined location in the building. Just before reaching the seat of the fire, we communicate to the pump operator to significantly decrease the pressure and tell the recruits that their line burst 75 ft. away from the nozzle. I have seen a variety of different reactions; some good, some very bad. Leading up to this training they are taught ways to fix the problem if this occurs on the fireground. Here they can apply what they learned and get water back on the fire in an efficient manner. There are several different ways that you can teach your recruits how to overcome this.
- Missing member: This drill is always one that they seem to have the most trouble with. This one is also done in the same burn building while lines are being stretched and searches are being made. As a team of recruits is searching the building, we have an instructor pull one recruit out of the team and tuck them in a corner or just have them stop where they are and lay on the floor. As you are aware, most new recruits are like a row of baby ducks while they are searching. We reinforce good search techniques; perform good searches while maintaining situational awareness. Here again we tend to see the recruits move on and forget their teammate. Once they realize we observe the reaction. We identify if they communicate they have a lost member, if they complete the search, or focus on their teammate and how the approach their downed teammate, transmit the MAYDAY information and work on removal.
- Low air emergency/Mask malfunction: This drill takes a little bit of devious action by an instructor, in a good way. Typically we use the team of recruits that is advancing a line to the seat of the fire or maybe even a team on a secondary line. As the recruits are on air and moving to their target, an instructor slowly closes off one of their bottles and waits for the low air emergency to happen. Here we are able to see how they react and incorporate the drill that we described earlier. I have seen some recruits react very well and as soon as that mask sucks to their face, they hit the deck to stay out of the heat and gas, and begin to work on their transfill, or exit from the structure. I have also seen recruits rip their mask off completely and that leads into us being able to work on helping them overcome that stress.
Another key element of these drills is hot wash with the recruits afterwards. Don’t just use these drills as a way to make them flounder and embarrass them. Most likely they will at some point. Take that opportunity to teach them and show them how to overcome these or other problems. If doing these drills or something similar lacks follow up or coaching, then they are useless. Continue to make them manage stress and practice these drills until they can’t get it wrong.
There is nothing earth shattering about these drills and they are just a few small examples of what we can do out there to improve performance. They are very basic, but allow us to add a little bit of stress on top of skills that the recruits have already learned. Incorporating stress into the basic of what we do will only prepare them when they are under fire. A Captain told me recently, “Basic skills aren’t don’t seem so basic when there is fire blowing out of a house and there are people trapped or hanging out of windows.” What he meant by that is, the small things that lead to our success on the fireground need to be constantly reinforced. Developing a brilliance n the basics is what we need. Developing a brilliance in the basics while learning to manage stress to what makes you a Game Changer!
REaL Fire Training LLC.