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Making Fire Department Training More Cost Effective

Fire Departments throughout the United States continue to experience financial constraints. Reduction and losses in budgets are a common drift amongst our bravest in both career and volunteer departments across the country, and the unfortunate reality is that training budgets are not immune to this reality.

In this article, I am going to discuss an assortment of options that a training officer can implement in order to maintain the interest of their firefighters that prove to be conducive to not only the training budget, but the operational needs of the department.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure

In your district, it is a safe assumption that there is development taking place. Whether new business and homes are springing up or existing properties are being renovated, somewhere there will be a dumpster full of discarded building materials that no longer serve a purpose to the general contractor. Here you can find items that can increase the realistic nature of your training and create unique opportunities not explored in the past.

Unless acquired structures slated for demolition are at your fingertips, having the ability to train on wall-breaching can be difficult to come by. A few discarded 2’x4’ pieces of fir can easily be converted into a firefighter safety and survival training prop that is easy on the wallet. Building a portable prop similar to the one depicted in the photograph above allows your crew to train in a controlled environment at any given time in the apparatus bay. Aside from the cost of a box of nails, the repurposed lumber prop costs nothing more than your time and requires minimal tools to construct.  Consider adding sections of 1/2” sheetrock tacked to one (1) side of the wall in order to practice with hand tools to gain access to the studs. Use discarded Christmas lights as another cost-effective addition to this prop to simulate wires and cables running through the wall.

 U-Bolt Padlocks for U-nder a Buck

It’s understandable that your training curriculum is focused on firefighting essentials and fundamentals; however, in order to stretch in or conduct a primary, access into the structure will be needed. Including forcible entry training into your drill program will increase skill and improve interest amongst the firefighters, because it is an avenue not often approached due to limited access to fortified doors.

Many departments around the country have created lock-props that recreate forcible entry functions such as cutting window bars and removing padlocks. The training padlocks depicted in the picture above cost just under $1.00 to make and is constructed of scrap lumber and a U-bolt purchased at a local hardware store. In some occasions, if the hardware store is protected by your organization, they might donate the U-bolts for training purposes due to their vested interest in your retention of such perishable skills.

Locks and Latches

You can also reach out to the local locksmith business in the area and inquire about discarded locks and accessories that they might be willing to part with. With most lock systems becoming inoperable once removed from service, the locksmith will sort and scrap the parts once they accumulate over time.

Obtaining these locks is a cost-effective way to create a forcible entry prop to help increase the overall skills and knowledge of your personnel in through-the-lock skills. With the exception of the door or wood needed to create these props, the only additional cost is your time.

Free Factory Fieldtrip

If you are fortunate enough to have industrial-based businesses in your area, you will need to conduct training specific in nature to the type of production or manufacturing being conducted on that site. As the training officer, you can take advantage of this opportunity by networking with the business owner and manager.

Performing a walk-through and site inspection as a crew provides a FREE training opportunity for your department that will better prepare everyone for responses to these specific hazards. In addition to building familiarization and hazard identification drills, networking with these businesses can create opportunities to develop and conduct real-time response scenarios. The picture above shows an injured worker/mannequin that is trapped as the result of an industrial accident. The likelihood of encountering this emergency is greater in an industrial setting than it would in the traditional residential environment. Practice like you play in the appropriate setting.

Crushed Cars are Cheap and Conducive to the Cause

Making friends with the local tow service or automotive facility is a great way to take advantage of motor vehicles as donated training props to help preserve your training budget. When the opportunity arises, make sure you get the most use out of it prior to transforming it into a door-less convertible with a missing back seat and smashed out headlights. Examples include training on medical emergencies with victims in the cars to become proficient in EMS skills and interventions, and deploying hose lines for automobile fires. 

Training in Your Own Backyard

Far too often I have seen departments avoid particular training due to the cost of bringing their personnel to offsite training structures. But, skills such as confined space rescue are critical to maintain because most of us simply do not have much opportunity to use them. Thinking outside of the box is more than just the slogan—it should also be the basis for all of your limited cost training. There is no need to rent a confined space training trailer or pay your personnel to attend facilities equipped with endless tanks and pits. Coordination with your local water and sewage departments along with granted permission cost nothing but good faith and common courtesy.

At little to no cost, you can recreate the hazards of a confined space in order to practice metering and monitoring along with rope and rescue practices. Water drains and manhole entry points in your town or cities streets can be used to perform these tasks in a controlled environment. In the picture above, firefighters are using their tower ladder as an overhead anchor point to safely and swiftly remove an injured subject.

Alternate Cost Effective Training Ideas

  1. FREE online and traditional courses are available from agencies such as the National Fire Academy, FEMA, Fire Engineering University, and the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute that can provide training and instruction on areas pertinent to the needs of the community your department serves.


  2. Donated furniture from hotels and motels can be used to create a more realistic environment for search and rescue evolutions.


  3. Train-the-trainer Programs and state certifications can be costly for the initial course, but they can prove to be priceless when the individual receiving the initial training now has the ability to deliver the same level of training to their own department. Create your own subject matter experts to supplement training, and it will help to minimize the overall cost of training within your department.


We all know that training is paramount for any fire department. Creating a training curriculum on a limited budget can be difficult, but the use of alternative resources will greatly increase the opportunities available to your personnel. You are only limited by your imagination and creativity.



AB Turenne is a 25-year veteran of the fire service in Eastern Connecticut. As a Certified Level 3 Fire Service Instructor, AB's training curriculum has proven to be conducive with the operational needs of those he teaches and in turn has improved the human capital knowledge of many. A graduate from the Master of Public Administration program at Anna Maria College, AB has continued his efforts in training and education by contributing to the Fire Engineering Training Community. Currently, AB is the Captain of Training and Safety with a career department in Middlesex County, CT.

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