A professional part-time fire department takes the time to drill on a regular basis. We simply cannot walk into our firehouse and pretend we are ready--we need to actually be ready. One of the keys to being ready is regular and pertinent training. Even though we are part-time, the citizens in our hometown expect us to be skilled and proficient and prepared to handle their emergency. Remember, the fire doesn't treat volunteerfirefighters any different than paid firefighters.
Sometimes it can be difficult to motivate and encourage volunteers to attend drills. There certainly are other things vying for our member's precious time. They may feel like the drills are not well-prepared or well-thought-out, or are too boring or repetitive. In such cases, they may walk away feeling as if they failed to learn anything new. What can we do in the professional volunteerfire department to develop good drills and hopefully increase attendance?
First and foremost, the department leaders must adopt an attitude that training drills will play an important part in their operation. Leaders must agree to offer regular and pertinent training. They must not only embrace training but display passion and enthusiasm for it. They need to participate, too. How can we expect our firefighters to attend and participate in training if our department leaders aren't doing it?
Leaders should discuss drill topics well ahead of time and prepare a drill schedule that works for their department. Some departments like to training on the same day every week no matter what. Others decide to be flexible and do some drills during the week, some on a weekend day. Still others may find it necessary to not drill during particular times of the year because of job demands and other factors affecting their volunteer force. The key is to try and have a schedule that is clearly communicated to the membership well ahead of time so members can plan appropriately.
Stick to the schedule. It can prove extremely disappointing and can be demoralizing when a member plans to attend drill and perhaps leaves work early or arranges for child care only to arrive and have drill canceled or, worse yet, poorly planned and coordinated. Our members are owed well-prepared drills. If they are taking the time to attend, our leaders need to take the time to prepare. The last thing our members want to see when they arrive at the firehouse on drill night is a bunch of officers running around trying to organize a drill. It sends the wrong message.
Drills need to be developed that are pertinent to the department's operation and equipment. There is nothing wrong with practicing advanced or seldom-encountered scenarios, but shouldn't we nail down our basic fire attack procedures and prepare to handle the emergencies we are most likely to encounter first? Most fire departments are expected to be able to stretch hoselines and quickly get water on the fire. Many firemen can't remember when they last practiced getting that first line properly stretched and in operation.
Look over your rigs. What are you carrying? Are you and your members confident and competent with that wide variety of tools and equipment? Do you even remember what is in each compartment? Nothing looks more amateurish than when a tool is called for and the member sent to retrieve it runs around the rig opening and closing compartment doors trying to find it. I call that the dog chasing tail, and it can be very embarrassing for the department.
Have you actually picked up that tool, handled it, and checked it over to become familiar and reacquaint yourself with it? Or have you just opened the compartment, glanced at the equipment, and closed the door without giving it much more thought? We can go years without using some of our equipment, but when we need it, our members ought to at least be familiar with it because they worked with it at a recent drill. One night maybe we should spend the entire three-hour drill simply walking around our rescue truck, opening up every door and reviewing the operation of everything inside. If there is a kit inside the compartment, the kit should be opened; if there is a kit within the kit, that kit should be opened. From these drills, more in-depth drills can be developed using some of the equipment we realized we hadn't used in a while and needed to brush up on.
Repetition can be a great way to reinforce lessons learned and ensure our members are getting the message. But if it's not done carefully and creatively, repetitive training can also bore our members and possibly prevent them from coming back for drills. You certainly do not want that to happen, but you can still get the same message across and still teach the same operating procedures by tweaking the drill slightly. Drill evolutions can be repeated the same night, or, if necessary, they can be repeated several weeks in a row. In fact, that may be better, because in volunteer departments it is not always possible to get the same attendance every week. Thus by repeating the drill we are getting the information to new attendees and reinforcing it with those who made the previous drill. It's good to have a plan in place so that if our attendance is made up mostly with the same people we can throw some curves their way. It will still deliver the same message, but it will be done in such a way that it challenges members and hopefully creates excitement.
THE BOTTOM LINE We cannot simply walk into our firehouse and pretend we are ready -- we need to be ready. One of the keys to being ready is regular and pertinent training. Good solid training encompassing the entire membership will equate to good performance on the fireground--a trademark of the professionalpart-time fire department.