12 Ways to get Uncomfortable with your Training


Our approach to firefighter training is skill-based for good reason.  But there is more to skills training than meets the eye. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many examples of what can happen when our approach to firefighter training becomes too narrow. This is when training complacency rears its ugly head. In our profession, being a creature of habit can unfortunately lead to bad things: injuries and even death.

In this article, I’ll share some ideas that will get you out of your training “comfort zone” and help you avoid a narrow-minded approach that could lead to unwanted consequences on the fire ground.


Engine Company Operations                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Photo courtesy of highriseoperations.com

Photo courtesy of highriseoperations.com

Stretch the 2-½”: Sometimes you need big water. The 2-½” line is not something that we’ll consider using on the fire ground unless we train with it.  It’s as important to know how to pull it as it is when to pull it. Your training with the 2-½” line should include stretches, interior advancement, and exterior operations.

Train with Portable Monitors: Whatever your weapon of choice is in this category, know how it’s set up on your rig and how to deploy it.  It could mean the difference in additional exposures becoming involved or holding the fire where you found it.  While you’re at it, make sure everyone knows how to operate your deck gun.  I’ve seen shingles ripped off the roofs of houses that weren’t on fire, because the firefighter wasn’t trained properly.

Long Stretches:  Are you utilizing a 1-¾” “long line”?  A proficient engine crew can get a 300’ to 400’ line in service quickly under limited manpower situations…as long as they are well-trained.  It takes a lot of skill for two firefighters to stretch a 400’ attack line.  Don’t let the fire ground be the first time they try it.

Estimating Stretches: Firefighters must be trained on how to estimate the length of hose needed to reach the fire. This training should focus on what your department’s hazards are, and how your hose loads are packed.  If you run 150’ pre-connected mattydales (crosslays), then your personnel must also know what attack line to pull to reach the 3rd floor rear bedroom fire too.  The 150’ pre-connect is not always the most appropriate line of choice.  If that’s all you train with, you’re asking for trouble.  For more great information on estimating stretches, check out this article by Firefighter Kiel Samsing.

Stairwell Stretches and Extending Lines: Your skills in stretching lines up and down stairwells will either help or hinder an already difficult operation.  Similarly, extending your attack lines is sometimes necessary and can prove very useful as an alternative to “starting over” with a longer line.  Stairwell stretches and extending lines require abilities beyond basic hose line advancement.  It’s not something you’re going to get done efficiently if you don’t train for it.


Truck Company Operations                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Large Area Searches: When we move beyond single family dwellings, apartments, and townhomes, our basic search and rescue skills can become challenged.  Moving through large open spaces presents a whole host of hazards not encountered on a regular basis.  Approaching the large area(s) with the apartment search mentality will put us in a bad situation very quickly.

Photo courtesy of studyblue.com

Photo courtesy of studyblue.com

Oriented Searches: Technology has helped us make many advances in the fire service.  Unfortunately, some firefighters rely on technology too much.  The thermal imaging camera (TIC) is an awesome tool for many reasons, but it does not take the place of the good old-fashioned left or right hand-oriented search.  We must train to be able to move with purpose on a search without depending on the TIC to lead through it all.

Ladders, Ladders, Ladders: You can’t always get the aerial to the front or rear of the building.  Throw ladders often; but move beyond practicing the “typical” ladder raises.  Single-firefighter raises, moving ladders up other ladders, uneven terrain and limited access situations are all examples where additional training is required. Do you have a bangor ladder?  If you do, I recommend that you raise it regularly.  Take the time to identify locations in your response area that will require the creative use of ground ladders, and train for it.

Forcible Entry: Training on inward opening wood doors will only get you so far.  Yes, the skill is important, but you must get out to your response area to learn what challenges you face beyond what’s typical; then train for it.  Do you practice limited visibility forcible entry?  Do you have a saw that is set up for forcible entry?  How many of your personnel have actually cut rebar or a steel door?  Know your response area, know your equipment, and be prepared for the unusual.


Incident Command                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Photo courtesy of thecompanyofficer.com

Photo courtesy of thecompanyofficer.com

Size Up: It can’t be overstated – if you are going to be an effective incident commander, you MUST conduct proper 360 degree size-ups.  Whether you’re the first arriving company officer or the chief officer, failure to take the time to complete a proper size-up places everyone on the fire ground at greater risk.  I have seen it too many times – the chief assumes command and never even gets out of the command vehicle.  This is a dangerous approach to incident command.  If you work like this at your “bread and butter” operations, you will never be effective when faced with a more complex fire ground incident.

Assign Incident Command Staff: When you conduct practical training, it’s likely that the emphasis is on firefighter skills: practice and improvement.  While this is important, command staff training is equally critical to build the confidence of your fire officers. As the incident commander, you must have the confidence to trust your staff, and they must have the confidence to act in critical supervisory positions (i.e. operations, safety, division and group supervisor). Train on command and supervisory skills during your company training sessions.  Practice 360 degree size-ups, transfer of command, and place your officers in positions they aren’t comfortable with so they gain confidence and experience.

Throw Curve Balls: If everything always went as planned on the fire ground, we would not have much reason to worry.  Unfortunately, it’s rare that things go exactly according to plan.  During training, throw a curveball every once in a while. I’m not suggesting that we place our personnel in situations where their safety is compromised, but there are some wrenches we can turn to make things interesting. Water supply issues, delayed responses, equipment failures…they all happen on the fire ground; do you train for them in controlled situations?  If not, your training could be setting you up for failure.

Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

If you only pull a 150’ 1-¾” attack line in training, what do you think you’re going to pull first at the commercial building fire?  If you think the TIC is all you need for effective search and rescue operations, you’re going to miss something, or worse, get someone hurt.  If you never get out of your command vehicle to conduct a proper size-up, the limited information you have may put everyone else in danger.

Get out of your comfort zone when you hit the drill ground.  Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Your fire ground success will be a reflection of your depth, effort, and creativity from the training ground.

Train On!

Dan Kerrigan

Twitter: @dankerrigan2

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