Easing The Pain Of Fire Drills

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April 17, 2008

Painful Rectal Itch

By The Artful Blogger

OK, I’m back from my little “vacation.” Seven months may have been a bit excessive, but what the hell. Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, we were talking about spicing up your fire drills. Yeah I know you’d sooner get a root canal then do a fire drill, but hey, they don’t have to be that painful. I remember a commercial from back in the day about hemorrhoid pads. I know you all want to hear all about it (you know I’m going to tell you anyway, so bear with me). There was this husband and wife in bed asleep. All of a sudden, he sits up in bed screaming. His wife asked, “What’s wrong, honey?’ His response was, “It’s this painful rectal itch!” Now, my father had roids. I consider him the average working Joe. I believe his response would have been more along the line of anything from: “My damn biscuits are burning!” to “Somebody shoved a hot poker up my @$$!” Not, “Gee honey, I have a painful rectal itch.”

As usual, you’re asking, “OK Artful, what’s the point?” (Are you ready, kids? Well, here it is.) Is the way that you’re conducting your fire drills more like a painful rectal itch to your people, or are they like a hot poker up their @$$es? In this multi-part series, I’m going to give you some ways you can spice things up a bit, while making your training a little more meaningful. Along the way, you just might have a little fun.

The key to success of any project starts with organization. If John Wayne didn’t have a script in his movies, all he’d do is go around punching and shooting people (OK, bad example). For the sake of training, fluidity and safety, you need to have an exact script. All of your hands are actors in this movie, and your training team members are the directors. Your Captain, Master or Mate is going to produce the whole she-bang. Let’s see if we can make a Spielberg production.

First, let’s touch a bit on your directors. I know that on some of your vessels, you have strict guidelines on who should be on the training team, the fire team, the first response team, and those who are in excess. For now, throw all that out the window . . . sorry, uh . . . What the hell’s the name of that hole in the wall? Oh yeah, porthole. Who should you have on your training team? The answer is simple. You should have your best, most knowledgeable and most experienced people on your training team . . . period. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if I put my best people on the training team, who in the hell is going to fight the fire? Again, the answer is simple: Follow your Fire Bill for an actual fire. Make sure that everyone understands this. What you’re trying to accomplish is to get everyone trained up to the level of your training team. In other words: Train your relief. As some of you who have fought actual fires know that if it’s a bad enough fire, everyone on board will get a crack at it. Hell, I’ve fought fires where the hose team was relieved seventeen times before we put the damn thing out. Believe me, if anyone can fight a Class Bravo fire in full gear for more than 20 minutes, then maybe you should be John Wayne. As usual, I digress.

How many people do you need on your training team? Well, enough to get the job done safely. I know that this is a cop-out answer, but it’s the best one I got. You’ll probably find out, as you get better as a training team, that you may not need as many. Now, in the words of the late Mae West, “Let’s cover a few positions, shall we?” (If you remember that, then your age is showing.)

Your main control station should be monitored by your training team leader. This way, the musters, plotting, communications, safety, and such can all be trained and monitored. The repair locker should also have a monitor who covers the same things. The fire party will have a team leader and a hose team monitor. They can also cover overhaul of the fire and dewatering evolutions. Each boundary should also be covered. This is your first variable. If one person can cover several boundaries, then so be it. If you use investigators (and you well should), they too should have a monitor. If you have third party hands, contractors, or visitors on board, you’ll need someone there as well (I’ll explain later). Anyone doing any sort of mechanical and electrical isolations should have a monitor who is certified in those systems. The medic or medical rep should be on the team to hold training in first aid. All of your electronics guys should be on the team as well. These guys are in charge of special effects. Special effects make your drills more realistic and exciting. I’m writing the next article on special effects, so we’ll leave this alone for now (but it’s gonna be great!). Well, that’s your bare-bones basic team. Again, you may need more, or you may need less (I think Mae West said that too.). Next, we’ll talk about your fire party meeting.

I know it goes without saying, but your training team leader really has to have his ducks in a row. That person is to ensure that everyone knows the script. Each member will be given a copy of the fire drill scenario. I recommend using a timeline format. If you only have an hour for the fire drill, then you want to get the most out of the crew’s time (Note that I said. “The crew’s time.). Simply put, you’re going to go over the fire step by step. The clock starts when the fire is discovered and ends when the word is passed.

There are several things that need to be covered in your scenario. First and foremost are your Authorized Simulations. You should have a standard list of simulations (authorized by your H.M.F.I.C.) that are standard for every fire drill. These should include (but not be limited to) the following: Discharging of any firefighting equipment, activation of installed fire extinguishing systems, the discharge of foam into the bilges, personnel casualties, the fire, the starting or stopping of equipment (unless briefed otherwise), activation of SBA’s, the actual discharge of materials out to sea, just to name a few. In other words, if it’s unsafe to do it, or it will harm any equipment, or it’s not cost effective, make it a simulation. Remember that these things have to be monitored. You’ll need a hand slapper to tell the person that the system has been activated, or you can come up with a really cool simulation for that particular system (that’s what those electronic guys are for). Each special effect will be included in your brief. Ensure that all hands know what these simulations are and what they mean. If they don’t, you’re a training team. Call a training time out and train them. That’s another thing. Brief when to call a training time out. If you need to stop the drill because you’ve lost your sheep, then the time line stops . . . for everyone. You can include planned training time outs in your brief for covering specific systems and firefighting techniques. (Note: Do not call a training time out for an actual casualty to system, space, equipment, or personnel. Call away the actual casualty. And above all, if there’s an actual casualty, let the fire team handle it. If it gets out of their control, your training team will be there to guide them. If need be, they can take over.) Another thing to include is what level the fire party is at (not physically, but mentally). If they’re new, your drill will take longer and you’ll have to explain as you go (or prompt them as it’s called). When your fire team learns more, you’ll be doing less teaching and more evaluating.

Go over what thought provoking questions you’ll be asking during the course of the drill. For example, you can ask the nozzleman what’s the effective range of the fire nozzle and what positions can it be placed in. Do this while they’re fighting the fire. It gives them something to do and it simulates a little stress during the fire. Each set of questions pertain to that particular phase of the fire. They’ll learn that as soon as they answer your questions, you’ll continue on with the next step of the drill. For example, you would ask questions from initially fighting the fire, to the fire’s under control, to the fire being out (It’s a hell of a lot better than your hose team staring at the bulkhead for an hour.). Remember, you should also brief that you’ll observe at least one hose team relief. Like I said earlier, everyone should practice relieving on station (and after backing out of the space, if the fire hasn’t been put out yet.).

Everyone should get some sort of training. For those of you who have contractors or third party personnel on board, you should conduct training on them as well. Granted, they’re not part of the fire party, but you can give them familiarization training (That’s a fancy term for “If they screw up, they’re not responsible, training.”). You can break out a hose and show them how to break it out and restow it. You can cover portable fire extinguishes. Maybe they might need to know how to lower a lifeboat. Create a matrix of training for these third party people. You never know what may happen. If they’re the first to discover the fire, do they know who to call? Maybe they can at least break out a hose for the fire party, or put out a small trashcan fire before it spreads (Well, it couldn’t hurt.).

Remember, all training should be specific for the position and the level of knowledge. If you start asking the plugman about plotting boards, expect the deer-in-the-headlight-look. If there’s general knowledge that needs to be put out, find the right place and time to do it. You wouldn’t want to discuss the changes to water survival during the fire (it’s kind of defeatist). Save it for inside the lifeboats during the abandon ship drill. Also make sure your training team is up to snuff on the latest and greatest gouge in the firefighting world (in other words: Train the trainers.).

Oh, I almost forgot the most important member of your team: Mr. Fire. I’ll cover his job more when I talk about special effects. I can tell you this much. His job is to make the fire as exiting and as realistic as possible. You would want someone who’s fought all classes of fires in the past, so he might be hard to come by. His job it to let the fire party know what they’re seeing. His actions will lead the fire team though the course of the fire. He’s going to need a metric butt-ton of energy because he’s going to act like the fire would act. If he touches someone, it’s like being touched by the fire itself. He’s going to dance with the fire team. When the team can advance on him, the fire is then considered under control, and such. Again, this will be covered in a later article.

When the fire drill is over, debrief on station (The hose team really doesn’t need to know how the plotter did, do they?). When you debrief, only give them the negatives. We all know that Seaman Timmy is a great guy and did a good job, but only give us what he did wrong. It may make the debriefs sound a bit negative, but it makes your debriefs go quicker. If they did nothing wrong, your debrief will consist of: “I have nothing to say.” After the debrief, give them a Satisfactory, Marginally Satisfactory, or Unsatisfactory (You can also include Training if they’re Kermit-the-Frog-green.). Later, the training team leader can get all the training team members together for a final debrief. This will include any problems with imposition, personnel, equipment, simulations, and such.

Most importantly, don’t keep anyone hostage. For example, if your boundary setters set their boundaries correctly and they’ve demonstrated a good knowledge when answering your questions, dismiss them. Why have them sitting around staring at the same bulkhead for an hour?

Final note on this: Keep things moving. Dead time is not training. If they demonstrate the proper firefighting skills, move things along. Keep good communications with all team members. If sixty minutes is too long to be fighting the fire, then change it. It’s your drill. Remember, the drill should be long enough to either train, or to evaluate . . . not to torture. Oh, and keep a copy on file of each scenario. They are reusable (Duh?).

If you do feel strongly about letting the entire crew know how the drill went, you can either put it print for everyone to read, or you can do it electronically. What’s that you say? Electronically? Of course. You can add another team member. He’s the guy with the video camera. You can’t make a Spielberg production without a camera guy (Although, I have no idea what a Best Boy does, nor do I care to know). The camera-dude can walk to each area and video tape the drill. When the drill is over, you can review the tape and edit it, adding the training team leader’s commentary. In this modern electronic age, there’s tons of software out there that make this easy. You can even add cool sound effects and comments. (My personal favorite is filming the new guy who looks completely lost and dubbing in something from a Bugs Bunny cartoon like: “Which way did he go George, which way did he go?”). Yes, the Web is full of waves (Is that why they call it surfing the Web?).

Above all, have fun with your drill and show tons of enthusiasm! Enthusiasm is very contagious, and if your training team shows a lot of emotion and enthusiasm, your fire team will as well.

Well kids, that’s today’s bedtime story. I know it’s a lot to take in at once, but I had to get the organization end over with. The next article will cover the wonderful world of special effects. We’ll have flames shooting out all over the place. Speaking of which, I need to call my Dad ask him how his painful rectal itch is doing. I’m the Artful Blogger: That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it!

More articles from The Artfull Blogger can be found HERE

Artful Post Script: The following is a web site that show examples of an actual Navy firefighting scenario. It includes all authorized simulations, timeline, safety considerations and such. I know it has a lot of navy jargon, but overall, it’s a pretty good place to start. Their training team is called DCTT (Damage Control Training Team). The rest I think you can figure out. Clone it ‘til you own it! LINK

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