Live from FDIC: Innovative Drills You Won't Find in Any Book

Innovative Drills You Won’t Find in Any Book
Story by Janelle Foskett
Photos by Raul Angulo

We all know how difficult it can be to motivate some people to train. It’s like working out. We need to do it, but finding the motivation to actually hit the pavement is a whole different story. And similar to working out, a significant deterrent to training often lies in one simple factor: boredom. We crave variety—something new to rev up the training engines. Fortunately, there’s at least one person out there with some innovative ideas.

Getting Over the Wall: Firefighters use the Halligan and pike pole D-handle (stirrup) like a ladder to scale the wall.

Moving Obese Patients: Using a backboard makes lifting much easier for the crew and the patient. Make sure you place a poll of 1" tape or a spanner wrench under the board so you can get your fingers underneath it. Firefighters should then lift at the head of the board to their waist level.

Dropping the Ladder: The aerial operator has to be aware that firefighters trapped on the roof may be injured or exhausted. He needs to lower the aerial below the roof line to protect the firefighters from the radiant heat. By lowering the angle to a horizontal position, the aerial operator makes it safer for the firefighters by removing the fall hazard.

Hangin’ On: Practice hanging so you know how long you can hang on. That way, when you’re in that situation in real life, you’ll know how long you have to figure out a plan for how and where to fall.

Radio Checks: Firefighters should practice using the radio speaking through the SCBA facepiece in blacked out conditions.

Fire on the Waterfront: Connect the gated wye to the supply hose.

Fire on the Waterfront: Typically firefighters eyeball extended lays and lay from the engine to the objective. It's best to take the attack hose to the safest forward position with enough hose for the fire attack.

Switch Out the Bottle: This drill is more of a competitive challenge than it is realistic. The goal is to get crewmembers to perform manipulative drills with SCBA beyond the daily checks. The firefighter places the SCBA and spare bottle in the best position to make the switch in one breath. The firefighter needs to connect the high-pressure hose on to the new bottle. This is the hardest part of the drill. It is easy to misalign the threads.

Up & Over: Firefighters drag and rescue and unconscious firefighter using a roof ladder as a sled.

In his Thursday session “Creative Company Drills for Engine and Truck Companies,” FDIC veteran instructor Captain Raul A. Angulo of the Seattle (Wash.) Fire Department offered an impressive list of drills designed to make training challenging, exciting and fun while increasing morale and crew preparedness. “You won’t find these drills in a book,” Angulo notes.

What’s the Hold Up?
Earlier this month, I spoke with Angulo about some of the reasons people are hesitant when it comes to training—they might be exposed for what they don’t know, be teased by their peers or look bad in front of chief officers. What’s worse: “Some officers use training as a form of punishment. This isn’t recommended, as it creates a negative connotation for drilling,” he says. Additionally, he notes that some officers use training for hazing purposes—they’ll set up a drill for the new person on the crew but it’s sabotaged so the rookie will mess up. And some officers even use training simply to prove how smart they are—and how stupid the crew is. “All of this creates an apprehension toward drilling,” he explains.

Fortunately, there are more officers out there who, like Angulo, know the importance of training. As Angulo puts it, “How we perform in real life is directly related to how we train. We need to practice like we play and train like our lives depend on it—those are core values for me.”

Angulo’s Ah-ha Moments
Angulo explains that although firefighters have standard drills for Firefighter I and II—how to throw a ladder, operate a hoseline and work an SCBA—most people have already mastered these skills. “I started looking outside the manual, specifically, at case studies, close calls and video footage and ah-ha! I saw components of the incidents that actually happened that we simply don’t train on,” he says.

It’s these real-life scenarios that any officer can use to find potential drill topics—it just takes a little creativity. “You need to think outside the box,” Angulo emphasizes. “Seek out real incidents and ask yourself, ‘What would I do if I were in that situation?’ The case studies present a problem that needs to be resolved.” Smartly, he adds that there’s a fine line between staying within standard operating procedures and doing something that’s unsafe, so you need to ensure that drill ideas conform to the applicable safety standards.

The Drills
Following are a few of the drills Angulo discussed in his session. For full details about each drill, contact Angulo at or

Getting Over the Wall: This one is based on a case study. Let’s say you and your crew are conducting vertical vent operations on a roof, but conditions deteriorate and you need to exit the roof before it totally collapses. You’re unable to make it back to the ladder, and the only safe area has a 7' parapet wall with no secondary ladders to help you at this particular location of the building. What do you do? It’s too tall to scale by yourself, but with a couple of people, you can use a Halligan or other tools to help get you up the wall. If one member kneels down, the other member can boost himself up to reach the top of the wall, and then help the other member over the wall. A Halligan tool can be placed at a 45-degree angle with the forked end down into the roof. The adz end gives the firefighter a secure footing to reach the top of the wall. A D-handled pike pole or rubbish hook (roof hook) can be used to hook the top of the parapet wall. The D-handle becomes a stirrup to give the firefighter a secure footing to reach the top of the wall. These solutions are easily pre-thought out and, with practice, they can be accomplished very quickly. But if you’ve never thought about what you would do in a situation like this, you may not have the time to come up with a smart solution. These catastrophic events are over in a couple of seconds.

Aerial Positioning: Imagine there are people trapped on a roof and you, the aerial operator, need to get them down safely. You position the apparatus where you think they’ll be, but then they call for help from a different location. You now have to adjust the angle and reposition the apparatus. A good drill: Have the aerial operator move from one location to another as quickly—and safely—as possible.

Moving Obese Patients: How many times have you been on a medical call to help an obese person who has fallen and can’t get up? “Many first responders will simply grab their arms and try to pull them up, but this can be very painful on their arms,” Angulo explains. “And those Mega Mover blankets cradle the patient but you still have to lift 500 lbs. of dead weight—there’s no rigidity.” Instead, practice this: Lay a backboard on the ground next to the patient, place a spanner wrench or other solid object under the top of the backboard so you’ll be able to work your fingers under it and help the patient work their way onto the board and lie down. You can now perform a flat raise. “Using the backboard, simply teeter the patient up to 90 degrees,” he explains. “The crew has control of the patient and gets them standing again.”

Dropping the Ladder: Imagine that your crew has just rescued a firefighter from a roof or window, but they’re simply too weak (or possibly even injured) to climb down the ladder. You can’t extend or retract the ladder with someone on it, so the aerial operator must lower the ladder quickly and safely. You must get the crew below the roofline to protect them from the radiant heat. Practice dropping the ladder to horizontal with two firefighters at the tip in order to reduce the fall hazard and decrease the exposure to radiant heat.

Nighttime Rope Ops: Most people conduct rope drills during the day, but has your crew set up a raise and lower system in the dark? Well, not all rescues happen during daylight hours so you need to practice in the dark. “Sometimes I’ll have them do the drill during the day and then repeat the drill after dinner at night,” Angulo says. “They need to do it with flashlights so they really get what it will be like with lighted illumination.”

Hangin’ On: Do you know how long you could hang—that’s right, just hang—wearing all your gear? For some folks, they’ll be lucky to last 10 seconds. For the more fit folks, they could last a full minute. Practice this so you know how long you can hang on. That way, when you’re in that situation in real life, you’ll know how long you have to figure out a plan for how and where to fall, limiting the potential for severe injury, because, chances are, you’re going to get hurt when you fall.”

Radio Checks: Most portable radio checks involve two guys in station uniforms standing 20 feet apart—but this isn’t how you operate radios on the fireground, is it? Instead, try this: Put your gear on, SCBA and all, and practice talking through the facepiece. Often, when firefighters hear “Last unit, repeat message,” the firefighter will simply speak louder—not clearer. “We simply don’t train to speak through the radio mic while on air,” Angulo says. “You need to practice how to control your voice and speak clearly so people will understand what you’re saying.”

Suck It Dry: How many firefighters know what it feels like to suck their SCBA bottle down until it’s empty? “As you get to that last minute, it becomes a lot harder to breathe the air; you really have to suck,” Angulo explained. “You need to know what it feels like as the facepiece collapses on your face.” Why? If you know what to expect, you won’t be surprised—and panic—when it happens. If you know approximately how long you have until you’re out and need to pull the facepiece off, you can better prepare for what to do next. It’s a fight or flight instinct. When you run out of air, you will pull your facepiece off.

Fire on the Waterfront: Let’s say there’s a fire on a boat on the last dock. How efficiently can you lay 700 feet of hose? Many crews will “eyeball” the distance and start laying supply hose (usually 2 ½" hose) from the engine to the objective. They’ll either lay short or end up with too much supply hose at the end of the lay. Boat docks are narrow. While the hose is being changed, excess hose can easily fall into the water and drag extra hose with it. Charged hose lines sink. The key is to get your uncharged attack lines in place at the most forward position that is safe, with enough hose to reach and fight the fire. Now, crews can fill in the gap with supply hose ending with a 2 ½" gated wye to attach the 1 ½" wyes. This evolution can quickly give you the ability to deploy four 1 ¾" attack lines. Additional 2 ½" gated wyes can be thrown into the lay. You’re basically creating a horizontal standpipe.

Angulo also provided drills related to the following operations:

Lengthen the Aerial Ladder: What if your aerial isn’t long enough to reach the window? Have you ever thought about attaching the roof ladder onto the end of the aerial ladder? You might be able to get an extra 10 feet of reach by securing a 14' roof ladder to the tip. In one case study, this was all that was needed to make a rescue of a victim at window.

Switch Out the Bottle: What if you’re trapped in a void space and you’re running out of air? Your team can’t get to you right away but they can at least send in a full bottle. Can you take your mask off and switch out the bottle while holding your breath?

Up & Over: What if you need to get an injured firefighter up and over a window sill? Practice putting a firefighter on a roof ladder and using it like a Stokes basket or litter to tilt them up and over the window sill. You can then slide them right out, feet first.

Final Thoughts
The time to correct fireground errors is before they happen—during company drills. That’s why Angulo examines real fireground incidents to develop realistic drills that anyone can do. “You can’t be afraid to think outside the box—to come up with ideas that are realistic, safe and challenging,” he notes. “You need to know what you’re ready for—and what you’re not.” And the drill ground is the place to work out all the bugs.

Finally, Angulo notes that you should not do away with your regular training—you still need to train on the basics so you’re proficient at what you do most often—throw ladders, lay hose, etc. Drills like the ones described above should be supplemental. They require learning to use your tools and brain in extreme situations. Basing them on case studies gives them legitimacy and credibility. Plus, they help break up the monotony and add a little spice to the routine—something we all want, right? Of course, having an abundance of drills to choose from also give you no excuse to not train.

So get those creative juices flowing. Think about what your crew may need to drill on. You never know when you’re going to be in an unusual situation that requires a little creativity.

Janelle Foskett is the managing editor of FireRescue magazine.

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Comment by Raul A. Angulo on May 7, 2010 at 1:08pm
Dear Chief Winborne,
Thanks for your comments. Read my comment to Phil below. Everyone should "suck it dry" with their SCBA at least once in their career. It is a self-assessment that is safe to perform. The only practical purpose for this drill is to know what it feels like. We rarely have to "hold our breath" in day-to-day life. But it is fun to practice just to see how long you could hold your breath if you ever had to. If you ever get into a situation where you are using an SCBA, are conscious, and you run out of air, you WILL pull your facepiece off. Its an automatic physical response for survival. Knowing that, a firefighter can mentally prepare for what he or she is going to do next.
Comment by Raul A. Angulo on May 7, 2010 at 12:59pm
Dear Phil Spence,
I agree with you. We practice air management here in Seattle. I am not suggesting that we work until our bell goes off before we start to exit a burning structure. "Sucking it dry" is simply an SCBA exercise that should be drilled on at least once so the member can be aware of the physical changes that indicate one is running out of air. For example, it becomes much more difficult to breath in. I compare it to knowing what it is like to run out of gas in your car or on a chain saw. The engine sputters and dies. You may even be able to get the engine running again, but it quickly gives out. On a car, some fuel gauges are accurate and your car stops running on "E". Others gauges can drop well below the "E" before they run out of gas. There is only one way to find out. Keep an extra 5-gallons in a can and try it. We practice "gas management" all the time in our vehicles. Rarely do people pass up a gas station when we're almost on empty, but we all know what it's like to run out of gas. It's easy when we have a fuel gauge. Chain saws do not. We need to run it out so we know how the saw runs and feels and sounds like when it is running out of gas. Same goes for SCBA. It's a self-awareness drill. That's all.
Comment by Raul A. Angulo on May 7, 2010 at 12:42pm
Dear FETC.
Thanks for commenting. I am glad you have done all these drills. These were just a few from many that were presented. As for the waterfront drill, assuming you are referring to the extended hose lays, they work for any forward objective as long as smoke and fire conditions permit, meaning, as long as it is safe. It could be a dock or a long hallway. I know you have hallways. As far as the bottle exchange, we do perform it with gloves on. What I was saying is that we found it to be impossible to accomplish it with gloves on while holding your breath. It's just a fun, competitive drill to get the guys drilling on SCBA. It's not that realistic of a scenario.
Comment by FETC on April 23, 2010 at 8:10pm
We have done all those drills except the waterfront one. No water in my city. The bottle swap drill would actually be more realistic with your fire gloves on.
Comment by Phill Spence on April 23, 2010 at 6:45pm
Chief, knowledge is never a bad thing. Ever.

In my opinion, if you're training that the quarter air alarm is the time to be getting out of the IDLH environment, that itself is dangerous. There is quite a bit of discussion that that quarter bottle should be rarely, if ever, used. As my last instructor said, that air is not yours, it belongs to your wife, your children, your parents and your brothers (and sisters). You should be out of the IDLH before it goes off.

Of course you should train the "Suck it Dry" drill. Unforeseen things can happen, so you should know and understand the limits of your equipment, but you should also train that you should plan ahead so you don't to use them (limits).

Phill Spence
Firefighter, Pottstown FD.
Hazmat Spec., Montgomery Co. (PA) HMRT
Comment by Warner Winborne on April 23, 2010 at 5:16pm
I am of two minds on the "Suck it Dry" drill. On the one hand, there is value to experiencing the panic that comes as your mask pulls into your face when you are out of air, so that you don't immediately rip your face piece off. On the other hand, the purpose of the low-volume alarm is to get firefighters moving out of the IDLH environment immediately, but this drill may demonstrate that they have a sizable reserve of air once the bell goes off As a result, they may delay their exit, at great risk to themselves and others.

Warner Winborne
Chief, H-SVFD

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