In my last article (Rurally Speaking: Strength in Numbers), I wrote about how 11 rural and career departments in Southern Louisiana banded together (unusual) to afford the costs of and share logistics for a six day (and night) NFPA 1403 acquired structure live fire training event in July. At the time of that article, I was in Louisiana as part of the advance team of instructors/coordinators planning and producing this huge training event. Even during the planning stages, these departments gained a wealth of knowledge about their neighboring departments, which included who had what resources on hand and who knew whom to help get us what we needed for this massive undertaking.
The “Burnin Down the Bayou” event took place in early July at a large elementary school complex which was slated for demolition and rebuilding immediately following our live fire training week. The event was the brain child of one relatively small fire department that had recently made the change from being a volunteer department to a career department. With budgets being tight, the realization was that it would never be able to bear the costs and logistics by itself, especially while trying to maintain full staffing and apparatus coverage for the fire district. That’s when this forward-thinking department decided it was time to engage its neighbor departments (both career and volunteer) to see if they could make some training magic happen. After all, it is rare in one’s career to be given a school complex for live fire training where the school district does all of the remediation on its dime (asbestos, mold, etc.) and then tells you, “You’re the fire department. Burn it however you see fit.”
As is the case with many small rural fire departments today, we don’t do or participate in a lot of the things we could or should because we say that the money is not there. We talk with fellow members from surrounding departments and we may or may not see each other on the fireground as mutual aid. BUT, do we really know the capabilities and depth of our surrounding departments? Do we train with each other like we probably should? Do we really shy away from opportunities such as this because we don’t want to expose our weaknesses to other departments? Or, do we not participate because we know we’re better than they are, and there’s no point in it? Or, is it because we are too small to meet NFPA standards, so we don’t need that kind of training? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard one of these excuses in my travels, I’d be writing this article from my private tropical island.
As the planning for the training progressed, departments reached out to their local equipment and apparatus dealers for sponsorships of things like bottled water and firefighter lunches and dinners during the event. The responses that these 11 fire departments received was nothing short of amazing. Before the event even started, we had more support from the local business community, other state and local agencies, and the fire apparatus and equipment world than we ever could have imagined. These dealers reached out to their equipment manufacturers, who also stepped up to the plate by sending the latest and greatest demo equipment for instructors and students to use.
The format for the training was for each participating department to get three days of skills stations and live fire scenarios. We ran a morning session from 0800 to 1400 hours and a night session from 1700 to 2200 hours with the day sessions being for the career departments, covering each of three shifts. The evenings were for the volunteer and combination departments. Firefighters and fire departments learned a lot about our craft and about themselves. Equally as important is what these departments learned from each other. Things like incompatibility with RIT SCBA connections and the opportunity for them to talk to each other about what they liked and disliked about certain brands and models of bunker gear, SCBA, RIT packs, accountability systems, lighting, hand tools, firefighter rehab measures, and a variety of other equipment.
This type of interdepartmental information sharing was not lost on the equipment dealers and manufacturers’ representatives in attendance as sponsors of the training event. These industry folks were afforded the rare opportunity to witness this interaction between fire departments and firefighters first hand. They heard directly from those brave souls who use their equipment on a daily basis and were given a vantage point which allowed them a razors edge view of rural volunteer and career department needs in Southern Louisiana.
A lot of commerce took place that week, as attending fire departments made “on the spot” purchases for needed items to help improve their interoperability with their neighboring departments. For the sake of transparency, I share with you that not a single dime of this aforementioned commerce benefitted our instructional staff, with the nonmonetary exception that we too benefitted by teaching with and using some of the latest and greatest products on the market—and using them in the extreme environs of a southern Louisiana July.
As you can hopefully see, there really is strength in numbers that extends beyond the traditional group or block buying power of multiple departments. These departments joined forces to do business together, to train together, and to learn from us AND each other. It was truly “brotherhood” at its finest.
CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He served as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.