Engine Company, Equipment, Ladder Company, Rescue Company

Training Is Key to Staying Safe

Issue 9 and Volume 21.

By Carl Nix

Firefighters spend hours training. Our training includes pump and aerial operations, donning turnout gear, hose extending and pulling drills, ceiling breach exercises, forcible entry drills, and victim drags and carries. My 30 years in the fire service have taught me how critical firefighter training is. Quite simply, our lives depend on it. All of us have stories of battling a fire where we feared we might not make it home safely. That’s when you know the training you’ve had made a difference.

I didn’t mention thermal imaging training on my list, but it needs to be there. All too often, departments forget how important thermal imaging training is to a firefighter. Training on a thermal imaging camera (TIC) shouldn’t just be about observing fire behavior and how it looks on the TIC’s display. It must also include training on the basic functions of the TIC so firefighters develop a solid understanding of the tool. Firefighters who, hopefully, are deploying this technology during emergency operations can overlook or not be aware of some of the basic TIC capabilities.

The biggest obstacle to effectively using the TIC is getting it where it needs to be. Deployment of the TIC is key but often overlooked during training exercises. Think about what’s required of you when you answer a call. Everyone is moving fast, and the action around you can seem chaotic. How many times have you exited your apparatus and forgotten the TIC? How many times have you had to go back to the apparatus to get the TIC? It happens to all us, but if we train to always grab the TIC when getting off the truck, it becomes second nature. Firefighters should practice removing the TIC from their apparatus or directly from their apparatus’ charger, if they have one, while wearing the gear they would have on when exiting the truck. Then, they can practice attaching the TIC to their gear or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). When attaching the TIC to their gear, firefighters should find a place that keeps the TIC within easy reach but does not interfere with performing basic tasks.

1 Overhaul is a good time to train with a TIC as well; use a TIC to find hidden fires or smoldering materials that could cause the fire to reignite. (Photo courtesy of Bullard
1 Overhaul is a good time to train with a TIC as well; use a TIC to find hidden fires or smoldering materials that could cause the fire to reignite. (Photo courtesy of Bullard.)

Keep thinking about approaching your emergency incident. You grabbed the TIC and attached it to your gear and are now heading toward the structure, where you see smoke billowing from the windows. You put on your gloves. Now you have to operate the TIC with your gloves on. It sounds easy, but it can be challenging during an emergency situation. Firefighters often use the TIC during nonemergency situations without wearing gloves. It becomes more difficult to operate a TIC in an emergency. Firefighters need to become familiar with where the TIC’s power button is and practice finding it with a gloved hand in the dark while wearing an SCBA face piece. This helps firefighters learn to capably turn the TIC on in a blind situation when the unit either has been inadvertently powered off or needs a battery change. Be sure to include training on all of the TIC buttons, not just the power button. This will help firefighters develop a familiarity with the TIC’s buttons, their locations, and their functions.

When training with a gloved hand, don’t forget to also train on changing the TIC’s battery. Replacing the battery on a TIC can be a challenging task depending on the TIC, size of the battery, and where the spare battery is carried. Often firefighters overlook this task or practice it at the firehouse with no gloves or gear. Practice this too with gloved hands in the dark while wearing a face piece to simulate completing this task in dark or smoky conditions.

Overhaul is a good time to train with a TIC as well; use a TIC to find hidden fires or smoldering materials that could cause the fire to reignite. Firefighters using the TIC can watch how pulling down sections of ceiling or removing portions of walls alters heat signatures. This training exposure will help firefighters better understand the real benefits of using a TIC.

Firefighter training is critical to our survival. Knowing the basics of using a TIC can help keep you and your fellow firefighters safe when time is against you. If you have training tips that you would like to share, e-mail them to me c/o [email protected] and I’ll put them in future columns.

Carl Nix is a 30-year veteran of the fire service and a retired battalion chief of the Grapevine (TX) Fire Department. He serves as an adjunct instructor for North Central Texas College and a thermal imaging instructor for Bullard. Nix has a bachelor of science degree in fire administration and is a guest instructor for Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service’s (TEEX) annual fire training in Texas.