A frequently overlooked, or underestimated, component of a fire department’s purchase of new technology is the associated firefighter training and education that’s required to effectively use it.
If you are in the hunt to purchase thermal imagers, electronic firefighter locating devices, or compressed air foam systems (CAFS), remember that their benefits are directly proportional to the knowledge your firefighters have on how to use them.
Training and education programs coupled to the delivery of new technology will become much more common in the fire service over the next 10 to 20 years, since today’s rookie firefighter will be called upon to take advantage of new and emerging technologies for search, rescue and fire suppression operations.
The old adage is true – knowledge is power. Understanding the capabilities and limitations of new technology enhances effective fireground use and prevents its deployment for applications never intended.
The desired outcome of deploying new technology is a reduction in loss of life and property damage, with increased levels of firefighter safety. Training and education are essential parts of making that happen.
For example, when an apparatus committee evaluates new technology and goes on to grade several vendors on their product offerings, a key point in the process is to understand that training and education are required. Therefore, grading product details needs to include the availability and quality of a manufacturer’s factory training and education program.
Some manufacturers call these sessions “delivery and demonstration programs,” which focus on equipment design and operation, including how to perform periodic preventative maintenance. Your firefighters and maintenance mechanics can take advantage of these classes to become familiar with their responsibilities in using and maintaining the equipment. When writing apparatus specifications, be sure to include verbiage that makes a factory-provided delivery and demonstration program a mandatory part of the equipment purchase.
The Training Officer
Keep in mind though that a manufacturer’s delivery and demonstration program typically does not bring students to a level of “competency” in the use of a specific product. That is a job for the local training officer.
For the training officer, if a turn-key program meeting recognized industry standards is not available on integrating the equipment into fireground operations, it is his or her job to seek advice, information, education and training from subject matter experts usually found at either the manufacturer and/or in academia. An appropriate training and education program for local implementation of the new technology may need to be designed by the training officer.
One example of new technology being accepted and implemented at a greater pace today than ever before is the use of CAFS for structure fire suppression. Highly effective, CAFS historically have been deployed in wildland and wildland/urban interface firefighting settings.
What is different today is CAFS have definitely found their way onto structural engines and into municipal departments. Most of the major manufacturers of CAFS hardware conduct delivery and demonstration programs on their equipment.
Recently, one apparatus committee from a fire department in the northeast United States decided to use “training” and its subsequent effects on equipment operation as one of its benchmarks when purchasing its own system. Simply, the committee decided to see if the end-users of different brand manufacturers’ equipment could effectively operate their own departments’ systems.
This apparatus committee from an all-volunteer fire department had initially researched and then narrowed down the purchase of a midship fire pump with an integrated CAFS unit to a final choice between two preferred vendors. They then decided to visit two fire departments within driving distance that owned and used each vendor’s CAFS equipment.
They traveled and first met with a department that had owned CAFS hardware manufactured by “Brand A” for several years. The committee members were met by a veteran career firefighter/engineer who also demonstrated the equipment. When they asked him to change the equipment’s setting to produce “dry” compressed air foam, the operator had to first find the operator’s manual, read it, and then make the adjustment.
Next, they took off to visit another fire department to see “Brand B” CAFS hardware, where they were met by a volunteer engineer alongside the apparatus on the firehouse apron. They asked that operator the usual line of questions and found out he had only a couple of years’ experience.
Due to this volunteer firefighter’s background, he was deemed by the truck committee to be an “average Joe,” having similar experience levels as some of their own personnel in their department. When a committee member asked him to operate the hardware and change the system’s foam consistency settings, he said, “Sure,” and performed the process quickly and without hesitation.
After all was said and done, the truck committee reasoned that no matter what the price or design of a CAF system, if a pump operator could not effectively operate the unit, purchasing one at any price would be a waste of time and money. For the apparatus committee, equipment that cannot be effectively operated has zero value. They ended up purchasing the “Brand B” system which, at a slightly higher price, was a better value.
No matter what the design of a piece of equipment, if the operator cannot effectively operate it, it is useless. Operators always need to be appropriately trained to efficiently use the equipment. This begins with the apparatus manufacturer’s delivery and demonstration program. Make sure to include one as a requirement in your apparatus specifications.
Another important training and education consideration when writing CAFS equipment specifications is planning for the delivery of a department-wide foam firefighting strategy and tactics training program.
Since most structural fire departments taking delivery of their first CAFS pumper have had only historical foam product training and no CAFS application training, it is crucial to provide a high-quality CAFS strategy and tactics training program for the troops.
This program must include the following topics: compressed air foam delivery rates for structure fire fighting; how to conduct a nozzle best practices evaluation; safety practices when deploying hoselines; foam application procedures for interior fire fighting; hose handling practices including nozzle handling; foam type choices for interior attack, exposure protection and structure protection.
Conducting a fireground strategy and tactics class after CAFS unit delivery goes a long way in getting both the troops and training department off to a great start in using CAFS as an effective tool on the structural fireground.
The CAFS Institute is one company that provides this type of training and education throughout the United States and has done so with many departments from California to Pennsylvania and in-between. Its Web site, www.CAFSinstitute.org, contains a helpful training specification for use by new apparatus committees that will drop in to a new fire truck specification. (I should point out that my son, Dominic Jr., operates CAFS Institute, which is located in Royersford, Pa.)
Departments are going this route, integrating training requirements into their apparatus specification, since the cost is built in and funded as part of the overall apparatus purchase plan. This makes good sense and prevents problems of trying to find funds for training later, after the apparatus is delivered.
Carefully evaluate each hardware manufacturers’ delivery and demonstration program and consider third-party companies with subject matter experts to provide tactical training.
Think about funding a training and education plan as an integral part of your new fire truck purchasing budget. You’ll be glad you did.
Editor’s Note: Dominic Colletti is the global foam systems product manager for Hale Products and the author of two books – “The Compressed Air Foam Systems Handbook” and “Class A Foam – Best Practice For Structure Firefighters.” Colletti is a former assistant fire chief in Royersford, Pa. and serves on the technical committee of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500 Fire Department Occupation Safety and Health Program. He is an instructor specializing in CAFS implementation.