Article Archive
Focus On Hazmat
Train We Must - Townsend
Vol 21 No 2

Consolidated Edison, the supplier of electric power to New York City, has a sign that appears at all of the numerous and annoying excava-tions that they are constantly inserting into the pavement all over the city. The sign says simply "Dig We Must." In a very succinct manner it gets the message across to New Yorkers that the excavation and the temporary inconvenience it causes are a necessary part of the cost of having a dependable and adequate source of electric power whenever and wherever it is needed.

The same thing applies to our emergency response agencies. If we even hope to respond to the demand for their services as well as the power company responds to the demands for its service, then "Train We Must."

Training sessions run the gauntlet from exceptionally good to absolutely awful. In the hands of a capable instructor who is knowledgeable concerning the subject he is presenting and skilled in the techniques of presentation, a training session can literally transform a humdrum drill night into an interesting experience that invites its attendees to return for the next event.

The reverse is also true. Nothing can kill interest in a response organization, especially a volunteer one, more quickly than being subjected to an outdated lecture on a topic nobody is interested in and which has absolutely no relevance to current conditions and has been given by the same lackluster instructor for more years than anyone cares to enumerate.

Training sessions are important to any emergency response organization but they are vital to the small departments found in the rural communities of America. It is only through a viable training program that small town departments can keep their members updated with regard to newly introduced equipment, improved mitigation techniques and, in today's world, the latest tricks that terrorists and other extremists are likely to employ against them.

"Training" is not synonymous with "lecture". We in the fire service ought to know that since we were one of the first groups to utilize "hands on" training. Yet all too many training sessions are restricted to a lecture, with or without PowerPoint presentation, and if some sort of credit is being sought, an exam with little or no relevance is given at the conclusion of the course.

This type of presentation may, if it is well done, represent an adequate means for presenting academic knowledge such as arson and law enforcement but no amount of "telling" can ever equal the actual feel of a charged line in ones hands or the weight of an SCBA when one is trying to climb up a ladder. These things must be learned through actual practice with the real thing; the so-called " tactile experience".

A good training session can accomplish one or more of a number of things:

IT INFORMS: A good training program regularly introduces new developments in Emergency Response. New laws and regulations, new standards and the latest in response methodology.

IT AFFORDS EXPERIENCE: It allows the new recruit a chance to actually feel the "kick back" of a 2? inch line under full working pressure so that he will be prepared when called upon at an actual response scene. It provides the tactile experience so necessary to the learning of any practical skill.

IT INSTRUCTS AND INFORMS: It is a point and place where the operational personnel can be informed of changes in procedures or equipment or personnel. It is the place to learn how operate that new fog nozzle, the auxiliary pump on the brush truck or the new radio system for 911. This is where questions are asked and answers are given. New equipment, techniques, rules and regulations and operating procedures and techniques all are first introduced at a training session.

IT REINFORCES: skills, like tools become rusty when not employed unless they are cared for on a regular basis. We all know how to raise an extension ladder but how long has it been since we actually did it? When was the last time we worked as a team to accomplish this task? How long has it been since our pump operators actually set up a relay, pumped in tandem or drafted from a surface impoundment?

A training session is a good place to quickly go over the condition of response equipment as well as the capabilities and the condition of the personnel. Here is a good opportunity to note that the starting rope on the auxiliary pump is frayed and to replace it before it fails at a fire scene. It is also a good time to show personnel how to replace that rope and to point out that once the recoil starter is removed, there is a notched pulley underneath that can be used with a rope or cord to start the engine in an emergency.

During the course of instruction on the proper donning of SCBA is also a good time to check to see that all of the ready air cylinders have a full charge of air.

A session on PPE provides a chance to check to see that all of the encapsulating suits are within their expiration dates.

IT IS INTERESTING: There is a vast difference in attending Chief Blowhard's lecture on SCBA for the fifth time and attending a good demonstration of the latest in SCBA by an instructor who is prepared and is knowledgeable about his subject.

IT IS A TEST: Can we really do what we say we can do? There is no better opportunity to test the operations capabilities than a well-designed training session. In a session dealing with draft pumping for example we have presented the fundamentals in the classroom. We have explained, perhaps even demonstrated, the operation of our organization's equipment. Now we find out just how effective our teaching was. We give a crew the keys to the truck and tell them to go down to the pond and draft water into a pair of hand lines. At this point the need for the "tactile experience" becomes very obvious and the lessons learned under such circumstances are likely to last for a long time.

Emergency Response training has been described as teaching skills to people who, we hope, will never need them and maintaining those skills against the day when they will. Realistically the vast majority of our communities have never had to cope with a train derailment, a bus wreck, a burning tank truck or a natural disaster on the scope of Katrina or Rita. Yet every community has some sort of vulnerability. There is a rail crossing in the middle of down town. There is a large refinery just outside and there is a major interstate highway just over the hill from the new high school. All these things have been in place for years without any untoward happenings. But what about the future? If one of these things really does take place, will we be ready?

A good training program is one that is "home grown". It is one that takes notice of what is actually in the community. Do we have a large refinery in our district? Then lets establish a good working relationship with those folks, perhaps even a mutual aid agreement, before the bell goes off. Do we have a grain elevator in town? Then perhaps some training sessions on dust explosions might be in order. Is there an agricultural store that sells anhydrous ammonia to farmers? If so do we have the means and the skills to deal with a leak? Whatever vulnerability exists in a particular community, that vulnerability should serve as a springboard for training. Again, it is certainly to be hoped that most of these skills will never be needed but we also know that somewhere a disaster strikes every day and when the bell rings it is our time in the barrel. It is not the time to start a training program.

And so, "Train We Must". We must train constantly and consistently and we must take the training program seriously. Today's exercise could very well be tomorrow's alarm and then "this is no drill." o


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