According to Phil Duczyminski, a training officer for the City of Novi (Michigan) Fire Department, there are many factors working against the most effective possible fire pump training.
First and foremost, there are huge disincentives to tying up equipment doing something other than fighting a fire. Duczyminski ticks these off: “Taking a truck out of service, stripping the hose of off it, risking damage to the equipment.” On top of that, you must take staff out of service. “If you have one person practicing the pump, you’ve probably tied up the time of six to eight firefighters staffing all those hand lines, the additional personnel needed just to flow water.” Finally, although clearly a distant third-place concern–is wasted resources: Every minute spent learning pump ops is a couple hundred to a couple of thousand gallons of water dumped into the ground.
On top of that, the risk of damaging equipment or injuring firefighters leads to us almost exclusively training in favorable conditions. “Especially in Michigan,” Duczyminski notes, “the weather changes every minute. But we don’t change how we train.” Subsequently, pump apparatus operators don’t get the opportunity to learn the fine details of, for example, how to reliably operate wet pumps in sub-freezing weather (e.g., circulate water between the booster tank and the pump whenever not actively flowing water to supply hose lines, etc.)
Using Fire Pump Training Simulators to Bridge the Gap
“The pump ops engineer has a lot of responsibility,” Duczyminski explains, “It’s one of those jobs where, if you don’t know what you’re doing, things can go wrong really quickly. In the real world, if you’re training on a real fire truck, you can cause a lot of costly repairs to that fire apparatus. But with a Pump Ops simulator, you can create real-world scenarios that might happen for a pump operator, and allow that student to take actions that would damage a truck. You can allow them to make those mistakes. The real training comes in the debriefing: you can go over what they did wrong, then recreate that event until the point they’re doing it right. Basically, training them until they can’t get it wrong.”