Back in 2011, Noel Maitland (at that time lieutenant and 15-year veteran with the FDNY) wrote an excellent fire department training op-ed for Fire Engineering. Maitland recalled:
“I had an officer who taught me to always test the hydrant on a fire run, even if it’s for one of those annoying automatic alarms that always seem to turn out to be defective. Why? Because the time to find out the hydrant doesn’t work is when you DON’T need it! It’s the same with our vital, skill-improving training: It’s far better to make mistakes in the comfort of a firehouse drill than in our 3 a.m. Armageddon scenario.”
Maitland then outlined an excellent series of “if-then” thought exercises to prepare fire apparatus operators to track down and address loss-of-water issues in the field. Ten years later these are still excellent textbook exercises. Go give them a look.
In his article Maitland concludes with a fundamental truth:
“When a loss-of-water situation occurs, four things must happen: recognition, communication, diagnosis, and problem solving.”
Back in 2011, his scenarios could only address the third step: diagnosis. Actually creating these sorts of water loss scenarios in real life—so that trainees could work through them—was potentially dangerous to personnel, hazardous to the apparatus, or simply impossible.
But over the last decade, improvements in fire department training and simulation technology allow us to integrate all four elements into every pump operations evolution.
Simulations Expand and Deepen Fire Department Training with More Hands-On Learning
Phil Duczyminski is a fire training officer for the City of Novi, Michigan. He has more than 25 years in the fire service and has spent a decade as a trainer.
“We build up our memory banks from experiences,” Duczyminski explains. “I’m not going to say it’s 100%, but just about the majority of firefighters are tactical/practical learners. I’ve taught many classes, and… application is where the real learning takes place. What I’ve found and seen on our training events [is that] if they’ve only ever heard about it in lecture, if they’ve never gone through that tactile motion and actual practical experience, then it just doesn’t build up in their memory banks.”
This is where Duczyminski has found immersive simulation-based fire department training to be absolutely invaluable. “Now, instead of just doing it theoretically on a piece of paper, they can take and put ‘em into action, put them into the scenario, and they have to come up with the correct [corrective action].”
More importantly, a system like PumpOps or ER-1400 can fit into a complete Continuum of Training: integrated sets of simulators that make it possible for responders to practice recognition, communication, diagnosis, and problem solving in a safe, realistic, emotionally vivid environment.