Last winter Jim Vaughn (battalion chief with the Normal, IL, Fire Department and Field Staff Instructor and Regional Representative for the Illinois Fire Service Institute) discussed cold-weather fire department training for an article for Firehouse magazine. Vaughn stressed that “Although a large part of North America sees freezing temperatures, departments that are located in different areas of the continent have different ways of dealing with the challenges and hazards that come with these cold conditions. Solutions to these geographically unique situations rarely are found in training manuals. This makes the training ground the ideal place to learn how to deal with these situations.”
Unfortunately, Vaughn has found that “Often, during the winter months, departments will shift their training to indoor activities, because training in cold weather can be hard on equipment and often is unpopular with firefighters.”
This results in fire crews who are intellectually aware of the special challenges that come with cold-weather firefighting, but lack the muscle memory for it. Cold-weather calls are some of the most demanding—and least forgiving. It’s the last place that you want to have to stop and think through a tricky pump operation or get your first experience controlling a 50,000Lbs apparatus on an icy road.
The solution is to bring together your cold-weather training ground exercises and your simulation training. Being out in the cold is an excellent place for each firefighter to discover which skills they need to improve. The sim is the ideal place to drill those skills “Till They Can’t Get it Wrong.”
Cold Weather Training Alternatives
For example, Vaughn briefly discusses cold weather pump operations. Best practices here can be very challenging to determine. It doesn’t just come down to manufacturer’s recommendations and local weather conditions. Equipment configurations, the presence of pump heaters or belly pans, and even how long it takes to drive to the scene all have an impact. A midship pump could be fine running wet to the scene. But another piece of apparatus leaving the same firehouse at the same time to go to the same fireground via the same route might find a front-mounted pump frozen when they need it running.
Even on the cold weather training ground, you are only going to discuss these issues as an intellectual exercise. With a Pump Ops simulator, the pump operator can experience—and learn how to properly (and quickly) address, when possible—frozen drain valves, damaged impellers, plugged strainer screens, an unexpected dry pump in need of priming and more. Using simulation, you can similarly have crews rehearse driving in all conditions: icy inclines, limited visibility, drivers failing to yield to flashers and sirens, and more.
With a comprehensive training solution (like Continuum of Training), incident commanders can work through the entire scope of demands posed by a cold-weather fireground. This might include calling in extra resources (like warming stations and snow plows) early in an incident or dynamically determining how much to shorten firefighter working time to protect them from cold weather exposure.