Academy Blog Series - Battalion 42

Week 5 -  Hose, Ladders, Intro to Saws, Forcible Entry, SCBA Confidence & Pry Interior work

The heat was on this week in both nature and training reality. With daily temperatures holding steady in the 80's and the demands of learning new skills in appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment, the cadets had never been so taxed.  

Monday morning, after an early workout of circuit rotations while wearing SCBA harness and bottle assemblies, the Battalion set up the scheduled drill stations.  On this particular day, drill placement for hose lays and ladders were reorganized.  Both forward and reverse hose lays were conducted on the mat surrounding the apparatus bay and ladders were to be thrown against the rail car props in the hazardous materials training area we call Haz Mat Land.  The reorg was to allow room for Ventura County Fire Department to evaluate their probationary firefighters during their "Post Academy Evaluations" PAEs.  However, nature and emergency incidents forced the response of a number of their personnel to out of county wild fires in both northern and southern areas of the state, thus cancelling and postponing PAEs.  Duty calls.

The decision was made to continue drilling hose lays in close proximity.  The set up worked well by minimizing transitional times between stations. Ladder training however, was relocated to the Burn Prop.  The two story structure is a more realistic environment for improving ladder techniques. The move was productive two-fold because of the training aspect and the proximity to "Intro to Saws" which in turn resulted in shorter transitional times between stations.

To paint a picture of academy training demands, I want to touch on the "how & why" of drill scheduling.  Drill focus and topic is sequential as is the required attire for each station.  For example, a drill involving hand tool recognition and touch is scheduled prior to one of hand tool operation and skill.  Personal protective clothing requirements for each of those stations appropriately differ.  A lighter weight station pant, boot, t-shirt, brush coat, helmet and glove attire for tool recognition and touch and full structure turnout gear for tool operation and skill. In many cases, workout gear (shorts & t-shirts) are worn underneath full structure clothing to allow for comfort and cooling.

Company rotation is strategically planned around topic and attire.  Stations requiring full personal protective clothing are consecutively transitioned through during one portion of the day, either the morning or afternoon.  So a typical drill rotation will have a company moving through two stations requiring the use of full turnouts in the morning and two stations wearing lighter weight protective clothing in the afternoon.  To further equalize training demands among the Battalion, tough rotational periods in the afternoon are shared.  Day one, Companies A & C will rotate through a hot afternoon in full turnouts, with Companies B & D doing the same on day two.

Hopefully with a better idea of the training and clothing requirements mandated this heated week, respectful thoughts of cadet dedication and the drive to perform successfully should come to mind.  Every member of 42 pushed themselves to their limits this week to gain every minute of the training offered.

Once Monday's drill set up of tools and rehab was complete, crews showered then reported to their assigned location.  On the mat, hose lay skills continued to improve in areas of accuracy, speed and communication.

At the Burn Prop, ladder placing, securing, climbing and communicating is practiced.  Mastering 2 firefighter raising techniques is a must for overall safety.  Cadets were tasked to work in teams to assess the building height, choose and apply the raising method and then use their personal issued webbing to secure the ladder to the building.  Once complete, ladder climbing practice began.

As mentioned last week, climbing skill takes coordination, for some it comes naturally and others it's acquired.  A "Ladder Up & Overs" drill provides reinforced training.  With a total of four ladders placed and secured to the building, fully donned cadets would climb one ladder, make contact with roof top railing, step over the railing onto the roof's floor, move across the roof top near the railing to the next ladder, step onto it, climb down it and repeat the moves through the remaining two ladders while maintaining a minimum of three points of contact at all times.  Cadets did a great job of focusing on the opposites of hand and foot moves.

At the "Saws" station, cadets were introduced to saw components, basic maintenance, cleaning and refueling.  Two saw types were covered.  The chain saw, used primarily for wooden roof and floor breaching and the rotary "cut off" saw, used for metal bar or door cutting.  Each saw with its own characteristics of handling and operation.  Crews were taught chain saw techniques used to cut straight lines on props simulating roof tops.  The ability to start, hold, position and move the blade through wood was shown initially, with attention later placed on the skill the feeling the underlying structural members without cutting into them. A rebar tree was used to teach rotary saw operations.  The tree stands tall with cutting stations at all levels and angles.  Cadets were instructed how to safely manipulate the saw to complete each cutting objective.

Tuesday started with an early morning briefing to improve leadership skills.  Officers were introduced to the concept of pre-designated assignments, call type dispatching and dressing as needed for the given emergency.  They were to choose specific members of their companies to perform assigned duties as needed for the given situation, such as retrieving medical gear, acting as the medic during patient contact or listening to the details and location of a radio dispatch.  Basic designations were identified for a company engineer, a medic and two runners.  To support this concept, an increase in handie talkie (HT) communications was implemented.  Officers will now check-in every morning, retrieve their radio, power it on and position the selector knob to the appropriate channel for the day.  Each instructed to monitor and relay all transmissions via HT. 

A formation run immediately followed and yes you guessed it, the dispatching started.  During various parts of the run, crews were separately dispatched to a given call type and location, then expected to hightail it back to their PPE and dress for the occasion.  Once the company responded over the radio they were cancelled and returned to the formation run.  A face to face meeting was generated with the Company Officer and Engineer prior to returning to the run.  Each had to answer direct questions of "What call type were you responding to?"  "What address and cross street was given?" and "Why did you choose to dress in that specific PPE?" A fun productive interaction which will require improvement in fine tuning listening and decision making skills.

Forcible entry training filled this classroom day.  Cadets learned to identify various locks and mechanisms.  They were shown the weak and strong points of these locks, then taught how to analyze and overcome that weak point to force entry into a given building.  They learned some locks can be easily worked by manipulating the key area while others are reinforced and can only be breached by cutting.  I suspect everyone in an effort to ensure personal safety went home that night re-evaluating their own residential lock situation.

Wednesday's early morning workout was cancelled due to the administration of block exam 422.  Upon completion, cadets filed out of the back of the classroom in pairs to set up the day's drill stations of hose, ladders and SCBA confidence.  This day would quickly turn into experiences in the value of gravity, talking yourself calm and controlling breathing in stressful situations.  

At Ladders, one firefighter raising methods for placing 24' extension ladders were introduced. Each cadet was tasked with picking up, carrying, placing, footing, raising, leaning and adjusting these long and lightweight pieces of equipment against the given objective.  A handful of them lost to gravity as the ladders fell.  Affected cadets were quickly assessed for injury and motivated to continue performing.  Rebuilding confidence and reinforcing technical skill is a must for success. Equipment was repeatedly analyzed for safe and effective function.  By the end of these sessions, every cadet was able to meet their ladder objective with a few performing as natural masters.

The cancellation of Ventura County Fire Department's PAEs, presented the opportunity to utilize the SCBA prop for confidence training.  The prop is contained within an 8'x45' trailer, towed in and off loaded by one of County's commercial drivers.  Constructed inside is an unlit two story wooden maze with a make shift window, stairs, slide, narrow passageway, large living room, movable slats to change travel direction and an instructor's hallway for monitoring.  FUN STUFF!

The assignment?  Enter through one door, navigate your way through the maze in the dark on air, remaining calm and strategic while conducting a right-handed search pattern, staying together, communicating with one another, narrowing your profile by removing your SCBA and advancing through the tight spot, then re-donning prior to exiting the opposite hallway.  Easy for some and challenging for others, a true test of reality and self discipline.

As ladders and SCBA challenges continued, so did the mastering of hose laying techniques. Crews have numerous hours in hose drills behind them now, enough to entice relay competitions between companies.  The first round of friendly fun started with Alpha and Charlie companies.  A very close competition with Alpha taking the win.  A rematch is in the works. At the day's summary, lots of positive feedback, encouragement and the recommendation to eat and sleep well in preparation for the next heavy drill day.

Thursday, the last instructional day of the week was without a doubt the most demanding.  Drill and rehab set up for the day followed a 4.5 mile formation run.  The hot afternoon rotation of performing in turnouts fell on Alpha and Charlie.  The scheduled rotation consisted of forward and reverse hose lays, 1 firefighter ladder placement and climbing and hand tool work at the roof prop a station we call "Pry".

At Pry, cadets performed in full turnouts learning then demonstrating techniques used to force entry through door jams.  Light and heavy "irons" (a combination of either a haligan/flat head axe or haligan/10#sledge) were used for prying.  Belt axes were used to check for interior fire extension by cutting through OSB ceilings and walls.  Rubbish hooks and pike poles were used to break simulated glass windows at floor and above floor levels.  The overhead work of cutting ceiling was an eye opener for the entire Battalion.  Everyone of them pushed beyond their comfort zone.  Team building was at a high as weary finishers turned around to encourage their buddies to complete the assignment and meet their cutting objective.  It was definitely a quality aim appreciation session.

Radio use continued and for the first time, the Battalion was dispatched to a lunch time structure fire.  "Structure fire sector 42, Companies Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, respond to a reported structure fire, at the app bay on 104 Durley Drive, one-zero-four Durley Drive, cross of Academy Way, respond on channel one."  Cadets filtered out of the lunch room in waves, dropping whatever they were doing so they could quickly make their way to their turnouts and dress in record time. Pax reinvented the PT uniform by utilizing the closest foot wear available to catch up with his crew, a comical moment the group will surely remember.

Afternoon rotations began at 1310 with temperatures hovering in the low 80's.  As Alpha and Charlie worked their muscles and minds through Ladders and Pry, Bravo and Delta mastered their skills at hose lays.  Another round of friendly competition commenced with Bravo taking the win and it looks as if another rematch will be in order.

The week ended in good spirits.  The group was polled to determine if the demands of rotating through Ladders and Pry in the same morning or afternoon session was too daunting.  The result, an overwhelming support of maintaining the current regiment.

Summary ended with the introduction of the next round of company officers.  Battalion Officer Minicucci, Company A Officer Powell, Company B Officer Hill, Company C Officer Dominguez and Company D Officer Braun will lead the group through next week and beyond.  In the midst of Battalion 42's hose and ladder finals next week, the Ventura County Fire Department's will conduct Rope Rescue Systems 1 training and countywide Regional HazMat training and the State of California will facilitate FF1 Certification Evaluator's training, all onsite.  It's going to be a busy one.

42, a loud round of applause to each of you.  As you prepare for this very important week of performance finals, stay confident in your ability.  You all have it, the cadres and I have all seen it and we are looking forward to your success.

Captain Crudo