Academy Blog Series - Battalion 43

Week 1 Cadet Orientation, Intro to Ground Ladders, SCBA Donning & Hose

Welcome to the Academy Blog Series.  This semester the blog will follow the academy lives of Battalion 43, a group of thirty eight cadets coming from different backgrounds and levels of experience.  Readings will post every seven to ten days with topics surrounding the Battalion’s story a week at a time.

Last November during academy orientation, Cadets Pruter and Wagner were chosen to serve as the primary contacts for information dissemination.  Over the past two months these gentlemen were the Battalion liaisons, bringing attention to peer questions and working to organize the group for their day one inspection of materials.  These men did a thorough job and as a result, the Battalion as a whole met their first objective to present in unison with required materials stacked in alignment.

This semester, leadership skills were assessed immediately.  Historical practice had academy instructors confirming the presence of required materials then documenting those results on an Inventory Checklist.  To evaluate organizational ability of early leaders, inventory inspection assignments were issued to selected cadets.  As the body of the Battalion stood at attention, Cadets Otani and Phelps inspected Company Alpha, Hampton and Gelinas inspected Bravo, Wilcox and Mulvehill inventoried Charlie and Lee and Dyer examined Delta.  Each team was to submit initialed documentation upon completion.  Once inspected, cadets moved their book inventory to their designated storage shelf. 

Lockers are assigned with the purpose of keeping companies in close proximity.  This semester the locker room will be full, accommodating the men of Oxnard College’s Battalion 43 and Ventura County Fire’s Battalion 51.  There are sixty four available lockers, 43 will utilize thirty five and 51 approximately twenty, quarters will be tight.  The female locker room will be much more accommodating with only a half a dozen women utilizing a fraction of available locker space.  Cadet Cervantes called out locker assignments then instructed the group to place their designated items inside.  Upon completion, the group returned to the classroom to collect their personal safety gear and relocated to Bunker Row for turnout gear fittings.

Continuing with the evaluation of organizational skills, the same cadets assigned to inventory materials were now assigned to outfit their crews.  Each leader was instructed to break the assignment into smaller tasks and select crew members to assist.  For example, as the leaders documented sizes, the first crew assistant would issue turnout jackets while the second crew assistant issued turnout pants.  By 1100 hours, the group was positioned on the asphalt in front of the academy apparatus bay, an area we call the Mat.

Two Arcadia Fire Department Captains were onsite to guide the Battalion through their two day cadet orientation phase.  A number of topics are covered during these first two crucial days with cadet and Battalion structure as the highest priority.  As a Battalion, the group must present, move and act as one.  Teambuilding and leadership roles are critical to the early success of a group.  Movement about the grounds was first identified in the classroom, double-time, in pairs, corners at ninety degrees, covers (academy hats) worn at all times while outside unless instructed otherwise.

As the group stood on the mat, cadets were shown in detail how to place their newly issued personal protective equipment PPE, at the ready for donning.  Step by step instructions were relayed as the instructors walked and talked the cadets through each task of gear preparation.  By 1400 hours Academy Day One, Battalion 43 acted in unison by appropriately responding to commands to move, prepare their PPE for readiness and stand at parade rest in structured formation on the mat with gear displayed in tight alignment.

Raising and lowering colors is a task performed at the beginning and ending of each day.  The command to “Fallout” had the Battalion relocate from the mat to the flag pole southeast of the classroom.  Cadets were shown how to formally raise, lower and fold colors.  Instructions were also given on proper personnel movements to and from the flag pole while carrying colors and how to voice the command of raising or lowering colors to other Battalion members moving about academy grounds.  The term “Colors!” would echo and be repeated across the grounds letting all know to stop their actions, face the direction of the flag pole and stand at attention until the command of “As you were!” was relayed.

At 1500 hours, the group was instructed to change into physical training clothing and prepare for an introduction to academy circuit training and formation runs.  The group was divided into six teams for circuit training, each team setting up a given station, a tower run, manikin drag, tire drag, pull-ups, tire flip and hose drag.  Once the course was set, teams reported to their starting station, began the workout and rotated clockwise through the stations when instructed. 

The timing of rotations is determined by the team running the six story tower.  Those cadets were to don a breathing apparatus BA, harness and bottle assembly then run single file to the top of the tower twice.  Upon completion and doffing of their BA, the group would yell “Rotate!” to signal the Battalion to move to the next station.  Following the completion of an entire circuit round, the group came together for a short water and rest period, then rotated their way through the second round of training. A two mile run in formation followed circuit training.  An end of day an After Action Review AAR, was held in the academy classroom to discuss the day’s events, Academy Day One, January 12, 2015 now behind them.

Academy gates open at 0615 every morning, with cadets expected to arrive by 0630.  The group’s first unofficial uniform inspection was scheduled for 0800.  Uniform appearance, attention to grooming detail, gig lines, name tag placement, clothing wrinkles, the presence of lint, boot polishing and leather belt securing were all examined.  Once the inspection was complete, marching and facing movements were covered.  The Battalion picked up on movements quickly and marched in unison in record time, an outstanding early group performance with Cadet James acting as the Battalion Marching Officer.

After lunch, cadets reported to the classroom for detailed instruction on uniform and inspection preparation.  This session is purposefully scheduled after their first unofficial inspection with the intent of using errors identified earlier as examples of how to improve their overall appearance.  Cover labeling, collar and gig line management, shirt stays for tighter blousing, creases in pant legs and boot polishing techniques were discussed in detail to prepare the Battalion for their first formal inspection scheduled Friday at 0845.

Turnout donning sequence followed classroom discussion.  Cadets were instructed to report to the mat for instructions on how to properly dress in structural turnouts.  Directions were methodical having cadets move through each step as a group until the entire ensemble was donned.  Initial phases had cadets moving with purpose as they practiced each step.  After a few practice sessions, the rounds were timed to identify a baseline to assess progress with the first time to beat at 2:30. 

The second and last afternoon circuit training workout was set up at 1600 hours.  During this session burpees were added in between stations to improve full body strength and aerobic fitness. Two full rounds of the circuit, an organized group stretch for muscle relief and workout station breakdown finished the day off.  The Battalion was released from the mat, with all cadets encouraged to take issued PPE home for donning practice.

The Battalion’s first officers were named during Wednesday morning’s briefing.  Battalion Officer Wilcox, Alpha Company Officer Otani, Bravo Company Officer Cervantes, Charlie Company Officer Mulvehill and Delta Company Officer Lee will command the group through a heavily front loaded calendar of drills.  Acting as assistance to these leaders will be Cadet Robles as Alpha 2, Cadet Hampton as Bravo 2, Cadet Wagner as Charlie 2 and Cadet Hobbs as Delta 2.  Each of these cadets will hold the responsibility of retrieving handie-talkies, HTs every morning and communicating to one another by radio throughout each day.  The formation run was shortened to one mile to accommodate the lengthy first Officer’s briefing and a 0830 report time to the classroom for the administrative side of academy orientation.

Chief Warner welcomed the group.  She talked about the overall academy program and explained behavior and performance expectations from all cadets attending.  Logistics such as elected officers, battalion motto, certification fees and fundraising guidelines, battalion flag, plaque and graduation were all discussed.  To put assignments into motion, officer elections took place first.  A number of cadets were nominated and supported by the group, but when the count was finished Cadet Cervantes stood out as the Battalion President, Cadet Fudge as the Treasurer and Cadet Hampton as the Fundraising Events Coordinator.  Congratulations to the newly elected cabinet. 

President Cervantes was given the floor to facilitate the battalion’s motto selection.  Cadet Barragan scribed about a dozen possibilities on the white board.  “For Those Before” was voted in as the clear winner, respectful words as countless fire department personnel have experienced heartfelt line of duty losses.  The remainder of the morning covered policy, procedures, syllabus, field excursions and academy assignments.

The City of Los Angeles donated two 1990 Seagraves fire engines to the academy last semester.  These engines were delivered January 10, 2015.  Battalion 43’s afternoon assignments were to outfit both engines with tools and equipment while simultaneously outfitting themselves with the remainder of academy issued gear.  The Battalion was divided into groups, one assigned to gear issue and the others to the engines.  Everyone worked with purpose, large diameter hose was loaded on rear hose beds, smaller hose was placed in designated cross lay beds, hand tools and fittings were added to specific compartments and academy personal gear issued by squad.  Within two hours, the Battalion successfully equipped two engines and thirty seven cadets.

At 1500 hours, the group stood in formation on the mat awaiting their next assignment.  Learn by doing then learn by teaching is an instructional delivery method I strongly support.  So to start the next session off, four of the eight cadets assigned to outfit the Battalion were instructed to position themselves in front of the group and demonstrate the proper method of removing and re-installing a self-contained-breathing-apparatus, SCBA bottle to its harness assembly.  Once all questions were answered, each cadet was to repeat the action with their own SCBA.

The SCBA is one of the most important life safety pieces of equipment a firefighter will utilize and because of its value, manipulating this device with extreme competence is a must for academy success.  Once the cadets performed their own bottle change outs with the unit positioned on the ground, they were instructed to place the harness assembly on their backs and have an adjacent cadet replace the bottle as they knelt over.

Next step, turn the bottle on to allow air to move through the lines to the regulator, listen for and control any leaks or free flowing air while simultaneously controlling the motion sensing personal alarm safety system, PASS.  This took some practice.  The PASS will activate soon as the assembly is charged with pressurized air and if functioning properly, will sound loudly if the wearer remains motionless for thirty seconds. 

Alarm activation and deactivation was the focus and practiced until the sequential steps of turning the bottle on, identifying the pressure, confirming PASS activation, turning the bottle off, bleeding the system of air and properly deactivating their alarm was set into their muscle memories.  The session didn’t come quietly though.  Alarm devices sounded at random, ringing loud, resonating across the student parking lot as more control was gained.  I’m pretty sure the nearby high school teachers were wondering where all the alarms were coming from.  SCBA familiarization continued until the cadets could successfully don the unit, breathe the bottled air with a sense of comfort, then return the unit to its stowed position, tasks many of them experienced for the first time. 

The last session of the day was to practice donning academy issued structural turnouts.  With the initial lessons of performing steps methodically behind them, cadets could now focus on performing those steps for time.  A number of rounds were practiced and measured by time and the quality of cover, meaning no skin showing.  At this point, 100% of the Battalion can successfully don their personal protective clothing in 1:40, an impressive start three days in and well below the earlier measurement of 2:40.

At 0700 the next morning, Officers stood around a computer screen viewing the academy grounds as displayed by Google Earth.  Officer 2s were to lead the Battalion through the workout of the day while the primary officers were escorted about the grounds in a crew cab utility we call, 160.  Company officers were driven by each of the area props.  Identification of prop needs and supply locations were discussed for the numerous drills planned and scheduled to begin next week.  Early knowledge of the location and supply needs of a given drill will move set up periods along at a faster pace later.

Introduction to Ground Ladders started in the classroom at 0900.  The basics of ladder types, construction components, ladder commands and size selection were covered.  The session moved outside for a demonstration of how to place a 14’ roof ladder and a 24’ extension ladder safely against a building.  Cadets will soon be performing these skills both on their own and as a member of a two person team, communication and technique will become key.

During lunch Bravo Company was dispatched to a call, “Structure fire sector 104….Company Bravo respond to a structure fire at 160 Eugenia Drive, cross of Lexington. Map page 14 Edward 2, Bravo 7.  Respond on Channel 1.”  The first few members jogged their way to the mat to don their structure gear and voice their response to the fire.  Bravo Company Officer Cervantes recognized the absence of a few members and appropriately makes radio contact with them requesting they too report to the mat to don their gear and prepare for the call.  Once the drill was concluded, topics surrounding the reported address, cross street, map page number and clothing selection were discussed.  Impromptu drills of being at the ready at all times and predesignating crew assignments will be the norm throughout the semester.

Mapping, city layouts and dispatching were covered after lunch.  Cadets learned what to listen for during a typical dispatch and were shown examples of map pages and grids.  Addressing concepts were introduced on an overhead screen.  A sample wall map of the City of Ventura was displayed and used as the lesson back drop.  A short span activity was assigned with each group having to map an open road driving course a probationary firefighter would drive during a test for a firefighter driver’s license.  Once complete the group’s spokesperson would stand at the map and describe the route they planned for freeway and surface road driving, straight line backing, uphill and downhill parking, hillside driving and three point turning.

At 1445, the Battalion was positioned on the mat with gear at the ready.  The session started with the review of methodical donning and doffing of clothing and equipment, with an emphasis on controlling the mask mounted regulator and the release of bottled SCBA air to the atmosphere.  The group showed marked improvement, with each cadet gaining competence from repeated practice.  Company donning competitions followed with a number of wins going to the Alpha/Charlie side of the formation.  Bravo and Delta will have some catching up to do.  As it sits right now, Cadets Denton and Sisk hold the fastest donning times of 0.50 seconds, good job gentlemen.

Thursday ended with a classroom discussion regarding fundraising ideas and T-shirt sales.  An unscheduled visit by Battalion 42’s President and Acting Battalion Officer offered a great opportunity for members of 43 to inquire about the process.  Kat Whitby was open and shared 42’s experiences of meeting their fundraising goals, valuable information as 43 will likely need to raise approximately $11,000.00 to pay their state certification fees.

Friday morning was the Battalion’s first official inspection.  LAFD Captain Miranda was onsite to assist.  At 0900, the group stood at attention as the inspection was underway.  Other able and well qualified bodies gave an impromptu visit, offering to join in on the inspection.  As Ventura City Fire Chief Endaya and Ventura City Training Chief Hansen were introduced, cadet inspection anxiety grew.  The Battalion as a whole presented well nonetheless, standing in unison with only minor uniform errors to correct.  Situational awareness was brought to the group’s attention following the inspection because Friday was Ventura County/Ventura City Fire Academy 51’s Orientation with numerous Chiefs attending.  The grounds will soon be filled with firefighter trainees and cadets all moving with purpose.

The Introduction to Hose lesson also started in the classroom.  Water supply, hose, fittings and appliance types, hose lays and basic hose operations on the fire ground were reviewed.  One of the Seagraves engines the Battalion just put into service was parked nearby and used as an instructional aid for handling hose and fittings.  A large vinyl cover was neatly spread on the asphalt to the rear of the classroom.  A variety of hose tools, adapters, appliances, reducers, spanners, hydrant wrenches and small diameter hose lines were positioned on the cover far enough apart to step around.  Cadets were encouraged to get acquainted with the tools and equipment on display to prepare for the afternoon competitive activity.

The Fitting Bee started mid-afternoon.  The rules of the Bee were to have cadets stand in line by Squad.  Each cadet would be asked a question related to the equipment placed on display.  An instructor would pick up a piece of equipment, show it to the group while asking the cadet in turn what it is.  The cadet in question would state their name then answer the given question.  A correct answer won a trip to the back of the Squad line.  Incorrect answers were invitations to the peanut gallery.  The last two cadets standing would have a run off.

The game started easy with Squad 1being asked, “Squad One, what is today’s date?”……”Cadet Otani, one, sixteen, two thousand fifteen.”  His correct answer sent him to the back of the line.  “Squad Two, what is this called?”….”Cadet Vasquez, that is a…(deep sigh)…two and a half inch to one and a half inch reducer with rocker lugs.”  Correct, Cadet Vasquez also moves to the back of the line.  The questions kept coming, forcing cadets to put their best recall efforts on the line.  As the game progressed, the peanut gallery filled.  Questions continually answered incorrectly were sent to that gallery.  “Peanut gallery, what is AFFF?”…voices in unison, “Aqueous Film Forming Foam.”  Ultimately Cadets Guy and Wagner were the last standing. 

The run off first had the peanut gallery line up behind the cadet they thought would prevail, even support.  Cadets Guy and Wagner were handed traffic cones and instructed to run off their vision of 50’ and place the cone down.  A 50’ section of hose was stretched to its length and compared to the cadet’s measured cone placement.  Guy wins, receiving the Master Splinter Award!  As a tribute, the Battalion drops for twenty push-ups.  The Hose written exam was given afterward with five cadets scoring 30 of 32 correctly.  Cadets Lee, Barragan, Fudge, Guy and James were also given Master Splinter Awards, a great ending to an extremely productive first week.

43, your greatest chances of success will come by building your team and supporting your leaders.  Academy week ones are notoriously difficult as roughly forty individuals must find each other and come together as one.  You’re moving in the right direction and making progress.  Stay the course and unify as a rapid moving full schedule is within a few days reach.

Captain Crudo