Academy Blog Series - Battalion 43

Week 2    Hose Loads, Rolls, & Lays, Ladders, SCBA, Pry

Week 2 was the Battalion’s first official week of drill rotations.  Over the next four days, the group will learn the value of time management, teamwork, delegation of duties and listening skills.

Tuesday’s Officer’s briefing started with the realignment of crews to adjust for the recent hiring of cadets from Battalion 43’s original roster.  Proudly over the past weeks four of them have been appointed as Firefighter Trainees or Fire Control Workers for Los Angeles City and Ventura County Fire Departments, congratulations Cadets Coughlin, Fisher, Fourtner and Phelps. The Battalion now consists of thirty-six members, divided into four companies containing nine cadets each.

Orders of the Day are written instructions identifying the details of every company’s daily assignments.  Officers were given time to read and process the information contained on the document before discussion was initiated. This day’s order had the Battalion start physical fitness by 0715, followed by SCBA bottle changes at 0800, hygiene by 0830, a report time of 0900 for Hose Loads and Rolls training on the mat and afternoon rotations of SCBA training and end of day roof prop rebuild.

Their three mile formation run began at 0715.  Cadence could be heard from a distance as the group made their way along academy roads in between props.  Radio management is now the norm with two officers per company constantly monitoring traffic on predesignated channels.  At the beginning of the third mile, the Battalion was dispatched to a structure fire.  The group maintained their formation during their initial efforts to respond to the mat and don structure gear.  However they were quickly instructed to break the formation and sprint to their gear to minimize turnout times, the amount of time allowed to prepare for a given call.  A short briefing with officers and their predesignated engineers after the dispatch drill identified the need for fine tuning radio listening skills so location and cross streets can be better determined.  These skills will build as the semester moves forward.

Hose loads and rolls began at 0900.  The group was divided into two and separated a distance apart, with each group covering basic loading methods to ensure hose sections pay out smoothly when in use.  The sections are connected by lighter weight metal couplings and can be easily snagged on hose compartment construction.  Dutchman is a term given to a hose folding method which allows these couplings to pass freely as they are deployed.  Crews worked to master this technique, loading approximately five to six hundred feet of large diameter supply line in its designated fire engine hose bed. 

After lunch companies were set to rotate between two assignments, SCBA donning and familiarization and Roof Prop preparation for labor intensive drill stations we call Strike and Pry.  The pre-build for these stations is significant and planned days before the event.  The afternoon started off with Company Alpha pre-building from 1300-1400 hours.  A misunderstanding of expectations forced the early return of the company, but confusion was quickly resolved and rotations turned productive.  The plan was to have one company prepping the prop while the other three companies worked with SCBAs.  Rotations were set at the top of the hour with Officers coordinating relief efforts over their HTs

Prop preparation for Strike and Pry consists of sheeting the underside of the roof prop for Pry and the top of an adjacent flat area prop for Strike.  Crews worked together pre-build Pry first by securing OSB to the ceiling and upper wall areas.  This sheeting would serve as the focus for overhead and wall axe work performed during the drill.  They also hand cut and built simulated door jambs which would be attached to the prop’s opposing walls and serve as the prying component of the drill station.

To prep for Strike, they nailed in OSB sheeting on the flat area prop.  This early build session offered beginning lessons in basic hand tool use for construction.  This will pay dividends later because every prop the Battalion cuts, strikes, prys or rips into must be rebuilt at the end of that day.  Knowing the difference between 8 and 16 duplex and sinker nails, how to properly drive that nail using a hammer and cut wood using a variety of saws makes quick work during rebuild periods.

SCBA training started on the mat.  Structured practice of having cadets don and control bottle air pressure loss from their mask mounted regulators was completed and followed by timed donning practice.  So far, the quickest don time overall sits at just over 1:30. Continued practice will chip away at that measurement until a successful time of 100% in 1:00.  After a handful of donning rounds the group was moved to the Fire Tech Simulation Room, for the second part of SCBA familiarization.

The Sim Room is a classroom outfitted with nineteen fully loaded and internet capable computers. The units are housed in desktop work stations large enough to accommodate two students studying together simultaneously.  The afternoon assignment was for each squad to research the functional components of an SCBA assembly, document their findings then create a training video containing the research just identified.  Each video was to be narrated by a squad member while another acted as the displayer or wearer of the assembly.  Video duration limits were set at five minutes and were to contain a short and accurate explanation of each component function.  Finished products would be played over the projection screen in the academy classroom to the entire Battalion

The Officer’s briefing on Wednesday was concise, as it was the first drill day and a considerable amount of work had to be accomplished prior to the 0900 start time.  Each company had a job to do once their two circuit rotation workout was complete.  Alpha Company was charged with placing seven (14’) ladders in an area we call Ladder Land, Bravo had ice and water, the Rehab station set up, Delta was to place canopies for shade and position dry hydrants for Hose Lay stations and Charlie to set up a drill station we call, Toolbox.  Charlie’s assignment was the most involved, requiring Company Officer Mulvehill and his crew to work closely with a Ventura County Fire Captain instructor/mentor to position tools and props accordingly.  With all set up complete, the group ran off for a short cold shower to prepare for a busy day of drill ground interaction and performance.

A typical drill day is set so companies rotate through four different stations throughout the day, with morning rotations beginning at 0900 and afternoon sessions at 1300.  Companies will rotate through stations requiring similar personal protective equipment or positioned in close proximity consecutively to keep transfer times down.  This day for instance, had Alpha and Charlie rotating through hose lays in the morning and ladders and toolbox during the afternoon.  All rotation orders are listed on the Orders of the Day.  Here’s a snapshot.

                        F. Lay            R. Lay            Ladders                  Toolbox

Alpha             0900            1040                1440                        1300

Charlie           1040               0900               1300                          1440

Bravo             1300              1440                 0900                        1040

Delta               1440               1300                1040                          0900

 Companies rotating through Ladders and Pry were instructed to wear turnout pants and boots over their station pant, a brush coat, helmet, safety glasses and utility gloves.  Crews moving through Hose Lays wore station pant and boot, academy t-shirt, helmet, gloves and safety glasses.

At Forward Hose Lays, Cadet Denton sets the bar as he steps towards the engine tailboard, clears the hose fold, sets up the 4-way valve appliance attached, moves the hose fold aside for easy carrying, places the hydrant wrench harness over his shoulder, carries the valve and hose away from the engine’s tailboard, then walks toward and around the hydrant, safely positions himself and yells “TAKE OFF!”  As the engine drives off, Denton makes the hydrant connection like a pro.  Actions such as this were repeated all day as cadets attempted to embed the moves into their muscle memory.  Each cadet will ultimately be held accountable to perform four separate assignments during this particular hose lay operation.

Over in Ladder Land, crews learned the feel and practiced the techniques of raising and lowering 14’ roof ladders.  A series of commands are voiced during the skill to reinforce learning and communicate to others in close proximity of intended actions.  The length of these long, shoulder loaded tools is enough to injure anyone within the over swing zone as the ladder is carried around.  Raising techniques are simple for the roof ladder because there are no moving parts.  However, handling the 14’ long tool takes skill as one must be to set the spurs of one end at the objective on the ground then position the ladder upright and safely lean it toward the building. 

Toolbox is a drill station intended to introduce cadets to basic hand tools.  Bolt cutters of various sizes, wire cutters of various types, hand saws for cutting metal or wood and webbing for securing or pulling a given object are all utilized.  Cadets rotated through mini stations cutting chain, chain-link fence, rebar and wood.  Two scenarios were given challenging crews to problem solve as they worked together to free a victim with his head stuck between metal bars of a wrought iron bar window cover, then rescue a downed construction worker who has been impaled with falling rebar, both real issues from historical emergency incidents.

Drill stations are scheduled to end at 1600 hours.  Tool stations run slightly longer to allow rotating cadets the opportunity to finish the tool skill rotation.  At the end of each drill day, the last company working a given station breaks down that station and stows the equipment appropriately.  As crews complete their breakdown assignments, they are instructed to report to the scheduled tool station to assist with its teardown.  The end of drill day periods are also used to prepare props for drills scheduled within the next one to three days.  As mentioned earlier, companies have been working to prepare the roof prop for an axe drill we call Pry.  Once the Toolbox station breakdown was complete, the Battalion moved to the roof prop to finish that pre-build assignment.

End of day meetings are usually conducted in the academy classroom.  The session is dubbed, Summary and intended to provide an arena for the group to discuss the actions of a given day.  Cadets are prompted to speak of how they approached and accomplished the drill tasks they were given. Question and answer periods follow, with a good number of questions being redirected to the group for answers, cadets learning from and teaching one another produces phenomenal results both in the classroom and on the drill ground.  The consensus of drill day one, AWESOME!

Knot tying and the use ropes for rescue is a standard in the fire service, every firefighter is expected to tie a series of knots and follow up with demonstrations of how particular knots are put into service for a variety of situations.  The list of basic knots is lengthy containing eighteen different ties, each with a time tying limit of thirty seconds.  The Battalion would be introduced to this list Thursday morning.

Colors were raised at 0645. Shortly after, Officers gathered for their morning briefing to review the day’s orders, Rope Orientation in the morning, SCBA training in the afternoon and an end of day Block Exam.  Cadets were instructed to ensure their crews possessed the required equipment prior to the beginning of their morning three mile formation run.

Rope Orientation began in the classroom at 0900 with a thirty minute session covering rope awareness, then moved to a prop a short distance away for tying practice. The Knot Rack is a prop consisting of two rows of metal horizontal poles, waist high with upright posts attached.  The prop serves as a useful anchor for group practice when knot tying.  Once the Battalion arrived to the area, they were divided between the two sides of anchors with each cadet facing an upright post. 

The tying focus was to move through the eighteen knots having each cadet first watch and then perform each tie.  A handful of instructors were onsite to assist cadets with proper tying techniques.  A few of the knots are extremely simple and learned quickly, others more involved requiring ample practice. Because of this, knot tying is introduced early in the academy to allow plenty of time for independent tying practice.  Structured group practices will begin in week four with sessions scheduled periodically until the official rope rescue systems courses begin.

To help cadets progress with their knot knowledge and tying ability, the names of knots will be listed below.  After reading this, if you have cadets you are following, ask them how they are doing with their tying techniques.  This makes for great conversation and hopefully spurs an impromptu performance of knot tying mastery.  Upon completion of the rope components of the academy, each cadet should be able to explain the function of and tie an overhand stopper, overhand bend, a becket bend, figure eight on a bight, figure follow through, an inline figure eight (both directions), a figure eight stopper, figure eight bend, clove hitch with a safety, half hitch, butterfly knot, double overhand bend, bowline with a safety, bowling on a bight, an inline bowline with a safety, a square knot bend with a safety and two harnesses, one seat and one chest.  They’re going to be tied up for a while.

After lunch, the Battalion was to have all structural gear placed in formation on the mat for structured donning practice. One round of warm up practice started the SCBA familiarization session off.  Once complete, the fully donned battalion moved to a shaded area north of the apparatus bay.  Four stations were created for the afternoon session, each offering a different style of donning.  Two stations had fire engines set up for SCBA donning from an engine compartment, built in racks along the north wall were set up for over the head donning from a standing position on a rack and a ground area set for over the head donning from a kneeling position.  Each company rotated through each area, ensuring all members were able to don with each style or method.  Times and technique are continuing to improve.

The first block exam was administered at 1600 hours in the academy classroom.  Normally when the Battalion finishes at the end of a day, they are released formally upon the command of Dismissed!  However with the exam standing in the path of a structured release, the group was advised to secure colors with the first four cadets finishing the exam while the remainder of cadets quietly filtered out of the classroom in pairs to secure gear and equipment and academy inventory storage locations.  Once all tasks were completed departing from academy grounds would be approved.  The last cadet submitted their exam at 1715, another day behind them.

The week ended with a labor intensive drill day, a four station rotation of Forward Hose Lay, Reverse Hose Lay, Ladders and Pry.  Drill day set up and planning was the focus of the morning’s briefing.  The day would run slightly different to accommodate the scheduled Certified Physical Abilities Test, CPAT.  CPAT is an exercise completion requirement countless fire agencies require during an application process.  There are only four locations throughout the state of California that offer this test, with Oxnard College Fire Technology proudly one of them.  CPAT stations are set up on the mat where the Battalion would normally have gear placed in formation and perform tasks for Reverse Hose Lays.  As a result, the Reverse Lay set up was moved to a road just east of the CPAT area with gear being placed in formation on the asphalt south of the Tower.

Drill attire was also slightly different for this day.  Structural turnouts are worn on the fire ground during incidents.  A firefighter must be acclimated to the heat stress resulting from working while wearing protective clothing.  To assist with this body acclimation process, cadets are required to wear an increasing amount of gear during training until the cadet is used to performing in full structural turnouts for continuous periods.  Cadet rehab, hydration and fitness levels really come into play here.  Constant monitoring is conducted throughout drill sessions and the day.  Instructors are given approval to pull a cadet who appears worked, but chooses to stay quiet, from the rotation so that cadet can be rehabbed, rehydrated and reenergized for remaining rotations.  This would be the first day of full turnouts for two consecutive periods (one with SCBA) of physically demanding drill stations, Ladders and Pry.  Rotations had Bravo, Delta through Ladders and Pry in the morning and Alpha, Charlie in the afternoon.

Ladder instruction and practice is given in increments.  Placing 14’ roof ladders is the simplest of tasks.  This session would introduce the cadets to 24’ extension ladders.  These ladders are heavier, have more parts and require more strength and technique to raise and lower.  To start the crews off easier, two person raising and lowering methods are covered first.  Teams would rotate through the assignment while acting either as the member at the tip or the base of the ladder.  The objective was to call out all commands while communicating with one another to properly place the fully extended ladder to the building.  To keep the work area safe, three to four teams work simultaneously while the remaining company members practice placing 14’ roof ladders at a short distance away.  The Company Officer set the crew’s rotation so all members have chance to perform all required tasks.

Up at the roof prop, crews were performing hand tool appreciation drills.  Pry is meant to build confidence with axe, ram bar, sledge, haligan, pike pole and rubbish hook use.  Cadets are taught how to properly swing an axe.  Each is given an objective to cut through and across a 4’ section of ceiling, then down a 2’ section of wall.  This takes shoulder work and pushed a number of cadets to their limits.  Another drill objective is to the teach how to force a door jamb using an axe and a haligan or sledge.  Crews practiced positioning the haligan in the jamb then calling “Strike!” until the team could pry the jamb away from its attachment. The last drill tasks were to safely break simulated glass at ground levels using an axe or above floors using long handled tools, common fire ground assignments and a solid day of productive hand tool time.

Now the clean-up phase, once all companies completed their given station breakdowns they were to report to the roof prop for the work of recycling damaged wood accumulated from Pry operations.  Charlie Company was held back to complete apparatus maintenance of cleaning engines and washing the ambulance and utility truck.  Thirty-six cadets can make quick work of large jobs, finishing the clean-up and washing in record time.  At summary, the group was polled for opinion and overall comment for the day and its demands.  Surprisingly, the group’s consensus was to push the demand higher and require a Pry work component to be completed while fully donned and breathing air from their SCBA.  I like it, a group willing to get worked! 

Battalion 43, your support of one another is growing and relationships are beginning to form.  Continue with this productive behavior.  Marked improvement in overall skill has been made note of by multiple cadre members.  Great job!  The regiment of the next couple of weeks will be tight as eight of the next ten academy days are packed with drills.  Stand by one another and assist as needed to bring your companies up together.  Strong performers are already recognized, utilize them to strengthen the performance of your crew members.  Stay the course.

Captain Crudo