Academy Blog Series - Battalion 43

Week 3    Hose, Ladders, Strike, SCBA Confidence, Electrical, Heavy, Tools Aloft

Week three was the Battalion’s first full on five day drill week, their most challenging yet.  During this week, the group’s basis firefighter skill set will expand tremendously and physical fitness strengthen considerably. 

Early planning and drill set up during week two made for a smoother Monday morning as the Battalion prepared for Hose, Ladders and Strike.  The day was set with a typical drill day rotation, two stations at Hose, Forward Lay and Reverse Lay, one station at Ladders and the last station at the roof prop for a drill we call Strike, each station set at ninety minute rotations and building off skills learned the drill before.  Drill set-up assignments were determined at the morning officer’s briefing. Alpha Company set up ladders, both 14’ roof and 24’ extension, Bravo swept and mopped apparatus floors, placed dry hydrants for drilling and set traffic cones for safety, Charlie set up cadet rehab areas and Delta delivered all the tools and wood to the roof prop to rebuild after Strike.

Forward and Reverse hose lays continued with practice on mastering the skills shown the week earlier.  Ladder skills however, are expanded on a gradually increasing scale.  Cadets first learned the balance and techniques of placing a 14’ roof ladder, then were introduced to the heavier more cumbersome 24’ extension ladder.  Extension ladder lessons began with the cadets working in pairs to properly place the tool to the building.  Once a comfort zone was created, cadets were instructed to continue the work in pairs, but now with one cadet holding the ladder to the building from underneath, called footing the ladder, while the other climbed it.

Some may think ladder climbing skills come as second nature, until they climb that first ladder.  Hand and foot movements must be coordinated and remain opposite to maintain a level climbing balance.  Learning this balance in the first round will do wonders later when climbing these same ladders while carrying tools aloft, to above floors or the roof.  Cadets were taught to force their right leg to move in motion with their left arm and visa-versa, much easier going up than climbing down.  A number of the cadets climbed initially with hesitation as their bodies were held within inches of the ladder’s rungs, but as repeated trips up and down the ladders were completed, confidence built with all but a small few still needing more climbing practice.

Locking off while working from a ladder is required for safe fire ground operations.  As one cadet would foot the ladder, the other would climb to the desired height, plant one leg on a rung, adjust the other leg through the ladder rungs then wrap their foot around the ladder’s outside beam.  This type of leg securing allows firefighters to perform work from that position on the ladder while maintaining stability during tool use.  However, before a cadet is allowed to perform actual work from that secured position, they must show confidence with their leg locking ability.  So as Cadet Vasquez footed the ladder, Cadet Steele demonstrated his confidence by climbing appropriately to the designated height, positioning his legs accordingly and leaning back to look up to the skies with his arms spread wide.  Every cadet demonstrated this skill before moving to their next assignment of actually performing work off that ladder while secured.  By the end of the day, each team worked comfortably while communicating their actions to their crew member footing the ladder below, Cadet Robles, “Working off my right!”…Cadet Sisk, ”Copy, working off your right!”

At Strike, cadets learned more about hand tool use.  Last week they performed overhead axe work, breached walls, pried door jambs and broke simulated glass on ground and above level floors.  Today, the hand tool use continued, same tools, different setting.  Axe swing was practiced on a flat area prop.  Two methods were practiced, one to breach or cut a hole through a plywood sub-floor, the other to cut through a thicker wood structural member, such as a floor joist.  As Cadets Ebrahim, Roberto, Thurman and James quickly learned, having comfortable productive axe swings prevents early fatigue and gets the job done in minutes.

Proper aiming and prying techniques are some of the basic skills necessary for forcing entry into a building.  Hand tool placement on the object to be forced and firefighter hand and finger placement on the tools being used to force takes considerable practice.  Door jamb breaching was learned during Pry.  During Strike breaching padlocks, hinges, well seated eye bolts and lag bolts were taught.  One cadet would hold a rigid tool on the object to be forced, then call “Strike!” so their crew member would swing and hit that tool, breaching the objective and thus entering the building. As an example, once Cadet Guy was shown how to properly position his body while holding the Striking tool, a couple of methodical swings of his sledge hammer were enough to force the haligan tool, Cadet Pruter was holding, through the lag bolt.

All that great destructive work requires significant construction work.  Once all companies completed and cleaned up their afternoon stations, they were instructed to report to the roof prop to rebuild and replace all the consumable supplies destroyed throughout the day.  Cadets worked like crews on assignment, each company with their own duties, with all officers reporting their progress and requesting reassignment once their job was complete.  The day ended in the academy classroom with discussions surrounding the new skills learned and the general expectations of the following morning.

At the recommendations of Battalion 42, an expansion of leadership roles was introduced this semester.  As a result, company officers have been given considerable responsibility to provide for their crew needs while completing coordinator assigned tasks.  They have also been assigned an appointed cadet within their company to assist them, with the intent to prepare those assistants for the next role of company officers.  Discussion surrounding the progress of this new format and the implementation of a mentoring position was the focus of Tuesday morning’s briefing.  The officers were asked to give opinion on how the volume of new responsibilities affected them and if the seconds in command appeared ready to move forward.  All officers agreed time in the seat would help assistants prepare for their full role as the primary company officer.

Acting assignments are a common practice in many fire departments.  The assignments are given to personnel who have successfully completed their department’s promotional testing process.  These personnel ranked high on the list and may soon be promoted.  A typical acting assignment scenario would be to staff a position held by an officer who is away from duty because of illness or injury with a high scoring candidate in the Captain’s promotional process.  So keeping close to that concept, an Acting Company Officer position was created.  For the remainder of this week, the current company officers, Otani, Cervantes, Mulvehill and Lee would mentor their assistants, Robles, Hampton, Wagner and Hobbs, then later trade places to mentor the new acting officers as they performed. 

Tuesday’s light rain altered the morning’s early plans. Physical fitness continued with a group warm up under cover in the Fire Tech breezeway and a three mile formation run on the grounds.  A morning uniform inspection was scheduled and rather than postponing it, the inspection location was changed from the mat to the Fire Tech hallway, not as accommodating as the Mat, but cozy.  At 0845, the Battalion stood at attention as the inspection commenced.  Once complete, the group moved to the academy classroom for a fill-in ladder command quiz.  Each cadet was to write all commands to be spoken when using the flat and beam raise methods for placing a 14’ roof ladder and a 24’ extension ladder using two firefighters.

Gaining confidence when performing in self-contained-breathing-apparatus, SCBA is an absolute must for successful academy completion and firefighter survival.  Numerous drills are planned and scheduled to allow cadets ample time for gaining this confidence, from the beginning stages of equipment familiarization and structured donning practice to wearing the bottle and harness assembly while placing 24’ extension ladders.  It’s extremely important for each cadet’s body to get acclimated to wearing it on the fire ground and breathing through it comfortably while performing fire attack.

SCBA Confidence is a drill conducted in the academy apparatus bay, with the Certified Physical Abilities Test, CPAT tunnel as the primary focus.  The tunnel is used as an instructional aide and serves as a darkened space for cadets to crawl through while breathing bottled air.  A number of passes are made, each requiring more skill and competence.  The first pass had cadets on air with standard tunnel visibility.  Cadets Fudge and Barrett stood at the tunnel entrance ready to move the canvas cover draped over the opening as Cadets Ebrahim, Pulido, Moore and Sisk prepared themselves for their first pass.  The rotations continued until the entire Battalion successfully completed their first trek. 

The second pass required greater confidence.  Cadets were to pull their nomex hoods over their masks to impede sight as they felt their way from one end of the tunnel to other.  Team work was important during this pass, as entering cadets worked with poor to no visual.  As Cadets Mulvehill and Steele monitored the canvas entrance, Cadet Duda knelt to a crawl position, hood pulled well over his mask, breathing air with zero visibility.  Duda eager to enter, crawls in the blind, hitting the wall of the tunnel entrance, Mulvehill quickly intervenes guiding him in the right direction.

The third and last pass was the most challenging and most fun.  Cadets had to work in teams of two, one positioned at each end of the tunnel, both with handie-talkies, HTs, as their primary means of communication.  Their assignment was to make an entry to search for the victim, a manikin, inside.  Once found, the two would have to talk to one another, through their masks, and determine what method of rescue and which end of the tunnel to exit with that victim.  In addition, the primary crew member inside was required to communicate all conditions and actions to the “Tunnel Group Sup” positioned on the outside.  The drill made for great learning and listening, as cadets outside of the tunnel stood quietly listening to the radio traffic and voices of the crews inside getting worked.  And that they did.

Peers challenging peers made for great interactive learning.  Cadets not in rotation were allowed to hide the manikins in the tunnel as the crew in rotation stood outside.  Once the victims were hidden, a group briefing was conducted to discuss search and rescue expectations of the crew about to enter.  As the rotations and the morning progressed, confidence increased.  Cadets began to hide manikins in difficult spots within the tunnel, sometimes multiple manikins simultaneously and other times no manikins at all.  Search teams would rescue an adult victim only to exit the tunnel and be asked where the child was.  At the end of one scenario, the group stood listening to “One, two, three…(sliding movement coming from inside the tunnel)…one, two, three”, the tunnel canvas cover opens, Wilcox and Morris exit dragging the adult victim to safety only to find Duda saying, “Where’s my son?...Where’s my son?”  A trip back into the tunnel lands Morris with the rescue of the toddler still down inside, heroic job gentlemen.  A great day of team and confidence building while breathing bottled air, working in the dark, trying to make out muffled words coming from your crew members mask, talking over the radio through the mask and listening to every radio transmission outside the tunnel to monitor the search team’s progress. 

Controlling breathing while working on air is a life safety part of firefighter training.  An entry level drill to test the cadet’s ability to function while on air was given in between tunnel rotations.  The six floor tower was the prop of focus.  Company assignments were to don full structural personal protective equipment, PPE, to include SCBA and travel as a group to the roof of the tower.  Crews were instructed to carry one spare SCBA bottle per person, stay together throughout the assignment, monitor air supplies and control breathing.  Any crew member with low air sounding alarms was to exit the tower immediately with a supporting crew member.  To celebrate a day’s job well done, the Battalion’s first group photo was taken and is displayed as the front photo for this blog.

Wednesday’s drill rotation was set for Hose, Ladders and Electrical.  Hose continued with forward and reverse hose lay deployment.  Ladders continued with progress in climbing ability and raising techniques and Electrical introduced cadets to generators, power tools and electrical cord types.  SCBA Confidence had the cadets in structural PPE all day.  As a drill dress down, Ladders was the only rotation requiring structural clothing.

Hose lay deployment stations require cadets to function in four different roles as members of an engine company crew, Officer, Engineer, Nozzle member and Hydrant member.  Mastering all of the tasks of these assignments requires continuous practice.  Ten days of hose practice is provided to allow cadets time to prepare for performance finals.  Here’s a breakdown of one of Delta Company’s reverse lay evolutions.  Four cadets position themselves on the engine, Officer Dyer, Engineer Duda, Nozzle Member Kelly and Hydrant Member Clark.  The engine arrives on scene, Dyer orders, “Pull 250’ of 2 ½ to the fire!” Kelly repeats the order, steps off the engine and begins pulling the hose as instructed.  Clark steps off the engine to give Kelly a hand.  Duda removes an appliance, called a gated wye, from the rear compartment of the engine, places it on the ground and returns to engine.  Kelly and Clark complete the 250’ hose pull.  Clark returns to the engine. Kelly uncouples the hose from its hose bed.  Dyer steps in to pull the 4” supply hose, foots it and yells “Take Off!”  The engine drives forward.  Dyer and Kelly make the hose connections to the gated wye, run to the nozzle and call, “Water!”  Duda works on making the connection from the engine pump panel to the hydrant, “Water coming!” Clark breaks the 4” hose coupling at the engine tailboard and connects it to the pump discharge outlet.  Once connected, he makes contact with Duda for instructions, “Go fight fire.”  Clark joins his crew at the nozzle and the evolution ends, practice, practice, practice.

Cadet ladder skill level continues to increase.  Ladder placing competitions have started, a greater motivator for mastering techniques.  Raising techniques, climbing and locking off and climbing and working with tools were practiced for the bulk of the drill.  When the lesson was completed, raising races began.  Each team consisted of two cadets.  The rules and goals of the exercise were to safely and rapidly raise and place a 24’ extension ladder to the building.  All moves are monitored with unsafe moves causing an immediate stop and elimination from the round.  Numerous teams were successful, many of them completing all moves safely within twenty to thirty seconds.

Electrical is a work station geared to introduce cadets to electrical power tools.  The station starts off with introduction to power cord types, circuit breakers and ground fault circuit interrupters, GFCIs.  As the session moves forward, operating generators, flood lights, blowers and saws were brought in.  Crews were divided into three and rotated through two separate saw station and one on generator, scene lighting and blower station.  Cadets were shown how to determine the correct power cord required for a given tool and set that cord for work to ensure it wouldn’t be inadvertently unplugged.  They used chop saws, skill saws, reciprocating saws and were taught how to start an apparatus onboard generator and put 500 watt portable scene lighting and blowers into service, great electrical lessons which will pay dividends later when the group builds their Battalion project.

Thursday was an eye opener for just about every cadet, as the demands for strength and tool technique increased.  The morning started off with an officers briefing to discuss logistical plans and leadership transitions for the Battalion.  A standard Thursday work out, four mile formation run, followed.  During the run, the group was dispatched to a call, “Structure fire, 1160 Academy Way, cross of Bowline.  Respond on Channel One.”  Everyone did a speedy job, racing to their turnouts and dressing accordingly.  A record turnout time of 1:53 from the time of dispatch was achieved.  Radio listening skills improved significantly with all crews able to identify the correct address, cross street and channel to respond on, great job.

Hose, Ladders and Heavy was the drill set for the day.  Hose lay skills are improving on a daily basis, with competence levels strong enough for competitions to be added into the mix.  Body acclimation to structural clothing is also improving.  As a result, attire demands were increased to require cadets to perform the hose lays while wearing turnouts, a basic standard in all fire departments.  Heavy is a drill station introducing the concept of using a variety of tools for moving and lifting heavy objects.  Concrete slabs and blocks are used.  Tools made available to the cadets to move these objects consisted of long pry bars, cribbing and wedges, rolling bars, air bags and pressure regulators, and hydraulic bottle and floor jacks. 

The Ladder station gave the cadets their greatest challenge thus far.  This was the day the group was introduced to carrying, placing, raising, lowering and grounding 24’ extension ladders on their own.  Manipulating these ladders as a one person operation is common practice and will be become a testing standard Fall 2015 to meet new State Fire Training Firefighter I Certification Testing Standards.  The ladders are cumbersome, slightly heavy and difficult to maneuver to the newcomer.  Successful placement takes practice in technique and confidence when throwing.

More than half the Battalion struggled with their first rounds of the one person method of raising.  As the day progressed, a small handful of cadets raised the ladders confidently with the bulk of the group requiring significantly more practice.  Four days will be allotted to practicing the one person raise technique.  A few ladders hit the ground, with multiple needing repairs and one pulled completely from service.  It is definitely an acquired skill.  The group performed well overall during their initial exposure to this technique.  Words of encouragement were continually spoken as the cadets worked to maintain a confident approach.  Balancing, gravity, leg positioning, halyard handling and elbow and arm placement all play major roles in safe raising and lowering techniques.  

Thursday afternoon marked a significant event for this academy.  For decades, live propane fire and high angle rope rescue systems training have occurred.  An Advisory Committee made up of area fire department chiefs, county agency representatives, Fire Tech faculty and student body representatives, meets every semester to discuss fire science education and training.  Firefighter I curriculum compliance was a topic for discussion and decision making in Thursday’s meeting.  To comply with new firefighter training standards set by the State, the academy must provide live interior structural firefighting beginning Fall 2015.  Training with propane live fires and advanced rope rescue systems training will be discontinued at the end of this semester to make room for the hours necessary for live interior structural fire training.  A bitter sweet decision as the academy moves forward to meet accreditation requirements.  Bottom line, this will be the last Battalion receiving Rope Rescue Systems 1 certifications and live flammable gases training, Battalion 43, the last through the Propane Tree.

Friday began with an Officer’s briefing and an introduction to new company officers. Alpha Company Officer Robles, Bravo Company Officer Hampton, Charlie Company Officer Wagner and Delta Company Officer Hobbs will lead the Battalion for the next period.  Each officer will have assistants named 2s and a mentor named 3s, Cadet Sisk as Alpha 2, Cadet James Bravo 2, Cadet Berger Charlie 2 and Cadet Duda as Delta 2.  The first round of officer will act as mentors, with Cadet Otani as Alpha 3, Cadet Cervantes Bravo 3, Cadet Mulvehill Charlie 3 and Cadet Lee as Delta 3.  Drill set-up assignments were issued to the new officers strategically.  The last company to rotate through tool module drill stations is the company assigned to set it up.  This allows for smoother station break downs and helps to ensure all equipment is stowed properly at the end of the day.  Officer Robles had the most involved assignments and was in charge of setting up Tools Aloft.

Tools Aloft is a hoisting station for tools.  It’s common practice to use drop bags, thrown down from an above floor, to secure tools for hoisting operations.  The bags contain about 50’-75’ of utility rope and are clipped to the firefighter’s turnouts.  The action requires solid knot tying ability and at least two persons, one at the ground level to tie the tool off and the other at the desired floor to hoist the tool up.  A variety of tools can be hoisted aloft, long handled tools such as pike poles or rubbish hooks, chain saws, dry or charged hose lines, axes and ladders to name a few.  Cadets will utilize these skills in a Combined Operations drill scheduled later.

One person 24’ extension ladder operations continued to challenge cadets.  Many of them acquiring a better feel for the weight distribution and added technique.  A few troubles arose as afternoon winds picked up.  Ultimately crews were relocated to props containing leeward walls as a focal point, providing the cover cadets needed.  Focusing on ladder control is one thing, applying that focus in moderate wind conditions is too much of another. 

Over at Hose, Charlie and Delta companies were respectfully trash talking each other as they prepared for the first elimination round of hose lay competitions.  Fun stuff as each group formulated their plans for finishing first.  Each group had an assigned instructor to help them improve their chances of winning.  On one side of the mat stood Charlie with Cadets Mulvehill, Roberto, Wagner and Wilcox and the other side, Delta with Cadets Duda, Lee, Moore and Valenzuela.  For a little fun, here’s my best play by play announcing as the races progressed.

“Welcome to the first round of hose lay play offs.  This round will determine which company moves forward to the Super Hose Bowl,” (I’m grinning as I type).  “Companies Charlie and Delta will be competing.  And as I can see, each team is huddled with their instructor mentor planning their win strategy.  The cadets have taken their spots on the engines.  The engine motors have started.  The Official drops his arms to start the race. Everyone goes to work, Moore is first to the compartment, he grabs the gated wye and sets it on the ground, Duda and Wilcox at the engine tailboards, grabbing the nozzles and running side by side to place the it on the designated spot, both Valenzuela and Roberto grasping couplings and sprinting to towards the nozzle. Wagner and Lee simultaneously removing ladders from the engines, Duda and Wilcox in full competitive sprints with hose in hand, the peanut gallery roars!, Mulvehill set his wye and runs toward the hydrant.  At this point this race is too close to call!  The two sides look and move like mirrored images, Holy cow!  Duda and Wilcox run back to their engines, they pull more hose. They foot and break the couplings in record speed simultaneously.  Lee and Wagner stand by ready to pull the 4” discharge supply to the wye.  Valenzuela and Roberto sprint back to their spots on the engine. Duda is the first to throw the unused coupling back in the hose bed.  Lee jumps on the tailboard to grab the 4”.  Delta is inching ahead.  Duda positions the 2 ½. Lee and Wilcox run to the same designated spot.  Wagner jumps up and grabs the 4”.  Cheering voices yelling “Go!, Go!, Go!, Go!,” Lee foots the hose and yells “Take Off!”  Wagner yells the same.  The engines drive off with Delta now feet ahead.  Charlie makes up time.  Both teams make the wye connection simultaneously.  Valenzuela beats Roberto to the tailboard, Delta moves into the lead again.  Roberto pulls the 4”, Valenzuela now disconnecting his line and carrying it to the discharge panel.  Duda and Wilcox arrive at the nozzle in unison.  Man this close!  Lee and Wagner stretch the 2 ½ off the wye.  Moore and Mulvehill roll out their bypasses and make the hydrant connections.  Lee’s hose gets tangled!  He races to fix it.  Wagner catches up to Wilcox, Charlie yells “Water!” Mulvehill acknowledges the order, “Water coming”.  Lee arrives at the nozzle, Delta yells “Water!”  Moore returns the command, “Water coming!”  Roberto breaks his 4” coupling and tosses it back into the bed and carries the working end to the discharge side of the engine.  Valenzuela makes his connection, runs around the front of the engine, tells Moore, “4” hose connected”, Moore…”Go fight fire!” Valenzuela now in a full sprint, Roberto’s right behind him.  They run along the hose lay, racing to catch up with their crews at the nozzle, both with faces of sheer determination.  Valenzuela arrives first!.  Delta takes it!  What a race folks!  What a race!  Until next time, thanks for reading our blogs and supporting our/your cadets.  Be safe”

Captain Crudo