Stop talking, start performing: It’s time for a post-pandemic training reboot

Shake off the strictures of COVID-19, gear up and use training to prove you’re still ‘brilliant at the basics’


As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted across the nation, firefighters and officers will soon find themselves returning to a level of normalcy or, at the least, a sense of a new normal in a post-pandemic time.

So many of us have been on some form of lockdown or restrictions for over a year now, and our services were taxed beyond measure. But firefighters stepped up. Even while dealing with conflicting and confusing PPE guidance, navigating the polarized beliefs about the coronavirus, and managing our increased run volume, we’ve continued to answer the call. But the stress of coping with the pandemic has taken a toll on our mental health. We’re worn down by the inability to truly decompress after a shift due to lockdown restrictions, family stressors, childcare issues, homeschooling and myriad other off-time challenges.

The good news: Now is the time to get back out there and do the job we’re all sworn to do.

Practice good stabilization techniques with cribbing and struts. See if the tow companies can place a vehicle on its side or on its top for the training.
Practice good stabilization techniques with cribbing and struts. See if the tow companies can place a vehicle on its side or on its top for the training. (Photo/Trevor Frodge)

Get back to training basics

While the mantra “Stop Talking, Start Doing” can be applied to any area of personal or professional life, I’m going to focus solely on training here.

The training needs of many fire departments and EMS agencies had to be drastically altered for follow COVID-19 guidance. Social distancing and mask requirements made many of our training sessions nearly impossible to conduct, which may have led to a sense of complacency, or even apathy.

Drilling on the basics is a cornerstone of firehouse culture, but when we can’t train, our skills diminish. Whatever the effect of pandemic restrictions, the public still expects high-endurance athletes to show up at their time of need and offer exemplary service in performing fire suppression and rescue.

So, how do you restart a training regimen after lockdowns are lifted? Here’s a simple process:

  1. Sample your subordinates on their knowledge, skills and abilities.
  2. Look objectively at where improvements need to be made. Note: While performing this evaluation, remember to take an introspective look at yourself.
  3. After your evaluation, start a training protocol by focusing on the basics.

Let’s dive a little deeper into how to make this happen.

As spring progresses to summer, start with engine company operations. Get outside and flow water. Don’t talk about flowing, don’t theorize or form hypotheticals, but simply get out and flow.

Deploy your handlines, maneuver them, and practice good patterns. Set up the dump tanks and practice drafting; ensure that firefighters and operators can sustain a positive water supply.  Discuss tactics and set benchmarks, like having a line stretched and water flowing in 60 seconds. Practice masking up quickly. These aren’t kitchen table-type trainings; they are the fundamentals that we must constantly hone or we risk a shortfall in our skills and tradecraft.

Practice Vent-Enter-Isolate-Search (VEIS) tactics. Even if you don’t have a window or second floor for practice, throw the extension ladder against a building, mask up quickly, then climb to the top of the ladder and back down, all while being timed. That completes two key parts of VEIS skills development (ladder deployment and masking up). Then search a small area of the firehouse in limited visibility conditions. Time your performance to set realistic benchmarks for improvement.

Hone your extrication skills. Network with local tow agencies or contact salvage yards to see if you can acquire some vehicles for extrications. If you run a complement of extrication tools, work on a simple rip and blitz and dash roll. Practice good stabilization techniques with cribbing and struts. See if the tow companies can place a vehicle on its side or on its top for the training. 

The goal of any of these training regimens is not necessarily to introduce new topics, but rather to set performance benchmarks on what should already be known. The firefighters on your company should know how to stretch a line, deploy ladders and operate the rescue tools. So make them prove it. Have them show you how proficient they are, and then escalate the training into more challenging scenarios – but we must be brilliant at the basics first.

Gear up and start performing

Obviously, there are hundreds of skills we can practice with our company. If your crew kept training and kept the fire going through the pandemic, then my hat is off to you. If not, now is the time to shake off the limitations of the past year and move forward, particularly as most of our training can again be done with the equipment and facilities on hand.

Get up, gear up, get moving, stop talking and start performing.

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