Drill it in – how to run effective, dynamic short-duration drills to build teamwork, increased safety, and enthusiasm. By Andrea Zaferes and Walt Butch Hendrick

Real life drills for real life operations.

Fire departments are faced with waning budgets that need to cover an ever-growing number of disciplines, that each require training, drill-time and equipment. Additionally, the growing need for many rescue personnel to have second or third jobs may decrease their availability to have time for training, equipment maintenance, and drills.

We have found that realistic, dynamic, speed drills can often be equally, or even more, effective than the typical full or half day drills. There are also methods of maintaining skills in which team members perform 2-3 minute drills during shifts, or before and after meetings. Short, surprise drills can be highly effective learning experiences, and can provide participants with the full realization that regular skill maintenance is critically important.

We divide drills into 3 types.

Short “On-Duty” drills that run anywhere from 10 sec to 15 min per person or “group”, with group defined as 2 or more members of the team.

Scenario mission-driven drills that last from 10 min to 90 min per “group”.

The standard half or full day drill where the majority of the team members attend and perform the designated skills.

Short “On Duty” drills are designed to get the greatest results in the shortest period of time with the greatest flexibility in regards to time of year, indoor and outdoor options, varying number of participants, and weather conditions. These drills can almost always be conducted with personnel who remain in service, so there are no overtime or other costs to the department. On-duty drills can run during a 5 minute time slot during a monthly meeting in a volunteer fire department, or when

An example would be creating immediate-independent-victim-positive buoyancy with an ice rescue floatation sling in less than ten seconds from point of contact. The mock victim and rescuer can do this while standing, laying on the ground, or with a table between them simulating the ice roof. A group of 10 rescuers can each perform the skill as a victim and as a rescuer one time each in less than 4 minutes.

Another example would be to set up a tire in a parking lot or in the building that rescuers can practice throwing rescue throw line bags through. Keep the line in the bag so only the bag is thrown. That will save lots of time. Packing the line in the bag takes too much time and makes the drill far less fun. Make the throw bag drill akin to playing horseshoes. If it’s a fun activity then people will “play” on their own as well as during designated times. One person can grab up five bags and toss them just for fun. Once the throws are accurate underhanded, then practice over hand throws to be prepared for throwing from boats with gunnels or when bushes or fences are in the way on land. Next practice running to the throw location to get the thrower’s heart beat as high as it might be during a real incident. The team can have a champion thrower – the most through the tire tosses in a row for example. The result will be excellent bag throwers!

A longer On Duty drill is demonstrated by boat drill that involves 12-15 minutes maximum per group of 3-5 rescuers. The group drives the boat to a launch location. The stop watch starts from time on scene. The drill consists of:

  1. Back the boat down the ramp
  2. Chalk the wheels
  3. Don PPE (PFD’s)
  4. Safety check the boat/personnel
  5. Release/remove all straps
  6. Put the boat in the water
  7. Get in the boat
  8. idle for 2 min
  9. Pull out and drive to a buoy
  10. Gently come along side the buoy
  11. Touch the buoy
  12. Return to ramp
  13. Drive boat onto trailer
  14. Secure straps
  15. Remove plugs, turn off battery…etc…
  16. Drive off ramp
  17. Stop the clock.

An evaluator monitors and times the drill. A whistle is blown at the 15 minute mark. The evaluator runs a quick debrief of what went right and what needs to be improved and how at the end of each 15 minute round. Five rounds can be completed in under 1 hr 15 minutes. So if there is a group of five rescuers, each person can act in each duty position in less than 75 minutes.

Examples of what we have found is that participants learn how to no longer make the following common mistakes in addition to improving basic overall performance:

? Can’t back trailer up

? Don’t chalk wheels

? Don’t put in plugs

? Forget to turn batteries on, fuel…

? Don’t undo & release all straps

? Don’t know how to get in or where to sit

? “Clear!” to pull

? Don’t idle before leaving

? Don’t understand wind and current so miss “mock victim” or run it over

? Can’t get boat on trailer in one shot

? Don’t properly secure tie downs

Additional examples of On Duty drills:

Surface Rescue: Establish immediate-independent-victim-positive-buoyancy in less than ten seconds from point of physical patient contact. A flotation sling can be passed around just prior to, or after a meeting, anytime of the year. If this is done monthly, rescuers will be ready to perform this critical skill when performing actual rescues.

Surface & Dive: build strong fin-kicking skills with the kick-o-war drill that takes less than ten minutes and involves all technicians simultaneously in either pool or openwater arenas.

Surface rescue: How well can you really deploy a rescue throw rope bag to a victim traveling down river when your adrenaline is pumping? How about deploying one from a small boat or when laying on the ice? Learn 10-20 minute drills that greatly improve throw bag skills in a variety of realistic scenarios.

Surface Ice dog rescue drills that can be performed indoors, outdoors, and in real ice conditions.

Victim extrication from water onto docks, boats, and shore.

Equipment Check Drill: set up 10 BCD assemblies with one to two mistakes per set-up. Participants each have a pad and pen, and have ten minutes to discover and document all the mistakes.

Drills have many functions including providing feedback to officers about individual rescuer capabilities and attitudes, skill maintenance and enhancement, equipment checks and maintenance, the effectiveness of a department’s standard operating procedures and guidelines, team building and organization, creating leaders within the team, creating opportunities to work with mutual aid departments, and feedback on the effectiveness of past training programs.

It is important to understand the difference between training and drills. Training is conducted by qualified instructors who teach students how to successfully perform new skills. Drills consist of practicing the learned skills in order to maintain and improve their performance, and to integrate them with other skills necessary to perform a safe, effective operation from start to finish. There are several types of drills. For example, a realistic, mock rescue scenario is created during which students perform their respective duties. A drill leader evaluates the performance of each individual and the team as a whole, and then makes the necessary corrections. Another type of drill employs the Law of Exercise by having individuals perform one skill or part of a skill repeatedly until it meets the minimum standard of time, safety, and effectiveness, which can be done with increasing levels of task-loading, and physical or mental stress. 3

Good training and a realistic set of equipment are critical prerequisites for drills to be safe and effective. Aside from real-life operations, there is nothing better to provide feedback on the effectiveness of past training, than the performance of individuals and the team as a whole during drills. Drills allow all involved to evaluate if the specific procedures and techniques learned during training work under realistic conditions. Likewise, drills provide feedback on the quality of instruction received during training programs. Once this information is gained individuals and the team will know what needs to be done to increase team safety and effectiveness. This might entail different training, more drill time, or changes in available equipment.

Drills also allow teams to test the skills learned during training programs in a variety of different environments and situations. For example, students may have taken an ice rescue class when the ice was strong and supportive. If they drill the learned skills when the ice is too thin to be supportive, they may discover that the procedures they learned only work well when the ice is unrealistically thick, and may fail when the ice is thin enough for a child to have fallen through it.

Another excellent drill type is the Scenario drill that last from 30 min to 90 min. Too often teams think they need to always devote a half or full day to a drill. The result is participants are likely to move more slowly than they would during an actual call, they may not experience realistic task-loading, the potential mental or physical stress of a real incident, or problems that can occur when time is of essence. Additionally, shorter drills may be easier for more team members to participate in than are full-day drills since they can be conducted more frequently.

Compare what happens during a full day drill as compared to what happens during an actual rescue incident. In the former, everyone’s equipment comes out, perhaps tents and barbeques are set up, and the plan involves getting everyone to do the skills. If skills are not successful the first time then they are repeated until there is success. That is far different than what happens in a real mission, where you get there, you take out just what you need, you develop a plan of action to perform the rescue, and you do your best to perform it. If an action fails the result may mean a victim is not successfully saved – there are no do-overs. Time is an issue. Actions need to be done correctly the first time.

While it is important to sometimes run day-long drills during which all technicians get in the water, it is equally, if not more important to realistic, scenario speed drills. An example of a speed drill is a mock victim is placed in the water and the responding team has “34 minutes” from time-on-scene to the time the mock victim is properly and successfully recovered without any safety standards compromised. It is important that the newest or weakest technicians on the team are the ones to be deployed as technicians during these drills. The more experienced technicians should remain topside and either run or evaluate other members running the operation. The result is that the weaker technicians will become strong, and more team members will have leadership skills. At the end of 34 minutes the drill is stopped and debriefed no matter where the team was in the drill.

Scenario drills are conducted from the time on scene to the time equipment is properly put back on the truck. If there is time to run more than one scenario drill then participants will learn where equipment is on the truck and how to put it back so it can be used again if a second calls come in before the gear is fully cleaned and re-packed.

These drills provide many benefits:

Unlike standard full or half day long drills, these drills teach everyone how to rapidly unload and reload just equipment that is needed, which is only done one time during a long drill. The team will most likely learn better ways to store equipment on the transport vehicle after several of these repetitions.

Participants learn what we call “professional rapid deployment motion” – how to move smoothly and effectively with no rushing and no wasting time. This typically does not occur on during most long drills.

More participants are afforded the opportunity to be placed in officer roles with the experience of running an operation from start to finish.

These drills can provide excellent opportunities for the media, chiefs, and sometimes even the general public to observe the team’s capabilities.

They strengthen team organization and the IMS, improve skill performance of newer/ weaker team members, and test leadership skills, in rapid, timed, full-scenario drills in realistic environments. The drill stops when the time is reached regardless of whether the goal was achieved. A debriefing shows participants what worked and what didn’t work, and how to make improvements.

Allow participants and evaluators to discover how a standard operating procedure and guidelines document can be improved.

Examples of scenario drills.

12 min Tension Diagonal (TD) swiftwater drill of a victim traveling down river. An evaluator puts a mock victim in the river. The rescue group arrives on scene. Get the necessary info that was not received enroute. Calculate where to set up the TD, set it up, and catch the mock victim. Simultaneously have rescuers search upstream to see if the mock victim is stuck in an eddy, in a strainer, etc. Take TD down and put it away. Once the clock stops, the scenario stops. Someone needs to keep track of the location of the mock victim. If the TD doesn’t “catch” the victim, then the group needs to learn why – did the set the TD too far upstream and missed the victim for example?

Ice rescue Fly Team drill. We do this drill at the end of our surface ice rescue level I classes. It provides a great deal of team building, energy, and a healthy competition between technicians who want to participate. The drill involves a good degree of physical fitness and the performance of skills reflexively accurately while under the pressure of being timed and having a group of peers shouting “hurry!! Go! Go! Go!” The drill involves a technician, 2 tenders – one of whom is the chief tender, a group of line pullers, 3 mock victims, a hole in the ice 75 feet from shore, a tarp for dressing. The clock starts, the technician runs 500 feet in his street clothes. He is dressed by the two tenders, safety check, walk to deployment shore location, go out on an ice rescue transport device while communicating to the victim, establish immediate-independent-victim-positive buoyancy in less than ten seconds from point of contact with continued communication with victim, secure victim to transport device, give hand signal to chief tender, line pullers pull Tech and victim to shore, and repeat twice more for two more victims, for a total of three victims. This is all done in under ten minutes. The chief tender never takes his eyes of the technician and makes sure the technician sits after the drill, drinks water, and is checked out by EMS. The current record is held by a Canadian Firefighter in Alberta at 4 min 29 seconds. The previous record was held for 9 years by a female FF in NJ at 4 min 57 sec. If the tech or tenders make any mistakes during the drill they are stopped and the mistake has to be corrected while the clock keeps running. This drill really teaches team members what happens if you let stress effect you – and how not to do so in the future.

All day drills are important to make sure everyone on the team practices designated skills until they are performed correctly, but they are not the only drills, or even the most effective drills. Short On Duty drills allow team members to hone their skills frequently throughout the year at little to no expense to the department and with little time used. They allow skills to be practiced with the pressure of time and other variables. Scenario drills are a must to make sure team members can work an incident from start to finish in a safe and effective and timely manner. They do not require much time, they often can be conducted with participants remaining in service, are very cost effective, test the departments SOP’s and SOG’s, provide feedback on previous training, and allow department officers to evaluate the team’s capabilities.

Stay safe always!

We welcome your questions and comments

LGS@teamlgs.com www.teamlgs.com (845) 657-5544 Copyright 1995 Lifeguard Systems

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