How to Conduct Effective Training on the Drillground: Tips and Best Practices

How to Conduct Effective Training on the Drillground: Tips and Best Practices

In the dynamic world of firefighting, where the scope of responsibilities is significant, staying prepared means that “every day is a training day.” There is no shortage of topics to train on and it is important that a department’s training plan be a product of an intentional and thoughtful planning process. Individual and organization readiness depends on the training program which impacts operational effectiveness and the safety of the community. Let’s unpack the art of crafting and conducting an effective drillground training session.

Planning the Drill

Begin with a lesson plan. Before initiating any drill, it’s crucial to identify what you aim to achieve. Enter the lesson plan. Lesson planning is often an underappreciated activity in our action-oriented and mission-driven culture. However, there is no denying that the best way to ensure you end up where you want to go is to have a detailed map to the destination. The most important elements of the lesson plan are the expected outcome (what you want to achieve) and the performance objectives (the specific activities that make up necessary elements of getting to your outcome). Not all drilling will require a formal written lesson plan. Drills led by the company officer are often smaller in scope and easily managed by the officer. However, despite lacking a formal lesson plan, the process is the same. Before initiating training, the instructor must have clear objectives in mind and a specific plan of activities that will provide the necessary conditions for accomplishing those objectives. 

Simulating the Environment

A significant challenge in the training environment is ensuring that what gets practiced in a drill accurately represents what is both needed and then performed on the fireground when it counts. This is described in the science of learning by the concept of transfer. The ultimate goal is for skills performed in drill to be encoded by the learner, retained, and available for recall in a different context, the fireground. The likelihood of transferring a skill from the training context to the emergency context can be enhanced by making the training on the drillground as similar to the fireground as possible. There are obvious limitations and the fireground is more difficult to simulate for some skills than others. It is difficult to impossible to simulate the modern fire environment considering NFPA 1403 restrictions on the use of fuel types. You can’t get pallets to burn like a modern sofa that is more chemically similar to gasoline. Instructors should strive to make training as realistic as possible and give thought to how the drill can mimic the expected conditions in which it will need to be performed on the emergency scene. An important element of realistic training is the incorporation of the concept of interleaving to some of the planned training. This is educational speak for mixing it up. Interleaved training on the drillground simulates a 911 response in which a firefighter is taken from any number of possible nonemergent contexts and suddenly placed into an emergent context and required to perform a skill “cold” without a warm up. This is obviously much different than showing up at the drill ground, being told what you are going to work on, having it demonstrated and then provided multiple reps to practice the skill. For interleaving to be effective, the participants must have previously acquired the skill. It is not intended as a way to teach new skills. It is for enhancing the practice of existing skills as well as developing the ability and confidence to perform a skill on demand in the heat of battle. When designing drills, sprinkle in unexpected hurdles. Perhaps it’s a sudden change in wind direction, a blocked exit, or an equipment glitch. This unpredictability tests adaptability and problem-solving skills. Enhancing the realism further, consider using props and actors which can mimic victims, bystanders, or physical obstacles, adding depth and some complexity to perhaps an otherwise simple and familiar training evolution.

Conducting the Drill

Prior to initiating the drill, conduct a brief spin-up. This short pause before the action starts provides a quick but formal method to communicate expectations clearly so everyone knows the purpose of the drill, the appropriate PPE, any relevant safety related concerns, and any other necessary information for a successful drill.  Depending on the purpose of the drill, the level of supervision will vary. It is important than sufficient iinstructors are available with appropriate vantage points in order to observe the activities of the drillground. This ensures that instructors can adequately evaluate whether objectives are being successfully met and that any safety related concerns are identified and mitigated quickly as necessary.  

Evaluating the Drill

Post-drill, the learning isn’t over. Prior to releasing crews or heading back to the station, take a few minutes to discuss the drill’s outcomes. Engage in open conversations about what went well and what areas may need attention. After-action communications should be approached with positivity and in a fair and honest manner with the goal of ongoing individual and organizational improvement. Instructor feedback can shed light on inefficiencies, missed communication cues, or tactical missteps that might have gone unnoticed in the heat of the moment. This is an important element of training where participants can learn from each other’s experiences.

Continuous Improvement

The spirit of the mantra that “every day is a training day” is one of iterative and never-ending improvement. Be proactive in addressing identified deficiencies. This might mean arranging additional training sessions or tweaking strategies for better results. The art of effective and realistic training is dependent on taking the time to assess your current abilities, make a plan to address a path to improvement, execute it, and then never stop repeating that process. Know what you want to accomplish and then determine the activities that will lead you there. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process, but it does need to be intentional.  Let SimsUshare be an instrumental tool in assisting your department’s ability to provide frequent and realistic command and decision making training. While not a substitute for drillground training, this powerful and easy to use “flight simulator” for fire officers can provide the necessary cues, patterns, and contexts to teach and practice the responsibilities of command without the logistical and financial impediments to live fire training. Contact us for a free demo today!