The ABCs of Demonstration Drills

Issue 4 and Volume 15.

By including the public in your area drills you build positive relationships, market the needs of your department, and make the citizen the center of your mission. (pixaby)

It’s always good to drill. Drilling in the tower hones our skills. We get good at laying hose and throwing ladders on the drill court. We can enhance the transfer of skills from this valuable training to actual incidents by incorporating various forms of demonstrations drills into our routines.

The best way to prepare for fire in your district is to train in your buildings. Conduct demonstration drills. We drill; the public watches/participates. The drill can be as simple as throwing a ladder or pulling dry hose on an automatic fire alarm or as complex as a multiple-casualty incident with public education and security staff participation. When discussing your drill with the public, scale back to respect property and scheduling; always take no for an answer; and accommodate accordingly. If you take a few extra minutes to make that personal connection with your citizens and keep an eye out for potential training opportunities, drilling in your own buildings can be as easy as ABC.

Ask and Be Considerate.

Following are some examples of demonstration drills we have done in the Seattle (WA) Fire Department:

Test a hydrant; take a hydrant. In Seattle, we test every hydrant in the city. We’ll pick a few hydrants with minimal impact on traffic flow for our drill. I put the tailboard members in the front seat to give a short report and make the hydrant. Spotting a hydrant on the street is different than on the drill court. When the neighbors come out, we can answer any questions they may have.

Pre-fire drill. Make a respectfully modified drill part of the prefire. We have a high-risk building in our district with a history of fatal fires. We scheduled a fire safety class (with a resident interpreting for those who don’t speak English) and demonstration drill with a designated fire room and hose dummy on the balcony. After the class, we allowed residents to position themselves in the hallway or out front. We provided an extra radio on the training channel. We arrived, gave a report, stretched dry to the standpipe, took the hydrant, walked two floors below, counted the doors, took the standpipe, gave a CAN report, covered, stretched dry to the “fire room,” and reported benchmarks. The truck extended the ladder to the seventh floor and made a rescue from the balcony. The residents got to see what we do and feel how fast we get to the fire if they protect in place. A year later, we had a fire in the same building. We performed like we were on the drill court and so did they.

Train with the staff. “We have trained with the fire department. During the fire we had, our security guard on duty, Richard Doherty, responded to a smoke alarm. He could hear the resident in the apartment. He put the fire on her head out, wheeled her out, closed the door, and updated 911 from a place of refuge. Thanks to his training and quick actions, he saved that resident’s life! When the fire department arrived, they used our office with surveillance cameras as the command center.” Tom Williams, Security Supervisor.

Automatic fire alarm. You’re already there and dressed for the party. Typically, half the residents and the manager are out front. Ask if you can lay dry hose to the burnt toast fire room or the farthest point in the building. Extend the ladder, take the hydrant, or hook up dry to the standpipe. Encourage them to watch what we would do if there was an actual fire. If it’s late at night (it usually is), ask the manager if you can schedule a fire safety talk and demonstration drill. 

Go to the roof. While inspecting, ask to go to the roof. Throw the ladder and bring the tools. Don’t start the saw but simulate cutting the hole. Bring dry hose.

After the fire. Public education and a demonstration drill can be part of the healing process after a fire. Given a respectful amount of time, the residents may want to talk about the fire and ask questions. You may recreate the fire response, so they can see what happened. It may also be too traumatic. Be sensitive.

Schools, camps, neighborhood block parties. Take the time to plan a meaningful drill. We have a vacant house over the hill on a dead end. I talked to the neighborhood watch contact and scheduled a predrill. We drilled with a relay supply, attack line, and ladder pipe (we did not flow the ladder pipe). The truck also did a Stokes drill. The neighborhood kids participated at safe levels. It is good training for us and fun for them.

Public participation. We had permission to respectfully drill on an unoccupied rental home. Is it faster to redeploy a charged line to the Charlie side or deploy a new line? We let the neighborhood kids make the prediction and then timed both evolutions.

Non-sprinklered apartments. These are life safety hazards. We lay dry hose in as many as we can. Courtyards and exterior stairs may offer the opportunity for you to charge the lines. Some are uniquely challenging for ladder access. They provide an excellent opportunity for the engine and ladder companies to drill together as a team.

Wet hose in the courtyard. We have senior assisted living cottages with a difficult-to-access courtyard. We preplanned a drill where the residents could sit outside and watch with their family members. We stretched hose, sprayed water, and went to the roof. We practiced radio communications on the training channel and let the residents listen. One of the senior women has a brother who was a firefighter. After years of telling his stories, she got her picture holding the fire hose (dry) and got to talk on the spare radio. We had a meaningful drill and the seniors had stories to tell.

The objective is to transfer our skills to a specific building and interact with our community. We are performing for the public. This is not the time to “see how we do.” Prepare a drill script, practice specific skills, and impress citizens.

When we follow the ABCs (Ask and Be Considerate), our ability to drill in our own buildings is limited only by our imagination and the relationships fostered with the citizens we serve.


Jeanna Setera Hopkins, EMT, BA, MA, is a lieutenant in the Seattle (WA) Fire Department, Fire Station 24/C-Shift