There is no doubt one of the most difficult tasks as a firefighter is operating at the pump panel of a fire truck.
When we see the driver/engineer/operator at a working fire, it looks as though he is not doing much. However, if the job is done correctly, it requires a lot of mental preparation to provide the proper pressures when the standard hose lengths, diameters and nozzles change from those that are preloaded on the truck.
These individuals are also responsible for keeping track of their equipment and inventory and making sure the truck is operating correctly by observing the other gauges associated with the pumping operation. Knowing how to troubleshoot a situation is vitally important.
It can be a lonely world because the rest of the crew is inside the structure and/or attending to the hose lines. An assigned driver has moved up a step beyond firefighter, using more mental applications than physical ones.
When we would train and test driver candidates during their pump panel operations, we required them to calculate any given length of hose, diameter and nozzle given to them by the driver engineer instructor. It could be jump-lines, attack lines, master stream devices, foam lines, wyed or gated lines, etc. We would also cover standpipe and sprinkler operations. Drivers would have to pass our "Reserve Driver Engineer" course to be able to bid for an assigned driver position and take promotional exams.
Once a firefighter received a bid as an assigned driver, a checkout process was in place that basically covered the same fundamentals taught in the reserve course with the exception of territory, inventory and unique features for that particular apparatus. We allowed a three-month preparation timeline.
Once again a "practical pumping" test was given. We also required our ladder or aerial drivers (trucks without pumps) to take a written hydraulics exam. This way, if one of these drivers were needed to "fill in" on another truck (pumper or quint) as a driver, he would still have the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to perform.
At test time, there is no doubt everyone gets nervous. But the pressure that comes with testing is good in that it mirrors the difficulties that come with the job.
Let's say you know a driver candidate has the KSAs for being a good driver, has performed well during practice sessions and has exhibited grasping the concepts taught throughout the course. But when it comes time for the big test, he fails a calculation according to the given parameters.
You hate to see someone who has the potential of being a good driver fail and would like to give them a second chance.
These were some of our basic parameters or rules of engagement: Every candidate is entitled to two attempts of any test. While at the pump panel, flowing water and establishing the Standard Starting Engine Pressure (SSEP) for each line, one at a time in sequence, four hose-lays in total were given, each requiring a calculation, three hand-lines and a master stream with limits for mains.
We required the candidate to do the calculation in his head without the use of any written media or electronic devices. The best calculator you can have is the one that is located between your ears — your brain. Its battery will never be dead and does not require charging.
The timeframe for an answer is three minutes. Answers needed to be within 10 psi above or below the correct answer. If a candidate gave an answer for a calculation that was more than 20 psi above or below the correct calculated pressure, this was considered a critical failure.
This parameter was established so there would be no unsafe over- or under-pressurization on any fire line. We would at that point tell the candidate he had failed the exam. However, we would continue with the process so he could get the "hands-on" practice and training. Basically, we went from test mode to practice mode.
Here is where a second chance comes in. If one answer was incorrect (off by more than 10 psi above or below the correct pressure, not to exceed the 20 psi rule), this was considered a pass. If two answers were incorrect, this was a failure.
Let's say a candidate never exceeded the 20 psi critical limit, but missed two of the calculations. I would not say anything during the process until the end of the exam. At the end of the exam, I would tell the candidate I am giving her a "bonus" question.
This question would be the one of the same calculations as the one she missed during the exam — 99 percent of the time when the candidates would reprocess the information in their heads, they would catch their mistake and tell me the correct answer. I would ask her to then pick the answer she preferred using, the first one or the second one. She would pick the second one knowing it was more on target.
This is a valuable lesson. Even though we may be stressed, we tend to think better when we kick it back a notch, relax, rethink and come up with a better solution. We need to be supportive and know we are all human and not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. We would like to have all candidates pass, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes instructors may need to reflect on their teaching methods to improve themselves or change the delivered course process. The instructor needs to experiment a little by changing around the itinerary to see if changing the sequence of events helps.
Remain open to using different options. Stay current in all aspects. But understand that the candidate's performance is not always a reflection on the instructor.
My mentors told me being a driver requires a certain set of KSAs that are beyond some firefighters' abilities. Whether it is mathematical, mechanical, procedural, sequential or mental, not every firefighter can be a driver of a suppression apparatus.
This article was written for & published by MultiBriefs.com.