How Friendly Competition In Firefighter Training Almost Killed Me

In my fire department, I'm proud to say officers stress safety above all else. They're constantly reminding us to work smooth and never sacrifice safety for speed. But this hasn't been instilled in the mind of every probationary member yet. That's why we train, and why I almost lost my head to a hose coupling.

The exercise was simple: pull one length (50') of 1.5" attack line (hose) off a pumping rig up to a cone. From the cone, the person with the nozzle would signal the guy in the vehicle to charge the line (turn it on) so they could spray a target.

Once you knocked over your target, you'd have to signal the truck to cut water flow to your line, remove your nozzle, attach an additional 50' of hose (which was rolled up and ready to go), screw the nozzle on at the end of the extension and shoot down another target further up.

To make it a little interesting, we did this with two two-person teams in parallel. The first person shot down the first target, the second would shoot down the second target. Bit of friendly competition, right?

It all went fine... slow, but fine... until somebody wanted to race a pair of the officers because of course they did. Nobody wanted to back him up because they probably saw trouble coming, but my desire for another shot through the exercise superseded such foresight so I volunteered to participate.

I started out on the knob (nozzle), advancing it to the first stop and knocked down the target. Called for a stop in water flow, broke the nozzle off. My partner snapped out the next 50' off roll, sprinted to the end, screwed the nozzle on, and called for water.

He figured he was ready to rock and roll, and he was except for the minor inconvenience that he hadn't bothered to check if I'd connected the hoses for him. Which I hadn't, the big clue he missed being that I wasn't leaning into him backing him up to spray water.

I was 50' away trying to put to lengths of hose together, which became an impossible task as soon as one of those hoses began blasting out water at about 150 pounds of pressure.

The man in the pumper rig had heard my partner's request for water, but didn't notice I wasn't with him. And for what seemed like an eternity, he also failed notice my pleas to shut our line down as I tried to maintain control of a now-loose line blasting water in my face with enough force to knock down a solid plastic target from thirty feet back.

How Friendly Competition In Firefighter Training Almost Killed Me

"Why isn't he shutting this off? Why was it turned on in the first place?" repeated in my head, even as annoyance evolved into genuine concern and my grip loosened on the increasingly-slippery line of hose I had an awkward handle on.

The knowledge that the hose would turn into an uncontrollable sprinkler of death, throwing an aluminum coupling around the training ground at warp speed, pumped enough adrenaline into me to maintain control of it despite my gloves turning into sloppy, soggy lobster claws.

The "thrilling conclusion" is, thankfully, not memorable; the guy on the pump killed the water flow before my arms gave out from holding it down. But an almost-lose hose is no joke; and having your face a few feet from the end is unpleasantly close as far as I'm concerned.

Of course we lost the race to the officers, and for a moment my partner had the gall to be upset with me.

"You should have had the line connected, I was already ready to go!"

His anger was misplaced, and his position flat-out wrong. Firefighting is a team sport, you're not ready to go if "ready to go" means unnecessarily endangering another firefighter. The officers agreed with me, and as a result we all got an extra fifteen minutes of safety lecturing.

For the record my partner did apologize to me. And at the end of the day, things like this are exactly Why We Train.

But even though the incident didn't result in anything more than me getting soaked, may it emphasize to everyone reading this that while speed is important and a little competition can making training fun, it should never supersede basic procedures and safety routines.

Image: Sailors practice fire hose handling techniques during damage control team training aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, US Navy Official Flickr. This image is only to illustrate training in using firefighting hoses. None of the people in the image were involved in the story. Fire house image: Chris/Flickr