This week’s Station Life addresses the ins and outs, down and back and around and around of the 2013 Emergency Vehicles Operation Course.
As part of our yearly training program all members of the department attend an Emergency Vehicle Operations Course, also known as EVOC. The course is composed of a classroom portion followed by a driving test. The classroom lecture covers a wide variety of topics ranging from departmental policies and state laws to liability and the physics of something the size of a fire engine traveling down a roadway. Firefighters are instructed in proper placement of an apparatus once they arrive on scene and what emergency procedures to follow should an issue arise while responding to a call. Accidents involving fire apparatus from across the country are examined and students discuss what actions could have been taken to prevent them. The lecture typically lasts all morning and after a brief break for lunch the class moves to the drill field to demonstrate their abilities behind the wheel of a fire truck.
The driving portion of EVOC is composed of 6 stations which are designed to simulate real world driving conditions and skills that someone driving a fire engine must be able to safely perform. Once a driver begins the driving test, they complete each station in sequence without stopping. The evolution is timed, but speed is far from the most important factor. Drivers must avoid striking the cones, as they simulate other vehicles or buildings. Being a safe driver is much more important than being a fast one. Firefighters are a competitive bunch, so bragging rights are definitely on the line. No one wants to be the one who mows down the most cones!
The test begins with the fire engine parked in front of a simulated alley of cones. The cones are not spaced much farther apart than the width of the engine itself. This will be a common theme during the test, as each obstacle is just large enough for a skilled driver to complete it without being so large as to become easy.
Drivers must be able to negotiate this obstacle by driving down to the end, stopping and then backing down the alley without striking the cones.
Once the engine has been safely backed out of the alley, the driver enters a box of cones and completes a three point turn. Something that the average driver probably completes without thinking is greatly complicated when performed in a fire engine, since you can’t just put your arm across the passenger seat and look over your shoulder.
Once the driver completes his turn around, he exits the box and tackles what is known as the alley dock. If you’ve ever seen an 18 wheeler backed into the loading dock at the grocery store, you know what this looks like. The driver demonstrates spatial awareness and understanding of where the rear of his truck is, even if he can’t see it. Completing the alley dock leads to the slalom course. Firefighters must back the engine around three cones, then reverse course and drive forward through them. Both this skill and the alley dock come in handy when positioning fire engines at a crowded scene. Once again, a fair degree of skill is needed as well as finesse to navigate the obstacle without striking a cone.
Upon exiting the slalom course the driver takes the engine around the training tower and navigates through the lane change evolution.
This tests a driver’s ability to adapt to sudden changes in traffic as well as obstacles in the roadway. After getting through the first set of cones, the driver must quickly shift the direction of the engine and enter the next, offset cones.
At this point the driver is almost home free. All that remains is to get the engine turned around yet again and enter the diminishing alley obstacle. These cones test the driver’s ability to navigate a narrowing field and requires the operator to stop within a certain distance of the final cone. The driver’s view of this cone becomes obstructed by the dashboard and front bumper as they get closer and closer. As you can tell from the test, it is very important for a driver to be aware of the size of a fire engine and how it fits into the environment around it, even though there are numerous blind spots around the apparatus.
Once the driver sets the parking brake, their test is done and it’s time for someone else to take a turn. There is nothing easy about driving a fire engine, and this test is designed to ensure that all BFR drivers possess the necessary skills to safely deliver the apparatus and its assigned firefighters to an emergency without causing one themselves!