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Let's Talk Fire Drill Time: The Hose Maze

Sam has been a firefighter for nine years. He currently serves as lieutenant and public information officer of his city's fire department.

The hose maze is a great training tool

The hose maze is a great training tool

The Training

I am glad to introduce you hoseheads to Let's Talk Fire Drill Time. Each installment of this new series will feature a detailed drill you can run with your department as an added part of your training.

For the first Drill Time, I really had trouble deciding what drill I wanted to write about. It did not take long, and I recalled the first few weeks of my training at the Wheelwright Fire Department. We had the dreaded hose maze.

You see, the hose maze is a staple of the fire service and a great way to train, but Wheelwright's mazes were notoriously difficult to navigate and extremely challenging, even to the most seasoned vets. It was the first drill I was ever privileged to be a part of, and to this day, it was some of the best training I have received.

I myself became rather notorious for the mazes I would create for some of our probies a few years back. In essence, a hose maze simulates a firefighter in an interior attack situation getting in trouble and needing help. A crew goes in by following the hose, finds this fallen friend, and pulls them to safety. The trick to making this a good and effective means of training is to make it as real as possible. In this Drill Time, I am going to show you how to do just that.

Move It Forward

The basic concept is a downed firefighter or firefighters in need of help. I would recommend that if you have two downed firefighters, you should send in four crew members to get them. I usually, for training purposes, use one downed firefighter, so I send in a two-man crew to bring them out. To create the element of realism, use scenarios that could happen at any given moment.

Maybe the interior attack crew went in, and a roof collapsed, causing them to get separated. Any scenario works, but the key, which we will get into in detail a little later, is how you present the scenario in conjunction with the maze. The more realistic you can make it, the better the training will be.

The crew will enter and grab hold of the hose and follow it, using it as a guideline to find the missing firefighter. Upon finding them, they must safely remove them from the scene and return to a safe zone.

It is fun to make it challenging and present the crew making entry with a task that requires some effort and skill but does not make it absurd. Nothing is more trivial than overdoing the maze to simply prove a point. Keep it as realistic as possible.
Let's look at effective ways we can use this drill.


Always remember that you are not here for fun. This is to train your crews for the real thing. That being said, the crew going in needs to not only maintain constant communication with each other but also keep a steady communication line with the incident command outside the scene. A constant amount of reports need to be made to the IC.

Make sure they are detailing progress and interior conditions as they advance further down the line. Add more realism to this by giving them conditions that are being viewed outside the fire structure as well as basic radio communication common to the fire scenes you usually work.

Maybe you just had the C side collapse. Report that to the crews and, if possible, use some debris, such as chairs and old boards, to block access to the c side of the interior structure.

Make sure they always have contact with each other and with the hose. The hose is the lifeline. In the event of an emergency that creates the need to flee, that is the line of bread crumbs they need to get back out of the mess. I will sometimes remove the second person silently to see how long the first will continue to crawl around before they realize they no longer have a partner with them.

As I said earlier, keeping these types of drills real and without any attempt to prove a point can better prepare a fire department for the real event. We all pray that such a thing never happens to our departments or us, but in the event it does, this training can be a great way to take a horrid situation and make it better.

Tips and Tricks

The first step is to blindfold!

Don't just run a hose across the floor. That will accomplish nothing. Make it feel like it was laid by firefighters searching through a structure for fire and survivors. It will go under things and over things. Make sure your hose does the same. I like to use props and make the training multi-faceted. You can combine mayday training drills with these exercises to create a very fun and memorable class.

Props help greatly, and for these tasks, you can do a lot with very little. One prop I love to use is to prop one side of a sheet of plywood on a chair, very carefully letting it balance a little. The firefighters will have to climb under the obstruction, and in the event they put too much pressure on it, the board will topple on top of them. Don't set it so high that it risks injury but let it have a slight falling distance.

If the firefighters set the board to fall, they are now caught in a collapse and can self-rescue but first have them run through the mayday procedure to verify they understand how to do it. You can also have a few firefighters drop a section of chain link fence to get the same effect. I also like to pile debris up on top of the hose to make it appear that a section of the ceiling may have fallen down. Folding chairs are great for this, as if moved the wrong way can frustrate the firefighters and create added obstacles.

It is good to see if they can use what they know to create a safe path. Most will simply pile the debris behind them, but in the event that is the only way out of the scene, they have, in essence, cut off their only means of egress.

One thing that makes the training effective for me is that I have access to a public library. I use stacks of old books in crawl spaces and see how the firefighters handle them. Books will topple easily and make it difficult to pass. Books also can startle the firefighters, leading them to remove their grasp on the hose and risk getting lost themselves.

Another great prop is to use four folding chairs and place a sheet of plywood over them. This simulates a crawl experience. Some firefighters can make the crawl, while others may need to dismount the backpack of the SCBA and push it ahead of them. Remember never to disengage the breathing mask. The crawl profile can also be a roof collapse if, for any reason, the firefighter makes the mistake of knocking the wood off.

My favorite prop to use is actually some bungee cords. You place them in areas where the SCBA will get tangled on them. This will act just like electrical wires in a home would when they become tangled around an SCBA.

Key Factors

The most vital step to making this firefighting drill effective is to make it as realistic as possible. Smoke machines or even hooking up hair dryers to simulate heat spots are great ways to add that real-world effect to the training.

One thing I suggest is creating scenarios that take the downed firefighter away from the end of the hose line. Maybe they became disoriented, or an explosion pulled them from their nozzle. I like to litter the search area with firefighting tools or a helmet. This is a great way to see how the crew handles having to be pushed away from the hose.

Another great scenario is the firefighter loses the hose and is confused. While the crew goes in searching, the original interior attack firefighter is crawling around, trying to find his or her way out. Make them think on their feet. They may be gungho racing through, and you just decide to drop a divider wall and tell them that area is now collapsed and see what they do. Force them to make decisions that may be uncomfortable but could happen.

Maybe the right choice is to exit the structure. Leave it to them but make sure you present them with more than enough information to make such a decision.

Stay Safe

Maybe the firefighters are having difficulty when you force them to leave the safety of the hose. Why not suggest a nice rope with a carabiner on each end? Wrap one around the hose and attach the other to one of the firefighters. This way, they can always come back to the hose if need be. If they are panicking when the ceiling falls on them, help them by teaching them to calm their breathing and assess the situation.

Firefighters are devilishly clever when it comes to ways of getting out of a tight spot. Let them see what they can come up with before you step in with ideas and help. I also suggest run them through a few times with different scenarios and hose layouts without an SCBA before you add that to the mix. Or at least do not have them on air until they are ready to make the leap.

I would also advise, if possible, never to send two probies in at one time. Always give each new member a seasoned vet to work with. They will learn more from watching this person's actions than you might think.

I hope that, in some way, you have come away with something you can use from this text. This type of training gets the department out of the classroom and gives it a chance to get some much-needed hands-on training. While this training is more or less designed for RIC or RIT operations, it is simple enough to change it. Take the hose out of the equation and use the wall. Send them in not for firefighters but for civilians.

Make the training work for you. It is easy enough to modify. I would love to see some videos of some hose maze training or hear some stories from my readers. Until next time. Stay safe.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Sam Little (author) from Wheelwright KY on April 04, 2015:

Thanks Jason. I really appreciate it.

Jason Briglin on April 03, 2015:

Great write up and a bunch of great training ideas, thanks for the hard work!

Retta on January 07, 2015:

Good to find an expert who knows what he's takilng about!