Living the Game: Firefighter Training for Gamers

We all play games because they are fun. If it was not fun, then there would not be a tabletop gaming community. That said, fun does not necessarily mean you cannot learn something from it. In this case, Trask retreated back to the real world and picked up some skills that actually might have some gaming application. They could also save someone’s life in the real world. A net benefit in either case.

I am a strong advocate of self-reliance. Please do not think me a bunker-building psycho, praying for Armageddon. I am more of the save-my-own butt with a little applied intelligence type. If you ever play with me, my characters tend to be thinkers, planners and outright schemers. I just do not enjoy playing walking tank with a three-word vocabulary.

Unfortunately, cleverness has it limits and sometimes you actually need some training.

I am an IT worker in real life. I do not run into burning buildings or keep accident victims from bleeding to death. These are jobs for trained professionals.

However, I happened upon a program that allows non-heroic types like me to see a bit of a firefighters job. I think my experiences might interest other gamers.

After September 11, 2001 several states and eventually the federal government instituted a program called CERT, “Community Emergency Response Team.” In a nutshell, it is a volunteer group that has some very basic disaster training and organization to help first-responders, i.e. police and fire departments with major events. I am not talking about a car accident, think more like a large fire, flood or even worse. The training is about 20 hours long and takes place over a few Saturdays. The training provides a brief overview of first-aid, building search and rescue, triage and how not to get killed helping other people. You will not be qualified to do any “heavy lifting” in a disaster, but every thing you do that a firefighter does not have to frees up critical resources. There is no long term commitment, unless you want to sign up for additional duties. Many people who complete the class simply intend to use it for themselves. Others go on to more training and it essentially becomes similar to the Red Cross, only on a local level.

Why does any of this apply to gamers and why is a game blog writing about it? Simple, the skills you learn and situations that you encounter during the training, including a “fake” disaster as the final exam can directly apply to games. Since I am often a DM/writer of adventures, I fully intend on using some more “realistic” features to my game. Triage (prioritizing victims for treatment) is especially good for role-playing. The cleric has two healing spells left and two victims, each near death. One will definitely live if he gets both spells, but both might live if each get one spell. Who should get the spells? I cannot wait to get that one into a module.

Aside from the intellectual exercises, my training took place at the local firefighting academy. It was cool to play around with the equipment. As part of the search and rescue, the class had to lift a 750 kilogram concrete block with some wood and a lever/fulcrum. The trainer, a ladder company captain, made the smaller women do it. Not to be cruel, just to demonstrate that it could be done by relatively small people.

One final item, I generally do not hang out with firefighters, but in terms of gaming ideas, these guys are golden! There are no rerolls for these guys, they actually risk their real necks running into a burning building. You cannot buy that kind of reality in your game. Listening to them for 15 minutes swap stories about fires, accidents and all manner of crisis set my mind ablaze with ideas. Let see how heroic the PCs are when trying to save children from a flaming orphanage when their battle prowess counts for nothing. Firefighters do it every day and they do not even have magic to fall back on! And you thought paladins were fearless.

I hope I have encouraged some of you to check out this fascinating program. Each community is a little different, so just look up your local fire department’s web site. They usually have a link on the front page.

If anyone else has participated in the program, I would like to hear about your experiences. Post it in the comment section.

Trask, the Last Tyromancer


Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.