Frequently Asked Questions

The following are questions and comments frequently heard from firefighters and fire chiefs.

At what point in my career should I attend the Indiana Smoke Diver course?

A point in your career that you are proficient in basic firefighter survival, search and rescue, and able to be a part of a team under fire conditions. Proficiency in these skills is crucial to this class. This is a class designed to teach and reinforce advance skills in a hostile and stressful environment. Failure to grasp these new skills and adapt to stress around you will result in failure and/or costly make-ups.


How do I prepare for the Indiana Smoke Diver course?

Proficiency and knowledge in practical skills of Firefighter II, being in top physical shape, and having a positive mindset to overcome adversity will be vital to your success.


Why is there a housing requirement during class?

Although the course teaches individual skills, the program promotes teamwork and focuses on the buddy system for 90% of all training evolutions.  This is reinforced both on and off the drill yard.  A large part of the mental challenges occur during the off hours with individuals making the decision whether or not they are going to return to class the next morning.  Having a partner helps you cope and ensures accountability for the full 24 hours a day.


Why is physical training included in course because I would love to get the training from the drills but without the P.T.?

The purpose of P.T. is easily misunderstood and misconstrued as a form of hazing or pointless activity. It is designed to test ones ability to perform under extreme mental and physical stress. Physical training is used to give the student physical stress, and not to get the student into shape. When the body tires out, it invites poor decision making, lack of situational awareness, and offers more opportunity to make mistakes. P.T. is our way to simulate the  stressful and chaotic environment that results in firefighters being killed or injured, while being able to monitor the students safety. Many firefighters have never trained in such a way that they are forced to cope with these stresses head on. We want to take you to that point and allow you to push through the adversity that is in front of you. The end result is a firefighter that is more apt to keep a cool head in the worst of situations.


We are a non-profit organization, therefore the total student fee goes toward the class to enhance the students' experience. Our instructors do not receive or ask for any type of financial compensation for their time.


Do I need to be able to swim in order to pass the Firefighter Drown Proofing Drills?

No. The more comfortable you are in the water, the easier the drills will be for you. You will not be required to swim to pass, but you will have to be able to float. All students will have their swimming abilities assessed at the start of the drills and we will work with you to get your comfort level high enough to pass.


Smoke Divers is not job related.

This is a tough one to answer because is depends on your department.  If your department does not respond to fires, search smoke filled buildings, have the potential for firefighters to become trapped, doesn’t use breathing apparatus, doesn’t require critical decision making or situational awareness, doesn’t need physically and mentally strong firefighters then it may not be related.  If your department does any or all of these things then it is the most realistic and relevant training that your members will ever receive.


The instructors harass the students and try to get them to quit.

All instructors want everyone that qualifies for the course to graduate; however the candidate must meet the standards and objectives that are set.  Students are discharged from the course for three reasons: Drop on Request (the candidate decides to quit); Drop on Performance (the candidate could not meet the required objective); Discharge on Medical (the candidate could not continue due to an injury or medical condition).   Field Performance Reports are completed on all students for both outstanding and poor performance.  These performance cards are reviewed daily by the instructor staff and become part of the candidates’ course record.  The majority of the discharges are “Dropped on Request” of the candidate. A comprehensive exit interview is held with every discharged candidate in both the Qualification Test and the Smoke Diver course.  Exit interviews and questionnaires require the candidate to state the reason that the candidate is being discharged in the candidates own words.  These exit interviews along with the candidates’ daily performance records are always available for review by the candidate or the candidate's fire chief.


How does a person becoming a Smoke Diver help my department?

Becoming a Smoke Diver not only makes the candidate better at many of the very difficult task level fireground functions, but we try our best to turn out the “go to guy” for your department.  An individual that is highly self motivated and returns with a new confidence and willingness to pass along the knowledge that was gained in the program.  None of our members are perfect but any character flaws existed long before they became Smoke Divers.  The majority of members however, are the first to get promoted, take on special department training programs, assist with recruit schools, and do just about anything else you need them to do.  Smoke Divers is not only about task proficiency, it also teaches leadership from the servant leadership philosophy.


Is this training applicable for volunteer firefighters?

Absolutely!  As a volunteer it may take you longer to gain the experience that career members get because of the number of incidents, the availability of training, etc. For the average firefighter the number of critical fireground decisions you will make, the number of scenarios that you will encounter, the number of searches and cylinders of air you will breathe during the 6 days of training is the equivalent of 4-6 years of fireground experience.


I have heard all kinds of things about what goes on at Smoke Divers and I am not sure if I want to approve any of my firefighters for the course.

With any type of advanced training in which members are not always successful rumors abound about why.  There is always an open invitation to all fire chiefs or their designated staff members to visit and observe the program for themselves. We have nothing to hide.  We have accommodated numerous fire chief visits and some have even brought their gear and followed evolutions inside the buildings during both smoke and fire evolutions.  This visit must be coordinated so that our instructor staff is not overwhelmed and can remain focused on the candidate learning and safety.


The Smoke Diver course is a rag tag bunch of ego maniacs conducting a tough man contest.

The course is all firefighter training and there is no contest, other than the Qualification Test to identify the candidates most likely to succeed, and the focus is on advanced learning and critical thinking.  The course management is conducted using a NIMS Type III Incident Management Team developed from the Smoke Diver Instructor cadre.  The safety of the candidates and our instructors is our number one priority.  One of our goals is to add value to the fire service not only through the Smoke Diver training, but we also create opportunities for members outside our organization to shadow several of the command and general staff positions in order to gain large incident management experience and complete task books.  We also share our organizational processes with training chiefs to enhance their departments recruit scheduling and training.  Our training addresses the top two items listed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs Near Miss Reporting – Decision Making and Situational Awareness.  You cannot learn to do these two items in the classroom.  It requires realistic scenario based evolutions that require you to perform when you are hot, tired, sore, confused, uncertain and no one else is making the decision for you.  While some of the Smoke Diver training methods have been around since the 70’s, recent research conducted by Dr. Gary Klien has validated that this type of methodology is essential for building experience that leads to better decision making.  We are constantly changing and updating our scenarios and delivery methods to enhance learning.