Training Vs Drill by Vigilant Fire Service Training LLC.

Do you call it training or drill? Do you do it once a week, once a month, once a shift? Is there any difference? Does it really matter? In this short article, I will explain that there actually is a difference.

First, let’s tackle the training versus drilling thing. Seriously, does your organization call it training, drill, or do you use both terms? Where I come from, we have historically called it a drill; while I know of other local departments that call it training. There is a difference in these two words, however. And in order to run a well-rounded training program, you need to understand how and when to apply both.

Why is it important? They are only words, you might ask. In common conversation, the two words can be intermixed without the thought of any confusion. However, try to drill a firefighter before they are properly trained and you not only create confusion, you could drastically delay skill development.


“The education or instruction of a person via an act, process, or method.”

The key word here in this definition is education. Training is and must be a direct form of education. It is during the training process that we teach the skill or knowledge that is to be mastered. Training is the critical fundamental step to a firefighter learning the new skill. For the firefighter to master any skill, they must first have a clear understanding of both what the skill is and how to perform it properly, safely and efficiently. Without this fundamental knowledge of what correct is, the skill can never be performed properly.

Drill (Drilling)

“Any strict, methodical, repetitive, instruction or exercise.”

The key here is repetitive exercise. Think of drill as practice. Drilling is the portion of the education process where the firefighter goes hands-on with a skill they just learned in training. This is where they work on perfecting the craft through repetitive exercise under the supervision of competent coaching. This repetitive practice (reps) creates what we call muscle memory. Through hundreds, sometimes even thousands of reps, our body becomes so accustomed to the practiced skill that we can perform it without thinking about it. This is our goal as fire instructors; create in our firefighters the proper performance that is so ingrained that it seems natural. This level of performance can only be achieved via proper training and adequate drilling.

So, as you can see from a fire instructor’s perspective, these two words are very different, and they both have extreme importance in creating skilled firefighters. More than likely, this is something you have probably never given much thought, however, one of the most common training program mistakes is the failure to drill properly. Most departments are good at training, but with an ever-increasing list of topics to train on, the dedicated time to practice diminishes. Be honest with yourself and ask, are you devoting enough time to drill on learned skills before training on new ones? Leave a comment and let us know how it works in your department.

In our next article, we will discuss methods of putting this information together in a process that both delivers skill training and enforces proper technique through coached drilling. Until then, keep training!

Email us at to discuss setting up a Training Program for your department.

-Todd Smith