Knowing your streets and routes is one of the most important basic knowledge sets required in the fire service. If you cannot get the apparatus to the scene in a efficient and safe manner, you cannot do your job. If you are new to a district or the fire service you should start by learning the major streets in your area. Here is the order of importance for learning your streets.
1. Major Roads
2. Major feeder roads (Smaller roads that lead to many roads)
3. Frequent addresses (By name, address and alias)
4. Common residential roads and splits
5. Small roads, trivial roads and trivial addresses
Major roads are easy money, if you cannot find the 4 lane road in your first response area the first day you will not make a good first impression. By the end of the first day you should know which way those major roads are numbered (which way to the lower or higher numbers).
Major feeder roads are the roads that your company always seems to have to take to get to a call. Whether it's a shortcut street or the only access to a large subdivision these streets are next and should be some of the first you know without effort. These are going to be your bread and butter streets and because they are streets you travel frequently you will begin to know specific adresses on these streets.
Early on in your time at a new firehouse you will start to see some repetition in the responses. These addresses you need to know solid. There is no excuse for not knowing you are going to the Golden Living Center, even if dispatch somehow sends you out to 99 Gove St or the Gumball factory instead. All the different names for the same location are free game. You need to know all the aliases of these frequent responses.
Common residential and small roads are all close to the same priority. Knowing their location is not good enough. If the road crosses the road you use to get there you need to know the splits. "The Split" refers to the number at the intersection. Example: 100 is the house on the right of the intersection, numbers go down to the left and higher to the right. A little known but somehow oddly true rule of thumb is that numbers go higher as the get further from city hall/city center. I'm sure you can guess why. If you have to guess the direction of the numbering, go with this.
Trivial streets and addresses are not trivial to the people who live on them. Remember that. At my first firehouse the UPS man showed up and asked us where "3 McCormack Sq" was 1 person out of 8 knew. It is where 2 streets meet to form a triangle, only 1 house is numbered on "McCormack Sq". I've never forgotten.
Now for the drills.
Daily tests. Someone gives you a list of 3-4 streets or addresses and you give directions to there from the firehouse.
Driving/running through your area before/after your shift. Just the repitition of seeing the numbers and the intersections will go a long way to making sense of the map.
Google Earth. Google Earth is great for finding secret routes and hidden streets. DO NOT rely on it to find a call when you should be on the road responding.
Get a map and drive around writing house numbers on it, on your own time. Print out a map and go see the intersections and write the splits on it. Having the mental image helps while responding.
Repetition, say the street names out loud as you pass them, every time.
Take a picture of actual box locations. If your city has a street box numbering system take a picture of all the fire boxes from the side you will be responding from. Make sure its far enough back to see the whole intersection.
Mnemonics- SPLiT EM With Birds was one from my first district. Saratoga, Princeton, Lexington, Trenton, Eutaw, Monmouth, White, Eagle Falcon Condor Always remember; it's in everyone's best interest to get to the call, and get there safely.
You cannot do your job if you cannot get to the scene. It takes a concerted effort to learn your routes but it must be done.
Good luck Stay safe