Firefighter safety during firefighting operations has seen minimal improvement over the last 27 years despite significant technological advances in personal protective equipment. The average number of fatalities occurring on an annual basis has decreased, but so has the number of structure fires. Equally disturbing has been the increasing rate of fatalities at structure fires as a result of traumatic injury. In a National Fire Protection Association (NFPS) study of firefighter fatalities in structure fires, Fahy (2002) observes that "the death rates for the three major causes of fatal injuries to firefighters while operating inside structure fires [lost inside, structural collapse, and fire progress] have been rising" (p. 10). This same study points to a lack of experience as a potential cause of fireground fatalities due to traumatic injury resulting from rapid fire progress or collapse.
Photo by Jack Hana
Gresham Fire and Emergency Services
What Can We Do?
If you keep doing the same thing, you will continue to get the same results. Reducing the risk of injuries and fatalities due to rapid fire progress (both on the fireground and during live fire training) necessitates substantial change. This leads to the following four propositions:
2. If the frequency of live fire training is simply increased without changes in policy and practice, training injuries and fatalities will to also increase (following the current trend).
3. Effective changes to policy and practice would reduce injuries and fatalities during both fire training operations (directly) and structural firefighting (indirectly).
4. The most significant factor influencing the safety of participants and effectiveness of live fire training is the knowledge and experience of the instructors involved in this critical training activity.
Realistic Training is Essential!
Structure fires present complex and dynamic challenges. Firefighters must protect the lives of building occupants as well as their own while controlling the fire and protecting the uninvolved areas of the structure and its contents. These conditions require that firefighters have a high level of situational awareness and make effective decisions with the limited information available. (Klein, 1999; Klein, Orasanu, Calderwood, & Zsambok, 1995).
Photo by Ed Hartin
Gresham Fire and Emergency Services
Live Fire Training
It is unknown exactly when fire service agencies began the practice of live fire training to develop and maintain skill in interior firefighting operations. While specific data is unavailable, it is likely that firefighter fatalities have occurred during this type of training activity since its inception.
- Two Firefighters Die in Fire Training Flashover - On January 26, two firefighters died from burns and smoke inhalation during a search and rescue drill held in a vacant single story building (Demers Associates, 1982, August).
At first glance, the only difference between these two incidents is the month and day of occurrence. However, these two tragic events occurred 20 years apart. The first occurred in Boulder, Colorado and was one of the driving forces in the development of National Fire Protection Association 1403 Standard of Live Fire Training (National Fire Protection Association, 2002).This standard has evolved in reaction to continuing fatalities during live fire training. Live fire training policy is defined by three interrelated elements: (a) occupational safety and health regulations, (b) national consensus standards such as NFPA 1403, and (c) local standard operating guidelines and procedures.