Why is Compartment Fire Behavior Training (CFBT) Important?

Firefighter safety during firefighting operations has seen minimal improvement over the last 27 years despite significant technological advances in personal protective equipment.

In addition, the courts have also weighed in on the responsibility of instructors to ensure the safety of students during this type of training activity. A fire department training officer in Lairdsville, NY was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide due to a fatality during live fire training in an acquired structure (Little, 2002). While this criminal proceeding did not directly establish detailed live fire training policy, this landmark case established precedent for holding instructors criminally accountable for fatalities occurring during live fire training. In addition, this incident generated sufficient political interest that the New York state legislature passed regulations governing live fire training procedure and NFPA 1403 was modified in 2002 to proscribe the use of humans as simulated victims during live fire training.

NFPA 1403 (National Fire Protection Association, 2002) places specific emphasis on addressing unsafe acts and conditions directly connected to accidents that have occurred during live fire training. Undoubtedly compliance with NFPA 1403 reduces the risk to firefighters participating in live fire training. However, even strict compliance with this standard limits, but does not preclude the possibility of participants being injured or killed due to the deteriorating conditions encountered with rapid fire progress.

Safe and effective live fire training is dependent on knowledgeable and experienced instructors. Instructors must have expertise in fire behavior and tactical operations. In addition, instructors must understand how to facilitate learners development of this same type of expertise. NFPA 1403 (National Fire Protection Association, 2002) does not explicitly address competency requirements for instructors involved in delivering this type of training. Qualification of instructors is addressed in general terms by specifying that instructors must "qualified by the authority having jurisdiction to deliver fire fighter training, who has the training and experience to supervise students during live fire training evolutions" (p. 4).

CFBT and Instructor Qualifications

CFBT integrates the topics of fire behavior, fire streams and ventilation within a structural firefighting context. This training concept provides an integrated framework for developing structural firefighting knowledge and skills. The difference between live fire training in general and CFBT is the emphasis on developing understanding of fire behavior and the influence of tactical operations. In many cases, live fire training focuses to a greater extent on the tactics involved and less on fire behavior. While tactical proficiency is important, understanding fire behavior and recognition of fire development and key fire behavior indicators is critical to firefighter safety and survival.

While not explicitly addressed in NFPA 1403, The British Fire Service Manual Volume 4: Guidance and Compliance Framework for Compartment Fire Behaviour Training (HM Fire Service Inspectorate, 2000) provides guidelines for instructor qualification. Adapting this framework to an American context points to the need for instructor competence in several areas:

  • Regulations, standards, and training guidelines
  • Fire behavior in compartment and fire control tactics
  • CFBT facilities and operations
  • Effective instructional methods in the delivery of CFBT
  • Health and safety during live fire training
  • Safe and effective use of acquired structures for live fire training

Instructor competence is dependent on both fireground experience and an effective training program to help individual instructors increase their depth of knowledge and understanding as well as developing effective methods for assisting student learning.

Why is CFBT Important?

Revisiting the original question of why CFBT is important, the answer is the critical need to reduce firefighter fatalities due to traumatic cause while working at structure fires. CFBT does not completely address the causes of traumatic injury and fatalities. However, fire behavior expertise and proficiency in structural firefighting tactics has solid potential for reduction of the risks presented by structural firefighting operations. Simply increasing the use of live fire training is not enough; existing practices have resulted in an increasing rate of firefighter injuries and fatalities during training without any demonstrated effect on fireground safety. The integrated approach provided by CFBT delivered by qualified instructors has substantial potential to reverse this trend.