Live-Fire Training The New Reality

Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., recounts the latest firefighter training fatalities and reviews standards and practices relating to the use of burn buildings.


We have all read and heard a great deal recently about the issues surrounding the use of live fire at locations other than established, regulated and properly designed training facilities. It is extremely difficult to think about this topic without pondering the fact that lives have been lost. It is...


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We have all read and heard a great deal recently about the issues surrounding the use of live fire at locations other than established, regulated and properly designed training facilities. It is extremely difficult to think about this topic without pondering the fact that lives have been lost. It is also critical that we not forget the lives that have been derailed and destroyed as a result of these episodes.

The most recent incidents involving deaths and injuries during live-fire training come from New York and Florida. Tragically, a life was lost in a small community near Utica, NY, and an other changed forever by severe burn injuries. Not too many months later, several firefighters were injured during a live-fire training session when the building blew up near Amsterdam, NY. In July, two Florida firefighters lost their lives in a live-fire training accident.

How can this be? How could we have reached our current state of affairs in the year 2002? Weren't there two tragic deaths in Boulder, CO, in 1982? Didn't we lose three more firefighters in Milford, MI, back in 1985? I know that there were three serious injuries in Parsippany, NJ, in 1992. I know this because this was the defining moment that led to our mandatory live-fire training requirements in New Jersey. That adds up to 20 years of actual identified experience.

There have also been reports involving serious burn injuries at acquired structure training sessions from a number of different states over the past few years. It was also my sad duty to participate in the funeral for the assistant fire chief who died in Delaware in 2001. The death of that young man had a real impact on me. That is why I have written so much on the topic recently.

The assistant chief who was in charge of the 2001 live-fire training session in New York State where a young volunteer firefighter died has been convicted of manslaughter. We can no longer debate the efficacy of the decision to prosecute him. What is past is now truly prologue. Now that the heavy hand of the law has landed on one of our own, I fear that this judicial action may have a chilling impact upon the live-fire training opportunities for future generations of firefighters.

Using acquired structures is the only way that firefighters in many places can experience the heat, smoke and challenge of combating an actual fire. It is my fear that people in many places will simply stop conducting these sorts of important training exercises. Rather than spending the necessary time to learn the proper way to conduct live-fire evolutions in acquired structures, they will stop live-fire training all together. I am quite concerned that people will think that the only way to avoid liability is to halt live-fire training sessions in acquired structures. Fear is a powerful force, particularly fear of the legal community.

I strongly believe that this must not happen. We who teach and train must work to make sure that everyone has an equal access to proper fire training. Far too many states do not have regulations governing training. I think the time has come for those states to develop training standards that apply equally to all within their fire service.

Questions To Consider

The days of burying our heads in the sand must come to an end. We must determine what is going on here? I now want to ask a few serious questions. We have to step up to the plate and answer them if we are to continue to progress as a fire service in the U.S.:

  • Why are there people out there within our fire service who think that they are exempt from the laws of physics and chemistry?
  • Why are there people who think that they do not have to obey anyone's rules and regulations because they are only volunteers?
  • Why are there people who think that Nomex turnout gear is a cure for everything, including the common cold?
  • How can there still be people who are not aware that there is a safe way to train, if you but take the time to learn it?
  • What must we do to get the fire service to training correctly?
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