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...

To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.


Complete the registration form.


If we are to continue to train firefighters to perform the dirty and dangerous job of fire suppression, we must provide them with the proper training. We must expose them to the effects of fire, but we must do this in a way that minimizes the potential for death and serious injury.

I have been writing and reporting on live-fire training issues for more than 10 years. My mission has been to create an awareness of how to conduct such training in a safe manner. This is now particularly true for the acquired structure environment.

A great deal has been said about what we should know, who should know it and who is responsible. Even more has been spoken and written about the number of people who claim ignorance when it comes to the issues regarding National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes, standards, and recommended practices.

I have received a number of negative e-mail responses when I have chosen to speak up regarding the need for safe training practices. Here is a short list of some comments I have received:

  • I have never heard of the NFPA. Who are they? Why do I need to pay attention to them?
  • I am a volunteer. Those standards are for career people, not for me.
  • They are hard to read.
  • They are just for lawyers anyway.
  • They are too expensive.
  • They make reference to all sorts of obscure things.
  • Who says that I have to obey them anyway?

These make no sense to me. However, since they seem to be the prevailing thoughts in many places, let me address the issue of how to overcome ignorance of the rules for live-fire training in acquired structures.

NFPA 1403 In Review

I would like to begin with a review of NFPA 1403, Standard on Live Fire Training Evolutions, what it is and why it was written. The latest edition of this important standard was issued in January 2002. My first task is to identify just what the standard is intended to do. I would suggest that this information is contained within the scope statement, located at the beginning of the document: "This standard shall contain the minimum requirements for training fire suppression personnel engaged in fire-fighting operations under live fire conditions … Procedures for live fire training evolutions that involve marine structures or vessels and ground cover or wildland fires shall not be covered in this standard."

I think that we can see from this description that NFPA 1403 was created to guide us in the delivery of live-fire training in the standard structural environment. Further guidance comes from the purpose statement for this document: "The purpose of this standard shall be to provide a process for conducting live fire training evolutions to ensure that they are conducted in safe facilities and that the exposure to health and safety hazards for the fire fighters receiving the training is minimized."

The committee that drafted this document had standard structural firefighting operations in mind when they drafted this document. We train to prepare us for those things we are expected to do.

Like all NFPA standards, NFPA 1403 has no force of law until someone or some entity adopts it. However, when they do, there are some guidelines to assist in its implementation. It is important to note that whether this standard is adopted or not, it can be used by the legal community to establish what is known as a standard of care. Basically this theory states that if such a standard as this exists, it should be used to guide the thinking of operational personnel whether or not it has been adopted and has the force of law behind it.

This latest revision of this standard discusses two distinctly different live-fire-training environments. It covers interior live-fire training in a training center burn building, of either the gas-fired environment or the non-gas fired facility. It also covered live-fire training in an acquired building. Each of these facilities has hazards inherent in their specific circumstances. You need to be aware of this fact.