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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Definitions lie at the heart of every NFPA standard. It is critical for you to become familiar with these definitions. In this case, NFPA 1403 defines an acquired building as "a structure acquired by the authority having jurisdiction from a property owner for the purpose of conducting live-fire training evolutions." The authority having jurisdiction is defined as, "The organization, office, or individual responsible for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure." It can be a city, county, state or other jurisdiction, or organization.

It has been my experience that exposing your personnel to live-fire evolutions is an excellent means of training firefighters. While we have found that this type of training provides a real environment, it also carries with it the actual hazards of interior fire fighting at an actual emergency. Interior live-fire training evolutions shall be planned with great care and supervised closely by instructional personnel. Safety has to be everyone's first consideration.

It has been my experience that any information contained in NFPA 1403 is there to help us do our job safely. The standard allows your organization flexibility to utilize independent judgment based on local situations and the level of training to be accomplished. The experience of the instructors can be utilized within an established framework.

One of the critical definitions included in this document involves the difference between acquired structures and training center burn building. The acquired building is "a structure acquired by the authority having jurisdiction from a property owner for the purpose of conducting live fire training evolutions." On the other hand, a training center burn building is "a structure specifically designed for conducting live fire training evolutions on a repetitive basis."

I would suggest that the major difference between the two structures comes from the relative permanent nature of the training center, as compared to the transitory, changing nature of the acquired structure. The training center building is the same every day.

Regardless of whether the training structure is fixed and permanent, or is of an acquired nature, each operation has the same entry level requirements for their student populations. They specifically state that, "… prior to being permitted to participate in live fire training evolutions, the student shall have received training to meet the job performance requirements for Fire Fighter I in NFPA 1001, Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications, related to the following subjects:

  1. Safety
  2. Fire behavior
  3. Portable extinguishers
  4. Personal protective equipment
  5. Ladders
  6. Fire hose, appliances, and streams
  7. Overhaul
  8. Water supply
  9. Ventilation
  10. Forcible entry.

This requirement is extremely important. People who are about to partake in the stressful environment of live-fire training need to have a firm grounding in the basic operational skills needed to be an active participant in structural firefighting training operations.

One of the problems that I recall from the 1992 training accident in Parsippany, NJ, came from the uneven basic training experience that existed among the people who were injured. There was no even standard among the people in the training evolution.

We in New Jersey have addressed this particular problem as part of our mandatory state live-fire training regulations. We have specified the same requirements as NFPA 1403 as our prerequisites for the live-fire portions of our firefighter-training program. While training itself is a voluntary undertaking, the live-fire aspect of it is covered by mandatory legislation.

The standard also recognizes that fire personnel periodically move from place to place. They specify that, "Students participating in a live-fire training evolution who received the required minimum training specified in 4.1.1 from other than the authority having jurisdiction shall present written evidence of having successfully completed the prescribed training prior to being permitted to participate in any live fire training evolution." This allows people to document past experience, rather than having to start all over at the beginning. This is an important provision in today's more mobile society.

It is critical to remember that you will need to operate via a specified incident management system (IMS). There will be an instructor-in-charge who will be in operational command of the training evolution. There will be a designated safety officer. NFPA 1403 states specifically that there must be enough trained instructors to insure: